Friday, March 29, 2019

Dungeons of High Camp Revisited

Art by Jim Holloway

This is an update to a post from 2017, originally conceived as I was reading Hero A Go-Go by Michael Eury. That book chronicles superhero comics' response (and influence on) 1960s camp pop culture. It's a combination that didn't always work well; many of the works now seem more goofy kitsch perhaps, and some are really just unfunny parody of superheroes. Still, when it works there is a certain charm to a lot of folks, as the revival comics Batman '66 and Wonder Woman '77 indicate.

I wonder why there hasn't been as much of a concerted attempt at published camp works for Dungeons & Dragons? Certainly, farcical humor abounds at the gaming table, and a number of comedic adventures have been written (a lot illustrated by Jim Holloway), in fact a couple of my Hydra colleagues have been taken to task for humorous elements in their work. There are, of course, humorous illustrations in the older AD&D books. But as far as I know, there has never been a camp setting or camp-informed setting--unless maybe HackMaster counts? Maybe it's just too difficult an approach to sustain well throughout a written project?

I should back up a bit here and define what I mean by "camp," since it's not a term with a universal, clear definition. What I mean in this case, is not the farce or cheese, but a sort of knowing amusement. An "engaged irony." As Isherwood would have it: "you’re not making fun of it; you’re making fun out of it." The "it" in our case being elfgames.

The settings of some OSR-related folks seem to me to have elements of camp without going all-in: Jason Sholtis' Operation Unfathomable, Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons, some of Jeff Reints stuff, and my own Mortzengersturm. Dungeon Crawl Classics with its "airbrushed wizard van" elements could be taken as camp, but I'm unsure whether that is the intention.

Art by Jim Holloway

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Armchair Planet Who's Who

I haven't posted an update on this in a while. The project is still on-going, it's just been moving slower of late due to real life stuff for both myself and my collaborator. Here's another piece of art for it, though: another look at Futura by Julian Shaw.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Some Things I Read

Moving as left me no time for reading Storm, so his adventures will have to wait a little longer. Instead, here's the rundown on some stuff I read recently:
Spider-Man: Life Story 1: The 60s
Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley begin the story of Peter Parker's life as Spider-Man, if it hadn't been untethered from the era in which it was written and proceeded in real time. As readers of my Omiverse essays have likely guessed, this is the sort of thing I like. The first issue didn't wow me, but it was competent, and I'm on board. There are hints that it may develop into a fairly different Marvel Universe along the lines of the differences to the DC universe seen in the similar DC New Frontiers or maybe even as variant as Batman & Superman: Generations. We'll see.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #2
I mentioned issue #1 of this here. I admit after the clever first issue, I expected issue #2 would start getting down to brass-tacks superheroics of dealing with the "evil" (we assume) Not-Ozymandias-But-Peter-Cannon of the alternate Earth, but nope, Gillen chooses to go full Morrison, with characters entering (and breaking) the nine panel grid like it was  a magic circle. I want to say it was a bit too clever for its own good, but maybe its because I was expecting it to do what it did. Regardless, they have on board for next issue.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Just Another Omniverse Monday

Gameroom in Progress.
I spent most of my weekend packing books and assembling a new gaming table, so all I've got for you today is two new previously only available on Google Plus Omniverse posts.

These delve into the lesser known periods: the secret vigilante past of the future Commissioner Gordon of Gotham and the heroes who combated the monster surge of the 1950s, the Monster Hunters.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Maps of Inner Space

I posted these maps/diagrams from Marvel's Micronauts before, but it has been a few years. They're always good for a gander...

Here's the Homeworld of the Micronauts:

And here's the insides of their ship, Endeavor.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Weird Revisited: Celluloid Rocketship

This post was originally from 2013. It doesn't related to any of my recent Solar System speculations, pulpy or otherwise, though of course it could. He bared repeating for Lester B. Portly's animated title...

By the mid-thirties, the major film studios were all exploiting the public’s interest in the exotic worlds of the solar system. Of all the one-reel travelogue series produced, perhaps none was more popular than The Rocketship of Movietone, debuted in 1931.

Several of the earliest films dealt with Venus. “Giants of the Jungle” focused on the exotic and dangerous Venusian saurians. In early 1932, “Lost Cities of Venus” used footage from the Markheim survey expedition's dangerous foray into one of the ruins of the ancients.

