Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1980 (wk 1, pt 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of June 12, 1980. 

Secrets of Haunted House #28: I don't understand the ending to the first story by Kelley and Rubeny. A Hollywood agent plans to jumpstart his career by pulling a recluse former star out of retirement. On the way to get the star back in the game, the two are in a car wreck and the star dies. Luckily, an island shaman shows up and offers to revive the star, but it will require another life in his place. One assistant's demise later, the star is ready for his close up. Trouble is, it takes periodic deaths to keep him alive. Eventually the agent tires of all this and goes back to the shaman to beg him to end the star's life. Twist! The shaman is in cahoots with the star, and it's the agent that meets his end. But why? It was established previously that just not killing for him would lead to the star dying. 

Next, Barr and Cruz give us a hillbilly Romeo and Juliet among feuding mountain families, except there's also a corrupt revenuer framing them for making moonshine. Ultimately, the apparition of a burning man (in this case the revenuer, on fire) is just the omen the families need to bury the hatchet and have themselves a wedding! The last story, by Kelley and Carrillo in the most EC-like of this issue. A bullied, young warehouse worker loses his tormentors to something in a deep freeze. When forced to confront it himself, he finds a vampire that he dispatches through quick thinking.

Superman #351: This continues Conway's and Swan's story of the fallout from Prof. Tolkein (not that one) demonstrating his "genesis machine," and instead empowering some sort of creature from the subconscious. If this were a Marvel Comic of the era, the creature would be wrecking all kinds of havoc, and though it does fight Superman, there isn't really a sense of danger to it. Lana talks with Tolkein to piece together what happened, and it turns out he tried to create a psychic circuit from the minds of students (without their consent) back a decade ago, and re-activated it to power the genesis machine at the reunion. The trouble is, the circuit didn't work right because Clark Kent wasn't a part. He's immune to hypnosis, naturally. Once this is revealed, Superman joins the circuit, allowing it to discharge safely. Everyone's mind is sort of reset, so none of the participants remember what happened. 

In the backup story, written by Denny O'Neil Mr. Mxyzptlk causes trouble at a circus, and Superman has to fill in to keep the performances going for the kids. In the end, Mxyzptlk is undone by one of the children's favorite toy, a tape recorder. This is lightweight, but fun and has Garcia-Lopez art.

Superman Family #203: I will say this for this title, it makes the members of the Superman Family seem more interesting to me than they have historically. I wouldn't say I'm eager to read about their exploits, but it does make Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen more worthwhile as characters. Harris and Mortimer/Colletta provide the Supergirl story this issue, which is more horrific to me than what they intended. A young woman who has been in a coma for 7 years (miraculously thriving, though she doesn't eat) suddenly wakes up and thinks she's Supergirl. And she has the powers to prove it. X-kryptonite is the culprit and the woman got exposed to it at Supergirl's crash site. There's some nonsense with an industrial spy who Supergirl deals with, but tragedy of the woman who lost her childhood  after contact with an alien technology is sort of glossed over, focusing on the reuniting of the family rather than the loss. Tales from the Loop made whole downer episodes from that sort of material!

Next Bridwell and Tuska treat us to a really trivial Mr. and Mrs. Superman story where Lana Lang arrives at the Daily Star and gets a job as a tv critic. After a poison pen review, a tv writer tries to kill her (and Lois) in an elevator. I'm uncertain when this story is suppose to take place. I would have guessed the 70s based on the fashion, but Earth-2 Clark and Lois are still pretty young, and TV seems to be in black and white. The early 60s maybe? The Clark Kent story by Rozakis and Janes has Clark helping a movie star whose developed the power to predict disasters. "Helping" in this case means convincing her she really doesn't have the power anymore, so then she really doesn't? 

Rounding out the issue, we have Lois and Jimmy stories. In Wolfman's and Oksner's Lois Lane piece, Lois is captured due to a trick elevator (bad elevators are a theme). A deprogrammer with a high tech apparatus steals her memories for some shadowy someone. Before they can kill her, she escapes. Suffering from amnesia she meets a widower haunted by the past, and they have a whirlwind romance-- Before goons show up to try to kill her. To be continued. Jimmy Olsen overhears a plot to kidnap a congressional candidate, but he has a hard time getting anyone to believe him, particularly after the criminals feed him false information to discredit him. Ultimately, it's revealed that the candidate too good to be true is really in league with the criminal element, and Jimmy has a target on his back.

