Saturday, July 30, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 7/20 and 7/27

(once again I missed a week, and get to play catch-up)

Legion of Super-Heroes #15 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Jonathan Glapion) - The next to last chapter of the current storyline, before the reboot begins.  More fight scenes, although somewhat more coalesced, as things finally start to build toward a climax.  Some have commented that they think that this storyline has been truncated due to the upcoming reboot, and that may well be the case, but there are times when I suspect the opposite of occurring, that Levitz has had to pad things out here to have the story end next month.  In this issue, there's a nonsensical sequence where Dawnstar tries to do... something... to Saturn Queen - I guess she's trying to fly SQ out of the planet's atmosphere to disable her, but it's not exactly made very clear, and in any case it's an idiotic plan because giving a telepath of SQ's power even a few seconds to react is pretty damned foolish.  After both Dawnstar and Tellus are taken down by SQ, Gates teleports in to save them, even commenting on how stupid the plan was.  Given that Dawnstarr was able to approach SQ by surprise with no small amount of speed, why didn't she just try to knock her out instead?  I suppose that would have made too much sense, and ended the storyline too quickly.  As is, we get almost three whole pages wasted on Dawnstar being written as an idiot, using idiotic tactics.

This issue also has the big baddie of the storyline revealed... sort of.  The entity isn't named; I'm guessing it's Krona, but my GL knowledge is kinda threadbare, especially of the stuff that has occurred during the recent rainbow era of that series, so I may well be mistaken.  If I knew for certain who this was supposed to be, the reveal might have had more impact, but as is it comes off as rather lackluster.  I really hope the payoff next issue is worth it.

The Spirit #16 (DC, $2.99, David Hine, John Paul Leon) – A story told entirely in splash pages; this has been attempted before, more than once, but here it actually works.  Nolan gets to narrate the events of the previous week, where the Spirit (whose name appears on each page, cleverly worked into the panels in different fashions) has been framed for murder.  Hine's script here is simple but solid, and Leon's art really helps to pull off what might otherwise be written off as a gimmick issue.  I believe that next issue is the finale for the current run, but if this had been the final issue instead, it would have been a fine, fine way to end the series.

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #6 (of 6) (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Chris Roberson, Shawn McManus) – The mini-series wraps up with a final battle between Cindy and her nemesis.  The good news is that, as with the earlier issues, the action sequences and the dialogue are both handled well; McManus does a nice job with the layouts, and Roberson's script for the most part also delivers.  As a bonus we also finally get an explanation for this series' seeming incongruity with events depicted in a previous Jack of Fables storyline, even though it feels as if it was added in at the last minute in response to online complaints.  The big flaw for this book is that Silverslipper's motivation is never given any more consideration than the throwaway explanation we got a couple of issues ago.  Quite frankly, it comes across as flat and uninspired, and fails to sufficiently explain the character's heel turn.  This is the primary flaw in an otherwise entertaining story.

Conan: Island of No Return #2 (of 2) (Dark Horse, $3.50, Ron Marz, Bart Sears) - I didn't realize when I read part one of this that this was a two-parter, so needless to say the betrayals and plot twists come pretty fast in this concluding issue.  This is hardly the most memorable Conan comic book I've ever read, but it hits all the necessary beats, and is by no means the worst Conan pastiche I've ever read.  It's fairly light and disposable, but enjoyable enough while you're reading it. 

Rocketeer Adventures #3 (of 4) (IDW, $3.99, Ryan Sook, Joe R. Lansdale, Bruce Timm, Jonathan Ross, Tommy Lee Edwards, Stephanie Buscema, Joe Chiodo) - More pulpy fun as different artists and writers continue to put their own spin on Dave Stevens' classic character. Ryan Sook's "A Rocketeer Story" is an entertaining mix of adventure and emotion, as both Cliff and Betty have to deal with the complexities and demands of their chosen paths as hero and actress respectively.  There's as much emphasis here on their relationship as their is on the action, and Sook pulls it off nicely.  "Heaven's Devils" is a clever text story by Joe Lansdale, illustrated by Bruce Timm as if it was a short story in a period lurid pulp magazine ("Spicy Adventure Stories" was, in fact, an actual pulp magazine back in the 30's).  Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards' "Junior Rocketeers" also entertains, dealing with the common pulp trope of young would-be heroes aiding our main protagonist.  Two fun pin-ups by Stephanie Buscema and Joe Chiodo round out the issue.  None of the stories here may have the length that modern comic book readers, conditioned by four- to six-issue story arcs, expect from their comics, but there's a lot packed into these short stories.  Given the wide range of writers and artists that have worked on this mini-series, it's impressive just how consistently good the stories here have been.