Of course, Mars figures prominently in the early subjects. The low canal markets and bazaars were featured. Another dealt with the desert tribes--though the tragic fate of the expedition that provided the footage was wisely kept from the movie-going public.

While the initial run of films dealt predominantly with the inner worlds and their satellites, one was made from footage shot by one of the earliest commercial missions to Ganymede. While the footage is limited (still photos had to be used at times) and of lower quality than what was coming from film crews on Mars or Venus, it did give the public their first view of the eerie necropolises of that cold and distant moon.

More than one spaceman of the fifties and sixties sited these early Rocketship of Movietone films as an important influence on their lives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Classic Star Wars: Devilworlds #1-2

If you ever wondered what an Alan Moore Star Wars story would be like, this two issue limited series from Dark Horse (and released in digital format by the current licenseholders, Marvel) will be enlightening. Devilworlds reprints stories from various Marvel UK titles from 1982.  Besides Alan Moore, it features work by the likes of Steve Moore, Steve Parkhouse and Alan Davis.

The stories don't quite feel like Star Wars--or at least, don't feel like Star Wars of 2018 or even 1999. How they would have read in 1982, when there were only two films and a Christmas Special, who can say? Today, they feel much more like stories from 2000AD archives or Doctor Who Magazine, which isn't surprising given the writers did work for those titles.

Allow me a couple of spoilers to illustrate. In "Rust Never Sleeps" Artoo and Threepio end up on the Imperial junk planet of Ronyards, and encounter a droid cult that worships a scrap god. In "Tilotny Throws a Shape" (with art by John Stokes) Princess Leia and a group of pursuing Stormtroopers have a strange encounter with group of extradimensional or spirit beings (they would be a good portrayal of the Fair Folk in Exalted) who have vague grasp of the concepts of matter and time.

If this sounds like the sort of off-kilter Star Wars you can tolerate, then you'll be glad to know the issues are a mere 1.99 each on Comixology.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Days of Azurth Future Past

art by Jason Sholtis
Deposited in the future by the whim of the wizard, Phosporo, the party in our 5e Land of Azurth game, found Rivertown in ruins and Castle Machina again mobile and stalking the land. What's more the Toad Temple--the Frog Temple in this time-- could be seen in the distance and was painted a brownish orange and had a decidedly friendly cast about it.

It was all very strange, but the party had a job to do. They went searching for the ruins of the Dove Inn to find their Armoire of Holding and the Book of Doors contained therein to get Phosphoro off their back. On their way there, they encountered a sleeping young man in strange clothes. He wasn't sure if Azurth was real, or even if he was real. There seemed to be some gaps in his memory. He knew he was a member of something called "the Golden Dawn" and that his name was "Roderick Drue." He remembered an old man had sent him here--or maybe it was the opium he had smoked. He recalled a place he had been, called the World Exposition.

The party didn't know what to make of any of this, but they allowed him to accompany them. They arrived at the ruin of the Dove Inn to find their armoire likely buried in rubble. (The presence of something was confirmed by detect magic.) Before they could begin searching, there were gibbering voices and something protoplasmic rose from the debris and coalesced into a spheroid in front of them.

Its eldritch gibbering paralyzed the group for some time. Its many mouths bit them, and its eyes blasted them with baleful magic. In the end, they drove it back with Dissonant Whispers and wore it down, until it collapsed into goo. Exhausted, but only mildly harmed (except Erekose who took the brunt of its assault), they began digging into the rubble.

More voices. These belonging to a group of little people who claimed to be from another world. They had taken up residence in the very spacious interior of the armoire. They agreed to turn over the book in exchange for getting to keep everything else. They also related that war had destroyed Rivertown. They suggested the party could find shelter with the benevolent religionists of the Frog Temple.

The party was nervous about doing so, but ultimately did. The rustic beast folk welcomed them warmly. Their frogling leader revealed that they venerate a frogling of the past--Waylon! They also revealed that the war had ultimately been a civil war between the Wizard of Azurth and the Clockwork Princess. They reported the forests were now the domain of a fierce elf called the Dread Queen of House Perilous. The party is sure that this is their own Shade.

Intrigued and troubled by all this, the part stays the night in the temple to consider what to do next!

Through A Superhero Lens

One of the charming (to me) things about Silver Age/Bronze Age comics is that often series with settings and elements of other genres have a superhero veneer. Either the creators though that was what the audience wanted, or that's just the vernacular they were used to expressing themselves in. Define "superhero" elements, you ask? Well, things like code names, secret identities, costumes, costumed villains with themes or motifs, and of course, super-powers. Not all of these are present in every case, of course, and some of the elements were part of the pulp or adventure hero tradition prior to superheroes. By the 60s, though, superheroes were the most conspicuous purveyors of those tropes.

