TECH TIPS: Today’s CRACKLE ON-DEMAND TV Guide Watch List

Go back and see previous lists for more great recommendations.

Okay onto today’s list:

Review of movies/programs to catch on the on-demand Roku channel CRACKLE today:

CRACKLE the premier channel for free on-demand movies is showing the following flicks:

The ‘it will do if you have nothing better to watch’ pile:
EMPIRE OF THE WOLVES- a horrific premise, graphic scenes, and an intriguing if convoluted and dubious premise makes this french thriller worth a cursory look

THE CUTTER- This 2007 flick shows Chuck Norris still capable of mixing it up. The premise of this film about Nazis and diamonds doesn’t really hold one’s attention nor do the performances, but there are a couple decent and surprising fight scenes that are worth a look.

WIND CHILL- Starts off generally very effective and intriguing, but comes apart completely in the 3rd act.

The ‘Awful or trust me you really should avoid’ pile:
THE DEVILS TOMB
THE ORDER
SCREAMERS:THE HUNTING- Starts off intriguing, but once we get to the obligatory Noble Black who has to buy it in the first act of the movie, we’re in complete hack mode. Couldn’t finish it. Awful.

The Great or Very Good:
HERO WANTED- This 2008 flick is yet another fantastic Cuba Gooding Jr film (something that I thought for a long time was an oxymoron). Following up on my recent watch of HIT LIST. This and HIT LIST both are good enough that you’ll probably want to add them to your DVD collection.

LEGENDARY ASSASSIN- An action/martial arts movie, but what sells this one is really the touching story at its heart. Tender performances enliven what otherwise would be a routine actioner.

RUSSIAN SPECIALIST- An example of a great Dolph Lundgren film

SILENT RAGE- An example of a great Chuck Norris Film

HARRY BROWN- Michael Caine is mesmerizing in this tale of generational warfare and geriatric vengeance

TECH TIPS: Today’s Recommend Roku TV Guide Watch List

Recommend list of movies/programs to catch on Roku today:

CRACKLE the premier channel for free on-demand movies is showing the following recommended flicks:

punish

PUNISHER WAR ZONE Exceedingly violent straight to the point action flick. Good if not overly memorable.

KIDNAPPED is a fantastic, but short lived series, but you can watch the whole series for free here. It’s highly recommended. Once you start watching you’ll want to pick up the DVD set to have.

ANGEL OF DEATH- A modern day serial by Ed Brubaker(Comic Book/Graphic Novel writer) starring Zoe Bell, as a female assassin on the wrong side of her profession. Good and enjoyable.

assassination_games

ASSASSINATION GAMES – Just plain great. One of Van Dammes best movies in years.

BLOOD AND BONE- I’ve raved about this film before. One of my favorite martial arts films (I’ll put it right up there with Jet Li’s FIST OF LEGEND), because it has great martial arts, and great performances, and a great story (the last two you don’t often get in a martial arts film). An easy A+.

GAME OF DEATH- see my previous review, in short, definitely recommended Action film/thriller.

gofdeathbr

HIT LIST- Good direct to video movies and Cuba Gooding Jr don’t often go together in a sentence, however it does this time. THE HIT LIST on the surface is nothing more than a take-off on Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL, under the surface turns out to be a very good movie in its own right with solid performances by all involved. Cuba Gooding is surprisingly good here. Strongly Recommended.

TECH TIPS: ROKU Cable Digital TV and You!

After probably a decade without having a cable bill, and no issues doing so, I’m happy to still be cable bill free, but… you knew there was a but coming. 🙂

I was quite satisfied for 10 years doing without Television as a medium, and doing DVD rentals (typically for no or low cost at the library) or DVD purchases. But more often than not just spending far more time consuming books, and audio programs, and traveling.

So I’m happy to say I am still cable bill free, however of late I’ve become aware and become a dabbler in this… Roku thing.

Most of you are probably long time adopters of Roku, but for those of you who aren’t, Roku is both a company and a product. Roku is an American based company that produces a device, not much larger than a pack of cards, that allows you to stream channels, internet based stations, offering streaming TV shows, movies, documentaries, virtually everything you can find on cable, and much you cannot, in an on demand model to make traditional cable green with envy.

In a sentence, Roku is a wi-fi device that allows you to bring internet based channels and programming, content optimized for your computer, easily to your TV.

Internet access to your favorite TV/cable show is nothing new, however the Roku’s ease in consolidating all that content in one location and bringing it all to your TV, without the need of a cable bill is nothing short of amazing.

Of course utilizing your internet bandwidth there are obvious drawbacks, such as that as a whole the quality and speed is reliant on your broadband connection, and does not match the quality of cable.

