Monday, February 28, 2022

A Decade of Weird Adventures

I realized this past weekend that I had missed Weird Adventures' tenth anniversary on December 15, 2021. We are also not too far away from the twelfth anniversary of my introduction of the City on my blog on April 18, 2010.

Blogging about that setting was where my blog really took off, to the extend that it did. While Strange Stars eventually proved to be the more popular setting, at least in terms of sales, I've always felt like Weird Adventures was the more unique setting. While Bloodshadows had been around since 1994 with a combination of high fantasy and noir,  I think Weird Adventures works I bit differently, drawing form not just surface level noir or pulp conceits, but a whole host of early to mid-20th Century pop cultural material. Weird Adventures could sort of do Cast A Deadly Spell, but it's just as much Thimble Theater and Wellman's Silver John stories and American folk- and fakelore--plus whatever period pop cultural ephemera I came across at the moment.

In the past few years, I've been recycling some older posts on my blog, but I've mostly been avoiding Weird Adventures posts because the book exists and an index linked from the blog main page. I think I will start revisiting some of my favorite posts from that series, though, particularly ones with material that didn't make it into the book.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Books of Babel

I recently finished reading The Books of Babel tetralogy by Josiah Bancroft. The series was so engaging I plowed through them all, only taking a brief intermission between books two and three to read Watts' Blindsight. The Books of Babel are Steampunkish fantasy, set in the titular Tower, which is something of Big Dumb Object in science fiction parlance.

The series starts with Senlin Ascends where the schoolmaster of a small seaside town and his new bride get separated on a visit to the Tower. I hesitate to say too much regarding the arc of the series for fear of spoiling it, but suffice to say there are multiple ringdoms of almost Vancian cultural eccentricity, Steampunk technology including "cyberware" supplied by a mystery inventor high up in the Tower, air ship pirates, and secrets to uncover aplenty, including the mystery of what the Brick Layer, the head of the Tower's construction, actually intended as its function.

The series has a fair amount bit of humor and the chapter epigraphs from in-world works are often wry, but the Tower is also a rather cruel and violent place at times. Bancroft's narrative doesn't flinch from this or keep the events at an ironic distance. Besides Tom Senlin, the headmaster, there are a number of other viewpoints characters, most of whom are capable women--though there's also a fastidious stag whose brain has been transplanted to a robotic body. But I said I didn't want to give too much away, didn't I? 

Anyway, the series is well-worth checking out, and I think would give a lot of inspiration for rpgs in addition to being a fine read.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 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 February 19, 1981. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #275: Conway is joined by Jane this issue so the art is a little better. The amnesiac Ultra Boy is becoming disenchanted with the cutthroat and cruel nature of the pirate crew and his new lover, Captain Frake, but an assault on the pirate base by the Legion brings the conflict to a head sooner than it might have. Ultra Boy begins helping the Legion, but when he takes a blast from the pirates' cannon, the device explodes and Ultra Boy disappears, leading Saturn Girl to conclude he now really is dead, so she doesn't tell the other Legionnaires that she ever suspected he was still alive. Not a terrible story, but it seems kind of pointless if it ends with the Legion in the same place they began.

Detective Comics #502: Conway does better here, accompanied by Newton/Adkins. Julia believes Alfred killed her mother, Mademoiselle Marie, famed resistance fighter. Her proof is that her mother kept repeating his name before she died. Alfred isn't helping his case by refusing to say anything and looking guilty. The group is going to execute him if Batman doesn't do something. Batman escapes to track down the real killer. He again visits Dupre, the French policeman that helped him before. He points Batman to the last person to speak with Marie alive. The old woman is in the hospital, but she gives Batman a bullet supposedly from the gun that killed Marie and tells him their was a traitor in Marie's resistance cell. Dupre surprises Batman, revealing that he was that traitor, but Batman is playing possum and captures him. He turns over Dupre and the bullet to Julia and the others, and Alfred is freed. In the end, the reader learners what Batman has already figured out: Julia is Alfred's daughter with Marie, and he has been supporting her, but doesn't want her to know the truth.

Burkett and Delbo continue the adventures of Batgirl in the backup. She overcomes her fears and defeats Dr. Voodoo in a buy-the-numbers yarn.

New Adventures of Superboy #17: Clark's classmate Moosie gives a speech in class arguing they shouldn't be so impressed with Superboy since he's never been tested against a truly super-powered opponent. Clark takes this to heart and designs a super-villain from one of his robots to beat him up all over town.  Then this Kator winds up taking his role a little too seriously. Bates though this story was worthy of a two-parter. The backup is a mildly humorous Krypto tale by Rozakis and Calnan where the dog of steel must go to the vet for shots, but manages to avoid that and catch some criminals looking to dope a race horse. 