Weird War Tales #91: I'm a bit surprised by the first story here because it's about the U.S. (conventional) bombing of Japan in WWII, and it takes a critical view. I wouldn't have expected that in a kid's comic in 1980. JM DeMatteis and Ernesto Patricio present a sadistic bomber captain, a young Japanese boy with pyrokinetic powers, and the war-weary bomber crewman that somehow helps facilitate the boy's revenge for the loss of his family. It's only marred by the narrator hitting us over the head with the fact that all the principles died, both righteous and wicked, because "this is war--where their is no justice--no happy ending--only death!"

The next story by Bernstein and Ayers and Adkins is much more standard issue. Some Italian soldiers decide they're done with the Germans and seek to surrender to the Allies. The Germans don't take too kindly to that and pursue them into the catacombs to kill them. Ancient Roman bones rise up to defend their descendants. In the next yarn, Haney, abetted by Sutton's intricate art weaves the tale of the doom of Harold, the Norman Invasion, and a certain comet. Finally, a futuristic tale of prejudice that I think I may have seen as a kid. Kupperberg and Ayers/Celardo present a post-apocalyptic world where "muties" with skins like California raisins are mistreated by a racist soldier--until he is cast down after his wife bears a mutant child, thanks to the mutants placing a source of radiation under his bed. Seems like neither side takes the high ground here. The future is like a weird mix of cod Roman Empire and modern day which the art fails to sell.

Wonder Woman #270: I'll be brief with this Conway/Delbo reset. Diana saves Steve Trevor's life, again (not the one from her Earth than had died, but another one). Then, she wins the right to be Wonder Woman again in a competition. Then, she leaves with Steve Trevor again for Man's World. Years of continuity dumped with no fuss, no bother. There's a backup story starring the Huntress by Levitz and Staton which isn't bad.

Two digests the first half of June: Best of DC #7 focused on Superboy and DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #4 full of Green Lantern stories.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Weird Revisited: Zone Commandos!

The original version of this post appeared in 2017.


THE SETUP: In 1985, a deep space probe returns to Earth after being thought lost in a spacetime anomaly. It returns to Earth, dropping otherworldly debris in its wake. Across the globe, zones on anomalous phenomena and monstrous creatures are created!

Twenty years later, only special UN troops stand between humanity and the destruction of civilization as we know it!

It’s Roadside Picnic meets 50s monster and sci-fi movies/kaiju and 60-70s action figures like G.I. Adventure Team and Big Jim.

THE HEROES are mostly buzz cut military men like the MARS Patrol but with code names and personalities more like 80s G.I. Joe. Their ranks many be augmented by beings that appeared from an anomaly (Kirby-esque amazons, aliens) or people enhanced by barely understood and dangerous technology acquired from them (Atomic Man, THUNDER Agent sorts)

THE DANGERS are strange environments, monsters of all sorts of 50s and 60s sorts, from Zanti misfits to human mutates to giant mutant dinosaurs.

This is a refinement/re-imaging of my Rifts 1970 campaign idea, just a little more militarized and more informed by the early 60s.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Mutants of Dark Sun


Under the description of humans in the original Dark Sun campaign setting it's noted that:

On Athas, centuries of abusive magic have not only scarred the landscape—they've twisted the essence of human appearance, as well. Many humans in Dark Sun look normal... Others, however, have marked alterations to their appearance. Their facial features might be slightly bizarre; a large chin or nose, pointed ears, no facial hair, etc. Their coloration might be subtly different, such as coppery, golden brown, hues of grey, or patchy. The differences may be more physical, such as webbed toes or fingers, longer or snorter limbs, etc. 

This interesting tidbit doesn't really get much play in the rest of the 2nd edition version of Dark Sun. The revised campaign setting doesn't mention it at all. The 4e campaign setting does not that Athasian humans have unusual traits and exaggerated features, but it only hazards that it might be the effects of the magic that brought ruin to the land.

