Black Speck

13907163_10100171828347000_450437592565457279_nA red ozone blankets a scientifically advanced planet as aliens in gas masks loiter across the street. A class with touch screen supercomputers facilitate young and eager students as the professor orates about stars and the individual’s minuscule role in correlation to them. A grocery store houses products solely crafted through chemistry. This is but a taste of the stimulating thematic imagery at play in Black Speck, written by L.W. Allen and illustrated by Claudio Munoz.

It is an outer space-woven tale of exploration versus confinement, nature versus artificial and scientific advancement versus preservation. The champion spearheading this change is Tumunos, a student at an academy on ‘Prawde,’ his home planet. A young prodigy in all things astronomy, Tumunos is ambitious and adventurous in spirit. He is scholarly rebellious (sneaking out at night to read books not taught in school) which sows discord between him and Headmaster Tesuk, a stern disciplinarian.

What’s fascinating about this young man is his unyielding gall; no one can halt his tenacity. Whereas his peers are content to attend class and commune afterwards in leisure, Tumunos thirsts for interplanetary travel.

There are some faculty the young protagonist admires, Master Remenin, his astronomy teacher, being one. She is an encouraging professor who assures him he’s “destined for great things.” Not much is known of this instructor outside of the classroom. Allen does a remarkable job of withholding her true motives. By the end of this issue, readers will wonder what her agenda could be.

Tumunos has a few other friends, including Thotus and his lovely daughter, Thorus. The two run a harvester shop (equivalent to a grocery store). Thotus longs for the days before science trumped agriculture; having a farm with cattle would be his ideal life. Even as a supporting character, his role bears significance because he’s the only other besides the story’s hero who desires a deviation from their culture’s norm.

Complementing the clever plot are the illustrations pencilled by Munoz and colored by Allen. The humanoids are caricatures ornamented in striking tints, including dark pastel  green, lavender pink, carmine red and atomic tangerine to name a few.

The aliens have different skin pigments, too. Tumunos has a tan tone while Master Remenin is indigo blue. Headmaster Tesuk is depicted in vermillion red, an appropriate hue given his gruff demeanor. Thotus is celestial blue and Thorus is hot pink.  The teamwork by Munoz and Allen is a wondrous thing. The mannerisms and facial expressions are lifelike even in caricature form. All of the colors coincide with their occupant’s personality.

The text bubbles lend additional realistic expression to the comic; certain words are printed in bold to display the sarcasm of Tumunos and the strictness of Headmaster Tesuk. The narration is concise and easy to follow, making this an accessible piece of literature for all.

As a science fiction and adventure enthusiast, I found this comic to be quite enjoyable. Having a mysterious figure who resembled Norrin Radd (Silver Surfer) allotted it extra accolades. Black Speck is a three-part miniseries published by Dance Panda Comics and is available at Deep Comics & Games.

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Grief: The Irreparable Wound

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It happens more often than not. A loved one dies abruptly in a car crash just moments after leaving church. A mother and father outlive their son. A terminal illness is contracted, inflicting its recipient with a five-month death tag. A glowing newlywed has a miscarriage. Regardless of the circumstances, death always stalks that loved one you couldn’t envision life without and violently uproots them from existence, leaving you with a gaping emotional laceration and an endless list of questions.

A predominant one might be, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Even King David speculated this when the Lord smote Uzzah after he “reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled” (2 Sam. 6:6). Uzzah was simply trying to secure the ark of God, yet he was struck down. This enraged David and prompted him to name the site “Perez Uzzah,” signifying the outbreak against Uzzah (6:8).

With senseless deaths occurring incessantly, is it acceptable to blame God? Jennifer Taylor, production director for Bailey Publications and BTC Media, doesn’t believe so.

“I feel people are given free will and this is why bad things happen,” Taylor said.

Taylor lost her true love, David, in an auto accident on March 1, 1987, three months before their daughter Mary was born. It was a Saturday afternoon when things went amiss. David had a car he raced on weekends and Taylor noticed it was gone. She said this triggered an immediate sense of foreboding, prompting her to call his family, friends and ex-wife.

Taylor knew something bad had happened because he was supposed to get his kids that Sunday and never showed. Taylor said he wouldn’t have forgotten his children. A call to a local news station confirmed a 31-year-old male died in an accident involving a TR-4, David’s car. After the parents were notified, an officer was sent so Taylor could identify the driver’s license. It was a match.

“I was numb,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t cry. I lost 10 pounds in three days.”

Taylor said all she had was her precious baby growing inside her and so she became her focus. She had to become her focus if she was going to make it through this tragic event in her life.

Another who knows of tragedy is Bethany Shanahan, a controller for NDA. Shanahan’s mother died in 1996 from an infection that occurred in the hospital during a bone marrow transplant meant to treat her cancer.

Shanahan remembers when the grim news was first revealed to her. Her dad told her and her siblings in the living room of their house after school. She already knew tragedy had struck because of the cars parked in the driveway, vehicles that were supposed to be in Arkansas with her mom.

“My dad was having trouble with the words,” Shanahan said. “So I said, ‘She died, didn’t she?’ He totally broke down and said, ‘Yes, she did.’ I felt extremely awkward watching him cry and took the first opportunity to go to my room so I could be alone.”

An article on Helpguide.org, “Coping with Grief and Loss,” defines grief as a natural response to loss and the emotional suffering people feel when something or someone they love is taken away. The article states that grieving is a personal and highly individual experience; the way in which one mourns is determined by his or her life experiences, personality and coping styles, faith and the nature of the loss. The daily effects of grief reveal these traits.

For Taylor, the struggle is memory-induced. Taylor said Mary is her constant reminder of David because she acts just like her dad did, extremely intelligent, funny and silly. Her heart still aches.

Shanahan said her initial grief was more intrusive, bombarded by teachers and counselors telling her how to deal with it. She said it was obnoxious and made her feel abnormal. As such, Shanahan sought seclusion. She said she used it later on to get out of emotional situations.

