Friday, September 24, 2021

New Flesh On Old Bones


Staying busy with other stuff (including gaming sessions), the blog has suffered from me having a lack of time to cogitate sufficiently for many posts on new ideas. I thought it might help to go back to the old standby of riffing off an existing setting. I find constraint sometimes stimulants creativity and placing boundaries on things limits the number of tangents that can distract you.

So, I thought it might be interesting to take some older setting that was perhaps open-ended in its approach or sparse in its presentation and see how I would develop that. At least, it's an idea to consider; whether I get around to it or not is another matter.

But what setting? The perennial favorite to "make one's own" is the Wilderlands. But there are two publishedindividual visions of that, and blogs with other good versions (and some good versions on blogs that are now lost as Atlantis). I don't know that I have anything to add there without getting really variant, and I've never really got the Wilderlands in the way these folks seem to, so I would really be riffing off them to some degree.

Another setting similarly sparse in its original presentation is the Greyhawk folio. The later box set, for that matter, is only a little more detailed. While not as popular as the Wilderlands for this sort of thing, certainly folks have offered there own take on it to--here's Evan again.

Beyond those, what else? The Known World (pre-Gazetteers) is terse in its original presentation in The Isle of Dread, though the helpful (for the neophyte GM) cultural references might hem it in more than the ones mentioned previously, despite it's shorter length. Is there anything else? Powers & Perils' Perilous Lands, or does in that way lie madness? (It's not really terse at all, but curious unspecified in some ways.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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 September 25, 1980.


Action Comics #514: Everywhere computers are going haywire and causing trouble. After noticing the pattern, Superman traces the problem back to the Fortress of Solitude. There, he's bedeviled by his own robots and security measures, but fights his way through to the culprit: Brainiac. Brainiac is rebuilding himself after his last encounter with Superman and Supergirl and needs the help of the Fortresses computer to reprogram parts of his brain. When, he gets done, he says they won't meet like this again, shakes Superman's hand and flies off. It's a whiplash shift, and it made me wonder for a moment if their was a missing page or at least panels. But no, Superman explains that he used his powers while Brainiac was distracted to pull a Doc Savage move and reprogram Brainiac's brain for good. An interesting twist by Wolfman in an otherwise ho-hum story, one which will lead to a short "new direction" for Brainiac. Short, because he's only got only 3 more appearances over as many years before he gets his new, more robotic redesign.

The Air-Wave/Atom backup makes the Sunspotter out to be a super-powerful villain, but it isn't enough to keep him from being defeated, and it isn't really enough to make this feature interesting. Sunspotter does have sort of a Marvel vibe and design, though; he reminds me of some one or two appearance Marvel Team-Up foes. Next issue promises a solo Atom story (presumably still by Rozakis and Tanghal). We'll see how that one goes.


Adventure Comics #478: This issue will be the last of the 3-way split in Adventure. Each of the features is getting sent off to another title. But here, DeMatteis and Giordano/Mitchell finish their Black Manta storyline--sort of. Manta and his army of the disaffected attack Atlantis, but Aquaman escapes from the cell where Manta left him in time to rally the Atlantean troops and give an impassion speech to Manta's forces, many of whom desert and take an offer of sanctuary in Atlantis. Mera recovers from her illness and arrives in time to stop Black Manta, and Cal Durham is with her. Cal finally gets to tell Aquaman what he's being trying to tell him for 3 issues: that's not really Black Manta!

Levitz and Ditko have Starman succeed in saving M'ntorr from his own people, but M'ntorr is then exiled to the physical universe. He tells Starman he's proud of him and regenerates Starman's destroyed staff before deciding to die anyway. I have a hunch the follow up in DC Comics Presents will be more tying off loose ends than continuing the story. The Pasko/Staton/Smith Plastic Man has Plas up against a group of former criminals turned P.I.s who are acting like criminals again to prove they haven't "lost their touch." They also happen to look just like the Marx Brothers. Honestly, I'm surprised Plastic Man lasted as long as it did, not because it's terrible, but because I feel like it was very much out of step with what comics readers wanted in 1980.


Brave & the Bold #169: Barr and Aparo have Batman investigating Angela Marcy, faith healer of the Marcy Temple, after the suspicious death of her husband. Zatanna is an attendee of the temple and a believer. She tags along to prove Batman wrong. It turns out Raymond Marcy was killed by a mobster he refused to use his healing gift on. Angela's powers are a fraud, though her assistant has been faking the most dramatic cures without her knowledge. The killer is brought to justice, and Batman suggests Angela Marcy open a mission in Gotham's slums instead of a temple. A solid, if unremarkable team-up yarn. 

The Nemesis backup continues not to do much for me, other than I appreciate Spiegle's art. But hey, it graduates to a Batman team-up next issue so we'll see where it all winds up.


Detective Comics #497: In the lead story, Conway and Newton take Batman out of Gotham to track a gangster to Baja California. In one difficult night, Batman's mission intersects the disparate lives of several individuals, and leaves most of them better off--even when his actions interfered with their plans. It's a clever concept for a story, though I don't feel like it comes together as well as Conway might have hoped. 

The Batgirl backup is more interesting. Barbara Gordon is a suspect in the murder of Representative Scanlon, there appears to be a frame-up. The only way to alibi herself is to admit to being Batgirl. Her father has mysteriously disappeared, so she's on her own. Barbara is arrested in the issues cliffhanger ending. Delbo's art seems not up to his Wonder Woman standards here, though. 


