Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, March 1981 (wk 1 pt 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  December 11, 1980. 

Batman #333: Wolfman and Novick/McLaughlin cast Batman and Talia in an international spy thriller. They are first in the Swiss Alps checking out secret bank accounts and getting chased on skiis by guys with lasers, then they're flying to Nepal, and finally sneaking into Hong Kong through the marsh, all in an attempt to find out who was behind Falstaff. Talia really gives the reader some basic info on the then-current status of Hong Kong, which has the effect of making Bruce look terribly uneducated. Leaving Hong Kong, Bruce is drugged and captured.

In the backup, Robin and Catwoman are doing their own globetrotting investigating the same issue. They wind up in Shanghai and meet up with King Faraday, who Catwoman does not like. Then they're double-crossed by Chin Ho, terribly stereotypical Chinese criminal and former associate of Catwoman's. The story ends with our heroes about to be injected with cocaine against their will.

DC Comics Presents #31: Conway delivers a slight story, but it's got Garcia-Lopez art so it isn't all bad. Robin and Superman independently stumble upon a circus where someone is mind controlling the performers. Turns out it's one of the clowns, and he isn't doing it for crime or world domination or the like. He just wants to be in charge of the circus!

The "Whatever Happened to..." backup is about the Golden Age Robotman by Rozakis and Saviuk. Of these stories so far, it actually tells what happened to Robotman (he was in a cave in and wound up in suspended animation) and provides an end to his story (he gets a new-ish human body), so I call it a success.

Flash #295: Though Flash has never been a favorite character of mine (I have probably read more issues of Flash in this series than I have at any other point in my life!), I would describe this run by Burkett/Heck as solid, late Bronze Age material. It isn't a series that is particularly remembered, but it's a lot more consistent, I think, than say Conway's work of this period--maybe even Wolfman's outside of Teen Titans. But nobody is writing articles praising it in 2021. This issue--the wrap-up of the plot by Gorilla Grodd to make everyone forget him--pretty much continues in that vein, except that I feel it has a bit flatter resolution than some other stories. Grodd's plan is to get Solovar and the Flash to kill each other, and he does this by mind controlling them and causing them to act out an interaction where he plays the other and betrays them in the semblance of a dream. Now, he doesn't mind control them to think this happens or actual just dream it, they act it out. And he doesn't mind control them to think he's the other one, he actually disguises himself to look like them. That all just seems silly to me, given Grodd's power set. Anyway, it's this having to act it out that clues the Flash into the fact this isn't an actual dream (he dreams in super-speed) and allows him to warn Solovar so they can thwart Grodd.

The Firestorm back-up has Stein calling in Ronnie so they can save a scientist in an experimental bathyscape form a ship captain bent on killing him for some reason. An accident turns the scientist into Typhoon with blue skin and really long orange sideburns. To be continued!

Ghosts #98: Ghosts continues to haunt me with stories free of any horror or even atmosphere for the most part. The Dr. Thirteen/Spectre cover story by Kupperberg and Adams/Blaisdell is the best of the bunch. Thirteen is still out to prove the Spectre is a fake, but gets distracted by a return to his ancestral home to help an investigative reporter get the goods on his father's former partner, Sontag. Seems the guy has sold shoddy construction materials, leading to 30 deaths. It turns out that not only is Sontag guilty, but he murdered Thirteen's father as well. The Spectre shows up and has Sontag kill himself. Thirteen still vows to get that vengeful spirit, and he notices that police Lt. Corrigan and the Spectre always show up at the same places. Something interesting about Thirteen's dad: he was a diehard rationalist too, and got his assistant to fake a haunting after his death, so his son was disprove it and learn a lesson about being skeptical of the supernatural. Parenting 101, right there.

The Ayers/Giella art on the story by Wessler is rough, and the story itself is a confusing tale about a guy's ghost haunting his hotel, but then returning to his body to animate it so he doesn't know he's driving his own customers away. Or dead. The second story by Wessler and the Redondo Studio is kind of amusing as a money-grubbing, abusive orphanage operator gets smacked around by the ghosts of the parents of a young girl she won't let get adopted because she wants to milk the girl's inheritance. "Spirit, Don't Save Me!" by Kashdan and Mandrake has a chemist killing his partner, but then getting so badly burned by chemicals he wants to die, but his partner's ghost gets him medical attention to keep him alive and prolong his agony.

G.I. Combat #227: Three Haunted Tank yarns, as usual, all by Kanigher, Ayers and Glanzman (who trade off penciling and inking). The first one at least has novelty going for it, in that it's told from the point of view of the tank. Not the ghost of a Civil War general haunting the tank, but the tank itself. This highlights one interesting thing about the Haunted Tank, that I didn't expect before I embarked on this project, which is it isn't always the same tank. In fact, it might be multiple tanks in one story. Okay, perhaps it's not that interesting. Anyway, we've also got "The Bleeding Target" wherein one of the tank crew realizes the tanks he's blowing up actually have living people on the inside, and the best of the three, "The 13th Kill," where the Haunted Tank helps take out an installation protecting a u-boat pen, and manages to out smart a German tank commander "ace."

