Andy’s Current Favorites: May 2019

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As a wise men said, all good things have to come to an end. It’s time to say goodbye…

…Scared you didn’t I? I’m sure you read that opening the teaser and thought to yourself:

“Andy’s leaving the Ghosts of the Stratosphere?!? What?!? The host with the most…GONE?!?

And some of you may have been choked up a little bit. Maybe you were like my co-hosts, Chad and Stew, that started panicking about who was going to edit the podcasts from now on. Or Maybe you were like our friends, Pint O’ Comics, and started salivating over an golden opportunity to snatch good talent up.

But alas, hate to put a stop to that rumor mill, but I’m not going anywhere. The Stratosphere Lounge is my home, and they’ll have to pull me out kicking and screaming to get me to leave.

However, I will say that this particular blog segment where I list all of my favorite movies, comics, TV shows, music, air freshener scents, relief pitchers, etc. for the month, yes, this segment is going bye bye. No more Andy’s Current Favorites.

Why you ask? Mainly because I write so much about these damn topics ever month that I started to say to myself, “why am I breaking my back writing other articles?” Each of these topics could be their own article! Forget the fans in giving them everything all at once. After today, they are going to start having to come back and get these things presented individually.

Yes, folks, after today, I’m microtranactioning my monthly thoughts. Hope you enjoy your final combo meal, kiddies! After today you’ll have to buy the fries separately!

Current Book I’m Reading:

Marvel’s Godzilla Series

So with Godzilla, King of Monsters, coming out just next week and yours truly pretty pumped to see it, there was no question about what comic I was going to highlight in this month’s comic book section. Although this particular collection of books is somewhat hard to get given it’s licensed material and as a result doesn’t get reprinted very often in trades and such, I was able to track down several issues of Marvel’s Godzilla series that first saw print in 1977 and ran for 24 issues over the course of the following 2 years. 

The series was written in its entirety by Doug Moench, who would go on to write such classic Marvel runs like Moon Knight in the 80s and his critically acclaimed work on Master of Kung Fu.  It was also drawn in its entirety by Herb Trimpe, who second only to Sal Buscema, is the artist I most equate with the Hulk. Funny that he went from drawing one huge green engine of destruction to another as I’m pretty sure Sal took over about the same time as Herb started drawing this.

Originally, I thought I that I could have wrote an entire read pile on this particular run as over the course of 24 issues (most of which are self-contained), a lot of things happen. Upon waking up, first, Godzilla fights SHIELD, headed up by Nick Fury’s right hand Howling Commando, Dum Dum Duggan. Then he fights a variety of different monsters, some created by the rather odd super villain Dr. Demonicus, who I feel should be much more bad ass than he really is. He’s sort of a low rent cross between Dr. Doom and Modok with a decidedly homeless street urchin feel. Real Hoboesque.

Anyways, he then fights more monsters, including a giant Bigfoot type creature, and tussles with a variety of the big name Marvel superheroes, like the entire rosters of the Avengers and the precursor to the West Coast Avengers, Black Widow’s Champions. 

From my perspective, the coolest aspects of all these issues is the subplots involving SHIELD agent, Jimmy Woo, who I have a pretty strong affection since reading all the Agents of Atlas stuff in the mid to late 2000s, and Red Ronin. For those of you not in the know, Red Ronin is a giant Shogun Warriors-like humanoid mech that was specifically created for this series. For those of you that are fans of the original Godzilla films by Toho, I’d roughly equate him to the character of Jet Jaguar, however, most pop culture devotees would be more likely to think Voltron or Power Rangers giant robot. Because he was an original creation though, Marvel still owns the rights to Red Ronin and he’s appeared off and on in various Marvel properties. I think most vividly I remember him appearing in the series Earth X, which was Marvel’s version for better or worse of DC’s Kingdom Come.

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But yeah, even as I list the things that happened in this comic series, and yes, I agree that there was a lot, I was hard pressed to find much of real substance. It was all just goofy fun that just meandered from one issue to the next, with Godzilla portrayed as pretty much a semi mindless animal wrecking buildings and smashing elevated trains. There is some characterization of him as having a slight semblance of morality as he seems to defend certain good characters at times, but its nowhere near the type of  heroism I’ve seen in some Godzilla films, where he’s portrayed as the savior of Japan. Nor though is he depicted as a hellish creature of pure terror, god like in his ability to snuff out life and wreck biblical havoc like I’ve seen in the recent anime films on Netflix. He’s just there, looking all big and dumb and rubber costume-y.