Sgt. Rock #352: Kanigher and Redondo are back with one of their heavily-hammered theme stories. Rock and Easy keep running into other units asking the combat happy joes to "buy them more time" as they've been bloodied by German aircraft and need time to regroup before the ground assault. Rock and his crew take a forward position in a bombed out town, but after an assault by scouting party of Germans, Rock sends wounded Easy back to be treated while he holds the line, solo! When it looks out he's done for, Easy comes riding to the rescue, then all the units they had helped.

The Men of Easy feature by Kanigher and Mandrake "Winter Soldier" (heh) focuses on the Ice Cream Soldier. He likes ice cream so much he'll eat snow. That's about it. Then there's a story by Mandrake which is really more a Weird War Tale: A Roman soldier on the Antonine Wall. Oppressing the Picts, he stumbles into a fairy ring and gets transported to present day. The final story is a completely forgettable Civil War tale with art by Duursema.

Super Friends #44: Bridwell and Tanghal have the Justice League all forgetting their super-identities. The Wonder Twins are captured by the alien responsible, but manage to wake the Super Friends up by activating their JLA signal devices. The heroes battle the alien's troops who have transformed into alien monster bodies with the heads of JLA members.  The backup is a Bridwell and Tanghal story of Jack O'Lantern. He catches a hit man who's happened to choose to disguise himself as the hero's uncle.

Unexpected #210: The cover story by Kashdan and Jodloman is the sort of ridiculous high concept I can appreciate. A town sees a vampire ape (!) attacking a guy, and tracks it to its lair and stake it, only to be informed by its scientist-creator that the vampire ape fed only on vampire. It was the only thing protecting the town from the depredations of the local Count and his brood. Kashdan follows that up with an EC-esque Timewarp yarn with art by Vicatan. In a totalitarian future society, a dissident chooses mysterious exile over execution. Her lover pines for her so, he commits a crime to take the same exile. He arrives on an alien world transformed to a sexless, grinch-looking wretch. He's been changed for the conditions of the world--and so has all the other exiles including his formerly lovely girlfriend.

Laurie Sutton and Brozowski/Mitchell deliver a slight tale about a mummy possibly moving around a museum at night and spooking the security guard. Finally, there's the latest installment of the Johnny Peril serial, now with Trevor von Eeden art. I'll just hit the highlights here: There's a "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" riff with creatures sent by the baddie to tear up the plane Johnny and friends are in. Then, a psychic is possessed by the enemy, but Johnny talks her down. In the cliffhanger he flies off solo and the plane crashes.

Warlord #45:  Read more about it here. The OMAC backup by Mishkin/Cohn and LaRocque/Colletta  is a story that could come from a script by Starlin. It even has an extradimensional sequence in a deadly funhouse that it's easy to see in the style of Starlin doing a Ditko homage, but the art is rough to the point of appearing amateurish.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Weird Revisited: The Wild Wood

This post first appeared in March of 2011. This material didn't make it into Weird Adventures...


One tragic loss of the Great War was the area of Grand Lludd known as Wild Wood. Covering a hundred acres of farm and woodland, it was the home of various species of anthropomorphic animals. Now much of the land has been despoiled, and most of its inhabitants have been killed or displaced.

These creatures were the product of biothaumaturgy and the eccentric genius of one man, Gaspard Mauro. Mauro gained the support of the crown in his endeavors by promising applications of his techniques in creating servitors to free mankind from hazardous labors.

His work never amounted to more than a curiosity.  Still, the Queen herself was quite fond of them, and on the occasion of her eighty-ninth birthday had a group of the animal-folk perform for her. There is one wax-cylinder recording said to exist of their cheerful, high-pitched singing.

Most of the animal-folk appear to have died in bombing during the war. There is evidence that some burrowing species may have survived, and there are worrisome reports that rats, taken to Communalitarianism, may have absconded with some of Mauro's notes, and are now undertaking a program of evolution and revolution among the rodent underclass of several cities.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Blake's 7


Something we read online last week prompted a brief discussion on Discord regarding the British science fiction series Blake's 7 (1978-1981). The show involves a political dissident (the titular Blake) leading a small group of escaped prisoners turned rebels (the titular 7) against the forces of the totalitarian Terran Federation. I don't know anything much more about the setting or how the plot plays out than that, having only seen the first episode years ago on PBS, but I think the concept has plenty of rpg potential.