Along with the daily impact of their horrific tragedies, Taylor and Shanahan said they also contend with adverse effects.

Taylor said her predominant symptoms are pain and hurt. In addition, it is the reality of raising a child without her father. She said it’s a true loss for Mary because he was an amazing man and the two would have been very close. Taylor believes his death affected her daughter’s life more than anyone else’s.

Shanahan said her experience caused her to become extremely cynical, adding it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just how she rolls now. She said most people find it funny, but suspects her husband may find it annoying at times.

The article on Helpguide.org mentions there is no timetable for grieving and that healing happens gradually. There is even a form known as complicated grief which entangles its victim in a constant state of mourning. Those who suffer this fate become so transfixed on the person they lost that it discombobulates their life and cripples their relationships.

Taylor doesn’t believe it lessens; people just become used to that feeling. They’re forever changed, she said.

Shanahan said it definitely never stops, but it does change. When the distressed get through the initial shock, anger and sadness, it turns into something else. It becomes a little piece of themselves and allows them to have more understanding of what others are going through, a superpower of sorts. She said the ability to empathize is not something everyone has; the ability to feel the hurt that others feel is a gift.

Shanahan said she only feels twinges of sadness now when her daughter does something that she wishes her mom could be there to see. She knows her mom would’ve loved her child so much and it is in these moments, the sadness floods her.

If they could speak with their loved ones again, both women know what their last words would be.

Taylor would tell David, “You idiot! Why didn’t you wear your seatbelt? I love you so much. What do you think of Mary? She’s really something, isn’t she?”

Shanahan would thank her mother for being such a good mom and reminisce on all their time together, letting her know how much she appreciated it.

Though their losses have not been paltry, each has developed a coping mechanism on their path to perseverance. Taylor said it was hard in the beginning, but her memories keep her going. She advises newcomers to learn from it and talk about it. Help others, be kind and bring joy to people, she said.

Shanahan instructs those entering the realm of grief to think what the bereaved would want for them and try to live their life that way. She said time fixes most things, so know that it gets easier as more and more times passes.

“I live each day for today,” Shanahan said. “You can’t let a tragedy tear you down. If I passed away and my daughter ruined her life over it, I’d be so angry. Live your life like that person that died would want you to.”

Sir Andrew’s Legacy

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Treading on an endless path of solitude, a knight trapped in modern times has lost his bearings in the great tapestry of life. His faith pounded, his morale deconstructed, Sir Kristopher limps forward into the cloud of confusion, self-doubt and insecurity hovering above his grim countenance. With each pace onward, his strength dwindles, unraveling quicker than strings on an overused marionette. He was valiant once, courageous and noble, even jovial. None could match his zest for whatever the happenstance. Plunging his sword into the darkness, along with its inhabitants, he smirked all the while with carefree poise. His opposition could never anticipate his next maneuver. From dungeons to forgotten castles, his adversaries were extinguished at every edifice. Inquiry consumed faraway kingdoms who pondered the secret of his finesse. Seldom knew that Sir Kristopher was squire to Sir Andrew, the most legendary of knights. Renowned far and wide for his gallantry and gaiety, the illustrious paladin trained his apprentice in ways of the sword and chivalry. Through the scrupulous tutelage of his liege, the untried knight soon leapt from squire to templar. The two became brothers-in-arms. They shared many adventures together. The seasoned champion even educated his comrade on courting fair maidens. Alas, the days of their unrelenting, yet whimsical crusades were mortally silenced by Death, a heartless assailant. Through circumstances not of his volition, Sir Andrew, the greatest of knights, departed to heaven, leaving an untouchable legacy behind. Sir Kristopher endured as best he could, embarking on vexing quests to alleviate his grief, but ultimately, the loss of his fallen brethren was too detrimental. Channeling all the anguish within transported him to a future plane of existence where all his memories and skills lay expunged. Forever he wanders the mountains and valleys of despair.
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Quoth the Raven, Eric Draven

thecrow1Stumbling down the stairs to his old apartment, a restless and tormented soul removes the police tape blocking his doorstep. He enters and relives the gruesome murder of his fiance as well as his own. Like a residual haunting, he can feel every kick to the gut as he’s forced to watch the thugs rape his bride-to-be again and again. He then beholds his unkind fate as the degenerates pierce his stomach with knives and bullets before hurling him to a six-story descent into concrete.

Eric Draven and Shelly Webster were to exchange vows on Halloween; instead, they shared graves. Alas, their love is bound so tight, a supernatural crow refuses to deny them justice for their robbed future.
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Returning Draven to life, the blackbird guides the battered victim on a mission of vengeance and rectitude. The time has come for the drug-dealing Top Dollar and his gang to answer for their greed and lawlessness.
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“The Crow” is a comic book written by James O’Barr, but is more renowned as a cult classic starring the late Brandon Lee as Draven (Lee’s death on set as well as his life is a subject for another blog). It’s clear O’Barr was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” This influence extends to the film adaptation as well. For my purposes, I shall explore the relationship between the raven and its host in Poe’s classic tale and “The Crow” directed by Alex Proyas.

Even from the get-go, Poe’s masterpiece sets an eery vibe. Employing a little onomatopoeia, the famous poet subtly lays the groundwork for an unseen yet faintly audible intruder. Poe writes, “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, / As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door” (3-4). This sound initiates the speaker’s curiosity, stirring him to investigate.

The significance of these verses in “The Crow” is twofold. For starters, Lee said these lines after shattering the glass door to Gideon’s Pawnshop.
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Gideon barters with Top Dollar’s associates, profiting off their illegal gains. As such, he has Shelly’s engagement ring, which places him in Draven’s spectral eyes. On a sidenote, it’s interesting to observe how Proyas has Lee verbalize these lines after the door’s obliteration, adding a visual hyperbole to Poe’s classic tale.

