Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2017 Movie Preview Part 1

By Jim Scroggs
November 30, 2016

The leaves are changing and it’s getting a little chilly so that means 2016 is almost done and regardless of what you think of how it ended up, It’s safe to say that most of us thought it would be one of the greatest cinematic years ever. In my opinion, I certainly don’t think it was bad but It could have been better in some areas(I'm looking at you, DC/WB and Fox).  From finally seeing two iconic characters together in the same film, A fan favorite finally getting his due and the escalation of a universe that has taken Hollywood by storm, I thought nothing could compete with 2016 but then I started looking at 2017 and thought “ Wait, could next year be even better?"



To say that Fox’s handling of the X-Men franchise has been confusing is an understatement. It’s literally been a roller coaster of emotions as well as trying to stay fresh in a universe that has no real direction. As bad as some of his appearances have been and I’m looking right at you, Wolverine Origins, there is a huge amount of respect that Hugh Jackman has gotten playing the iconic character, Wolverine. Logan will more than likely be the last time he will pop his claws and if the trailer is any indication, it’s going to be an emotional ride that I really hope we can all give a standing ovation to the very character that's been a constant for the last 17 years. While Old Man Logan has been an inspiration for this film, it’s nice to see Logan and Charles Xavier have one final adventure, pass it along to another generation of characters (Possibly X23) in the hopes that the franchise can gain some stability but I don’t see how one good movie will forgive everything that FOX has done. Logan will be in theaters on March 3rd, 2017.


Saban's Power Rangers

When I heard this film was being made, I thought “and we need this, why?” I didn’t think those characters would be viable and maybe even run the risk of being too cheesy for some kids today. Yes, I remember watching the TV show when I would get home from school but it wasn’t a huge part of my childhood that I hung on to. Even with the casting of Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa wasn’t completely sold on me. Well, It looks like I could be wrong. The trailer showed us that the simplicity of a “Breakfast Club but darker” cast of characters mixed with an updated look at the mythology could work and I became more interested in this film after hearing that Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader joined the cast. I’d like to see how the Zords look as well and if the Green Ranger will come into play at some point in future. I’m optimistic on what this could do to bring Zach, Billy, Jason, Trini and Kimberly to a new set of eyes in 2017. Power Rangers will be in theaters on March 17th, 2017


Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

As the first MCU film of 2017, It’s refreshing to see the first spring release that doesn't involve any of the Avengers. We’ll continue to see the journey that Peter Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Drax,  Baby Groot as well as some newer faces to the team take as we inch ever so closer to the culmination of Infinity War. I don't think there is any concern with what the next installment will bring us but considering how surprising the first Guardians was, I can understand how some people might worry about the expectations of such a newly beloved franchise.The only real questions I have is how instrumental is Peter’s father to the story, what role does Yandu as well as Nebula serve as hesitant allies and how different will Baby Groot be compared to the last version of the fan favorite?  All in all, I'll be there opening night to get my fill of what the next Awesome Mix has to offer. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 will be in theaters on May 5th, 2017

Part two of the 2017 movie preview will be available tomorrow

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The SmackDown Files: The Viper In Sheep's Clothing Edition (11-29-2016)

By: Keila Cash

Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of The SmackDown Files. Tonight’s episode of SmackDown Live emanated from the University of South Carolina. This is the go-home show for TLC as the blue brand tries to end their PPV year on a high note. James Ellsworth is a full-fledged WWE Superstar after defeating AJ Styles in a Ladder Match last week. How did Styles react after falling to 0-3 vs The Chinless Wonder?

Also, Tag Team Turmoil continues with American Alpha facing off against Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton to determine the number one contender for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Who punched their ticket to Dallas? Most importantly, did Orton turn on Wyatt revealing that his initiation into The Wyatt Family was an elaborate ruse? The answer to these questions can be found throughout this blog. Without further ado, let’s dissect tonight’s episode of SD Live in no particular order. 

·        The Good News: Becky Lynch got the jump on Alexa Bliss during their SmackDown Women’s Championship contract signing.

·        The Bad News: When Lynch tried to suplex Bliss through a table, Bliss raked her eyes and pushed her through the table.

·        This might be a precursor that Lynch and Bliss will have a Tables match at TLC. This would raise the stakes for the ladies on SD Live because Sasha Banks and Charlotte have had high profile matches that continue to elevate the art of women’s wrestling.

·        After a rough start on the mic, Lynch hit her stride down the stretch as she talked about her journey from being a part of the biggest women’s match at WrestleMania to winning the Women’s Championship at Backlash in September. She’s always relatable when she taps into something real and heartfelt.

