Monday, August 29, 2011

Music Monday: "Raise Your Glass"

It's only a few days until Dragon*Con, where my wife and I will be this weekend.  Besides the usual assortment of gamers, freaks, geeks and other wonderful weirdos, there will of course be all the people dressed up in various costumes.  It is to them that this fandub of P!nk's "Raise Your Glass" is dedicated.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 8/24

Mystery Men #4 (of 5) (Marvel, $2.99, David Liss, Patrick Zircher) - Our heroes are finally start to work together, but Nox and the General seem to be a good three steps ahead of them.  It doesn't help that our different heroes, quite naturally due to their temperament, don't exactly work well together.  Our heroes really do seem to be out of their depth, and with only one more issue to go, it's quite possible not all of them may make it out alive. We also get an origin story for the Revenant, which works well with what we already know of the character, and of the corruption that pervaded the early 30's.  Overall, this series continues to entertain, with both Liss and Zircher producing strong work here.  Still recommended, and hoping for a strong conclusion to this very enjoyable storyline.

Dark Horse Presents #2 (Dark Horse, $7.99, Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, David Walker, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Sanford Greene, Chuck Brown, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, Michael T. Gilbert) - This third issue expands from 80 to 104 pages, giving the reader even more bang for the buck.  For the most part, it continues to entertain: the ongoing chapters/stories of Love & Walker's Number 13, McNeil's Finder, Chadwick's Concrete, Chaykin's Marked Man, Greene & Brown's Rotten Apple, and Gilbert's Mr. Monster all continue to be enjoyable reads.  Patrick Alexander gives us another short yet skewered piece, featuring a superhero called Indecisive Man.  Not quite as good is Corben's Murky World, which just sort of plods along, and Adams' Blood, which while a little better than the previous chapters, still continues to show that Adams' is known as for being an artist, not a writer.

This issue also introduced Dave Gibbons' Treatment, a rather cynical take on law enforcement in a near future, where play-by-play sports commentary is provided along with the violence and mayhem.  The story is decently well told, but the main selling point here is of course Gibbons' art.  The main highlight of the issue, however, is the preview of Steranko's forthcoming Red Tide, which was first published back in the mid-70's.  The new version has been completely re-colored, and it looks utterly gorgeous.  If you have any interest in noir-ish detective stories, these preview pages should be more than enough to sell you on it.

Overall, a very good issue.  This is the anthology series for those looking for good comics outside of superheroes and the Big Two publishers. 

Kirby: King Of Comics (Abrams, $40.00 or $12.99, Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby) - A tribute to the most important man in the history of comics (others might try to argue that assertion, but not to my mind convincingly).  Mark Evanier's biography of Jack Kirby doesn't really touch on a lot of new ground - most of what is detailed here has been written of elsewhere - but it still makes for an engaging story when collected under one set of covers.  Evanier's portrayal of Kirby is sympathetic of course, but not blindly so, and also shows Kirby's' faults and weaknesses along with his strengths and talents.

The main selling point here is, of course, the art.  About 2/3 of the book is dedicated to Kirby's art, and the oversized (coffee-table) format really helps to showcase just how dynamic Kirby's art and storytelling abilities really were.  For those who only know Kirby as the artist on the bulk of the 60's Marvel titles and the creator of the 'Fourth World' stories at DC, there's enough here for the reader to truly appreciate the breadth and span of Kirby's career.

When this was original published back in 2008, at sold for $40.00.  However, recently a 'sale version' was solicited for $12.99, which is pretty much a steal.  Either way, it's well worth the money.  This is one of those books that any serious comics fan should have as part of their personal library.  Highly recommended.

T&T 8th edition?

It appears that Ken St. Andre has announced that their is work being done on an upcoming 8th edition of Tunnels & Trolls. I'm curious to see as to how it will differ, and how similar it will be, to the 7th and 7.5 editions of the game. In any case, it's good to know that the 2nd oldest published RPG still has some life in it.

Edit: or maybe not

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Happy birthday, Alex Lifeson!

Alex Lifeson, guitarist for Rush, turns 58 today. Happy birthday, Alex, and try not to get arrested again, okay?

Working with both one of the greatest bass players of the age and arguably the greatest drummer alive today, Lifeson's contributions to the band sometimes get overlooked, which is unfair.  He doesn't get as much attention as he should, in part because he's not an Eddie Van Halen style guitar shredder.  Musically, Alex is something of a chameleon as a guitarist, adapting his playing to the needs of any given song.  That, and his ego doesn't demand that the guitar always hog the spotlight, but rather will pull back to let Neil and Geddy take control if that's what works best for the song (the fact that, unlike most bands, there is no clear lead/rhythm divide between the guitar and the bass is just one of the many elements that make Rush so musically unique).

