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DESTINY 2 BETA: IS MORE OF THE SAME A BAD THING?

The DESTINY 2 Beta launched with much fanfare for PS4 fans on 7/18, and Xbox One players were able to get in on the action on 7/19.  Since I am of the latter ilk, my impressions will be solely for the Xbox One platform.  Unfortunately, for as much as I wish I had screenshots and video of my playthrough, my house was far too busy last night to record or stream, but hey, that’s family life and I’m good with that.

The beta starts you with your choice of the usual: Hunter, Warlock, Titan.  Each class has two sub-classes available.  For the Hunter, you can be an Arcstrider (which I will always and forever refer to as Poledancer) or the holdover from Destiny 1, the Gunslinger.  Warlocks have Dawnblade, which gives you a flaming sword you can hurl at your enemies, or a slightly tweaked Voidwalker from Destiny 1.  Titans get Striker back and have added Sentinel, which replaces Defender’s bubble with a Captain America-like Void shield you can use to bash enemies and can even throw.  I started with the Gunslinger Hunter.

Weapons have seen some changes, and the details for those can be found elsewhere so I won’t go into too much of that here, but in a nutshell they’ve replaced Primary/Secondary/Heavy with Kinetic/Energy/Power.  Kinetic weapons do bullet-only damage, Energy weapons add elemental damage (arc/solar/void) to primaries, and Power weapons now include Snipers, Shotguns, and Fusion Rifles as well as Rockets, Swords, and the new Grenade Launcher.  It does mix things up a bit, so let’s just say you were a Hunter who ran with a Pulse Rifle, Fusion Rifle, and Rocket Launcher in Destiny 1. Now you have to pick what are essentially two primaries, one that does kinetic-only damage and one that does elemental, and either a Sniper or Grenade Launcher (just for the beta).  I don’t know whether I like this or not just yet, but it will definitely change how the game plays, at least to a degree.

As soon as I selected my character I was dropped immediately into the first mission, which starts with the cutscene we’ve all seen multiple times already, with the Tower and the Last City under attack.  Someone has betrayed the Guardians, and a ruthless enemy has come for them.  You come in, help to repel the invaders, find out your enemy is the Red Legion of the Cabal and led by Gary, I mean Ghaul, who is apparently put out by the fact the Traveler chose Earth to gift its people with Light, instead of him.  Gary is not a nice individual at all, and let’s leave it at that.  The mission ends with you powerless and, maybe dead?

Enough about the plot, but let’s at least acknowledge Destiny 2 at least appears to HAVE a plot.  Let’s talk about the gameplay in PvE.  There were, frankly, some things I liked and some things I didn’t.  The loadout system they use now works better than I thought it would.  As a Hunter, I started with a Hand Cannon/Auto Rifle/Sniper combo, but I quickly switched the somewhat underwhelming Hand Cannon for one of the new Submachine Guns.  The SMG was a fun new addition but very limited in damage output, at least when it came to some of the Red Legion enemies you face.  Not long after the start of the mission, Lord Shaxx (bless our hard-assed Crucible quartermaster) gives you your first Exotic, which for the Hunter is the Sunshot, a Hand Cannon that causes Solar damage AND has the ability to make your enemies explode when they die.  It’s nice, but the area-of-effect damage from the explosions is very limited.  Still, I had a lot of fun with it.  It kicks like an angry mule, though, so there’s a learning curve involved.  It absolutely WRECKS in Crucible though, once you get the hang of the thing.  The one weapon I didn’t bother using was the Grenade Launcher.  I’d seen enough footage of it on YouTube and Twitch to make me think it’s pretty useless.  Weapons overall felt like they had a bit more punch than from the first game, and they sound so much better.  Aiming them did feel a bit “twitchy” though, but I’m not sure if that was the game or just me.  I didn’t change the default sensitivity, which may have played a part.