This might not count as minor

I think this is a feature that enhances the post-apocalyptic element of Dark Sun and further plays into the theme of magic as ecologically ruinous. It would be particularly good way to set apart the tribes of the wastes or hinterlands from the people of the cities. Perhaps some prejudice exists against those too tainted in some city-states? (It would fit with their generally oppressive, slaveholding, heavy-stratified nature.)

In any case, it gives us an excuse for an array of Masters of the Universe or Carcosa style people with unnatural skin tones, a variety of Star Trek alien foreheards/ear shapes and the like.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Dark Sun: Sorcerer-King Ascension

 "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat."
- Job 30:29-30

One thing I forgot to touch on in my last Dark Sun post--and it's a key trait of the Sorcerer-Kings--is their transhuman state. The first box set gives us very little on this, other than it's references to the dragon, but by the time of Dragon Kings, it is established that all defiler mages can potentially walk a path to becoming the monstrous personification of destruction, a dragon. Preservers, it turns out, can become the the mothman-looking avangions.

This is presented somewhat differently in the novels between the first box set and the hardcover. In Crimson Legion, Hamanu appears as a leonine creature. In Amber Enchantress, Nibenay is sort of immense arthropod-type monstrosity. Later works will suggest Hamanu can appear however he wishes and retcon Nibenay to having a dragon-type form. 

Admittedly, there is room to interpret their appearances in the novels as not their actual forms. They are mighty sorcerers and psionicists, after all. It seems just as likely to me, though, that the original plan was to have every Sorcerer-King have a unique transformation. In any case, there's nothing stopping me from running with that idea, whatever their intention. Maybe they're all going to be "dragons" (so as not to change the terminology), but dragon is a broader class of forms than a single, reptilian-humanoid body plan? It certainly dovetails with the elements I want to emphasize to look at it that way.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1980 (wk 1, part 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 June 12, 1980. 

Now that I've "caught up" with the same month all back in 1980, I'm going to slow down my pace, keeping it in line as much as possible with release dates. Also, I won't have to read as many comics a week!

Batman #327: Great Kubert cover here. This issue continues the Professor Milo secretly controlling Arkham plotline from last issue. Maybe I've gotten too used to modern comics pacing, but it feels like (given we had a whole issue of setup) this storyline should have at least run 3 issues. But no, Wein and Novick resolve it here. The guy we saw getting sent to Arkham last issue turns out to be Batman undercover. He doesn't realize that Milo has cameras in the rooms, though, so he's busted. We get one of those "try to drive the hero crazy" bits were Milo tries to convince Batman he isn't really Batman. The Dark Knight falls for this all too quickly even though he knows he's been drugged, but then seeing his enlarged pupils in a mirror reminds him, and he instantly shakes it off. Milo, of course, falls prey to his own insanity causing drug.

There's a backup Batman and Robin story by Mike Barr with art by Dick Giordano and Steve Mitchell. Batman calls Robin "chum" in the way he does in Barr's Detective run later in the 80s, so he's consistent with that mildly 60s throwback characterization. The action of the story takes place on a train, but in the two days since I've read it, I've forgotten pretty much everything else.

DC Comics Presents #25: Not unlike the Batman/Deadman team-up from last month, this Superman/Phantom Stranger team-up isn't really much of actual team-up. A cover blurb tells us that "the fate of Jon Ross is revealed"--Jon Ross being Pete Ross's son. Apparently Levitz and Dillin are revisiting the events of DC Comics Presents #13-14. Pete is in a asylum tearing up pictures of Superman after the hero and (and his childhood friend) failed to rescue his son who was kidnapped by aliens. Phantom Stranger narrates all this to us as his wont. Anyway, Superman didn't rescue Jon because the Legion told him the future depended on him not doing it. Superman feels really bad and is having attacks of intense pain. Phantom Stranger shows up to give Supes a pep talk and tell him not to give up, but he also goes and fights his old nemesis Tala who has been using a witch to manipulate Superman in hopes of acquiring his soul. While he's busy there, the combined effect of the enigmatic pronouncements of the Stranger and Lois really laying into Clark snap him out of his funk. He goes and rescues Jon fairly easily. As soon as father and son are reunited, Pete's madness evaporates. 

