Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1980 (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 June 26, 1980.

Legion of Super-Heroes #267: Conway and Janes continue the evil genie storyline. We find out that the genies left Earth to conquer the space long ago but were defeated by the Guardians and placed in bottles. Bouncing Boy realizes he couldn't make the genie return to the bottle before with his wish because the bottle had been destroyed, and genie's are super-literal. Armed with a new bottle, Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel (splitting gives her more wishes) trap the jinn between two wishes he rather not fulfill and trap him in the bottle. The backup story is written by Kupperberg and has rare Legion art by Steve Ditko.

Mystery in Space #111: This revival of a series last published in 1966 is presumably a replacement for Timewarp. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these stories were slated to appear there and just got moved over. The contents are a mixed bag. Brown and Spiegle lead off with an EC-ish tale about murderous aliens who initially appear friendly. The ending gag has the last survivor of the diplomatic envoy trying to warn earth but because he sends the message "collect" it gets rejected. Also good (and EC reminiscent) is a wordless story by Brown and Aparo about a disguised diplomat hiding out among the conquering alien forces. Less good are the stories that remind me of subpar Warren stuff: a story about a time traveling robot and primitive humans, and a gag story about a time traveler getting an overdue tax bill. Then there's a goofy yarn by Barr and Ditko about a ridiculed scholar who steals a time machine to prove "the truth behind fairy tales" only to wind up accidentally manufacturing that truth with his futuristic technology.

New Adventures of Superboy #9: Last issue's mysteries come down to Phantom Zone criminals who are trying to ruin Superboy's life by driving him away from everyone he loves. Ma and Pa Kent manage to break free from the amnesia and hatch a desperate plan to let Superboy know they remember him. It's a weird comic by modern standards because there is never a confrontation between hero and villains.

Sgt. Rock #344: In the main story, Rock and a group of nameless joes are captured and stripped by a group of Germans looking to use their uniforms to infiltrate Easy Company. Only Rock survives and has to make it through the snowy wilderness in his underwear to warn his men. Kanigher and Redondo get creative with these plots, I'll give them that. The four short, uncredited, backup stories in this issue are all bad. 

Super Friends #36: Either Bridwell or Fradon must have been a fan of the Coneheads sketch on Saturday Night Live, because Warhead, the villain of this issue, looks just like one of them. Plastic Man and Woozy also guest star. Most of the issue is Plastic Man causing trouble for the Super Friends. The Wonder Twins backup I actually liked better than the main story. It has art by Tanghal and Colletta and features an astrally projecting. evolved saurian alien inadvertently causing panic by animating dinosaur fossils in a museum.

Unexpected #202: The cover is great, and the first story here has got to be the most disturbing tale I've read in one of these DC horror titles so far. Uslan and Henson present a murderous Easter Bunny out turn the tables on kids by dipping them in chocolate and biting their heads off! The other stories are a giant step down. Palmer and Landgraf/Orlando have a guy selling his an angel. The angel just thinks its funny to have the guy amuse he's obligated himself to the other side all his life and only reveals the true when the guy is on his death bed. Murders in a national park turn out to be committed by, well, all the animals working together in a silly Day of the Animals riff by Seeger and Geroche. 

Unknown Soldier #243: Haney and Ayers pit the "Immortal G.I." against the Vole, a Nazi spymaster who looks a lot like Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The story involves a secret bomb test in Scotland, a fake Loch Ness monster, a capture to deliver false information to the Germans, and a whole lot of changes of location that don't necessarily add up to much. The "Dateline: Frontline" backup written by Burkett with Tothian art by Ric Estrada is okay. The other backup has a Navy frogman battling a giant octopus. The art looks like it could be from a much older comic, but it's by Randall and Janes, so it just looks that way.

Untold Legend of Batman #3: I can't decide if Wein and Aparo's ending here is daring or hokey. But really, why choose? It's both! The mysterious foe out to get Batman is none other than....Bruce Wayne! It seems a blow to the head causes Batman to develop temporary multiple personalities. Or something. Anyway, no visits to a neurologist or long-term therapy necessary as a fight with Robin dressed up in Thomas Wayne's Bat Man costume party outfit cures him. Despite the hard to swallow ending, it's still a good series for a definitive, Bronze Age origin of Batman and his family. There's a map of the Batcave and schematics of bat equipment in the back.