·        Bliss did a great job being the evil pixie who can get under people’s skin on a whim. She’s adorable, but devilish at the same time. Her promos have improved by leaps and bounds because she is fully invested in her character. Plus, it helps that the announcers have stopped harping on her size. If AJ Lee could be a 5’2 badass without anyone batting an eyelash, so can Bliss.

·        Bliss and Lynch should have a good match at TLC. Their feud has had its share of unforeseen twists and turns, but it still feels fresh because there has not been a definitive finish yet. Here’s hoping there is one come Sunday.

·        Dolph Ziggler and Kalisto vs. Baron Corbin and The Miz was a fast-paced and hard-hitting match, but it ended via disqualification when Corbin attacked Kalisto with a steel chair. Things got chaotic down the stretch as Ziggler delivered a couple of superkicks to Corbin and Miz while Kalisto laid out Corbin with a suicide dive.

·        Maryse got involved when she laid Ziggler out with a ladder that was leaning against the steel steps. Kalisto hit Miz with the Salina Del Sol, but Corbin broke things up which lead to the DQ.

·        At least no one ate an unnecessary pin fall heading into the PPV. That’s a positive.

·        Carmella was greeted with a “How You Doin’?” chant, but she quickly shut it down by saying that she couldn’t wait to get the hell of South Carolina. That was a nice ad lib which shows that the Princess of Staten Island is quick on her feet when it comes to turning the crowd against her.

·        Carmella cut a scathing promo as she apologized to John Cena in advance for what she plans to do Nikki Bella during their No Disqualification match at TLC. She vowed to hit Nikki’s chest with a steel chair so hard that her twins would be popping out of her back.

·        Carmella went on to say that Cena would appreciate Nikki’s face being rearranged because he won’t have to worry about marrying her. That was a nice callback to Cena’s marriage phobia from previous seasons of Total Divas.

·        Nikki heard enough as she ran down to the ring and attacked Carmella. The referee tried to break things up, but the ladies kept going at each other. Carmella eventually escaped while Nikki stood tall in the ring.

·        This was an effective segment that put heat on their No DQ match at TLC. As I mentioned last week, it should be good if it’s not overbooked to death.

·        AJ Styles finally got his revenge on James Ellsworth and Dean Ambrose when he attacked both men during a special edition of The Ambrose Asylum. Styles quickly got rid of Ambrose and focused his attention on Ellsworth.

·        While the Chinless One was stuck in the headstand position against the ropes outside the ring, Styles delivered a wicked chair shot to Ellsworth’s back.

·        The Phenomenal One wasn’t finished as he laid out Ellsworth with a sick Styles Clash from the steel steps onto the floor. Even JBL was taken aback after he called Ellsworth a deformed turtle earlier in the segment.

·        Styles sent a clear message that the fun and games were over. Shit just got real, ladies and gentleman. Styles and Ambrose should have an excellent TLC match. Anything less would be a major disappointment.

·        Luke Harper failed in his quest to send Kane back to hell as he got pinned via a Chokeslam. This was the longest match on the show so far with a clean finish to boot. Harper and Kane had a solid big man match that was surprisingly even from start to finish.

·        The outcome put into question Harper’s standing in The Wyatt Family. Orton put Harper in the hot seat earlier in the show only for Bray Wyatt to pour gasoline on it by telling him to defeat Kane. I guess the seat is on fire which spells bad news for Harper. This might be a part of Orton’s master plan to take out the family from within. If so, that’s a brilliant strategy.

·        Becky Lynch got colorful with her language when she called Alexa Bliss a little bitch after the evil pixie challenged her to a Tables match at TLC. It’s not shocking considering how their contract signing ended. This makes the second women’s match on the PPV to feature an extra dose of violence. Both feuds warrant the added stipulations which should enhance the overall quality of their matches on Sunday.

·        The hot seat that Luke Harper was sitting in cooled off considerably after he helped Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton become the Number One Contender for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. They will go on to face Heath Slater and Rhyno at TLC.

·        American Alpha vs. Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton was very good. It was nice to see Chad Gable and Jason Jordan in the main even spot as they gelled well with Wyatt and Orton. The crowd reaction was muted because most fans still view Orton as a babyface despite his alliance with Wyatt. Despite the odd face/heel dynamic, the in-ring work was strong.

·        Harper magically appeared at ringside during the closing moments of the match. His distraction allowed Orton to block American Alpha from hitting Grand Amplitude on Wyatt when he nailed Gable with an RKO.

·        Jordan rammed Orton into the corner and was about to tackle Wyatt, but Harper moved him out of way. This allowed Wyatt to hit Jordan with Sister Abigail to pick up the win. The in-ring portion of the show ended with The Wyatt Family standing tall.