But that given, Roku picture and sound quality is surprisingly good, and far better than the embarrassment and rip-off that is free digital TV in the United States. The garbage the FCC left us with when they stole the analog waves from the American people and gave it to big business and the military.

The 2nd problem is the Roku device upon first use/registration looks to collect your credit card and personal info by default in order to activate/use the Roku device.

That is a major problem. Especially if you only intend to use the free channels it is a huge potential and unnecessary privacy and security issue, particularly in this day of rampant hacking and identity theft.

Thankfully you can bypass the requirement to give your credit card number by calling customer service direct, but it is a hassle.

But those major problems acknowledged and bypassed, for between $60 and $100 depending on model (I recommend the Roku 2 XS, I’ll give a detailed breakdown of why next column), this wireless consolidator of online digital channels that streams easily to your tv, and easily lets you add and remove channels yourself, is (as long as the free channels last) nothing short of a marvel.

So yeah, until such time as the Roku concept stops being as awesome as it currently is, I’m going to enjoy having 1000s of hours of movies and television and music at my fingertips, for $0 a month.(Just like conventional cable you can add pay premium channels if you choose, but there is so much impressive free content out there that you definitely do not have to)

So if you are currently paying over $100 for cable or direct TV and locked into a contract, as most people are, and are looking not to do that anymore, I highly recommend taking the Roku for a spin. All you need is high-speed broadband internet to make use of it.

Well hope this article helps some of you who may have been seeking more info on Roku and alternatives to conventional cable. Come back next TECH TIPS as I provide you my favorite Roku channels as well as a weekly recommendation list for this week on Roku!

See you then, and feel free to leave comments if you are already a Roku convert. I’d love to hear a list of some of your favorite things about the Roku.

Okay, That’s all for now!

Brought to you by my MONARCHS OF MAYHEM Indiegogo campaign
Go view it and support it here! Thanks!

http://igg.me/p/437605/x/2628928

RATING THE DOCTORS: The Best & Worst Doctor Who Companions Pt. 2 of 2!

While picking the companions I disliked was easy. Narrowing down my five favorite companions is a LOT more difficult, because in 30+ years there have been some great companions. On the whole the good companions far outweighing the ones I dislike.

So narrowing down all those great companions to my five favorite, very difficult, and very subjective. But as stated, having recently watched all 30+ seasons of the show, you can call my choices informed subjectivity.

So without further ado:

I have some issues with Russell T. Davies as discussed in my worst companions posting, but one thing you can’t fault him with is in building up the dynamic/relationship between the Doctor and his female Companion, and doing a great job of casting that companion role… well, and writing it… well.

I think one of the common complaints many actresses who played a companion to the Doctor had, was in the writing of their roles. Davies with the characters of Rose and Martha created companions who had it all, beauty, brains, guts, and adventuresome spirit, and a personality, an aura… magnetic. And roles that complemented the Doctor.

So while I really love a lot of the companions that have been in and out of the ship of time, the two I come back to the most, which is a way of saying the two who are great characters, brought to life by great actresses, and they have great stories under their belt, and a great complement to the doctor… in other words they have it all…

Martha Jones played by the stunning Freema Agyeman and Rose Tyler played by the effervescent Billie Piper. They get the one, two spot.

Sarah Jane- I don’t think any list of best companions would be complete without Sarah Jane, played by the fantastic Elisabeth Sladen, who brought such a caring, and humanity, and belief to her role, and whose tenure bridged both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.

Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John, acted opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. And she brought beauty, brains, wit, sophistication to the role, and at the time they thought that was too much. She was too capable, and she was replaced in a single season, with a dumbed down companion Jo Grant(that’s not a kick against Kathy Manning, who played Jo Grant, she quite made that role her own, and made that dynamic work, and became a great, woman of action companion for the bulk of Pertwee’s run). However, it was still an unfortunate replacement because she was a fantastic companion. And you look back at the handful of stories she did and they all stand out as fantastic Doctor Who episodes.

The last spot is a tie between Leela and Ace.

Leela- I really liked the character of Leela, playing opposite Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. Played wonderfully by the beautiful Louise Jameson, I thought she was a very interesting character, but her relationship with Tom Baker’s Doctor, and seemingly Tom Baker himself, was seemingly frictious and dismissive. Possibly because she was such a strong and striking character, and a strong and striking actress, and Tom Baker at the time wanted no competition for the spotlight. But despite the less than stellar dynamic between them, they still were in 2 or 3 of the best story-lines in the history of the series.

