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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Chuck's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
8:22 am
You Know What Else is Dangerous? BundleStars – Part Sixteen: Dragon Brawl Bundle
Dragons, fighting…most of these games have some of those things, I guess?

Angels of Fasaria: Version 2.0 - A RPGMaker game in which you're a priest/knight looking to save Fasaria from an evil Order of Dominion...or something. It's not terribly well translated. The major gimmick is that you collect Mana from defeating enemies and meeting angels, and you need Mana to unlock the various quest areas. The game doesn't alert you when you level up, and the battle system is simultaneously simple (you can basically attack and heal until special attacks sneak into your list) and obtuse (enemies are both visible and random on the map screen; you sometimes get double-turns in battle; attack and defense numbers don't clearly correspond to anything, etc). The balance for attacks and weapon strength is really wacky (your healer basically can't do damage, but she's a super-tank compared to the knight.) Oh, and you can't read the HP numbers on the battle screen because the character art blocks them.

MP costs are very high, but most dungeons (at least early on) have healing fountains every 2-3 battles. The difficulty curve goes kind of insane, as you can make your characters basically invincible to random battles, but have a boss wipe them all out in a single attack. (Which is exactly what happened to me on the second continent. The ghost king's Double Attack wiped me in two turns, despite no other enemy in the area being able to scratch me.) Basically, it’s a hot mess, but it was entertaining for a while as such.

Pizza Express - A pizza restaurant simulator, where you play the chef who has to fill pizza orders quickly to satisfy customers. It's clearly in the "casual game" genre, as mostly you're trying to arrange ingredients in the right order and hit the "restock" key at the right time so you don't run out (but also don't spend all your profits restocking). Fun for a little bit, but I didn’t find it addictive.

Signal to Noise - A music-based shooter that seemed interesting, but crashed upon loading in Windows 10 (including in compatibility mode, which was the only fix offered online). Oh, well.

Pongo - A 3D shooter/platformer with lousy controls that seems to revolve around a pogo stick that doesn't bounce particularly well. Nope.

Pester - A standard bullet-hell space shooter; I didn't really see anything to distinguish it from every other game in the genre.

Invasion - A collection of small pixelated levels in which you must shoot a certain number of aliens before dying. The aliens drop coins when you kill them, and you can buy upgraded weapons and armor for absurdly high sums. (Or...you can edit the save file. It's in plaintext.) Meh.

Uncanny Valley - Tom is having a lousy life: He has terrible nightmares, and just took a job as a security guard at a closed research facility in the middle of nowhere. As the title suggests, yes, there's a terrifying android. I found one ending (of something like a dozen); it moves rather slowly and the "falling asleep after ten minutes" thing is annoying.

The I of the Dragon - Did you every play Drakengard and think to yourself, "Man, I love these dragon-flying areas but I wish the controls were worse and the plot was dumber." Then this is the game for you! Controls are clunky, unintuitive and non-responsive; graphics are middling; plot is generic fantasy mishmash. (This was probably the most disappointing game in the bundle, because the concept has such potential and the execution is so crappy.)

The Adventures of Mr. Bobley - A ¾-view action-puzzle game in which you play as Mr. Bobley, a construction worker who needs to get around a huge construction site by jumping, rolling and operating machines. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, it just didn’t get interest me? I wonder if ARR might like it in a year or two, once he can handle the controls.

The Dark Stone from Mebara - A Lovecraftian RPG Maker game (which I give them credit for--it's not something you really see) that uses darker, more mood-appropriate graphics that most and seems to have a reasonable (if overly purple) story. That said, the difficulty level is insane--the battles are very hard, healing is very limited, and you apparently can't run away from fights. If you survive until you're teleported and manage to gain a few levels, you can net recover in cultist battles and actually get stronger. But then solving the puzzle in the pump station dumps you into a battle against much stronger evil cultists, and I’m not sure if grinding will necessarily help. I'm curious as to where the plot is leading, but the difficulty is completely out of wack and there are a number of odd glitches. This might be worth revisiting after an update or two, as it does seem to still be in development.

