Thursday, July 11, 2024

A Cold Reception on Level 4

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last weekend with the party still searching the lower levels of the mind of Gob looking for pieces of a magical suit of armor. Having explored the 3rd level, they had moved on to level 4, but avoided a room that appeared to be the site of a battle shrouded in some magical mist.  Their avoidance had been rewarded by the lucky discovery of an armor piece in a kobold gut-wagon.

Now, though there was nothing to do but brave the battle. They chose to skirt the edges of the room, having several near-misses with combatants--and some not misses, as a stray lightning bolt injured two of them. A group of the avian Fantsies, clearing the fallen, informed them that this was the site of an eternal battle between good and evil. They kept creeping around, and Waylon "recoveed" a Ring of Flight from the body of a slain ogre that almost literally fell into their path.

After skirting the room they encountered a giant with a whip and a captive woman wearing one of the gauntlets. Classic story: the giant claimed the woman was a monster and had to be imprisoned, while the woman protested her innocence and begged for release. The party didn't for a minute completely buy the woman's story, but they also questioned her imprisonment and treatment. And, at the end of the day, they needed that gauntlet chained up with her! They negotiated with the giant to let them get the gauntlet, but when they tried, the imprisoned demon in a woman's form escaped. Still, mission accomplished!

Next, they encountered a statue of one of the evil Phantfasms with the bird-like wings of a Fantsie instead of arms. They remembered the statue whose wings he been removed on an upper level. They went to retrieve them, the statue breathed cold at them and nearly killed poor Waylon.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Wednesday Comics: A Bigger Comic Book Implosion

In 2018, TwoMorrows released Comic Book Implosion by Keith Dallas and John Wells, which was an oral history of the DC's 1978 plan for an "Explosion" that ended in failure: The DC Implosion. I talked about the book here.

This year, Dallas and Wells are back with an expanded edition, this one with color. I haven't read it yet, but Amazon tells me it has "additional coverage of lost 1970s DC projects like Ninja the Invisible and an adaptation of “The Wiz,” Jim Starlin’s unaltered cover art for Batman Family #21."

I'm eager to check it out.

Monday, July 8, 2024

More Gwelf

Larry MacDougall released another book in his Redwall-esque fantasy series, Gwelf last month. This one is called Gwelf: Into the Hinterlands. In this one, Willburton Fox and his party set out into the North, first the Scrublands, then the dangerous territory controlled by the Ravens and menaced by Rats, Trolls, and the Mange.

MacDougall's art is just as wonderful as the first book, and there is good worldbuilding in the union of the text and pictures.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1983 (week 1)

My ongoing mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of July 7, 1983. 

There was a freebie this week, DC Sampler #1. It has no real story in it, just two-page ads for DC Comics and all comics that are already on the shelves. Two things jumped out at me. It does give away how Supergirl defeats her mini-clone foes, and the Legion of Super-Heroes ad cleverly evokes the titles and logos of old DC non-supers books to taut the various genres at play in the title.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #6: Granch and his brothers go down in defeat and are killed in their assault on Dark Opal while Amethyst says good-bye (at list for a time) to her Earth foster parents and undergoes a training montage. Princess Topaz is still mopey about his upcoming wedding. Not a whole lot of forward motion story-wise, but Colon's art is still great.

Wonder Woman #308: Nice cover by Andru/Giordano, and representative of the issues contents, for once! Sofia Constantinas is getting used to Paradise Island by eavesdropping and witnesses the ceremony in which Wonder Woman's bracelets of submission and magic lasso are restored by Athena and Aphrodite. She keeps snooping and hears the goddesses and the queen mention that Steve Trevor has been brought back twice from the dead. Elsewhere, Black Canary intervenes with a woman chasing an old man, only find that the old man is a Nazi, Karl Schlagel. The woman mystically transfers her consciousness into Black Canary's body. As Canary, she goes to the League satellite, and is captured by Wonder Woman and the Elongated Man, who learn that she is a Roma mystic and Nazi-hunter. Meanwhile, Black Canary, in Zenna's body, is captured by beast-men goons, and Dr. Schlagel prepares to inject her with something.

