Monday, August 30, 2021

Weird Revisited: Comics' First Barbarian

I've revisited Crom several times over the years. Jason Sholtis and I talked about doing a revival oneshot at one time...

Before Claw, Wulf, and Ironjaw--even before Conan--there was a barbarian Sword & Sorcery hero in comics. Though there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of this particularly mighty-thewed sword-slinger, he’s got a famous name: Crom the Barbarian!

Crom was the creation of Gardner Fox and first appeared in Out of this World #1 (1950) from Avon. Fox tells us that Crom’s adventures come to us courtesy of “long-lost parchments recovered in an underwater upheaval, translated by a lingual expert,” but I suspect he made it all up.  He also took a lot of inspiration from Howard's Conan yarns.

Anyway, Crom’s a yellow-haired Aesir living in an age forgotten by history, and he’s got a problem. His sister Lalla have been kidnapped by ape-men called Cymri (which may or may not tell us how Fox felt about the Welsh). Crom makes short work of the ape-men, but he and Lalla wind up adrift.

They end up on an island. Good news: It’s full of lovely women. Bad news:

The wizard is named Dwelf, and he’s got a job for Crom. Dwelf wants him to bring back water from the fountain of youth which was built by “people from the stars" and will one day be lost “under what men will call the Sahara desert.” Dwelf threatens Lalla if Crom doesn’t get the stuff for him--and then hypnotizes him to make double sure.

Crom sails to fabled Ophir. He sneaks into the city and while he’s casing the tower that houses the fountain, he meets a girl who doesn’t really get the concept of sword & sorcery tavern-dancing:

Crom takes the girl (Gwenna) dancing and formulates a plan to get into the tower by first being thrown in jail. It works, but once at the tower, he’s got to fight panthers and some guards. He dispatches them all with his sword “Skull-cracker.”

When he gets to the fountain he finds he guarded by a giant snake! He kills it, too, but is almost done in by the queen of Ophir, herself, Tanit. He takes her hostage so he can get out of the city:

By the time they’ve escaped though, Tanit has warmed to Crom and is asking him to come back and be her king! She and Crom deliver the water to Dwelf, who suffers the ironic fate of being turned into an infant.

Not really into childcare, apparently, Crom leaves the wizardling and decides he and Tanit should head back to that kingdom she’s promised him--with his sister Lalla, too, of course. They don’t make it back without adventure, but that ends this particular issue.

Crom goes on to have two more improbable adventures in the pages of Strange Worlds.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Beneath the Crooked Hills

A week ago, we had another session of our Land of Azurth 5e campaign. The party had become much more interested in the trinkets and where they might come from. The townsfolk really didn't know, but mentioned a mage who had been looking into the mystery. Unfortunately, she had disappeared.

The party searched her old residence and found some cryptic notes they couldn't make much of. There was also some sort of design or pattern imprinted on a rectangle of an unknown, transparent material. They did discover she had gone into the Hills and never came back.

Knowing there's nothing for it but to explore their selves, they look around until they stumble upon some fissures with foot prints around it. It's a tight squeeze, but they are sure that's where the strange sleepwalkers came from. The party goes in, but it takes a bit of time because Dagmar gets stuck. With they seem a weird glass wall and hear ethereal music. In the next room, they fight a nest of oversized snakes from a pile of debris, before figuring out how to open a door into an octagonal room. There, each wall is adorned with a symbol, and there's a wooden ball in the middle of the room. 

With some investigation, they find a hidden panel that seems to provide some sort of control over what the room does. They eventually decide to put the ball under a symbol matching what the "control panel" shows, and a another, secret door opens.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Into the Wilderness

I have the rudiments of an idea for a setting. A wilderness not unlike Middle-earth's Wilderlands, but also not unlike America's early frontier between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River--and at a 1820s level of technology. A place of dark forests, mighty rivers, skin-changers, and dragons, but also rivermen in keelboats, ancient mounds, and perhaps the skeletons of ancient giants

Not really the American Frontier any more than Middle-earth is Europe (and no need to tell me Tolkien intended it to be Eurasia in the distant past, please). No colonialism as we know it, though likely some clash of cultures and plenty of room for man's inhumanity to man, of course. Probably no demi-humans as usually constituted but maybe something with more Biblical resonance. After all, the Garden of Eden could be in Missouri.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 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 August 28, 1980.