The backup story here is the first of a pretty fondly remembered series in some circles: "What Ever Happened to..." In this case, it's Hourman, as presented by Rozakis and Charles Nicholas. It's really just Hourman coming back for an adventure after retirement, so not the most auspicious start.

Flash #289: It turns out the original Al Desmond (as opposed to his "astral clone") is one of the good guys now after all, which really isn't much of a surprise despite Bates wanting to play it coy. He and the Flash team-up indirectly to defeat the evil Al Desmond. There are several wrong things said about elements in this story ("titanium is one of heaviest elements known") and fictional substances are presented as real ("cavorite") but hey, it's entertainment not education. In the epilogue, we see Barry Allen's attractive but unfriendly neighbor claiming he intends to kill her!

The backup story by Conway and Perez/Tanghal stars Firestorm. Ronnie decides its time to finally tell Stein what's going on, instead of letting the poor guy think he's going crazy with all these memory lapses, which is an excuse for a retelling of their origin.

Ghosts #92: The first story Wessler and Nicholas has a reporter character as a narrator as if he's somebody we have seen before, but I don't think we have. Anyway, the yarn's ultimately about a P.I. trying to help his murderous clients get rid of the ghost haunting them. Instead, the exorcism he commissioned gets rid of the clients themselves and now the ghost is haunting him. In "Unburied Phantoms," Kashdan and Henson bring to light the perils of a career in construction--if you happen to be an ex-Nazi war criminal who buried people you murdered in a shallow grave. Kashdan (this time with Newton) also brings us the next tale, where a rich guy with gambling debts tries playing Scooby-Doo villain to keep some Americans from buying his ancestral home only to die by accident and become a real ghost. The last story features an actor haunted by the ghost of his twin who's threatening to steal his life if he doesn't murder the twin's ex-lover. It's a different spin, at least.

Jonah Hex #40: Fleischer's story recalls the plotting of some Western TV shows of the the 60s, where the titular character gets less "screentime" than a new character who the episode focuses on. In this case, it's a rainmaker named Cal, who is actually a fraud and a thief. He eludes Hex, kills his criminal confederates, and will probably get credit for the rains coming at last, but ends up in the hands of the vengeful Paiutes he cheated at the beginning of the story. Don Speigle's Hex is more handsome than most, but it's still always a pleasure to see his art.

The backup story stars Scalphunter, a man without a title since Weird Western Tales was cancelled out from under him. In the first part of this tale by Conway, Ayers and Tanghal, he's attacked by a crazed white man, but then saves the man's life in some rapids. The guy then tries to steal his horse. Scalphunter has the patience of a saint, is all I can say.

Justice League of America #182: Conway and Dillin pick up right after the end of last issue with Green Arrow walking the streets of Star City, doing a little light crimefighting as he ruminates on why he quit the JLA. He gets teleported back to the satellite to explain to to his former teammates why he left the team, because they didn't find the reasons he gave sufficient. He refuses to talk, and they refuse to send him back to Earth. While the most powerful superheroes on Earth are acting like adolescents, we learn that Felix Faust is reformed (following primal scream therapy in prison. Seriously!) and is working as a librarian in Star City. He still, weirdly, wears his supervillain outfit. In going about his duties, he gets possessed by the spirit of a legendary warlock, Nostromus, when he opens an ancient tome. Faust's spirit contacts the JLA for aid. Everyone but Arrow and Canary run off the Europe to stop the warlock from reviving his old, entombed body. The possessed Faust's elemental powers defeat them, and he's about to complete the ritual, when Green Arrow shows up and puts an arrow through the book, ending the whole thing. He's still leaving the League, though, and he and Black Canary split up because she wants to stay. I guess Ollie can't even date a League member? Anyway, Conway seems to like Green Arrow a lot--we get two stories in a row where he saves the day--but at the same time he seems to be trying to get him off the team. 