The Cavalieri and Bair (credited as Hernandez)/Gaicola Huntress backup seems to be mostly setting up a new status quo but it's awkward. There's a crusading reporter who reveals she's really just out to get Huntress because the heroine has the freedom she was taught she couldn't have as a woman. After allowing Huntress the use of his shower, Minelli asks her out--but we find out in a separate scene that he's an undercover agent for Commissioner O'Hara. The story ends with Huntress thwarting what she believes to be a drug deal, which turns out to possibly be a baby exchange.

Blackhawk #263: Blackhawk has been assigned to find and stop Domino while for her part, Domino has been ordered to assassinated Blackhawk. The two wind up in Marrakesh where they are captured by a group looking to ransom them both. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are tracking the war wheel and discover the secret of its appearances and disappearances (its being carted around by zeppelins) and bring all that to a stop. Blackhawk and Domino work together to escape, but then Hendricks shoots and kills Domino after she appears about to turn on Blackhawk. But was she? Blackhawk is haunted by the possibility she might have been ready to reform. I'm surprised they killed off Domino. Maybe Evanier just felt they had done everything with her they could? Spiegle's art really sells that seen though, and in general this issue with the war wheel and its large scale carnage this is a standout in an already great run from him.

Justice League #219: Only a few months after his exit, Conway is back, albeit teaming up with Thomas. I wonder if this turn is due to cancellation of the JLA/Avengers project, which Conway was writing? In any case, this JSA/JLA team-up story seems more of a Thomas idea as it is in service of a retcon regarding the history of Black Canary--though that goal isn't entirely clear from this issue. Johnny Thunder's T-bolt attacks the two Flashes then assaults the annual JLA/ JSA reunion, incapacitating only those heroes born on Earth-One, leaving Black Canary, Red Tornado, and the Justice Society members uninjured. Before they can figure out what's going on, the heroes they have to go off to stop the Crime Champions, who are attacking various locales on Earth-One. Starman and Black Canary, meanwhile, trail the Thunderbolt to his home dimension, where they discover villain behind it all is the criminal Earth-One counterpart of Johnny Thunder--and he's got transparent coffin type thing containing the bodies of Larry Lance and Black Canary!

Arak: Son of Thunder #26: Ron Randall comes on board as artist. Arak and Satyricus arrive in Byzantium to report the death of Kallinikos to Emperess Irene and request the use of a ship to get back to the New World. Those plans have to wait as they're attacked by a lioness that Arak must defeat Tarzan-style, which leads to him getting an offer to be a charioteer for the Green team (not to be confused with the Green Team).

The chariot race is about as Ben Hur amped up for comics as you might imagine, but Arak is victorious after killing some rivals. Before he can ask his boon of Empress Irene, he seems the lioness about to be burned alive in a cage in front of the cheering crowed--then she turns into a beautiful woman!

DC Comics Presents #62: Rozakis/Mishkin and Novick/Hunt serve up a goofily patriotic team-up with the Freedom Fighters, which seems like it would have been more at home in the bicentennial ramp-up of 1976, but I guess is honoring the 4th. There's even a framing sequence where a kid visiting a museum who doesn't care about the U.S.'s history reads this very comic and sees the error of his ways. In the story proper, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters come to Earth-One to stop Neo-Nazis from stealing and destroying the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which in fact, are some sort of totemic, mystical protectors of America. Superman is busy dealing with the national crises the theft caused and can't help. We do get a couple of references to the Freedom Fighters' 70s series, at least.