Action Comics #513: It feels like the late 90s idea of riffing off the Silver Age for a "Neo-Silver" approach, wasn't actually original to the 90s. This Wolfman/Swan story features the return of Superman Island, which was an island shaped like Superman that Superman had thrown into space for reasons he doesn't want publicly known. At the opening of the story, it's heading back to Earth! Two hoods know the secret, so Lois is trying to track them down to keep them from talking, but H.I.V.E. wants to know what they know. Turns out Superman Island has a core of Kryptonite. Luckily, a group of friendly aliens have made the island their home and use Kryptonite as an energy source, so they are eager not to let any of it get away. The aliens help Superman defeat H.I.V.E., then Superman gives the island a super-push toward a planet the aliens can settle on. In the Airwave backup, our young hero teams up with the Atom and his inexperience and lack of caution get them both in trouble.

Adventure Comics #477: DeMatteis and Orlando have a really desperate Aquaman going to the mayor of New Venice to get his help (how?) to find Mera. This seems particularly pointless since Aquaman had previously said he would help the Mayor find his brother and didn't, and the people of the city are upset due to his recent attacks on them while controlled by Poseidon. A little girl asks for Aquaman to help her cousin. Cal Durham whose a former henchman of Black Manta and now can only breath water. He tells him Manta is again up to no good. They go to check it out, but are captured. Manta and his crew of dissaffected and marginalized surface folk plan to attack Atlantis. Starman wasn't dead, but also his series wasn't ending (yet), just changing direction. Levitz and Ditko have him going through a number of almost Starlin Cosmic trials to rescue Mn'Torr. This is the best installment of this in a while. The Plastic Man story manages to work in roller-skating and disco, and swipes at 70s pop songs Pasko must have found annoying. Staton's art is up to the semi-comedic challenge as always.   

Brave & the Bold #168: Burkett and Aparo bring us a Team-Up with Batman and Green Arrow. This could be tricky, because Green Arrow can be seen as a low rent Batman with a more limited schtick, but by 1980, they have distinctive personalities. Green Arrow volunteers Batman to appear a charity benefit performance of escape artist Samson Citadel, a reformed criminal who Green Arrow took set on the straight and narrow. When crimes are committed requiring the skills of an escape artist, Citadel falls under suspicion. Batman investigates and discovers a hypnotist who has been mesmerizing folks to commit his crimes for him. Green Arrow confronts Citadel who he saw leaving the scene of a crime and realizes he's hypnotized. Ultimately, his appeal to his friend breaks the spell, while Batman escapes from a deathtrap in full Houdini style. In fact, the last page is Batman describing step by step how he made the escape. 

The backup story continues Nemesis quest for justice. Spiegle's art works well for the pulpier fair.

Detective Comics #496: The "dollar" days of this title are over, and it returns to being a normal-sized comic, meaning we only get a Batman lead story and a Batgirl backup. Fleisher and Newton bring back the Golden Age Clayface who has appeared since 1968 (in his single, previous "Earth-One" appearance). Batman drops in a Horror Film Exposition held aboard a luxury yacht belonging to actor/director John Carlinger. Batman seems familiar with and enthusiastic about Carlinger's films, which is a surprising bit of characterization. Anyway, when this event is televised in the psych hospital of Basil Karlo, the original Clayface, he's offended he wasn't invited. So offended he kills a nurse and two other people to sneak onboard and attempt to kill Carlinger. Meanwhile, we learn that Carlinger is in a dispute over money with his production partners. Then, Clayface show's up and starts trying to murder people--specifically those partners. After a tussle with Clayface, Batman realizes the truth and uses that knowledge to trick Clayface, who isn't Basil Karlo, after all. Fleisher delivers a nice (if simple) little mystery here worthy of the title "detective comics" and it's good to see Basil Karlo back.

The Batgirl story by Burkett and Delbo has her facing off with a Dr. Voodoo (no relation to Brother Voodoo, who is also a doctor) who is using music to put people into a trance state to do his biding. Batgirl does some good observation to figure this out, and use some sound equipment to break Voodoo's hold.