This doesn't just show up in comics. Hanna-Barbera's Mighty Mightor (1967) is just the Captain Marvel (or Shazam for you kids) of the Stone Age. The late 50s and 60s seems to have been the biggest era for this since we got Super-Chief, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Captain Comet during this era, as well as the cartoon characters Space Ghost and Mightor.

By the 70s and 80s, either writers were getting more sophisticated to their approach to other genres or they thought there audience wanted something different. Still, I would argue that some of the fantasy characters of the era (Warlord, Atlas, and Stalker, perhaps?) have traces of this, as do space operas like the Micronauts, and modern/military action like G.I. Joe. Certainly, Masters of the Universe is other-genre supers in spades.

This genre-bending seems to have been mostly ignored in superhero rpgs. There are a few Legion of Super-Hero-esque science fiction supplements, and there are short, sidebar discussions of other genres in places. Warriors & Warlocks for Mutants & Masterminds touches on this for fantasy. Given the number of superhero games and the popularity of other genres in rpgs like fantasy and science fiction or even Westerns, there have been very few.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Maps of Eternia

Check out a couple of the maps put out as posters with the Masters of the Universe Classic line. Plenty of good adventure fodder to be had!

Here's Preternia (get it?):

And for your sci-fi or space opera needs, here's the "Extent of the Horde Empire":

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Random Mercury

Mercury is the least defined of the inner planets in pulp and early sci-fi. Beyond it being tidally locked  (which we've since learned it actually isn't), Mercury had no fixed characteristics, other than being generally more inhospitable than the other planets I've already dealt with: wet Venus or desert Mars. A lot of stories use Mercury for "Man Against Nature" stories, either for survivors of some sort of disaster or rescuers of survivors. But hey, when you've got your own Mercury, you can do what you want with it!Let's randomize:

Problems with Getting There?
1 None
2 Solar Storms (heat, radiation)
3 Magnetic Anomalies

Where’s the Action for Earth Folk?
1 Day Side
2 Twilight Belt
3 Night Side
4 The whole planet

Day Side Life?
1 None
2 Silicon-based lifeforms
3 Insect/Arthopods
4 Energy/Plasma beings
5 Whoever they are, they live underground
6 Alien robots/cyborgs

Earthlings on Day Side?
1-2 Not if they can help it. It’s got lethal heat and radiation with special gear.
3-4 Crazy prospectors in protective domes
5-6 Maverick archeologists after ancient artifacts
7-8 Fearless scientists studying the Sun (or Vulcan!)
9-10 Just robots

The Twilight Belt Terrain:
1 Badlands
2 Mountains, canyons and a cave network
3 Weird, crystalline forest
4 Torrid jungle, wracked by storms

Twilight Belt Life?
1 Hairy humanoid primitives
2 reptilian monsters
3 Plant-like
4 the same sort of beings as Day Side

Earthlings in the Twilight Belt?
1 Criminals hiding out
2 A small, struggling colony
3 Castaways
4 A scientific expedition

Night Side Terrain:
1 Cold, rocky desert
2 Odd crystal formations
3 Ruined Cities (and roll again)
4 Ice

Night Side Life?
1 None
2 Crystalline beings with telepathy
3 Incorporeal ergovores
4 Androids left by ancient inhabitants
5 Viscous, slime-like colonial intelligence
6 Creatures strangely resembling supernatural terrors of Earth legend

Earthlings on the Night Side?
1-2 Not if they can help it. It’s cold, dark, and unexplored.
3-4 Wanted men
5-6 Maverick archaeologists after ancient artifacts
7-8 Survivors from a long-lost rocket crash
9-10 Exploratory robots

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Attack of the Clones Revisited

There's been a lot of Star Wars talk over on my discord channel, so I thought it was a good time to revisit an old post about Star Wars' effect on comic books, even in its first decade. It's perhaps unfair to call the series below clones exactly, but some sort of force is clearly with them.

Since science fiction comics and Star Wars draw on some of the same influences, it's not always easy to know what is Star Wars inspired and what isn't. Chaykin's Ironwolf had a rebel fighting a galactic empire in '74--3 years before Star Wars! Still, if one looks at Chaykin's follow-up, Cody Starbuck,(also '74) the pre-Star Wars appearances have the look of Flash Gordon and the widespread swordplay of Dune. In the post-Star Wars appearances, costumes have a bit more Japanese influence and guns are more in play; both of these are possibly Star Wars inspired innovations.

