Monday, January 31, 2022

In the Shadow of the Space Gods

is a fluid substance found within the spacetime called Asgard. In its found state it is a thick, clear fluid containing a faint, white, internal luminescence. Amrit is psychoactive, leading to intense entheogenic effects, but in a refined form its constituents are an essential component of rejuvenation fluids, anti-aging compounds, and thousands of other medical uses. 

Your mission is insert into Asgard and retrieve as much amrit as you can without inviting the attention of the local inhabitants or otherwise impairing the safety of your team or causing the loss of Company equipment.

Local Reality: Volume relatively small, perhaps no larger than a jovian planet. No breathable atmosphere. 

Largest observed body is an irregular asteroid, estimated to to be 640 km along it's semimajor axis/widest diameter, and approximately 27 km along a perpendicular axis. Appearance likened to a mountain floating in space. Several structures or settlements are visible on the surface. Asteroid is surrounded by an undulating amrit fluid disk (in fact, actually a sphere, but with its greatest concentration in the disk), perhaps 1 km thick at the asteroid, and tapering toward the periphery.  Fluid is clear but slightly luminescent, possibly from contain organism.

Inhabitants: Amrit fluid disk appears to be inhabited by various lifeforms perhaps analogous to marine life on terrestrial worlds. The asteroid body appears to be inhabited by giant, luminous humanoid forms (approximately 500 m tall) that appear to be dressed in some sort of armor or environmental suit (though the possibility remains this is some sort exoskeleton). Their number is variable, with two being the minimum observed and six being the maximum. The giants spend most of their time immobile. but they have been observed to walk short distances or raise their limbs or gesture. They do appear to broadcast to each other, tight beam, along a psychic frequency. This communication resists translation. Attempts to do so have resulted in AI or biologic analysts developing intense religious mania.

The structures on the asteroid would only seem to serve the giants with difficulty, so it is felt they house smaller beings, or are not buildings at all.

Hazards: Simple observation of the asteroid and its inhabitants can lead to paralyzing, pathologic sense of wonder, akin to various psychosomatic culture shock syndromes known from Earth. At it's most intense (in perhaps 20-25% of observers) this can take the form of a transient psychosis like Jerusalem syndrome. Theogenic shielding and pre-medication can ameliorate these effects. Auditory hallucinations of a choir is often an early warning sign.

Fear (perhaps what could be termed "holy dread") often afflicts crew when they see the giants. This impairs mission function and team cohesion. Crewmembers have been known to mutiny under the intense belief that harvesting amrit is effectively sacrilege, and the "gods" (giants) might be wrathful. Reassurance that the giants have never been definitively shown to take direct action against harvester crews is likely to be of benefit without the activation of in-suit sedation.

Team leaders should be aware that indirect action by the giants has led to loss of crews by undetermined means. These losses have appeared to be preceded by the shift of the giant's attention to the crew's actions. Our best recommendation is to keep crew action routine and efficient, quelling any abnormal or "showy" behavior.

Friday, January 28, 2022

All The Lost Come to Mother

Here's the bad news: You're lost.

Faster-than-light travel is supposed to work like this: The ship's caster makes the sigils that get displayed on the ship's hull. The caster encodes multidimensional state vectors into a compressed, symbolic code so routing information can be read by the transdimensional machinery of an extinct, alien civilization allowing shortcuts through spacetime.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, and it works pretty well most of the time. 

There are the other times, though, when ships wind up someplace other than the intended destination or just disappears entirely. At times the casting is probably to blame; the internal state of the caster has always been a hard to control variable. Sometimes there's just a glitch--an act of God or gods in the machine, you might say.

You experienced one of those other times. You’re lost in a distant part of the multiverse, a long way in space and time from where you wanted to be or where you’re from. You're alive, which makes you better off than some, but the chances of you getting home again are slim.

Now here's a bit of good news: You've been found. A lot of the lost wind up limping into the Ring. Nobody knows why; something to do with local spacetime, I think. It's like the place where objects bouncing through the conduits come finally to rest. Anyway, Mother has taken you in, like she does all the lost ones that show up on her doorstep. This is Mother's station. 

Now, Mother opened the door, but you've got to find a way to make a life for yourself here. We all earn our keep. The Company will be glad to give you place to live, credits to spend, and a job to pay for both. You'll want to stay in this sector, it's mostly humans and humanoids--oxy-breathers from a rational, four dimensional universe--around here. The aliens in other parts of the station, well, you have to be prepared. And you won't be. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

The job? I'm not going to lie to you, it will be dangerous. It's important work, the Company will tell you that, but it doesn't always make sense from the boots on the ground perspective, you understand. You'll see a lot of weird stuff out there, but keep your head, do the work, and you'll come home. Probably.

This is a follow-up to this post.

Thursday, January 27, 2022


Truthfully, a lot of times I back a Kickstarter, particularly something like a Zinequest thing, I am vaguely disappointed when it finally arrives. Usually, it isn't that the actually content disappoints particularly (though sometimes it does), but it's just that having the object in my hands fails next to the expectations from all those months ago when I backed it.

Not so with GRIDSHOCK 20XX! 

What's GRIDSHOCK 20XX it's a post-apocalyptic, superhero setting with a 80s future aesthetic. It's a bit anime and manga, a bit Rifts, a bit American and British sci-fi comics of the mid to late 80s. It runs on the superhero game ICONS, but the setting is the real draw.