Green Lantern #134: Wolfman and Staton have Dr. Polaris thoroughly defeat Green Lantern. He takes the power ring and leaves Jordan in the Arctic. Jordan plans to make his way to a national geographic research station--on foot. This section portrays Hal Jordan as a badass, walking across the ice, battling a bear and a wolf, and going snowblind before reaching his destination in his torn uniform. (Wolfman supplies the idea that the Green Lantern costume, made for space, is protection against the cold to a degree to make this work.) When he's back in California, he seeks out his friend Tom Kalmaku for help, who seems to contemplating suicide due to work setbacks. Jordan slaps him around, and the two set out to somehow defeat Polaris. 

In the backup story by Sutton and Rodriquez, Adam Strange is being tortured by Kaskor and his men. Strange tricks them to make his escape, but the base is going to explode for some reason, and he only gets out via zeta beam. A beam that returns him to earth! 

House of Mystery #286: This issue is rougher than the last--and the last was not top shelf DC horror. Jameson and artists Hasen and Bulnandi take us to the distant future of 2023 where a cop gets a cybernetic arm following a vicious attack by a criminal, then gets obsessed with seeking revenge and makes himself judge, jury, and executioner--because he's got a mechanical arm, and he can! The punchline is he programs the arm to seek out evil and--wait for it--the hand strangles him! The next story is a perfunctory "mummies curse" yarn by Kelley and Patricio. One savvy archeologist figures out the mummy is degrading its ability to move with every attack, so he figures he'll let it get his colleagues first, then he'll be in the clear. He's almost right, but the mummy catches him on a pier. It isn't strong enough to finish him, but in their struggles, they tumble from the pier and the archeologist is hung on the bandages. 

The last story is kind of a Twilight Zone thing. A aging man in the 1890s, regretting he is in tough financial straits and never able to provide for his wife in high-style, crosses a bridge into a peculiar purple smoke and is transported back in time three decades. As a young man, he resolves to become rich, even if that means selling to both sides in the Civil War. The Confederates pay him off after a deal, but he has to flee the union forces and is shot crossing a bridge into that same magical fog. He collapses dead back in the 1899, and drops his much fought for sack of loot--which turns out to be Confederate money.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Talislanta Returns

The word on the Talislanta facebook page is that the setting will be returning (via Kickstarter) in a 5e compatible form. While I don't know that 5e is the optimal system for Talislanta, I'm glad to see it back and will definitely kickstart it. 

This announcement puts me in a mind to get back to the series I started in 2020 but never finished where I did an in-depth look at setting. Those posts can be found here.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Mysterious Trinkets

I realized we had a Land of Azurth 5e session weeks ago I didn't blog about. Here's the belated news from Azurth...

The party finally reached the eastern border of the Country of Virid. Immediately, the fae influence became apparent in the more fanciful foliage. As evening approached, they decided to seek lodging for the night in the town of Carabas, nestled at the feet of the Crooked Hills. It turned out there was a fair going on.

Our heroes joined the celebration and took part in various contests to win what the townsfolk call "trinkets." Erekose wins a dueling competition. Kully takes a storytelling prize. Shae won in dancing, showing off her Elven moves. Kairon managed to pull out a victory in kite-fighting. Dagmar, however, only succeeded in getting drunk in the drinking competition.

They still took the trinkets they were awarded, even after seeing a man with too many of them explode (the townsfolk didn't seem over-bothered by this). 

The party was confounded by the strange devices. Each was unique and their use was not obvious. Also, while the items appeared to have spell-like effects in some cases, they did not register as magical.

With no rooms available, the party rented a pavilion on the edge of the fair grounds near the hills. That night, after a strange, shared dream, they were attacked by sallow-skinned, nonhuman somnambulists with strange, branch-like, metallic golden growths out of their foreheads.

The party managed to kill a couple of the creatures and drive off the others, but they are left with the idea that the things were after the trinkets.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Savage Swords of Middle-earth: Magic

Re-reading those old posts got me thinking about the "Middle-earth in the style of Robert E. Howard" idea, and with some time to read in travel, I was thinking about the similarities and differences in Tolkien's and Howard's approaches to magic.  The comparisons are interesting, and I don't think they would be difficult to fuse to a degree.