As a result of the lack of any real strong characterization out of the title character, the story really sags at times, as we are left getting our drama from the supporting characters instead, which honestly is not the reason you are reading the book. I mean, who is really gonna pick up a continuing series called “Dum Dum Duggan, Barking Out Orders, Yet Being Incompetent” or “SHIELD HELICARRIER: Takes a Lickin’ and Keeps on Tickin”.

In the end though, I guess it was all worth it just to see this below scene between the King of Monsters and good ol’ JJJ at the Daily Bugle. The exchange is priceless! I wonder if my fellow Ghostie host, Chad Smith, has ever read this…



Current Favorite Album While Reading Comics:

Bob Dylan, Modern Times

Image result for bob dylan modern times

Recently, I had a chance to work back in the Chicago home office of my real life job (yes in fact, I do have a professional career outside podcasting/blogging. This is all technically a hobby.) And in doing so, I got to ride around on those wonderful “L” line subways of the Windy City, which got me a little nostalgic for this particular Bob Dylan album.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever officially highlighted my all-time favorite musician on these particular monthly blogs, but given this looks to be my last one, I thought better late than never. Modern Times was released back in 2006 which was during the years I lived in Downtown Chicago. As a result, for about 2 or 3 months after its release I listened to it ad nauseum as I commuted to work every morning.

It was during a very exciting time for Bob Dylan’s career, a resurgence in interest in the world’s most famous songwriter, that started when he won the Grammy for Album of the Year with the 1997 hit record “Time out of Mind”. This was followed up with a pretty universally acclaimed second album with “Love & Theft” in 2001. These two albums plus new documentaries into this life like “No Direction Home” by Martin Scorsese and the odd hipster biopic, “I’m Not There”, as well as the “Masked and Anonymous” movie, were putting him on the map again (although I can’t recommend anyone watch Masked and Anonymous…other than the music…it’s terrible). Bob was hip, trendy, worthy of praise and attention by young folks, and as a longtime fan, I couldn’t have been happier.

So when news started coming out of a third new studio album, it became one of the most anticipated albums of that year. Bob was suddenly appearing in iTunes commercials with his new single “Someday Baby”, his tunes were in regular rotation on the adult alternative stations I loved, my own personal excitement for this next release was palpable. Hence the reason why when I finally got the album, I listened to it so often.

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Now, I’m not the type of Dylan fan that thinks that every single song he writes is fantastic, and Modern Times was no exception. In fact, I will say that I really do prefer Time out of Mind and Love & Theft to this one in terms of number of quality tunes that I enjoy at any point, where as Modern Times, has more tunes that I have to be in the right mood for such as “Spirit on the Water” or “Workingman Blues #2”. To take that one step further, there are certain tunes off this album I have never really liked at all (“Nettie Moore” comes to mind), so I can say of this album trilogy, this one is the weakest.

Still though, this album has some absolute killer tracks that I recommend that everyone give a listen at some point. My personal favorite is “Ain’t Talkin’”, a sublime apocalyptic style ballad filled dark and disturbing imagery. Every time I hear it, I think about someone writing a comic book about “walking through the cities of the plague” or “practicing a faith that’s been long abandoned”. Then I think there have been tons already written for which this song could be perfect as a soundtrack for such as “The Walking Dead” or “Winterworld”. So yeah, if you are a fan of those books, throw on this tune the next time you sit down to read about zombies chewing people’s heads off. You won’t regret it

However, I feel that song might be too depressing for most, so there’s also Thunder on the Mountain. That tune is a raucous little rock-a-billy diddy with shout outs to the likes of Alicia Keys. Plus it’s got one of my favorite lyrics from any Bob Dylan tune: “Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches, I’m gonna recruit my army from the orphanages.” I feel it speaks to the type of proud outcasts and misfits that cut themselves away from the cloth and listen to Bob Dylan in the first place. If you don’t believe me, listen to it yourself below. I warn you though, prepare to have some toes ready for tappin’.

