Night Finds You

My partner-in-crime if off to Italy with his life partner and progeny until after the Fourth of July weekend. I should be able to muddle through a little bit of HTML until then (maaaaaaybe) but the real blow is the absence of Katherine which means two weeks of True Detective recaps fall on my shoulders. You can find Katherine’s take on the first episode elsewhere on this site (although unlikely via a hyperlink in this recap since I really don’t know what I am doing) and she was cautiously optimistic about where it was going.

My takeaway was how much the first episode reminded me of a James Ellroy novel. Colin Farrell doing his best accent-suppressed take on the trainwrecked Bud White, Taylor Kitsch jamming his secrets into Danny Upshaw’s closet, and… well there is no analogy for Rachel McAdams’ character since you don’t get a POV woman in an Ellroy novel until Kay Lake’s chapters in Perfidia. That comparison might not be there but there is zero chance that W Earl Brown isn’t a Buzz Meeks stand-in and the dildo-laden crime scene that is Casper’s home is pretty much every dildo-laden crime scene in the first half of Ellroy’s career. More Ellroy tropes would follow this week.

So where does NIGHT FINDS YOU find us?

As the episode opens with Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon laying awake and talking about water stains with Kelly Reilly’s Jordan Semyon I visualized one of those focus groups they trot out during election season to judge how the candidates fared during a debate. Each member of the group has their hand on a perception analyzer dial and they turn the dial right when they feel favorably toward the candidate and they turn it left when they don’t.

Vince Vaughn, in the immortal words of Dr. Peter Venkman, buried the needle in the opening. I just kept wondering how this scene would have played out with any other actor — hell, any other Vince, was D’Onofrio too busy? — but especially kept thinking about how much better Pizzolato’s dialogue sounded with McConaughey delivering the lines. I also wondered if there was any way Vaughn could unjam that needle from the left-most position.

We move from the water stained ceiling to the acid stained eyes of Casper on the coroner’s table. We also get a glimpse of the wreckage of what was once his junk — taken out with a point blank shotgun blast. File away for later how devastating a point blank shotgun blast can be. While Frank Velcoro, Ani Bezzerides, and Paul Woodrugh are getting the rundown from the coroner they are also given conflicting missions from their various higher-ups at the city, state and highway patrol bureaus. Bezzerides is put in charge of watching Velcoro, Velcoro reports back to Semyon and the mayor, and Woodrugh just wants to get back on the bike.

Semyon discovers that he has been left out in the cold by Casper with an under the table deal now undocumented. Five million dollars, earmarked for twelve parcels below Monterey, is not only missing but the price for those parcels has gone up. Semyon has also liquidated assets to get in on this deal and is suddenly willing to strip away his businessman’s veneer to claw his way back into the equation.

“My business partner takes my money and gets torture-murdered and what? I’m waiting on the Velcoro burnout to make like Rockford?”

Was that the needle unwedging itself from the left-most position?

We get some more insight into the players as we meet Woodrugh’s mom, played by Lolita Davidovich, in her trailer park getting her big, strong son to peel the skin off her KFC while deriding his ex-girlfriend as fat. Bezzerides and Velcoro start investigating and begin to take measure of each other while discussing vaping and robot fellatio. Bezzerides grills Mayor Chessani about Casper’s known associates while Velcoro plays along but ultimately cuts things short when her arrows start getting closer to the mark.

The task force is headquartered in what appears to be an airplane hangar where W. Earl Brown’s Teague Dixon is trying to help Woodrugh understand why he was so really so upset while getting hit on by a guy at the bank. Velcoro shows a glimpse of some real Rockford instincts pointing out that Casper’s regular bank withdrawals coincide with blank days on his calendar but he can’t stay to follow up as he has to meet up with his son to give him a new pair of sneakers.

I am always happy to see Abigail Spencer, who has had recurring roles on Mad Men and Suits and was stunning in Rectify, and I hope she gets more screen time as Alicia Brune, Velcoro’s ex. She is not happy with the way he brass-knuckled down on the father of Chad’s classmate’s father over the stolen shoes. Sole custody is the only solution that Alicia can find to keep Chad from Velcoro’s lack of decency and he responds by threatening to burn the city to the ground but the threat of a paternity test quickly backs him down.

Semyon comes to the aid of a man on the receiving end of a bump and beatdown under the freeway and he glibly lets the man know that he must have done something to piss someone off like writing a book on Vinci sweatshops. Vaughn gets the needle past 9 o’clock in this scene.