Enemies felt a bit more bullet-spongy than before, but I’m not sure if that was just due to me feeling like an angry Deity of Death in Destiny 1 after hitting 40 and 393 Light.  I did note headshots were not a one-hit kill in most cases with a Hand Cannon, and shot accuracy was a bit off (see my note about aiming).  Higher-tier enemies now have a segmented health bar which I found nice, but also kind of pointless.  The biggest problem I found in the PvE portion of the beta was it can be difficult to determine where damage is coming from.  I had a few cheap deaths during the mission simply because I couldn’t tell which direction I was being shot from.  THAT is a real problem for me, because clear shot-detection was a staple of Destiny 1.  Fortunately, the mission didn’t seem to have the “Swarming enemies from all directions, including areas that were ALREADY CLEAR” mechanic I’ve come to despise, so it minimizes the issue, but it does illustrate an issue with the HUD, which I don’t feel is quite opaque enough.  There is a point in the mission where you’re fighting in the rain, and the rain effects on your visor do tend to obscure your HUD.  It wasn’t as prevalent in Crucible, so it may have been merely a product of the environment.  Also, your jump is quite different.  The double-jump doesn’t have the same sound as Destiny 1, and it’s honestly difficult to tell if your double-jump is even active.  It also very much requires you to hold the A-button longer to jump higher or float longer.  The sound really needs to be louder, in my opinion, just to give the player a better indication it’s WORKING.

It only took one Crucible match to realize the game is really geared toward PvP.  Crucible Control was fun, fast-paced, and very fluid.  Weapons are not as balanced as I’d like; Energy weapons and Auto Rifles seem to have a clear advantage over Pulse and Scout Rifles, and Hand Cannons don’t appear to be the Crucible mainstay they once were.  Shotguns absolutely wreck, and so do Fusion Rifles.  Basically, if you can grab Heavy (which now appears on wall kiosks instead of in boxes) you’re golden for a few minutes.  Heavy no longer drops an extra purple box, so it’s a first-come, first-serve thing now.  There are no green ammo pickups any longer; greens now drop from fallen enemies exclusively.  I only played Control, and I can tell you it’s a fun ride now.  It’s mostly the same as it was, with the exception it no longer takes two steps to capture a zone from the other team.  Pacing was fantastic; the match moved much faster than they did in Destiny 1, and overall it was more fun because of it.

Twitter friend Nevin Douglas (@NevinDouglas) expressed concern the new loadout system is balanced for PvP at the expense of PvE:

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After playing both, I think it’s a valid argument. PvP players in Destiny forums and groups complained long and loud about shotguns specifically, and it appears Bungie felt the best solution was to move them to the Heavy slot. Given the rarity of Heavy ammo and with no clue as to whether we can buy Heavy Synths in-game, I don’t think that is a good move and as Nevin said, it’s CLEARLY designed to address PvP issues that really AREN’T issues at all. Ideally, the best way to handle this has two steps:  First, increase PvE Heavy ammo drops and/or put Heavy ammo kiosks in areas where the player is about to have an “encounter,” i.e. LOTS of enemies and a mini-boss or boss battle coming up and second, hope Banshee-44 survived and still has Heavy ammo Synths for sale.  Otherwise, the new loadout system causes problems:

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THIS is something that could really be a problem in PvE environments.  We all know from Destiny 1 that bosses are absolute bullet-sponges (if you don’t believe that, watch people play The Inverted Spire Strike) and not being able to maximize your damage output like before will be an issue.  But it absolutely WORKS in PvP like a charm.  The net result from this is I think anyone who wanted to play the game for the PvE and story is going to have to work a LOT harder than those who primarily focus on PvP.  This won’t quell my excitement for the game by any means, but I’m also the type of player who doesn’t like it when the game’s mechanics cause frustration during gameplay (hence why I can only play Dark Souls for about 30 minutes before I’m DONE).  We’ll see how it “plays” out (Puns!) in the final version of the game.  Ultimately I think it’ll be ok.

One final note: In the mission, you start out at 200 light with all 200 weapons/armor.  I’m fairly certain that’s by design in the game, and after Gary does his thing you’ll lose it all and start from ground zero.  We will see when Destiny 2 launches on September 6th!

As always, let me know YOUR thoughts in the comments section!

America Will Endure, and Honestly, We Will Too

Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States.

Today Americans woke up with one of three attitudes: Outright fear of the future, joy that SOMEONE finally shook up the Washington Establishment, or a guarded wait-and-see feeling.  None of those are wrong.  However we should all be cautious about falling into a pit of despair or exuberant joy, depending on for whom you voted.  This is not The End of the World as we Know It, but neither is it A Bold New Beginning.

Let’s quickly review how Trump ascended to the Presidency.  First, his message resonated with Americans in a way that was horribly underestimated by just about everyone covering the election.  His numerous faux pas, his personal failings, his dangerous and hate-filled speeches; his entire campaign tapped into a deep-seated resentment that I do not believe many American voters really felt or understood until Trump articulated it for them.  It’s important to note where Trump did well.  He won the rural vote hands-down, and CBS indicated his support from non-college-educated whites was at 67%.  What does that mean?  Well, essentially he found votes in places many candidates have never bothered to look before.  He did better than Clinton with white suburban women also, which is a surprise in many ways.