And tying her for fifth place was Ace played by Sophie Aldred. Ace was just a fantastic companion, and had a great relationship/chemistry with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. And they were in some amazing stories together. Their REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS being easily in the top ten of any list of best Doctor Who stories.

Honorable mentions are:

Ian Chesterton – played by William Russell from 1963 to 1965 with William Hartnell
Barbara Wright – played by Jacqueline Hill from 1963 to 1965 with William Hartnell
Susan – played by Carole Ann Ford from 1963 to 1964 with William Hartnell
The first companions, if they had failed, if their chemistry had failed, we wouldn’t still be talking about the show.

Jamie – played by Frazer Hines from 1966 to 1969 with Patrick Troughton
His chemistry with Patrick Troughton, was a great, almost vaudevillian dynamic.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart – played by Nicholas Courtney from 1968 to 1989 with all the “old” Doctors apart from Colin Baker.
While not a companion, Nicholas Courtney’s reoccurring role as Brigadier Stewart, head of the UNIT, was a great addition to the Who mythology, particularly during the earthbound Pertwee era. He’s just a fantastic straight man for the Doctor’s craziness.

Jo Grant – played by Katy Manning from 1971 to 1973 with Jon Pertwee. She took the ditzy role she was given, and made it into a courageous character who would risk anything for the Doctor.

Peri – played by Nicola Bryant from 1984 to 1986 with Peter Davison and Colin Baker.

Let’s be honest, Nicola Bryant was brought in, by hit-and-miss producer Nathan Turner, for T&A… to sex up the show in hopes of salvaging the lackluster Peter Davison years. She was brought in for her huge breasts, and they were paraded prominently.

(Oh come’on don’t get offended, we’re all adults here, and that’s absolutely the truth. They were real, and they were fabulous. :). Oh, I’m joking! )

With the exception of Davison’s last episode, the only thing that was watchable about his tenure, was Nicola Bryant. But surprisingly enough, she was more than just a pretty face and a stunning body, she was a solid actress, and she was exceptionally likable, and this became very obvious during the Colin Baker Doctor years.

Colin Baker off-putting pompous portrayal of the Doctor, only made somewhat palatable because of Nicola Bryant’s Peri. I quite liked her, and unfortunately she was saddled with questionable characterization by the writers of her and her Doctors. But despite that she does manage to be part of 2 or 3 stories that transcended those issues, to be quite entertaining.

So that’s it for this installment. Five favorite companions and the honorable mentions! Feel free to mention your favorite companions.

RATING THE DOCTORS: The Best & Worst Doctor Who Companions Pt. 1 of 2!

Update:

Okay waiting for my trusty photographer to send me the pictures from Wizard World Philly, and then the 2nd and final part of that convention coverage will go up. Part II of the Pulp article, and the Charles Saunders MONARCH OF MAYHEM are both being worked on.

And working on WEDNESDAYS WORDS for tomorrow, Have not missed a Wednesday yet! (Knock on pixels)

So in the interim of all that heavy lifting I’m doing, here’s an easy, breezy post…

************

THE BEST AND WORST DOCTOR WHO COMPANIONS

This year I made it through watching all 30+ seasons of Doctor Who, counting the old (with the exception of lost episodes) and the new.

I first ran across Doctor Who as a kid watching the Tom Baker episodes on PBS. Incredibly low budget even by my childish standards of the time, it was okay. Quirky, not something I really made a point of following, but would watch if nothing else was on.

Re-watching the entire 30+ year series in a matter of months, I have a far better appreciation and understanding of the series as an adult.

There were some really smartly written and exciting and imaginative episodes in the show’s 30+ year history, and we’ll get into those. But in this post I wanted to discuss the barometer for what is best and worst in Doctor Who… namely the companions.

If you dislike the companion, or find them annoying, or their dynamic with the Doctor just doesn’t work, the show seldom rises above your assessment of them. ie bad Companions translating to bad and annoying episodes. This is very subjective of course, but informed by the context of watching 30+ seasons of Dr. Who. So informed subjectivity if you will. 🙂

So without further ado the five best and worst Dr. Who companions:

We’ll start with the negative in this post, and do the best next time at bat.