Compared to modern fantasy literature or rpg fantasy, both the Hyborian Age and Middle-earth are decidedly what we might term "low magic," which is not to say there is little magic in them. In fact, both worlds are full of things we would consider magical in the real world sense. There are any number of specially wrought items and substances that in D&D would be "magic items." Magic-users are not necessarily less powerful either, but they tend to use magic less and in less flashy--and certainly less "zappy" ways--than the D&D standard.

In Howard, you could say spellcasters are thinner on the ground. In Tolkien, that's true to an even greater degree; there are only like 6 wizards! But that's ignoring the special (magical) abilities so many people seem to evidence: the abilities of elves and dwarves to craft magical items, Bard and other Men of Dale having the ability to speak with thrushes, etc.

In an unsent letter, Tolkien addressed magic in LotR, drawing a distinction between magia (physical magic) and goeteia (charms, enchantments). For elves and spirits both of these are entirely naturally parts of the world, it's only the mortal races that view them as magic. Tolkien notes there do not rely on spells or "lore," and that humans can't perform them. This letter was unsent, though, and this last part contradicts elements of published works. The Hobbit speaks of dwarves casting spells (though maybe this is just superstition on their part and doesn't work), and even in the margins of the letter Tolkien reminds himself about Numenoreans using spells in making swords.

While Howard has the trappings of classic Sword & Sorcery spellcraft with summoned demons and dark, magical tomes, there is also an element of the psychic to his portrayal. In "People of the Black Circle" it's implied that belief plays a role in susceptibility to magic, even when it seems to be manifesting as physical phenomena, and that a lot of it's effect is hypnotism. Both Thoth-Amon and Xaltotun seem to accomplish a lot merely by directing mental energy without spell or obvious ritual.

For a more Sword & Sorcery Middle-earth, it goes without saying that Morgoth and Sauron, at least, taught sorcery to mankind. Sorcery that arises from evil and risks corruptions fits in well with a Howardian vibe (though, as I've mentioned before, not all spellcasters in Howard are evil. Just most of them!) Also, I would also have evil magic-users (Sauron, Saruman, etc.) perform more magic and more visual magic than in LOTR as written, more along the lines of things we see in Hour of the Dragon--where interestingly, keeping a magic item of power out of the hands of an ancient, awakened evil out to conquer the world is the key to that evil's defeat.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Pulp Middle-earth

Listening to the audiobook of The Hobbit got me thinking about this couple of posts I did about giving Middle-earth the Robert E. Howard touch. I won't repost them in their entirety, as I did that last year, but you can read the first here and the second here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 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 August 14, 1980. 

Justice League of America #184: The second part of the JSA/JLA journey to Apokolips opens with a bang as the return of Darkseid from the dead is revealed. In time honored crossover fashion, the heroes have been divided into smaller groups to have their own adventures. Orion, Firestorm, and Power Girl discover the Injustice Society is behind this, but they prove unable to stop them. Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, and Oberon find and free Himon, when Superman, Wonder Woman, and Big Barda bring some hope to the kids in Granny Goodness' school. Huntress, Mr, Miracle, and Batman discover Darkseid's sinister plan: to transport Apokolips into Earth-2's universe, destroying Earth-2 in the process!

A good story here from Conway. Perez's art under McLaughlin's inks is more "70s" looking in a way I probably can't define than in the Teen Titans, but still looks good.

New Teen Titans #1: This series looms large in DC's (and comic's in general) emergence from the Bronze Age, and it starts out feeling a bit different from many of the other comics this month at its start. Perez's art (perhaps aided by Tanghal) and layout seem more sophisticated here than in other places he's turned up at DC. Wolfman's story and characterization is "of the era" but doesn't seem of the DC 70s. In many ways, this is a "Marvel style" story with occasionally bickering characters with "issues." He packs a lot of story in this issue, too. 

A couple of things I noticed: for one, it's hard for me to buy the original Titans as still "teens." I know, comic time and all that, but Perez doesn't really make them look like teens, and Robin has been in college a while. That's only going to get worse, I know. The riff between Batman and Robin over Robin dropping out of college is created here. That hasn't shown up in Batman stories as yet (even one's written by Wolfman!) Also, Robin comments something to the effect that it's great to be in a team where he isn't second fiddle, but it's not like he's only been Batman's partner all this time. It feels like Wolfman wants you to ignore most everything that happened with Robin over the 70s. Continuity quibbles aside, it's a solid, if a bit overstuffed first issue.

