The Best Joker Yet!

Good day, everyone! It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard from me, but I felt it was high time my Batman column here at Sourcerer saw another entry. Today, I want us to talk about Jerome Valeska (played by Cameron Monaghan) from the Gotham television series.

I know; the first season of Gotham was certainly a mixed bag. Personally, I enjoyed it despite recognizing its many weaknesses. I’m happy to see that the second season has started off rather strongly and is set to do greater justice to its source material while still forging ahead with its own story. I would say Gotham‘s greatest strength so far has been in its introduction of the character of Jerome Valeska, the show’s proto-Joker. Please note that from here on out, there will be spoilers for the show.

When Jerome and his bizarre circus family were first introduced last season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Surely, the episode was visually stimulating and a murder mystery on a police procedural certainly sells, but it still seemed like there was something yet to be introduced. I was not disappointed; this episode ended on a surprise note that made my skin crawl, with Jerome transforming in an instant from a simpering child victim to a laughing psychopath that had any Batman fan worth his or her collection instantly on edge.

And the character has only grown more this season into the role set for him in that simple scene. Jerome’s appearance and demeanor are of a young man constantly on the verge of some sort of outburst, and he tends toward the morbidly dramatic. Further, Jerome cares little for even his own life, but cares a great deal about taking charge in a situation in order to insure that he gets his point across, whatever it may be.

The character’s showmanship coupled with Monaghan’s stage presence are a wonderful combination that plays out beautifully. Jerome isn’t a man who even pretends at a plan; rather, he is a true agent of chaos pursuing the greatest possible shock value with the highest possible body count.

On a final (and much appreciated) note, the writers of Gotham demonstrate that they are fully aware of the Joker’s irreplaceable, mythic role in the Batman mythos. This is worked in wonderfully with Jerome’s father (a blind fortune-teller played by Mark Margolis) reciting a prophecy concerning Jerome’s personal legacy of horror.

I find it a shame that Jerome had to be killed off after only four episodes. He was one of the greatest things about Gotham thus far, and that show has many, many great performances going for it, from Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, to Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin, and of course Erin Richards as the broken Barbara Kean. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, and appropriately enough, the greatest treat, is that Cameron Monaghan gave us the greatest live action Joker yet, and he wasn’t even playing the Joker. I raise a glass to such a performance.

Cameron Monaghan as Jerome in Gotham. Image taken from https://www.facebook.com/CameronMonaghanOfficial?pnref=lhc

Cameron Monaghan as Jerome in Gotham. Image taken from https://www.facebook.com/CameronMonaghanOfficial?pnref=lhc

That’s it for this installment, everyone. Thanks for reading and welcoming me back. I plan on doing several more guest posts as the year wraps up, most especially once Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race hits shelves. As for reading recommendations, I suggest that, Batman: Europa, and Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once all three see publication. Each should offer up a different take on the character from what is currently enjoying mainstream publication.

I hope you enjoy those reading recommendations, along with Gotham. And please do check out my other posts on the Joker here, here, and here. Heh. See you all next time! Tweet me @quaintjeremy.

Star Wars: Battlefront Beta Review

The Star Wars: Battlefront beta is over, and I want to talk about it. I was sick the weekend it came out, so rather than escaping into the fresh air and golden sunshine, I cowered in blankets with soup and juice and played the game more or less non-stop. I’ll break up the different areas of the game that I think are relevant below, and give a recommendation at the end, so if you just want to know what a stranger thinks you should or shouldn’t spend your money on:

tl;dr – It’s pretty good.

Okay, great. Here we go!

Battles

This is the fun part, right? Where it really matters whether the game delivers. Cool weapons and abilities are good, but if the battles don’t feel right – don’t feel like Star Wars – there’s no point in buying this game. Thankfully, they do a pretty good job.

The smaller battle introduces the player to how the game works. The players fight to an objective, trigger it, and then defend it until a timer runs out. The other side fights back to recover the objective. Neither side has an inherent advantage. It’s basically Battlefield, with a nice coat of Star Wars, but a few differences:

Weapons

The player only gets one weapon. Rebels and Imperials start off with slightly different blasters, but can buy the other side’s and more. The weapons cost points and can only be bought in the pre-game lobby. I preferred the heavy blaster rifle: it has less damage and range than the basic rifles, but its fast rate of fire suits my scattershot aim. I’ve also seen snipers use this gun to pick people (me) off from halfway across the map, so “Range” is more like a polite suggestion than an accurate estimation of its abilities. I even managed the longshot sometimes.