The Elongated Man backup (guest starring Hawkman and Hawkgirl) by Kupperberg and Rodreguez is easily the best of the week. A charming little story with an amusing ending, and nice artwork by Rodreguez who is a dab hand at a women in bikinis, but also gives more than equal screen-time to Carter Hall in a speedo. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Star Trek Endeavour: The Lost Ranger

A continuing campaign in Star Trek Adventures...

Episode 5:
"Agents of Influence [part 2]"
Player Characters: 
The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Engineer 
Gina as Cmdr. Isabella Hale, Helm Chief
Eric As Lt.Cmdr. Tavek, Science Officer
Jason as Lt. Francisco Otomo, Chief Security Officer
and guest starring the crew of  USS Ranger
Aaron as Lt.(jg.) Cayson Randolph, Operations
Andrea as Capt. Ada Greer
Paul as Cmdr. D.K. Mohan, Chief Helmsman

Supporting Cast:
Lt. Cmdr. Galv, Chief Engineer, Ranger
Lt. Leopold, Communications Officer, Ranger
Lt. T'Sar, Science Officer, Ranger

Synposis: Continued from last session! In a flashback, we learn how the Ranger crew limped away from the encounter with the Klingon ship--and the mysterious energy force that destroyed both ships to take refugee in a deep crater. They set up a modified circle of sensor buoys to attempt to keep tabs on the outside world, but they are unaware a malfunction in one of them (a roll of a Complication in setting them up) caused one of them to broadcast a signal. 

Even worse, someone within the Ranger broadcasts a signal to the Klingons, telling them "the traitors" (i.e. the surgically altered spies) are on board. After that the untimely malfunction of one of the impulse engines begins to look like sabotage.

Both of these events have a silver lining, however, because they allow the Endeavour team, posing as smugglers in a J-Class shuttle to zero in on Ranger's location. They arrive just in time. The Orion ship that Endeavor's team encountered earlier appears to have spotted the sensor buoy array, too. They retreat, but then come back with extra ships to attempt a boarding action.

As the Starfleet crews prepare for the assault, Lt. Greer of Endeavour and Galv try to fix the impulse engine--only to have the saboteur reveal himself by disintegrating Galv!

Commentary: Continuing the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dayton Ward. This was a crossover of the two Star Trek Adventure groups, and I think it worked reasonably well.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Dark Sun: City-States and Sorcer-Kings

art by Alcatena

The main action of the first Dark Sun material is set in the Tyr Region, also called the Tablelands. This is an area a bit bigger than the land area of Britain or a bit smaller than the land area of Colorado, for comparison. There are seven city-states, each (at least in the beginning) ruled by a Sorcerer-King.

Thinking about revising Dark Sun with the elements I mentioned before in mind, but also with any eye to the setting's inspirations, I find the Tyr region a little bland. Each of the city-states has a real world culture as inspiration (sometimes maybe a mashup of two), which gives you a bit more of a hook than just generic D&D Sword & sorcery city-states, true, but I think we can do better--at least in terms of my stated goals.

Here I would look to Planetary Romance, as it's a genre full of city-states separated by desert: Mars/Barsoom and Llarn (from two Gardner Fox novels) come to mind, but there are lot of others, and we don't need to limit ourselves to inspiration from only desert planet planetary romance. What these stories typically portray are cities at once more homogenous and more flavorful than Dark Sun's as presented. 

Most Planetary Romance takes place in a cultural region sometimes covering a whole planet. The cities in that region mostly have the same political arrangements, speak the same language, and have a consistent material culture. In order to make then distinct (and interesting places for adventure), they tend to have one unusual thing about them. It could be one of the things I mentioned above is slightly different or it could be the pursuit of some exotic pastime, a cultural eccentricity, an exotic terrain/natural resource or something physically about its people. (Flash Gordon and Mad Max: Fury Road represent the extreme end of this, perhaps, with polities that are essentially themed.) The more flavorful unique elements, of course, tend to be on the fantastic side rather than the mundane. My post on the Sword & Planet setting of Zarthoon illustrates this, though it leans a little in the Flash Gordon direction. Still, it gives you the idea.