Green Lantern #135: I just don't feel like this Dr. Polaris story needed 3 issues. It's decompression before decompression was a thing. Well, not really decompression, perhaps, but more not getting to the point. Polaris has conquered the world and a ringless Hal Jordan and his pal Thomas go to try and stop him somehow. Polaris recognizes them but spends so much time toying with Jordan that our hero has time to mentally call his ring back. Polaris keeps absorbing magnetic power so he doesn't think it matters. GL changes strategies, though, giving Polaris more power so that he becomes one with the magnetic field of the universe (or something) and disappears.

The Sutton/Rodriquez Adam Strange yarn likewise feels like a study in taking so long to get to the ending that the ending feels flat. The story title, though, is "The Zeta-Bomb Maneuver" which references the ST:TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver." Strange pulls exactly the same sort of trick as Kirk in that episode when he bluffs the existence of a super-weapon called a zeta-bomb to defeat the rebels.


House of Mystery #287: The Micheline/Bercasio story must have inspired the cool Kaluta cover, but doesn't really have anything to do with it. An Arctic weather outpost is plagued by mysterious deaths where the bodies are found drained of blood. Oh, and there's that coffin that's there with them nobody can explain, so already several of the remaining crew are thinking vampire. In the end, one guy, the skeptic is left, though he manages to kill the vampire, he is bitten and finds himself transformed here in the middle of no where with no blood to drink. 

The other two stories aren't quite as good, but not terrible. DeMatteis and Cruz give us a story of an old woman who is domineering toward the niece she supports because she is secretly jealous of her youth. She makes a deal with a very chipper Devil for a second youth, and for a while lives it up. Then, she realizes she's been tricked and is aging back to childhood. Her niece takes charge of her life and finances and sets out to treat her as cruelly as she feels she was treated. The last story by Oleck and Saviuk seems overly complicated in that it makes the slaughter-happy treasure-seekers attacking Native American-appearing folk aliens instead of--well, Europeans. Captain Jurok is convinced there is a city of gold, so he leads a side mission without approval of his superiors to find it. They are taken captive and forced to toil as slaves in that hidden city of gold. Jurok escapes, but dies of exposure, though not before being found by his people. They leave the planet, never noticing the shackles he wore were made of gold.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Dark Sun: The Sand Raiders


I've run two sessions now of Dark Sun using Forbidden Lands (and the Burning Sands Dark Sun adaptation you can find online). To keep it easy as we were getting used to the system, I decided to run the short adventure in the 4e Dark Sun book.

At the caravanserai of Dur-Taruk, the party (Eowen, Elf Ranger; Insam, Ranger; and Keeb-Raa, Thri-Kreen druid) accept a job from a dwarf factor named Urum ath Wo of the merchant house Zawir. It seems a Zawir caravan arrived with one wagon missing and with it its cargo of grain, wine, and wood. Fifty silver was offered for clear directions to the cargo or its return, and the party is eager for the coin.

The party is able to pick up the trail of the lost wagon and track it to a place it was set upon by saurian silt runners.  In fact, some of the silt runners are still there, and the party engages them in combat, ultimately emerging victorious. The bodies have attracted the attention of a pack of kruthiks. The party has to kill them before they can follow the tracks showing where the silt runners too the cargo. They lead to the ruins of an ancient tower.

Stealthily approaching the tower, the party finds a vault where the silt runners and their leader have taken the cargo and the still-living wagon crew. The leader is a largely reptilian creature who has a dagger coated with some greenish ichor. He doesn't get a chance to use it because Insam puts an arrow through a gap in his carapace and kills him.

In the battle that follows, one silt runner escapes but the others are slain. The party decides the cargo is too much trouble for them to carry back, but they free the crew, and after making camp for the night in the vault, they return to Dur-Taruk in the morning for their payment.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Dwarf Folk of the Wilderness

Art by Jason Sholtis

Another Antediluvian people of the Wilderness are often called names that would translate as some variation of "dwarf." They arrived as the retainers of the First Folk lords who called them simply "the smiths." They were, and often still are, forgers of implements of bronze and iron, and cunning artificers.

They are clearly cousins to mortal humankind, but are shorter in stature, more powerfully built, and courser featured. One of the first human tribes to meet them in the new world called them "hairy ones" in their tongue, a name adopted by later arrivers in a mangled form as goohagatch. These latter folk believed the dwarf people to be cursed to wander, but also protected from harm by the True God. This has not always sparred them violence from their human neighbors, and they have mostly moved away from encroaching settlements.

There are some dwarf folk who have adapted to a greater extent to humans ways, and perhaps even interbred with humans. They are sometimes called "civilized dwarfs" but just as often "petty dwarfs."

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Weird Revisited: The Black Train is Coming

This is a Weird Adventures related post from 2011. I don't think it made it into the book. I re-read the Manly Wade Wellman story that inspired it yesterday, so it brought it to mind...

“A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say..”

-- Manly Wade Wellman, “The Little Black Train”

Hobo-goblins, human tramps and bindlestiffs, and other Brethren of the Road, tell stories in their camps of a preternatural train that runs from this world to planes beyond. This lore is seldom shared with those outside their communities, but folklore records regular folk having chance encounters with the phantom.

The appearance of the train changes with time. It always appears old, like it has a decade or two of service behind it behind it, but otherwise stays current with locomotive technology and styles. It's not marked in any way, and has been described by observers in paradoxical ways. It’s plain and nondescript, yet powerfully commands intention. Some feel an intense unreality upon seeing it, others the cold hand of fear.