This is not a review. The author is a friend of mine, and I did some editing and playtesting on it. But if anything, I think that sort of familiarity would have made the final receipt of the books as perfunctory. Not so! Chris Vermeren's layout and design, and the art of Grey Wizard and Steven de Waele, work so well with Paul's vision of the world, that it's like finally seeing it the way it was meant to be.

Plus the printing is high quality, too.

Sure, you could say these perhaps stretch the definition of a zine--but they are not the product of a corporate environment. This wasn't made by committee, but rather it's the product of talented individuals.

Hit Paul up on twitter and see if you can convince him to do a second printing!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1981 (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 January 22, 1981. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #274: Conway and Ditko/Chiaramonte present "The Exaggerated Death of Ultra Boy." Pulsar Stargrave apparently killing Ultra Boy has only sent him sailing through space where he is picked up by a pirate ship, whose lady captain wears a really ridiculous costume. The amnesiac Jo Nah becomes a member of her crew and her lover. The Legion comes into conflict with these pirates, with only Saturn Girl realizing the identity of Ultra Boy. This is a pretty good issue, but Ditko's art just doesn't seem right for the Legion to me.

Detective Comics #501: Conway and Newton/Adkins deliver a really solid lead story this issue. Busybody Bruce Wayne is concerned when Lucius Fox and Alfred separately receive telegrams from Paris that cause them to drop everything and head out to the airport. Batman follows and discovers someone is trying to kill them. It has something to do with Mademoiselle Marie, the famous French WW2 resistance leader--who both Fox and Alfred worked with at times during the war. Batman confronts his friends, and they tell him to go home. Then a group with guns, led by a dark-haired young woman, breaks in and threatens them. Batman starts taking them out, but Alfred hits from from behind saying he can't let him hurt "Julia." The dark-haired Julia, for her part, levels a gun at Alfred and announces that either he or Fox is Mlle. Marie's murderer--and she plans to execute the killer!

Burkett and Delbo continue the adventures of Batgirl in the backup. Dr. Voodoo is plotting his revenge. He injures her friend who repairs her bike, then strains her relationship with her boyfriend with voodoo. Finally, he attacks her and injects her with a "mystic drug." This really seemed a very Marvel sort of story. Maybe not a great Marvel story, but one of that style. To be continued next issue.

New Adventures of Superboy #16: An Olympic athlete and a Nobel laureate move to Smallville with their son. They secretly hoping to find the source of Superboy's power to empower their merely above average son. Another snoozer from Bates and Schaffenberger, who have done better here before, but not usually. The backup continues the story of the Superboy from one universe teaching the Clark Kent of an earlier era in another universe how to use his powers. I never bought the rationale for Crisis that the DC universe was too complicated, but stories like this undermine my argument.

Sgt. Rock #351: Kanigher and Redondo put Easy in North Africa, where Rock runs afoul of a German commander who things men are like ants. Because Kanigher never met a central metaphor he didn't want to hammer into the ground, the German buries Rock up to his neck and sets his special ants on him. There's a story set during the Boer War that doesn't amount to much. There's a two-page featurette on the Holocaust with art by Joe Kubert, which doesn't sit right with me particularly, at least in part because on its list of people killed in the camps it puts Protestants ahead of Jews and Catholics ahead of Romani--and leaves off a lot of other groups.  The last story is a "Men of Easy Co." feature about a brutal, perhaps even sadistic, soldier name Johnny Doe, who either is killed by his own grenade or shot by Rock, we aren't told. 

Super Friends #43: Bridwell and Tanghal follow-up the evolved clone of the Overlord with an even more evolved clone, Futurio-XX (times 10). Futurio manages to capture a number of the Super Friends but Green Fury helps get them out. Ultimately Futurio-XX gives up pretty easy because he's smart enough to realize Overlord plans to betray him and not give him the bride he promised.

The Pasko/Staton Plastic Man strip that used to be in adventure turns up here as a backup. The punny villain here is Lou Kwashus aka Chatterbox, a talk DJ with mob ties. I really can't say anymore about that.

Unexpected #209: Wessler and Tanghal open things up with a "curse mummy's treasure" tale that sees the treasure seeker decay to dust as the mummy steals his life. Next is a Timewarp story by Drake and Duursema about indigenous Mesoamericans who are fooled into thinking arriving conquistadors are gods, but then kill benevolent aliens who arrive afterwards, having become mistrustful of "Gods from the Sun." The Witching Hour story by Kashdan and Rodriquez is notable for the youngest witch, Cynthia, being a character in the story (not just the narrator) and also for all the sexy poses Rodriquez draws her in while she's narrating. Her boyfriend, a would-be puzzlemaker, gets swindled by the owner of a large company, but she gets revenge by trapping him in a puzzle. 

The Barr/Sparling Johnny Peril story has Johnny on the run from the "geeks" as he calls them, that were working in the factory from last issue. Johnny makes it to the front porch of an old friend. He finds the parents of the girl he met last issue (who turned out to be another "geek") are also hiding in the house with his friend with the geeks surrounding them. Luckily, some of Johnny's friends from previous issues arrive. They escape the house and head out to storm the factory. The Master of the Star-Gems takes a moment to gloat to Peril before disappearing.