Fables #107 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Terry Moore) – A new story arc begins, this time concerning the 'Sleeping Beauty' myth.  In the warring remnants of the Old Empire, various factions seek to re-awaken Briar Rose (and in the process, all those who fell asleep as well due to her curse) to further their own aims.  However, the nearby goblins also have their own plans, albeit not realized as flawlessly as they might have hoped.   Guest artist Terry Moore isn't the first choice I would have picked for a fill-in artist, but his work here fits in quite nicely with the Fables universe.  There's a lot going on here, and a lot isn't clear yet, but this looks like it might well be a fun and engaging storyline. 

Undying Love #4 (of 8) (Image, $2.99, Tom Coker, Daniel Freedman) - Well, we're halfway through this story and things are still moving along nicely.  John and Mei have to flee from Shang-Ji's forces, and just when things seem darkest, the pair find sanctuary from an unlikely ally.  We also find out that Mei clearly knows more than she's letting on, including her ties to Shang-Ji.  Once again, this issue is nicely paced, mixing in action and chase scenes with just enough characterization and story to keep things moving along.

Glamourpuss #20 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, $3.00, Dave Sim) -This issue starts off with a look at the novels and relationship of authors Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir.  I'm not certain what brought this particular digression on, but as long as it avoids the inane juvenilia of last issue's crapfest, I really don't care.  After that we continue on with the narrative of Stan Drake and Alex Raymond, getting ever so much closer to Raymod's actual death.  This has been meandering for a fair bit, but still is entertaining in its own way.  While I don't doubt Sim's research on this topic, I do suspect his conclusions speak in part more about him then they do concerning the actual people and events described.

League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol III Chapter Two (Century: 1969) (Top Shelf, $9.95, Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill) - The latest chapter in Moore's ongoing narrative concerning a Wold Newton style merging of various British fiction characters.  It's easy (and fun!) to get lost in all the little references and in-jokes that are liberally strewn about (even though I was disappointed that I couldn't find any references to The Prisoner), but while doing so there's the danger of overlooking the main story.  Which is a shame, as it's quite enjoyable (it's also quite ribald and very free with the nudity and sexual situations, so more reserved readers may want to skip this one).  In many ways, this is the most straightforward of the League stories so far: three immortals facing a supernatural threat, and in the process lose themselves.  It's a good story, unsurprisingly, but not exactly the ideal jumping-in point for those unfamiliar with the LoEG concept - the uninitiated would be far better off starting with the earlier volumes.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy birthday, Geddy Lee!

Geddy Lee, one of the greatest bassists of all times, as well as an excellent keyboardist and a unique vocalist, is 58 years young today.  Happy birthday, Geddy!

To help celebrate, I present to you one of Geddy's favorite songs to sing live, 'Secret Touch':

Photodump Friday 7/29

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz In The World

Knightsky took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 60%!

You are a Gary Gygax Myrmidon. You are mighty in the ways of Gary Gygax. You're probably a First Edition or OD&D player, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had an original copy of the Chainmail rules.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

I missed questions 6, 8, and 9, and didn't even try 10 or the bonus question.

You can take the quiz here.

Happy birthday, Gary.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trollslayers - Changelings

There is much that mortal men do not know about the Sidhe and the other dark fey who inhabit the realms beyond the human lands.  There is even more that mortals think that they know about the fey, but are mistaken.  Much of this is because they rarely, if ever, actually encounter any of the fey folk. 

It is for this reason that of all the various branches of the fey, the ones that humanity does have at least some practical knowledge of are the changelings.

Changelings target the newborn, usually within the first six weeks of their birth.  It is customary for a newborn to always be watched over, and perhaps have a small piece of iron lain on or above their body, to protect them from being taken away by a changeling.

Should the proper precautions not be taken, it is possible that one of the Sidhe (or one of the other lesser branches of the fey) will show up with a changeling, and quickly make a switch, leaving the changeling behind to be raised unknowingly by the humans, while the fey steal away with the human newborn.  The more beautiful the child, the more likely it is to be targeted.