The O.S.S. story has always-interesting Grandenetti art. In it, an agent poses as a dead parachutist (thanks to a drug) to fool the Germans into thinking they've gotten secret intel on Allied plans, but it's all a ruse to plant disinformation. Kashdan and Borillo give us the obligatory Korean War story, with a soldier shooting in Morse Code to give the U.S. forces the enemy's position. Finally, a Marine tricks his buddy with kids in to letting him be the one to take the suicide mission in the perfunctory "Helping Hand."

Jonah Hex #46: This Fleisher/Ayers and DeZuniga story may be the highlight this week. Hex and his new bride are trying to find a town where they can buy land and settle down, but face prejudice at every turn as a mixed race couple. Taunted by bigoted goons in one town, Hex has had enough--but his bride reminds him of his vow to forsake violence. The bigots don't give up so easy though and follow the Hexes as they leave town. When a broken wagon axle leaves Hex unable to walk with an injured back, and Mei Ling rides into town for help, the goons come after him. Hex injured and with jammed pistols, uses his knife, a convenient rattlesnake, a field fire, and final concealed rotten boards in a barn to dispatch his foes in a kind of rural Die Hard. It all ends happily with the doctor Mei Ling found agreeing to sell them some land.

The Scalphunter backup by Conway and Ayers sees Ke-Woh-No-Tay go through some torturous rituals to join the Mandan tribe. He completes them, though, and there's a girl there he's interested in, but trouble rears it's head as the tribe has captured an old trader, a friend of his father's.

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Magic Comes Back

Matthew Hughes's Henghis Hapthorn stories (and related stories of The Spray) take place in Earth's Penultimate Age, an era where science is beginning to wain and magic returning. Implicitly, this seems to be the age before Vance's Dying Earth, an era, of course, dominated by magic. This isn't the only setting with the pretense of returning magic: it shows up in place as diverse as Shadowrun and the 80s cartoon and toyline Visionaries.

I think this would be an interesting direction to take a science fiction setting in. You could use your favorite: Star Frontiers--or Strange Stars. The easiest thing to do would be to play post the change and just use those species and setting elements (minus the technology) in a fantasy setting. You could also play during the transition from tech to magic, which I could see having some interesting possibilities. Maybe have an era where spells and the like are beginning to appear but spaceships and other high tech stuff are still operational.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Elysian Fields Forever

The existence of Elysium is seen by many a planar theoretician as proof of a mulitversal law of equipose. The existence of Hades by this way of thinking requires an Elysium--or vice versa--for the sake of balance. While Hades leeches everything of meaning and embodies a sense of hopeless, Elysium is pervaded by a sense of contentment and quiet joy, absent from considerations of the past or future of the cosmos. It is the middle ground between the transcendence of self of the Holy Mountain and the pursuit of absolute freedom and sensate pleasure of Arborea.

The theriocephalic guardinals may appear fierce on other planes but in Elysium they are more gentle of mein. They are mostly content to observe, only occasionally engaging visitors in conversation. In general, there is less conversation in Elysium than elsewhere; people are content merely to be

To the sages and seekers of the Holy Mountain, the tranquil meadows and forests of Elysium are actually another trial. If one can forsake personal contentment in the name of restoring the Godhead and Unity, then one may be worthy to see the summit of the Mountain, though of course, this may take life times.

The waters of the streams and limpid pools of Elysium are veritable liquid balms to the soul. Small vials go for high prices on material worlds where they are employed as nostrums and curatives. In the lower planes, such liquid is even more potent, though its mere possession may cause something akin to an immune response from reality itself and bring unwanted attention upon the possessor.

Acquiring waters for resale isn't as easy as it might appear. Elysium resists. Not in any violent way, but its nature contrives to lull visitors into its calm and contentment. Previous goals may come to seem less worthwhile or completely useless.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Spacehunters Reprise

With Cowboy Bebop in live action on Netflix and a new season of The Expanse on the way, I was thinking about this post, originally from February of 2017.

Luis Royo
There was this short-lived GURPS campaign I ran perhaps decade ago: A "hard" science fiction thing using a lot of stuff from Transhuman Space put giving it more of a Cowboy Bebop spin: a little bit cyberpunk, a little bit 70s action film.

Howard Chaykin
If I ever ran a similar game again, besides using a system other than GURPS, I think I would draw more visually from '80s and 80's sci-fi, borrowing some elements from things like American Flagg! and 80s cyperpunk rpgs. The players' would still be ne'er-do-well, planet-hopping bounty hunters/troubleshooters within the solar system, but with it would have a different veneer.