·        Heath Slater and Rhyno were doing a backstage interview with Dasha Fuentes when AJ Styles interrupted them. Styles proceeded to disrespect Beauty and The Man Beast by saying that no one cares about the Tag Team Champions. Rhyno was about to throw hands when Ambrose attacked Styles.

·        Styles and Ambrose had a full-on brawl as they knocked over luxury furniture and snack tables while Slater and Rhyno egged them on. The broadcast ended with both men still going at it on the floor.

·        This was an interesting way to end the show. I didn’t expect to see Ambrose again after he went to the hospital with Ellsworth. He came back to avenge Ellsworth’s good name. Styles was boasting like a peacock and ended up getting his ass kicked by the end of the night. This is all coming to a head at TLC. It should be a stellar match featuring sick bumps throughout. Don’t be surprised if Ellsworth shows up in a wheelchair to will Ambrose to victory.

·        Overall, I thought tonight’s episode of SmackDown Live was solid. It appeared as if fans were treated to a special two-hour edition of Talking Smack because there was a lot of talking on this show. It wasn’t bad as each segment promoted a match at TLC. Luke Harper and Kane having the best match on the broadcast prior to the main event is a little disturbing, though. However, WWE did a nice job hyping the TLC PPV. Each bout has a sense of purpose and the show looks good on paper. There are a couple of hit or miss matches on the card, but the Championship bouts should be very good if the booking team police themselves accordingly.

·        After Sunday’s PPV, the blue brand will have a lot of time on their hands because they don’t have another major show until the Royal Rumble in January. Unless the creative team have a few tricks up their sleeve to keep things lively on Tuesday nights, the Winter Blues will be in full effect. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Fingers crossed!

On that note, this wraps up another edition of The SmackDown Files. I hope you enjoyed it and I will back next week with a brand new installment of The Raw Exposé. See you later, boys and girls! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Raw Exposé: Thrice In a Lifetime - The Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair Story (11-28-2016)

By: Keila Cash

Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of The Raw Exposé. Tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw emanated from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two title matches were set from last week as The New Day defended their Tag Team Titles against Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson while Charlotte and Sasha Banks faced off for the Raw Women’s Championship. The latter match featured a couple of twists and turns along the way which ended the night on a shocking note to say the least. Did The Queen retain her title or did The Boss dethrone the Champ in her hometown to return the favor from last month? The answer to that question can be found throughout this blog. Without further ado, let’s dissect tonight’s episode of Raw in no particular order.

·        The most notable thing about the opening segment is Roman Reigns challenging Kevin Owens to a match. If he wins, he will vie for the WWE Universal Championship at the Roadblock PPV next month. Owens accepted as the opener came to an end.

·        Also, Jericho did an awesome job selling dejection after Owens told him to shut up as he was about to put Reigns on The List. Owens didn’t apologize for the outburst which made matters worse. This is the first clear sign of the bromance hitting a speed bump. Their breakup will be sad and glorious at the same time.

·        Y2J also gets props for saying that Sin Cara was wearing a Jericho mask when he attacked Rollins last week. The Mask of Jericho is another great moniker that worked to perfection.

·        Finally, Owens had a hard time saying the word Universal and Jericho did a marvelous job covering for his best buddy when he said that Owens was speaking in another language.

·        The Canadian Brothers from another mother continued their spat backstage which ended with Jericho walking away from his best friend. It appears that Owens will be on his own when he faces Reigns later tonight. If this is another ruse by Jeri-KO, their “Boy Who Cried Wolf” motif is going to run its course pretty fast.

·        Braun Strowman made quick work of R-Truth when he pinned him with a running power slam. The match was short and sweet.

·        Goldust tried to come to R-Truth’s aid, but Strowman cut him off at the pass.

·        Zayn tried to make the save, but Strowman took him out as well. The referee crew made their way to the ring to stop the big man from hurting Zayn further. Mick Foley also came out to survey the damage.

·        Sami Zayn let Foley have it on the microphone as he called him a hypocrite for holding him back from facing Strowman. If Foley never backed down from a fight, Zayn should have the same opportunity to face a man that is bigger, sicker, and stronger than he is.

·        Something flew out of Foley’s mouth during their promo exchange. It was probably the bottom set of his false teeth that popped out when he was getting emotional on the mic.

·        Zayn showed great passion as he vented about being treated like a doormat as of late. Those sentiments resonated with fans who’ve felt the same way when it comes to the booking of his character in recent months.

·        Foley revealed that Stephanie McMahon wanted to fire Zayn, but he showed mercy by putting him in the match against Strowman as a form of punishment.  Despite that revelation, Foley has lost his edge since going corporate. Perhaps Zayn’s rant was the kick in the ass Foley needed in order to be the man he used to be.