I mentioned James Ellroy earlier and there is no moment where the the similarities to the LA Quartet ring more true than when Bezzerides and Velcoro pay a visit to Casper’s botoxed psychiatrist played by Rick Springfield. As they walk through the clinic we see patients recovering from plastic surgery and I can only imagine they are working girls being cut to look like Veronica Lake. After putting up some token resistance about doctor patient confidentiality, Springfield gives up some details of Casper’s treatment. He had a weakness for young prostitutes but was making progress at the time of his death.

“There are kinds of secrets in the world all kinds of truth,” says the doctor as he makes the connection between Bezzerides and her father’s work with the Good People. Bezzerides wants nothing to do with talking about the past. Velcoro has no such reluctance as he basically fesses up to killing the man who raped his wife and being in the back pocket of Semyon as a result along with his assorted bad habits. Bezzerides does not like to distinguish between good and bad habits which seems like a fine time for Velcoro to ask about her knives.

“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me he is gonna bleed out in under a minute.”

Velcoro reveals that the reason they have been thrown together to investigate this crime is to fail but he won’t explicitly tell her exactly how compromised he is. Meanwhile Woodrugh and his butterfly-loving girlfriend break-up over a TMZ piece about his alleged blowjob shakedown from the previous episode. He heads downtown to smoke cigarettes and drink straight from the bottle while watching male hustlers get in and out of cars.

Semyon finds Casper’s fuckpad (another Ellroy trope) and points Velcoro in that direction while dangling a police captaincy in front of him but it holds no interest. Semyon reminds him that there are not many options for him other than a life in prison or doing what he is told to do.

“Everybody’s got the one option, you want it bad enough.”

My life has led me in a non-traditional job direction and I rarely regret that except when there are watercooler moments on television like the closing scene from this episode. Velcoro follows Semyon’s lead which is the where the murder clearly took place, only to get shotgunned twice — the second time point blank to the torso — by a man in a bird mask.

We have already seen the evidence of what a shotgun at this range can do to a man’s pelvis and it is hard to imagine how he can survive. Farrell certainly does not appear in the trailer for next week’s episode but we do hear someone discussing the crime in the context of “one of my detectives gets shot” and not in the context of “killed” so maybe there was a rock salt load in the shotgun or Velcoro was wearing a vest. Either way, I will be back next week, hand on the Vaughn-dial, to recap.

X-23 #14

ComiXology summary:
Guest-starring the FF and Spider-Man! A cosmic force is tearing apart New York, and targeting X-23, Sue Richards, and Spider-Man along the way. What strange connections do these three heroes share, and is it the key to saving the city and the world?

My wife is an intermittently glorious person. She fell asleep in X-Men: Days of Future Past… But at least she deigned to watch it with us. She stayed up for the entirety of Guardians of the Galaxy, at least, and was willing to discuss which Flores family member was which Guardian (despite other disputes we all agreed that Clark = Rocket).

Early on when we were dating I bought her a Brian Michael Bendis Ultimate Spider-Man trade for a Christmas present. “You said you liked the art!” I said, indicating that I had been paying attention to something she had said. Rather than being grateful for the expression of a skill that would dull over time, it turns out that she had just been making conversation during one of the interminable treks to the comic book store that she endured on my arm. This did not end up one of the best Christmas presents she had ever received.

Writes a hell of a True Detective recap, though 🙂

But years later, overhearing some nerd-conversation about Wolverine, she interrupted, “Oh! I like that one!”

I raised an eyebrow.

Why?

“He’s so handsome!”

In her mind “Wolverine” is a six-foot-two, manscaped Australian Broadway star.

Not, you know, a five-three hirsute Canadian animal-samurai.

It’s not her fault. She saw X2 in the theater with me!

Ask any X-fan in 2015 to conjure a mental image of Wolverine and they are likely to pick a similar path to my better half. Wolverine is no longer small and squat. He loses a bit of his maniac underdog quality; we lose quite a bit of scale.

I am a sucker for scale.

We’ve had some really cool posts here on Fetchland over the first couple of weeks (I’m looking at you, Kitchen Table Gaming video), but my favorite thing so far is still the Jurassic World comparison chart I did in response to one of bdm’s “who’d win” questions:

Indominus rex

Why?

Scale.

Ultimately I think that is the main reason I like this X-23 cover by Kalman Andrasofszky cover so much… X-23 is just so much smaller than the Thing.

