Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A clever assassin game, an entryway into comics, and an adventurous soundtrack

Photo: Conan The Barbarian


The Hitman games are cruel black comedies of Rube Goldberg carnage, like playable Final Destination movies starring a bald dude with a barcode on his head as the angel of death. Since the 2000 original, this series has put gamers in the black suit and tie of a skilled assassin and unleashed them in mundane, ingeniously mapped environments, where targets can be dispatched through a seemingly endless variety of methods. The latest installment, called simply Hitman, is the most sophisticated yet, populating each level with countless chatty, oblivious characters and creating a real-time schedule of events (the where and when of a target’s movements) that can be studied and exploited. But the appeal remains largely unchanged: Instead of giving players’ hand-eye reflexes a workout, Hitman privileges careful planning and observation, rewarding problem-solving abilities with morbid punch lines. It’s hours of wicked fun for those who always wished Mouse Trap ended with a ghoulish snap instead of a falling cage. [A.A. Dowd]




I’ve been singing Jughead’s praises around the office for weeks now, so it’s time to push it on a wider audience, too. Much like Saga, Jughead is the perfect entryway into comics for those of us not deeply immersed in the medium. Despite Archie Comics’ storied history, enjoying the reboot doesn’t require a depth of knowledge of what came before. The Archie line from the rebranded comics publisher is fun, but Jughead is something special. It’s very, very funny, for one, and the stories it tells feel both true to teenage life and give heightened stakes to typical high school drama. Jughead’s a sarcastic, self-assured dude, and his battle against Riverdale’s new principal is silly without losing the feeling of a solitary protagonist on a quest against impossible odds. Chip Zdarsky’s writing never wavers, and Erica Henderson’s art gives slouchy teenagers and possibly evil adults beautiful, nuanced expressions and vivid body language. Henderson especially excels at depicting Jughead’s love of burgers; any panel that sees the title character mowing down his favorite food is raw with joy. Jughead casually and unambiguously confirms his asexuality in Jughead #4, making him a landmark of asexual representation, but it also—as he tells his friend Kevin Keller, a gay character in the Archie universe—frees him to focus on more important things than his hormones, like the school’s nefarious new administration. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

Conan The Barbarian: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

I have a fairly long commute to get my kid to school in the morning. Due to my questionable time-management skills, I’m usually running behind both getting her there and picking her up. It’s stressful, and that distraction can make driving dangerous. But I’ve found that stress can be shaped into something more kinetic and positive if I just blast Conan: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from my car stereo. Played at sufficient volume, the Conan soundtrack transforms a series of poorly timed errands into adventure, danger, and fibrous, scowling men engaged in violent fur-loincloth frottage. The score is everything you want from a soundtrack to a movie with Valkyries, Wheels Of Pain, and James Earl Jone’s improbable bangs: great brass sections accompanied by a chanting chorus, haunting dirges, and generous use of the timpani drum. Whether you are looking for a ridiculous method for staying focused in morning traffic or just enjoy listening to the music for one of the few truly kick-ass fantasy movies, this soundtrack can be slotted into the bullet list of what’s best in life somewhere between the crushing of the enemies and the lamentations of the women. [Nick Wanserski]


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