Warlord #44:  Read more about it here. The OMAC backup by Mishkin/Cohn and LaRocque/Colletta has OMAC trying to navigate the new peace now that he's helped IC&C defeat the Verner Brothers. It's interesting in that I have no idea where they are going with the story.

Monday, January 24, 2022

In Limbo

"Outside the ordered universe that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity..."

- Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath

Slaad call their birthplace the "Spawning Stone," but that protoplasmic, protean god-mass looks nothing like any Material stone. This is perhaps a reference to its relative immutability. Its purpose is set, and in a conceptual realm, that is a notable solidity. 

Some believe all slaad to merely be local projections or metastases of the spawning stones. Despite their ability to hold conversations and pursue agendas, they are also thought to lack true sentience or consciousness

Entropy and Madness are the gods of the slaad. They are aspects of Limbo itself, perhaps, stimuli acting upon the spawning stone in some manner. They care nothing for the worship of the slaad, perhaps because they know that worship to be mere only behavioral loops without meaning--or perhaps because it is simply beneath their notice.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Weird Revisited: Weird Cosmoses

Recent discussion on Discord had me thinking about this to works, which I first posted on back in 2015. 

My Baroque Space setting draws inspiration from a number of different sources. Here are two I've come across recently that are well worth checking out for rpg inspiration:

I got Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds for Christmas 2014. Edginton and Culbard bring us a science fantasy (originally appearing in 2000AD) set in a world that's essentially a giant orrery. It's brass sun starts to die and a young girl has to go on a quest across the worlds to find the key to restart it.

Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle is an alternate history hard science fiction novel--though the science is the science of Aristotle! A thousand years after Alexander, the super-powers of Greece and the Middle Kingdom of China are in a protracted war. A scientist from the Delian League commands a daring expedition to fly a spacecraft built from a piece of the Moon through the crystal spheres to get the ultimate weapon, a piece of the elemental fire of the Sun, to defeat the Taoists once and for all.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Excerpts from A Company Training Manual

Imagine if you could just think of any object you wanted and have it just appear? Incredibly, the properties of this exospace allows for just that. It's an incredible, near infinite resource for all humankind. You can be proud that you are an integral part of our extraction team. You do the hard work, so everyone can benefit.

But to do that work safely, there are a number of rules you need to follow. Unnecessary accidents don't just hurt the people involved, they hurt the Company and the entire industry! Keep these safety steps in mind. A lot depends on it!

  • Check your gear. Your sigil-guarded environmental suit and your tether are your literal lifeline. Make sure all functions are in the green. Remind your crewmembers to do the same!
  • Use the buddy system. Stay in communication with your assigned buddy on the standard channel the entire time you are in the outside. Make sure to perform reciprocal environmental suit integrity checks at the beginning and end of every shift.
  • Remember your mental focus training. The local exospace is psychomorphic--that means it changes in response to the thoughts and feelings of intelligent minds. Since that's the very property we're trying to extract, we can't have our ground crew getting in the way of our value-creation team. Let them do the wishing, and you just handle the pickup! [remove for next edition of manual. See cost-benefit analysis report of mental focus training. The in-development mental grounding app, designed to be triggered by vital signs fluctuation or physiologic signs of distraction has a planned rollout by Q3. ]
  • Keep your cool. Despite your training, one of your idle thoughts or the daydream of one of your team members can create unwanted alterations in the nearby space. These changes can be distracting, sometimes even frightening. Ignore them and get the job done!
  • Don't feed the animals. You've no doubt heard the rumors of native lifeforms. We're still trying to verify those claims. If anything should anything try to communicate with you, notify your supervisor immediately. In no circumstance should you respond to questions or exchange anything with them, including information.

Follow these rules and any updates provided by your crew chief, and you'll get home safe with a big bonus!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1981 (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 January 22, 1981.

Action Comics #518: I feel like it's been a while since we had a "good" issue of this title (and I'm trying to judge by the standards of the era), and Conway and Swan fail to deliver one here. A big claw comes out of the sky and steals a dam. Superman is contacted by an alien prince, Karmault, who explains that his people's telekinetic powers have been waning, so they need technical know-how they never needed before. Karmault states he merely wishes to meet with scientist and acquire knowledge, but his brother Farlung stole the bridge and plans to keep taking stuff. When Superman confronts Farlung, it turns out Karmault has played them both, setting Farlung up to steal stuff as a distraction while Karmault siphons the knowledge of Earth scientists. Superman sets them both straight. 

The Aquaman backup continues the DeMatteis/Heck storyline. We learn that Ocean-Master was working with the (maybe?) Greek gods, Amphirite and Poseidon. Meanwhile, Aquaman is trying to puzzle out how Orm got his hands on advanced Atlantean tech when Poseidon shows up. Poseidon proves to be Aquaman's superior in commanding fish, and Aquaman is pummeled to unconsciousness by their onslaught. Poseidon saves him from being killed, though, explaining to Cal that he is Aquaman's father.