We think of any and all superheroes — especially combat-oriented ones like the daughter of Wolverine — to be physically invincible in some general sense. Fast, strong, tough, skilled, merciless… We lose the ability to differentiate in some morass of “well [s]he could kick _my_ ass”. Perhaps its fair insofar that Peter Parker could either out-box a normal man with Spider-Fu or break him with super strength; that Reed Richards could either deck one of us mere mortals from across the room or surround and suffocate with that body that flows like elemental water… And those are the geniuses! It is only when we pair some juggernaut against another that differentiation becomes interesting. Well maybe X-23 couldn’t really beat the Hulk, we might start… But she’s probably tough enough mentally to stand up to him.

I like scale differentiation because it is one of the few things that puts superhuman or de facto superhuman feats of violence into context. A “master swordsman” of impeccable deadliness from George R.R. Martin’s universe is still probably going to suffer in a one-on-one confrontation with a bear. Imagine the scale difference between a bear and one of Dany’s baby dragons. Now a baby dragon and a full-grown wurm of Middle Earth; finally a Smaug and a kaiju from Godzilla or Pacific Rim.

We suspend our disbelief to an unreal degree every time Daredevil knocks out a hallway full of gangster toughs. We nod in the faith that he will prevail against whatever threat the writers put against him. An Avenger, we simply accept his billy club would defend the entire seaboard from one of the aforementioned kaiju, if need be.

X-23, who in other contexts just falls into a general bucket of “she could kick my ass or any living, real, human” (a la Daredevil) looks positively miniscule against Ben Grimm.

I mean she is giving him a badass look, and I have no doubts that if push came to shove she would dive in with both feet (kung-fu kicking, no doubt) but the idea that at her weight she could do anything to move — let alone injure — that rocky mass seems laughable. I am not convinced that her claws could meaningfully penetrate his stone armor (even if she somehow mustered sufficient force behind a blow).

That’s the gift of Andrasofszky’s cover: a real, more-or-less good faith, comparison between two uber powerful combat-oriented superheroes. No matter whose name is sitting in the upper-left, I have little doubt of who would win, push comes to shove, claw comes to cosmically-irradiated dinosaur hide. This is a rare gift, and much appreciated experience.

The only thing that is weird to me is that they used Andrasofszky at all. Phil Noto is the interior artist of this issue of X-23; besides being a generally awesome artist, Noto is himself used to shine up other artists’ books with his inventively laid out and colorful colors. No complaint, really (like I said I love this one for the almost brutal honesty of the scale depiction), just a little puzzled.

LOVE
MIKE

Knight of the White Orchid

Top Level Podcast Summary:
Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores discuss the exciting new Nissa, Vastwood Seer (Nissa, Sage Animist) and other Magic Origins cards in this Magic podcast.

I swear I didn’t know that Knight of the White Orchid was in Magic Origins 24 hours ago. Or more like 72 hours ago, based on when we recorded this week’s episode of Top Level Podcast.

But there we have it in all its two-drop glory: Knight of the White Orchid in Magic Origins.

Knight of the White Orchid and I have a bit of a special history. You see, I get stuff like this all the time:

God bless Brendan Hurst. This is a guy who came out of semi-retirement recently, based on the love of absurdly costed Dragons to win a PPTQ with my Five-Color Blue Dragons deck. He is also the guy who made the Mike Flores soundboard. Love his tweets, all of it.

But even Brendan pegged me with his comments on Nissa as “the Borderland Rnger guy”. I guess I’ve been the Borderland Ranger guy since before there were Borderland Rangers (previously they were Civic Wayfinders). When Pilgrim’s Eye came out (bdm) bet me on the Top 8 Magic podcast that I was going to be the Pilgrim’s Eye guy. I said it would never happen… and we all know how that turned out, ultimately. As I detail in this week’s Top Level Podcast… I never meant to be the Borderland Ranger guy!


(Go to about 2:25 to hear more; via Top Level Podcast)

… I actually just wanted to be the Knight of the White Orchid guy.

Not only did I want to be the Knight of the White Orchid guy, our puppeteering overlords in Renton, WA wanted me to be the Knight of the White Orchid guy! They even entrusted me with the preview!

The stars seemed to be aligning. I was supposed to be the Knight of the White Orchid guy. Knight of the White Orchid was “only” an effcient two drop, but it was beautifully synergistic with one of the then-Standard’s big bombs: Reveillark. My old Cabal Rogue and Righteous Babe teammate (and present Team Ultra PRO teammate) Brian Kowal was already synergizing Knight of the White Orchid and Reveillark and kicking butt with them together. Man oh man these cards seemed like they should go together like peanut butter and jelly… Scratch that: Peanut butter and chocolate.

Reveillark
With its ability to return creatures with power two or less to play, Reveillark made for great synergy with Knight of the White Orchid.