Rubber and Lead - A driving-sim shooter. Buy a car, head out to the wasteland on courier missions, shoot down the cars that try to destroy you and steal your cargo, and hope that you earn enough to pay for repairs and gas. Repeat as necessary. I don't find it necessary.

Air Brawl - An arena-battle flight simulator. The controls are odd...or maybe it's just that I don't handle 1st-person-ish 3D flight very well? After I succeeded in locking onto an enemy exactly once in ten minutes of play (and got shot down a dozen times, and crashed a few times on my own) I decided that maybe this wasn't for me.

The Adventures of Tree - Side-scrolling rpg/adventure with kinda crappy, overly-complex keyboard controls. It seems loaded down with "get me 10 logs" and "find a red bird" but without a plot structure around that; and the battle system has weird hitboxes and no combo system. Oh, and a food meter. I hate food meters. Pass.

(This bundle also included Schein, which I'd already purchased. Anyone want the key?)

Overall: This bundle didn’t have anything amazing, but included a couple of rpgs that were trying very hard to be inventive and a bunch of sim/fighting games that didn’t quite live up to their decent concepts. Certainly nothing I’d say to rush out and buy, but I definitely got my couple of dollars’ worth.
Monday, August 15th, 2016
4:47 pm
Dragons in the Waters by Madeline L'Engle
Simon Renier had been living with his elderly Aunt Leonis since being orphaned. A distant cousin named Forsyth Phair appears on their doorstep, interested in buying a valuable portrait of Simon Bolivar to donate to a museum in Caracas. Eager to expand Simon’s horizons, Leonis sends him on the boat passage with Forsyth. There, he meets members of the ubiquitous O’Keefe family, and gets embroiled in a ring of mystery and murder.

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Overall: I think it’s safe to assume at this point that I prefer L’Engle’s sci-fi over her attempts to write what are essentially YA mystery thrillers (with mild fantasy notes). This didn’t really work for me.
Thursday, August 11th, 2016
4:47 pm
Sense8 (Netflix)
In eight different cities in seven different countries, eight strangers suddenly start getting glimpses of each others’ lives. Soon, this becomes having conversations and sharing skillsets, which in turn becomes necessary for the unholy messes their lives become.

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Overall: While there were definitely a few stylistic choices I objected to (particularly regarding gore and repetitive exposition) I thought this was a very interesting idea with a reasonable execution. It seems likely that I’ll watch season 2 when it comes out, though I worry the series will outrun its premise fairly quickly if they’re not careful about it.
Thursday, August 4th, 2016
4:48 pm
You Know What Else is Dangerous? BundleStars – Part Fifteen: Killer Bundle 6
I don’t think there’s really a theme to these games, but it was an interesting collection.

Battle vs Chess - This took me about as long to get running as I eventually spent playing it (You need to set in to WinXP3 compatibility mode and also disable your 3D graphics card). Then I discovered that for all the fancy skins and animations, it's just chess and chess-themed puzzles. I don't particularly like chess--I'm not practiced enough to be good at it, and not excited enough about it to practice.

Cast of the Seven Godsends - Holy crap, it's Ghosts 'n Goblins! Okay, there's a slightly different story about seven gods granting you their powers so you can save your infant son / prevent the raising of a demon; and the jump physics are significantly better; but that's the majority of the differences. There are elemental armors you can wear and an assortment of weapons you can pick up, and each combination gives you a different attack style. You get three lives and unlimited continues, which you'll need because you can take three hits at most (and lose your power-ups from doing so). There's no save feature: Like a classic NES game, you start at the beginning each time.

Monstrum - So...it’s first-person horror exploration with an emphasis on stealth. I got a brief tutorial and looked around what appeared to be a cruise ship, and then a flaming demon came out of nowhere and ate me. Documentation informs me that this has procedurally generated levels, permadeath, and AI driven predators and is intended to be insanely hard. While I think this would be an interesting demo for an Oculus Rift (which it supports), I don't think I'm going to play any more of it.