And so, to celebrate let's listen to La Villa Strangiato, an extended instrumental piece that was inspired by a dream/nightmare that Alex had, and really showcases his range and talent as a guitarist.  Also, as a bonus, you get the hear Alex's stream-of-consciousness rant near the end (during this tour it was customary to go off into his own little world near the end of the piece, which would change from night to night - Peart and Lee had no idea what he would be saying any given show, as it just depended on whatever the aliens decided to beam into his head that night).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 8/17

One again, I try to get up the reviews of last week's comics before this week's comics come out... what fun!

Legion of Super-Heroes #16 (of 16) (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Daniel HDR, Marc Deering) - And so the final issue of the most recent run of the LSH ends with neither a bang or a whimper, but something in-between, as Levitz finishes off the last of the plot hooks he inherited for this particular run of LSH.

On the down side, our main bad guy isn't really made that compelling; originally, I thought it was supposed to be Krona, but I guess it's actually supposed to be the evil result of Krona's original sin(1) made manifest, which I suppose makes Krona the Evil Baby Daddy.  Not that our blue baby threat is ever actually given a name, and if Levitz didn't care enough to do so, then why should I care about him?  Oh, and Professor Li still hasn't given an explantion for herself, and will probably show up in the Legion's next incarnation.  Guess what?  Still don't care.

That said, it's hardly all bad.  There is death, of course (and this being the Legion there's a decent chance it will actually stick), as well as redemption.  The fight scenes are decent, if not spectacular, and everything is, for the most part, wrapped up in a satisfactory manner (if somewhat rushed).  By the time everything is done, the Legion is in a state where Levitz can write them without being hampred quite so much by what previous writers had set up.  Given that Levitz's run pretty much defined the Legion, that's not a bad thing.  I'm cautiously optimistic about the new LSH run starting next month, even if the short-lived recent run had more than its share of hiccups along the way.

Fables #108 (DC/Vertigo, $2.99, Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham) – The first part of the new 'Inherit The Wind' story-arc.  As the name implies, this storyline deals primarily with a search for the heir to the North Wind, but Willingham also touches on the aftermath of the Fables' war with Mister Dark, as Rose Red leads a reconnaissance mission into the Farm, as well as Bufkin and his assorted allies continuing to make their way through the dangerous lands of Oz.  There's a lot of ground covered without bogging down, the characterization is strong as always, and Buckingham's art continues to delight.  As usual, recommended.

Conan: Road Of Kings #7 (of 12) (Dark Horse, $3.50, Roy Thomas, Mike Hawthorne) - The beginning of this mini's second story arc.  Okay, I gotta ask... has there ever been a good Conan story that featured a kid in it?  It's possible, but I don't think so.  There's just something about Conan interacting with young children on an extended basis that seems to draw out bad stories from even otherwise good writers.  Not that there's anything especially awful about this issue, but then it's just the set up for the larger story, so there's still five more issues for this to potentially suck.  As is obvious, I'm not terribly optimistic about this storyline, but I am willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt here, even if the preceeding story arc was moe than a bit uneven in places. 

B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth vol 1: New World (Dark Horse, $19.99, Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis) - Ah, new Hellboy-related goodness, just what I needed.  Thank you, Mignola!

The war with the Frogs may be over, but that doesn't mean everything in the Hellboy-verse is back to normal.  Quite the opposite, things have gotten worse, with supernatural threats laying waste to entire cities.  Amidst all the large-scale carnage, the main story presented her is actually fairly low-key in spots, not unlike some of the earlier B.P.R.D. stories.  Contrasting the main story with the larger backdrop makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

Not helping matters for the team is that the current main cast is more fragmented than it's ever been, each pursing their own agendas.  It's interesting that, even as the team acquires U.N. funding and theoretically has more resources to draw from, they're actually being stretched thinner and thinner, and could easily implode, from either internal or external pressures.

The story itself by Mignola and Arcudi is quite enjoyable, mixing danger and dread with quieter moments of characterization in a seemingly effortless manner.  The art isn't going to appeal to everyone, but for those who would rather have yet more super-slick spandex superheroes, quite frankly that's their loss.  The art by Davis does everything that good graphic storytelling should do, creating just the right visual mood while also pacing and structuring the story for best effect.

There's also a wonderful little quote in the back of the book from Mignola:

"One of the things that separates our little B.P.R.D./Hellboy world from some of the other comic-book worlds out there is that when we break stuff it often stays broken, or, if it's fixed, it's just never quite like it was before."