Knight of the White Orchid made me positively not-unhappy to go second. I spent many first turns setting myself up with Fieldmist Borderpost, even on the play.

But ultimately, we just didn’t work out. You know how one day Jennifer Garner is on the red carpet “best dressed couples” list with husband Scott Foley… And then five minutes later she is married to Ben Affleck? Wasn’t he just married to JLo? you are asking yourself. Me and Knight of the White Orchid… We just didn’t work out. I could never get it to give me a two for one. I resorted to hitting the opponent’s guys with Path to Exile just to stay even. Then when I got my Reveillark killed, half the time my re-bought Knights didn’t even dig for Plains. I was a worthwhile person (I hope); Knight of the White Orchid a solid 2/2 for WW in a long line of 2/2s for WW… But together we weren’t peanut butter and chocolate at all. We were more like peanut butter and bananas. Bananas!

I still wanted my 2/2s and land drops. I needed to get up to five or six, remember! And Reveillark wasn’t going anywhere (except the graveyard, where it belonged). Civic Wayfinder cost me one more mana, but unlike Knight of the White Orchid, always got there for me. I discovered new synergies with the two, and started returning the nominally naught-power Doran, the Siege Tower to the battlefield… In the same decks that I mustered the UUU for Cryptic Command.

Doran, the Siege Tower
Guess who has less than two power (but hits like it has five)?

“You want basic Island? I can get you basic Island! You want to play one Swamp? It’s yours. I know I’m not the hero you want, baby,” whispered Civic Wayfinder in my ear. “But I’m the hero you have.”

Rotations happen, as they do. Civic Wayfinder traveled West to the Undying Lands (as Elves do). But it passing didn’t leave me bereft for long: Borderland Ranger took its place immediately in the then-Core Set; and just in time to block an incoming Bloodbraid Elf without a loss of card advantage. It’s been a while. And we finally have the most exciting Core Set ever in Magic Origins.

In Magic Origins we have a kind of Borderland Ranger — really a non-Legenday Civic Wayfinder — that can only get Forests. I’ve been wondering if they would give us a more traditional look at Civic Wayfinder; it turns out Magic Origins is giving the one before the one we think of as coming first.

Maybe this time around?

LOVE
MIKE

Paul Jordan, Magic Stats Guy

I’m going to make a statement that some may consider controversial. Jon Finkel is a borderline Magic: the Gathering Hall of Famer. The numbers back me up on this. Overall, his performances by themselves are impressive and worthy of discussion for his inclusion in the Hall, but they are hardly a lock.

Now here’s the rub: I’m only talking about Jon’s performance after his initial induction in the Hall of Fame. I’m referring to his second career, so to speak. I excluded everything he did to initially cement his legacy and am only looking at the last decade’s worth of events. Players only become eligible for the Hall of Fame if, among other things, they debuted on the Pro Tour at least 10 years ago. Jon was inducted in 2005. That was 10 years ago. So here we are.

Jon’s career certainly hasn’t been as prolific since then, but it’s been pretty darn good. Take a look:

fig1

There’s not much of a comparison there at all, though perhaps it’s worth noting that Jon has an almost identical median across his pre and post HOF days. Otherwise, he’s played in just over half as many events but the counting numbers are almost all fewer than half of his pre-HOF days (except wins). If Jon had kept up his pre-HOF pace, in the same 28 events we would have seen 6 top 8s instead of 3, 10 top 16s instead of 6, 12 top 32s instead of 9 and 14 top 64s instead of 12. This isn’t to say the post-HOF numbers are bad. They’re borderline HOF-worthy! That’s more of a commentary on how absurdly great his pre-HOF numbers are.

So let’s talk about that “borderline” qualifier. How would second-career-Jon fare in voting? I compared his post-HOF career with the HOF standards I calculate yearly:

fig2

Green numbers indicate Jon bested the HOF standard and red indicates he didn’t. As you can see, Jon meets all of the HOF minimums. As you can also see, he is below the median in the majority of categories. The only exceptions are career median – remember this is where he even improved over his pre-HOF days – and wins where he is tied. He’s very close to the HOF median in both 15-event median and top 16s. Considering how many fewer events he’s played in than the HOF median, that top 16 number is especially impressive.

