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.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Arborean Experience

One of the paradoxes of Chaos is that, whatever the pronouncements of it's Powers and Lords, it is defined by ideas they were only possible when a lack of Unity was manifest in the multiverse. Philosophers have noted that as with Mechanus, the Plane of Law Absolute, there are core paradigms or truths without which the planes of Chaos could not exist. It is the centrality of those truths that separates the border regions of Chaos from the more encompassing Chaos of Limbo.

Arborea is a plane built upon the ideal of sensate experience. Its inhabitants reject any notion that formlessness or nonbeing is equivalent with being, and they reject the shackles on experiences and individual freedom regarding them that Law would forge.

Arborea typically appears as a vast, archetypal forest. Within there are glades or small manors where in the revels take place. These are sometimes open to the view of passersby, sometimes not, and they may be larger internally than they appear; effectively they are subrealms of the plane. Dramas of love, intrigue, daring, and violence, play out within these alcoves, but only among the likeminded who have chosen those experiences. The games are impermanent; diversions lead to no lasting harm, and may be replayed again and again, or abandoned and others taken up instead.

The only crime in Arborea is coercion or the abrogation of choice (unless a participant's choice was to have limited abridgement of choice). Violators of this rule who don't heed a warning are given over to the caprice of the eldarin, who devise a lesson of some sort--which like all the pleasures of Arborea, is not permanent. Habitual violators are barred from the plane.

The Devils are angered by the very existence of Arborea. Its uncoupling of actions from consequences, and the general frivolity and indolence of its inhabitants, make it an frequently cited example of what the cosmos would be like if Chaos got it's way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Wednesday Comics: 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

 The DC 80s review will take this week off, so I can make some suggestions for holiday gift-giving in the comics arena:

Monsters by Barry Windsor-Smith: Windsor-Smith turned a rejected Hulk story idea into a magnum opus about trauma and the horrors of war that just can't seem to stay in the past. It can be tough going given the subject matter, but it's well-worth the effort.

Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean: Follow the adventures of the Norgal, a mighty warrior and the eponymous Head Lopper, as he and his companions take on evil wizards and monsters. Four volumes of this Sword & Sorcery series are available now.

DC Through The 80s: The End of Eras: This is one of two volumes presenting a survey of DC in the early to mid-80s. This one focuses on the era as a time of change. The Moore/Swan "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is here as well as his "Twilight of the Superheroes" pitch, but there's also a grab-bag of other genres--horror, Western, fantasy, and science fiction--that were destined to die away as superheroes solidified their hold at the Big Two.

Marvel Classic Black Light Posters Portfolio: This is a massive (actually poster size) collection of many of Marvel's 70s black light posters, all suitable for framing. It's pricey, true, but a great gift for any Bronze Age Marvel fan.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Cowboy Bebop and the Faithful Adaptation

I've watched one episode of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop. so I could be wrong, but I think I already see how this is going to be. I don't think it's awful, but there are definitely things I'm not fond out.

Watching it brought to mind Rodriguez's first Sin City film. That film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic, down to the composition of shots, but my reaction on first viewing was very different from my reaction to the comic. It felt silly; I was vaguely embarrassed by it. It's not that I missed that Sin City the comic is over-the-top in some ways, and part of that over-the-topness is Miller's dialogue and narration. But when I read it, I get to decide how the characters deliver the lines, and the almost superhero comic level action scenes are just Millerisms to be translated to real world terms. (Much in the same way I know when reading a comic that characters don't have time for long discussion while they trade a couple of lightning quick blows. It's mere convention of the form, not something to be taken literally.) But on the screen their were actors not selling the clunky lines they were saying and all the action was taken all too literally.

Cowboy Bebop came from a cartoon not a comic so it's closer to film, but it's also the product of another culture (and honestly, another era) so maybe that all washes out. The show gets the details right in cosplay sort of way, but it doesn't feel the same. Gone is grubby future and much of the range in tone. The action is similar in prosaic description but what seemed dynamic in the anime feels fairly flat here. It may be less wacky than the cartoon, but then my tolerance for wacky is much less in live action.

Perhaps the biggest disappoint is some of the choices they made. The first episodes of the anime and the live action show have the same basic plot, but are otherwise fairly different. The anime opens with Spike's dream (enigmatic at that point) then goes into spare scenes of the solitary, early morning rituals of Spike and Jet, accompanied by blues harmonica. There is a lonesome feel to this sequence, and there is nothing like it in the live action show, which instead opens with quipy action. The cartoon returns to a bit of this somberness later with Spike's discussion with Katerina. This is also quite different in the live action episode. The show perhaps gets Bebop's silliness right, but misses the anime's mix of tones, except as absolutely requisite to the plot, and then it can't quite land it.

There's also the indication that we will be seeing hints of the Vicious-Spike conflict every single episode. This is no doubt to make a "season arc" fit for a modern streaming show. Cowboy Bebop the anime was structured like old school tv, with "stories of the week." Over-exposing Spike's arc robs it of any sense of slow reveal or discovery and has the potential to make everything else feel secondary.

Anyway, I'll keep watching. The wife likes it, and I've still got the animated series to watch when I want.