The train starts on mundane tracks, but as soon as it's "out of sight" of its observers it begins to shift into other realms. Some dreamers have seen it crossing the lunar wastes from the vantage of the parapets of the Dream Lord's castle. It is known to make stops in depots in the Hells. Planar travelers have attested to seeing rails that fade into nothingness at the mouth of the gyre at the bottom of reality.

Mostly, it seems carry certain dead to the afterlife, though why it comes for some and not others is unknown. Hell Syndicate snitches know of it, but not who operates it. Angels likewise keep a serene silence. Most who ride the train are dropped off in the waystation realm of the dead, from there to travel on to their souls' final destination.  Some, however, are taken directly to the outer planes. Others seem to ride the train for longer periods of time. They're found snoozing in couch cars, or drinking and playing cards in the dining car. Waiting, perhaps, for something. They’re sometimes inclined to conversation, though they seldom have anything useful to say.

Adventurers have sometimes used the train as a quick ride, either to the Other Side, or the Outer Planes. Hobo-goblin glyphs sometimes point the way to likely places were the train may appear. The train’s gray, nondescript, and seldom seen staff do not object to taking on new passengers, so long as they pay the fare--which varies, but is always in silver.

There's always the option, for those with fare or without, of hopping one of the train’s empty freight cars, but riding an open car through other planes is a dangerous proposition, and the boxcars are only empty of freight--not necessarily other travelers.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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 September 11, 1980. 


G.I. Combat #224:There are two Kanigher and Glanzman/Ayers Haunted Tank stories, as usual. In the first, the tank's crew must out think a German Panzer while on loan to the British Army in North Africa. As is often the case, the crew is mistrustful of their commander, Jeb, but he saves them in the end. In the second story, U.S. tanks keep disappearing in a secluded valley that was the site of a battle in WWI. The Haunted Tank is the last to go in, and they find themselves assaulted by poison gas. Thinking quickly, they escape and discover a WWI German unit has been improbably hiding and defending this valley since the last war ended. "You can't cheat death twice," as the title says, and these Germans and done in by the Haunted Tank team. 

"Reward for A Traitor" by Kashdan and Bercasio is a cautionary tale about trusting colonial powers if you're an indigenous person.  The son of a Pacific Island chief makes that mistake with the Japanese and gets put to work in a mine for his trouble. The O.S.S. story by Kanigher and LeRose has spies making a heroic sacrifice for the war effort, which is how these stories always go. Different here is that Control can't make the decision to shoot down their plane, even if not doing so reveals to the Germans their plans. He seems much more "all about the mission" in previous stories. The next story by Douglas and Evans is an appreciation of parachute fitters and is refreshing to the extent that its protagonist wants to be as far away from combat as possible at the end of the story, despite his heroism. The next story by Wessler and Bercasio is a short, bleak tale of a unit's practical joker who, despite being a thorn in his sergeant's side, jumps on a grenade to save him, thereby playing the ultimate joke: leaving the others "stuck with the whole lousy war."


Justice League of America #185: Conway and Perez's New Gods arc comes to an end. It's good JLA/JSA team-up storytelling, with the different sub-teams coming together in the end. Highlights include Batman and Mister Miracle comparing escape artist notes, and Wonder Woman and Big Barda tag teaming against Granny Goodness. In the end, the energy meant to destroy Earth-2 is redirected to strike Darkseid instead. Perez draws an off-model Darkseid this entire issue, but that quibble aside, I feel like this three-parter has been the best of Conway's run I've reviewed so far.


New Teen Titans #2: This issue continues to move at a pretty fast pace. Starfire doesn't yet know how to speak English (she learns it here, by kissing Robin), so how were they a functional team? Anyway,  The H.I.V.E. tries to hire Deathstroke (I didn't realize he had that name from the beginning) to take them down, but the Terminator refuses, so they decide to make their own. They get a volunteer in the form of Grant Wilson, a neighbor of the Titans who Starfire stopped from committing domestic violence. He becomes the Ravager and attacks the Titans with Terminator's reluctant help while they are Claremont X-Mening it in a fan service, pool frolic. The defeated Ravager ages pretty quick from pushing his power and dies. Deathstroke attends his burial and reveals he is Grant Wilson's father. He takes the H.I.V.E. job as revenge against the Titans, which seems to be what H.I.V.E. planned all along. 

This title doesn't yet have the character drama that would be a big part of why the Wolfman/Perez run is often praised, but it is definitely different from the other DC supers offerings (even ones written by Wolfman).


Secrets of Haunted House #31: This issue features the debut of Mister E in a tale by Rozakis and Harris. He'll become a bigger deal in the Vertigo 90s. Right now, he's just a blind guy who's been stalking a vampire who's been committing murders, but he's is easily stymied by a blow to the head by the vampire's immigrant, ingenue housekeeper. Luckily, she realizes her mistake and stakes the vampire herself, otherwise this would have been Mister E's last appearance.