I think that, if this were how voting went and people had to re-qualify for the Hall of Fame every 10 years, Jon would have a small shot. It would likely depend on who else was on the ballot. For reference, here are last year’s inductees as compared to faux-Jon.

fig3

In this class, Jon’s only standout numbers are his medians. His rate numbers are great, but he simply hasn’t played as many events as others on the ballot. Maybe in another year or 2 he’d get in. If this alternate universe required that voters ignore candidates’ previous accomplishments and focus only on the specified 10-year period, I don’t think I’d vote for Jon. I would also probably have a really hard time distancing my thought process from his otherworldly pre-HOF career and feel like an idiot for not voting for him. But fake rules are fake rules and who would I be to argue them?

This is all obviously moot. There’s no requirement to re-certify Hall of Fame standards. Once you’re in, you’re in. This is something I’m sure very many HOF members are happy about. The point is, Jon has continued to be a top tier player even after his qualification for events no longer required it. He didn’t rest on his laurels. All he did was skip some events and crush dreams at the rest.

–Paul Jordan

Paul Jordan is the Magic “stats guy”. His handle on Twitter is @magicpj

Banshee, "The Rave"

[For Banshee’s “The Rave” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]

Amazon Summary:
The Rave. An underling of Kai Proctor decides to hold a rave, selling homemade E pills to Banshee youth–including Carrie’s daughter. Catching wind of the plan, Lucas and his team orchestrate a raid, but the effects of a tainted batch of pills leads to trouble.

Welcome back to our recap / Power Rankings mashup of the made-for-Cinemax celebration of sex, violence, and authority that is Banshee. In case you missed last week’s first recap, you can check it out here or explore any and all things Banshee on Fetchland.

At the time of this writing I’ve actually seen nine of the ten first season episodes of Banshee. I wanted to get a little context and perspective before jumping into tv recaps with both feet. But my reaction having seen most of them is the same as the initial reaction I had watching “The Rave” the first time last week… I don’t understand how they ran this as the second episode of the first season. The first episode was like the surface of the sun: a bazillion nuclear explosions all detonating simultaneously, every single second. Forget about how tv pilots work in general (introduction of all the main characters, the setting, the conflicts)… It set our expectations with an over-the-top car chase that would have been perfectly satisfying in a summer action flick: Not something you see on television.

“The Rave” was a precipitous letdown by comparison. The scale of the conflict essentially deflated, and characters who were doing super cool things one episode earlier, um, suddenly weren’t.

I actually don’t mean this to be a negative, or at least not too negative. Even a show with all hits has a worst episode… I just don’t know why, coming off of that great pilot, you would position your worst episode second. If you’re a new viewer don’t get too down: Banshee bounces back quickly.

Power Rankings for “The Rave”:

III. Preacher

Banshee's Preacher

Up!
Previous Ranking: N/A
Previous Best Ranking: N/A

Wow this dog. Just wow. For a “character” with so little screen time, Preacher really made an impression. The slice-and-dice setup by Kai and the yum yum rapport with this beast would make the famous hunting pair Drizzt Do’Urden and Guenhwyvar positively jelly.

II. Hood

Hood in "The Rave"

Neutral
Previous Ranking: 2
Previous Best Ranking: 2

While clashing with Brock might have been ill-advised, the de facto alliance made with Hopewell over the rescue of Deva more than makes up for it. Plus, Hood cashed in on his usual trifecta of [anonymous] sex, rave-ravaging violence, and pilfered police authority through the second episode.

I. Kai

Kai in "The Rave"

Neutral
Previous Ranking: 1
Previous Best Ranking: 1

Kai moved with seemingly impossible speed in his final encounter with Hanson. “Sixty seconds”? Jeez. You really get the feeling that, between how quickly he lopped a guy’s finger off, tossed it to calibrate a taste in his ravenous murder-mutt, and had him out the door that this is not the first time Kai has dealt thusly with an out-of-line employee. Alongside the episode’s post-credits scene at the meat packing plant… You’ve really got to wonder what kind of wares Proctor is packing / purveying at the meat factory.

Banshee Biggest Loser: Hanson

Hanson in "The Rave"

Ah fiction: The Venn diagram overlap of “greedy” and “stupid” crooks just never fails, does it?

LOVE
MIKE

True Detective's Rachel McAdams

[For “The Western Book of the Dead” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]

HBO summary:
The disappearance of a city manager ignites a police investigation.

There’s impotence at hand for the trio of men and even the woman at the helm of this season’s True Detective. Vinci Police Detective Velcoro (Colin Farrell) doesn’t know if his son is his or the product of a rape his wife suffered nine months before the child was born. Even if he were over that uncertainty, the kid endures bullying at school so… Velcoro drinks booze all day and pounds the face of the bully’s dad on his own front stoop.