CrossCode - Action rpg, more Zelda-like than most. You're playing Lea, an amnesiac mute heroine in a future semi-real MMO (the people and places are a real moon, but you're riding a robot-avatar). Among the gimmicks are your ability to shoot bouncing balls to attack or solve puzzles (in addition to a fast-combo melee attack) and that there's no jump button: you automatically jump on anything low enough to jump on. (But in turn, that means there's no edge gravity. It takes getting used to.) It's unfinished, but totally playable as if it were an MMO--once you get through the introductory sequence and the Noob Dungeon, there are a lot of "kill 10 monsters" and "gather 6 materials" quests. Apparently future upgrades to the game will add more customization and special moves, and their blog indicates new areas are in the process of being built. I played a few hours, now I'll put it on my "to revisit after update" list.

Super 3-D Noah's Ark I knew most of the history of this going in, I'd just never tried it before: It's a "Christian" clone of Wolfenstein 3D using the same engine (but where you "feed fruit" to the animals on the ark so they "go to sleep"), and apparently was never officially sanctioned by Nintendo regardless. It was fun to play for a few minutes for the absurdity value--and the random biblical trivia that gave me a health refill for answering correctly--but it's also just a relatively primitive FPS and that's not my bag.

Lichdom: Battlemage - Very interesting concept and decent execution (on my gaming laptop, at least) for a game that I'm not particularly interested in playing a lot of. It's an FPS where you play as a mage, empowered by magic gauntlets to cast various elemental spells and create shields. The controls are decent (and fairly standard) and the scenery is very pretty, if a tad repetitive. The difficulty slider means that I actually found it playable with my crappy FPS skills. The story revolves around the wizard who empowered both your character (the Dragon) and the character you didn't choose (the Gryphon) as you attempt to exact revenge against an evil necromancer Duke for kidnapping your sister/killing your wife. And ghostly apparitions reveal that there's more to his motivations than he's revealed. If I wanted to play an FPS, I'd play this one.

The 3D Realms Anthology is actually a collection of games, a few of which I remember from back when they came out (most notably Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure). I suspect this deserves its own entry.

This bundle also included GemCraft - Chasing Shadows, which I reviewed under a separate header because I played so damn much of it. (Killer Bundle 6 also included Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China and Horizon Shift, which didn't interest me.)

Overall: This bundle paid for itself several times over via Gemcraft, and certainly provided a plethora of entertainment otherwise as well, even if a lot of the games fell into the category of “this is a decent game, just not my thing.” A solid use of $2.
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
6:34 pm
Android Games Reviews: The Second KEMCO Humble Bundle #3 - Asdivine Hearts
Zack and Stella are living in an orphanage and generally getting along fine, but the world of Asdivine isn’t about to stay quiet: The two deities that rule it have just gotten into a major tiff and now they live in interesting times.

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Overall: A lot of the reviews think this is one of KEMCO’s strongest games; and from a system perspective I can’t really disagree. There are a lot of battle options, variety of encounters, decent dungeon design (though it could use a minimap), and a very good difficulty curve (at least until the postgame). But even though the world-building was interesting, the plot and characters were so “harem anime” that it made me uncomfortable.
Saturday, July 30th, 2016
4:54 pm
Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga
Me: You seem to have accidentally loaned me a copy of “I was a teenage demon cannibal.”

Mith: Did Puel’s fanfic sneak in there? If so, whoops.

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Overall: The dungeons are very well designed (even with plenty of save points!) and the plot is intriguing, and if not for the part where the battles are insane and often frustrating I could see loving this. I’m going to play the sequel, but I’ll be pulling the Action Replay for that, too.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
6:38 pm
Random Things
- In addition to Paw Patrol, ARR’s current obsession is Blaze and the Monster Machines. I think any show that uses the phrase (and thereby encourages preschoolers to shout), “This looks like a job for structural engineering!” is A-OK in my book.

- After two months and change at the calorie-counting thing, I’ve lost 14 pounds off my high weight or 10 pounds “for real.” I’m about halfway to where I want to be, which my app thinks will be in mid-September. It’s certainly easier doing this during the summer, when an abundance of good produce is available and taking ARR out for an hour of runaround is generally feasible.