In "Short Road to Damnation" by Drake and Henson, a nebbish, height-challenged secretary steals a pair of Napoleon's boots and suddenly becomes a proactive and commanding guy, which includes committing two murders. The boots that gave him the ability also prove his undoing as they link him to the crime scenes, as discovered by a Detective Leba, whose name is of course an anagram for Elba. A story by Kashdan and Brozowski rounds out the issue with an escaped convict happening upon a scientist's laboratory in a swamp. The scientist is working on an antidote to the "death factor" that causes cells to die and potentially could provide immortality. The criminal takes the antidote before the scientist can explain fully and kills him in a scuffle. The criminal's caught, but he doesn't die from his gunshot wounds, and he can't be executed. Every potentially mortal wound ages him at a faster rate, however. The antidote to death was senility (though the story calls this factor "morbidity.") We end in the future time of 1999, with the criminal locked away in a futuristic prison, a wizened husk.


Superman #354: Another Silver Age-y "mystery" plot from Bates, but again a not uninteresting one. Superman takes down a group of high flying thieves led by a Mr. Alpha, who winds up escaping into the sewers, which happens to put him a good place to hear about the origins of a suit of powered armor found in the Egyptian desert. Clark Kent is there too, having responded to an invitation from senior archeologist, Thalia Tate. Tate presents the young man who was wearing the armor who claims to be a time travel from a highly advanced, prehistoric civilization. He and his beloved were separated by a time storm--and he thinks Tate's assistant Susan is actually his long lost Myyla. Supporting his story is that Susan looks like Myyla and is wearing an identical amulet to his. When she removes it, she's no longer speaking English. Susan needs some time to sort this out, but Mr. Alpha kidnaps her, forcing the visitor from the past to get in his armor and fight Superman or else.  Superman manages to keep his attacker at bay long enough to located Alpha and free Susan. He's also figured out what's really going on. It's Tate that is really the visitor from another time. Separated in the time storm, she and her beloved arrived in the future decades apart. Not wanting her beloved to have to be with an old woman, she chose an assistant that looked a lot like the younger her, did some hypnosis, gave her the amulet, etc. The truth revealed, they return to their own time with Superman's help, and Thalia/Myyla is restored to youth in the process.

The backup story is about the Superman of 2020, the grandson of the original. That has some interesting implications for when Bates thinks the first Superman's adventures take place (if it's 1980 as in the first story, you'd think Superman would have to be having his kid pretty soon), and possibly for the expected duration of heroic careers. His future is brighter than our present: 3 supermen, and no pandemic.


Wonder Woman #273: This is the first appearance of the second Cheetah, courtesy of Conway and Delbo. Wonder Woman responds to a oil tanker accident and meets a group of environmental activists led by a young woman in a bikini and a captain's hat who happens to have access to a yacht. She's Debi Domaine. After Wonder Woman gets a shower and the yacht returns to dock, Debi gets a letter from the aunt who raised her who is apparently on her death bed. Wonder Woman heads off to work and some sitcom antics as she makes dates as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman for the same evening. Debi visits her dying aunt and discovers she was once the costumed criminal, the Cheetah, and then is captured by Kobra agents. While Wonder Woman puts on her disco cape and heads out on her date, Debi is subjected to the Clockwork Orange treatment, mentally conditioning her with images of environmental devastation. She emerges as the Cheetah in an outfit similar to her aunt's except with a deep-V neck and high-heels, and is ready to become an environmental terrorist for Kobra!

 In the Huntress back-up by Levitz and Staton, Power-girl threatens the DA over a new anti-superhero vigilante rule in Gotham, which really sort of makes his point for him, I think. Huntress shows up to intervene. She and Power-Girl go to chat, and she reveals to her friend that she's been dating the DA. Meanwhile, we discover that the Thinker is behind the DA's actions, because who could be against costumed vigilantes but a super-villain, right? In the end, a sudden crimewave breaks out in Gotham at the Thinker's command.


World's Finest Comics #266: Burkett and Buckler provide the Batman/Superman story where they tangle with the new super-villain, Lady Lunar who attacks a STAR Labs moon exhibit. She is actually a double bit of continuity referencing. She has the same powers (and origin basically) as Moon Man from World's Finest #98 in 1958 (in fact, this issue is the last appearance of Moon Man's alter ego), and she turns out to be an astronaut trainee from Wonder Woman's stint as an astronaut back in 1979. The Haney/von Eeden Green Arrow story is goofy, but charming. Editor George Taylor is sure Oliver Queen is Green Arrow, so he challenges him to 48 hours of flagpole sitting for charity, convinced that Queen will be unable to meet his column deadlines. With the help of Dinah send him stories via Morse code and what not, Ollie keeps writing his stories and sending them to Dinah via arrows right under Taylor's watchful eyes. 

The Red Tornado story be DeMatteis and Delbo has RT looking for an apartment and almost getting stabbed by a 13 year-old girl who's high on...something. He takes an interest in helping the girl and saves her from falling off a building, which finally gets her mother to recognize the severity of the situation. All, the time T.O. Morrow is watching. The Rozakis/Landgraf Hawkman story "Something Sinister in Sewer Seven" has the best title of the issue. The something or somethings are giant, mutant bugs. The main conflict is city bureaucrats trying to cover it up. Birdwell and Newton unleash a space armada of ships shaped like Dr. Sivana's head on Captain Marvel. This comes after Sivana and IBAC go planet to planet and have IBAC beat up planetary despots until they declare Sivana their ruler. Meanwhile, Mr. Mind intends to side with Sivana only until he has the opportunity to destroy him. I continue to enjoy this updated "Monster Society of Evil" saga.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Fire and the Void


Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party in the midst of exploring the strange, ruined temple beneath the Crooked Hills. The party ran afoul of a group of skeletons that they quickly dispatched. They avoided a pit trap where they also found another strange item--a vial of silvery liquid. They were disappointed to find it wasn't magical.