California Highway Patrolman, Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) deals with literal impotence and takes a little blue pill then waits for it on the toilet while his hottie girlfriend awaits in her butterfly-themed bedroom on the other side of the door. His wartime days as a mercenary left him scarred in every way possible… And thus Woodrugh drives his motorcycle over a hundred MPH without a helmet, his pretty cheeks flapping in the wind.

Although he appears to have a bountiful bank account, Semyon (Vince Vaughn) can’t catch a break either in this episode. It’s unclear if he’s as shady as he seems but one thing’s for sure, he wasn’t this well dressed in the 90s when he helped Velcoro get some info on the guy that raped his wife. Nowadays he’s well off but bummed. Not only can’t Semyon get his wife pregnant but he also can’t seal a business deal. Osip, the guy on the other side of the transaction, insists on seeing Vaughn’s pal Caspere. Problem is, Caspere’s missing and then ends up dead.

The family frustrations faced by Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) are forced into her day by job duties for the Ventura Sheriff’s office. She runs into her sister while busting up a porno webcam business… And then gets shamed for giving a sh*t. We find out her first name is Antigone when she later has an awkward father/daughter chat when investigating some sort of yoga cult her dad seems to be running. Her father’s distance and weirdness may explain Bezzerides interest in knives and kinky sex stuff.

All the characters end up swirled around Caspere. Valcoro, a detective who works as muscle for Semyon on the side, investigates him as a missing person. Woodrugh finds Caspere dead, propped up on a bench by the side of the road with his wallet placed neatly on his lap. Bezzerides and Valcoro are then separately called onto the scene in their respective highly intoxicated states and Semyon is cursing Caspere’s name for bungling his deal through absence.

The characters are as embroiled in secrets and inner turmoil this season as they were in the first round of True Detective but there’s promise here for a greater symmetry between the sexes. Season One treated women with a less than equitable measure of narrative but granted them all the nudity. Now we have Bezzerides and Semyon’s wife, his business partner, is even described as “brainy.” Sing it sisters! It seems you will master many a plot line this season and we can’t wait to watch you swinging those knives.

–Katherine Recap

Gideon, Battle-Forged

Top Level Podcast excerpt:
Michael J Flores and Patrick Chapin talk new Magic Origins card Kytheon, Hero of Akros / Gideon, Battle-Forged; Patrick’s 9th Place Grixis, and more!

Or, to paraphrase myself on Twitter… “New GIDEON + Patrick’s GRIXIS = GGs :)”

This week Patrick and I spent the majority of the podcast on his Grixis deck from last week’s Grand Prix Charlotte, actually. Patrick has been an Abzan (formerly “Junk”) player for about the past year (since, you know, winning a Pro Tour with Fleecemane Lion + Hero’s Downfall) but deep in his bones he is a Grixis Control guy. I for one was overjoyed to see my other-partner crushing the GP Swiss with Lightning Bolts and Cryptic Commands (and for that matter the Modern card he “invented” in Gurmag Angler)… If not the 9th place finish on tiebreakers. We Top Level Podcast heroes are no strangers to 9th place on breakers, sadly.

The whiz! Bang! New! portion of the podcast is obviously around the first one-drop Planeswalker in the history of the game… The Hero who would become Gideon, Battle-Forged. Some of our ideas are probably going to have to be refined (these are first impressions on a fairly complicated new card template, remember) but the fact remains that Gideon, Battle-Forged is quite likely to become a cross-format Staple.

Besides obvious Standard synergies with cards like Collected Company or Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Gideon in a deck with Ornithopters and Memnites might make for an incentive to try the white version of Affinity in Modern. Might Tempered Steel return as a result?

Check out “Fifty Percent Kytheon, Hero of Akros” and enjoy!

Charlie's Angels

ComiXology Excerpt:
The Page Sisters finally find a new purpose in life: restoring the Great Library. And the one place you don’t want to be is between them and one of the books they want. Meanwhile, Jack Frost has just set upon the greatest quest in a long and distinguished career of great quests!

Jack of Fables 46

While technically a nicely illustrated cover (just clean execution by the inimitable Brian Bolland), “nicely illustrated” by itself doesn’t really cut it for our purposes. This is a cover capable of standing out… And for a not-blockbuster title like Jack of Fables, might really need to do so.

There are three things, I think, that make this a great and striking cover:

The first and most important is Bolland’s allusion to Charlie’s Angels. That is really the thing that had me give this cover a second look. The Page Sisters themselves are archetypically “the hot librarian” (it even says so, tongue-in-cheek, on the top-left). “Hot librarians” as described by TV Tropes are “very attractive, but prim and prudish” … “would be gorgeous if [they] would just take off the glasses / let down the hair”.