Fury of Firestorm #17: Conway and Broderick/Tuska/Rodriguez open on the funeral for Ed Raymond, who we find out isn't dead. There are suggestions of maybe some sort of witness protection type situation, but we aren't given a lot to go on. Anyway, Ronnie and everyone else believes he's dead. While this is going on Hewitt's experiment turns Lorraine Reilly into the nuclear-powered, Firehawk, who has been conditioned to obey Hewitt's commands. He sends her to attack Firestorm. Ronnie, distracted by grief and the feeling he is responsible for his father's death, initially just tries to escape the attack, but once Firehawk burns some civilians, he fights back and quickly defeats her. When she reverts to Lorraine, that gives Ronnie something else to feel guilty about. 

Dissatisfied with Firehawk's performance, Hewitt decides to create another superhuman. This time, he'll be the test subject.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Way Up North

Art by Vsevolod Ivanov

While I was vacationing in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, I got though idea for a campaign inspired by the Klondike and other Alaskan gold rushes. To give something for fantasy rpg PCs to do besides turn prospector (though they could do that) I figure the forbidding northern wilderness would have once been part of a prehistoric empire whose great works and lost wonders have been buried.

To complicate matters and make for some interesting factions, there would be a current empire filling the "haughty Elvish jerk" niche that claim suzerainty over the region but spend most of their time fighting a rebellious faction of their own people. There would also be a more technologically primitive native people (maybe Neolithic dwarves or something) who naturally resent the invaders from afar.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Magic Like This

 I'd like to see a traditional fantasy rpg with magic like this:

Podmore picked up his fork and stood it on its end. Snaith stood, stepped over to the shelf behind Arthur’s head, and picked up a sharp knife. Moving by instinct, Arthur reached out and knocked over Snaith’s wine-glass. Snaith slipped on spilled borscht. He lay on his back looking confused, as if he had no idea what had just happened or why he’d stood up in the first place...

...Arthur said, “George—I’m sorry.” 

He snapped the stem of his wineglass, causing the leg of George’s chair to snap so that he fell on the floor and hit his head on the chair behind him. The dowager dame who’d been sitting in that chair gave a little shriek, then got to her feet and left, taking her party with her. A couple of waiters quickly came and led George off, bleeding from the head, in search of first aid. 

- Felix Gilman, The Revolutions

And this:

Her bedroom was still dark when Sadie woke up and there was a lump in her throat. She turned her head and coughed, and spat a stone into her hand. It was the size of her thumbnail, chalky white and light as a feather. Its dimpled surface was covered all around with tiny holes, and when she held it up to her ear she could hear wind in the treetops of a faraway forest.

She mixed a resin and coated the stone several times, until it was as hard and shiny as a nut, then took it outside where the morning sky had begun to turn pink along the horizon. She set the stone in the middle of the long trail that ran south from her house, through ruined cornfields and over the Arkansas River.

She left the stone there and went inside, laid back down in her bed and went to sleep.

- Alex Grecian, Red Rabbit

The last quote is the beginning of a sequence of events wherein the "stone" is picked up by a squirrel which is in turn carried away by a hawk, dropped and eaten by a fox, which is in turn killed and eaten by the man the stone is a message for. He chips a tooth on it before realizing what it is, putting it up to his ear, and hearing the witch's message.

In both of these works, magic isn't visually fantastic or flashy. Not at all like super-powers. But it is nonetheless powerful and mostly quick without a lot of ceremony. I suspect there are modern/occult rpgs with magic like this, but I'm unaware of any traditional, Medievalish fantasy with it, but I'd like to see it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1983 (week 4)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics on the newsstand on June 23, 1983.

Sword of the Atom #1: After Ray Palmer discovers his wife Jean cheating on him with her new legal partner, he takes a trip to the Amazon jungle to give them some time apart in search of a White Dwarf Star Fragment. Unfortunately, the pilots of the plane he charters are also cocaine smugglers so when his explorations get too close to their facilities, they attack him. He fights them off as the Atom, but the plan crashes and he's stuck in his 6-inch size. Luckily, He meets a tribe of similarly sized, yellow-skinned people, citizens of the hidden city of Morlaidh. Unluckily, he takes the side of the condemned Taren, and is also condemned to death by rats. Meanwhile, in Ivy Town, Jean hears that Ray's wedding band has been discovered in the plane wreckage in Brazil and assumes her husband is dead. Strnad and Kane remake the Atom as a Lost World/Planetary Romance sort of hero, which is a combo Kane was born to draw.