Should the changeling's true nature not be detected, it will grow up among the humans, doing its best not to give its true nature away.  Whatever the original human child might have grown up to be, the changeling will be thin, graceful, and beautiful as it grows up.  They are intelligent and perceptive, but their insight is invariably drawn toward deception and mischief.  A few might develop a genuine fondness for its adoptive family, but most secretly take a cruel delight at their continued deception.

Unlike most of the fey, changelings can abide the touch of iron for short periods of time, although they do not like it, and as they grow older they will make excuses not to handle such items (rare is the changeling that attempts to infiltrate the household of a blacksmith).  Injuries caused by items made of iron are especially harmful to changelings, although not as much so as it is to the other fey.

Should the changeling fall prey to mortal accident or violence, in its death its body will become withered, hideous, and charred.  Depending on the changeling's personal temperament, most will eventually flee back toward the faerie lands, usually during childhood or early adolescence (certainly before they enter adulthood, although there may be rare exceptions to this).

And what of the mortal children stolen away?  If the human parents eventually discover the deception that has been inflicted upon them, most will assume that their true child is forever lost to them.

They are correct, but not entirely in the manner they believe.

Once they have been taken into the faerie lands, the human child is aged quickly (the flow of time can differ in the faerie lands, in some areas moving faster than normal, in others slower - of course, the fey know where these temporal anomalies are, but the unwary human traveler can easily fall prey to such traps), and when they are old enough, they are forced to do the menial labor that the Sidhe and other fey would never demean themselves to perform.  As they grow, what natural beauty they might have had is drawn away from them, and leeched into the lands and its fey inhabitants; in this the fey help to maintain their unnatural beauty.

Some of these once-humans eventually escape from their captors (this is easier than one might suspect, given that they fey easily grow bored and distracted over time).  Some of them have made their way back into human lands, where they find themselves shunned by humanity for their terrible appearance.  These once-humans can breed true among themselves, and so they live among the dark forests and hidden ruins, just outside the lands of man.

And so it is that the once-humans, who now call themselves goblins, hate both fey and man... and not without reason.

Music Monday: "Top Of The World" (live)

The Carpenter's song as performed by Japanese punk-pop band Shonen Knife:

"Punk's not dead, it just has a happy knife in it."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

V&V Vednesday: Odin

Character Name: Odin     Real Name: William Morse    Side: Evil
Gender: Male     Height: 6'2"     Weight: 210 lbs     Age: 61

Physical Description: A man in his early 60's who still appears to be in fairly good shape, with an obvious military demeanor.  His hair is gray and short-cut,and he wears an eyepatch over his right eye.  His costume is a black bodysuit with dark blue trimmings.

STR: 32     END: 28      INT: 15     AGL: 15     CHA: 18

Level: 6th     XP: 24,905     Basic Hits: 5     Hit Points: 79      Healing Rate: 4.0/day
Movement: 75”      Power: 90      Carrying Capacity: 3,735 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d12
Damage Modifier: +2     Accuracy: +2    Detect Hidden: 12%     Detect Danger: 16%
Inventing: 45%     Inventing Points: 2.0     Reaction Modifier: -3 good/+3 evil
Training: Combat Accuracy with Gungnir

Animal Control (ravens, wolves, horses)
Heightened Endurance A: +16
Heightened Expertise: +4 to hit with all ranged attacks
Heightened Expertise: +2 to hit with Gungnir (from training)
Heightened Strength A: +21
Invulnerability: 20pt
Mutant Power - Healing Touch (can restore 1d6 HP for PR=4; can not raise the dead, cure disease, or regenerate lost limbs, can heal muscle damage with effects beyond HP loss (i.e. torn hamstring, punctured lung) for +10 PR, can re-knit broken bones for +20 PR (bones should ideally be re-set before being healed in this manner))
Mutant Power - Power Creation (see below)
Teleportation (PR=6, portal, range = 7,000+ miles at full power)

Power Creation - this allows the character to create superhuman powers in otherwise normal human beings (this is generally a NPC ability, and is usually reserved for supervillains at that). Upon picking a suitable candidate, the process for determining powers is much like that for creating a beginning character: roll 1d6+2 powers plus weakness, drop one power, drop 2nd power if no weakness is chosen. Also, reduce the number of powers by one for each Skill (type A Heightened Attribute, Heightened Attack, Natural Weaponry, etc) the recipient has, and add one power if recipient has a pre-existing Weakness, minimum one power granted. The process is quite painful and dangerous for the recipient, as the process causes 1d20 damage for each power granted, potentially killing the candidate before the powers can be fully assimilated. For the person attempting to create powers in others, PR=25 per attempt, takes 5 minutes + 1d4 turns per power granted, will be Fatigued for 2d6 hours, and is only usable once per week)

In Odin's case, the first three powers granted will be a mixture of Heightened Endurance A, Heightened Strength A, and Invulnerability (roll a d6, divide by 2, to determine which of these are granted if the recipient gets only one or two powers).  Any powers past the third are determined randomly, as above.  In Odin's mind, these will all tie in somehow to the figures of Norse mythology, although in some cases the connection is pretty tenuous.   