They came to a room with a relief of a muscular, bearded man holding a scorched brazier. The group tried burning something in it and a secret door opened. On the other side was a room with a large oven with a roaring flame inside. They discovered the flame was a fire elemental who suggested it needed to be bribed to allow them to pass through to the run beyond the oven. Dagmar gave it gold pieces, which it melt in its flames. Then it parted like a curtain to allow them to pass.

On the other said was a wide, shallow bowl with a whirling void on the inside. As the party began to investigate, a group of the sleepwalkers came in. They largely appeared to ignore the party as one took a couple of items the party took to be trinkets and dropped them into the void where they disappear. When that was done, he extended a hand expectantly to the party.

They decided to give him a trinket to see what happened. He took it and put it in the void. They kept giving him the trinkets they had, even the newly acquired silvery vial, and they all disappeared. The sleepwalkers turned and left.

When they were gone, the party investigated the room further. Waylon figured out that the void was only an illusion. Items dropped into it went down a passage. Erekose found a secret lever to open a secret door. What they found, down a short passage, was essentially a glorified closet with a number of trinkets and other items that had been dropped into the void.

Mindful of the townsfolk's warning about the trinkets exploding, they cautiously experiment with putting groups of them together in the same place, but nothing seemed to happen. Eventually, they divided up the nonbroken items and took them with them.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The First Folk of the Wilderness


This is a follow-up to this post.

The First Folk were the earliest inhabitants of the Western Lands, that is certain. Their tradition holds that all people emerged from the navel of the Earth, somewhere in the far west, but that they, the Children of the Dawn, were specially loved by the gods who taught them their secrets, which the first Folks used to found the earliest civilizations in the world in the Eastern Lands.

Some human scriptures teach that the First Folk are the hybrid children of rebellious greater spirits, sometimes falsely called gods, and humans. They cite the Great Flood as the True God's punishment for the iniquities of the First Folk and their parents. This religious condemnation did not stop human tribes from studying under the First Folk and learning their craft and science. Of course, these humans, too, committed the same sins in the eyes of God, perhaps, for was not their island home destroyed in a cataclysm for their wickedness?

After the Flood, the surviving First Folk lords and their people returned to the shores of the Western Lands. There they found members of their own race, fallen in their own reckoning, living primitively in the endless forests. They sometimes met these kinsfolk in peace, sometimes in violence. They raised new cities, though perhaps not as glorious as those in the East. The barrows and ruins of these people are still found, though in the end a strange fall overcame them, so that they were only a shadow by the time the first humans came West. 

These human tribes sometimes warred with the surviving First Folk from the East, but over time became beloved of the the First Folk of the woodlands. Later human tribes would not be so receptive to the First Folk ways.

The Folk of Forests have receded ever further as human civilization has encroached upon the dark wood beyond the mountains. It is wise for travelers to abide by their rules and attempt to placate them, however, as they have be known to punish those who do not respect their ways.

The First Folk of the east were taller (perhaps as tall as 8 feet, with some of the ruling class of the great kingdoms of the East even taller) and in general, considered more beautiful than humans. Their lifespans were exceedingly long--before the Deluge they were immortal--and their physical capabilities exceeded those of man. Their eyes and sometimes their faces, were said to have a subtle radiance about them, perhaps a suggestion of their Celestial heritage. The Folk of the Forest are not as tall, and often more angular, but still strangely beautiful, possessed of a glamor, it is said.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Solar Trek Episode Guide - Updated


In honor of Star Trek's 55th anniversary (yesterday), it seemed like a good time to revisit my 2019 posts on Solar Trek, a solar system confined, more hard science fiction rationalized Star Trek. Here are all the posts to date, titled with the TOS episode/setting element that inspired it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 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  September 11, 1980. 


Batman #330: A gangster on death row sends assassins to make sure Batman dies before he does. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are trying to find Lucius Fox's son, who's gotten tangled up in a plot by the crime lord Falstaff to get at Bruce Wayne. Wolfman has Batman and Robin disagreeing over how to deal with the the confused, young Fox, an extension of their disagreement over Grayson quitting college. This is consistent with Wolfman's portrayal of their relationship in New Teen Titans, but he doesn't show up outside of his stories. Talia also appears here, but doesn't do much. The last assassin, a guy with an Old West gunfighter theme is an interesting character, but I suspect he doesn't appear again.


DC Comics Presents #28: Wein and Starlin continue the story of Superman's fight against Mongul and Warworld. Here, Superman teams with his cousin, Supergirl. They are presented here as much more powerful than we typically see them portrayed today (this is sporadically true of other Silver Age heroes, like Flash, as well, in this era). The Super-cousins use "microscopic vision" to follow the trail of subatomic particles to Warworld and telescopic vision to surveil it. We get Mongul's tragic origin, which is basically that he's a former dictator kicked out by his people in favor of a dictator who was just as bad (in Mongul's opinion). The Kryptonians hold their own against what Warworld can throw at them until Mongul's brain burns out commanding the station. They finally defeat it by having Supergirl fly at superluminal speeds and smash a path straight through the station, which Superman uses to enter and reprogram its systems at super-speed. But where does Supergirl end ip?

The backup story is perhaps the first genuine "What Ever Happened to..." in the series. Tiefenbacher and Kane have the Old West hero Johnny Thunder and his sometimes competitor, Madame .44 teaming up and revealing their true identities--and true feelings--for each other. Then they get hitched! Kane's not at the top of his game here, but he still draws great Western action.