But the POLLS showed Clinton leading!  How could they be so wrong?  It’s simple, really.  A large majority of Trump voters simply did not respond to polling, and based on Trump’s railing against the system as being “rigged,” why would they?  Whether it was how he really felt or just brilliant strategy will forever remain a mystery, but the end result was hundreds of thousands of Trump voters were essentially “hidden” from the media.  The result was mass-confusion and shock on every major news network and a win for Trump.

The question on everyone’s mind is “Ok, what happens now?”  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this.  It’s important to note that, while Trump has a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, he does not have the coziest of relationships with the Legislative Branch.  Depending on how he approaches the Office of the Presidency, he could damage the already-tenuous cooperative attitudes his legislative cohorts have toward him.  His cabinet appointments will tell the tale here, especially his choices for Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Secretary of Defense.  If he chooses the wrong person for any or all of these cabinet posts, Congressional cooperation could go out the window.  The right choices could promote a level of cooperation unseen in recent memory.

Why do I think we will be fine in the long run as a nation?  Because despite Trump’s bombastic and bullish personality, he WILL have to learn to work the system in order to get things done.  Executive Orders will only get him so far.  We WILL get a full Supreme Court bench and, while it’s likely he will appoint a conservative to fill Scalia’s seat, recent decisions by SCOTUS show they can go against the grain in the name of upholding the Constitution.

Ah, yes, the Constitution.  That pesky 200+-year-old document that defines our representative democracy is going to be THE biggest factor in keeping Trump in check.  It will not be long before we find out whether Trump is a believer in Explicit Powers or Inherent Powers given by the Constitution.  I would put money on him ascribing to the Inherent Powers interpretation, which means he will be in for some serious fights as Congress and the courts will undoubtedly challenge that belief.

Finally, I think we will be fine because even though Trump won the Electoral College, it remains a fact that Clinton won the popular vote by a slim margin (though it should be noted the vote count is far from complete with absentee ballots yet to be counted), and that means the majority of voting Americans did NOT subscribe to Trump’s heavy-handed rhetoric.  It stands to reason that, despite the Republican Congressional majority, those same Republicans may (and likely will) heed the wishes of their constituency lest they lose their seats in mid-term elections in the same way Democrats did in 2014.  Also, do note that Trump’s current legal woes could cost him the office as Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides for impeachment:

“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

My fellow Americans, we stand at a crossroads.  We have choices to make that can and will shape the future of our very nation.  We still have hope though.  That hope resides within each and every one of us.  It is incumbent upon us all to comport ourselves with dignity, respect for others, and a strong desire to make our nation one worth living in, one kindness at a time.  We can still be a Beacon of Light for the world.  We can show the world that we are more than one man in a White House with an Oval Office.  Over the last 18 months, the world has seen some of the worst we have to offer.  It is time to put that aside.  It is time to move forward and demonstrate to the world the very BEST we as Americans can be.  We can do this, in spite of our President or along side him.  The choice is OURS.  It is our DUTY as citizens of the United States of America to make the RIGHT choices.  Every day of our lives we can demonstrate we as Americans are MORE than what our representatives in Washington show us to be.  Let us do that.  Together.

Thank you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Titanfall 2 Review: So Much More than the Game You Used to Know

Titanfall 2 is not going to go down as one of the blockbuster AAA titles in the current console generation.  In fact, given what some have been saying, it may not even be more than a blip on the charts.  Blame the launch date if you want, or the glut of shooters in the market.  It doesn’t really matter in the long run, because if you’re passing up Titanfall 2 to play something else, you’re missing out on something special.

Protocol 1: Link to Pilot

Unlike its predecessor, Titanfall 2 has a genuine single-player component.  You play as Generic Militia Rifleman 8675309…kidding, his name is Jack Cooper, which is actually even more generic.  Cooper is training to be a pilot with his commanding officer, Captain Lastimosa (and THAT’S certainly less generic) when a mission to the planet Typhon goes wrong.  Captain Lastimosa (seriously, say it three times fast) is killed and Cooper then has to link to his Titan, BT-7274.  This is where the game truly gains a lot of the charm and entertainment you will experience throughout the campaign.  BT, as Cooper calls him, and his new pilot have some very interesting interactions as they traipse around Typhon through a simplified dialogue tree that allows you to select Cooper’s tone of his comments to BT.  Generally, you can play it straight or inject some wit and sarcasm into the banter between the two and BT will react accordingly by usually playing Cooper’s straight-man.  It’s actually a bit of fun, if limited, and brings some of levity to the campaign that is both unexpected and welcome.