Another facet of those iconic words can be applied directly to Draven, albeit with an even more morbid and haunting twist. The crow pecks at Draven’s tombstone, not subsiding until it awakens the deceased rockstar back to the realm of the living. Eric’s “chamber door” is his tombstone. The raven had disrupted the tyrannized pawn’s eternal slumber only to reopen the agonies of his loss. He has been made vulnerable to psychological pain yet again.

One element consistent in both mediums is the raven’s unwavering presence. Poe states, “‘Other friends have flown before- / On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’/ Then the bird said ‘Nevermore'” (58-60). The poem’s implications for the raven’s lingering stay are malevolent; it haunts the narrator forever. It is a curse on his continued existence, heckling the speaker with its dismal one-word answers on subjects burdensome to him.

The film’s crow, based off O’Barr’s comic, is less sinister. It clings to Draven until his quest of vengeance is executed.crow1
Rather than serving as a blight sending him down a bottomless pit of despair, the blackbird is the rocker’s ace as I’ll soon explain with this next verse. Poe exclaims, “This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing / To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core” (73-74). For the narrator in this ghastly tale, the passage merely reflects on his growing obsession with the bird.

A loose interpretation in conjunction with the movie connotes a deeper meaning; Draven and his raven are now inextricably linked. The crow is a secondary pair of eyes and ears for Eric, guiding him to his targets and alerting him of danger.
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Perhaps the most remarkable gift the crow bestows to Eric is the ability to heal from any mortal wound sustained. The downside of this union is anything or anyone of personal significance who touch the abnormally alive hero trigger a flood of memories that cause seizures and psychological scars (the first being his cat, Gabriel). These scars are a recollection of past times with Shelly, a blissful life he will never recapture.Brandonstill

The final analysis I’ll expound on is Lenore, the narrator’s departed loved one. Draven’s Lenore is Shelly. In both interpretations the raven pours salt in the wound of its host, whether intentional or incidental. For the narrator in the poem, it is the former as Poe laments:

“‘Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.’ Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore'” (93-96).

The raven is nefarious and spiteful in Poe’s classic masterpiece; it informs the grieving speaker he will never see his Lenore again, even in the afterlife as “Aidenn” is synonymous with Eden. Even worse, the fiendish fowl will stay perched there always to remind him of his unattainable love. However, the crow in the movie does reunite Eric with Shelly in the afterlife.

In conclusion, both “The Crow” and Poe’s “The Raven” are cryptic tales of love lost. The bond shared between the narrator and the raven is one of malicious intent while Draven’s crow is one offering finality and reunion. the-crow-brandon-lee-tombstone

Elijah and his Lord, Jesus Christ

10When the Israelites decided they wanted kings, they inadvertently set themselves up for greater lapses in sin and its punishment. To be sure, sin exists regardless, but appointing men as kings creates a greater margin for error since men are fallible by nature. The only exception to this was King David, a man after the Lord’s own heart. Unfortunately, the majority did not follow David’s footsteps, including his son, Solomon. Solomon started off faithful, building the Lord’s temple as his father commanded and seeking wisdom on his own accord. However, his later years established an era of corrupt kings.

Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Among them were women from foreign nations God had forbidden Israelites from marrying into. Some of these wives led him to worship their gods. King Solomon constructed altars for Ashtoreth and Molech, deities of the Sidonians and Ammonites. His faltering faith caused God to split His people’s kingdom in half. There was now a king of Israel and a king of Judah (9-13).

The following years sprout disobedient rulers in both kingdoms, but the worst were the kings of Israel. One such king was Ahab, who married Jezebel, a Sidonian who worshipped Baal and Asherah. Like Solomon, Ahab built altars and followed these false gods, too (1 Kings 16:30-33). It is during this reign of depravity that the Lord sends His prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, to confront Ahab.15X1000A
Elijah has a staggering first appearance, informing the king, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word (1 Kings 17:1).” It’s interesting to reflect on what this penalty symbolized. It could pertain to Ahab’s lack of thirst for righteousness or the absence of a faithful heart. In either case, there’s much more to discuss.

Elijah’s days as a prophet are just as mystical and mysterious as his ascension in a whirlwind and furthermore binds the Old Testament with the New Testament; there are keen similarities between the miracles Elijah performed with those his Lord, Jesus Christ, did in the Gospel. When read closely, various holy numbers are present when each enacted a miracle.

When performing a miracle strengthened by Christ, Elijah would often do things three times. When he healed the widow’s son in Zarephath, he “stretched himself out on the boy three times” and pleaded with God to restore him (1 Kings 17:21).en06sep43b_barrett
On a side note, this was the second miracle Elijah had assisted in bringing to this widow. Prior to her son’s recovery, the widow had been granted an infinite supply of flour and oil (14). It took a second miracle for her to believe in God. Getting back on topic, Elijah employed the same numerical pattern on Mount Carmel, instructing Israelites to pour water on an altar prepared for the Lord three times (1 Kings 18:33-35). After they did this, “the fire of the Lord” consumed the sacrifice (38).elijah3
This action was done to validate God’s supremacy and to bring back those led astray. According to an article on Listverse.com, “3 is the number of the Trinity, of course, and thus, indicates a wholeness, but it also seems to indicate an inner sanctity (“Top 10 Significant Numbers in Biblical Numerology”).” For Elijah, there is a dual meaning. It refers to God, the father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it also represents the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The “inner sanctity” the source describes alludes to Peter, James, and John, the disciples Jesus loved most because of their devout faith in Him. These three were the only ones to accompany Christ when He revived the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:35-43).Jesus-Christ-Raising-Jairus-Daughter-From-The-Dead-Picture
It’s fascinating that Elijah and Jesus both brought the dead back to life (Elijah accomplished his feat empowered by Christ). Even more interesting is the appearance of “three” in both miracles.

Seven is another number implemented by the enigmatic prophet and his Lord. The article mentions that seven signifies perfection. This holy number is invoked in the aftermath of the Lord consuming Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Kneeling prostrate at the mountain’s peak, Elijah told his servant to “look toward the sea” seven times (1 Kings: 18:43). After the seventh, a storm cloud began to materialize (44). Scripture tells us, “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (45).” Clearly, the speed with which he traveled correlates with perfection. Christians are often told, “With Jesus, all things are possible.” This affirms it.

