Andy’s Current Favorites: April 2020

GhostAndy

img_6312Hey, gang! Andy Larson back with another monthly look at my own personal hit parade! Those comics, video games, music and more that have been scratching my itch in the past month enough for me to take some of my hard earned free time to chat about it.

But before I begin, let me just again say how awesome it is being a nerd and having little kids. Why you ask? It’s because again you get to revisit classic bits of your childhood without feeling that guilt of knowing you should have grown out of loving this stuff years ago. Case in point, in that recently my 5 year old daughter has discovered a really great animated show I used to watch when I was a kid in reruns on Saturday mornings, before the real cartoons started. I’m talking about Tennessee Tuxedo and Friends.

 

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This little gem of cartoon series featured Don Knots of Inspector Gadget fame as the always scheming Tennessee Tuxedo, who often bored of with his existence as a zoo animal would hatch up harebrained business schemes with his dim-witted walrus of a partner, Chumley.

This cartoon I watched mainly as a segment on the larger Underdog show, given by the time it had been repackaged for syndication in the 80s, the production company, Total Television had just merged all these originally different shows they made to sell General Mills cereals into one combination.

As such, many years ago when I purchased an  Underdog DVD set and they failed to include The Tennessee Tuxedo shorts, I was outraged. I’m sure if you go on Amazon now and look up that Underdog box set, you’ll still see my scathing review, lambasting the DVD publishers for releasing them as separate sets. For me, they were meant to be watched together. It was like they were breaking up Dudley Do Right from The Bullwinkle show just for some extra cash.  To this day, it still steams my broccoli a bit.

Maybe Mr. Whoopie will break out his 3DBB and educate us on the finer points of “Marketing gimmicks to make you shell out twice as much money for things you shouldn’t have to”.

Or maybe he’d just have a segment telling me to grow up and not tilt so much at windmills…

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Speaking of which, that was always my favorite part of every episode. The 3D Blackboard segments were like early STEM education, teaching you all kinds of wonderful stuff about pullies, how cars are assembled, and where the water comes from for your house. To this day, I can still see the value of those segments for my daughter who has also come to love them just as much!

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Current Book I’m Reading:

The Tom Strong Series  by primarily Alan Moore & Chris Sprouse

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One thing that I don’t do enough with this whole podcast/website thing, is follow up with the series that we might review on the podcast. As those loyal listeners know, we often times will cover the first trade of a particular comic book as a way to get not only fans interested in new potential things to check out, but also ourselves, as sometimes they are books we have been previously introduced to.

Case in point when we had our good friend, Russ Braun, as a guest on a show last October and he recommended we do a read pile review of the “Tom Strong” series by Alan Moore & Chris Sprouse. I believe we did the first “trade” as it were that included the first 7 issues of the semi forgotten but incredibly interesting Wildstorm series from the late 90s.

I’m not going to rehash the major points of the series as you can listen to that terrific episode with Russ for that, but needless to say, it is somewhat of an anthology book. Not only that, but like GotS favorites like Planetary and Astro City, it takes popular characters, themes, and stories from the history of comic books and repackages them in a way to tell original, interesting stories. It’s like Bob Dylan summed it up best in his song “Desolation Row: “I had to rearrange their faces and give them all around name”.

As such, the Tom Strong series especially the issues I read for this section starting with issue 8 are nothing more than short stories touching upon all these multiple facets of the types of tales told in comics since time and memoriam. For example, just in issue 8 alone you get a Gene Autrey type tale mixing together aspects of westerns and a science fiction like you’d see in things like his movie serial “The Phantom Empire”. Then you get more of a “Boy Commandos” type wish fulfillment story about young kids helping Tom Strong unmask a secret plot to brainwash school kids. And by the end, Tom’s daughter, Tesla, takes center stage for more of a Fantastic Four like scientific exploration tale with romantic undertones.

From there you move on to issue 9 and 10, and it’s all different stuff, like Tom traveling to an alternate dimension filled with anthropomorphic animal cartoon characters, Tesla exploring the notion of different genre specific versions of herself (aka Jungle Tesla, Cyberpunk Tesla etc.), and even an emotionally charged vision quest undertaken by Tom’s wife, Dhaula.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ever issue is jammed packed with more and more ideas and tropes from comics. I guess for those that might want more of a continuing story, this approach might be jarring, but I will say for those that pine for the days when you could pick up one issue of a comic and enjoy just the stories contained in there, the Tom Strong series is one for you.