I’m sure that you have a general concept of what a “hot librarian” is trope-wise; it is a the mayhap-unexpected juxtaposition of attractiveness and restraint, or disinterest. On this Jack of Fables cover Bolland overlays the restraint of the “hot librarian” trope with maybe its polar opposite, in staging and body language. Here the librarians trade in their ballpoint pens for ballistics and channel the teeny bikinis of the 1970s jiggle procedural… Without actually letting down their hair, taking off the glasses, or for that matter revealing a lot of skin. Because the Charlie’s Angels logo was generally stylized in black, the Page sisters can go with a utilitarian spy / ninja black leather look (i.e. avoiding a full-bore Cheryl Ladd), allowing them to be consistent with Angel without betraying the fundamental conservatism of Librarian… But hey! Black leather!

It’s all overlaps and suggestion; the intended male viewer probably likes all of it without actually knowing which things he likes, or what exactly he is looking at; hinting at “over-the-top” while not being over-the-top itself. TLDR: Shockingly nuanced.

The second is all those titles on the giant books in the background. I don’t know if you took the time to read any of their titles but they say things like The Four Little Pigs or The Adventures of Young Moby Dick… That is, titles that are familiar but at the same time nonexistent. What kind of library do these woman run?!?

Finally, Bolland himself. The whole point of using a separate cover artist (especially if you’ve got a perfectly service-able interior artist) is to draw additional attention to your book. Brian Bolland is of course the celebrated genius executor behind (or rather, in front of) Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, regarded by many to be the greatest Batman story of all time (if not YT). Bolland stacks visual technique on top of visual technique here like a layer cake: A big white chunk of negative space in the back, these sort of uniformly-boring imaginary books, a similarly-generic truck (with equally generic typeface), the Pages-by-way-of Angels in the foreground. I actually think the blah execution of everything behind the Page sisters is part of an intended look, allowing them (and their allusion to Aaron Spelling) to stand out more without having to resort to thick black lines, or, you know, a sledgehammer.

LOVE
MIKE

Onion and Sausage Tart

(This dish has its roots at a long ago gaming marathon when a small group of us (including Paul Yellovich who helped me relay this story on the first episode of Kitchen Table Gaming) played the Judge Dredd board game for more than the span of 24 hours. When we were done playing we had eaten everything there was to eat in Paul’s house and had less than $13 to muster between us. (It stands to reason that if we could stay up all night playing games we did not have jobs at the time.)

That money was spent on a stack of frozen pizzas, a package of hotdogs, a bag of Sabrett’s red hotdog stand onions, and a two-liter bottle of off brand root beer. In the end we would decide that the best way to consume our bounty was by rolling up the hot dogs and onions inside the cooked pizzas and washing the mess down with the soda. When I set out to update this recipe for KTG I was stumped until I saw a package of Dufour Puff Pastry peeking out from the back of my freezer.)

I like to make my recipes from as-scratch as possible but have not been willing to take the dive into making my own Puff Pastry yet. Especially when the Dufour brand one is so perfect. Lots of the bigger name brand versions use vegetable shortening but this one is made the way Julia Child intended — with real butter. I am sure you can use whatever Puff Pastry is available to you and this will be yummy but I get the Dufour at Whole Foods and it is totally worth going out of your way for and should in no way be limited to making this.

Puff pastry is a perfect vehicle for any number of savory and/or sweet foods from making personal Beef Wellingtons to apple tarts. I have done appetizers for more than a few family gatherings with it and never repeated a recipe twice. We had great heirloom tomatoes at the market last summer and I topped my pastry with thin slices of them nestled in an arugula pesto. Another time I made a fig and olive tapenade which was layered on puff pastry with thin fig slices and dotted with goat cheese.

Here is what I did to make these tarts but you should not let my imagination limit you any way:

Root Beer Caramelized Onion and Sausage Tart

Ingredients

4 thinly sliced Vidalia Onions (or any sweet onion if Vidalias are not available)
1 lb of Italian Sausage removed from its casing
6 oz pure cane sugar Root Beer.
2 tablespoon Honeycup brand honey mustard (sorry to be so brand specific with this recipe but I am addicted to this ingredient)
1 package Dufour Classic Puff Pastry
2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
1 cup shredded pecorino romano cheese
2 teaspoon chopped thyme (fresh or dried)
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
Salt and pepper