Adventure Comics #480: More stories of heroes (and villains) submitted by the readers in Dial "H" for Hero. Chris and Vicki become Mr. Mystical and Molecular Maiden to help out the alien Sphinx in the first story and become Star Flare and Hypno Girl to take on the pirate Thunder Axe in the second. In the third story, it takes two sets of heroes, Solar Flare and Midnight Wisp and Strato-Girl and the Wrangler, to stop the Battering Ram at the circus. All of these are written by Wolfman with art by Infantino. Wolfman's writing is notable for the vicious retorts Vicki gives an annoying classmate. The character submission form is printed in the back of this issue, and it's surprising blatant marketing research.

Brave & the Bold #173: Conway and Aparo team the Dark Knight with a Guardian of the Universe and Green Lantern. The Guardian shows up in Gotham and tells Batman that there is an imposter within the Guardians. He follows Batman through some routine crimefighting before Batman agrees to go with him to find Hal Jordan. Jordan doesn't remember that he's a Green Lantern. It turns out the culprit and imposter is Sinestro. The three take off to Maltus to try to find a way to stop him. This is an unusually cosmic Brave & the Bold. I miss this Bronze Age Batman that would deal with this sort of stuff without being all grumpy about it and acting like it was a waste of his time when he could be stopping street crime in Gotham.

The Nemesis backup by Burkett and Spiegle has the vigilante in England, on the trail of a chess grandmaster, Noel Chesteron, who's on The Council. For some reason, Chesterton is trying to kidnap Sir Robert Greene, a Knight of the Garter. Utlimately, Nemesis fails and finds himself facing an officer of Scotland Yard who thinks he was in with the kidnappers.

Green Lantern #139: Green Lantern has been split into a good and evil parts by Eclipso. The villain leaves evil GL to take care of the good one. The evil lantern has red power, so Green Lantern figures he's vulnerable to purple and uses that to defeat him. Green Lantern manages to fight his way into Eclipso's "murder moon" where the villain plans to use solar power to free himself from Gordon once and for all and achieve greater power. GL has messed with his computer though, and Gordon asserts control again. Meanwhile, someone is forcing Carol Ferris to plant bombs at Ferris Aircraft.

In the Adam Strange backup by Laurie Sutton and Rodriquez, Strange is returned to Rann by the zeta-beam, but separated from Alanna. Searching for her, Strange encounters a queen of the Mer-People. The mer-folk need help dealing with a warlike machine, which Strange surmises is some sort of ancient weapon of war. Tracing it back to it's origin, the two explore an old military installation and encounter a robot who seems to be protecting it. This sort of planetary romance stuff is exactly what Adam Strange should be doing.

House of Mystery #291: Two vampire stories this month. DeMatteis and Sutton continue Andrew Bennett's adventures in I...Vampire. Bennett is trying to take down Emil Veldt, a vampire using heroin-addicted labor to unload his shipments of illicit drugs. It turns out Veldt is also a heroin addict, as he has been feeding his workers. Heedlessly running into the sunlight to get his fix, he's killed. DeMatteis and Ayers present another vampire story about a vampire on a derelict sailing ship getting on to a new vessel to feed. One sailor opposes and ultimately kills him, but is turned into a vampire himself, and the cycle begins anew. 

The authors of the last two stories need to be reminded this is a horror title. Barr and Tanghal/DeMulder present a "humorous" short about an unscrupulous lawyer looking to swindle Cain out of the oil rights to the land under the House of Mystery. Cain transports the guy to the age of dinosaurs so he can get the fossil fuels while they're fresh. The last story by Gill and Zamora tells the tale of an author who throws away his dedication to the noble and decent in life to write tales of depravity and immorality--and gets successful doing it. Then, he commits suicide when he feels like he's gone to far, and his previous wholesome work gets respect after his death. 

Unknown Soldier #250: This is a special issue with the sort of craziness only Bob Haney could bring to it. The Unknown Soldier appears to have turned traitor! He and Hitler are inseparable in their bromance and every step of the way an all-star group of U.S. troops and allies are out to kill the turncoat. We get assassination attempts by Mademoiselle Marie, the Haunted Tank crew, the Losers, and finally Sgt. Rock and Easy Company. I guess Haney ran out of pages so he couldn't include the Viking Commando? Maybe he wanted to keep it "realistic?" Of course, it's all very silly, but Haney makes it work. It turns out, naturally, that the Soldier is only pretending to join the Nazis so he can get his hands on their frightening new bioweapon and destroy it. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Retro Expanse

The Expanse
had its finale on Amazon Prime this week. Its rocket-propelled space battles, intrasolar system conflict, and relative paucity of AI, cyber-, or bio- tech got me thinking about science fiction of the Golden Age and the pulps. I think you could fairly easily transplant much of the conflict and setting of the series to a setting with gleaming-hulled rockets, habitable planets beyond Earth, and 50s haircuts. That last one is optional.

There are different approaches to take, of course. You could go full Captain Future with every celestial body in the system with enough gravity to be spheroid having native human life, or something more like the work of Stanley Weinbaum where the other worlds are not so hospitable to humans and the life there is alien. I think a Weinbaum approach would fit well with the protomolecule and ring gate stuff, but that material is less interesting to me that the human-colonized solar system conflict. My approach would be something along the lines of Asimov's Lucky Starr juveniles or some 50s work of Poul Anderson:  a view of the planets that proved to inaccurate, but was plausible (if optimistic) at the time the stories were written.