There's nothing wrong with the set-up as is with the serial numbers filed off. The comic book series Six From Sirius would be another potential inspiration for this sort of thing--both in plot elements and characters and in 80s sci-fi trappings. I can think of a couple of ways the idea might be tweaked, though.

The first (possibly predictably, since I've done this before) is strip away some of the space opera conventions and have it confined to the solar system with more realistic tech. This becomes a little bit more cyberpunk, I think. It would be darkly dystopian, certainly, but serious or satirical would be possible.

My other though is to retain the galactic scale, but not have the setting be so humanocentric. Borrowing a bit from Farscape, the escaped prisoners might be a motley, mostly alien crew.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Weird Revisited: Rogue Elephant

To adventurers in the City, the question, “have you see the elephant?” has a different meaning than elsewhere. Some have encountered an infamous, wandering hotel in the shape of an elephant, now the residence of a dangerous (and possibly insane) sorcerer.

The Mastodon Colossus, or Hotel Elephantine, was built as a tourist attraction on Lapin Isle in the City’s barony of Rook End. The (admittedly eccentric) architect Jamis Maguffin constructed it through consultation of certain codices of the Ancients--and some magical materials probably dating to Meropis dredged from the City’s harbor. The elephant was twelve stories tall and had stout legs 60 feet in diameter. It had 31 guest rooms, a gallery, tobacconist's shop, and an observation deck shaped like a gigantic howdah.

Most spectacularly, the whole thing was planned to move. Maguffin promised that when all of the thaumaturgic glyphs and enhancements were complete, the elephant would be able to ambulate without any seeming change to the rooms on its interior. These enhancements, unfortunately, would take some time.

Eleven years later, when the thaumaturgical working was (supposedly) nearly complete, the elephant walked away one night with a compliment of guests. Most have turned up dead in various locales all over the world and beyond in the four decades since.

The theft and the murders were laid at the feet of Hieronymus Gaunt, lich and (self-styled) wicked sorcerer. He and a band of miscreants entered the elephant and completed the rituals to give in motion. Since that time they've travelled the world in decadent style, taking their seemingly unending orgy of dark thaumaturgy, baroque perversity, and deadly amusements where they may. Sometimes, when it amuses Gaunt, they take others aboard and survivors have reported stores of plunder, both mundane and magical.

This post first appeared in February of 2011. I did a post on the real elephant-shaped buildings of our world after it. You can also read more about them at your local library. Or, you know, the internet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 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 February 19, 1981.

Action Comics #519: A deep sea listening station in the desert is the site of a conflict between an alien hunter and a monster that destroyed his world. Again Conway provides story free of an real sense of peril and whose action seems staid under Swan's pencils.

The Aquaman backup by DeMatteis/Heck continues. Here we get the strange history of Aquaman's mother, which I suspect was ignored after this story, from the Poseidon android who has a replica of the mind of Aquaman's father. Atlanna was one of the original survivors of Atlantis. She became immortal thanks to a serum of her creation. After her supposed death following Aquaman's birth, she apparently went crazy. She hates the Atlantis that exiled her, and now wants to kill her own son who is prophesized to be it's savior.

Adventure Comics #481: More stories of heroes (and villains) submitted by the readers. This issue has a series of stories connected by the escalating machinations of an aquatic alien species looking to conquer Earth. A flood hits the city, but Goldman, Goldgirl and Alchemiss are there to help. Chris' father, a cop, begins to become suspicious of the new heroes. Then, Chris and Vicki have a near-romantic moment interrupted by an attack by the Destructress, a delusional young woman turned into a super-villain by the aquatic aliens. They become Sixth Sensor and Dimension Girl to stop her. Finally, the aliens send Largo the Conqueror. Volcano and Stellar defeat him and send the aliens packing. I'm not usually a fan of Infantino's art in this era, but his rendering of Largo is good.

Brave & the Bold #174: Batman, Green Lantern, and the Guardian arrive on Maltus, the ancient home of the Guardian's ancestors. There, GL is reunited with Appa Ali Apsa (though he isn't named this issue) who was made mortal by the Guardians as punishment. They bring the "Old Timer" back with them to Oa to help them discover which of the Guardians is Sinestro in disguise. Ultimately, Sinestro's temper unmasks him. While Batman and Old Timer avoid him, Green Lantern marshals the Corps to defeat the renegade and the Guardians he's using as a battery. Conway is pretty good at these team-ups, and Aparo's art is an added bonus.

In the Nemesis backup by Burkett and Spiegle, Nemesis escapes from the police officer trying to take him in and continues to try to foil Chesterton's plot. He figures out the kidnappings are chess themed, but things are complicated by Valerie getting into trouble. 