The article points out that Jesus really suffered seven afflictions on the Cross, including “both hands, the thorns, the spear, the flogging itself, and both feet.”crucifixion_of_jesus_christ_by_bonniemarie-d4yqfns
The totality of each laceration, bore for our benefit, displays not only Christ’s love for us, but His divinity, too. He is holy. In addition, it was in the “seventh hour” that Jesus healed a royal official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:43-54). The resulting miracle instilled faith in the official’s household.
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Aside from the numbers associated with miracles, there was also one to describe perseverance during hard times, forty. According to the article, “It is the traditional Hebrew number for the duration of a trial of any kind, when times are hard and a person’s faith is tested.” After Elijah had Baal’s prophets killed, Jezebel sought his murder (1 Kings 19:1-2). He fled to Mount Horeb; the journey lasted “forty days and forty nights (8).” The harsh sojourn was worth it for God sustained Elijah and gave him guidance on what to do next, plus a successor, Elisha (15-18).

The same burdensome number presented itself when Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matt 4:1-11). Matthew wrote, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry (2).” His trial then commenced. We again see the use of “three” as Jesus is tempted that many times by Satan. In spite of all He’s offered, Jesus resists every step of the way and is comforted by angels at His trial’s end.

In addition to the similarities of their miracles and hardships, there are deeper ties between Elijah and Jesus, including the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-11). Before I continue, I must explain what transfigure means. Dictionary.com lists two definitions; “transfigure” means “to change in outward form or appearance” or “to change so as to glorify or exalt.” The account given in the Gospel is a combination of the two. Jesus transformed into His true and divine self. Matthew describes how Christ’s face “shone like the sun” and his garments “became as white as the light (2).”200px-Transfigurationraffaelo Shortly thereafter, Moses and Elijah appeared “talking with Jesus (3).” It’s clearly apparent that this passage is providing a glimpse of heaven. It’s also to be noted that only Peter, James, and John were privy to this celestial sight, another example of three, the Trinity notation. Elijah is definitely a reputable prophet to be conversing with the Lord. Of the dozens, he was chosen to be a part of the Transfiguration. The two are further linked in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament.

There is a prophecy of Elijah’s return as a precursor to Christ’s as Malachi writes:

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Mal 4:5-6).”

Some believe John the Baptist was Elijah and thus fulfilled the prophecy. While it’s true John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord, even he denied being the famed prophet (John 1:21). Careful reading of the passage reveals when Elijah will return. Being that Malachi describes it, in part, as the “dreadful day of the Lord,” I surmise he’s alluding to the Second Coming of Christ. For those left behind, it will be a terrifying and bleak time.

Thus, Elijah and his Lord, Jesus Christ, are forever connected through their miracles, hardships, and this exciting prophecy. Time will tell when Elijah returns and paves the path for the Second Coming. Will his reappearance be as unfathomable as his departure? Only God holds that answer.church-clipart-5

No escaping that ‘ol’ Parker luck’: “Superior Spider-Man #8”

He’s been referred to as the “Master Planner,” but never before has Otto Octavius earned the eminence attached with this title until he performed the greatest act of villainy yet, shifting his consciousness into Spider-Man. Using his gold octobot, Doctor Octopus traded minds with Spidey, gaining the webslinger’s body while leaving Peter Parker to die away in his. What Otto didn’t count on were the memories of Parker, ideals that convinced him to carry on the legacy, but by different standards, thus paving the origins of Superior Spider-Man. Written by Dan Slott with art by Ryan Stegman and Edgar Delgado, Superior Spider-Man examines the exploits of Otto’s days as the loveable wall-crawler, or in his case, not so loveable.
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Though he allegedly perished in Otto’s body (Amazing Spider-Man #700), Peter has existed throughout this series as an unseen, unheard Jiminy Cricket, observing Doc Ock live out his life and trying to steer him towards good (Otto needs a reality check with his harsh sense of justice as I’ll explain later). Through the pulled punches and spared innocents, Peter is slowly crawling his way back in. His progress continues while Superior Spidey sleeps; he is able to move his right hand and write a note, but it fails to transcribe well since he’s got no access to that portion of his brain.
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Unfortunately, Peter will have a ton of fences to mend by the time he regains control, including his teammates, the Avengers. In Superior Spider-Man #8, the Webhead is apprehended by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes due to his uncharacteristically brutal style of heroics (I love that Wolverine is the last to sign off on this even though his loyalty to the arachnid is misplaced under these circumstances).
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“Spidey” has reduced Boomerang, Vulture, Jester and Screwball to barely breathing bloody pulps. Worst yet, he killed Massacre, a mass-murdering sociopath (Superior Spider-Man #5). While it’s true Massacre was a monumental threat to humanity, ending his life overstepped on a line the real Spider-Man swore to never cross. I predict this will weigh heavily on Peter’s heart when he returns. He will blame himself for quite sometime even though it was out of his hands. Getting back on topic, with all the evidence, you’d think the Avengers would have detected the villain in superhero clothing, but you’d be wrong. After a series of conclusive tests, the only parcel of truth discerned is that the webspinner is not a Skrull. However, Captain America does channel his inner Donald Trump. “We’re watching you Spider-Man,” he said. “Step out of line, and you’re fired (Superior Spider-Man #8).”

Being discharged from the Avengers is the least of his worries; when Peter hops back in the driver’s seat, one of his top priorities must be restoring peaceful relations with his co-workers at Horizon Labs. I pride myself on being a huge Spidey fan, but I must admit my expertise dwells with his earlier adventures. Apparently, Peter has put his photography on the back-burner to focus on his true passion, science. It’s always been his greatest subject and now that knowledge is paying off. Hopefully, that career will not be thrashed by Otto. Doc Ock, with arrogance to match his intelligence, has made Parker appear like a snob who doesn’t need help from anyone.
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During the early years of the Amazing Spider-Man, there was a time when Peter seemed like a highbrow. It was his first day at Empire State University (Amazing Spider-Man #31). Fellow students tried conversing with him to no avail. Little did they know the immense grief the caring young man shouldered for his ill aunt. For Parker, there is always a reason behind the angst. Peter is respectful whereas Otto is entitled. This is one of the core differences between the Amazing Spider-Man and the Superior Spider-Man. Otto calls his co-workers “dolts” and dismisses them without a thought. He also starts requesting lethal equipment be sent to his lab, arousing the suspicions of his boss, Max Modell.