WORST

Adric – played by Matthew Waterhouse from 1980 to 1982 with Tom Baker and Peter Davison – The character of Adric was an annoying whining and joy eroding albatross stuck on the end of Tom Baker’s tenure and throughout Peter Davison’s tenure by the long running and both creative and stifling producer, John Nathan Turner. John Nathan Turner was a hit and miss producer, responsible for an equal share of Doctor Who successes as he was missteps and failures. His choice of companions being one of his most obvious. Adric being the worst of Nathan Turner’s lot of disagreeable companions. “Wow we are getting to travel in space and time, so instead of being thankful or awed let’s just bitch and be upset all the time, and wear the same stinking clothes for no apparent reason”. The reason for wearing the same clothes, was another Nathan Turner misstep, wanting the companions to wear a consistent uniform, which just came off as stupid, and eschewed the fun brilliance of the first companions who every episode carried over pieces of clothing and garb from their adventures through time and space. Quite a fun idea if you think about it. So the character of Adric, was the most egregious of Nathan Turner’s bad decisions, but not, unfortunately, the only flawed bit of casting and character.

Turlough – played by Mark Strickson from 1983 to 1984 with Peter Davison, along with the characters of Nyssa and Tegan and Adric, he was part of Nathan Turner’s whiny, unlikeable companions. Which is a dig against the producer and writers rather than the actors. Despite Tegan being written unnecessarily combative and whining, and the character of Nyssa being completely underwritten, I didn’t find them too grating, or ‘turn off the show to avoid’ bad. However I did feel that way to a great degree by the character of Adric, and to a lesser, but still unsatisfying, degree, Turlough. So hence him making my worst list.

Mel – played by Bonnie Langford from 1986 to 1987 with Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy- In her defense she’s bubbly. But beyond that she just seems an odd choice that never quite works for me. She is not as bad as the others listed, I don’t dislike the character, I just don’t care for the character.

Amy Pond & Rory- I found her from the first incredibly annoying and uninteresting. Her whole pouty thing, and the Rory/Amy show… not remotely interested. Stopped watching after the first season with them.

Mickey Smith- Ugghhh. A Shakespearean trained actor and you have him doing a bitchy step&fetchit neutered character. Just annoying from the first episode of the revived Doctor Who series. I disliked the character so much, that it would not be until many years later, when given the chance to view the whole series cheap, that I would go back to Doctor Who. A character that defines the negative connotations of the term ‘Black faces, White messages’. Russell T. Davies who is to be applauded for reviving Doctor Who and making it a world-wide phenomenon had some very negative uses of male characters of color in his first few seasons, and Mickey Smith was that dynamic at its worst. Ironically with the character of Martha Jones, he would introduce a fantastic female companion, and a fantastic character of color; Davies issues relegated seemingly only to the male. Whatever the reason Mickey Smith was an awful character, redeemed only marginally in his last few appearances.

Those are the five worst companions in no specific order, though I think you can tell by my descriptions, my personal ranking of them. See my rating for the five best companions here!

Movies on my to Rent and/or to Purchase List!

Movies on my to Rent and/or to Purchase List!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Recommended Writers and their most celebrated work: HUGH HOLTON and his Larry Cole Series

Proof positive I do this blog to educate myself as much as entertain anyone else, is this post on Hugh Holton.

I knew Hugh Holton was a high ranking, highly decorated Chicago Police Officer.

I knew he was a fantastic writer from owning and reading three of his books.

I knew he had passed in 2001.

I did not know he had as many books, above and beyond the ones I own. Given his responsibilities as one of Chicago’s Top Cops, that he was able to be as prolific (and going by the novels I’ve read, as consistently good) as he was, is quite amazing.

So without further ado, today’s Recommended Writer is HUGH HOLTON:

Police Lieutenant Hugh Holton was a twenty-nine year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He authored several bestselling novels, including, Time of the Assassins, The Left Hand of God, and Violent Crimes. At the time of his death, at the age of only 54, Hugh Holton was the highest ranking active police officer writing novels in America.

1994. Presumed Dead
1995. Windy City
1996. Chicago Blues
1997. Violent Crimes
1998. Red Lightning

1999. Left Hand of God, The
2000. Time of the Assassins
2001. Devils Shadow, The

The following three titles were published posthumously, which is why they came as a surprise to me when researching this post. I’ve heard REVENGE was an early discarded rough draft of his, so it’s not up to Hugh Holton’s high standards. It’s something he would have tweaked/perfected had he known it was being published. So take that into consideration when reading it. It’s basically just an early draft, the publisher decided to put out there, so judge it as such, and not as representative of Hugh Holton’s usual great work.

2002. Criminal Element (Amazon – Alibris)
2005. Thin Black Line, The (Amazon – Alibris)
2009. Revenge (Amazon – Alibris)

I was turned onto Hugh Holton’s fantastic Larry Cole mystery series a while ago, and they are pulse-pounding procedurals and thrillers, grounded by the experience of someone who knows intimately the facts behind the fictions… he writes about.. My personal favorite of the three novels I’ve read so far is the juggernaut-like TIME OF THE ASSASSINS. In terms of pacing, and just keeping you racing till the end, it’s the strongest [the others I own are WINDY CITY, and VIOLENT CRIMES].