Green Lantern #140: Wolfman, Staton and Mitchell finish up their storyline regarding the kidnapping of the Ferrises. Either it's a trait of Wolfman's or a trait of how comics were written in this era, but the "arc" doesn't have any particularly big payoff. The kidnapper who's trying to ruin the Ferris family is Bloch, an old business partner who believes Ferris stole the business from him. Later, he was horribly burned in an attempt to sabotage a Ferris experimental jet. Aiding him are his sons, one of whom is a sleazy Congressman. None of these folks are particularly significant or compelling adversaries for Green Lantern as yet. Bloch dies for his efforts, but his son in Congress vows vengeance. 

The Adam Strange backup is passable planetary romance. Strange succeeds in helping the mer-person queen stop the automated battleship that was menacing her people. It turns out the robot they met last issue was a little boy wearing power armor. I kind of like that Sutton doesn't explain who the boy is or how he got there, though does have Strange pose those questions in the story.

House of Mystery #292: I..Vampire is nowhere to be seen this issue, but we get better than average anthology tales. The first story by Cavalieri with art by Mark Silvestri (his first for DC or anybody) and Tony DeZuniga is probably the weakest, but only due to unexploited potential. A general plans to use an orphaned child with the ability to manipulate reality a weapon against the U.S.'s enemies, but when the child seems poised to smash a globe in a temper tantrum, it could mean the end of the world instead. There's the gesture at a subplot here involving a doctor taking care of the boy having lost her son in Vietnam, but it goes nowhere.

"The Wendigo" by Kelly and Estrada has some interesting art, particularly in the creature design. A young boy living in a rural area befriends a Wendigo and uses it to get rid of people who've angered him. After depopulating the nearby town, he sends it to the big city following a skeptical reporter. "Hair Apparent" by Conway and Spiegle has the scion of the Briarly family breaking with family tradition and marrying someone besides a cousin. When the familial lycanthropy curse hits, his new wife uses a spell to turn herself into a werewolf rather than live without her husband.

Unknown Soldier #251: Haney and Ayers take us first to the snowy Pyrenees with the Unknown Soldier caught between Spanish fascists and Nazis Then he has to fight a bear. He's there to bring back a German Abbot form a remote monastery whose brother is a resistance fighter the Allies wish to get out of Germany. They need the Abbot to help them get to the brother, who otherwise might think it was a trap. Sneaking back into Germany proves difficult, and the Abbot and the Soldier are separated for a while, but reunite in time to meet the brother in a bombed out German city. It turns out the Soldier is actually there to kill him as the Allies believe he has already turned traitor--but it turns out the Abbot was replaced while they were separated by an SS officer! Then the real Abbot shows up and has to decide whether to side with family or ending the Nazi tyranny. In the end, he breaks his nonviolent code and shoots his brother to save the Soldier. In return, the Soldier later retrieves the statue of Mary the Nazis had plundered from the monastery.

We get the first installment of a Enemy Ace backup by Kanigher and John Severin. I like Enemy Ace, but this issue the story is mostly introducing the character and his rigid honor as a Knight of the Air. He takes on the request of a dying enemy to get a bracelet to his twin sister. Unfortunately, the pilot died before he could even say her name. The final story is a short where downed enemy pilots in the Pacific don't fall to each other but to the "eternal sentinel"--a shark.

Monday, February 14, 2022

How Do You Like Your Sci-Fi?

I posed this question this question as the title of a blogpost the irst time on February 15, 2013. It's a topic that TV Tropes--unsurprisingly--has some thoughts on. This scale is a bit granular and more detailed (and perhaps a bit more judgey). Here's my sort of summary of the basics of both of these:

Hard: So, on one end we've got fairly plausible stuff that mostly extrapolates on current technology. This includes stuff like William Gibson's Sprawl series and the novels of Greg Egan (from the near future mystery Quarantine to the far future Diaspora). A game example is this category would be somethig like GURPS Transhuman Space.

Medium: Getting a little more fantastic, we arrive in the real of a lot of TV shows and computer games. One end of this pretty much only needs you to believe in FTL and artificial gravity but is otherwise pretty hard. The fewer impossible things you're asked to believe (and the better rationalized the ones you are asked to believe in are), the harder it is. Hannu Rajaniemi's Jean Le Flambeur trilogy falls here, on the harder end. The middle of this group adds in something like psionics (Traveller gets in here, and a lot of science fiction novels, like Dune and Hyperion). The softer end throws in a lot of too-human aliens and "pure energy" beings (Babylon 5, most Star Trek).