Ronin #2: The samurai reborn in a cybernetic body in the 21st century spends most of the issue looking for a sword, encountering Miller's phantasmagorical underbelly of future Manhattan. He final gets one, and violence ensues. Well, there was violence before that, but now the samurai is getting his licks in. Meanwhile, an AI catches a corporate security leader up on everything that went down last issue, she sends her men to start looking for the samurai. The demon is lurking in the background, also. It's inhabiting the body of the corporation's CEO. Again, while the similarities to Miller's later work like Dark Knight Returns is clear, I'm struck by how much this seems like something that could have been serialized in Heavy Metal.

Action Comics #547: Rozakis, Kupperberg and Swan/Colletta/Marcos complete the Planeteer story arc. Superman keeps flying around the world, rescuing the kidnapped world leaders and unknowingly doing exactly what the Planeteer wants to power him up to Superman(ish) power levels. It isn't enough though, and after a goofy but not unappealing combat where they keep punching each other around the globe into landmarks (the Redwood of California, the Great Wall of China, the Sphinx), Superman defeats him at the North Pole. 

All-Star Squadron #25: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan add some new complications to the Ultra-Humanite arc. The JSA splits up as they are wont to do and encounter duos of new powered beings (the Infinitors from the future, it turns out, but you'd only know that from the cover) who seem convinced by Ultra that the JSA are working with the fascists. These combats end with a number of the JSA disappearing mysteriously. Meanwhile, Amazing Man has decided with work with the All-Stars to save Detroit as his parents are there. Infinitor Brainwave, Jr. wakes up and realizes he may be too late to stop his friends who are inadvertently going to cause a catastrophe.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #11: Moench and Duursema/Mandrake work in some stuff borrowed Blavatsky. An reveals an underground passageway beneath the palace, leading to the ruins of an ancient city of the Rmoahals. Arion and friends discover a being encased in a block of ice, and they bring tit to the surface for study. Ar

Arion is training with Calculha's crystals to try to reclaim his magic, but the psychic energy awakens the creature trapped in ice. It's a mutant created by the Rmoahals to remove their need for traditional food, as it feeds on psychic energy. After rampaging for a bit, the creature targets Mara who has the most powerful energy. She changes form into a chimera with doesn't have the level of mental energy the creatures needs and fights it tooth and claw. Arion then arrives and kills the creature who actually wishes to end its existence with a sword.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #19: The cover proclaims Thomas and Hoberg as the creators, but the actual credits list Shaw as the plotter and Cavalieri as the scripter. The Zoo Crew goes on a cruise and once again encounter Frogzilla who is in cahoots with a shady landcrab real estate speculator. Cavalieri's scripting as opposed to Thomas's or Shaw's is decidedly less pun heavy, which seems to me a bit of an improvement. 

Detective Comics #529: Moench and Colon/Giordano continue the story of Nocturna from this month's Batman. The Thief of Night is in custody after his last encounter with Batman. Justice is swift in Gotham because he's about to get his day in court, except Batman convinces the DA to hold it at night so he can show up to testify. Before that, however, Jason Todd who's running away to return to the circus happens to encounter Nocturna. She actually advises him to stick with his foster parent. She makes a good point, but Jason ultimately decides to go through with his plan.

Nocturna attends the hearing in disguise, then attacks the transport van taking Thief of Night to prison using her hot air balloon and some weaponized jewelry. Batman foils the escape attempt and captures both criminals.

All the time this has been going on, Bruce has been absent from his relationship with Vicki Vale. Fed up, she asks for an assignment out of the country and plans to leave town.