Star Hunters (1977)
Empire? A sinister Corporation that controls Earth
Rebels? Sort of, though the protagonists start out forced to work for the Corporation
The Force? There's an "Entity" and a cosmic battle between good and evil
Analogs? Donovan Flint, the primary protagonist, is a Han Solo type with a mustache prefiguring Lando's.
Notes: If Star Hunters is indeed Star Wars inspired, its a very early example. The series hit the stands in June of 1977--on a few days over a month after Star Wars was released.

Micronauts (1979)
Empire? A usurpation of the monarchy of Homeworld. So, maybe a lateral move, except for EVIL!
Rebels? Actually previous rulers and loyalists; a mix of humans, humanoids, and robots.
The Force? The Enigma Force, in fact.
Analogs? Baron Karza is a black armored villain like Vader; Marionette is a can-do Princess; Biotron and Microtron are a humanoid robot and a squatter, less humanoid pairing like Threepio and Artoo.

Metamorphosis Odyssey (1980)
Empire? The Zygoteans, who have concurred most of the galaxy.
Rebels? A disparate band from various worlds out to end the Zygotean menace.
The Force? There's Starlin cosmicness.
Analogs? Aknaton is an old mystic who know's he's going to die a la Obi-Wan. He picks up Dreadstar on a backwater planet and gets him an energy sword.

Dreadstar (1982)
Empire? Two: the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
Rebels? Yep. A band of humans and aliens out to defeat the Monarchy and the Instrumentality.
The Force? Magic and psychic abilities.
Analogs? Dreadstar still has than energy sword; Oedi is a farm boy (cat) like Luke; Syzygy is a mystic mentor like Kenobi; Lord High Papal is like Vader and Palpatine in one.
Notes: Dreadstar is a continuation of the story from Metamorphosis Odyssey.

Atari Force (1984)
Empire? Nope.
Rebels? Not especially.
The Force? Some characters have special powers.
Analogs? Tempest is a blond kid with a special power and a difficult relationship with his father sort of like Luke. There are a lot of aliens in the series, so there's a "cantina scene" vibe; Blackjak is a Han Solo-esque rogue. Dark Destroyer is likely Vader-inspired, appearance-wise.
Notes: This series sequel to the original series DC did for Atari, taking place about 25 years later. The first series is not Star Wars-y.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Random Mars

Mars shows less variation that Venus in pulp and old sci-fi sources. Still, not all Marses are alike, so you deserve your own unique yet very derivative one! Let the randomizing commence:

Basic Theme:
1-2 Dying - The world is desiccating and civilization is trying to stop it/adapt to it. 
3-4 Worn Out - It lost the planet formation lottery and is a dried up, "failed earth." Civilization is of any sort
5-6 Doomed - The world is drying up, and civilization is too decadent to care.

Atmospheric Density:
1-2 Complete breathable
3-4 Anyone not from the Andes or Himalayas will need to acclimate
5-6 Earth folk need oxygen

1-2 Like Southern California
3-4 Gobi Desert Spring in the day, Gobi Desert winter at night
4-5 Artic Circle

1-2 Poles and canals only
3-4 Nothing above ground, no canals
5-6 Some shallow seasonal wetlands where once were mighty seas

Dying World Civilization:
1 Wise and Noble but tinged with Melancholy
2 Overly Cerebral
3 Passionate and Vibrant but Tradition-bound and/or Factionalized
4 Post-technological
5 Post-sophont
6 Only the Robots are Left

Decadent Civilization:
1 Atavistic; Fallen into Primitivism
2 Withered bodies, minds consumed with the distant and abstract
3 Devoted entirely to bloodsports and other dubious pleasures
4 Consumed by meaningless sectarian struggle
5 Enslaved by something
6 Destroyed by war, with few mutated survivors

What do Earthmen Want?
1 More room
2 Drug Tourism
3 Ancient Technology
4 Powers of the Mind

Friday, March 8, 2019

Random Venus

Modern science tells us Venus is a hellscape resulting from runaway greenhouse effect, but that was not always the way we imagined it to be. Early sci-fi and pulp sci-fi Venus was general assumed to be verdant under its eternal cloud cover. Sure, even before space probes spoiled all the fun, Venus had already been conceived of as a harsh desert wracked by storm (see Anderson's "Big Rain"), but mostly it's drippy jungles.