Secrets of Haunted House #30: The first story here is weird, but I think the best of the three playing as it does (indirectly) off the fear of clowns. In the Middle Ages, a Court Jester rudely mocks a wizard who lays a course on him. Krokla is now unable to remove his make-up. Only death "at the hands of another" will bring him peace. He works as a clown down through the ages until a jealous circus co-worker, Marco, accidentally kills him in a confrontation. The two men exchange faces, and the other clowns think Krokla murdered Marco. They pursue him, and he falls off a cliff--then they all get Krokla's grease-painted face! In the next story by "Ms. Charlie Seegar" and Don Newton, a witch seeks to find a new body for her dead lover to inhabit. She finds a guy, but when she realized he's wearing a toupee, he just won't do. She marries a wealthy silver fox, but as she starts her ritual, the man calls out for his house keeper, who turns out to be a witch herself. The last tale by Kupperberg and Jodloman has kind of a Hitchcock Presents vibe. A projectionist and film buff wants to acquire the gun used in an obscure but celebrated suspense film, but it's in the hands of a rival. He tries to use a Russian Roulette trick just like the film to get it, but the other collector is on to him. When he calls him later as "a voice from the dead" the projectionist has a heart attack and dies.

Superman #353: Bates is back this issue for another of his very Silver Age stories. An alien keeps showing up and committing crimes, and Superman finds himself on an alien world just as these things are occurring, so it looks to the people of Metropolis like he has become a coward. In fact, the alien is just using his science to switch places. It seems his world has effectively wiped out crime and antisocial behavior with brain modification, but this guy is immune. Superman, in Silver Age fashion, has to use trickery to defeat a foe he never actually meets in person--and he improves their brain modification tech so this never happens again! The backup story by Rozakis and Swan is an imaginary tale of a infant Kal-El found on the outskirts of Gotham by beat cop, Jim Gordon, and raised by Thomas and Martha Wayne. Same basic concept as the 1993 Elseworlds, Superman: Speeding Bullets, but here the story is less tragic because young Bruce Wayne uses his powers to keep his parents from being murdered. 

Superman Family #204: In the lead story by Harris and Mortimer, Linda "Supergirl" Danvers returns to her job at the New Athens Experimental school. It has apparently gotten really experimental and hired "an expert in sorcery," June Moone. Suddenly, unnatural earthquakes start occurring, and Supergirl finds herself in conflict with the Enchantress, which I met originally in the 80s Suicide Squad, but first appeared in 1966 and hadn't been around much since. The Enchantress hasn't done a full heel turn yet, but she's looking to complete a ritual to give her power to defeat evil and doesn't care who gets harmed in the process. Supergirl kicks the moon slightly out of orbit to spoil her plans, then kicks it right back. With June Moone, the Enchantress, still around, it's not over...

Rozakis and Calman give us a very un-Marvel and certainly not "New DC" story: Clark Kent goes to the super-market for double coupon day for his elderly neighbor with limited mobility. We are "treated" to a number of overzealous shopper gags of the sort you saw in 80s daytime tv commercials and Superman foils a pickpocket. In the Bridwell/Schaffenberger "Mr. & Mrs. Superman" feature, Thunderbolt shows up to fill us in on what has happened to Johnny Thunder. It's very Silver Age-y as you might expect form those creators. Then we get into the modern (well, 70s TV style) action and suspension of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, whose storylines appear about to interweave. Lois still doesn't have her full memory back but, dodging guys trying to kill her, she makes it to a memory expert who at least restores enough for her to remember who did this to her. She confronts the crooked deprogrammer, but his machinery catches fire, and Lois may not make it out alive! Jimmy is also on the run from dumb thugs, but he finally manages to figure out that politician, Al Diamond, is crooked. This one includes an escape from a car crusher. Most of this stuff is fine, but it clearly isn't what most comics fans were looking for in 1980.