So the settled inner worlds would include Earth, Mars, and Venus. Venus would be a water world, perhaps with artificial islands or undersea cities. Mercury would likely research stations or the like, controlled by the UN on Earth. Unlike in The Expanse, Mars and Venus would likely have native life, though probably not intelligent life.

The Belt would be much like in the show, though in keeping with pulp conventions, pirates would be more common. The Outer moons might be a bit more hospitable (perhaps a lot more depending on how pulp you want to get) so the Outers as a whole group might be a bit better off than in The Expanse.

What does this add? Well, it certainly adds a new aesthetic. And of course, since this becomes alternate history, so you've got the potential for it to go in a very different direction from similar core conceits and concepts.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Sixth and Seventh Cities of Heaven

Art by Luca Nemolato

Hidden in the crags of the windswept heights of the Holy Mountain, the tenacious Pilgrim may glimpse, no doubt with some relief, the gleaming, orichalcum gates of the Sixth City. While they will find respite from the wind and cold, the Sixth City is not as hospitable as some of the cities through which they have passed before. The Sixth City, though grand, is a necropolis. It's buildings are mostly the ornate tombs of all the sleeping monarchs of the Material Plane's hopes, those noble figures that will return to the world when the need is greatest. Their bodies, perhaps has much dream as flesh, now reside in these tombs, always with a guardian of some sort, whether it be mighty warrior, dutiful pet, or merely a humble witness.

There is a palace in the center of the city. The souls of the awaited heroes sit in unending council at a great table within the palace's hall. Unworthy visitors who somehow arrived at the palace gates will be denied entry, and if they protest overmuch, may be thrown from the Mountain by frightening and terrible deva. Those who are worthy are given a seat at the table. They will be counselled to return to the world and focus on the performance of noble deeds. What is another lifetime of service to a selfless soul? But what would it mean to the suffering world? For those who remain steadfast in their goal, the monarchs will answer three questions put to them, but for every question they demand a dangerous service on the Prime Material Plane that will take a year and a day. Each service requires climbing the Mountain to the Sixth City again. 

Where the path to the summit runs from the Sixth City no one who has not reached it can say with certainty. It is conjectured to be one of the secrets of the monarchs.

The Seventh City is known only by rumor. If those rumors are to be believed it scarcely merits the name city; it is a monastery. Quiet and shrouded in clouds, the monastery is the home of those ascetics who could have joined the Unity, but tarried to guide the travelers that would come after. They dress in black robes, because they mourn the suffering of the worlds. They bid any pilgrim to sit and mediate with them. In these devotions, the Mountain is said to sound the true depths of the Pilgrim's conviction. After seven days, the Pilgrims who the Mountain has accepted are taken by the monks to the gates where the four archons stand guard, there to begin the final unknown steps of their journey.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1981 (wk 1 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 January 8, 1981.

Justice League of America #189: Conway and Buckler bring us that JLA standby: an invasion by Starro. Conway does a good job of having the invasion slow-build with sort of a prologue before the first attack on JLA members. Conway keeps the JLA split in good team-story writing fashion so that some of the members can fall to Starro to heighten the tension. All and all, several things about Conway's approach here (and perhaps Buckler's art) make this feel like it could have easily been an Avengers story.

New Teen Titans #6: Never having read these early issues, my impression of Trigon from other media and later sources was that he is sort of a demonic entity. There's an element of that here in Raven's origin, but mostly Wolfman and Perez portray like an alien dictator, like a Darkseid or Thanos. And boy is he bad! He disintegrates a little girl who called him a monster after Raven saved her once from his energy attack that scarred her. In the end, though, the Titans' defeat of him feels all too easy after all the build-up, even though they are only able to accomplish it with the help of Raven's mother. I think it's a mistake to have a villain go down in 25 pages, after you've built up their power and menace over at least 3 issues. Still, as a single issue, it may be the best of this series since the first to me. 

Secrets of Haunted House #35: The Rozakis/Speigle Mister E story, "The Lair of Lady Frankenstein" follows up where the last story left off. An undertaker is under suspicion because the finger-prints of bodies he was supposed to have buried wound up at a crime scene. He calls Mister E for help, but he has his own suspicions that his assistant and hearse-driver is involved some how. He goes along on a run to watch him, and sure enough at a rigged traffic light, the coffin is stolen out of the back of the hearse. The body snatchers are Cecile, the titular lady (though she isn't called Frankenstein in the story), and her assistant. She's been assembling new men from dead ones and using them to murder people, but the jig is up, because Mister E is in this coffin. They think they defeat him and seal him back in a coffin, but someone he's down the street having called the police on them.

Haney and Carrillo present an odd story about a guy who "combines scientific method with mastery of the occult" and his hapless assistant, Matt. One day, the scientist pops out for sometime and a green imp with tentacle arms goes out of his experiment. Matt's got to chase it down and try to stuff it back in the hole it came from. Matt doesn't let the scientist know about it when he returns though. Later, the scientist goes missing and Matt gets blamed for his murder, so Matt goes on the lame. After 10 years, he discovers his mentor still alive on a deserted island in the Bermuda Triangle. The imp creature is there, too, only now it's bigger than a man. The scientist explains it's a kili, and it's one of a group of demons lurking within the earth that would destroy humankind if freed. He and Matt split up to scour the island and destroy the monsters. Matt shoots one that turns into the devilish Darkwing, Lord of the Kili. He brags about his cult and followers before disappearing. Their job seemingly done, Matt and the scientist head back to the mainland--Matt doesn't see the tattoo matching Darkwing's on the scientist's chest.