It was a great starting point for me to the excellent body of work Hugh Holton left us with, but I think I’ll now go back, pick up all the books I’m missing and read them all chronologically.

REVENGE, by all reports should not be considered part of the chronology, it’s something that (again according to reports) was not ready for publication, and was put out as a cash grab by the family and the publisher. It’s a curio, at best, and I would have less problem with it if the family had put their name on the novel(his Daughter I believe signed off on this version), rather than just Hugh Holton’s.

Being a writer, the idea of assigning sole responsibility to me, for something I didn’t have the chance to proof/edit… well that would bug me even in the grave. A writer’s books are his reputation.

And Hugh Holton has a well earned, and well deserved reputation as a great writer. Try the books for yourself at the links below! And tell’em HT sent ya!!!

The Thin Black Line: True Stories by Black Law Enforcement Officers Policing America’s Meanest Streets
Presumed Dead (Larry Cole)

Windy City

Chicago Blues (Mysteries & Horror)

Violent Crimes (A Larry Cole Mystery)

Red Lightning (A Larry Cole Mystery)

The Left Hand of God (Larry Cole Mystery)

Time of the Assassins

The Devil’s Shadow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Pic courtesy Planet Preset

See more on this writer at SciFan.
As well as an informative interview with him, done shortly before his passing, here!

BEST COMIC BOOK COVERS OF 2011! The Remaining Parts!

“These people are like family to me. It has not been easy for anybody. Let me put it that way: It was like a death in the family. Only I was the dead guy. I felt like William Holden, face down in the swimming pool, narrating this thing.”– Frank Darabont on his departure from WALKING DEAD

Okay we’re wrapping this puppy up of the best Comic book covers of 2011. This covers the rest of the year not covered in the first part of this Article.

Okay onto the fun!

John Tyler Christopher for Annihilators: Earthfall #1

Steve McNiven for Captain America #1,3- Steven McNiven in addition to interior work, did several covers. These two were head and shoulders above all the rest of his covers for 2011. They differentiate themselves, particularly #1 by being very memorable. A great cover notable by distilling an entire issue into one image. A great cover is something iconic. CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 is a poster waiting to happen.

Sean Phillips for all four of the CRIMINAL LAST OF THE INNOCENT and select INCOGNITO covers. I didn’t care for some of his INCOGNITO covers in 2011, I think both as concept and covers INCOGNITO never quite gelled into having an identity. Whereas with CRIMINAL LAST OF THE INNOCENTS (as well as the other story-lines) the covers just scream creativity and read me. Great stuff.

JH Williams III knocks it out with his cover for BATWOMAN #1.

Kalman Andrasofszky for X-23 #14. I have no interest in this character or this book, but that is just a fun cover.

Esad Ribic did a lot of covers for 2011, but his covers tend to be too static for my liking. They fail to make me interested. Two exceptions, that made this list being X-FORCE #4 and #13.

Gabriele Dell’Otto gives a very intriguing cover to VENGEANCE #1. And Joe Casey seems to have an intriguing story to tell, but I couldn’t get past the very bland interior art by, to me, an unknown. But Dell’Otto’s cover did the job, it had me interested in buying the book. However the interior art quickly unsold me.

Sean Murphy for American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1.


Jae Lee offers a great cover for Wolverine #9. Compare this image to another image below and see what you think. You’ll know the image when you see it.

Gorgeous Terry & Rachel Dodson covers highlight UNCANNY X-MEN 537 & 535. For some reason they knock it out of the park when drawing Kitty Pride. however the other characters they do in other covers… Emma, Colossus, Wolverine… not so much. But with their Kitty Pride covers it’s like that’s when they get interested and inspired. I think they just love drawing brunettes. 🙂

David Yardin worked his way on this list with two covers that are very visceral, bordering on a rough, muscular moment of ugliness captured, frozen in that moment before the point of no-return. Namely:
Spider-Island: Heroes for Hire #1- A silly cover for a silly storyline, but Yardin’s cover (based on a Romita cover) makes it more compelling than it should be and X-Factor #219. The covers depict ugly moments, which are disturbing, but it’s drawn with sexiness and sensuality beneath the savagery so it makes for something of an uneasy and unsettling image that gets you to stop and take notice. And that’s what covers strive to do.


Sam Basri was fantastic on POWER GIRL, and his cover for #26 is Hilarious and great!

I like wrap around covers so thumbs up to New Mutants #25, looks a bit computer generated, but nice enough.