Although his social grace is non-existent, Otto has made “improvements” in Peter’s life. He’s upgraded Spidey’s web-tracer with a spider-bot.
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This new invention enables the Webhead to survey the city without web-swinging. With spider-bots dispersed throughout the Big Apple, all the wall-crawler has to do is monitor his cellphone. Yes, there’s an app for that! Of course, the surveillance power does prove intoxicating. Superior Spider-Man can spy on anyone at anytime. He catches a co-conspirator with Massacre and reprimands her on live-television (Superior Spider-Man #5).

Not all of Otto’s innovations stem from the lab. He has the foresight to call the police for back-up while in route to the crime. This is a grey area though because while it may neutralize the threat, it puts the lives of cops in danger. Combatting low-level thugs is one thing, but tackling supervillains could spell instant death for officers on-duty. The real Spider-Man would never risk the mortality of those he’s vowed to protect.

Another change Doc Ock has made is enrolling Parker back at Empire State University.
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Octavius yearns to have the same credentials his former body had. After instructing his co-workers to refer to him as “Doctor Peter Parker,” Otto gets a bitter reality check from Modell. College grad school is the last entry of education in Pete’s resume (Superior Spider-Man #4). Sending Peter back to college is good and bad. It’s good in the sense that it gives our selfless hero a better chance to really flourish in life. It’s bad because it drains Parker’s meager funds.

On a lighter note, some things never change. The wall-crawler still enjoys busting J. Jonah Jameson’s chops. Mayor Jameson installed a spider-signal similar to Batman’s. Suffice to say, it didn’t click well with Spidey. The webslinger shows up and hurls a spider-bomb at the luminescent beacon.
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Jameson loses his temper right on que and we are treated to another classic exchange of snarky dialogue. Superior Spider-Man asks Jameson if he passed the test. “A giant beacon in the sky, announcing to all my enemies where they can find me,” Spider-Man said. “Only an idiot would put that into effect (Superior Spider-Man #3).”

I laughed pretty hard reading this. It’s good to know the arachnid is still his wise-cracking self. I just wish the man inside was himself. I’m ready for Peter Parker to assert control of his body, mentally and physically. I fear the aftermath he must contend with when he returns, but it’s a necessary evil to overcome. What he has to remember is that Doc Ock is the manipulator. Octavius was the killer and the one causing unnecessary bloodshed.

Peter Parker has lived his entire life trying to atone for his original sin, failing to prevent the death of his Uncle Ben when the killer was in his midst hours earlier. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter hasn’t forgotten the value behind these words nor will he ever.
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Days of our Heroes: “Supurbia #5”

Supurbia-5-CoverIt’s been referred to as “Desperate Housewives meets Justice League” or the “Real Housewives of Earth’s greatest super-team.” To me, Supurbia embodies the core idea behind Heroes, the real-life struggles of normal people with abnormal abilities and the effects it has on their loved ones. It’s also like Heroes in the sense that there’s overlapping stories that connect to a universal theme. In that regard, Supurbia is indeed like a soap opera; everybody has drama on their plate. There are strained marriages, scandalous secrets, role reversals, and sibling rivalries. We see each of these at play in Supurbia #5, written by Grace Randolph, illustrated by Russell Dauterman, and inked by Gabriel Cassata.

However, because there are so many character arcs, I feel it is best I devote my time to the predominant ones and cover them one at a time. In doing so, you can all better appreciate what’s happening in the latest issue. Also, before I begin it’s important that I point out I’m new to Supurbia. I’ve read the debut issue and the most current; most recap knowledge was learned from Word of the Nerd and Comic Buzz.

I’ll start with Sara and Zari, the young daughters of Aso and Batu, two members of the Meta Legion (Randolph’s version of the Justice League). In a ploy to get back at his ex-girlfriend, Helen Heart for framing him for murder, Hector Hunt gave magical stones to Sara and Zari that infect their heroic sensibilities while asleep. The intro of Supurbia #5 reveals the darkness of this gift as the two young girls dream about being two super-powered juvenile divas in search of new boy toys. The precinct’s floors are littered with bloody corpses of fallen officers (it seems the femme fatales go for bad boys, the inmates in this case.

A split-frame reveals the two young girl’s reactions to the dream. Sara loved it while Zari hated it. Zari goes to her mom for respite; Sara pals up with Helen, whom she idolizes (this makes sense, considering Helen’s criminal past and Sara’s allure to darkness). Helen reluctantly agrees. Aside from her hero-worship, Sara pops in on Helen to avoid spending time with her brother, Eli; she sees him as the golden boy in their family and wants no part in his drama. Like Heroes, one story bleeds into another, which leads us to Eli.

Things in Eli’s family are a little different. There’s a role reversal with his parents. His mother, Batu, is the authoritative one while his father, Jeremy, is the doting guardian (Batu is the Wonder Woman of this universe). In the second issue, Batu presents her son before her Bright Moon clan. Pleasantries are not exchanged. By emerging triumphant in a skirmish with his mom, Eli dishonored the tribe. The tribe’s customs dictate two consequences for this act; he must be killed or breed with his opponent. Batu decides to kill him, but is imprisoned by her people, who voted on the alternative. In the present issue, Jeremy has taken Eli on an island getaway to distract his attention from the psychological scars inflicted by his mom. Zari tags along, too. She’s a compassionate soul who wants to fix things for everyone.