Power Limitation - After using his Healing ability, Odin will within 1d20 turns pass into a deep sleep for a number of hours equal to the Power score spent on Healing multiplied by 1d3, with a minimum of 24 hours spent in this slumber (this will begin after he has done all the Healing he plans to do - it will not cut him off if he is trying to heal multiple persons, as long as it is done in a relatively short period of time).
Physical Handicap - One Eye (all range penalties are doubled, and detect scores are halved past 30")
Psychosis - Bigotry:  hates all non-Caucasians, and may have to make an INT roll if taunted or attacked by a minority (a d20 roll if taunted, a d100 roll if he takes damage) to avoid attacking  that person directly.  He also suffers a -4 reaction roll penalty from most people who do not share his views. 

Gungnir (a spear that has been modified to include an experimental energy weapon): +3 to hit in HTH, +1d4 damage in HTH, Power Blast (1d20 damage, range 14", 16 charges)

Areas of Knowledge
Military, Electronics, Crime, Hate Groups

Character Notes/Origin/Personality: William Morse signed up for the Army on his 18th birthday, to go off to Vietnam "to kill a lot of gooks".  He served two tours of duty there, and after the war's end, he signed on with a mercenary unit, one that primarily fought in African nations on behalf of pro-apartheid forces during the 70's and 80's.  In 1989, an enemy bullet creased the side of his skull, driving bone fragments into his right eye, eventually causing him to lose his vision in that eye.

In the 90's Morse mostly retired from active combat, instead acting as a consultant and trainer for various mercenary and criminal organizations, including Intercrime.  He also began to become more and more active with various white supremacist groups.  In 1998, he was working with a supervillain called Mr. Master, helping to train various guards and henchmen for the villain's underground lair just outside the Appalachian mountains.  Eventually, the base was attacked by a regional superhero team; the upper portion of the base was destroyed, but the lower part of the facility remained intact, although Morse was the only one aware of this.  He kept this information to himself, hoping to someday return to the facility, as he already had plans of forming his own white supremacist group, and thought that it might make a suitable base of operations.

For the next decade, Morse tried to build up his own power base, but had limited success.  In 2009 he had signed on as a security consultant for an Intercrime project, one involving genetic research concerning metahumans.  When that location was attacked by yet another superhero group, Morse took the opportunity to steal an experimental serum before escaping in the confusion.  Approaching his 60s', Morse was feeling his age, and was willing to take a chance on something that might will kill him but also might give him a second chance.

The serum worked better than Morse could have hoped, granting him increased physical prowess as well as other superpowers.  Familiar with the Norse myths of old due to their popularity among certain white supremacist groups, Morse decided to rename himself Odin.  After acquiring an experimental energy weapon and altering it to fit inside a spear ('Gungnir') he now carried (Morse had picked up a good working knowledge of electronics over the years due to working with various hi-tech criminal organizations), he redoubled his efforts into building his power base, re-branding his white supremacist followers as the criminal organization Norsefire.  Over time, Odin learned that he could grant superpowers to others, and rewards his most loyal and talented followers with newfound abilities.  He then re-names them after various figures of Norse mythology, depending on what powers they have gained.  These superhumans are referred to as the New Asgardians: at this time their numbers include Odin, Tyr, Thor, Sif, Loki, and Göndul.

Campaign Use: Odin is the leader of a violent racist criminal organization with no small amount of superhuman followers.  The ways that the PCs might come into conflict with Odin and Norsefire are pretty much endless.

Note: some of Odin's stats have been altered since I first posted this, in order to better line up with some of the other Norsefire members that I'll eventually get around to posting.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Music Monday: "Sabotage"

Not a big rap fan, but this video from the Beastie Boys is just what I need after a long day at work...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Runequest returns... again.