Jock for Daredevil Reborn #4


Paul Chadwick’s art highlights the exceptionally well laid out DHP #1. Fantastic Typography!


Birds of Prey #11 by Stanley Lau. Jae Lee’s cover looks more than a little like this one. I’ll leave that for others to ponder. Getting back to Lau, I dislike all of Lau’s covers for CAPTAIN ATOM, his earlier work on BIRDS OF PREY is much better. It’s like the work of two completely different artists.


I have yet to read Morning Glories, but Rodin Esquejo offers a titillating cover for #8 that is both sexy, and creepy (nurses putting on gloves is never a good thing).

Dan Brereton for Spider #1


Jason Pearson for Astonishing X-men 36. Did I mention I love wrap around covers?! 🙂

That’s it kids. Let’s call it a wrap on the best Comic Book Covers of 2011!!!

Hope you enjoyed, and here’s hoping for even more great covers in 2012!!!

BEST COMIC BOOK COVERS OF 2011 PT 1 of 4!!!!

Well here in the 3rd week of 2012, thought it was an appropriate time to put out my best and worst of 2011 Comic List.

I personally love looking over best of and end of year lists, and my own lists, tends to touch on a lot of things that may be bypassed or overlooked or just not tried, in other lists and on other sites.

True to the eclectic nature of this blog, my lists are always… never less than unique. 🙂

So let’s get into it, and enjoy!

We’ll start with the best covers of 2011! We’ll start with the 4th quarter of 2011 in this post and work our way backward to highlight the other 3 quarters as well.

Without further ado:


So the best covers of the 4th quarter of 2011 are as the pics show:

The number one cover artist for 2011 Qrt 4 (From Oct1-Dec31) is JH Williams the 3rd, with his gorgeous, stained glass worthy BATWOMAN covers. How he manages to write, do the amazing interiors he concocts AND do the covers is beyond me. It’s award winning work (at least art-wise, I trade wait for most DC comics, so will be a while before I read it. But if it’s half as good as BATWOMAN:ELEGY HC, one of the most gorgeous books of 2011, it will be a treasured buy).

But right on JH Williams III’s heels as my favorite cover artist of Qtr 4, is John Tyler Christopher. A brand new name as far as I can find, his covers on DC’s VOODOO are just stellar! And he also produced a couple issues for Marvel’s Annihilators: Earthfall. I have no interest in buying Marvel Monthly comics (too expensive, too many ads, too few pages) but they did produce a few decent covers in 2011, and the artists deserve recognition. DC’s VOODOO however, I think I will be picking up in issues. The interior artist is Sam Basri, a fantastic cover artist in his own right, with a stellar run on POWER GIRL in 2011, so combine him with John Tyler Christopher’s covers and it’s win/win.

Viktor Kalvachev is next up with his fantastic covers for the soon to be short lived MEN OF WAR. His covers are gorgeous set pieces, seemingly run through with Russian Constructivism aesthetics. Objective and often geometric forms carrying universal meanings, and striking use of color, primarily red. Definitely a cover artist to watch.

Next up is Francesco Francavilla covers on BLACK PANTHER along with DARK SHADOWS and CAP & BUCKY. Being a fan of most things pulp I quite like the mood Francavilla’s covers strive for. I’m a detail guy, so that’s the only reservation I have against the slightly cartoony covers, but overall they work for me. His pulp-tinged composition and layout skills winning me over.

Now for the rest:

Chris Bachalo for WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #1- just wonderfully laid out cover. I hear good things about this book, but I don’t pay $4 for a comic, period. I’ll wait for the trade, an affordable trade. Meaning I don’t pay $4 per issue in trade format either (another crazy business decision Marvel has been cutting their throat with). If the trade breaks down to an outrageous amount per issue, I wait till the price drops, or I don’t get it. One less X-MEN book for me to buy, is not a bad thing. There’s more than enough great books out there that are priced right.

Ben Oliver for BATWING #3. Hearing nothing but great things about this series. At $2.99 I’ll be picking it up monthly.

Patrick Zircher for VILLAINS FOR HIRE #1- I enjoy this artist’s layouts, his shot composition, but his lack of backgrounds tends to weaken them a bit. In this one he has Andry Troy assisting, and it is Zircher’s best cover of 2011.

Rico Renzi for LOOSE ENDS #3. I hate the logo on this book, but ignoring that, I like Rico Renzi’s actual art.

Marko Djurdjevic for Avengers Origins: Ant-Man & the Wasp #1

CASANOVA #2 (from Marvel’s ICON imprint) gets Gabriel Ba on the list.