Protocol 2: Uphold the Mission

The mission structure in the campaign is as varied as it is linear, and if that sounds like a contradiction, then play it some more and you will understand.  Most missions are a variation of go-from-point-A-to-point-B, but it’s less about WHAT you have to do than HOW you accomplish it.  Want to go dashing about, wall-running all over and raining death upon your enemies from multiple vantage points at breakneck speed?  You can do that.  Prefer to play a bit slower, methodically doling out headshots to your foes as you work your way to your objective?  You can do that, too.  Cooper quickly gains all of the kit a pilot needs to take the fight to the enemy in a myriad of ways with an arsenal of weapons that will make even the most ardent shooter fan giggle with delight.  From heavy machine guns to double-shot sniper rifles, from full-auto shotguns to full-auto directed-energy weapons, all of them allow the player to perform the Dance of Death with grace and aplomb.  The only sad part is the Smart Pistol makes one appearance near the end of the game and it’s so outrageously overpowered you truly do feel like a Harbinger of Death.

The basic plot has Cooper trying to complete Captain Lastimosa’s mission on Typhon, which is to gather intelligence on an IMC science facility and the superweapon (sigh) being developed there.  It’s a thin story, but it has moments so I won’t spoil it.  Oh, and there’s time-travel (double-sigh).

Protocol 3: Protect the Pilot

As fun as it is to run around slaughtering foes as Cooper, the game really shines when you jump in the cockpit and take control of BT-7274.  BT stomps about as you expect a Titan to, and easily lays waste to the merc’s foot soldiers (seriously, doesn’t ANYONE give those guys anti-Titan weapons anymore?) while spending a bit more time on the generic Titan enemies that show up fairly often.  It’s also a bit of fun to hear Generic Titan 003 (I made that up, by the way) start trash-talking you and suddenly explode as you hit them with the kill-shot.  “That was a good shot, pilot, but you won’t get anothe…AAAAGGGHHH!”  Realistically, the grunt Titans don’t provide much of a challenge in battle, but they can distract you in some of the boss fights, which is where your piloting skills need to be sharp.  Most of the boss battles provide at least a nominal challenge, especially when a couple of flanking enemy Titans are dropped in along with the boss.  A few of them (I’m looking at YOU, Viper) can get flat-out frustrating as you find yourself taking serious damage and you’re trying to find a green Titan battery pick-up to get some health back.  There were a few cheap deaths while trying to figure out the proper strategy, but overall it wasn’t always a scream-inducing nightmare some other games can be.  BT gains new load-outs as you progress, and the best part is you can change your load-out to suit your gameplay style, so there’s no following the trope of handing the player a new weapon because it’s EXACTLY what’s needed to defeat the next boss or complete the level.

Multiplayer: We Didn’t Change the Formula (ok, we kinda did…)

With the original Titanfall being a multiplayer-only game, it should come as no surprise the sequel would attempt to build on that.  In some ways, Titanfall 2 succeeds, but in others it just doesn’t quite get there.  There’s a pretty low player population right now, which doesn’t help matters, but overall the core experience remains.  Pick a gametype, select your loadout and your Titan, and drop.  Already there’s a bit of a problem.  Titanfall 2 doesn’t have the same ability to customize your Titan loadout as the first game did.  You’re limited by the type of Titan you are using, be it Ion, Scorch, Ronin, Northstar, Tone, or Legion.  They have type-specific loadouts that do not change (which is vastly different from the campaign), presumably to allow players to go into a match and see exactly what they’re facing.  Pilot loadouts are still pretty much fully customizable, and thankfully they took out the weird android with the blade legs.  Still, if you played the first game, the second won’t throw you any surprises.  The maps really help the multiplayer shine, with designs that capitalize on close-quarters battles along with wide-open arenas for all-out Titan warfare.

Overall, Titanfall 2 is largely what it was expected to be (which is NOT a bad thing at all) but throws in a few surprises and some unique moments that make it better than the first by a wide margin.  While a game like this will always have some issues (the number of times I screwed up a wall-run and fell to my death…) they are largely linked to player skill and ability, not wonky controls.

Oh, and one final note: The environments are GORGEOUS.  The character models are much less so.