The final story is typical "outside misunderstanding things" bit by Drake and Williams where aliens mistake a homeless woman is mistaken for the queen of the Earth.

Superman #358: The Bates/Swan main story has the feel of something that could be modern if approached a little differently. An immensely powerful being, Cron,  shows up and starts setting up devices to transform the Earth into his idea of natural perfection. He is in conflict with a female being of power who has different ideas about planetary biosphere's than him. Superman ultimately defeats him by bluffing him with the destruction of the Earth if Cron doesn't relent. The backup by Rozakis and Denys Cowan doesn't really do anything memorable except have Bruce Wayne be Superman. I think there's something with terrorists, I don't know.

World's Finest Comics #267: Burkett and Tanghal/Smith send Superman and Batman to track down the person responsible for a string of rare coin thefts. These mystical artifacts from Atlantis are being stolen by Dr. Zodiac to give him zodiac sign based powers. This isn't the first appearance or the last for this forgettable villain that didn't even make the Who's Who, but certainly it shows why he isn't considered very important. The Green Arrow story has the Emerald Archer leaning hard enough on organized crime that they kidnap the daughter of a Japanese restaurant owner to force him to do something about it. He's a master of the katana, so it isn't as unreasonable as it might sound. Ultimately, the two team up and turn the tables on the mobsters.

Conway continues the Red Tornado story plotted by DeMatteis, drawn by Giella and Delbo. T.O. Morrow in his android creation's body is making time with Tornado's girl, but she begins to be concerned by the Tornado's shouldn't change to more arrogance and anger. Tornado show's up in Morrow's body, and after a fight, manages to regain his android form. Hawkman hasn't gotten any more interesting, with the Thanagarian hero fighting Lord Insectus. Hawkman gets to use his bird-summoning power to defeat the insect men, but the venom from a spider bite a few issues ago might kill him unless Hawkgirl can get him back to Thanagar--the planet that exiled them.

The Captain Marvel story by Bridwell and Newton retells Captain Marvel Jr.'s origin. It reveals he had a brother, Kit, so Bridwell seems to be gearing up for the revelation that Kid Eternity is Captain Marvel Jr.'s brother.

Weird War Tales #98: No Creature Commandos, and this issue is poorer for it! The first story has a Nazi colonel in the Egyptian desert using a magic talisman to command ancient Egyptian statues. A couple of British spies manage to steal the talisman, and are forced to bring the Sphinx to life to make good their escape. The talisman and the Colonel get squashed under a Sphinx paw. The next story by Kanigher and Duursema/Mahlstedt, has Julius Caesar getting an actor to be his stand-in for a trip to the Senate on the Ides of March. When the actor is assassinated, his wife attacks Caesar and knifes him on cliff overlooking the Tiber. In the last story by Kashdan and Tanghal/Colletta, a Union officer in the Civil War eager to prove his worth by stopping a plague, despite having been expelled from medical. He steals some ceremonial garb (and a ceremony) from a Native American Medicine Man. He is able to cure some soldiers, but the plague spirits he takes into his own body kill him.

Wonder Woman #278: In New Delhi, Wonder Woman has fallen into the hands of the Kobra Cult. She manages to turn the poisonous snakes from the pit they've thrown her in back on Kobra, only to find he's an imposter. She jumps out of the pit to attack the real Kobra, but a giant mechanical snake intercedes. By the time she's done with that, Kobra and his minions have gotten away. She does find a map pointing her to Egypt, though. Tracking the signal from the Cobalt 93 isotope, Steve Trevor comes to the same conclusion and heads of on his on the tackle a terrorist organization with a nuke. I can't believe his superiors okayed that plan, but all right. In Egypt they discover a Kobra temple beneath the pyramid of Cheops. Wonder Woman tangles with Kobra and crew, while Trevor sneaks into the missile to disarm it. Our heroes prevail, but the pyramid gets blown to breaks! 

In the Levitz/Staton Huntress backup. The Huntress has a heart-to-heart with Harry, her D.A. boyfriend who has guessed her secret identity. He doesn't want to continue a relationship with a superheroine. Then, there's a prison riot on Gull Island, the secluded spot they chose for their meeting. Lionmane, who looks like a beefier Sabretooth, has lead the break. The Huntress for some reason has a grudge against Lionmane and plans to take him down.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Different Dark Suns 2

Back in 2014, I did a post on "Different Dark Suns." There I kept the dying earth desert as the essential element but changed other things about Athasian culture. But what if we just ditched the desert?

Green Hell, Dark Sun
Athas is dying, but not because it's drying up, but because it's been choked out by a dreadful fecundity. Torrid jungles have swallowed most of the former civilization. The roads between city states must be cut anew every few weeks. Metal armor and weapons quickly corrode and rust away. The jungle is not just alive, but hungry. With the dimmer sunlight, plants have been forced to become predatory. Athas more as some versions of Pulp Venus, Weinbaum's "Parasite Planet" being particular useful, perhaps.