Flash #292: Either some time has passed since last issue, or Fiona Webb got over her fear that Barry Allen was trying to kill her really quickly after learning the truth, because Bates and Heck have the two on a date at a carnival. A carnival where the Mirror Master gloats over his plans to defeat the Flash. The Flash's foes seem to physically warp/transform his body a lot, and Mirror Master is no exception. He makes Flash uncoordinated by mirror-image reversing his body! The Flash figures this out and manages to save himself then Central City. He outruns a reflected "solaser" beam and has time to paint a building in silver nitrate before the beam arrives. During all this Fiona Webb is on again, off again, based on perceived slights on Barry's part due to his distraction while dealing with Mirror Master. Sometimes she has a point, but it makes her look really high maintenance! Nice to get a "done in one" story.

In the back up story, Conway and Perez have Firestorm tangle with the Hyena, who attacks a police station because they are corrupt and not doing a good enough job, I guess? Then, he heads off to stop a robbery. I had no idea the Hyena was a vicious vigilante until this story.


Ghosts #95: The first story goes back to a schtick Ghosts hasn't played up in a few issues: the idea that the stories are real, but gives it a bit of a "meta" bent has it purports to be the story of why the author (Kashdan) didn't write the story the editor assigned to him about Gurney Castle, which includes a meeting with a ghost in that castle. Clever, but there isn't much to the story beyond the conceit. "Spectral Bullets Cannot Kill!" by Wessler with that distinct Henson art I've come to appreciate is better. A mobster sends a hitman to kill a guy with a gambling debt. The man pleads his inability to pay due to his recent car accident, but the mobster has no pity. In anger, the man puts a curse on the hitman's gun. When the time comes for the deed, the bullets don't hurt him. He taunts the hitman that their "spectral" nature. The hitman returns to the mobster to admit failure to find the man already there. The mobster demands he shoot again, but when the hitman does, the bullets pass through the other man and hit the mobster. The twist: the bullets were ok, but the man was a ghost, having died in the car accident. The next Wessler yarn isn't quite as good. A man plots the murder of his friend in a cave so he can get the girl, but rainwater erases the paint trail he had left for his own exit. The only trail he can find proves to be blood leading him back to the scene of his crime.

In the last story by Kupperberg and Adams/Blasdell, Dr. Thirteen the Ghost-Breaker returns, having last been seen in 1977. This story also features an appearance by Rutland, Vermont. Thirteen has retired from the fraud-exposing business to write books and make the talk show circuit, but a mysterious man named Kowalski asks him to take a case in a Rutland community theater where unusual occurrences are being blamed on the ghost of a playwright, Tilson. Thirteen quickly discovers it's all being faked by an actress who's trying to get out of her contract, but it turns out that Kowalski was the real name of Tilson.


Jonah Hex #43: Marshall Jeremiah Hart takes a look at the body of the businessman Hex supposedly killed and something doesn't add up. Still, he sets out after the bounty hunter, only stopping to contend with the Spast Brothers who want their sibling out of jail. Instead, they wind of joining him. Meanwhile, Hex is again promising Mei Ling he'll put down his guns as son as he gets this last bounty, the man who shot the banker. On the trail, Hart gets the drop on Hex. He tells him that something about the alleged crime does add up, but he still has to take him in. Unfortunately, Apaches get a drop on them both. They bear a grudge against Hex going back to the incident where his face was scarred. Working together, they manage to escape, but then the Spast Brothers prepare to spring an ambush.


Weird War Tales #95: "The War That Time Forgot" is back for the first time since 1976. This story by Kanigher and Reyes is typical of the WTTF sort in that the dinosaurs are Godzilla-sized, far bigger than they were in reality. The Devil Dinosaur-red tyrannosaurus carries around a Sherman tank for much of the story after the tank crew rescues the native woman that was intended to be a sacrifice to him. The crew booby traps their tank and blow up the monster. This is by far the best story of the issue. 

The next by Kashdan and Ayers/Adkins has an Imperial Japanese experiment to breed a voracious insect to act as a defoliant going wrong when the insects decide to dine on their creators. The next story by DeMatteis and Forton has a wealthy businessman, Geller, hounded by people accusing him of being Nazi war criminal Geisen. A Holocaust survivor claims to recognize from the camp. That night, Geller seems to awaken in the concentration camp. He is beaten and tries to escape, then is taken to the showers. As he screams and cowers in terror, it's revealed that this all has been a bit of theater. He's been drugged and brought to a movie set by the Holocaust survivor to torture him into confessing, but--oops--his assistant comes running in with a message from Israel clearing Geller of being Geisen. He's actually the camp doctor, Reinhart, who was sympathetic to the prisoners and was tortured by his superiors for his actions. The trauma caused him amnesia. Now, the camp survivor remembers why his face was so familiar! The final story by Kanigher and Carrillo is a riff off the "Angel of Mons." Both the Brits and the Germans troops glimpse what they believe to be the flowing robes of an angel leading them to victory, but it turns out to be scythe-wielding death for all.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Weird Revisited: Herculean Labors on Labor Day

Labor Day is a good time to take a look back at a post I did back in 2013 on the Labors of Hercules (the link there will refresh you on the background) through a science fantasy lens in the Gods, Demi-gods & Strangeness setting I did some blogging about back then.