Some more disparity between the weapons would be nice, but overall I don’t have anything to complain about (except that jerk sniping me with a frakkin pistol).

The level also feels organic. A space battle rages overhead, as a Stormtrooper stations himself on a nearby hill to pick off the approaching rebels, but the Rebel infantry uses a jetpack to jump across his field of vision and deliver a thermal detonator to the face. It provides a grander backdrop for the struggle for resources. The players who claim the objectives also get powerups, which make taking the next objective easier.

The powerups

There are two types: star cards and field powerups

Field powerups are more interesting and powerful than star cards (except for the jetpack; that thing is amazing) but also only one use. Some even include a timer, such as the vehicle drops on Hoth. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Scattered in amongst them, at random, are the Hero drops that let you play as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.

The player buys star cards like weapons, and equips them before the battle. Cards include thermal detonators, personal shields, jetpacks, and triggered abilities. The grenades and jetpacks are multi-use, and require a cooldown before being used again. The triggered ability (in the beta, just the “Ion Shot”) alter the player’s abilities. The Ion Shot allows your blaster to fire ion instead of laser, which is more effective against vehicles – a key ability on Hoth. Speaking of…

The big battle (20 vs. 20) is Hoth, Echo Base, or “Walker Assault.” If you’re not familiar, follow this link and check out the opening battle of The Empire Strikes Back.

Yeah. Did you feel like the Rebels might be a little desperate in that fight? Well, it translates to the game as well. The game is so slated in favor of the Imperials I thought the Rebels must have to play perfectly in order to win. And they do have to play well, but in my fever dream state I think I won as many games as Rebels as I lost. I certainly lost enough as Imperials.

The difference between this level and the smaller battle is immediately obviously. As the Imperials, you start in the mountains, close to an AT-AT “Walker”, while the other lumbers forward in the valley below. The snow stretches out in front of you, marred by the corpse of a fallen AT-AT. For a few moments everything is quiet as you and the other troopers hustle toward the objective. Then the first laser blasts hit: the Rebels are at the trenches first, and they’re using a turret to mow you down. You duck behind a pathetic ice-rock shelf and spot it: a glowing blue powerup, but this one looks like the Imperial AT-ST. You take it, call it in, and then you’re in the cockpit. Secure in your new power, you march forward, firing lasers and missiles into the Rebel trenches, clearing the way for the troopers to deactivate the Rebel uplink.

Sorry. That was my nerd moment. I’ll try to be objective going forward.

The objectives are deceptively simple: Rebels turn on uplinks to order bomber strikes and destroy the Walkers; Imperials stop the uplinks and protect the Walkers. When the bombers hit, the Rebels have a short window to damage the massive AT-ATs. If they fail to destroy both, Imperials destroy the shield generator and win. If they down both (quite a feat) the Rebels win. The work that goes into taking and holding the uplinks, and then damaging the AT-Ats, however, requires coordination and timing. Miss the chance to damage a Walker and Wisconsin is doomed (bam, topical!). Stop paying attention as an Imperial, and you’ll be picking up the shattered pieces of your metal monstrosity and trying to explain to the galaxy’s worst vice-principal what went wrong.

215415-darth_vader_original

He’s very disappointed in your life choices

While the battle feels very Imperial sided, a well-organized Rebel force (or a poorly-run Imperial side) can turn the battle around and make it feel like the Rebels just handed the Empire a whooping. Particularly crucial are the vehicles:

Vehicles

There are two kinds of vehicles: those I can use and those that explode immediately. I’m decent with the ground vehicles. The AT-ST can change a losing fight around quick, and while the AT-AT is sluggish and barely functional, it’s a lot of fun to be in the big beast, raining fire on the scum below.

The air vehicles, however… I tried and failed to learn. I think this highlights the biggest problem with the game. It needs a tutorial or practice mode so I don’t have to learn how to fly a TIE fighter in the middle of a pitched battle. This is true for heroes as well. While I am bad at it, however, some folks can fly like they were born to it, and some of the coolest videos online feature the air vehicles.

That’s a video of the Rebels pulling a last-second win by slamming an A-Wing into the near-crippled AT-AT. There are a ton more like that, and Reddit is full of stories of amazing wins and aerial acrobatics. Using the vehicles and other powerups correctly is the way to win on Walker Assault, and the Rebels have a bit of an advantage there in controlling the skies.