The scandalous story at work here is Night Fox’s impending divorce with Alexis because of his affair with Agent Twilight, the Robin to his Batman. Clearly, Randolph is drawing some influence from Saturday Night Live’s whimsical sketch on the dynamic duo. Night Fox is a complicated character; he’s torn between his wife and Agent Twilight. He was bothered when Jake Weintraub, his weapons specialist, kissed his wife. This, in turn, upset Agent Twilight, prompting him to publicly announce he was gay. This severs the crime-fighting duo and tarnishes Night Fox’s credibility as a public figure.

Supurbia #5 finds Night Fox in a contemplative crossroads. Seeking his parent’s advice, he summons them to his outer space-themed hideout.3shok7 He discloses the biggie, the collapse of his marriage, leading to an unexpected reaction from his mother. She shouts, “What does love have to do with marriage?!” Both parents behave radically different than Thomas and Martha Wayne would.

There are many story arcs at work, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to Dauterman’s art and Cassata’s coloring. Dauterman does a fantastic job of molding these characters in a mild blending between fictional and nonfictional. The faces are expressive in accordance with each character’s troubles. Zari has a slight wrinkle on her forehead and bulging eyes after waking up from her nightmare, but Sara grins openly with her eyes shut in response to the same experience. Helen looks perturbed when Sara shows up, as revealed by curved eyebrows and her arms at her hips. Night Fox carries a perplexed mug, complete with stubble and baggy eyes that indicate his restlessness.

Cassata’s coloring is equally illuminating; the nightmare sequence reveals the contents of his tasty arsenal of ink. The precinct’s lights flash bright red while the blood of corpses is a deep shade of crimson. supurbia-5-page-1Whenever magic is employed, Cassata favors light colors such as sky blue and pink, contrasting supernatural with the natural. The characters’ outfits suit their personalities perfectly. Helen resembles Barbie with her long blonde hair and pink/violet dress. Sara has a tomboy-theme working for her with her green plaid shirt and punk rocker glove.

Supurbia #5 impressed me with its parallel to Heroes and its parody of the Justice League. It was neat seeing the difficulties these heroes face alongside their significant others.

7/10

A Sailor’s Mouth Not for Me, “Happy #3”

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As a kid, I remember watching Blue Chips (My brother was a big fan of Shaquille O’Neal at the time). From the moment the credits rolled, loose lips slipped as cussing surprisingly took center stage. I decided to make a game of it; I’d count the number of cuss words that appeared in the film. I counted 60 expletives in 45 minutes. Never did I suspect I could be that stupefied until I read Happy #3, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Darick Robertson. Produced by Image Comics, Happy is a Christmas-themed comic that follows the life of Nick Sax, an ex-cop turned hit-man, who is unwillingly paired up with a cheery-eyed, imaginary blue unicorn.

The first issue involves the aftermath of a mob shoot-out orchestrated by Nick to take out three of the Fratelli brothers, which it ultimately does. Alas, no evil deed goes unpunished; unbeknownst to him, there was a fourth bro with the element of surprise cocked and loaded. This hidden assailant enjoys temporary victory as he clips Nick’s side, but inevitably dies soon after. Chased by coppers and gangsters alike, a wounded Nick is easily apprehended by the latter and taken to a mob-infested hospital. He is held captive by Mr. Smoothie, a hooligan whose waterboarding skills rival Jack Bauer’s from 24. The lethal criminal demands Nick cough up the password to the Fratelli fortune (This was Nick’s reason for engineering the hit). During his time of affliction, Nick begins noticing a silly blue unicorn that’s only visible to him.happy1happy
The small imaginary horse, known as Happy, starts talking to him and insists he rescue some kids from a pedophile garbed in a Santa suit. They escape the hospital; all the while, Nick denies Happy’s existence, wishing to be left alone. The third issue commences with Nick and Happy aboard a train. It appears Nick is trying to run away from his problems, but Happy’s not having it. The blue miniaturized unicorn persists that he help Hailey, one of the children imprisoned by the child-molesting Santa Claus (It’s hard to stomach such perversion, even with it being an adult-themed comic). Nick fights him with every cuss word on his tongue, even questioning why a “cartoon horse” would care if kids were being killed. Happy explains to him that Hailey’s death would trigger his own. He further adds, “If she stops believing in me—I die, Nick.”

Happy then wonders how Nick became such a deadbeat, leading to a backstory on the hit-man’s earlier days as a respected cop and newlywed. We see him take a gradual plunge into darkness; he deteriorates from the happily-married husband setting up tree decorations to the cheating spouse who sleeps with his partner (Nick confides in his co-worker about the violence of his work rather than his wife). I am in opposition with many things in this comic and this is up there. Even anti-heroes have some dignity; Venom hates Spider-Man, but considers himself a lethal protector of the innocent. Nick has no redeemable qualities. Having one of the main protagonists behave so immorally dishonors the code of respectability they’re supposed to embody.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not fond of cussing in the comics I read. It tends to make the dialogue bland and one-dimensional. Like Pete Bell, Nick Nolte’s character in Blue Chips, nearly every word out of Nick’s mouth is an expletive. The swear jar has become a swear tub. This combined with an extramarital affair does not inspire heroism, a core component of most action/adventure comics. However, everyone has the right to their own opinion/analysis, including Morrison, who participated in a Q&A article for Comics Alliance that offers his stance on his latest creation. In it, he said he purposefully inserted swearing into his series to give it a Jersey feel. “I wanted the world to be really degraded when the comic began,” Morrison said. He insinuated that he chose to distort the gleeful characteristics associated with the classic Christmas setting, including Coca-Cola’s conception of Santa Claus.

Morrison alluded to Christmas being a representation of “American commercialism.” Evaluating this comic solely on an artistic basis, I can see the attraction of distorting the pagan tradition of the yuletide season. However, my own thoughts on what a comic should be are the polar opposite of his. Wrapping up on the plot, the third issue ends on a cliffhanger as it is revealed that Hailey is Nick’s daughter. Unaware he had a child, this stimulates a change of heart in the selfish, loathsome killer (Perhaps there is a touch of virtue in this comic after all, but only a smidge). Happy is Hailey’s imaginary unicorn and only he can navigate the prodigal father to his neglected offspring.