Which sums up succinctly one of the things I love about the Hellboy-verse.  It's a world where things actually move forward, instead of navel-gazing backwards in nostalgia.   It's a setting where actual, real change can occur, as opposed to the mere illusion of change.  The cast are are characters who are genuinely at risk, instead of merely being inconvenienced by false deaths that will be negated within a few years(3).  In short, these are stories that have actual impact, as opposed to the watered-down fare we normally get from the Big Two.

Which is why the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books pretty much represent my favorite comic book 'universe', with only the Astro City books coming close.  If you haven't yet experienced Mignola's supernatural-action-pulp epic, start with the early Hellboy collections and work your way through to the most recent stories.  It's well worth the effort.


(1) Krona's big sin, for those of you not familiar with the story?  Seeking knowledge(2), and defying stodgy conservatism in the process.  I despise that part of the Green Lantern mythos.  In a more just universe, Krona would be the hero, not the villain.

(2) Yes, I know it's a Biblical allegory.  It still sucks.

(3) If anyone in the Hellboy-verse ever did come back from the dead, it would probably be either as a flesh-eating zombie, or a horrible demon.  No cheapie resurrections here. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

GM Merit Badges

Stuart over at the Strange Magic blog has posted something that I find interesting, as he has designed several GM merit badges. The name may not be the best descriptive term, as 'merit' implies accomplishment or worth, and what Stuart is doing is detailing a way for gamemasters to let prospective players know what style of game they run, and what their preferences are.  Which I think is a fine idea, as much of the problems that occur during role-playing sessions is clashing game styles and unspoken assumptions.

I haven't run anything in a while grumble grumble but when I am eventually able to do so (either with the Trollslayers rules or with something else), I will use the merit badges to let the players know just what sort of game I plan on running.  In the past, different badges would have been picked, but this is what I have in mind for the eventual Trollslayers game:

Tactics are an important part of my games

My games focuses on Exploration & Mystery

I will Mirror back player ideas I think are interesting in the game

My games use a pre-made Map and pre scripted content (moreso the map than the content being pre-scripted, although rough outlines will be pre-developed)

The GM is In Charge in my games and "rule-zero" is in effect

My games rely on a lot of Improvisation rather than pre scripted content (within the already mentioned rough outlines)

I roll Dice in the open and don't fudge the results in my games

Players characters Death is a likely event in my games

My games are more of the Social, Fun and "Beer & Pretzels" style

Players in my game should be prepared to Run when the odds are against them

I frequently Tinker with the rules of the game

My game focuses on Player Skill rather than character abilities

Besides the aforementioned map/improv schism, some might also say that beer & pretzels is contradictory with tactics, death, and running.  Well, in my mind they fit together, at least.  And if not... very well, I contradict myself.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sandy Peterson talks Call Of Cthulhu

(yes, I've been horribly negligent on my posting - not certain when work will calm down enough that I can post in a more timely fashion, to be honest)

Just passing on a link where Sandy Peterson, the creator of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, talks about the genesis and creation of the game.  There's some interesting stuff there for both COC fans and RPG historians:

"However, the good folks at Chaosium did not respect Lovecraft. Greg’s exact words were 'HPL is a terrible writer.' That was mild, compared to some other Chaosium opinions."

"In the very first game I ever ran of Call of Cthulhu (long before the rules were finished), my players found a book which enabled them to summon up a Foul Thing From Otherwhere (a dimensional shambler) and decided to do so. At the moment they completed the spell, the players suddenly chimed in with comments like 'I’m covering my eyes.' 'Turning my back.' 'Shielding my view so I don’t see the monster.' I had never seen this kind of activity in an RPG before - trying NOT to see the monster? What a concept. You may not credit it, but I had actually not realized that the Sanity stat, as I had written it, would lead to such behavior. To me it was serendipitous; emergent play. But I loved it. The players were actually acting like Lovecraft heroes instead of the mighty-thewed barbarian lunks of D&D.

Well worth a read.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 8/10

As it turns out, these posts don't write themselves, unfortunately...

Supreme Power #3 (of 4) (Marvel/Max, $3.99, Kyle Higgins, Manuel Garcia) - Both Hyperion and Dr. Spectrum continue to deal (poorly) with their current challenges, and each of them lose something important, albeit in very different ways.  Meanwhile, the metahuman who slaughtered people in Spain last issue takes it up a notch, and in general everything is quickly escalating beyond anyone's control.  For those who care about such things, the gore and brief nudity this issue definable warrants the 'explicit content' label (more for the gore than the nudity).  More importantly, the characterization still remains strong.  My only worry is that, with the disparate plot threads established, the wrap-up next issue may be a little rushed.