Weird War Tales #93: The lead here is the first appearance of the Creature Commandos by deMatteis and Broderick. I really liked these characters as a kid, though this first yarn isn't great. The concept is solid: the U.S. Army decides to combine psychological warfare with covert action (not completely unlike Aldo Raine's speech in Inglourious Basterds), and creates a team of horrors. The problem is the script wants them to be supernatural creatures in a Universal horror mode, when their stated origins are different, and none of them have nailed down characterizations. Still, the promise is clear, and this isn't the last we'll see of them. 

Everything else in this issue pales in comparison. Kashdan and Denys Cowan give us the tale of the search for a superweapon in a neo-caveman post-apocalypse. That weapon is the wheel! Barr and Zamora deal with the U.S. internment of the Japanese Americans and have the sun itself punish a sadistic guard who's actually a spy for the Japanese. The last story, by Wessler and Alcazar, is a curious one, apparently affirming the superstitions of wartime pilots. All the pilots carry a "lucky charm," and a new kid (whose charm is a teddy bear) is a bit embarrassed by it and doesn't fully believe it. When his bear is getting patched up by a friendly nurse, one of his squad-mates doesn't want to let him fly, and punches him out. When the young pilot comes two, he rushes to join his squad, only to see his friend shot down--and his friends good luck charm, a death's head key medallion--hanging in his own plane.

Wonder Woman #273: Wonder Woman tangles with Angle Man in some sort of weird dimension, but mostly this issue is Conway establishing her new status quo in her secret identity. She also goes out on date with Steve Trevor as Wonder Woman. She just accessorizes her costume with a blue, Dracula-style cape, and they go to a disco. In the back-up story, Huntress is put in a golden cage by Solomon Grundy while Gotham's DA supports a crackdown on costumed vigilantes. Staton draws a neat Grundy, I think.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Weirderlands of Zyrd

Once there was a archimage or demiurge, and one day under the influence of potent, mind-altering substances from higher planes of reality, he made a world. Pleased with his work (and himself in general), he named his creation for himself: Zyrd (not to be confused with this one or this one. Maybe). Soon, he got distracted by the music of distant spheres and forget about his world for a long time.

When he discovered it again, completely by accident, he found it had become infested with mortals. For the hell of it, he started teaching the mortals (they were called "humans") magic. His greatest pupils used their power to rule the land, becoming Wizard-Kings. Zyrd, a being of elevated consciousness, hadn't taken into account the power trip these humans might go on. It was a complete surprise when the Wizard-Kings stormed his own private realm in an attempt to wrest the ultimate secrets of the cosmos from him. 

Zyrd was pretty angry about all that, but the Wizard-Kings, being humans, were really good at waging war. The magical conflict blew up part the world, and warped more of it--and seemed to destroy Zyrd and kill a number of the Wizard-Kings. 

Humans mostly fled the damaged parts of the world--the weirderlands, they called them--and went to safer, saner places. They started shunning magic, and built factories, machines, and the like. In the Weirderlands, though, other mortals moved in, ones that couldn't give up magic as easily, because it was a part of them: dwarfs and elves.

by John Buscema

The dwarfs set about rebuilding civilization while trying to hold the goblins, monsters, and lunatic wizards from the worst parts of the Weirderlands at bay. The elves have little use for the dwarfish establishment. They drift around, taking what nature provides, and throwing parties whenever they can. Somehow, they tend to elude the most horrific monsters, and yet all manage to find the best sources of weird mushrooms.

There are those of both kins that, through fate or inclination, become adventures. Outcasts that purposely face the dangers of the Weirderlands for great cause or great reward. 

by Wally Wood

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Wild Wild West Rides On

I have posted about it here in a while, but Jim Shelley and I are still working our way through The Wild Wild West (nearing the end of season 3!) over on his blog. Check it out here.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Future in the Past

Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier by Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire came out this week. It catalogs the use of Mid-Century Modern and Brutalist artifacts (furniture, decorative elements, household items, and architecture) but informed and served as the building blocks of the future as presented in Star Trek the original series.

The authors go season by season, detailing the items of Mid-century design that appear on screen. Costuming is not covered really, presumably because there is already a book on the costume design of Star Trek. in between the season by season rundown, their are short chapters on various topics like architecture, matte paintings, and Brutalism.

The only flaw I find in the book is that it is all too short. A mere 166 pages!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, November 1980 (wk 1, pt 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  August 14, 1980. 