·        Cedric Alexander returned to his hometown only to lose to Tony Nese in a competitive match. Drew Gulak provided the assist which allowed Nese to drop Alexander with a Pump Handle Slam for the win.

·        WWE followed up on Alicia Fox flirting with Alexander as she watched his match backstage on the monitor. This is the first true sign of character development in the Cruiserweight Division. I consider that a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping the other wrestlers get a little shine in the personality department on Raw and 205 Live which debuts tomorrow night.

·        Seth Rollins attacked Jericho in the parking lot and finished him off with a Pedigree on the roof of a car. The execution wasn’t pretty, but it’s hard to be graceful when one is doing a high impact move on a piece of machinery. Outside of that, the surprise ambush was good.

·        Charlotte and Sasha Banks will conclude their feud in a Fall Counts Anywhere match later tonight per the order of Mick Foley.

·        Foley didn’t want their rivalry to end via a double count out and decided to give both ladies a breather before their high-stakes match. It was a great decision and their match should be very good. Perhaps this is their chance to make up for that lackluster finish at Hell in a Cell last month.

·        Enzo Amore made some sexually suggestive comments about Lana which pissed off Rusev. The Bulgarian Brute kicked him in the groin which led to an automatic disqualification.  However, it should be noted that Lana didn’t seem offended by Enzo’s comments. Just an observation…

·        Rich Swann kicked Noam Dar into next month as he picked up an emphatic win heading into his Cruiserweight Championship match against Brian Kendrick tomorrow night on 205 Live. Swann and Dar had a solid match while it lasted.

·        Swann vs. Kendrick should be very good. Here’s hoping that Mr. You Can’t Handle This will be the new standard-bearer of the division.

·        There’s nothing like commiserating over drinks in order to bring a tag team closer together. Sheamus and Cesaro finally bonded as a team after kicking some ass at a local bar in Charlotte. The acting from the peanut gallery was horrible, but the bar fight was fun for the most part. Cesaro is not down with the Guinness way of life, but it appears that he is willing to give Sheamus another chance as his tag team partner. The duo could be a formidable force if they manage to get on the same page.

·        Roman Reigns nailed Kevin Owens with a Spear and will go on to face Owens in a rematch for the Universal Championship at Roadblock: End of The Line next month.

·        Reigns and Owens had a good match that featured hard hitting action throughout. Both men traded stiff forearms and punches which elicited a split reaction from the crowd. Owens countered Reigns’ first Spear attempt and was about to set up the Popup Powerbomb before he got drilled with a Spear. Both men are capable of doing more and I expect them to have a great match in Pittsburgh on December 18th.

·        Owens does a great job berating the robotic backstage interviewers. His ad-lib of needing a water bottle when he started to cough was awesome.

·        Paul Heyman was tremendous during his sit-down interview with Michael Cole. He was unshaven and openly crying over Brock Lesnar’s shocking loss to Goldberg at Survivor Series last Sunday. Heyman took method acting to a whole new level which makes things feel real on a scripted show.

·        Heyman announced that Lesnar would be in the Royal Rumble. Because of this, there would be 28 losers and one victim who goes by the name of Goldberg. That was an excellent line as Lesnar is in seek and destroy mode. The Alamo Dome will be rocking come January. To quote Heyman, “That’s not a prediction. It’s a spoiler.”

·        The New Day are closing in on Demolition’s record as they successfully defended their Tag Team Titles against Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. It was a good match that could have went longer, but the fact that both teams survived the 10:00 P.M. Lull Period of Death is a victory in of itself.

·        Gallows and Anderson had the match under control when Anderson rolled up Xavier Woods with a handful of tights. Woods reversed the pin attempt and beat Anderson at his own game by grabbing a handful of tights to pick up the win.

·        It should be noted that Woods was wrestling in elf shoes. Yes, you read that correctly. WWE Shop is selling elf apparel to ring in the holiday season.

·        Big E risked life and limb as he laid out Anderson with a sick dive through the ropes. It’s a great spot, but I’m afraid Big E is going to hurt himself sooner or later because there is not a lot cushion to soften his fall. Here’s hoping he retires that spot for his own good.

·        Sasha Banks won the Raw Women’s Championship for the third time when she made Charlotte tap out to a modified version of the Bank Statement while The Queen was trapped between the guard rail. It was an inventive spot to end the match on a high note.

·        Afterward, Ric Flair made a surprise appearance as he raised Sasha’s hand in victory before giving her a hug in the middle of the ring. Charlotte was weeping in the crowd while Sasha continued her celebration as the show went off the air.