Score: 9.0/10

Ghost Rider’s Debut High Point in Mediocre Marvel’s Agents of Shield Premiere

The Hype Train, or in this case 1969 Dodge Charger, has finally left the station as Marvel’s Agents of Shield has officially debuted in its new 10pm/9pm Central time slot on Tuesdays.   As we learned with the Season 3 finale, the Sokovia Accords have allowed SHIELD to resume somewhat normal operations, but the fallout from Season 3’s “Ascension” includes Daisy/Skye/Quake going rogue and dealing with the damage using her powers causes, Phil Coulson no longer in charge of SHIELD, and The Team being split up.  Phil and Mack are agents-in-the-field, May is head of a rapid-response team (laugh if you get the joke, if not, read to the end for an explanation), Fitz is still doing lab work but is now buddies with Holden Radcliffe (AIDA’s creator), and Gemma Simmons is now the director’s right hand.  Add in Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider, and what does that give you?

Unfortunately, not as much as I was hoping.  Without getting too spoiler-ific, Daisy is working as a bit of a modern-day Robin Hood and runs across the Ghost Rider early on in the episode.  Coulson and Mack are returning to base after six weeks abroad thanks to May, who divulges information that could lead to them finding Daisy, along with another new threat.  The original team is also figuring out how to deal with Gemma’s new position, and whether she can still be trusted.  Fitz discovers Radcliffe is working on AIDA without SHIELD authorization, and decides to help him but conceal that from Gemma.  So the interpersonal dynamics among the characters are already dialed up to eleven before the first commercial break (well, not quite, but close).

Had they stuck with character development, this could have been a great episode.  Unfortunately, we only have shallow and predictable bits of that scattered throughout the punching and shooting.  Gemma and May have a confrontation about her slipping information to Coulson about Daisy (Coulson was ordered to stay out of that situation completely) which boiled down to Gemma justifying her position with the director as providing the core team someone trustworthy who can speak to him on their behalf.  She then sends May’s team to back up Coulson and Mack just in the nick of time (yep, the Cavalry does it again) where they discover something weird.  Daisy and Ghost Rider punch it out and get nowhere, but we do get a glimpse of Ghost Rider’s penchant for not killing those who don’t deserve it (make a note of this, it will definitely come up again at some point this season).

What I liked:

The FX they are using for Ghost Rider are outstanding for a TV production.  The Rider and the car look excellent, and it’s hard to judge at the moment whether the Reyes Ghost Rider was a better choice than Johnny Blaze at this point, but it’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt at the moment.  Daisy dealing with the physical and emotional damage she’s already suffered along with the additional damage to her body from using her power is another highlight, but could go downhill if she gets too bitter and mopey.  Phil giving himself a high-five with the new prosthetic Fitz made was classic Coulson.

What I didn’t like:

The episode itself was incredibly shallow.  It felt at times as if the writers were hitting the viewer over the head with a “LOOK!!  SEE HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED NOW!” script that fell flat in too many places.  The new “threat,” a ghost-like apparition that causes what are apparently terrifying hallucinations, has no background whatsoever and only sets up for a mysterious “what is going on” episode that we don’t really need.  The Sokovia Accords are mentioned on two separate occasions, but it would have been nice if Coulson had at least alluded to Captain America’s current situation, given he’s such a huge fan of the guy.  We really don’t need to have yet ANOTHER hidden secret that could tear Fitz and Simmons apart this soon, so Fitz’s partnership with Radcliffe is ill-timed and really unnecessary.

Overall, this felt more like a mid-season “filler” episode that is usually aired just before a huge reveal or high-tension cliffhanger, not a season premiere.  Introducing the Ghost Rider was great, and this episode had its moments, but overall it was relatively dull.  I don’t believe the new late time slot is going to help, especially with episodes that are middling at best.

Score: 6.5/10

The Joke: When Gemma sends May to back up Coulson and Mack, her team pops up just as Coulson is making the call for her team to come in and provide that back up.  Coulson says “well that’s great timing,” hence the “rapid-response” moniker. I know, kind of lame, but that’s how I roll.

Star Trek: Beyond Goes Beyond Expectations

When J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek universe, the new Star Trek created something that was both familiar and vastly different than what Star Trek fans knew.  The follow-up, Star Trek: Into Darkness, felt a little too familiar, and some of the story beats became a little off-putting (Spock screaming KHAAAAAN!!!, and the “magic blood” cure for Kirk to name two).  Now with Fast & Furious alum Justin Lin in the director’s chair, expectations for Star Trek: Beyond were tempered, to say the least.  Ultimately, the movie doesn’t just work, it far exceeds any expectations fans will have for the picture.