It looks like a company called Design Mechanism has cut a deal with Issaries Inc to publish yet another new edition of Runequest.  Good news for RQ fans, although with Mongoose continuing to publish their version of RQ under the new name of Legend, there is the question whether or not the RQ audience is large enough to support two different (if not hopefully fairly compatible) versions of the same game  Best case scenario, both versions do well, and the fans get support from two different companies that they can use for their games.  If not, the divide between the version that supports the Glorantha setting and one that offers a more generic fantasy setting may fragment the RQ community enough that neither side wins.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A brief excursion toward a different type of gaming...

Tonight the Atlanta Braves, whose franchise started in Boston back in 1876, moved to Milwaukee in 1954, and then moved down South to Atlanta in 1966, won their franchise 10,000th victory with a 11-1 pummeling of the Washington Nationals.

Go Braves!

linky linky

Capsule reviews: Comics from 7/13

A short but pulperrific week...

Mystery Men #3 (of 5) (Marvel, $2.99, David Liss, Patrick Zircher) - Two new heroes enter the fray; one is new to us, the other we got a glimpse of in the preceding issue.  Both have their reasons for wanting to stop the General's plans.  The Surgeon's origin is rather brief, and may not work for all readers (especially those who are used to modern extended storytelling techniques), but it fits nicely with the pulp aesthetic of 'don't waste time on needless exposition, let's hit the ground running' that was very much a part of the original pulp magazines of the era.  The plot by Liss continues to entertain, and Zircher's design and detail to attention really help to sell this title as a period piece, while still making it palatable for modern audiences. This is the type of book I wish Marvel was making more of.

Doc Savage #16 (DC, $2.99, J.G. Jones, Phil Winslade) - Part 4 of 'Raise The Khan" brings us yet another artist; I suspect that Winsalde and last issue's Dan Panosian are simply pinch-hitting on a low-priority title that's about to be cancelled while more attention is given to the upcoming relaunch of DC's core titles.  That's something of a shame, as the script by Jones is finally starting to really hit its stride.  It's still a few steps shy of re-creating the spirit of the original books at their best, but it's a solid and entertaining read.  The secrets revealed in this chapter start to bring everything together, and next issue's finale actually has the potential to do something that the previous story arcs on this title have failed to do: gives us a pulp-style story with a solid premise and a satisfying conclusion.  It's a shame that Jones won't be able to carry on with future Doc Savage stories in this format; of all the writers who have worked on this current incarnation of the Man of Bronze, Jones is the one who seems to have had the best handle on how to tell an engaging Doc Savage story for modern comic book audiences.

Photodump Friday 7/15

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

V&V Vednesday: Honey Badger

Character Name: Honey Badger     Real Name: unknown     Side: Neutral
Gender: Female     Height: 5'2""     Weight: 120 lbs     Age: ??? (maybe mid-20's)

Physical Description: A petite woman of unknown nationality, wearing a full bodysuit costume that was stitched together from different fabrics of different colors, in a seemingly random pattern.  A wig adorns the skull part of her costume, but she changes wigs from day to day.

STR: 20     END: 26      INT: 9     AGL: 25     CHA: 11

Level: 4th     XP: 9,724     Basic Hits: 3     Hit Points: 36      Healing Rate: 2.1/day
Movement: 71”      Power: 80      Carrying Capacity: 636 lbs     HTH Damage: 1d8
Damage Modifier: +3     Accuracy: +4    Detect Hidden: 8%     Detect Danger: 12%
Inventing: 27%     Inventing Points: 3.6     Reaction Modifier: -/-      
Training: randomly rolled

Animal (Mammal) Powers
     Heightened Agility A +11
     Heightened Endurance A +13
     Heightened Senses: Enhanced Smell (x4 to detect rolls when relevant)
     Heightened Strength A +9
Heightened Defense: -4 to be hit with all attacks
Heightened Expertise: +4 to hit with melee attacks 
Invulnerability 16pt
Teleportation (PR=5, range = 10,000 x current power score in game inches - at full power, can teleport a little over 750 miles)
Willpower A (functions automatically against any mental powers, due to her non-standard mental processes)

Diminished Senses: Poor Eyesight - all range penalties are doubled, and detect scores are halved past 30" (derived from Animal Power subset)  
Psychosis - seems to lack a full understanding of cause-and-effect, has sporadic short and long-term memory loss, is subject to rapid mood swings, and lacks the ability to form any long-term significant emotional attachment to any person, item, place, or idea

Areas of Knowledge

Character Notes/Origin/Personality:  No one knows who Honey Badger is.  Even Honey Badger herself isn't really too clear on who she once might have been.  Some people say that she was once bitten by a radioactive honey badger (duh).  Some say that she was chosen by cosmic forces to be a living avatar of chaos.  Some say that she was the result of a secret government operation that experimented on runaways, giving her powers but driving her insane in the process.  Some say that she developed mutant powers as a teenager, and has knowingly embraced a philosophy of chaos.  The only thing that people can seem to agree on is that she is, by pretty much any definition of the word, crazy.