Daniel Acuna for AVENGERS #19. It’s easily the best of the covers he did this quarter. Meaning it, like all the ones I give praise to here, I would buy as a poster.

Alex Ross only did 2 covers for this quarter, one was for ULTRON and it was one of the rare Alex Ross covers that I didn’t like. However the 2nd one was FLASH GORDON ZEITGEIST. and that as you can see for yourself is masterful. When Alex Ross is on his A game, there is none better. Easily one of the best ones of the quarter.

Nathan Fox gets on the list with his only cover of the quarter, HAUNT #19. Wonderful composition, the typography really sells it.

Eric Larsen for SAVAGE DRAGON #177.

And Finally Steve McNiven for CAPTAIN AMERICA #5.

That’s it kids! The best covers for 2011 quarter #4! Come back as we complete the list for the remainder of the year!

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: Looking for a tablet, ereader, Kindle, Ipad? Read this first!

15 April 2012: This is today’s CLASSIC POST!!

A tablet is a form factor/hybrid still very much in search of a purpose.

The IPAD has inexplicably become all the rage, but recent studies show the number one thing people do with the IPAD is play a game called Angry Birds, followed by email, followed by web browsing.

At $500 that’s a lot to pay for what amounts to a crippled laptop. I mean, you spend your money how you want to spend your money, but for me $500 for a tablet, with the limitations current tablets have, doesn’t make sense. Tablet’s currently being something that is neither quite as portable as a phone or as useful and powerful as a laptop, but some bastardized form in search of a function.

The form factor of a tablet lends itself to one attractive purpose, wherein it does something better than either a phone or a laptop, as an ebook reader. With the dimensions generally of a book, the tablet format lends itself to easy reading on the couch or in coach or business class while traveling.

The ability to easily read books or magazines or comics, when carrying multiple real books would not be as convenient is a real selling point. As a traveler I can appreciate this purpose, and niche, that the tablet format can fill better than squinting at a tiny phone screen, or lugging around a laptop.

So at its heart the central selling feature of the tablet format, 7″-10″ screen, is easy, book like reading. That said a tablet is not an ebook. A true ebook uses eink, and while monochrome is supposedly easier reading than the LCD format (The eye strain argument. I’ve worked on both, and for myself find the difference negligible. I’m used to LCD screens, and just adjust the brightness to a comfortable range, and for me what you gain in color, offsets whatever you may lose in sharpness with eink), and is far better on power usage, lasting weeks on a single charge as opposed to hours for a LCD screen.

So if you just want an Ebook reader, you can get decent ones between $80 to $250. Generally speaking the big thing to look for regarding ebooks is does it play epub files (which is the standard and pretty awesome format used by libraries and bookstores, as well as free online repositories etc), pdfs (which we’re all familiar with, and many magazines come as), and text (which again is supported by many free sites).

So when looking at Ebooks such as the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, the Kindle by virtue of being the defacto standard of the world’s largest book and shopping site, gives it a massive edge just in terms of prevalence and ease of adopt-ability. Add to that Amazon having the lowest price, and all things being equal why would you not buy the Kindle?

Well here’s the problem, and here is where Amazon for me, shoots themselves in the foot. All things are not equal. Amazon did not trust themselves to create a quality ereader, and didn’t trust you the consumer enough to give you choice. A common problem with business in the 21st century, they don’t want to earn your business, they want to own your business, they want to enslave you. What do I mean by this? Amazon decides to not support on their Kindle Ereader the defacto standard of Epub, and instead creates a new proprietary format, AZW.

You’re already inclined to buy the effing electronic book from Amazon, that should have been win enough for them, but no, they basically want you to buy the book and read it on their device. It’s like me buying a book from a physical store, and then the cashier telling me you can only read the book in the store.

If I have a hundred ebook readers, consider them different rooms in my house, I should be able to read my ebook I bought from Amazon in any damn room I feel like. The purpose of a locked down AZW ebook format is to keep you from having digitally, the same rights you have in the real, physical world.

That’s the problem corporations have in the 21st century, they want a certainty on your actions, that they never had previously, and to do this they are willing to criminalize anything they cannot control, and for me I don’t respond well to you trying to own me. You don’t get to be sure, you get to make a product, you get to sell a product, and you get paid for a product, and you get to deal with wrong doing if it happens, but you don’t get to treat me like a criminal before a crime, which is what all these companies, movies, music, media conglomerates are doing.

You have customers you treat em with respect. And if it turns out a customer bought your book and is running off a printing press in his basement and is selling copies, you prosecute him. What you don’t do is treat all your customers like criminals, because of the one criminal you may have to deal with.