The story itself is structured almost identically to a two-part episode of a show.  In fact, it is so classically Star Trek that many fans will be able to figure out most of the plot twists easily.  This, however, does not detract at all from anyone’s enjoyment of the film.  The MacGuffin of the film, an uber-deadly biological weapon called the Abronath (a name Slate’s Dana Stevens suggests we use to replace the term MacGuffin for science fiction movies), literally destroys the flesh of anyone with whom it comes in contact, and the villain of the film, Krall, wants to use it to attack the Federation and destroy the incredibly Inception-like space station called Yorktown.  Krall has a fleet of tiny ships called “bees” and he uses them to destroy the Enterprise.  Taking nearly all the crew hostage (seriously, there are so few deaths it’s almost as if the Man of Steel paradigm factored into the script here), it is up to Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Chekov (rest in peace, Anton Yelchin, you were a PERFECT Chekov), and a newcomer, Jaylah, to rescue the crew and save the Federation from Krall’s insidious plan.  Stuck in the background of this is Kirk’s desire to leave the captain’s chair for a posting in the Admiralty and Spock’s drive to leave for New Vulcan.

All told, it isn’t the action that makes the film work, though there is plenty of it.  It’s the characters, who are developed more fully than in either of the previous two films.  Spock and Bones in particular have a dynamic in the Kelvin timeline that is arguably better than even that which they developed in the Prime universe.  Kirk by himself is underwhelming, but once he is back with his crew he comes alive.  Though I would sometimes prefer the Scotty who wasn’t the least bit afraid to punch a Klingon, Pegg’s Scotty has the perfect foil in Jaylah, and even has a moment similar to Hawkeye’s with Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron.  In reality, everyone (with the possible exception of Uhura, who is criminally under-used) has their “moment” and each one shines.  As a side note, the moment that “outs” Sulu as gay was exactly that.  It wasn’t blatant, nor was it presented gratuitously as if to say “Look, we have a gay character!”  It was merely a moment, and as quickly as it was shown it was over.

If you are not sure about going to see Star Trek: Beyond, let me allay your fears.  It is worth the price of admission.  In a summer that has been sorely lacking a genuine blockbuster, Star Trek: Beyond delivers in a way that will make casual movie-goers and Star Trek fans alike glad they paid the price of admission.

Jake and the Wife

BANG!

Jake jumped from his desk at the noise, looking around his area to see if he could find the source.  It sounded like someone had thrown open the door to his work area, but it was four in the morning and there shouldn’t be anyone around except for him and his cubicle-mate Kenny.  Jake peeked around the corner of his cubicle wall to see if Kenny heard it, but Kenny wasn’t at his desk.

“Hey, Kenny, you around?” he called.  No answer.  Well crap, he thought, I guess I better see what that was.  Jake headed for the main door to his work area when suddenly the lights went out. “What the hell?” he said out loud, startled.  Great, the lights go out and I’m already jumpy enough to talk out loud to myself.  Fortunately, he knew his area (the whole building, really…overnights can get pretty dull) like the back of his hand, so he had no trouble finding the door.  Just then the emergency lights kicked in, and as Jake opened the door Kenny’s lifeless body fell toward him.  “WHAT THE HELL???” he screamed, not caring that he was once again talking out loud to himself.  He looked desperately around the room, trying to find any evidence of another person in the area but saw nothing.  At this point, talking out loud to an empty room was the least of his worries.  “Ok…ok.  Get it together, Jake.” He went back to his desk to call the police when his extension began ringing.

“Hello, who is this,” he tentatively asked.  A female voice on the other end of the line asked softly “what are you wearing, Jake?”  “Uhh…kha…hey, wait a minute,” he exclaimed, “aren’t you the lady I talked to earlier?”  A throaty laugh came through the receiver as she answered in a menacing tone, “Yes, I am, and I’m very displeased that you were talking with my husband at three in the morning, Jake. Very displeased.”  Jake was nervous now.  He’d never dealt with anything like this before.  Late-night sales did not usually take such a murderous turn.  “What do you want?” he inquired, trying to keep his voice from cracking. Just hold it together, Jake, he told himself (in his own head this time, fortunately).  “Isn’t it obvious, Jake?  I want YOU.”  She laughed again and this time there was no discounting the threat in her amusement.  “I’m going to make sure you never talk to anyone’s husband at three in the morning EVER AGAIN!”