Warlord #37: Read more about it here. It also has an OMAC backup where Starlin continues (and does a bit of retconning) of Kirby's series.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Weird Revisited: Chances Are Walter Velez Has Illustrated Your Game

The original version of this post appeared in 2016, but it's still true today...

Sure, it's the Frazettas and Fabians, or Blanches and Buscemas--or even Elmores and Caldwells whose art fueled most of our gaming imaginations, but at least for my game, the works of George Velez hit a bit closer to what the reality is at the table.

Exhibit A. See that? That's a pudgy wizard running from a dragon that looks like it doesn't have a whole lot of hit points.

This is all the PCs trying to parley with the leader of the NPCs at once.

The fight didn't go exactly how you planned? Quelle surprise.

Hassled by annoying little people? It's been known to happen.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Dark Sun: The Lion of Urik

Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,
he is the hero, born of Uruk...
- The Epic of Gilgamesh

I am Hamanu, King of the World, King of the
Mountains and the Plains, King of Urik, for whom
the roaring winds and the all-mighty sun have decreed
a destiny of heroism...
- Dark Sun Campaign Setting (1991)
Urik's name was no doubt inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian city-state of Uruk. It's Sorcerer-King Hamanu likely got his name and love of law and order from the Babylonian king Hammurabi, but I think his character is a bit more analogous to the Sumerian, mythic hero Gilgamesh. 

Hamanu is the most heroic of the Sorcerer-Kings. Not in the modern sense of being a noble or a fighter for good, though. He is neither. Rather, he is a hero more ancient sense: a doer of mighty deeds. While the Dark Sun campaign setting perhaps intended Hamanu more as a brilliant tactician and military strategist rather than a man of arms, I feel likely he's much more interesting (and differentiated from the other Sorcerer-Kings) if he is a mighty-thewed warrior, imbued with magical might. I envision him something like the titular Exalted of the any edition of the Exalted rpg, or perhaps Solomon David from Kill Six Billion Demons:

A side issue (but an important worldbuilding one, I think): Hamanu's banner. We are told in multiple places that Hamanu's (i.e. Urik's) troops care a "lion banner." The novel The Crimson Legion once describes it as a "lion that walks like a man," but nowhere where else gets this specific. The novel later has Hamanu assuming or projecting a monstrous, leonine form. 

This would suggest Athas, a world with beetle-like draft animals and reptile-bird mounts, has mundane lions. To be fair, Athas has mundane humans, so it's not impossible. It's also possible lions died out back before the cataclysmic times that changed the world from some more typical fantasy setting to its current state and exist now only as semi-mythical heraldic beasts. That's not a bad explanation, but I prefer my Athas to never have been a standard fantasy world, favoring a more Planetary Romance environment. I assume "lion" is a translation--like "Barsoomian lion" is sometimes used for "banth" in Burroughs's Mars series. In fact, I say just choose your favorite depiction of a banth and that's your Athasian lion.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Dark Sun: Tumult in Tyr

In the Dark Sun campaign setting, the city-state of Tyr is presented as on the brink of some drastic change. The Sorcerer-King Kalak has confiscated the slaves of the nobles to build his ziggurat, is taxing the people unmercifully to pay for it, and is neglecting his trade obligations to neighboring states. Kalak's reasons for doing this and the results of his actions for for his city play out in the novel The Verdant Passage and in the module Freedom.

In canon, revolution comes to Tyr as Kalak tries to bootstrap himself into dragonhood, and he's thwarted and killed. These events are reflected in the descriptions of Tyr in the revised campaign setting and the 4e Dark Sun setting book.

There are a few other interesting tidbits regarding Tyr. It has the only iron mines in the region. It has a Senate made up of the city nobles that are marginalized and at odds with Kalak's templar bureaucracy. Kalak keeps the still-living, severed heads of former allies Sacha and Wyan around to advise him, and they live on blood. (There is some discrepancy about who Sacha and Wyan are/were. Verdant Passage has Kalak claim they were chieftains that helped him conquered Tyr, and Sacha is presented as the progenitor of the Mericles noble house. In both later novels and rpg material, they are fellow "champions of Rajaat" killed by the dragon.)