- My sister likes to send care packages to her nephew, and one arrived last week. The big hits were Paw Patrol-branded watercolor paints (which we had to use to make bones for all the members of the team) and the “magic sand” modeling stuff. Also noteworthy was his first exposure to Silly Putty, which I showed him how to pick up newsprint with but he was more interested in bouncing.

- During the drive to the beach last weekend, we put on a mix CD which ARR woke up to. There was a Genesis track on this CD. ARR was randomly singing to himself, “I can’t dance, I can’t sing” over the course of the weekend.

- ARR met his great-uncles’ dogs this weekend, and that went reasonably well. They’re relatively small and chill dogs (and were more interested in the spinach dip than the small humans), which likely helped.

- Gramma ordered ARR some Paw Patrol sheets, which he loved except when he noticed that Skye wasn’t on them. Yep, they left off the only female character. Jethrien posted a complaint on the manufacturer’s Facebook page; Gramma called the seller and got them to ship an additional set of the Skye sheets.

- Our new kitchen table arrived today. It’s lovely except for the part where Huffman-Koos didn’t give us the second leaf, so it’s 20” shorter than we wanted. Complaints have been lodged. Gaming will be a little snug this week.
5:38 pm
Midair by Kodi Scheer
Vanessa is a deeply unpleasant person, though her terrible attitude and suicide ideation might be the result of her brother’s recent death, her mother’s self-medicating with sedatives, and her being accused of cheating on her ACTs (which dashed her college hopes). So now she’s flying to Paris alongside three other girls from her school, and she’s planning to jump from the Eiffel Tower.

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Overall: Middling coming-of-age drama with an unlikable narrator. In a world where Mean Girls exists, the book doesn’t really need to.
Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
4:32 pm
LakkaBox
I’ve lost track if I’d posted about this before, but when we bought our new desktop to replace the increasingly-dragging six-year-old one, I became enamored with the idea of replacing my “emulator box” that’s hooked up to the TV with something more worthy of the name. And I discovered Lakka, a bare-bones Linux OS made for running RetroArch and that’s all.

So after making sure the new desktop functioned as intended, Ben and I wiped the old machine—which was terrifying, just let me say—and installed Lakka on it. It was actually pretty quick and easy, as we did the whole thing while ARR was napping, and still had time to play Contra 3 until we managed to use up our infinite lives.*

Later, I pulled out Wario’s Woods, certainly the contender for “SNES game I’ve spent the most time playing,” as a true test of the emulation quality, with the short answer being: The emulation is excellent, but the controller is imperfect. (Which makes sense—it’s based on a PS3 controller, so it’s not going to respond like a true SNES controller.) I now have two controllers; whether I buy more for 4-player games is still up for debate. Fortunately, the existence of USB ports means I don’t really need to commit.

So far, I’m very happy with this solution. It does exactly the “all-in-one” sort of thing I wanted, without being bogged down by Windows and all the other unnecessary stuff clogging the system resources. I needed Ben’s help again to get a wi-fi adaptor running so I can easily add roms and update software, but this is the new toy I wanted it to be. I think it might soon be time to introduce ARR to the Mario Brothers—we tried a little TMNT (which he wasn’t quite ready for) and Mario Kart (which went as well as any other racing game).

I tested the DS emulator, which works well for any game that doesn’t need touchscreen input. I still need to test the PS1 and PSP emulators.

My only real compliant is that Lakka won’t list roms in the main directory unless they match some predetermined list of checksums, and apparently a lot of the roms that I’ve had in my collection since 2000 don’t. They still run fine, but you need to manually go into the directory to open them, which is irritating.

The automatic cheat lists also aren’t perfect, but those I’m pretty sure I can figure out how to edit myself. Or, because Lakka/Retroarch reads the save formats from most other emulators, I can hack the savegames and just import them.

* Okay, that’s shorter than you’d think. You die a LOT in Contra games.

Overall: It’s not 100% mind-reader perfect, but this has nicely transformed my old computer into a new toy.
Monday, July 18th, 2016
4:47 pm
Humble Narrative Bundle
Cibele - This is less a game (in that there’s no way to lose) and more an interactive narrative. You play as game designer Nina Freeman, and get to explore her desktop and then play a mock-MMO as she chats with a boy and falls for him. It brought back amusing memories of chat rooms for me (because I’m old), along with the occasional wince of recollection of what a dumbass I was as a teenager.