Current Favorite Video Game:

Nintendo Online

Image result for nintendo online

So during last month’s “current favorites”, I mentioned the fact that I had finally broke down and bought a Nintendo Switch.

Well, another month has passed since and I’m starting to sincerely feel as if it was the best investment I’ve made in the past two years. Sure, in some ways I still feel it’s a glorified version of the Wii U with better processing power and the ability to be completely self-contained, but those are pretty enormous improvements over the system that I feel have made all the difference. It really is the perfect mix of a variety of the different systems that Nintendo has come out with over the past couple of years including the aforementioned U and the hand held devices like the 3DS.

Plus as someone that now has young gamers in the family, the Xbox/PS4 systems were never going to be able to compete with the “Disney”esque brand power that Nintendo can produce for quality all ages gaming. They have Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, Tetris, the list just keeps going. These are the characters that my kids want to play games about, it’s already ingrained deep within their psyches, and as a Dad, I really couldn’t be happier. Like movies, you want to pass along traditions and traditional characters. You don’t want new stuff, flashy stuff, stuff that might be inappropriate or of poor quality. You want the good stuff, and ever since Super Mario, the good stuff has been Nintendo, whether you snobby gamers want to admit it or not.

That’s why I was super thrilled about Nintendo Online. You see like so many other consoles of this generation, they now make you pay to play online with your friends. Nintendo is a bit more reasonable than most with only a $20 buck buy in for an entire year of usage. However, that cost becomes even more friendly when you realize that you get the Nintendo Online service included in that price.

Nintendo Online is somewhat like a “Netflix” of classic NES games available at your fingertips. Many of these are obviously the proprietary games from that era put out by Nintendo, including the first 3 Mario games, Zelda & Zelda II, Metroid, the NES version of Donkey Kong, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Dr. Mario, etc.

However, there are some deep dives from that library that I thought were welcome additions such as the original Pro Wrestling game, Star Tropics, Ice Climber, Balloon Fight, and NES Golf. In addition there are some classics from third party developers like the original Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo Bowl, Ghosts n’ Goblins, Double Dragon, Blaster Master, Gradius, and the most welcomed surprise of all RIVER CITY RANSOM!

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Heck yeah! Throw that metal pipe and make that dude yell “BARF!” Sincerely one of the best classic beat ‘em ups ever especially with its combination of RPG and free roam elements. A very welcomed inclusion especially since you can play all of these games 2 players just like you could originally on the NES console, and true co-op games right now on the Nintendo Online are somewhat few and far between.

Of course there are going to be some that complain that they might have bought all these games previously for older systems such as the Wii or WiiU so it seems like a real rip off that Nintendo is not allowing those previous purchases to carry over to the new system and that instead you have to pay and play these games only on this online service.

I won’t lie. I sort of feel a little of the tang of that myself as I always like to “own” the games I’m paying for, so that I can play them as I wish. Plus, I really did have like 6 or 7 of the games offered on Nintendo Online on my Wii U so it does sting that I can’t load those on my Switch for offline play. 

There are also that are going to complain that the Nintendo Online Library is pretty limited at the moment. However, I feel that complaint is short sighted as the service has only been out for a couple months, and since launch they have already added several new titles, such as the original NES version of Super Mario Brothers: Lost Levels, which I thought was super cool of them to do. So it’s just a matter of time I feel.

The biggest holes in the library right now come from the Capcom and Konami camps, with super important NES titles like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Contra absent from the collection. But I have no doubt that eventually these titles will also find a home in this collection.

The final complaint might come from those that invested that 50 or 60 bucks in the NES Classic a couple years in order to play these games, and now they are available on the Switch. To that camp, I just say, the NES classic was a novelty. It wasn’t a real system. It was a self-contained limited lifespan fun toy. Plus, the controller cords were terribly short. It’s time to invest in a system that has growth potential.

And this Nintendo Online library I feel has real potential. It might become the default platform for streaming style gaming in several years with more and more NES games, SNES games, and even games from rival companies like Sega.

They are beautifully delivered with all the original graphics, include full save state functionality so you can come back later and pick up where you left off, and some games even include a “special version” for younger or novice players with decreased difficult or increased starting equipment/stats. 

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the special version of Zelda II, which started with a pretty buffed up Link, with all the spells and special attacks already known from the start. I might finally beat this game thanks to those Game Genie style cheats. Who knows?

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