Metaplot aside, resolving "Tyr as powder keg" too quickly in the line feels like a misstep to me. I would drag this out, let PCs get involved with the interplay of the factions. Even if they have no desire to become revolutionaries, there's a lot of interesting gameplay that could be wrung from this, whether the players approach it like Yojimbo or just work to avoid it.

I would ditch the name "the Senate" (too much Roman association) but keep the oligarchy as a faction, maybe remaining it the Council or Supreme Council (which the chief governmental body of Carthage was called) or even "The Mighty Ones" (the literal translation of the council advising Phoenician kings).

I love Kalak's plan to jumpstart himself into a dragon, so that has to stay. I also think the severed head advisors are a great touch. I would borrow a bit from Clark Ashton Smith's "The Empire of the Necromancers" and say that Sacha and Wyan (I would change those names, too) were sorcerers and colleagues of Kalak who all came together to the village of Tyr, which at that time was in a small, marshy, wetland amid the ruins of a more ancient city. The three built the city, perhaps with undead labor, but eventually Kalak betrayed and killed the other two.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Star Trek Endeavour: To Free the Ranger

A continuing campaign in Star Trek Adventures...

Episode 5:
"Agents of Influence [part 3]"
Player Characters: 
The Crew of the USS Endeavour, NCC-1895, Constitution Class Starship (refit):
Andrea as Lt. Ona Greer, Engineer 
Bob as Capt. Robert Locke
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
Dennis, as Lt. Osvaldo Marquez, Medical Officer

Synposis: Continued from last session! The Klingon agent in the Ranger crew has revealed himself by killing Chief Engineer Galv and Ona Greer is next. Thinking fast, Greer charges the spy and knocks the phaser pistol out of his hand. After a short battle, she stuns him with her own phaser.

The combined crews continue their preparations for an impending Orion assault. Tavek gets the idea to modify a sensor buoy to create a sensor shadow that would give the impression of a larger vessel to lure the Orion's away. The engineers manage to get the damaged impulse engine working enough to power the phasers.

Locke and Hale take the shuttle with Starfleet spies and the data for Nogura to make a run for Endeavor. Hale again manages some hotshot piloting to get them away from the Orions. Locke sends a coded message to Endeavour and it seems to be received. The cavalry is hopefully coming.

As the Orions arrive, Captain Greer chooses to share that information with the Orions, warning them that they may soon face two fully armed starships. The Orions decide discretion is the better part of valor and beat a retreat.

Endeavour arrives to rescue the remaining Ranger crew.

Commentary: As mentioned before the kernel of this adventure is the novel Agents of Influence by Dayton Ward. Here the player's deviated to the greatest degree from what the characters in the novel did, which is for the best as it brought it to a close this session. This was a crossover of the two Star Trek Adventure groups, and I think it worked reasonably well, but there are probably limits to how long I was going to be able to keep that many players showing up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around June 26, 1980.

DC Special Series #22 - G.I. Combat: Just what I wanted, extra Haunted Tank! In the first story Kanigher and Glanzman would have us believe they put tanks on pneumatic skis in the War. I can find no internet verification of this. The ever-resourceful tank crew uses a big snowball to take out a German gun. In the "P.O.W" story, "Monster of the Wehrmacht" German soldiers are just as eager to get revenge on a sadistic prison camp commandant as the prisoners. Jose Montales Matucenio's art here has a Alex Nino sort of looseness I like.

In "Live -- or Die -- by the Cross" a medic breaks his vow to do no harm to fight off the Japanese attacking a hospital in Bataan. His inspiration is his latest patient--a chaplain that broke his own vow. The O.S.S. story by Kanigher and Cruz is a typical tale of double agents and double-crosses. Arnold Drake and Ernesto Patricio deliver the cleverest story of the issue, with the lucky survival of a group of U.S. soldiers in the Pacific Theater predicted by their respective fortune cookies. Kanigher and Glanzman bring it to a close with a somewhat better Haunted Tank yarn than the one we started with.