Doc Savage #17 (of ?) (DC, $2.99, J.G. Jones, Phil Winslade) - Okay, this is clearly not intended to be the final issue - there's even a "to be concluded!" at the end of the issue.  And yet, as far as I know this is the last issue solicited for the series, and with the upcoming relaunch/reboot it seems rather unlikely that the series would another chance to wrap things up.  Which is a shame, because things are finally coming to a head, questions are answered, and there's the setup for what could actually be an interesting finale.  The story by Jones wasn't perfect, but it was a marked improvement over the first two story arcs, and quite frankly it's a shame that the series gets cut off at the heels just as it was getting good, all in the name of DC restarting all their titles at #1.

The Spirit #17 (of 17) (DC, $2.99, Howard Chaykin,Paul Levitz, Will Pfeifer, Brian Bolland, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, P. Craig Russell) – A collection of three black and white stories , presumably taken from inventory intended for the earlier issues of the run, back when the book had b&w back-up stories as a matter of course.  All three stories are entertaining, each in their own way.  'Strange Bedfellows' by Chaykin and Bolland is a straight whodunit, 'Lottery'  by Levits and Garcia-Lopez is a character piece told from the POV of one of Central City's citizen caught in a criminal shakedown,  and 'Art Walk' by Pfeifer and Russell is a fun, playful piece that derives as muchenjoyment from the layout of the story as it is the actual story being told.  Between this and the previous issue, at least The Spirit, unlike Doc Savage, gets a proper send-off before being cancelled.

Rachel Rising #1 (Abstract, $3.99, Terry Moore) -This was dropped in my pull list last week by mistake (although given my lack of memory for what I pre-ordered three months ago, who can say?), and I put it back on the rack.  However, looking at it this week, I figured, it's a first issue, I could give it a shot.  So I did.  Not without some reservations; while I enjoyed Moore's Strangers In Paradise, I gave up on Echo after the first few issues.  

We start off with out title character exhuming herself from a muddy riverbed, in a sequence that runs for nine pages without any caption boxes and only a single grunt of dialogue.  Another writer probably wouldn't risk that, but Moore clearly has enough faith in himself as an storyteller to let his art carry the sequence.  It's pretty clear to the reader that Rachel was killed by some unknown assailant, but she (consciously, at least) seems to be unaware of it, or perhaps is simply in denial.  The rest of the issue introduces us to what will probably be our supporting cast, both through flashback and present-tense narrative.

It's a strong set-up, although hopefully finding out who killed Rachel won't be the entire impetus of the series; a single whodunnit can only sustain so much for an ongoing series.  Moore's art is, of course, quite nice, and his storytelling skills are strong, so I'll probably be around for at least a few more issues. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Music Monday: "Voo Doo"

Rachel Sweet never got as much commercial success as she probably deserved...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 8/3

Adventure Comics #529 (of 529) (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Geraldo Borges, Marlo Alquiza) - The final issue of the current run of this title, and although it was by no means perfect, I'm going to miss the stories of the various would-be heroes of the Legion setting.  The trainees struggle to face off against Cosmic King, who by all rights should easily defeat them, but Levitz writes CK as being hesitant of using his full abilities to kill off untried opponents, which gives are young heroes a slightly better chance than they might otherwise have.  It's a bittersweet ending, one with sacrifice and loss - overall, it's a good ending to the series, and a very Legion-esque one, at that.  I just hope that, somewhere down the line, we get to see some of these characters again in the future. 

Jonah Hex #70 (of 70) (DC, $2.99, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ryan Sook, Diego Olmos) - Final issue of the current run, although the series gets revamped slightly next month.  Jonah is witness to various versions of how he might die, and gets to revisit some old acquaintances in the process.  Of course, death and Jonah are old friends, so in many ways the prospect of dying is less troublesome to Jonah than meeting some of the specters of his past.  It's an odd tale (even odder than some of the previous Hex stories), but a good one.  If this were truly the end of the series, it would be a poignant and fitting ending.  As is, it's an interesting retrospective to the current run, a capstone to what has been one of the consistently best titles published by a mainstream company in the last decade.  If you haven't been following this series, and have any interest or liking for westerns whatsoever, do yourself a favor and pick up the various trade paperbacks collecting the entire Gray/Palmiotti run.