Robertson’s art conveys Morrison’s dark, corrupt world quite well. A blizzard descends on the cold, mean streets, symbolizing the heartlessness of the city and its inhabitants. Each character, even those unnamed, have a bitter countenance. With the exception of Happy, Robertson incorporates realism with his sketches; some guys are balding while others have a five o’ clock shadow. There are three forms of word expression. The typical word bubble with an arrow connoting the speaker is implemented, but there’s also times when there’s an absence of an arrow, leaving you to piece together the speaker’s identity. I suppose this is synonymous of the city’s universal corruption; the hostile, anger-fueled words could belong to anybody since none are inherently good. Finally, there are some phrases in red without a word bubble; left raw, they reflect the blunt chaos of Morrison’s fictional environment. These are used to voice the shouts and screams of the many angry citizens.

Morrison is clearly a respected visionary in the comic industry with a large following. Unfortunately, I’m in the opposing minority with this title. The bountiful cussing is a turn-off for me.
4/10

Madcap: Color Me Crazy

Traipsing across Times Square with a mischievous grin and a spring in his step, a carefree oddball in a purple fedora spreads his randomness on the long-faced New Yorkers, instigating a period of chaos.  A cop and a pedestrian perform a waltz.  A middle-aged man quacks like a duck.  Two businessmen act as bull and matador.  Where Madcap cavorts, lunacy follows.

His identity undisclosed, seldom is known of this upbeat prankster, save the tragedy that perpetuated his descent into madness.  Raised in a Christian household, he was a devout believer and highly involved with his church.  Sadly, his faith was dismantled during a church field trip to Bear Mountain.  A tanker truck bulldozed the bus carrying him, his family and members of his congregation.  The collision led to combustion.  The impact swept the religious man away from the accident’s fiery epicenter. 

Face down in asphalt, he began to feel different as green liquid from the truck oozed into his bloodstream.  The substance was Compound X07, a developmental nerve agent manufactured by Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), a global sect of science-terrorists.  Awakening in a hospital bed uninjured, the distraught man asked the doctor if there were any survivors.  The doctor informed him there wasn’t.  This uprooted the man’s faith in God and an orderly world.  Baffled that he should live when 42 died, he fled outside and hurled himself into an incoming car to reunite with his loved ones. 

Alas, he soon discovered the accident had given him powers.  For starters, he could heal from any wound.  Even more, he could not feel pain.  This pushed his psyche further over the edge.  He pondered why he should be rewarded when his dear ones were decimated.  He concluded there was no reason.  Things happen devoid of purpose or outcome.  He resolved to spread his epiphany to the masses.  “I stopped into a costume shop—-and picked up some snappy looking duds,” he recalled to Nomad, a sidekick of Captain America (Captain America#309).  “If I wanted people to listen to me—-I had to get them to notice me first.  And so dubbing myself Madcap, I set out to show the world how to go coocoo for coco puffs!” 

His second power allows him to accomplish his objective.  Madcap can induce temporary insanity on those who look into his eyes.  He can contort even the sternest of individuals.  He enables people to be unencumbered by restraint.  Abnormality becomes normality. The timid begin dancing.  The professional act like buffoons.  Mobsters hop like monkeys.  The overbearing mom pushes her stroller like she’s driving a race car. 

While humorous in some instances, tampering with minds can also prove deadly for his victims and the uninfected nearby.  Madcap once compelled a cop in Grand Central Station to go trigger-happy.  The cop ended up firing shots into the crowd, killing a slew of bystanders (Ghost Rider vol. 3#33).  Ghost Rider exacted vengeance with the Penance Stare.  This caused the mischief-maker to actually feel pain again, a sensation he hadn’t experienced since the accident. 

To expand his message of craziness to a larger audience, Madcap partnered with Dollar Bill, a talk show host who witnessed the aftermath from one of the quipster’s late night excursions (Daredevil#234).  Originally entitled, “The Dollar Bill Show,” the funnyman convinced him to change it to the “Madcap Comedy Hour” after the success of his debut interview.  On it, he revealed his regenerative ability and his power to drive others bonkers.  The theme of the show was there was no theme.  Everything is meaningless.

He maybe considered an absurd nutcase and his methods unconventional, but Madcap is original.  He incites randomness and fun wherever he frolics.  Sometimes the degree of fun is borderline dangerous, but more often it’s harmless, slapstick humor.  He lives his life loosely and on his terms.  So why not follow his example?  Dare to be odd.  In a world of squares, be an octagon.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

A full moon beams down its fluorescent glow, setting the pace for an epic battle between man and beast.  Gabriel Belmont, a knight from the Brotherhood of Light, carries an eery calm as he hurls lash after lash into his prey, Cornell, Lord of the Lycans.  Nothing scares Belmont for he’s already lost that which mattered most, Marie, his wife. It is for her sake he fights and embarks on a perilous quest throughout 11th century Europe in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a video game for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  Developed by MercurySteam and published by Konami, it is a third-person action/adventure set in 1047, a time of cataclysmic darkness.  The connection between heaven and earth has been severed.  The spirits of the deceased are trapped on earth, including Marie.  The Brotherhood of Light, a sect of holy knights who combat the supernatural, sends Belmont to investigate based on a dream they had of his beloved longing to deliver him a message.  She holds the solution to earth’s salvation.  The holy warrior must consult Pan, guardian of the Lake of Oblivion, an area that allows the dead to converse with the living. 

Pan puts Belmont through a test to evaluate whether he’s worthy to enter.  After passing, the hero proceeds to the Lake of Oblivion and beholds his departed spouse, who is able to relay messages from the Brotherhood’s founders.  She informs her love that he must recover the power from the Lords of Shadow, the God Mask.  In doing so, he will re-establish the link between heaven and earth.  More importantly, he can resurrect his wife.  There are three Lords to overcome:  Lord of the Lycans, Lord of the Vampires and Lord of the Dead.  With each Lord vanquished, a piece of the God Mask materializes. Of course, plunging into such a threatening endeavor requires an equally lethal arsenal.