Her Story - This is a pseudo-procedural mystery in which you have a database of film clips that you can do keyword searches of, all of interviews of a woman pertaining to the disappearance of Simon Smith. You only get the first five entries with any query, so you need to get specific with your searches in order to get the full story. This was a fascinating fragmented mystery and brilliantly set up to keep certain things secret from you.

Read Only Memories - Pixelated point-and-click adventure game set 50 years in the future, when an old friend of your disappears and his big research project, a theoretically-sentient AI, comes to you for help. I gave it a go, but it didn’t really appeal to me.

80 Days - A choose-you-own-adventure style journey around a Steampunk world as Passepartout, Mr. Phileas Fogg's loyal valet. You need to balance your funds, Fogg's comfort, your luggage and, of course, your remaining time. Whether you travel by carriage, boat, airship, or train, there are various colorful characters to meet and events to be cautious of. The contents of your luggage are particularly critical, as different items provide protection against the elements, assist in negotiations, or simply can be sold at a very high price in certain locations. I have no idea how many of the events are randomized, but the depth of options for your journey is very impressive.

Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2 - This plays like a Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy book, just with a somewhat better interface and an irritating spellcasting mechanic. The events are all giant blocks of text. You can rewind to earlier points in the story and try different paths. I lost interest midway through part 2; the story was kind of repetitive and I wasn’t crazy about either the spellcasting or the dueling mechanics.

Broken Age - Much more of a traditional adventure game (made by the same guy who made Grim Fandango). On one hand, I think I prefer the gameplay of the point-and-click adventure games, particularly when they give me a map I can teleport around and break up the “find an item and use it somewhere” puzzles with other things. On the other hand, this has a much stronger plot and actual characterization. This is an excellent example of the adventure game genre and has a lot of solid hallmarks of it: Strong story, detailed world and characters, humor, and an inability to die/end up in an unwinnable situation. That said, the puzzles were often either simplistic or completely obtuse (and I had to check a walkthrough several times when the solution turned out to be "click on this thing again") and I'm apparently really impatient when it comes to voice acting. The fact that you couldn't skip ahead in dialogue (only whole cutscenes) was maddening.

Overall: Her Story was surprisingly fascinating, a mystery with a search engine mechanic to drive it as a game. The others all had their merits, but they didn’t bowl me over with wonder.
Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
5:55 pm
Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
“You are probably wondering why I am living in my father’s garage. My father is probably wondering why I am living in his garage. It worries his neighbors.”

A collection of short stories that Jethrien got in a Humble Bundle years ago, and I discovered on my phone while bored and away from the rest of my book collection.

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Overall: These stories are evocative, but deeply weird and often unsettling. (One Goodreads reviewer called it, “If David Lynch did urban fantasy,” which is apt.) I may eventually read Link’s other collection, but I’m going to give it a bit of a break first.
Monday, July 11th, 2016
9:29 pm
Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3
We love the Warriors series of games, so when we realized that we’d never tried the version that lets you play a giant robot, we added it to the queue. It wasn’t all we hoped for.

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Overall: I suspect that this is better if you’re actually familiar with the source material; but as it stands, the rest of the Warriors franchise is better suited to us. We were unenthused here.
Friday, July 8th, 2016
4:31 pm
Unrelated Mixed Media Reviews
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer - Jethrien recommended this to me out of the Hugo nominee packet. It is delightful. It’s a commentary on human behavior via an accidentally sentient AI who would just like to be helpful, really. I hope it wins whichever award it’s up for.

Jupiter Ascending - Yes, we finally saw the film that got Airspaniel to the theater 20 times. This film is seriously the self-insert fic that Lana Wachowski wrote when she was 11 and found in the bottom of her closet, and then uncovered and decided to make into a movie. The love interest is an alien angel werewolf with rocket skates! Bees can recognize royalty! Everything you know is a lie! (Except bureaucracy; that’s omnipresent.) I mean, it’s a terrible movie for a lot of reasons, but I understand the itch it scratches for nerdy girls and I appreciate that exists.