Janet Aulisio

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Gray Wasteland

While the existence of some planes are comprehensible based on the desires or allegiances of the beings living there, Hades, the Gray Wastes, presents a problem for planar philosophers. There are many theories, but most are some variant of the idea that the suffering of souls within the cosmos seeped into a reservoir or found its level. The existence of despair, in other words, created Hades. It is perhaps no accident that it exists in some metaphysical sense equidistance between the oppression of Hell and the malignant egotism of the Abyss.

The beings that willfully reside in the Gloom, both exploit and partake of despair. The devils hold the yugoloth were once a cadre of Hell, but deployment on the frontlines of the war with Chaos led to trauma. Their methods became first unsound and then alien. Devils will work with them to achieve goals, but hold them in disdain. 

Their primary value to Hell's high command is the process they have developed for extracting the essence of despair from souls of beings consigned to Hades. Over time, souls cease to fight against the pull of despair and are cover in gray dust or ash, like the victims of a volcanic disruption. Eventually their substance is wholly petrified to that of Hades, but before that point, there is a time where their souls are still somewhat fluid, yet tainted. The yugoloths tap the corpse and remove the fluid. It can be used to form the basis of an elixir that robs souls of their free will. The prospect of absolutely obedient masses greatly excites diabolic strategists, and they wish to study the substance to see if it can be produced elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1981 (wk 2 pt 2)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 25, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #272: Conway was doing better for a bit, but this issue ruins that streak. It doesn't help that Ditko is on art. We get the origin of Blok, which is really dumb because his hatred of the Legion (strong enough to become a Super-Assassin) stems from a childhood misunderstanding of their evacuation of his homeworld. No one has since explained to him what really happened. He hasn't bothered to read about it anywhere. Nothing for it but to plan to kill the Legion. There's supposed to be a Dial H for Hero preview, too, but my digital copy didn't have it.

Mystery in Space #116: This one wasn't very good, either, despite an intriguing cover. The DeMatteis/Craig lead is probably the best of the bunch, with a race of robots capturing a disguised human who has come to enlist the robot's help against a mysterious alien invasion force. The robots, previously subjugated by humanity, are in no mood to help. It's revealed the robots were actually built from humans considered "inferior." Then in a twist, the disguised human reveals himself to actually be a robot--one of the invaders looking to ferret out hidden biologic life! The next story by Barr and Delbo is so dumb, I can't even bring myself to write about it in detail. Suffice to say,  it includes a alien race of living skeletons stealing an earth spaceship, crashing on a primitive alien world, and getting worshipped as a god, then sacrificed, thwarting an invasion of Earth. Dammit! I wrote too much. The next story by Wolfman and Smith is shaggy dog yarn about a mission to another world flummoxed by aliens giving them the silent treatment so they'll go away. 

Mishkin/Cohn and von Eeden/Celardo delivery a complicated time travel mystery, but by this point I'm skimming so I couldn't make sense of it. The last story by Drake and Ditko is like the sort of thing that would be published in an Atlas era Marvel sci-fi/suspense comic and involves a scientist making his house a rocket to escape a dictator.

New Adventures of Superboy #14: Luthor is in reform school but still manages to make a "power distorter" device he tries out on Superboy when he visits the school to give a talk to the inmates. With his powers going haywire, Superboy does things like set the fridge on fire with his heat vision and turn an armed car as transparent as Wonder Woman's jet with his x-ray vision. The funny thing is, Luthor had already thrown his distorter out in disgust because when he didn't work instantly, he thought it was flawed. Luthor breaks out to get it back, and he's bushwhacked by Pa Kent and son who take the device from him.

The backup has Superbaby (i.e. Superman as a toddler) teaming up with Zatara. It's goofy and mildly fun, in exactly the way you would expect.

Sgt. Rock #349: Easy gets a new soldier, which over course means he's going to die heroically this issue. And a good thing for him, too, because Kanigher gives him an singular trait that would have made his fellow G.I.'s kill him eventually: he's a ventriloquist who's always "on" and uses his dummy to insult his fellow troops and officers. Maybe I'm reading this all wrong, though! Could this really be the secret origin of Scarface, the dummy of the Ventriloquist in various Batman comics?

Bill Kelley (and no artist credited) gives a story of a Nazi-collaborating French singer who gets sent to a concentration camp anyway after his son and a Jewish fiancée escape Paris. Duursema does the art on a story of "game recognizing game" in the Korean War, where a U.S. bugler plays taps for a dying North Korean bugler. The last story is a "Men of Easy Co." feature where he learn that Bulldozer is really strong and doesn't care much about medals.