That’s the 21st century mindset between devices like the Kindle, that I was all for buying, $90 Ereader?? Cool? Wait, I can’t read Epubs on it? Wait I can’t transfer easily AZW files to other devices? Wait so I’m paying you $90 for a reader, that is basically a jail cell for books I buy from you but don’t really own, and that are locked down with DRM? I’m paying you like $90 to treat me like a criminal in other words? And Kindle Fire is just as crappy and locked down.

Well to that I say, eff you very much Amazon. I’ll stick to just getting real books from you, get my ebooks somewhere else, and look for an Ereader that will let me play my purchased or free ebooks as I see fit. So to the Amazon VP who brainstormed their Kindle/lock-down/AZW/slap customers in the face policy…

You’re making money, but you could have made more, if you feared less.

or in other words…

Shove the Kindle where the sun don’t shine and set it on fire.

Why don’t I tell you how I really feel? 🙂

And this comes from someone who does business with Amazon and likes buying print books from them. But ebooks? No I’m not doing their DRM nonsense.

Anyhow, so once that decision was made regarding the cheap Kindle not being for me, I decided if I was going to pay anywhere near $200 for something to read ebooks, then I should get something that would handle all my reading needs. Including comics, magazines.

So that meant color, and that meant LCD screens, and that meant Tablets.

Now I knew looking at tablets, specifically the Ipad, that there was no way on earth this was something I was going to pay anywhere near $500 for. $500 for what amounted to a stopgap technology, a glorified ereader, or a crippled laptop if you will. And researching Tablets I saw Apple Ipad was infected with the same disease/mentality as Amazon’s Kindle in essence it’s designed to treat you like a criminal before crime.

What do I mean? No USB ports. No HDMI ports, No SD support. Things have to be transferred to and from the Ipad via the Matrix GateKeepers of Itunes. Cloud Computing in other words. Cloud Computing is the 21st century re-purposing of the 20th century thin client/server model, but pushed from corporate America to the masses.

In a word… Cloud Computing sucks! Cloud Computing is you trusting your information to companies that don’t trust you.

How on earth does that make sense to you?

Cloud Computing is the move to eradicate the hard-drive for the individual, the idea of private storage. Eff that! I’ll hold onto my hard-drive.

It’s that level of utter control of everything you do with the device, this Draconian iron fist, that I’m just not effing having. I’m just not going to 1/ to be treated that way and 2/for what amounts to a severely crippled device. And I’m definitely not paying anything over $250 for a bloody tablet.

And at $250, at $200, at $150, at $100, I still wouldn’t pay for the effing Ipad. No USB, no HDMI, no SD support, beautiful screen or no, it’s a paper weight to me without those ports.

And Apple’s tendency to treat customers either like children or criminals extends to their corporate mentality. Morally the company is doing some really immoral stuff in regards to software patents and stifling innovation. If Apple has its way there will be no alternative to Apple’s high-priced crippled devices. So people should really think twice before supporting them, because they definitely don’t have supporting you… in mind.

So what would I buy in tablets? I’m liking the Android tablets, and I think the Toshiba Thrive and Asus Transformer, are great Ipad killers. Offering all the useful things the Ipad doesn’t.

Unfortunately while not as expensive as the over-priced crap that is the Ipad, they are still expensive and above my $250 Tablet limit. However going used I can get an Ipad Killer, that meets all my needs and then some, chief among them, bringing it all home, ebook reading.

So my choice for the recommended Tablet this holiday season?

From France the feature rich ARCHOS 101 10.1″ Tablet. And while the latest version is generation 9, and generation 10 is on the horizon, generation 8 which you can get used blows away any Ipad in terms of versatility and usability. Now, it doesn’t offer 3G, but Wi-fi is all I need. Plus if you do need anywhere support you can always tether to your smartphone or use your USB aircard with a cradlepoint. All cheap, easy alternatives to spending hundreds more just to get a built in 3G/4G connection.

All in all, by the time I’ve done the learning curve, and outgrown (if I do) this Archos 101 G8. the used Thrive or the used Achos G10 will be available in my price range of $250. A lot of people buy above what they’ll use, and by the time they master it the next new thing is out, that’s why it saves to not be an early adopter.

If more people did this, ignoring or waiting for prices to drop, manufacturers would be forced to stop this overpricing of tablets.

So that’s it kids, a month or so of research distilled to my choice of the best buy for a tablet this holiday season.

Here’s one link:

Archos 101 16GB

With a little searching you can pick up an Archos 101 16GB G8 for under $200. And out the box it comes with the Alkido Ereader installed. One of the selling points for me, along with tons of other reasons, including the built in stand.

Well that’s it folks.

Good shopping!