Action Comics #511: Luthor does what any criminal who has seen the error of his ways would do: he hijacks the TV signal and makes a broadcast declaring his newfound respect for the law and his desire to help Superman. He also provides a cure for the mysterious disorder effecting his new love interest to the world. Luthor wants Superman to take him to the Fortress of Solitude and subject him to all sorts of mental scrutiny to prove he's on the level. Superman obliges, and the tests say Luthor is legit, but when Terra-Man and his alien goons attack, Luthor leaps to Superman's aid, proving he wasn't as neutralized as he was supposed to be. But then Superman knew that, and it was all part of the test! Two parts in and Bates and Swan are sticking to the reformed Luthor. I'm interested to see how it plays out. 

Adventure Comics #475: Aquaman returns to the book courtesy of DeMatteis and Giordano. In this story, Aquaman is seeking an Atlantean doctor for a sick Mera, but has to tangle with the Scavenger. It's pretty good, but it's most interesting because of a scene whether Aquaman, rallying in his fight with the Scavenger, speaks to the (mis)perception that he is some sort of "third rate hero." He says he was saving the world when the likes of Firestorm and Black Lightning "where still in diapers" (which is odd, unless DeMatteis believes Aquaman was the first Silver Age hero, or maybe he's the same guy as the Golden Age version?) and goes on to list his powers and titles. In the 00s, we saw these sort of defenses of Aquaman mounted. It's surprising to see there was felt to be a need for them back in 1980. 

The Starman and Plastic Man stories are more of the same. Starman feels like it might be drawing to its conclusion with Prince Gavyn confronting the villain who usurped his sister's throne. Plastic Man is in Vegas dealing with another Gouldian villain, Even Steven.

Brave & the Bold #166: A Batman/Black Canary team-up by Fleisher and Giordano. The Penguin breaks out of jail (where is was put by Robin in the last issue of Detective Comics), and goes after the former henchmen that rolled over on him who all have fled to Star City. Penguin is sticking with his bird motif and trying to kill them all in a canary-themed manner (because they sang, I suppose). It's a clever enough set-up to get Black Canary involved, and the Penguin is suitably malevolent and as crazy as the Joker (though in a different, less flamboyant way). The Penguin ultimately captures Canary and puts a decoy in her costume to lure Batman into a cyanide-laced kiss. It's interesting that Penguin thinks Batman might be susceptible to that. Is her relationship with Green Arrow not known publicly? Of course, they are on the outs following last month's JLA. Once Batman rescues Black Canary, she does in fact give him a kiss, so Fleisher may have been trying to stir something up here.

The backup story is the first appearance of Nemesis, created by Burkett and Spiegle, who will go on to be a member of the Ostrander Suicide Squad. There is a real "men's adventure" genre feel to this story; it's different from the Punisher, but in the same genre. 

Detective Comics #494: The first story here is a near classic: "The Crime Doctor Calls at Midnight!" by Fleisher and Don Newton/Bob Smith. The Crime Doctor makes "house calls" diagnosing problems and helping criminals with their crimes. He's respected physician Bradford Thorne, but he's become bored with his regular life and turned to crime for excitement. Thorne renders medical care to Bruce Wayne, which leads to him to realizing Batman's identity when he meets him later. A group of criminals who don't want to give the Crime Doctor his take lure both the doctor and Batman into a trap. To be continued.

"Tales of Gotham" by Harris and Spiegle has a pinball wizard runner for organized crime develop a conscience and give up his own life to save a a kid who idealizes him, in one of the better stories in this series. Batgirl encounters organized crime entwinned with civic corruption in a forgettable tale by Burkett, Delbo and Chiaramonte. Back at Hudson University, Robin cracks the case of a murder posing as a hazing incident in a story by Harris and Nicholas/Colletta. DeMatteis and Forton win the prize for best title of the issue in "Explosion of the Soul," where Black Lightning takes down a vigilante killer ("The Slime Killer") who wears a purple costume with a very familiar, skull motif.