This game in Storm is one of those unique elements

Dark Sun at once makes the cities a bit distinct in terms of mundane details, not they are mostly liking that hook--a fantastic element to spur adventure. The Dark Sun cities in most cases don't have a high concept thumbnail description, unless you reference what real world culture inspired them.

The description of the Sorcerer-Kings themselves is part of the problem. A bit more "wizard from Thundarr" vibe would certainly help, I think. There is a transhuman aspect to what the what the Sorcerer-Kings are after, so I feel like they should, at least in some cases, feel like they are moving away from human a bit. maybe?

So from this perspective, I plan to take a look at the city-states in upcoming posts.

Friday, June 4, 2021

DC, August 1980 (part 2)

My mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around May 22, 1980.

Action Comics #510: Again Bates and Swan deliver a story where at least it's hard to predict where they might be going. Luthor gives up on an opportunity to assassinate his foe for the sake of the mysterious woman Superman just rescued. He appears to have gone straight due to his new found infatuation with this woman--well, except for kidnapping her then performing supposedly life-saving surgery without her consent. That stuff she doesn't appear to mind. Where is Bates going with all this? We must wait until next issue.

Adventure Comics #474: House ads promise Aquaman is coming next issue. Maybe that will shake things up. Starman takes on some robots with a roller ball in place of feet which have a goofy charm. Ditko also gives us some good retro sci-fi aliens and costumes. Plastic Man has the criminal mastermind Archie Type putting a hit out on our hero. A bunch of pun-named assassins come after him. It's sort of fun. I might like this better if it was in a collection of its own, so I could get into its comedic vibe.

Brave & the Bold #165: Man-Bat and his wife are desperate parents trying to get ahold of an experimental South American drug that may treat their daughter's potentially fatal insomnia. Batman intervenes because the drug is being smuggled in by an unscrupulous doctor and may be tainted with botulism. Pasko has Batman initially unwilling to share information and come on heavy-handed to contrive a fight between him and Man-Bat. The issue ends with Man-Bat swearing vengeance against Batman should his daughter die, which is a pretty unusual ending for a team-up book, I feel like.

Detective Comics #493: Burkett and Newton bring us a Batman/Riddler story that seems to have been sponsored by the Houston Bureau of Tourism. Batman lands at Hobby to team up with the Vigilante's nephew, the Swashbuckler (who I'm guessing didn't have many appearances), then he gets to visit Astroworld. In the normally nonsuper-powered-lead-character Tales of Gotham feature, Red Tornado follows an elderly black lady around and gets a taste of life in a poor and stereotypical part of Gotham. Harris and Nicholas bring us their least interesting Robin story yet, but at least we find out who the guy is who has been following Dick Grayson. Wein and Giordano give us a really 70s tale of the Human Target and criminal truckers. Burkett and Delbo continue with Batgirl dealing with the fallout of a couple of issues back. Continuity!

Green Lantern #131: Barr and Staton have Evil Star out to destroy the sun after first making it's light more yellow to thwart GL. Not a bad story, but the second part of the trial of Arkkis Chummuck in the back up is still the most interesting part of the issue to me.

House of Mystery #283: The cover has nothing to do with this issue's contents. The first story by Mayer and Tanghal is really predictable, but satisfying as a life-long swindler and double-crosser believes he's made it into heaven, only to find he's been deceived this time. The second story by Kashdan and Nino might be a parable about not being prejudiced against other cultures, or it could be read as the admonition: if wives would only tell husbands they were trying to save their lives with unorthodox, folk medicine, needless deaths of legitimately suspicious friends could be avoided.

Legion of Super-Heroes #266: Conway and Janes have Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel accidentally unleashing an evil genie. For some reason, Conway thought this plot deserved a two-parter.

New Adventures of Superboy #8: The cover shows Ma Kent at Clark's funeral slapping Superboy--and to my surprise the scene actually occurs in the issue. Bates delivers another mildly intriguing "puzzle" plot as Ma and Pa Kent mysteriously forget Clark is Superboy, leading Superboy to fake Clark's death. To be continued, naturally.