In particular, I highly recommend tracking down issue 10 just for this gorgeous short story entitled Tom Strong and his Phantom Autogyro done by Alan Moore with beautiful art by Gary Gianni. It’s few times when I can say a comic book moved me with the combination of art and prose, but that one was particularly good.

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Current Favorite Album While Reading Comics:

The Yacht Rock station via Amazon Music

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Okay, I might get flack from some readers out there that call me on the fact that listening to a particular station of music doesn’t constitute an actual album. Others might just give me flack for listening to Yacht Rock in general. However, on both of these counts, to those readers, I acknowledge your feelings on this matter, and still fart in your general direction.

Simply put, Yacht Rock is awesome, and if you think otherwise, you are a damned liar.

For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past 10 years, the term Yacht Rock was first coined I believe back in 2005 by a DJ named J. D. Ryznar who had a series all about these late 70s/early 80s soft rock songs that best defined what was known as the “West Coast Sound” . It’s mellow combination of R&B, soul, and disco was highlighted by cheerful easy going lyrics perfect for those long leisurely sails around the California coast which were popular at the time.

Although there are tons of artists that find their songs in that Yacht Rock boat as it were such as Hall & Oates, Loggins & Messina, Steely Dan, Rupert Holmes, Lionel Ritchie, Toto, Michael McDonald, and Captain & Tennille, I think the song that most sums up this sub genre is the Christopher Cross anthem “Sailing”.

My god. That song like Prozac to me! I could be having the worst day ever: Crashed my car, broke my leg, dog died, toast burnt, wife mad, kids screaming, flight cancelled, overdue bills…then Sailing comes on. And for at least a few moments, life is better.

 

 

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Current Favorite Video Game:

Octopath Traveler

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Well, if there was one thing I really wanted for my Nintendo Switch since getting the system last year, it was a good, long RPG to play. Something 60+ hours that I could really grind through. Not that I have particular time for that given I spend most of my free time writing or reading for this damnable website. However, it’s comforting to know I got a reliable RPG to fall back on, especially one with an engaging story and characters. It’s always been a staple of my life ever since Phantasy Star dropped for the original Sega Master System back in the day.

However thus far, I’ve had not the greatest success in finding one despite trying a few, most notably the Divinity 2 port that came out for the Switch in the past couple of months. I had real high hopes for that throwback to the “Balder Gate” type games of my early 20s given the rave reviews it got for the PC, and the fact that it featured a “co-op” function. But like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, I quickly discovered that without engaging in that multi player functionality, the game was just not as good. This is especially true in the fact that you can tell it’s best played with a mouse/keyboard instead of a controller and as such the port is awfully confusing and difficult to manage.

That’s when I found the Octopath Traveler demo that was available via the Nintendo Shop one day, and was very much intrigued. It had some beautiful 16 bit style sprites that hearkened back to the days of the great SNES classic RPGs like Final Fantasy 6 or Chrono Trigger. However at the same time, there was an extra level of dimension and detail to the gaming environment that added some additional pop, elevating this beyond the standard retro style knock offs that have fooled me one too many times over the years.

They call this process “HD-2D”, which was defined by the developers as combining retro Super NES-style character sprites and textures with polygonal environments and high-definition effects. Regardless of whatever fancy terminology they want to use, I was pretty amazed by the results.

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Plus the fact that the game is based on the notion of allowing you to pick from 8 very different starting characters and play out their individual tales one at a time, which makes this more of a collection of RPG “short stories” than an RPG “novel”. That’s pretty perfect for a fella like me that has limited time in between being a dad, husband, and podcast host. Of course, I picked the Knight character of Olberic as my starting point given my nature predisposition to being the paladin types (ask anyone that played D&D with me), and I’m about 10 hours into his particular adventure.

The nice thing for those looking to try out this game is that the demo download is actually a full version of game, its only that it keeps track of your in game time and once you clock in 3 hours of playing, you have to purchase the full game. So it really does give you an opportunity to test drive the game to it’s fullest extent before deciding to buy.

I definitely think that’s completely reasonable, and wished more RPG games had this particular model as if you can’t decide whether you love a game within the first 3 hours of playing it, than you are sincerely a wishy washy fool that is best sitting in a puddle of your indecisiveness elsewhere.

I for one absolutely loved even after my first hour with its beautiful graphics and intuitive combat set up, and quickly ran to buy my copy. That is also the nice thing about the demo. Whether you download the full version or get the game card, your saved game from the demo is completely transferable so no worries about having to start over.

So not to sound like a Nintendo salesman, but if you have a Switch and you loved the Square style RPGs of your youth, you owe it to yourself to at least play the demo of Octopath Traveler. It’s a no brainer in my opinion!

 

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