Frozen Beneath A Dark Sun
The sun isn't just dark, but dim, and Athas is frozen in its final Ice Age. There are deserts, true, but deserts of trackless white. The sorcerer-kings' main drawn would be their ability to create magical warmth in the cities to keep people alive. We'd have to forego that Brom barbaric costuming...Well, maybe not if we believe Joe Jusko:

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Fourth and Fifth Cities of Heaven

The path up the Holy Mountain out of the Green City is less frequently trod and thus harder going. None but the most dedicated servants of the Mountain would come the way of the Pilgrim; other visitors typically arrive by magical gates or portals and receive a less welcoming reception from the devas.

The Fourth City of Heaven is Golden and effulgent. Here resides the spirits of many sages and philosophers who inhabit libraries full of everything that is known, though the finding of information within their vast repositories is a task that staggers most mortal endeavors. The city's rulers are a triumvirate of 3 masked judges, though some say they are but one ruler with three forms called Forethought, Awareness, and Reflection. They question each pilgrim regarding their reasons for making the journey, and point out ways they might serve the cause of Noble Law in the Material World. Some Pilgrims are sent back to the Material Plane with specific tasks, others they will bid stay in the city under the tutelage of the learned souls residing there. A few they will direct to the secret exit and the trail leading upwards.

The Fifth City has walls of iron and spires sharp as swords. It is a city under siege. It sits upon a crag overlooking a wide valley where demonic forces are encamped. These forces frequent assail the city's walls, but are forever driven back by the warrior deva. Pilgrims must pass through the demon's lines to gain entrance to the city. Once within, their bravery will be commended. The general archons will advise them of places in the world where their fortitude might be used in the cause of Noble Law. They also offer them a chance to join the city's defenders, for it is their grim judgement that should the Iron City fall so goes the Mountain, and no Pilgrim will see the summit again. Many warriors have stayed and fought; others have returned to the Material Plane armed in heavenly panoply and done great deeds. These do not reach the summit of the Mountain in this incarnation. 

Both of these cities become the stopping places of good and lawful souls. It is said that only a steadfast and resolute few continue upward. Beyong the fifth city, they must climb.

Friday, January 7, 2022

DC, April 1981 (wk 1 pt 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! I'm a couple of days later than my usual Wednesday post, but I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  January 8, 1981. 

Batman #334: All our heroes finally meet the villainous mastermind and it's Ra's Al Ghul, surprising no one. Batman glimpses the Greek-robed followers of Al Ghul living in some sort of garden, while people who displease him toil in some hellish mine. Robin, Catwoman, and King Faraday, are placed there, but manage to make a break for it. Talia does a heel turn to keep herself young and our heroes are recaptured. Al Ghul gives Batman an ultimatum: join up and get immortality, or don't and all the heroes die.

There are two backups here. There's a Commissioner Gordon one-pager by Rozakis and Staton where Gordon gets so show off his deductive reasoning chops. Then, there's "Tales of Gotham" by Barr and Spiegle starring Jason Bard. Bard's hired by a woman to find out who burned down her house. It winds up being her ex-husband, looking to collect insurance money.

DC Comics Presents #32: "The Super-Prisoners of Love." Mischievous Cupid makes Wonder Woman and Superman fall for each other. Their response is to try to keep their distance--Superman knocks a hole through the JLA satellite after accidentally touching Diana's hand! But when Wonder Woman sees Superman kissing Lois she flips out and starts a fight. Finally, they go to confront Cupid, but they have to go on a quest and fight a Minotaur before they can acquire the blue lotus that will counteract the charm. Conway and Schaffenberger are responsible for this silliness.

The "Whatever Happened to Back-Up" is sort of interesting because it's about Mark Merlin and Prince Ra-Man, a character I saw die in Crisis, but otherwise knew nothing about. This story has Elsa, Merlin's love interest and secretary, discovering that Ra-Man is actually Merlin's spirit reincarnated in the body of an ancient wizard (it's complicated). This has the marks of a retcon to link the two characters from House of Mystery, but turns out this is pretty much the story presented in the 60s.

Flash #296: Infantino replaces Heck, and I can't say his art in this period is my favorite, but he does have history with the Flash. This is a team-up between the Flash and Elongated Man (who Infantino draws so twisted and curled at times, you'd think he was made of vapor instead of just being stretchy). Sue Dibney enlists the Flash's help in finding her husband who disappeared on a case. He soon runs afowl of sideshow performers turned thieves who manage to hynotize him and get away. The Flash then checks out a traveling circus and discovers Elongated Man in the side show, also hypnotized. With the thieves caught, it turns out that the circus performers were stealing to do good: they were getting interferon to treat a fellow performer suffering from neurofibromatosis (no doubt inspired Lynch's film The Elephant Man, which had just hit theaters the October before this issue's release). It turns out the young man has the right genes for gingold extract (the stuff that gives Elongated Man his power) to be part of a serum to cure him.

The Firestorm backup has Starlin and Wiacek on art, but that doesn't help the feeling that this conflict in the ship is being dragged out, as the Human Typhoon attacks Sydney. Firestorm ultimately defeats him with a giant fan.