Sgt. Rock #343: The main story could almost be a comedy, though Kanigher and Redondo play it straight. Rock gets a concussion and is out of his head, just as Easy is supposed to be getting a visit from a Colonel who is all about spit and polish. The backup story "Crabs," seems like it scuttled in from a horror comic. Steve Bissette writes and draws this ambiguous tale about an island overrun by the titular creatures and the madness of a G.I. that seems catalyzed by their presence.

Super Friends #35: Romeo Tanghal fills in for Fradon on story involving a circus and imposter heroes. Very kid friendly.

Unexpected #201: The first story here by Skyrenes/Lillian and Heck is a bit Hammer Horror-ish and deals with curse on a haughty noblewoman and dated Romani stereotypes. The second story by Wessler with interesting art by Jim Craig, involves a funhouse where a Hall of Mirrors unleashes evil doppelgangers of people. It's a lot of set-up for little payoff, and I don't understand what happens in the ending.

Unknown Soldier #242: Haney and Ayers have the Soldier sent to stop a secret German plan to cripple Russia. The problem is, the Soviet spy only has half of the plans. The rest are in the hands of the mysterious Russian partisan, the Anvil. It turns out the Anvil is a woman, and the Soviet spy is a double agent. Awesome Kubert cover, but mediocre story.

Untold Legend of Batman #2: The definitive Bronze Age origin of Batman continues courtesy of Wein and Aparo. This time, the focus gets broadened to the supporting cast, giving short origins of Robin, Alfred, the Joker and Two-Face.

Warlord #36: Read more about it here

Weird Western Tales #70: This is the final issue of the title's 59 issue run. It continues the story from last issue with Scalphunter escaping the sadistic sargeant (and taking the woman disguised as a Union soldier with him). Pursued by some of the troops, they make a stand in an ice house, where their cunning gives them the upper hand. Scalphunter rides off into the sunset.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Dials of Dark Sun

While I haven't heard its creators name specific works, it seems clear that the Dark Sun setting draws inspiration from Planetary Romance, Sword & Sorcery, and Post-Apocalyptic media. Paying attention to the features of these (sub)genres, one could "dial" up or down their presence in the game to tailor the setting to a specific experience, without needing to eliminate any one of components entirely.

In considering this, I realized that those three genres actually wind up having quite a bit in common. I've thought of some specific elements that 2 out of the 3 share. (I'll be ignoring similarities between Planetary Romance and S&S, because they are likely genetically related genres.) Before I present my lists, a comment about "post-apocalyptic" in regards to Dark Sun. I suspect DS is mostly inspired by Mad Max and related 80s post-apocalyptic films (The degree to which these films share some aesthetics with barbarian films in the same era in the wake of Milius's Conan, I'm also not going to get into.) I don't think DS draws much from say post-apocalyptic literature of earlier decades or even post-apocalyptic films of the 70s. The similarities I'm going to point out are with this particular Mad Max branch of the genre.

Anyway, here's what I thought of:

Planetary Romance and Post-Apoc
  • Lots of wilderness, most often desert 
  • Isolated, weird communities
  • A mishmash of technology in use
  • Lost technology
S&S and Post-Apoc
  • Outsider, loner, (badass) heroes
  • savagery vs. civilization
  • violence
  • grimness

There are major differences, of course, but it was surprising to me how well they mesh. I think it would be relatively easy to turn up the Planetary Romance by having the city-states of the Tablelands be more like the Red Martian cities of Barsoom, and the technology level of the pre-apocalypse world be higher, without really losing the post-apocalyptic struggle for survival. Alternatively, you could dial down the survival themes are play up the heroic stature of the protagonists without losing any of the other Dark Sun trappings.

There is a fourth dial and that's Dungeons & Dragons. It's probably the reason there is both magic and psionics and certainly the reason there are elves, dwarves, and halflings, different from standard as they are. The need to be marketed as a D&D campaign is probably the source of much of the dissonance in the setting, but on the other hand, a D&D setting is what it is

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wednesday Comics

My continued dive month by month into DC Comics of the early 80s will be delayed owing to the holiday. If you're new to the feature though, you might want to step back and take a look at the offerings with a cover date of January 1980.