Green Lantern #132: Kupperberg and Staton present a more "street level" and more humorous Green Lantern adventure than what we usually get. Thieves have hidden some stolen diamonds in an aircraft seat and are stealing a new fighter to get it back. They briefly stymie Jordan with a yellow tarp, but ultimately he wins the day. Toomey and Saviuk conclude "The Trial of Arkkis Chummuck" which I enjoyed thoroughly. It ends with the prosecutor forced to "put up or shut up" and become the tutor for the fledging Green Lantern he recently tried to get booted out.

The second backup is an Adam Strange story by Harris and Rodriguez. A giant is attacking cities of Rann. It turns out to have been created by the Akalonians and directed by psychic energy. Strange appeals to the desire for peace among the dissident scientists powering the creature and they rebel, destroying it.

House of Mystery #284: "Ruby" by DeMatteis and Zamora is really the only decent story in this issue. A couple (the Paulsons) in a "small mid-Western town" decide to adopt a small girl that comes stumbling out of the darkness and passes out on their porch. The sheriff can't find any reports of a missing girl so he declares the kid theirs (lax laws they have in the Midwest!). Soon the family dog is dead. Then an elderly woman in town seems to recognize Ruby, and is found dead the next day. Linda Paulson awakens at 2 am to see Ruby crawling down the outside of the house. Shefollows Ruby to town where the girl reveals herself to be a vampire and meets with her undead victims. Rick Paulson happens to be out in the middle of the night doing research at the library where he uncovers that Ruby is really a young girl who disappeared 70 years ago after a European traveling circus came to town. Ruby attacks her adoptive parents, but sheriff appears in the nick of time with a handy stake. As the shocked Paulsons head home--twist!--the sheriff reveals himself to be a vampire. He didn't want Ruby's actions blowing his cover!

The next story by Simons, Giffen and Celardo (giving us a bit of a Hal Foster vibe on art) has a knight teaming up with a dragon to bring a comeuppance to a greedy king. "Friend to the End" by Kelley and Lofamia is a dumb story about jealousy that ends with the murderer getting killed by a pitching machine. Jodloman's and Wessler's "Deadly Peril at 20,000" is even dumber. A man dies of "pneumonic plague" (no, Jess Jodloman, that isn't the black death) on board a transatlantic flight. A doctor realizes his body needs to be disposed of, but his grief maddened wife won't allow it. A quick thinking (and ruthless) stewardess throws a hammer through their window, and the couple is sucked out by the pressure. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Westwind Garden

If you do Roll20, you should check out Westwind Garden, a whimsical 5e one shot for all ages written by two of my friends and gamers in my group, Gina and Jim Shelley. It's kind of anthropomorphic animal adventure (in the vein, say, of something like Redwall), but provides a rationale for why this is occurring in a human-centric campaign. It's got great art with a70-80s Disney or Don Bluth sort of vibe. Our regular group really enjoyed the playtest.

It's Roll20 features include:

  • 22 Colorful Maps - Temples, Greenhouses, Observatories, and Gardens, all in bright and inviting colors
  • Helpful Macros - Initiative Macros and Location Macros to help speed up gameplay
  • Side Quests - A huge cast of characters with different goals allows your players to explore the setting in different ways
  • A Magical Scavenger Hunt - The party must collect several objects to break the curse, but there are multiple ways to find what they need.
  • Dynamic Lighting - All maps come with prebuilt dynamic lighting
  • Custom Tokens - 23 custom tokens sure to bring a smile to all your players
  • Printable DM Guide - All handout materials have been collected into an easy-to-read Downloadable PDF DM Guide so you can easily review game details on your favorite electronic device, or print it out and read wherever you like.
  • Printable Player Character Sheets - All eight Player Characters sheets are included in the DM Guide to help them pick the character they like best, and provide easy reference during the game.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Operation Unfathomable Covers

 Jason Sholtis tells me that the work on the remaining Operational Unfathomable Kickstarter items is drawing to close, which is good news to a lot of people. Jason requested I send him all of the cover designs I had brainstormed for the various products. I had not looked at any of these in 4 or 5 years, but once I dug them up and thought they were worth sharing, though none of them may get used on the actually products.

This was my first design for the Completely Unfathomable omnibus. I mainly just wanted to give it an omnibus sort of feel.

