Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dubai, Jimi Hendrix, and late to the Spec Ops: The Line party

Everything I'd like to say in a traditional review of first-time German studio Yager Development's Spec Ops: The Line has been written elsewhere. The game came out last June, so I'm a bit late to the cult-following party. Suffice to say it's one of the best games I've played in years.

If you haven't played The Line yet, the best way to experience it is by not reading anything about it beforehand. So please stop reading this. Just go play it.

If you've already played it, you've likely already read the great analysis by Tom Bissell and the in-depth spoiler-filled interview with the game's designers at Polygon. You've probably also watched the two-part video analysis of the game by the folks at Extra Credits.

So here are just a few things I thought I'd add, things I haven't seen many people talk about or just things I felt particularly strongly about. I'll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.

Dubai as the setting. Too many military shooters are set in ambiguous Middle Eastern non-countries. Spec Ops: The Line specifically chooses Dubai as its locale, and takes full advantage of its cityscape and geopolitical importance. Dubai is different than any other major Middle Eastern city, a Western-style spectacle of a manufactured metropolis. The city becomes a character of its own in The Line.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Daredevil breaks my heart: Black Cat and sexism in comics

As I've said before, I don't pretend to be a comics expert. I just started reading them in the past month or so. But a quick google search of "comics sexism" brings up an embarrassing 2.82 million results as of this writing, so I'm not alone in thinking it's an issue the medium must deal with.

So far in my short comic-reading career, I'd avoided anything overtly sexist. And I absolutely loved the first collected edition of Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera's Daredevil. But then I got to Daredevil's two-part crossover with Amazing Spider-Man.

The crossover revolves around Daredevil and Spider-Man teaming up to deal with the Black Cat. It's the first appearance of a female costumed character in the series, and Black Cat's depiction is utterly shameful for the twenty-first century.

Neither Spider-Man nor Daredevil have a great track record with respect for women--but that's okay with me, since it's generally presented as a character flaw for both of them. Peter Parker is a hormonal teenage boy, and we all know plenty of those in real life. I may or may not have been one myself at some point. Rich guy Matt Murdock is presented in Waid's Daredevil as a womanizer in the Mad Men vein, fitting of Paolo Rivera's retro art during his tenure working on the series. Maybe it's telling that as soon as Rivera stopped doing all the artwork for Daredevil, we got this sexist crossover.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 MLS jersey rankings

I've been on a jersey roll lately! I did a Major League Soccer jersey ranking a few years ago, but it's time for a new one, especially when everyone's jersey is lightyears ahead of where they were last time I  did this list.

The MLS season started this past weekend, so there's no better time to rank the league's uniforms for the year. MLS has acknowledged jersey enthusiasts this year, with their first-ever "Jersey Week" revealing all the new kits for the season. Adidas does a great job with its MLS uniforms, so even the "worst" jerseys on this list look great compared to many teams around the world. So let's get started!

Note: there's a new number/name font for the back of MLS jerseys this year. It's a big improvement over the last one.

19. Portland Timbers

It breaks my heart to put Portland dead last. The last two seasons they wore perhaps my all-time favorite Major League Soccer kits. It's as if they didn't really know how to improve upon perfection, so they just went for a huge downgrade.

Both their home and away jerseys look very similar to their last set, but with unnecessary changes. I guess that's the real shame of the soccer world's constant jersey turnover cycle.

Why do they need those arbitrary white stripes on the sides? Why do they need that sci-fi triangle collar thing? That Portland city flag near the waist is nice, but why does it need to be in the shape of Oregon? Isn't that a bit redundant?

18. Montréal Impact

It's a shame that a team with such an iconic French-Canadian identity to capitalize on has such a lackluster uniform for its first couple years in MLS.

Yes, they wear blue and white and they feature the fleur-de-lis everywhere, but I can't help but feel that their shirts look like practice jerseys. And really, "Montréal Impact"? I still can't get over the fact that their team name is incredibly 1990s.

But there's hope! Last week the club unveiled their new third jersey, and it's a work of art. The Inter Milan-style blue-and-black stripes are timeless. One can only hope a shirt like this eventually becomes their home jersey.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thoughts on the new U.S. national team uniform

Yesterday, U.S. Soccer unveiled its new "Centennial" home kit for 2013/14. A throwback to the first U.S. soccer jerseys in 1913, it's a simple white design with a retro crest:

The new kit has been universally praised by fans, and for good reason. In an age of all sorts of "technological advancements" for jerseys, this is a clean, classy design from Nike. And I don't think the centennial crest will be the new permanent team logo, but it could at least be a hint that the old ugly logo is on its way out for good.

But I'm not so happy about this jersey. First of all, it seems U.S. Soccer has finally succumbed to the Annual Jersey Cycle, releasing a new kit for fans to shell out huge amounts of money on every single year. Sigh. I guess that's modern soccer for ya.

More importantly, though, do we really want this blank white shirt to be our "look"? It doesn't stand out at all among international teams--many of whom have been around for much longer with much more celebrated histories than U.S. Soccer--and these blank white shirts don't give us any sort of identity.

U.S. Soccer has struggled with the Generic White Shirt look for a long time, but they seemed to finally figure it out last year when they unveiled a beautiful red and white striped shirt with blue shorts (pictured on right). The hoops looked great and gave us a real identity we didn't have before.

But of course, fans are always afraid of change, and many refer to it disparagingly as the "Where's Waldo" jersey. They were all ecstatic to see a return to vanilla with the centennial jersey.

It's a shame. I was hoping the Where's Waldo jersey could turn into a permanent identity for U.S. Soccer as our national team slowly becomes a real player on the world stage. If we're lucky, U.S. Soccer will return to the red/white horizontal striped look for the World Cup next year in Brazil. If we're lucky.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Daredevil: a breath of fresh air, except for the part where Captain America is a jerk again

After reading Ultimate Spider-Man and Batman in my quest to become versed in comic books, I wanted to try a slightly less popular superhero. I've heard great things about Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye, but the first collected edition of that series doesn't come out until the end of this month. So I went with another critically-acclaimed series about a more upbeat superhero: Daredevil, by Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera.

The most immediately striking part of Daredevil is the artwork. While many of today's mainstream superhero comics go for realism in their art, Daredevil features a retro style full of bright colors. It reflects the tone of the series, whose swashbuckling adventurism is in stark contrast to the Serious Business of people in other modern comics like Batman and the Avengers.

Click to see full-size image so you can appreciate it fully

Just look at the cover of issue 1! At first glance I thought the background was just abstract scribbles, but then it hit me: it's actually a detailed cityscape that Daredevil is traversing, and because he's blind it represents his interpretation of that cityscape through his other senses.