Although not truly evil in a moral sense (she may not be capable of truly understanding concepts of right and wrong), her willingness to simply take what she wants, assault anyone who displeases her, and bypass any lock, wall, or door has made her a wanted criminal.  Her past criminal actions have included stealing gold bars from Fort Knox (leaving behind tubs of ice cream in compensation), kidnapping parents who put their pre-teen children in child beauty pageants and forcing them to fight in gladiator pits with kitchen cutlery, stealing a crop-duster and skywriting 'Surrender Dorothy' above a major city, beating Paris Hilton senseless for crimes against humanity, kidnapping genetic scientists and forcing them to try to breed a new strain of pigs with wings, stealing the President's private notes and taping them to the ladies' room at Grand Central Station, and kidnapping celebrity tv chefs and forcing them to eat potted meat sandwiches.

When facing superpowered opponents she is savage and brutal, but not cruel.  In the past she has, after defeating such foes, dropped them off at a children's hospital to receive medical care, hung them upside down from a flag pole with Vanilla Ice's 'Ice Ice Baby' blaring loudly from a nearby speaker, has stuffed one dollar bills into their shorts, and has spray-painted 'FINK' in day-go orange on their chest.

Occasionally, various supervillains and criminal organizations have tried to recruit her for her admittedly useful abilities.  Her responses in the past have included challenging such people to a simultaneous ping-pong/chess match, offering them baked brownies filled with laxatives, and pummeling them mercilessly and then dropping them off at a police station while demanding that they (and their sexy, sexy costumes) be arrested for their fashionista ways.

In combat, Honey Badger is a whirlwind of destruction and mayhem.  Her Heightened Defense and Heightened Expertise talents do not indicate any sort of training, but rather an opponent's difficulty in either targeting or striking her due to her completely random movements.  Likewise, her Invulnerability does not represent any sort of superhuman toughness, but rather her simple ability to ignore any damage one might do, because, quite simply, Honey Badger doesn't give a damn about your attacks or whether you've hurt her or not.

Campaign Use: Every superhero campaign can use a foe who is, to put it nicely, nucking futs.  Honey Badger fits that requirement, and then some. Virtually any random act of mayhem, larceny, or social disruption might be committed by her.

(inspired partially by this)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music Monday: "Episode 1: Arrival"

Just in case you don't already catch the references, it's pretty clear that Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling are big fans of the 1960's tv series The Prisoner, as their video for 'Episode 1: Arrival' is a shot-for-shot remake of the opening sequence of that wonderfully surreal series.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 6/29

Supreme Power #2 (of 4) (Marvel/Max, $3.99, Kyle Higgins, Manuel Garcia) -The world reacts (predictably) to the news that Hyperion has returned, or more precisely, that he never actually left.  Hyperion just wants to be left alone, but we all know that's not going to happen.  Worse for him, the crystal that gives Dr. Spectrum his powers seems to be taking control, and what it wants from Hyperion won't be giving the latter any peace, either.

The plot by Higgins does a good job of moving things forward and building them toward what should hopefully be a satisfying climax, while at the same time hopefully leaving things open enough for future stories in this setting to take place.  As for the art, while everybody online it seems is whining that it's not Gary Frank, taken on its own Garcia does a fine job here.  My only real complaint is with the coloring, which seems to apply different techniques at different times during the story, the results being somewhat uneven.  That's a fairly minor quibble in what otherwise appears to be a solid re-entry for the Squadron Supreme/Supreme Power franchise.

Adventure Comics #528 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Geraldo Borges, Ransom Getty) - It's graduation day for the Legion Academy; unfortunately for Power Boy, Lamprey, Crystal Kid and Nightwind, none of them have been accepted into the Legion, and so have to settle for joining the Science Police.  Which is admittedly something of a crock, given the way that the Legion seems to play fast and loose with requiring Academy training before allowing anyone to join their ranks.