1: In the first labor, Hercules killed the Nemean lion. Given the Olympians penchant for genetically reviving extinct species, this was probably a cave lion of some sort. Perhaps a specimen of Panthera leo fossilis as big as Panthera leo atrox, the America cave lion: something like 8 ft. long and 4 ft. tall at the shoulder. The being invulnerable thing is probably just fanciful exaggeration--or is it?


2: Next, Hercules and Iolaus took on the Lemaean Hydra. A multiheaded serpent is the sort of creature spawned by Echidna.

3: Hercules only captured the Golden Hind of Artemis (the Cerynitian Hind). This was one of a group of specialized genetically engineered deer of genus Eucladoceros kept by Artemis. They were engineered so (like modern reindeer) the females had antlers.


4: Next Hercules captured the Erymanthian Boar. I've written about these "giant boar" previously.

5: The stables of Augeas were really, really disgusting. Why were his livestock immortal?

6: After that, Hercules slayed a group of Stymphalian birds--which of course aren't birds at all.

7: Hercules captured the rampaging Cretan Bull. As previously established, this creature wasn't the father of the Minotaur. Instead, it was a large auroch as enraged and violent as that big buffalo in White Buffalo (1977).


8: Capturing the Mares of Diomedes was difficult because they were carnivorous. They must have been some mad creation of Olympian science.

9: Next Hercules stole the belt of the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. This belt was a gift of Ares and a symbol of her authority, but didn't have any particular powers. Probably.

10: For his next labor, Hercules does a little cattle-rustling. He goes to an island of Erytheia far the the West (probably modern Spain) and steals special cattle (likely bioengineered to produce something for the Olympians--perhaps a component of nectar or ambrosia?) from Geryon. Geryon is said to have three bodies, which probably means his consciousness runs in three duplicates. He also had a 2 headed dog.

11:Returning to the far west and still messing with Olympian pharma, Hercules stole the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. He had to kill a dragon (or a guardian of some sort) and dealt with Atlas, who was the artificial intelligence of an installation that protected against threats from space.

12: Finally, he captured Cerberus. This guardian of Hades is a nanite swarm often taking the vague form of a large three headed dog.

Have a good Labor Day!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

A Different West

 Being in sort of a Old West/Frontier mood of late, I got around the checking out a couple of things that had been on my list for a while, but I just kept never getting to.

The Nightingale (2019) is an Australian revisionist Western from the director of The Babadook. In it's basic plot, it's a tale of revenge, not unlike Hannie Caulder (1971), but the resemblance to traditional revenge Westerns, even revenge Westerns based around women, really ends at the plot synopsis. It's more interested (like many revisionist Westerns) in examining the plight of indigenous peoples, but it takes the particular angle of the allowing its oppressed Irish woman protagonist to develop empathy, through recognizes the points of similarity between her experience and that of her Aboriginal guide. While perhaps not as brutal the last Australian Western I watched, The Proposition (2006), it is tough viewing in places, particularly the assault on the protagonist and her family. Still, it's a good film on its own terms, and it's always interesting to see Western film tropes and themes played out in places besides North America.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is the last book (to date) written by Stephen King set in the Dark Tower universe. It's outside the main story of that series proper, but includes those characters in framing device. While sheltering from fantastical storm, part tornado and part polar vortex, Roland relates a tale of his youthful days as a gunslinger to his friends. Embedded in that story is another story, a Mid-World "fairytale," that his mother had read to him as a boy, "The Wind Through the Keyhole." This story within a story tells the tale of a young boy living on the edge of the Endless Wood who must contend with a malign fairy, a swamp (complete with a dragon), and his own encounter with that same sort of storm, in a trek across a dangerous wilderness to get a cure for his mother's blindness from the wizard, Maerlyn. 

King's feel for his fantasy world keeps getting stronger. While there are clear points of intersection with our history, he relies less on characters or incursions from our reality (or realities like ours). The Dark Tower novels that were mostly about Mid-World (Wizard and the Glass, Wolves of Calla) were my favorites of the series, and I think this short novel does what they do even better. I wish King would write a collection of other Mid-World tales.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Wednesday Comics: November, 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 August 28, 1980. 


Legion of Super-Heroes #269: This is one of the best Conway/Janes issues so far, which is not to say it's spectacular, but it's better than Space Genies. It's approaching election time for Earth's new President, and Colossal Boy's mother gets drafted to run. There's the relationship stuff LSH is known for, but as Shadow Lass and Mon-El are pitching woo, others are celebrating with Colossal Boy's family, and Timber Wolf is moping, the Fatal Five (in league with the mysterious Dark Man) attack. I'm looking forward to the next issue of Legion for the first time in this experiment, I think.


Mystery in Space #113: This continues to be pretty good. The first story by Kashdan with art by Michael Golden and Bob Wiacek has 3 earthlings answering a want ad for computer specialists on a mysterious world. They find the planet to be a paradise, but something about it seems almost to good to be true--and sure enough it is. The inhabitants all have computer brains so they can be immortal, but for some reason they need old fashion human brains to direct their society. When the computer specialists (now prisoners in a gilded cage) have to get computer brains to keep from dying of old age, they place an ad for new specialists. 