·        As always, Charlotte and Sasha delivered the goods in the ring. It was an entertaining title bout from start to finish. Both ladies took incredible risks with the biggest being Charlotte laying out Sasha with a moonsault from the announce table onto the floor.

·        Sasha had her own moment she nailed Charlotte with the double knees from the top of the barricade. It was a match filled with drama and exhilarating near falls.

·        Seeing Sasha win the Women’s Title for the third time on Raw waters down her first two wins, but here’s hoping it sticks this time around. Mick Foley mentioned that this was their final match against each other for the time being. If that’s the case, this is the best way to blow off their feud. I think there needs to be a two-year moratorium on Sasha vs. Charlotte matches. Each bout has been special, but it’s time for both ladies to move on to bigger and better things.

·        Charlotte is 0-3 when it comes to defending her title on Raw, but her PPV undefeated streak remains intact. She will get a chance to keep that streak alive when once Banks drops the strap. That’s the best option at this point.

·        As for Sasha, this is her chance to have a long title reign. I am sure Nia Jax will challenge for the belt, but the real money feud is Sasha vs. Bayley. They had a tense exchange prior to the main event and one has to assume that Sasha is turning heel sooner rather than later. She’s better in that role as her matches are more vicious in nature.

·        With the debut of Emmalina coming soon, there are enough moving pieces in place for The Boss to turn heel leading up to her inevitable WrestleMania feud with Bayley next year. It’s the perfect dream scenario if everything falls into place. Here’s hoping the creative team can get from Point A to Point B with the greatest of ease.

·        Overall, I thought tonight’s episode of Raw was solid. The show was light on fluff and heavy on good in-ring action. Everyone that got television time deserved it. Sami Zayn spoke his mind and told Mick Foley to grow a spine, both title matches delivered on the wrestling front, and Roman Reigns punched his ticket to Roadblock by defeating Kevin Owens in a nontitle match.

·        Also, Rollins got a measure of revenge on Jericho and the Cruiserweights weren’t treated as filler for a change.

·        Plus, the three-hour show didn’t drag for a change. It breezed by which makes me a very happy camper. As always, consistency is key. WWE is capable of putting on a good show when they are motivated to do so. Can Raw string together back-to-back shows without using a title change in order to generate buzz? That’s the big question as the end of 2016 draws near. There have been major title changes in July, August, October, and November. All of those shows were good, but the follow-up sucked for the most part. Can the company break this pattern when the show emanates from Austin, Texas next week? We shall see.

On that note, this wraps up another edition of The Raw Exposé. I hope you enjoyed it and I will be back tomorrow night with a brand new installment of The SmackDown Files. See you later, boys and girls! 

Underrated Shows Everyone Should Watch

There are so many shows available now, it’s hard to figure out what to watch. Here are some shows that you might have heard of and definitely need to watch.

Jack Carter is transporting a fugitive, which happens to be his daughter Zoe, when they stumble upon the town of Eureka. Eureka is not your normal small town; its population consists of super geniuses. Carter and Zoe, on the other hand, have average IQs. Since nobody is supposed to know that Eureka exists, Carter and Zoe have to start a new life in town.

The father/daughter dynamic that Carter and Zoe have is truly believable. They have their own inside jokes, and Carter interacts, or rather chastises, Zoe with such ease. As an only daughter, it definitely reminded me of my interactions with my father.

I also love the town’s personality. The setting totally acts as a character. Although everyone in town is super smart, sometimes (almost weekly), they make HUGE mistakes. Somehow Carter always find the very simple solution.

We follow Hercules and his friend Iolaus through Greece as they help innocent people and deal with the gods. I love how this show introduces people to Greek mythology, as well as sprinkling other mythos in later seasons. I know, as a kid, this was my first memorable experience with mythology.

Hercules and Iolaus are a great example of the hero/sidekick trope. Hercules’ call to action is the murder of his entire family by Hera (not really a spoiler). Iolaus is Hercules’ childhood friend and would do anything for him, including travel the world and righting wrongs.

Xena, although a fictional character, shows incredible growth as a person. We are first introduced to her as a side character in Hercules, and she’s a villain. Not exactly what you’d expect from a female character in this time of TV (this show premiered in 1995), but it’s a refreshing surprise.

Xena and Gabrielle are the epitome of girl power. They show that women don’t need men to solve their problems, and they can defend themselves as well. Gabrielle, for example, was a quiet girl who didn’t know what the world offered. Once she was trained by the Amazons (again, not really a spoiler), she gained so much self-confidence.

Enterprise acts as a prequel to the original Star Trek series with Kirk. Here, Captain Archer and his crew are just barely exploring space, and we get introductions to some of our favorite alien races, as well as some brand-new ones.