While some of the newer Academy members bemoan this seeming unfairness, Duplicate Girl, Bouncing Boy, and Night Girl head off to Legion HQ to investigate a break-in, which just happens to tie in to the current storyline in the main Legion book.  Dragonwing, Chemical Kid, and Comet Queen, being the impulsive types, decide to follow, and as a result walk straight into one of the more experienced and dangerous super-villains of the 31st century.

This is the next to last issue of the current run of this book, and so pretty much anything could happen next issue.  Legion characters actually dying (and often staying dead) is one of the distinctive trademarks of the Legion mythos, and given that the current storyline in the main Legion title is such a big one, it wouldn't surprise me at all if some of our current cast fail to make it out alive.  Actually, I'll be more surprised if everyone does survive.

Overall, this is a good issue, ramping up the tension for what should be an interesting finale.  Levitz's plotting here is solid - amidst the different elements of the main plot, there's actually a few nice character moments, including the reveal that Power Boy and Gravity Kid are a couple.  The art by Borges and Getty is also quite enjoyable, even if their individual styles vary a bit.  I'll be sorry to see this title go, even if it's replacement, Legion Lost, sounds like it may be a solid book in its own right.  The Legion Academy is an interesting concept, and I'm going to miss reading about these students struggling to make the grade.

Jonah Hex #69 (DC, $2.99, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jeff Lemire) - A group of outlaws target an old man who after many years may have finally found success in his hunt for gold.  Unfortunately for the outlaws, the old man is also of interest to Jonah Hex, for very different reasons.  It's a very powerful story by Gray and Palmiotti; there's almost no physical action, but rather it's a compelling character piece, one with a great deal of resonance for Jonah's past, and why he became the man he is.  Jeff Lemire's art here seems very popular with other readers, from what I've seen, but I'll go against the grain and admit that his art really doesn't do anything for me (that said, I will acknowledge that his skill at handling panel layout is notable).  That doesn't keep this from being an excellent issue; the story is good enough to override what quibbles I have about the art.

Blue Estate #4 (Image, $2.99, Victor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, Andrew Osborne, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley) – There's a solicitation for a TPB collection of the first four issues of this comic in the latest issue of Previews.  One might suspect, logically, that this would mean that the current #4 of the series would have at least some sort of resolution to it, right?

Hah!  Your puny logic has no place here!  There's not anything that remotely resembles a resolution, or otherwise offers any form of conclusion.  In fact, when things pick up just a little near the end of the issue, one gets the feeling that we're only now getting ready to really start the storyline moving along.  Four issues is a bit too long to take to reach that point of a story, but then, Blue Estate is a book that is very much in love with its own meanderings.  It's also a story that desperately wants to be film adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel in comic book form, but isn't quite able to pull that off.  The first issue of the series got my attention, but following issues have been mired in bad pacing, uninteresting caricatures, and self-indulgence. In other words, I think this is the last issue for me.

Moriarty #3 (Image, $2.99, Daniel Corey, Anthony Diecidue) - Moriarty and Jade continue to search for the Dark Chamber, slowly unraveling secrets here and there along the way.  Despite the obvious set-up for a big conflict next issue, this issue seems strangely subdued to me, and perhaps not in the way that was intended.  I found myself less interested in Moriarty and Jade's assault on a sailing vessel (intriguing steampunk imagery notwithstanding) than the all-too-brief encounter between Moriarty and Lestrade.  The former may have been intended to be the big draw of the issue, but it was the latter that engaged me more in the character of Moriarty.  I'd say this issue represents a slight dip, compared to the first two issue, but it's still an entertaining issue, and sets up for a hopefully satisfying conclusion to the current storyline next issue.   

Elric: The Balance Lost #1 (of 4) (Boom!, $3.99, Chris Roberson, Francesco Biagini) - Michael Moorcock's Elric and his various Eternal brethren have had a long and colorful history of adaptations and original stories in comic book form, from various companies including Marvel, Pacific, First, DC, and Dark Horse.  Now Boom! is taking a shot at it, with an original story featuring not only the title character of Elric, but three other aspects of the Eternal Champion, as well.

Elric wanders the multiverse, seeking to preserve the balance between Law and Chaos, and finds himself on a modern-day Earth where Chaos has taken hold.  Meanwhile, on another Earth, a man named Eric Beck (a game designer on a Warhammer-esque game called 'Chaos War'), dreams of Elric's travels.  We also get to see bits of Corum and Hawkmoon, in their own realms.  If the reader was expecting a story that was primarily based on the title character, they might well be disappointed.  Then again, calling the comic 'Elric' means it probably will sell better than if it was called 'The Eternal Champion', so let's just roll with it.