A History Of Violence (DC/Vertigo, $14.99, John Wagner, Vince Locke) - A new printing of the story that inspired the 2005 film of the same name, originally published by DC's Paradox Press imprint, now being published under the Vertigo umbrella.  For those familiar with the film, the first third or so of the movie and the comic are roughly the same, but diverge more and more and things progress.  Wagner's story here is a strong one; like much of crime noir, the emphasis is more on character than on plot.  Locke's black-and-white art is sketchy in places, but strong on layout, more interested in pacing and storytelling than flash.  Overall, the combination works well.  If you have an interest in crime fiction, it's well worth checking out.  If you've seen, and liked, the movie, then it's definitely worth getting a copy of the original version of the story. 

Moriarty #4 (Image, $2.99, Daniel Corey, Anthony Diecidue) - The conclusion of the 'Dark Chamber' story arc.  Moriarty faces off against Tartarus and his forces, with the threat of the Cyclops Eye looming.  However, the former crime lord's success is short lived, as he finds out that all is not as it had appeared, and that his troubles are just beginning.  An excellent issue, one that provides a satisfying conclusion to the current storyline, while setting the table for future story arcs.  Highly recommended; if you haven't been following this one, be sure to get the trade collection when it comes out in September.

Elric: The Balance Lost #2 (of 4) (Boom!, $3.99, Chris Roberson, Francesco Biagini) - More aspects of the Eternal Champion show up in this issue, which probably should have been titled "The Eternal Champion: The Balance Lost"; anyone picking this comic up hoping to read a story centered primarily on the doomed albino prince may well be disappointed.  As a story on its own, for the most part it moves well enough, as different realities suffer the effects of swaying too far toward either Law of Chaos.  The weak point of this issue, like last issue, is the part centered on the new character, Eric Beck.  Given that Beck will most likely play a pivotal role in the story's conclusion (even more so than Elric), one hopes that he'll become a more interesting character over the next few issues.

Dark Blue (Avatar, $8.95, Warren Ellis, Jacen Burrows) - A new collection of the storyline that ran in the Threshold anthology series.  What first appears to merely be a cynical and brutal police procedural quickly turns into an exercise in questioning what is real and what is only in our heads, and just how little difference there can be between the two.  For some, the story may be somewhat reminiscent of The Matrix, although for those who are well read in speculative fiction the themes explored here are much older that said film.  The story represents the first collaboration between Ellis and Burrows, who would go on to work together on Bad World, Scars, and Chronicles of Wormwood.  The story by Ellis is a good one (no surprise there), and Burrows' black-and-white art works perfectly with the story as presented, but it's definitely not for the squeamish, or for those who like their fictions to be comfortable ones.

Genecy #1 (InVision, Gerald Cooper, Eddy Barrows) -  This was sent to me by the publisher, who asked if I could provide a review for it, which I am happy to do.  It was actually published back in 2009, and the publisher is attempting to fund the second issue via a kickstarter program.  The pitch of the first issue is "Conan becoming the Silver Surfer after being a slave on Apokolips."  Which gives you a decent enough idea of what you're in for.  It's a space fantasy, somewhat reminiscent of Starlin's oeuvre.  The art by Barrows is quite nice, if occasionally a bit stiff and posed.  Cooper's story isn't bad, but it takes a while to get to the point, and relies heavily on caption boxes to explain what's going on.  I personally wish the writing was a bit tighter here; the script seems in part stretched out to give room for Barrows' art.  It would probably be best if any future issues gave our lead character some traveling companions, both to flesh out his character a bit more and to not rely so heavily on the caption boxes.  

Admittedly, this is something of a difficult sell for me: aside from Starlin's Metamorphosis Odyssey and Dreadstar stories, I'm not that big a fan of 'cosmic' stories.  That said, I do have a real fondness for space opera, so I'm willing to give it a shot.  Overall, the basic set-up is interesting enough; if the scripting of future issues improves a bit, this could be a series of interest.

Recent superhero RPG news

Monkey House Games has filed a lawsuit against Fantasy Games Unlimited over the publishing rights for the Villains & Vigilantes RPG.  Given that for decades FGU let the publishing rights to V&V (along with their other various games) lie fallow, I hope this is resolved quickly in MHG's favor.

Also, it seems that Margaret Weis Productions has acquired the rights to publish games based off of the Marvel Comics universe.  While I'm not a big fan of the Cortex+ system, MWP has had a decent amount of success with licensed products in the past, so this looks like good news for gamers who are also fans of Marvel comics.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Photodump Friday 8/5

As has been obvious, I haven't posted anything for almost a week. It's been a rather hellish work week, and here sadly just hasn't been a lot of time (or inclination, to be honest) to write up anything. Hopefully this weekend I'll be able to get a little posting done.