*CLICK*  Jake slammed down the phone and attempted to dial the police.  Are you KIDDING me, he screamed at himself, now the PHONES are out???  Jake made the executive decision at that point to end his shift early and leave the building.  He went back to the door and gingerly stepped over Kenny’s lifeless body.  As he took one last look, he noticed the hilt of a knife sticking out of Kenny’s back.  For a moment he considered taking the knife, then concluded it would only cause him more problems.  I’m in here by myself, he reasoned.  If I get my fingerprints on that knife, the police will think I killed Kenny.  Foregoing the weapon, Jake made his way to the elevator and pressed the “down” button.  Nothing.  He punched the button repeatedly with no luck.  Just then the intercom clicked on and the same voice he heard on the phone floated through the air, “What’s the matter, Jake?  Having a hard time getting out of the building?”  “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT, LADY???” he screamed at the ceiling.  “Isn’t it obvious, Jake?  I’m going to make you wish you Never. Took. That. Call.”

Oh my god, this lady is completely unhinged.  Jake knew at that moment he HAD to get out of there.  He streaked for the stairs and had just made it to the door when he heard someone scream “JAAAKE!!!  HELP ME!!!”  That was Kenny!  Jake spun around and headed back to where Kenny lay, only to find that his body was gone and a trail of blood led down the hallway to the other emergency door.  No way…no way he was still alive, Jake thought, but with his heart hammering in his chest he followed the trail to the stairs.  There was a bloody hand print on the door, and when he opened it the trail suddenly stopped.  Ok, this is just turning into a bad horror flick at this point.  He made his way down the stairs to the next floor, where he saw the door was still partially open.  It’s a TRAP! Admiral Ackbar’s voice screamed in his head.  Yeah, heard it before, he thought, but I gotta find Kenny.  Jake pulled the door open, and nearly soiled his khakis as a bullet whizzed by his head and struck the wall.  He ducked away, then darted across the hall to the break room, as someone with really bad aim fired shot after shot down the corridor.  He burst into the break room, skidded to a halt and went back to the doorway, peeking around the door jamb to see if anyone was coming.  Suddenly, he felt a hand grip his shoulder, and as he was about to turn around and see who it was, he felt a sharp, stabbing pain just under his left shoulder blade.  He immediately felt short of breath and as he slumped to the floor a pair of khaki-clad legs came into view.  “What the hell???” he said again.  Man, I have really been saying that a lot tonight.  “Kenny???”

“Oh, Jake…you really are something.  You didn’t even think to check for a pulse before you left my laying in the doorway, did you?”

“Kenny, what the hell (seriously, I need a better catchphrase) is going on?” Jake asked, face contorted with pain and confusion.

“Pretty simple, really.  Like a lot of villainous personalities, I feel threatened by you and your success.  No one should have the sales numbers you do, Jake.  Not at three in the morning.  Besides, you sound hideous.  Anyway, we don’t reeeeally need two people on the overnight shift, and there was no way you were going to quit, so…”  Kenny made a slashing gesture across his throat.  “You don’t have a lot of time left, Jake.  I didn’t want you to die quickly, so I didn’t stab you through the heart.  But your lung is going to fill up with blood pretty quickly, and even though you should get enough air with the other one, well, internal bleeding is a hell of a way to go.”

“Who’s your friend?  You know…the one shooting at me?” Jake gasped out.  “Oh, her?  That’s Cathy.  No, it’s not the lady you spoke to on the phone earlier, she lives in New Jersey.  Cathy’s just a friend who shares my love of mayhem and pumpkin-spiced lattes.”

“No wonder you’re so demented, if you actually like those things.”

“Now Jake, is that really how you want to spend your final moments?  Surely there are other things you want to say.”

Jake looked up at Kenny.  “No, I think you’ve done enough talking for both of us.”  He then pulled his phone out of his pocket.  “Right before I went downstairs I actually got a signal for once.  Piece of advice: never go with Sprint.  Anyway, I called the police before I came down here and the dispatcher has been on the line the whole time.”  Jake then asked the dispatcher, “Did you manage to get all of that?”  “Yes I did, sir,” came the voice through the speaker phone.  “The ambulance is waiting for you and police are already headed up to your floor.”

Just then the break room door opened with a loud BANG and several heavily-armed officers screamed at Kenny to get on the floor.  Jake was a little disappointed that Kenny didn’t put up a fight.  You didn’t let them kill you, Kenny he thought, you bastard.  Behind them, EMT’s entered and after a cursory examination laid him on the gurney to wheel him out.

As Jake lay as comfortably as one can with a knife sticking out of one’s back, he had a thought: I wonder what happened to the other one?  Cathy?  