I really enjoyed what each crew member brings to the table. T’Pol is the necessary logical character, a la Spock and Data. Hoshi is this version’s Uhura, and she gets even more screen time than our original communications officer. Dr. Phlox is one of the new races that we encounter, and I love that he acts as a sort of comedic relief. Just as a warning: this show was cancelled while the writers and producers were writing another season, so the ending is a bit hasty.

Shawn and his friend Gus want to get involved in some detective work, so instead of applying for a job at the police department, they make the most logical decision and open up a psychic detective agency.

This is definitely a comedy, but I love some of the nerdy Easter eggs hidden throughout the show. In every episode, a pineapple is hidden somewhere, and it’s quite a fun party game to try to find it. There have also been themed episodes throughout the series, such as the ever-necessary musical and an Alfred Hitchcock-themed show.

What underrated shows are must-sees to you?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Comic Book Review: The Flash #11 - The Shade Returns!

By: Jerry Montgomery
November 26, 2016

The Flash #11
“The Speed of Darkness, Pt. 2”

Written by: Joshua Williamson
Art by: Davide Gianfelice

If you haven’t been around for Pt. 1 of “The Speed of Darkness” story arc, then you should know the focus of last issue was on Wally West, aka Kid Flash. Barry Allen, the Flash questions the events that have allowed Wally to have returned. Whomever or whatever  the cause, he worries that old enemies will come crawling out of the woodwork to cause problems. Wally battles the lame villain Papercut (His power is that he can control paper. Seriously.). He screws it up and to redeem himself in the eyes of the Flash, Wally then takes it upon himself to track down a new internet boogeyman known as “The Walking Shadow”. He  finds the Shadow but soon finds himself outmatched because it’s really The Shade…but there’s something not quite right about him. He appears more monstrous, more evil. In the ensuing confrontation, Kid Flash vanishes into the darkness of the Shade.

In issue 11 and part two of the “Darkness” story arc, it begins with Kid Flash battling the shadow entities in the realm known as the Shadowlands, literally running for his life. In the meantime, in Central City, Barry Allen goes to Wally’s house to speak with him and his Aunt Iris about his absences from school, but of course, Wally is not there. Barry, changing into his alter ego,  the Flash is confronted by an unknowing Iris who scolds him for chastising Wally . At this point, the Shade materializes to them both, once again, looking askew and decayed. Iris charges headlong into the darkness before the Flash can intervene and he follows. The Flash finds himself face to face with a relieved and exhausted Kid Flash on the other side, a barren and twisted landscape. The Shade presents himself as well, only he now appears healthy and working on the side of good (Remember, he’s reformed.).  He reveals the reason and source for the Shadow problems and enlists the aid of the Flash to help him set things right. Discovering the root of the problem, a duo of new villains emerge to a surprised Flash and Shade,  which could be a bigger problem than they would ever have imagined.

The Verdict: A very interesting story with a lot of potential with the addition of the character of The Shade. Created in 1942, he’s been in the DC universe for a long time and IGN named him one of the greatest villains of all time.  He is definitely a breath of fresh air in this title rather than the goofy villains we’re used to seeing pitted against the Flash. The Shade really grew into a great character since he was in Starman, way back in 1998-2001. The artwork is pretty good for a sort of unconventional style by Davide Gianfelice . Having been a big fan of Starman, and the Shade, I am looking forward to the next chapter.