Super Friends #41: Rozakis is guest writer with Fradon still on pencils for a clash with the Toyman. The Wonder Twins are so often central to these Super Friends stories, it makes me wonder if that was editorial mandate. Anyway, they get fooled by a false Toyman, but then redeem themselves. 

The backup features the return of the Israeli hero Seraph courtesy of Bob Oksner. Seraph has to defeat a group of crooks or terrorists looking to steal the technology behind a new desalinization plant.

Unexpected #207: Barr and Sparling/Patterson bring us a continuation of the Johnny Peril story about the star gem amulet. A mob boss, Dan Blodgett, who already has one such talisman is eager to get a hold of the one Peril has too. He sends his fiancée to lure Peril from his office, but instead she tries to enlist his help.  Thugs show up to take the detective to their boss. Blodgett demands Peril give him the amulet and reveals the powers the star gem has given him in an attempt to get his way.  Before he can kill Johnny, the fiancée pulls the amulet away, causes Blodgett to change from a bloated slob back to his normal, nonpowered self. Still, the true master of the amulets plans on stopping Peril from interfering with his plans. One weird thing about this story is that twice Peril and a police lieutenant have a moment where we are told "their eyes meet, and a seeming eternity passes" like there's something going on between the two of them.

The rest of the stories here are pretty rough. Seeger and Nicholas/Trapani present a yarn where a money-grubbing charmer realizes the rich girl he's been wooing really does have a father with magical powers when a winged bear kidnaps her. The guy does what anyone would do: he decides to follow them to Iceland so he can learn magic, too, and get rich. Unfortunately, the harsh winter led to the father burn his magic books to stay warm; he's trapped in wing bear form, so instead of magical knowledge the guy gets eaten. The Kashdan/Infante "Timewarp" tale sees a stranger hung for the murder of a girl, but then it's revealed the true murderers were shape-shifting aliens who framed one of their own who was threatening to reveal their presence to Earth. The last story is again by Kasdan but has nice Grandenetti art. When a skull begins appearing to members of a family before their deaths, they all believe it is the result of a curse by one of their own, but in reality it's a hoax perpetrated by a living family member, who gets a supernatural comeuppance in the end.

Unknown Soldier #248: Haney and Ayers/Talaoc reveal a bit (possibly) of the Soldier's origin. SS officer von Stauffen has trained a deadly female agent named Helga for the express purpose of finding some weakness in the Soldier's past and killing him. In the U.S. she gains access to secret files that reveal the Soldier is the second son of a family with a long, proud military history. His father wants the older son in military service, and the second carrying on the family name, but both sons wind up in service in the Philippines. A grenade kills the older son and disfigures the younger, who goes on to train to be the Unknown Soldier. Helga takes the Soldier's father hostage and demands the Soldier show up. When he does she apparently shoots and kills him. Of course, the story is continued, though.

The backup story is more of Burkett and Ayers "Tales of the Ruptured Duck." I just don't care about this. I have a hard time believing anyone did. "The Duck" winds up saving the guy that fell out of the plane and was captured. Does that surprise anyone? Enough already! 

Warlord #42:  Read more about it here.  We also get the return of OMAC with writers Mishkin and Cohn and art by LaRocque/Coletta. OMAC has made an alliance with IC&C against Verner Bros., but the war isn't going well. Things get worse when OMAC is attacked by Vanquisher, a superhero working for Verners, the two are transported to have their battle in front of rolling cameras. The next issue promises "Vanquisher the Movie."

Monday, November 29, 2021

Dark Sun: Daggers in the Night

The party's caravan arrived at the Silver Springs Oasis. Eowen and Egon went to try to deliver a message given to them by the elf Iseela back in Dur-Taruk for  Toramundi, Chieftain of the Silver Hand Tribe that controls the carvanserai. With the mention of Iseela's name they are taken through confusing back alleys and underground passages until they are are ushered into a room where the chief sits cross-legged on the floor with a shaman.

Toramundi accepts the coded message. Egon asks him for help with information on Golothlay Canyon. He laughs and tells them he doesn't believe that the House Madar treasure exists, and he thinks they are on a fool's errand which can only lead to their deaths. Any other information will cost them.

Egon and Eowen pay his price in silver and obtain a map which will allow them to skirt some of the known dangers on the way to the canyon. Their employer, Urum ath Wo, is pleased because he has been unable to find a guide. He bids them bed down near the animals and heads off for better accommodations.

That night, while Eowen is on watch, she discovers two masked elves attacking some of the merchants in the party in their sleep. She sounds an alarm, and Egon and Keeb-Raa join the fight. They kill one assassin, but the other runs away. Eowen gives chase, but looses him in the twisting passages of the ancient structure.

Keeb-Raa manages to use his healing magics to stabilize the wounded merchant.