Batman #329: The Two-Face story continues from last issue. He tries twice to kill Batman, first with a bomb, then with a fire, as the Dark Knight works to get the goods on Karoselle's murderer. Batman has figured out that the killer is Two-Face, but doesn't have the proof or motive yet. He enlists Gilda, Harvey Dent's ex, to trap her current boyfriend, who Batman now reveals to be Two-Face in disguise. It turns out Karoselle was really Moroni, the mobster responsible for Dent's disfigurement, with a new face. Two-Face thought he had killed him before, but Moroni escaped albeit now without the use of his legs. Batman disguises himself as Moroni to draw Two-Face out. He appeals to his former ally to turn himself in, but in the end, it's Gilda's appeal that gets Two-Face to surrender. A solid effort from Wolfman and Novick, but not memorable. 

The backup story features more of Barr's take on the Dynamic Duo, and the Rich Buckler art is welcome, but this story is nothing special. There's a mobster awaiting a heart transplant, but someone steals it. Batman and Robin recover it and find out it was the mobster's own daughter behind the theft. This story has continuity with the main feature with a subplot involving a doctor thinking Batman is too uncaring to visit his sometime informant who is in the hospital (since last issue), but it turns out he's wrong. 

DC Comics Presents #27: Starlin's back, this time with Wein, and we get the first appearance of Mongul. He wants Superman to get an artifact for him from a crypt on a distance world that turns out to be the new home world of the Martians. This leads to conflict with Martian Manhunter who's trying to specifically keep Mongul from getting the key to planet-sized, super weapon, the Death Star War World! Superman wins the fight, but plans to not to turn over the key once Mongul frees his friends. He fails to keep Mongul from it, and Martian Manhunter rightly takes the Man of Steel to task over his over-confidence. Superman vows to get back that key or die trying! Best story this week. The backup, though, is "Whatever Happened to...Congo Bill" by Rozakis and Tanghal where Congo Bill takes on... a guy in a gorilla suit. I feel like this feature is being under-used so far.

Flash #291: The Barry Allen lookalike gangster tries to kill Fiona again, but is foiled by her neighbor's kid who thinks the guy is Barry Allen, too. Allen has had about enough of this and calls in King Faraday to explain the truth. To his neighbor. Because that's what matters. There is a scene of the Flash running up a searchlight beam just before this that is the sort of stuff tiresome Marvel fanboys claim DC characters always do but doesn't really happen that often. Anyway, the mobster has allowed himself to be captured because while all this was going, as he tried to hit the international assassin Sabre-tooth from last issue and is scared. Sabre-Tooth escapes from prison for revenge. He's wearing a costume now like the Flintstone's version of Hobgoblin's outfit (all shaggy fur) except it has tusks. Barry Allen uses his resemblance to the mobster to draw Sabre-Tooth out, and the Flash quickly dispatches him, because he's the sort of guy that can run up beams of light, and what can a guy with a gun and a furry suit do against that?

The Firestorm backup by Conway, Perez and Smith, is mostly Raymond and Stein dealing with personal issues. Stein has a job interview and is trying to stay sober. Ronnie gets bullied by that nerd Carmichael, then has to go with his girlfriend to pick up her sister from the airport. She has had some sort of unspecified "sickness." We end on a cliffhanger with an attack by the Hyena. 

Ghosts #94: Holding steady with mediocrity from last month, I think. The first story by Mimai Kin and Win Mortimer is a cautionary tale about genealogical research. James Fitzroy discovers in old documents that his family's original name was Muldoon, and they were from Ballybrooke not Galway. He returns to the old sod and discovers his ancestor was a hanging judge and had a man executed that later proved innocent. A man whose new bride cursed the judge's family. Then, he meets up with a beautiful, spectral woman in a wedding dress. He's found dead the next day. In the next story by Wessler and Sparling, a blind man (who looks kind of like a young Joe Walsh) is caught in a shoot out between gangsters and his service dog is shot and killed. The dog's ghost continues to be the man's companion. The gangsters, not realizing the dog is dead already, plan to kill him so he, uh, can't pick them out of a line-up, I suppose. Anyway, the ghost dog has his revenge. 