That still leaves a lot of variation. Here are some random charts to make your own pulp Venus or similar worlds:

Basic Terrain:
1-2 Oceanic
3-4 Desert
5-6 Jungle
7-8 Swampy/Low-lying
9-10 Tidally Locked (as seen in Weinbaum's "Parasite Planet."  Dayside is a desert and nightside is frozen. Action's in the Terminator)

Basic Theme (probably applies to anything but desert, but up to you)
1 Eden - Almost too pleasant and inviting
2 Primeval - Like Earth in an earlier age, perhaps the Mesozoic or Triassic?
3 Hostile - Too hot, too wet, too fecund, too alien. Humankind finds it tough. Roll below.
4 Hell - Like hostile turned up all the way. Roll Below.

Why So Inhospitable?
1 Endless Rain (Bradbury, "Death-By-Rain")
2 Parasitic Life
3 Horrible Storms
4 Giant Monsters
5 Everything Wants to Eat You
6 The Natives Have a Horrible Secret

Dominant Lifeform
1 Reptilian* (includes Dinosaurs in the pulp era)
2 Amphibian
3 Plant/Fungal
4 Icthyoid
5 Humanoid
6 Hyper-evolved - brain things/energy creatures

One Notable Thing
1 Gaseous Sea
2 Alluring Slave Girls/Guys
3 Rare Element
4 Mysterious Artifact
5 Giant Trees
6 Ancient Ruins
add your own!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

More Omniverse


Two new (old) Omniverse posts from Google+ were released today. Give her movie opening this weekend, Captain Marvel (or Ms. Marvel) gets her due in "This Woman, This Warrior," and just out of February, I examine the birthdays of both Superman and the original Captain Marvel in "Leap Day."

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday Comics: Things I Read Recently

Classic Star Wars
From 1981-84, the Star Wars newspaper comic strip was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson. I am a big fan of Williamson particularly with sci-fi, and these stories, while hardly standouts, are serviceable, and will make you nostalgic for the days before Star Wars became a genre unto itself with an immense backstory.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1
You know, of course, that Alan Moore had at one point pitched the idea of that would become Watchmen using the characters DC had acquire from Charlton Comics. One of those was Peter Cannon aka Thunderbolt, who was the initial inspiration for Ozymandias. Morrison used the Charlton characters in a way that referenced Watchmen in Multiversity, by DC had lost the rights to Peter Cannon by that time.  Enter Dynamite and Kieron Gillen, who (mild spoilers) pits one version of Peter Cannon against another, with the fate of the world at stake.

Martian Manhunter #3
I keep telling you this is good.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Off-Worlder Funnel

The person from another world arriving in fantasyland is a genre staple. Typically, these off-worlders, whether they be John Carter on Mars or the kids from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, have some sort of edge that gives them a fighting chance or better in their new environment. But what if that wasn't the case? What if they were as unprepared as the survivors in zombie apocalypse fiction?

The death rate would be pretty high, particularly if you drop them in a typical D&D world and allow for the almost absurd horrors of the dungeoncrawl. It would be an interesting way to do a DCC-esque funnel with starting characters other than the usual suspects.

Here's another image of regular folks dying tragicomic deaths from "Planet of the Damned" in Starlord #2 (1978).

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Martian Froniter

A Martian farmhand
To many a colonist of Mars, it might seem that if there is a bright center of Solar civilization in the days of the Empire, the deserts of Mars are far from. Sodbusters and homesteaders came in with the promise of free land, but the arid land and rarefied air don't make it easy.

Strange monuments, pyramids, and the occasional ruin reveal the existence of a Martian civilization of the past, when it was perhaps a greener world. Historians are divided over whether any of the current inhabitants are related to these ancient people. The gangly limbed, barrel-chested Sand People of the deep desert that raid Earther settlements, show no cultural interest in the old places and are as ignorant of the ancient hieroglyphs as they would be the mating habits of a Venusian dracosaur. The rodentine scrappers with their crawling junkyards seem no better adapted to the Martian environment that humans.

The Amos Isley Spaceport (named for one of the early rocket barons of the Red Planet) is as raucous as most of the other farm town settlements are quiet. Many a being with a price on its head ends up hiding out here, and in fact, interplanetary criminal gangs are known to have hideouts in the Martian wastes.