My Videogame Club: Dragon’s Crown

By Patrick Hawes-DeFrias
Each week, I meet up with a group of friends to play through a game that at least one of us hasn’t finished. This week, we beat a game that pretty much all of us had played before, but never beaten. I’m talking about Atlus and Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown, a side-scrolling beat-em-up RPG that may be familiar to those that frequented arcades back in the day.
The first thing you’ll notice is the amazing art style, done in that striking Vanillaware hand-drawn style. You see every sinew of a character’s muscles, see them breathing, and every tiny detail in their design. However, the art is simultaneously the game’s biggest accomplishment as well as its biggest source of controversy. Vanillaware wanted to amp up the sex appeal of this game, and thus most female characters in the game are highly sexualized, drawn in provocative poses, scantily clad, or both. This is also true for two of the playable classes in the game, the Amazon and the Sorceress. It’s a big point of contention for many people, and I can’t say I blame them. HOWEVER, if you can get past that, there’s a very interesting and fun game to be played. But I know it’ll probably be an issue for some players right away, so fair warning.
Dragon’s Crown is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, much in the same style of Guardian Heroes or Streets of Rage. The core gameplay has you choose from one of six different classes, each with their own niche that they fill. There’s the Fighter, a huge, armor-clad warrior that uses a shield to protect the party using various defensive skills, as well as a one-handed weapon such as a sword or axe to perform various attacks and combos for high damage. He’s basically the tank class, though he can be built to be more of a damage-dealer if you want. The Amazon and Dwarf are essentially variations of this play style- the Amazon being much less tanky (perhaps because she wears almost nothing) but can be one of the most powerful melee fighters. She uses two-handed weapons like poleaxes and scythes, and she can go into a frenzy which boosts her damage. Most of her skills either give her new attacks or further amplify her damage in some way. The dwarf is an interesting oddity in the game- he’s also a melee fighter, but most of his damage comes from ranged AOE. He’s perfectly capable of going to town in a fight, with dual small weapons that swing pretty fast and the ability to flex to temporarily increase his defense. But, his main ability is being able to pick up and throw things, mostly your enemies. This allows you to temporarily remove one threat, and kill or displace most the rest. He also eventually gains the ability to make an exploding barrel, which can also be thrown. Basically, he runs crowd control. The Elf is the game’s ranger or rogue. Her main ability is to shoot charged shots from her bow, but just as a rogue from D&D gets a ton of skill points to be able to do all kinds of tricks and fill several roles, the Elf gains quite a few varied abilities that allow her to get creative with her build. This includes the ability to do bonus damage using the dagger sub-weapon from behind, being able to poison or enflame her daggers and arrows, and a thing called “spirit magic” which gives her the ability to use VERY basic spells for free, thereby giving her something to fall back on when her arrows run out. Her spells even change based on how close she is to another element, so you can use the spell cast by a party member to temporarily give yourself better magic. On that topic, the last characters are the Wizard and Sorceress, the game’s caster classes. Both of them control almost the same way- you use the circle button to shoot elemental magic that’s based on what kind of damage your staff or wand does. When your mana runs out, you can either charge your mana meter back up, or use your basic attack to gain a bit of mana for every hit. They mostly differ in their skill and spell choices, much like the various D&D classes. The Wizard is definitely the black mage of the group, as his spells are very rarely centered on buffing allies or giving support, but instead are based on blowing things up. He does have a few support spells though- a fire ward, and the ability to slow time for enemies. He can also use his magic on wooden objects like boxes and barrels to create a wood golem. Lastly is the sorceress, who mostly plays support. I hesitate to call her a white mage, because she doesn’t have any straight-up healing magic, and she has a couple attack-based spells that can be devastating, such as creating a blizzard that hits the whole screen and freezes enemies, as well as smashing the ground with a giant boulder. It’s like she’s a cleric from D&D that for some reason took every spell EXCEPT the healing ones. Though she can heal people, just in a roundabout way. She has a spell called “create food,” which is a bit misleading. When you first get the spell, yes, it does make food, which is good because not only does food heal you after waiting for a bit to let your character eat, it can also “over-heal” you, making your health extend past its maximum, and of course you normally have to find food in your adventures. But at higher levels it also generates various items that you’d normally find throughout the levels, including sub-weapons like daggers and crossbows for the party to use, barrels of oil that you can either let the Dwarf pick up to throw at enemies and then ignite for bonus fire damage or have the Wizard turn into a wood golem. It can even generate bone-piles, which can be brought to town to revive at the church to create AI-controlled partners (which fill empty slots in the party), or the Sorceress herself can turn them into skeleton warriors. This is a good spell to get as her, as it helps her have excellent symmetry with all the other classes in some way.
The combat is fast and frenetic…too much so, in some cases. You see, there’s another issue with the game’s art style- the sheer level of detail and expansive use of special effects make it so that it’s very easy to lose track of your character in the middle of a fight, especially if you have a spell caster in your party. The phrase I found myself saying the most throughout the game was, “Where the hell am I?!” Should you decide to play this game, I recommend making sure every character is different and, if possible, has different color schemes, just to make it harder to lose yourself. There’s a few other issues I found in the game, notably with early-game balancing, and progression. The Elf has some problems keeping up with the other characters in terms of usefulness early on, but this changes as you level.