As the battle progresses the Imperials push the Rebels back from their (relatively secure) bunker to an open field that instantly becomes a brutal no-man’s-land. If you buy this game and play Walker Assault, listen: STAY IN THE TRENCHES. A direct assault across the blinding white snowfields will equal a quick trip to the respawn point. And while you sprint-and-die, someone else finds the Vader token, cashes it in, and mows people down with the red lightsaber as the few remaining aircraft crash and burn in the final moments.

Heroes

In the learning curve, heroes are somewhere between ground and air vehicles. I got to use both Luke and Vader, but I found the tokens completely by accident. When I used them, I didn’t really know what to do, and I never found them again. This is part of the mystique of these characters – powerful plays that can completely turn the tide – but if some doofus (me) gets Vader and has to spend a few minutes jogging awkwardly back to the battle, he (whoever he may be) feels less like the Dark Lord of the Sith and more like an unfortunate postman. It’s another reason to allow for practice. Even a bot mode that allows you to learn the layout of the battle as well as hardcore players, would make a big difference.

As it is, too many players spend their time searching for the powerups instead of fighting, or deploying otherwise useful abilities too soon or ineffectively to make room for Vader or Luke. Bot-mode or practice could take the edge off of this craving I’ve got to choke fools with my mind (I didn’t even get to choke anyone as Vader. How’s that for fair?).

Despite these problems, I really like the game. It felt like Star Wars, like an epic science-fiction battle. When a snowspeeder tries to wrap a tow cable around a vulnerable AT-AT and gets shot down, the flaming wreckage can kill you (mostly) –

giphy

– and then stays where it landed for the rest of the battle. By the end, the pristine snow is scorched and littered with burned-out wrecks. That feeling, more than the battles themselves, makes the game great. It feels like I was briefly a part of this universe.

And if you do play the game and happen to see him, KILL Luke Skywalker. He’s killed more good Imperial troops than ten Wookies combined.

Ms. Marvel #19 Review

Ms. Marvel 19 cover

I hate to say it, but I remain disappointed in the entire “Last Days of Ms. Marvel” arc. I sincerely hope that others found Ms. Marvel #19 moving and meaningful, but I just thought it was trite. I saw nothing surprising in this issue.

Last month‘s big reveal was that Kamala’s mother already knew about her secret identity. She’s very supportive. Yay.

Ms. Marvel 19

On the one hand, it’s nice. Secret identities are generally implausible with close relatives anyway, and I’m glad they’re not going the “You’re grounded for the rest of your life” route, but still. This is such a typical scene, and it’s followed immediately by an even MORE obvious interaction with Zoe. She’s the popular blonde girl usually seen making racist remarks in Kamala’s direction, but she apologizes and explains she only did those things because she’s jealous of how much everyone likes Kamala. Understandable, maybe, but haven’t we seen this conversation in every high school friendship movie EVER?

Then, another conversation! Nakia, Kamala’s best friend, is upset that Kamala never talks to her. Nakia only hears about Kamala’s life through the grapevine.

Ms. Marvel 19I felt this conversation was more relatable to me personally, and that feeling of being dumped by a friend tends to be glossed over in other stories. Its something that shows up in the grand denouement of a high school friendship drama, but those stories are usually about the person leaving, not the person being left.

And finally, Kamala speaks to Bruno about his feelings, and they both declare their love for each other. BUT! Kamala has committed to being a superhero.

Ms. Marvel 19

It’s a good conversation with good lines, just good scripting. It shows Kamala and Bruno being brave and talking about their feelings, and I can respect Kamala’s commitment to herself over anyone else. I love that, actually.

But… really? Really, though? Is it really necessary to show the exact same conversation every other superhero has ever had about personal relationships? Not to mention that she just spent the whole issue reaffirming her familial and social relationships. Is it really necessary to draw this subtle distinction between being “just” a friend and being “more than” a friend? Really? I’m not saying they should get together at this stage by any means, but if it were up to me, I would’ve just let that simmer a lot longer. Make something creative and intense out of it, instead of playing out the same old story.

A lot of young people are reading this comic, and maybe this is the first time they’re seeing these arcs. It might be new for them, and as I said, I hope it was meaningful for other readers. For me, it was disappointing, frustrating, and derivative. As always, though, I’ll be tuning in next month, if only to see how Kamala and Bruno’s relationship develops. It’s all out in the open now, and it’s nigh impossible to recover from that.