Beck has an evil twin (no, really) who is stirring up trouble with his 'Law Party', an overtly fascist group who like to dress up in jackbooted riot gear.  It's pretty much just as unsubtle as it sounds, but then, Moorcock's original works have never exactly been terribly nuanced in terms of political reality, so one could argue that Roberson's script here is indeed being faithful to Moorcock's vision.  The issue ends with a highly-armed stranger showing up to save Beck from a Law Party gathering, so that he can help save the multiverse.

The good part here is Biagini's art, which manages to solidly convey the story being told, while giving each of the different worlds portrayed a slightly different feel.  Unfortunately, while Robenson does a fine job with Elric, Corum, and Hawkmoon, the introduction of Eric Beck as yet another aspect of the Eternal Champion comes off flat.  There's very little that's interesting about Beck, and so far he shows nothing in terms of character that justifies making him an aspect of the Eternal Champion (he's certainly no John Daker).  Still, despite the flaws, the set-up is interesting enough that I'll see this one through.  It's Elric, after all, and I have something of a soft spot for the guy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Return of First Comics

The big news in comics today (for me, at least) is the return of First Comics.

First was an independent comic book publisher in the 80's and early 90's.  During their day, they were one of the more successful independent publishers; along with Comico and Eclipse they were part of the 'second tier' of comic book publishing (behind Marvel and DC, but ahead of everybody else).

First published a number of intriguing and entertaining original series, including Grimjack, Jon Sable Freelance, American Flagg!, Dynamo Joe, and Mars.  They also managed to acquire several from various defunct publishers, including Nexus, Badger, and Whisper from Capitol, E-Man from Charlton, and Starslayer from Eclipse, (they would also lure Evangeline away from Comico, and somewhat later, Dreadstar from Marvel/Epic).  They also published several adaptations of various characters from Michael Moorcock's 'Eternal Champion' cycle, Corum, Elric, and Hawkmoon.  They didn't publish standard superhero fare (the few books they did publish with superhero motifs were of a more quirky and offbeat nature), instead giving readers some much needed variety in terms of other genres being explored.  

Back in their prime, First was probably the most consistent publisher in the field in terms of producing quality books.  Simply put, they refused to publish crap.  Many of their titles, especially early on during First's existence, were truly exceptional reads.  If they never managed to publish the equivalent of a Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns (the closest they came in that regard was probably the first twelve issues of American Flagg!), they still managed an amazingly high percentage of their output that would knock it out of the park, month after month.  Even the worst of their books were no worse that other companies' 'average' titles.  From First, you never got anything nearly as dire as, say, Countdown to Final Crisis, or Chuck Austen's run on Uncanny X-Men.  The standards were simply too high.

Which isn't to say that all was perfect.  One of the mistakes they consistently made was to publish a title after the original creators had left the book.  What would follow wasn't necessarily bad, but it usually wasn't as good as what had come before, and perhaps more importantly, didn't necessarily fit the vision of the original creators (this was less of a problem with an artist leaving instead of a writer; Grimjack stayed consistently good even after fan-favorite artist Tim Truman left the book, due to the continued presence of write John Ostrander).  If First hadn't felt the need to publish these titles every month, but had instead perhaps went with the 'series of mini-series' approach that Dark Horse would use to such good effect in more recent years, then the overall impression may fans have of these series would not have been diluted by lesser efforts that eventually followed.

It's also questionable just how many of the original titles, that fans still have positive memories of, would be published by the new First. The original publishers burned a lot of bridges when it became clear to the various creators that, despite what they had thought, they didn't actually own the characters and concepts that they had come up with, but instead merely had the right to buy them back from First (apparently Mike Grell managed to escape this fate; rumor has it that his original contract negotiations were enhanced when a large-caliber firearm just 'happened' to be in his briefcase when the contracts were being drawn up).  Many of the original books have since found new homes at other publishers.  For better or worse, the new First will most likely have to start from scratch, at least for the most part.

There's also the question of whether or not a new comic book company can really make a go of it in today's marketplace.   It's not impossible, to be certain, but the odds are certainly against any new company managing to find success in the long haul.  The direct market is littered with the corpses of companies who have went the way of all flesh just over the last few years.  Still, win or lose, it should be interesting to see what titles the new First has to offer, and how they adapt (or fail to do so) to the 21st century comic book marketplace.

Photodump Friday 7/8