The next story by DeMatteis and Grandenetti, has a 2000 AD sort of vibe. The absurdly violent General Windsinger looks into the eyes of a strange alien on the battlefield and is transported to an alien menagerie and what he takes to be a gladiatorial contest. He slaughters his opponents, but then discovers he was the one that lost. The aliens were offering souls ready to leave violence behind in an eternal paradise, but despite his subconscious yearnings, his actions prove he isn't ready. He's returned to the battlefield where he sheds a single tear. "Gremlins" has great Kubert art and a script by Wein. It involves stranded spacemen mistaking the intentions of creatures that look like small, neotenic versions of xenomorphs. The final story by Kashdan and von Eeden, has mankind discovering a species of four-limbed ape-creatures that are highly trainable. They plan to have these creatures replace robots as domestic servants and menials. You know this is going to end badly, but the how is surprising. When the creatures rebel and start killing their masters, they are regrettable exterminated. It turns out the robots used a poison to make the creatures violent because they didn't want to be replaced!


New Adventures of Superboy #11: Lex plots revenge against Superboy, but his device malfunctions and just causes Superboy to develop the power of "bio-magnetism," which really just means he attracts objects to himself he wants to attract (so more selective bio-gravity, but anyway). Eventually, the power grows beyond Superboy's control, and he steals Lex's notes to see how to stop it. Flying out into space to a "cosmic whirlwind" or "space vortex," which pretty much a black hole, but it looks like a whirlpool in space. He uses it to siphon off the "bio-magnetic" energy, but then it traps him--just like Lex always intended. Superboy escapes, of course, by going limp and riding waves of swirling gas. Lex is so angry he says he would rip his hair out--if he had any! In the backup written by Rozakis, Lana's father seems to have found a real genie, but it's really only a over-helpful Superbaby making the wishes come true. Pa Kent instructs his son on how to set it right. This is one of those stories where the toddlers (Superbaby and Lana) talk like fictional cavemen not actual children.


Sgt. Rock #346: This lead story is one of those Kanigher yarns that drives home the point over and over. He also engages in some parallelism between the wisdom of Sgt. Rock and the German unit commander, which is another thing Kanigher falls back on a lot. The conceit here is you don't see the enemy, but he's always there, and a few new recruits learn that lesson the hard way.  The other stories are all over the place, uncredited and often not particularly good. We get "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the narration to a battle with aliens, a former "Water Boy" finally getting the chance to man the machine gun in War World II, a Confederate cavalryman and his horse from artillery fire, and finally (best of the bunch) "Detour" by Kelley and Bissette, where a German tank commander takes out a U.S. bomber and tank in North Africa, only to fall prey to carelessness when his cigarette butt ignites the oil on the ground, and immolates both sides in a funeral pyre.


Super Friends #38: The alien Grax is back and he's teaming up with criminals and helping them commit crimes by using a device to make the Super Friends insubstantial. Soon, our heroes are insubstantial enough they risk floating away. Luckily, the Wonder Twins figure out a way to utilize their powers and with Wonder Woman's lasso, come to the rescue. These stories have more to them than the cartoon episodes, but not much more. Fradon's art helps, though.

The backup story by Bridwell and Oskner is actually more interesting. It's a solo story for Seraph, hero of Israel from the Global Guardians. He's visiting a settlement when it's attack by bikers posing as "Arabs." They are actually thieves after a treasure of Solomon, but they figure the PLO will take credit for the attack anyway. Seraph stops them but gets so worked up that he almost kills one of them after the guy surrenders. God takes away his powers and speaks to him in a booming voice (or either Fourth World Source writing, it's not clear). Seraph has to go and pray and repent to get his powers back.


Unexpected #204: The first story by Case and Calnan is an unusual (for DC horror titles) psychological horror piece. A child star is pushed by her overbearing stage mother to appear and stay child-like even as she becomes a teen. Eventually the girl snaps and kills her mother, then retreats into child-like fantasy. The next story by Ms. Seegar, Newton and Blaisdell has a philandering magician casting spells to woo a young woman away from her beau, but the magician's witch girlfriend has other ideas. In "The 13 Hex" by Wessler and Payne a man's date to a carnival is troubled by the continued reappearance of the number 13, convinced it harbingers bad luck. The man is too pre-occupied with his debt to organized crime and the hitman that's after him to worry about that. In the end, the date is the assassin, and the number 13 is unlucky for her, but not for her intended victim!  


Unknown Soldier #245: Kanigher and Ayers have the Unknown Soldier in occupied France trying to protect a blind Allied agent who knows the whereabouts of German missiles armed with a deadly chemical agent. The agent's beauty and kindness has the Unknown Soldier lamenting his own disfigured features. They are captured, but when the Unknown Soldier escapes and goes to rescue the woman, he discovers she's really German agent, and essentially a female version of himself, her face having been scared by Allied incendiary raids. Next comes a chase down snowy mountainside. The Soldier's toboggan jump across a crevasse fortuitously allows him to drop explosives on the German rockets below. The German agent dies in the explosion presumably, and despite her attempt to kill him, the Unknown Soldier feels regret.

In the backup story "The Vanishing American" by Kanigher and Yeates, a cavalry patrol, eager to wipe out an Indian tribe whose warriors they have already killed in reprisal for Custer's Last Stand, is led into an ambush by the tribe's women. In the Dateline: Frontline story by Burkett and Estrada, the reporter, Wayne, makes the decision to take an assignment in Bataan, while the woman he's been dating decides she has to volunteer to become a nurse in the European Theater.


Warlord #38: Read more about it here. The OMAC installment continues the battle between the IC&C and Verner Bros. I don't know if my supposition last month regarding these being Marvel and DC stand-ins is right, but it's amusing in the light of our era where AT&T owns Warner Bros. Anyway, Starlin definitely delivers the action in this installment.