Cut and pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a sautee pan cook the sausage over medium-high heat and break it up into smaller crumbles with a wooden spoon as you cook it. Remove pan from heat and set aside. In another, larger pan start cooking the onions in the olive oil with some salt and pepper. Whisk together the root beer and honey mustard. When the onions start to soften and turn translucent you can add them to the pan and toss the onions to coat. Continue cooking until the mixture has reduced and begun to caramelize with the onions. Add the sausage, pan drippings, and thyme and stir until they are all incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Flour your work surface and lay out the chilled puff pastry. With a floured rolling pin you can quickly smooth out any of the folds and then cut into six even pieces with a sharp paring knife. Place your pastry pieces on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and dock the center area with a fork. This will ensure that the sides will puff up but the center will provide a nice flat basin for your topping. You can also take trimmings of the puff pastry and “build” four walls, using a little egg wash as glue, along the perimeter of the pastry for an even more dramatic boxy presentation.

Spoon the sausage and onion mixture into the center of the pastry and top with the two cheeses. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash and put the tray in the refrigerator to chill again for about 30 minutes. It is essential for puff pastry to be cold when it goes into the oven so that the many layers of butter are not melting together. I have gone ahead and not rechilled my puff pastry with mixed results in the past.

Bake the chilled tarts in the oven for 22 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and firm to the touch. A little fresh grated cheese never hurt anyone when serving.

Serves 6 to 12 depending on whether or not you slice these in two. Sometimes it serves 3.

Amazon summary:
Pilot. Lucas Hood, a recently paroled master thief, assumes the identity of a rural Pennsylvania sheriff to elude mob vengeance and reunite with Carrie, his onetime lover and partner in crime.

I am Jon Snow.

I know nothing; well, nothing about Banshee.

Actually I know one thing from the Top 8 Magic podcast; which is that my BFF BDM is watching Banshee on the treadmill these days. That sounds like a recommendation, no?

I turn on the Banshee without so much as reading the Amazon summary you already have. This is what I find:

  • 30 seconds in – Hood leaves a pretty rough-looking prison, walking into the dusty wilderness, before
  • 1 minute in – Hood meets a super hot waitress at a roadside diner, then engages in some silent-but-serious bedroom eyes (resulting immediately in conversation-free sex in a not-bedroom with her), whereupon
  • 1 minute 30 seconds in – Hood steals a pretty sweet sports car and drives to NYC then
  • 2 minutes 40 seconds in – Hood busts up the seemingly legitimate salon-front of his old criminal associate Job (finally engaging in some dialogue); upon leaving he gets back into “his” car and
  • 4 minutes in – Hood gets in what must have been a massively expensive street chase (production-wise) that results in an impressive orgy of crashing cars, flying bullets, collateral damage, and the upended doubledecker tour bus from this post’s hero image

At 6 minutes in Hood burgles a motorcycle and rides off into the sunset, evading a second salvo of gunplay.

AND THEN opening credits roll.

SIX MINUTES IN!

Well, they certainly got my attention.

“You had me at hello.”

The Banshee pilot slows down considerably from credits on, but never to the point that you can actually un-glue your eyes from the screen.

I certainly liked it enough to resolve to write something for our fledgling site!

Rather than traditional “episode recaps” I decided I would punch up some simplified Power Rankings for each installment. Here goes for “Pilot”:

III. Job
Job in "Pilot"

While Job’s sashay getaway was a mite predictable, it was still cool (as in “refreshingly cool”) to see the difficult-to-peg salon-owning computer hacker blowing up the ostensibly much tougher / hella masculine bad(der) bad guys while pulling up stakes.

II. Hood
Hood in "Pilot"

On the sex-violence-authority scale Hood really cashed in during the “Pilot”. He gets laid thirty seconds after his prison release; racks up 2.5 criminal bodies; and assumes the identity of the local constable, all before the Easter Egg. How great a day (or episode) did the next guy have to beat Hood out for El Numero Uno?

I. Kai
Kai in "Pilot"

The show’s nominal antagonist shows off more twists and turns than the letter S in the first sixty minutes of Banshee. He seems to have enough resources to buy up all the local authority, is quick to knock out every tooth of the odd insubordinate subordinate (and instruct he puts them back in his mouth)… And then gets intimate with one of his [presumably criminally] kept women but not before dressing her like an Amish girl and revealing an as-yet-unexplained Jesus back tattoo to the audience mid-moaning. Authority! Violence! Sex! What’s up with this guy? More twists and turns than the letter S for Kai.

Banshee Biggest Loser: Moody
Moody in "Pilot"

If you ever asked yourself how bad a day could get before it got really, finally, bad for a tv character… Find Moody’s ghost and ask him. Maybe he’ll be able to gum an answer out for you.

LOVE
MIKE