Ghosts #99: Our first story by Post and McWilliams is about a wealthy young couple on a private island off New York in 1800 who are beset by not one, but two, anachronistic pirate ships, with each captain killing a member of the couple. This being Ghosts, I don't have to tell you that their spirits avenge themselves on the pirate vessels. The second story by Kashdan and Carrillo has a clever twist. When a gladiator in ancient Pompeii is poisoned by a rival during a fight, he summons a wizard to his death bed and has his spirit set free to wreck vengeance. Unfortunately, Vesuvius erupts before he can get back to his body, threatening to doom him to haunting the ruins of Pompeii forever. This story is continued to next issue. 

The final story, by Kupperberg and Adams/DeZuniga seems to be the last episode in the Dr. Thirteen/Spectre crossover. Thirteen has figured out there's a connection between Corrigan and the Spectre, so he puts him under surveillance, hoping to reveal the Spectre as a murderous hoax. Instead, the Spectre shows him trippy other realms and basically says "don't blame me for the killing, my boss makes he do it." He also conjures up Thirteen's father who says "All that not believing in the supernatural? Boy, was I wrong!" Thirteen is shaken, but by the time he wakes up, he rededicates himself to exposing supernatural fraudsters, seemingly in denial.

G.I. Combat #228: Only two Haunted Tank tales this month. Maybe Kanigher needed a break? The first story with Glanzman and Ayers has a bit of an unusual structure. It starts with the tank crew apparently dead and an injured Jeb being captured by the Germans. It turns out they're just concussed, and Jeb escapes from Rommel and the Germans by stealing a jeep. After his crew nearly kills him by mistake, he leads them back through a tunnel into the German fortress and they take the enemy by surprise. Jeb declines to chase the escaping Rommel, reciprocating the mercy the German general had shown him. The second story has the tank taking on a crewman with ESP. And they specifically say his army file says he has "ESP powers!" Anyway, the story ends with the psychic making a wrong prediction, which is an unusual resolution for this sort of story which would typically end with a "he was right but he thinks he was wrong because he was right in a unusual/nonliteral way."

The O.S.S. story by Kanigher and Cruz starts with an allied agent in a German uniform killing Control, but of course, it's revealed that Control was captured by the Germans and they sent back a ringer.  The next story is a "Women At War" story by Laurie and Henson about a female parachute packer who gets to take a flight and winds up in a warzone where she also gets to machine gun Germans. I feel like this is the second story about parachute packers getting into a combat, but I'm not going to look back to see. The last story is by Drake and MacKenzie and relates events around the capture of Ravensburg (which doesn't jibe with what Wikipedia says about it, but hey, it's a comic not a history book) and a birthday during wartime.

Jonah Hex #47: Hex and Mei Ling just can't seem to get to settle into domestic bliss. Some men start shooting at their homestead, but Hex deals with them with a few sticks of dynamite. Mei Ling, as usual, isn't happy about the killing. A wealthy man (presumably Quentin Turnbull, though the issue never says and his face is always in shadow) takes the news of his latest assassins' deaths in stride, and in steady plans to kidnap Mei Ling to get at Hex. His next group of thugs do just that and commandeer a train to escape. Hex uses some tricks Fleisher borrowed from Once Upon A Time in the West to take down the men on the train and rescue Mei Ling.

In the Conway, Ayers/Villamonte Scalphunter backup, Ke-Woh-No-Tay must choose between loyalty to the Mandans that have taken him in or to the white trader who was kind to him and a friend of his father's. Rather than let the Mandan warriors torture the man, Ke-Woh-No-Tay kills him with a thrown knife. He flees the village pursued by the warrior he had saved from the stampede at the start of this story. They end up fighting to the death at the same cliff edge. Brian Savage is victorious, but again he's a man alone.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Second and Third Cities of Heaven

Pilgrims following the path up and out of the Silver City will in time come to the Yellow City, which is the second of the Heavenly Cities. Canals of quicksilver, like liquid mirrors, run between its citrine-colored monuments. The canals are lined with statues of honored visitors or residents of the city: mighty heroes, learned sages, and wise rulers. Indeed, everyone arriving in the city is honored by a procession and a recitation of their deeds with fanfare. They may well be approached and asked to become part of the municipal government in some way commensurate with their skills. There are no shortage of folk in the city looking to recruit heroes for quests, warriors for noble crusaders, or mighty wizards for some task requiring their skills. The city plays upon vanity and ambition. Those who fail its trial may well become famous or powerful on the Material Plane, and will certainly be lauded in the City, but they will get no closer to the summit of the Mountain.

Those who successfully pass this trial and continued their way up the mountain will come to a city of green stone, malachite and turquoise, with domes of burnished copper. This Green City, the third of the Heavenly cities, is known for its beautiful gardens and its baths whose spring waters have rejuvenating properties. Some visitors have likened this city to Arborea, but the real allure of the third city is not sensual pleasures but the chance to reacquaint oneself with lost, forgotten, or neglected loves. Spirits of departed love ones will join visitors in the city, and those pining for lost love may find it anew. Estranged family members or comrades can be reconciled. Lost personal treasures are found. Even old or neglected hobbies can be indulged in the social clubs and shops of the city. Finding fulfillment in these worldly attachments, a great many will never again embark on the pilgrim's path up the Mountain.

The first three cities and their trials are most often more than enough to distract or dissuade the undedicated or cynical visitor, but more trials follow for the truly fervent and disciplined.