In a yarn by Kashdan and Newton a surgeon in a Latin American country takes a bribe to murder a pro-democracy agitator on the operating table. The man's ghost haunts the operating room, and gets his revenge when the surgeon is brought in after being in serious car crash. The last story, again written by Kin with art by Barretto and Colletta, has a wrongdoer dying in perhaps the dumbest fashion. After killing a man for his poker winnings, Bailey plans to brick up his body behind a wall in an old mill. Before he's done the guy's ghost emerges, and they tussle. Bailey is knocked out, but when he comes to the ghost is gone. He just has to finish the wall, which he does. Only then does he realize he's now on the other side and can't get out!

G.I. Combat #223: I couldn't get ahold of this issue, so the cover is all I have to offer.

Jonah Hex #42: Scalphunter is absent from this issue, so the main story gets 8 more pages. Fleisher and Forton need them as they set up a 3-parter. Jonah Hex has been trying to take down the Sugar Wallace gang who has been stealing sheep and running homesteaders off their land. Eventually, Hex kills them all with some dynamite in his hotel room and a shoot out in the streets. What Hex doesn't know is that Wallace has been acting on the orders of the Mayor and a cabal of wealth businessmen in town who know a new railroad spur is to be built and want the sheepherders' land to profit from it. With Wallace done in, they contrive to get the law to take care of Hex, specifically Marshall Jeremiah Hart. Hart gets a fair among of "screentime" this issue, to set him up as the stalwart, traditional Western lawman, with a fast gun and sure aim. Meanwhile, Hex meets up again with Mei Ling who he wants to marry, but she'll only agree if he gives up his guns. The cabal of businessmen murder one of their number, then tell Hex it was one of Wallace's gang that did it, and tell Hart it was Hex, setting up the confrontation. I can't say Forton's art is stellar, but it will be interesting to see where the story is going.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Weird Revisited: Gnomes: Magical Mystery Tour

The original version of this post appeared in 2010, the first full year of this blog. It relates to the setting I briefly ran (and wrote about) prior to launching into the City and Weird Adventures. I late stole ideas from this setting for other stuff.

As mentioned before, there are two types of beings called "gnomes" in the world of Arn. One is a scholarly group akin to halflings, inhabiting and maintaining the Library of Tharkad-Keln. The other are ultraterrestrials--extraplanar beings--who have been characterized as an annoying group of pilgrims, or even less charitably, as an infection of the Prime Material Plane. It is this second type of gnome that will concern us here.

Gnomes usually appear as diminutive men with nut-brown skin and large, amber eyes. There are reports of green-skinned gnomes, and youthful females, but these are more rare. No one knows if these different forms reflect real differences within the gnomish race, or are only affectations.

Their demeanor is often perplexing, as well. They often project a knowing amusement in their interactions with other intelligent species, but can at times view even the simplest and commonplace things with child-like wonder. Unless directly threatened, they often seem blissfully unaware of dangerous situations.

No one knows on what plane the gnomes arose. Some hold that it was the elemental plane of earth itself, given their connection with that element. Others hold that they hail from an alternate material plane with a higher concentration of elemental earth. Wherever they came from, they're now a race of travelers--though the purpose of their travels is mysterious.

Gnomes go anywhere there is elemental earth. They somehow dwell within--and move and communicate through--something they refer to as "tesseract networks" within the elemental particles of earth (which as all natural philosophers know are cubic in nature). Gnomes occasionally invite other sapients into their "networks," but those who return are unable to give coherent descriptions of what they have seen.

Certain species of mushrooms represent "nodes" in the gnomish network, and are places from which gnomes emerge into our plane. Consumption of these mushrooms expands the consciousness in unpredictable ways--sometimes allowing experiences of the areas around other nodes in the gnomish network, perhaps in other time periods, or allowing direct mental communication with the intellects of the gnomes themselves. The minds of other species don't always recover from these experiences.

Despite their alien nature, gnomes are generally friendly toward other intelligent races. They will often trade gems or precious stones, though the items they desire in exchange can't be predicted. They are often skilled mages and have been known to join adventuring parties for a time, when they can find one willing to put up with their eccentricities. They go and come as they please with no explanation.  Mostly, they observe with interest, as if the world was a play put on for their amusement.