In the Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Gonzales/Magyar, the Russian embassy in Star City is attacked by 1983 topical right-wing paramilitary nuts led by the Survivalist. Ollie happens to be there for his paper, so Green Arrow is able to stop the attack, but he can't do anything about the suspicious the Soviets have that the U.S. government was behind events. GA shows one of their captured weapons to a General at the local army installation, who confirms it's of an advanced type, not a standard issue. They're interrupted by an attack by the Survivalist and his followers, who are using a device to start raising nuclear missiles from their silos. Their plan is to precipitate a nuclear war as they feel they will be prepared to take over in the aftermath.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2: Giffen is still involved as co-plotter here with Levitz, but he hands off art chores to Gibbons, which isn't as good as I might have thought. Gibbons just doesn't seem to have a real handle on some of the character designs. Anyway, the Projectra and Karate Kid are married in a ceremony unmarred by super-villain attack. The only wrinkle being that several of the Legionnaries got accidentally marooned in the past where they encounter Durlans masquerading as the Greek gods and have to rescued. It's an odd interlude, but not a bad issue.

Jonah Hex #76: Another nice cover, this one by Jim Aparo. Emmylou is back she issue, so I guess Fleischer hasn't forgotten her. She's still traveling with Jonah (and still dressed in Native American garb) though she's once him to settle down, and Jonah frets he's misleading her, because he isn't in love with her. Turnbull has hatched another plan for revenge on Hex. Does it have something to do with the governor requesting Hex undertake a secret mission going undercover in the territory prison? Hex's cover has him branded a criminal (and Mei Ling sees the charges in a newspaper), and things are pretty grim in the prison thanks to a sadistic and corrupt guard.

New Adventures of Superboy #45: A change in the art time this issue as Saviuk is on pencils and Schaffenberger inks. Despite everything going on in Smallville with Clark now dating Lisa, his father being asked to run for political office, and some sort of shennanigans at the local paper, Superboy finds time to head to Japan to help the authorities against Sunburst, a tokusatsu movie hero who apparently has real super-powers and seems to be behaving like a villain. We're left with a cliffhanger.

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Jensen, Chris and Vicki tell Nick Stevens about how they got the dials and he wants to see the mysterious box in Chris' attic himself.  They figure out a way to witness a past battle between the Master and a super-hero called the Wizard which leads to the creation of the dials and allows Nick to get over his mental block in drawing a sketch of the Master's appearance.

World's Finest Comics #295: This one is from a plot by Kellogg and script by Kraft with art by Moore/McLaughlin. With a setup that would seem strange with the "creature of the night" Batman post-Crisis, Batman is called to Cape Canaveral to investigate the possibility of sabotage of a new space weapon satellite. Batman has only begun to consider suspects, when there's an attack by the Moon Dancers, a very 70s Marvel Two-in-One team of themed adversaries. They manage to escape by incapacitating Batman with a gas bomb which turns out to contain a deadly alien virus. Superman strives to save his friend, and after traveling all over space finds the cure in the burning heart of a comet. (Yes, I know comets don't have burning heats. Tell Kellogg and Kraft!) 

Batman is cured, but this turns out to (amazingly) by exactly what the mysterious mastermind behind the Moon Dancers intended, because it involves Superman making a device with the cometary energy source. He sends the Moon Dancers to steal it, and Batman is too weak to fight them off. Superman shows up, and the heroes track the thieves down, discovering that NASA scientist Nakamura is the mastermind. A survivor of the atomic bombing of Japan he wanted to end the nuclear threat forever. The Moon Dancers wanted the same end, but were in the dark in regard to his means. The heroes defeat Nakamura and the Moon Dancers repent--in fact, the heroes just let them get away, despite their crimes. 

Superman III (Superman Movie Special #1): Weirdly, although the title on the cover is Superman III: The Official Adaptation of the Movie, the indicia for the book says the title is "Superman Movie Special, Vol. 1, No. 1." I wasn't able to get ahold of a copy to read, but I remember the movie and there's a review of adaptation here with some sample pages.