The game’s progression system is also really bizarre. You see, the first half of the game turns out to secretly be an elongated tutorial, with entirely new gameplay elements opening up in the second half, such as deciding to keep playing random levels rather than going back to town in order to get better loot, a cooking mechanic that lets you buff yourself between levels, branching paths, and so forth. Then there’s the end-game, which opens up some interesting new features, such as a Pit of 100 Trials/ Bloody Palace-esque challenge dungeon to get character-specific loot, and a PVP arena, but also throws a strange little monkey wrench into the game’s story. I won’t spoil anything, but basically upon reaching the end credits and seeing your character’s ending, a certain character appears and states (in so many words) that to get the true ending you’ll have to beat the game twice more in increasingly harder difficulty settings. It’s neat that this game has so much extra content if you’re looking for it, but it does kinda deflate everything you just did to save the kingdom.
Don't worry though, there's plenty of good to be had in this game. While the flashy animations seen in the game can make it incredibly difficult to tell what's going on, there's no denying that it all looks stunning, and the controls for this game are incredibly tight and responsive, as well as surprisingly deep. I'm still finding new tricks I can pull off with the Dwarf and Elf. While the branching path element comes much later in the game than it probably should have, and the choices literally never diverge from “Go to path A or B”, but it still grants the game a real sense of adventure. You know what else does that really well? The narration. The whole game has a narrator, who handles the voice work for all the NPCs you talk to outside of actual gameplay, as well as describe what your characters do or see in certain situations. It feels very similar to having a dungeon master in a game of D&D. There was even a DLC available that was free for a time, but now I believe costs a few dollars, that allows you to change the narrator's voice to one of the player characters. It's interesting to hear how the other voice actors interpreted the same lines. I'll never forget the game's opening line, though, as it's one of those lines that's just perfect as the phrase that starts an adventure- you go to the character selection screen and see all the characters hunched over a table, planning what they're about to do, when the Dungeon Master chimes in “You seated yourselves, and call for a stein of the finest mead.”
The bosses, while occasionally difficult to navigate due to the aforementioned problems with magic attacks, are all very interesting and require careful. Later areas might require you to grind a bit as some of them become so damage spongy that you might just need bigger numbers to deal with them properly. But grinding isn't too bad as it offers a chance to bag some better loot with interesting effects, while also delving into the side quests. Most of the stories in these quests aren't that significant, but there are a few real kickers in there, such as one where you have to stop some goblins from getting a certain blueprint, and when you beat it you discover that they were intending on building a giant death-blimp called a “Sky Terror” that would've destroyer the entire kingdom. You even get a cool picture of the Sky Terror as a reward- which is another neat little detail I appreciated. Upon completing a quest, you get “treasure art”, a painting that depicts something related to the quest you just did, usually the outcome or some kind of revelation discovered. They're all really well done and match the game's art style nicely. Why did I bother mentioning that the art style matches? Well, it seems that the developers brought in a team of artists to draw these treasure art pieces, as all of them are annotated with the creator responsible in the gallery. Whether these artists had anything to do with the general style or drawing for the game, I don't know, but it is nice to see artists getting recognition in a video game so that later I can look them up to see what else they’ve worked on. The game's music is fairly well done as well. Nothing truly captivating, just lots of music that puts you in a certain mood. If anyone out there plays lots of tabletop RPGs, here's an entire playlist of background music for you to work off of.
Lastly, I just like the many little details in the game. Whenever you find bones to be revived, you see a silly quote, which almost reminds me of River City Ransom. Speaking of which, you can set text as quotes your character will say under various circumstances (so obviously, one of my first characters' death quotes was “BARF!”). You have a constant NPC traveling companion, Rannie the Thief, who unlocks doors and chests for you. He doesn't fight or anything, he just carries your money and picks doors. Interestingly, Rannie actually levels up. I don't think it actually does anything, but it is a cute little feature that shows that your buddy is getting better during the course of this adventure along with you. As a side note, if you play as an Elf, during boss fights Rannie will pop in every once in a while and toss out a few arrows, that way you don't completely run out. You eventually get a little fairy companion named Tiki, who' s CLEARLY a reference to Tinker Bell. She allows you to use Rune Magic, a little feature that lets you generate spells by linking letters together. The effects range anywhere from doing some plot-mandated method of progression, to generating a cache of sub-weapons, to healing everyone, or even to killing all enemies on-screen. I also enjoyed the numerous references and jokes to certain movies and games laid throughout Dragon's Crown that are sure to get a laugh or two.
So, have you figured out what this game is reminiscent of? The playable classes include Elf and Dwarf, there's significant RPG elements, there's branching paths...  There's even a few classic D&D monsters to fight, including Owlbears and a Beholder-like boss. This game is a massive callback to the classic Dungeons and Dragons arcade games. I played them on the Chronicles of Mystara collection on Xbox 360, and they're still great games, but to think that a spiritual successor to them exists is fascinating to me. And it is a good spiritual successor- don't get me wrong, the game has problems, but Dragon's Crown is still a great experience. The loot system is interesting and requires you to carefully consider your load out. The characters are so different that every playthrough will feel fresh and new, and there's just SO MUCH content in this game.  With as many criticisms I had with the game, I still can't help but admit that this is one of the most enjoyable side-scrolling beat-em-ups I've played in quite some time.
I recommend getting Dragon's Crown. You can get it on PS3 and PS Vita, and if you decide to get it for both, you can even use cross-save.