One of the EMT’s leaned in close.  “Sir?  Can you hear me?  Is the pain medication kicking in yet?”  Jake, feeling the effects of the blissfully powerful painkiller, nodded.  “Ok great.”  She leaned in closer.  “Don’t worry, sir.  We’ll get you to the hospital and get you all patched up good as new.”  Jake nodded again, and just before drifting out of consciousness, his brain registered on thought:  Her breath smells a lot like a pumpkin-spiced latte….

 

 

 

Captain America: Shaking Up the Status Quo

Be aware up front that although this news has spread across the internet like an engineered virus from Plague, Inc., we are venturing into spoiler territory.

Therefore, heed this BIG SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!

 

 

Still here?  Good.  So the big thing today is news from Marvel that Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 will reveal a HUGE change to the status quo.  What is that, you ask?  What could possibly shake the very foundations of Cap’s existence?  Well, here it comes.  One more SPOILER ALERT before I get into it:

Captain America has been a Hydra deep-cover agent for as long as he’s been known as Captain America, and perhaps even longer.

Yes, you heard that right, and this isn’t some fan speculation or “rumor.”

Tom Brevoort, Marvel Executive Editor, confirms the news, saying “This is the real Steve Rogers, not some clone, shapeshifting Skrull, Life Model Decoy, or a Cap from an alternate universe.”  Writer Nick Spencer also backs this up with the statement “Issue 2 will lay a lot of our cards on the table in terms of what the new status quo is, but the one thing we can say unequivocally is: This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.”

Brevoort goes on to say “His mission is to further the goals and beliefs of Hydra,” and explains “If that involves taking down the Marvel universe, sure. (But) it may not be as simple as that. It’s not like he’s exchanged his white hat for a black hat — it’s a green hat.”

My initial reaction was “WHAT?”  Why would they do this?  Why take one of the most iconic and AMERICAN heroes and turn him into a super-secret bad guy?  It just does not compute.  It’s akin to what Michael Bay did with Optimus Prime in Dark of the Moon when Prime says “We’re going to KILL them ALL.”  It just didn’t FIT, and was contrary to who the character was and what he stood for.  Now Marvel has taken Captain America and basically told readers that everything we know about the man is WRONG.

So, again, the question is WHY?  The most obvious reason is shock value.  Obviously Marvel’s shakeup of the comic universe wasn’t complete with Secret Wars, but really is there any purpose to inserting this twist and completely changing Cap’s history in the process?

None of the other characters in Marvel’s universe know about Cap’s allegiance.  Even now, after the restoration of his youth, they all believe he’s the same Captain America THEY’VE always known.  But the reader now knows otherwise.  Brevoort again: “Suddenly there’s a whole other wrinkle to all of it.  Any cover with Steve Rogers takes on a slightly different dimension because you have information that no one else in that picture has.”

Brevoort acknowledges the reaction may be severe:  “We knew it would be like slapping people in the face,” confessed Brevoort. “The idea of Captain America means something very primal and very strong to the people of this nation, and they have a very visceral reaction when you get to something like that. You want people to feel and react to your story. So far, so good.”

“So far, so good.”  What the heck does that mean?  If they were looking for a way to enrage fans simply to generate a reaction then yes, I’d say so far, so good.  But unless they’re trying to trigger a showdown with FalconCap and the Avengers, I don’t see this working in the long run.  I just can’t see how they can suddenly (and believe me, this is a very sudden, drastic change from the status quo) make Cap a fascist bent on world domination.  If this is just The Way It’s Going To Be Now, then Marvel will have a huge problem.  If it’s part of a longer play and a storyline that will get resolved, then starting with Steve Rogers: Captain America #2 Marvel really needs to drop some hints about what Cap is REALLY up to.  Otherwise it is going to shade EVERYTHING.  It even makes me look at Civil War in a completely different light.  Now Cap isn’t fighting government insight and control for the sake of freedom and privacy, he’s fighting to destabilize the superhero establishment AND the government.

There’s a part of me that really wants to see how this plays out, which is no doubt Marvel’s intent.  But there’s also a part of me that wants absolutely nothing to do with it.  To me, Marvel has despoiled one of their most iconic characters, and with that tarnished every action he’s taken.  Brevoort’s comments illustrate just how well Marvel understands this.

The ultimate question now is this:  What effect will this have on the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  Will we end up with a huge reveal during Infinity War that exposes Cap as a Hydra agent?

What do you think of Marvel’s huge shakeup?  Sound off in the comments!