The Combat Cross is Belmont’s primary weapon in the game.  It’s similar to a whip, but can be used in a variety of ways.  There are direct attacks and area attacks.  The former afflicts damage only on foes in front of him.  The latter hurts all within his radius.  Both have deadlier forms in the advanced moves section that comes with stage progression.  Players can hold the direct attack button to initiate a nine-step combo of controlled lashes that will eviscerate unlucky adversaries.  The chain barrier ability is also handy.  When players charge the area attack button, Belmont twirls his Combat Cross, whipping anything in his direction, which can be adjusted as needed.  It ends with a block breaker strike that has the knight flip through the air as he spins his whip for the crushing blow.  

The chain saw move is even more brutal.  The fearless adventurer rotates his weapon so fast it resembles a silver spinning wheel.  It dices the skin of opponents with the ferocity of a fan’s blades.  He can also grab enemies for quick kills, particularly effective on goblins, gremlins and small trolls.  Blood splatters as he lays waste to the supernatural creatures.  Tougher enemies, however, require a sufficient beating before succumbing to that move.  In addition to functioning as a whip, the Combat Cross serves as a grappling hook and stake.     

Amping his weaponry to a whole new level, Belmont has Light Magic and Shadow Magic.  Activating Light Magic imbues him with a shimmering blue aura and he gains health from every enemy he attacks.  The Holy Cross, the most powerful move in the game, stems from this mode.  Exuberant blue rays pierce through all caught in their glaze, blinding them before obliterating them.  Shadow Magic turns the lone warrior a glaring red and magnifies the damage of his attacks.  This dark mode features Shadow Flames.  This ability scorches all entrapped in its vicinity, reducing them to ash.  Armed for anything, he thus begins his hazardous sojourn.

Belmont’s hunt for the Lords of Shadow spans a diverse range of lands.  Seeking Cornell, Lord of the Lycans, places him in the Enchanted Forest.  A crystal waterfall trickles down from a cliff, propelling him to do the same.  Players can hear the flow of water as they descend their hero downwards. Birds chirp and lavish trees sway as the gallant protagonist marches forward. The game also has a 3-D quality to it.  Leaves fall towards the gamer’s TV screen. 

Further along lies Agharta, an ancient city once occupied by mages, but now overrun by lycans.  It is Cornell’s kingdom.  The land is in ruins, illustrated by its dilapidated columns and broken bridges.  To move forward, players must tame a warg, a giant wolf-like beast.  Additionally, Belmont is guided by Claudia, a supporting character.  Observe as the courageous voyager presses on and listen to the theme of a tried knight, a song of perseverance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-tApC-na88&feature=g-upl).

Searching for Carmilla, Lord of the Vampires, Belmont passes through Wygol Village.  The frosty town has few inhabitants due to the hordes of vampires that linger.  Most villagers barricade themselves within their houses out of terror.  The fabled explorer fears nothing.  He’s after a holy water relic that will stun overwhelming bloodsuckers.  It’s stored in the Abbey.  Alas, this requires treading past a graveyard plagued by ghouls.  The flesh-eating creatures spew acid that blinds and poisons the hero.  It can only be countered by Light Magic.     

Acquiring holy water allows Belmont to temporarily stun any throng of vampires ambushing him.  He’s now ready to enter Carmilla’s castle.  A third of the game is spent here for there are many sections.  Players must navigate the valiant figure from the castle’s base to its peak.  The Maze Gardens are an icy labyrinth with barren trees and snow-covered shrubbery.  Although there’s no ice sculptures, it resembles the garden in “Edward Scissorhands.”  The hall of the castle is just as cold. Chunks of snow adhere to the ground and icicles dangle from the ceiling.  The environment is decorated with demon statues, bookcases and candlesticks.  

Snow falls down from the balcony, appearing to stick to the player’s TV screen as Belmont balances himself across wooden beams, climbs scaffolding and rappels up cliffs with his grappling hook.  A swarm of bats squeak and scurry through the air, alluding to the Dark Lord who rules this frozen fortress.  The outer wall stage is similar to the balcony, but it includes a scenic backdrop of the extravagant castle.  Take a look at this breathtaking footage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWUwd9ndlpU&feature=g-upl).  Carmilla waits at the top. 

To confront the Lord of the Dead, Belmont must enter a lifeless realm.  The contrasts between it and earth are obvious upon arrival.  The sky is beige and skull-shaped mountains lie in the distance.  A creamy fog engulfs the atmosphere.  Larger concentrations that blanket portions of the ground are toxic and should be avoided.  Traversing this grim dimension, the brave hero squares off against skeleton warriors and creeping corpses.  Despite their small stature, the corpses are the greater threat.  Left unchecked, they will hop into empty tombstones, sprout vine-like appendages and become creeping coffins.  They are formidable foes in this form.  Death’s domain also contains reapers.  They attack slow, but their scythe is fatal if it connects. Necromancers are another abomination to contend with.  These corrupt sorcerers conjure zombies to assault the holy warrior.  They also slam their sparkling green staves to the ground, sending columns of fire in his direction.  Slaying these evil wizards opens a series of portals that lead to the Lord of the Dead.  From there, all Belmont can do is preserve hope of reuniting with his Marie. 

With its heartfelt story, flavorful combat and gorgeous scenery, Lords of Shadow has something for everyone.  Players may find themselves stopping during gameplay just to hear the score (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L8BrjyiHDo&feature=g-upl).  The music is so moving it pulls on one’s emotional heartstrings.  The game features an exceptionally talented cast as well.  Robert Carlyle, well-known as Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon a Time, voices Gabriel Belmont.  Patrick Stewart narrates the grandiose adventure.  At its heart, Lords of Shadow is a game about the depths one is willing to undertake for love.