WOD The Heck Episode 6: Mage the Ascension - This is a podcast recommended by a high school friend, apparently part of the Role Playing Public Radio Wod The Heck series. In short, it’s two guys trying to explain Mage to their friend who’s never seen it before, and reminding us all exactly how absurd the 90s were. I think if I were into listening to podcasts (I’m not; I actually kinda hate the “talk radio” format) I’d sign up for these guys. As it stands, it was an amusing diversion—especially since I’m running Mage 20th Anniversary Edition now, and everything they say is absolutely true.
4:30 pm
Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki
Exactly what it says on the tin: Fairytales. From Japan.

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Overall: An interesting curiosity, but unless you have a fascination with such things, don’t go out of your way.
Wednesday, July 6th, 2016
5:47 pm
The Legend of Legacy
Ten years ago, the lost continent of Avalon rose from the depths of the sea. Since then, explorers have flocked to it, searching for treasures and the truth of the legends: What is the Star Graal? Who are the God-People? Can the power of the elementals be harnessed? Seven heroes join your party to find out.

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Overall: It’s like a SaGa game where they’ve removed the best and worst elements, in that the plot is much more sparse but there is no anti-grinding / time limit nonsense. Which makes this decent as a pretty, atmospheric game, but it’s all just exploration and no character-building. If that sounds appealing to you, go for it.
Thursday, June 30th, 2016
5:55 pm
These were free on the Kindle store (and other books I’m culling)
The question for all of these books (which I got for free, mind you) was, “Is it worth my time to read this?” I’ve been doing pretty well in terms of reading books instead of the internet, but that’s much easier to do when the books are something I enjoy. If I’m going to force myself to read something I dislike (or am just not interested in), well, I might as well read more commentaries on Brexit.

War Brides by Helen Bryan - Historical fiction regarding a lifelong bond of friendship. Not my thing.

Follow You Home by Mark Edwards - A horror novel about a British couple who get thrown off a train in Romania and encounter something terrible in the woods, only to have the trauma of it follow them home and destroy their lives. I think I prefer my horror in short story chunks—there’s just too much setup and too much book here for me to enjoy the twists, because the author clearly wants you to enjoy the suspense and I don’t.

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette - A memoir from the Humble LGBT bundle. I think my issue here is that Monette was born in 1945, so his growing up / coming out story feels more like a history lesson than a memoir.

So many books, so little time…
5:54 pm
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle
“I mean, it’s not gay if it’s a dude raptor and a dude human, right?”
”Totally not gay.”

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Overall: This is hilarious. I suppose it would be hot if you were into gay man-on-sentient-dinosaur sex, too.
Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
4:43 pm
Lightspeed Magazine: Queers Destroy Science Fiction
An anthology of science fiction stories written by, for, and featuring queer folks. I’m not entirely sure where “destruction” figures into this.

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Overall: There’s some solid sci-fi here, independent of the value of showcasing minority authors. Are some of the stories strongly political? Yes, of course. But honestly, if you don’t think sci-fi is political, it’s only because you limit your consumption to sci-fi that matches your politics.
Monday, June 27th, 2016
4:48 pm
Earth-2 Volumes #5 and #6; Earth-2: World’s End
On the alternate Earth where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman died to drive off Darkseid’s forces, new heroes have emerged. But will they been enough to stop the renewed assault from Apokolips?

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Overall: While the Wildstorm line did the, “We’re really ending the world and it’s not getting undone” plotline first, I give them credit for going through with it here. I liked this series from the beginning because it was a genuine full reboot (one of relatively few in the New 52) and wasn’t bogged down by the requirement to fit with other books.
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
5:50 pm
We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
Zoom in on Andy as he’s marching the last few blocks of a misery parade: His wife left him, he lost his job, he ruined his best friend’s wedding and ended up fleeing to NYC. Now he needs to go back home because his grandfather is dying, and that means confronting his screwed-up life and family.

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Overall: Did you like stupid rom-coms starring schlubby comedians and manic pixie dream girls? That’s what you’re getting here.
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