This is for the same book, but thinking a bit more out of the box. It's meant to look like an old bubblegum card wax pack wrapper. 

This is the is the second design I did for Odious Uplands. It's meant the reference the sort of WPA national park posters. 

This was my proposal for the DCC version of Completely Unfathomable. It references the Skywald Publishing horror magazine style (even with a riff on it's "horror mood" tagline). It's my least favorite of these.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Dark Sun: The Templars


We're told in the original Dark Sun campaign setting that the Templars are "clergymen devoted to the sorcerer king of their city. Like other priests, they are granted spells in return for their worship." Also, they "dominate the king's bureaucracy." The revised box set expands on this slightly saying they serve as city guards and in the army, they oversee the city's administration, and they "maintain the illusion that the sorcerer king is a god by using their absolute power to enforce worship and homage to their ruler."

The problem with these portrayals is it seems at odds with what we are told about individual city-states and their sorcerer-kings. Some sorcerer-kings are viewed as gods, it's true, but some (we are explicitly told) just style themselves as rulers or whatever. Also, despite their name implying the existence of temples, we are not, across all the city-states, given any indication of temples' existence or what the practices within them might be. The first Dark Sun novel, Denning's The Verdant Passage supports the view of the setting material, with Kalak of Tyr viewed as a king and little evidence he is worshipped by anyone (though there is a mention of the templar's leading his "veneration.").

Without providing a unified "origin" for the templars and their role, I feel like not only should their exact nature vary from city-state to city-state, but also their name. I suppose for ease of discussing them as a class, templar serves as  well as anything, though. For most city-states I like the approach of the setting material and the novel: sorcerer-kings are venerated but not worshipped. (The distinction, may admittedly, be a fine one, but it exists.) The sorcerer-king forms the core of the city-state's civic religion: it's holidays, festivals, and foundational myths. There are no gods on Athas, but there is an afterlife, so perhaps fidelity to the sorcerer-king is tied in dogma to reward in the hereafter. The templars officiate at public observances (except when the sorcerer-king is present) and punish those who don't appear sufficiently devoted. As bureaucrats they also have a role in legal preceding that interact with the civic religion. 

Many of the city-states are probably a bit more fascistic than ancient world cities in the popular imagination. I feel like scarcity of resources would tend to push them the direction of Immortan Joe's Citadel in Mad Max: Fury Road. I could see some smaller ones having a cult (used in the modern sense) kind of character.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Streets of Fire and the 50s-but-80s Setting

On other social media, Paul "GRIDSHOCK 20XX" Vermeren mentioned he had watched Streets of Fire for the first time after hearing that it was influential to Mike Pondsmith. I've seen people call it "proto-cyberpunk" which means, I guess, that they see it as punk without any cyber. While I can see how aspects of it would influence the aesthetics of cyberpunk, I think it's difficult to say it's "proto" anything. It's really more like an evolutionary dead-in; a path that wasn't taken.

I do think, though, that taken on something closer to it's own terms, it would suggest a pretty interesting rpg setting, not by adding cyber or other fantastic elements, but rather doing action or adventure stuff in a world that never was. For lack of a better descriptor, a world where the 80s was more like the 50s. Or maybe the 50s was more like the 80s would work, but I think the former is better.

The styles of cars and clothes resemble the 60s, but the urban sprawl is more like the urban decay of the 70s into the early 80s--where it isn't exaggerated for fanciful effect. There was a long war, which was aesthetically perhaps more like Korea, but the public perception of its pointlessness and the difficulties its soldiers had upon return resemble more the popular conception of Vietnam. The gangs that are sometimes the bogeymen of 80s films just look more like the gangs in The Wild One than the gangs in Fort Apache the Bronx. I feel like the media presence Chaykin pushes in American Flagg! (which is, of course, set in the future but like most sci-fi speaks to the fears/concerns of its era, the 80s) or The Dark Knight Returns, could be interesting translated to 50s television without loosing much.

So what would the characters do other than what we see the characters do in the film? Well, just pick any present-day set 80s action movie and give it a bit of a 50s veneer.

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 #271: 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.