Soft: Here lies fantasy but with a science fiction veneer and context. Some Star Trek (the animated series, particularly) comes in here, and Farscape. This is also the domain of Star Wars. Simon R. Green's Deathstalker cycle turns up here, too.

Ultra-Soft: Some Star Wars tie-ins in other media come in here, as do things that include magic (or similar fantastic elements} mixed in with an otherwise soft sci-fi universe: This would include superhero sci-fi properties (the Legion of Super-Heroes and Guardians of the Galaxy) and comic book epic sci-fi (what might also be thought of as Heavy Metal sci-fi) like Dreadstar, The Incal, and The Metabarons. It's possible it stops beings science fiction on the mushiest end of this catgory and just becomes "fantasy."

So what consistency of sci-fi is your favorite--particularly in regard to rpgs?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Weird Revisited: After the Flood

In October of 2015, we had some historic rainfall and associated flooding in my neck of the woods. It inspired this post...

After a weekend of heavy rain and flooding in this neck of the woods, some uses of floods and their aftermaths in games is on my mind. There's what I've got:

The Lost City: Inundated coastal cities might become lost or at least legendary. Ys is a good example. There's typically a mystery here or at least potent magic. It might be a whole area to explore, or just a bit of weirdness in a campaign.

Looting the Depths: Jesse Bullington's The Folly of the World includes an attempted theft in town submerged by the Saint Elizabeth's Flood of 1421 (the 20th worst flood in history). "Moon fishing" is apparently the term for treasure hunting among the ruins of the towns flooded by China's Three Gorges Dam. Looting underwater would present special challenges for adventurers and a different array of monsters than the usual.

Something Strange Beneath the Surface: You already know about aquatic elves and aquatic trolls, but let's got deeper. In Swamp Thing #38, Alan Moore presents an aquatic mutation of vampires in the submerged town of Rosewood, Illinois. Any monster can have an aquatic variant but the key to making them non-mundane is having them by one-offs in unusual circumstances. The 2021 French horror film Deep House likewise has a supernatural horror continuing beneath the waters of a flooded town.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 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  February 5, 1981.

New Teen Titans #7: Trigon dealt with (for now), Wolfman and Perez get the group back to trying to figure out if they can trust Raven as a part of their team. Meanwhile, the Fearsome Five infiltrate the Titans' Tower in an effort to rescue Psimon from where Trigon left him. The Titans break into their own base and take down the Fearsome Five. We also get Cyborg's origin revealed. All and all, this is a nice 80s style hero team versus villain team slugfest.  

Secrets of Haunted House #36: Mister E is hired by some kids who saw their dad doing a demon-summoning ritual. E goes to investigate and catches the man in the act--then helps him finish the ritual. It turns out demons summoned to two places at once get destroyed, and there was a coven across town trying to summon this demon, so the Harvard librarian took it upon himself to counter them. 

In the cover story by Wessler and Hampton, a man murders his rival for the affections of a young woman only to discover she's the sea hag in disguise as she drags him to his watery death. Ms. Charlie Seegar presents "Sister Sinister" with interesting art more reminiscent of some of the romance comics of the 70s by Bender and Malstedt. When a woman's sister is murdered, she finds a spell to turn herself into a werewolf, then prowls the night to get the killer to strike again, so she can have her revenge.

Superman #359: This story doesn't quite live up to its weird cover, though that scene does occur in the issue. When a fighter jet crashes mysteriously, Superman investigates and finds a desert town hidden by its inhabitants since they developed advanced telekinetic powers after contact with a device from the future. Superman is able to figure out the location of the invisible device using "trigonometry" and destroys it. In Star Trekian fashion, the increase power was affecting people's personalities, and they become much friendlier once it's destroyed.

The backup is by Rozakis and Swan and begins a chronicle of Clark's life once he leaves Smallville, but before he becomes Superman. In this installment, Clark decides to go to Metropolis after the theft of his slice of Smallville going away cake leads him to a kidnapped boy.

Superman Family #207: Why must Superman Family have so many pages? Harris/Thomas and Mortimer/Coletta have Supergirl dealing with the apparent return of Argo City, but in the end it's all a trick by Universo. The Legion makes a brief guest appearance. This story suggests Supergirl's super-vision is so good she can see the bodies rotating around the red sun of Krypton while standing on Earth.

The Mr. and Mrs. Superman story has Lois getting Clark's powers temporarily with predictable results. The Rozakis/Tuska Private Life of Clark Kent story is sort of amusing in that it has a guest appearance by Oliver Queen who at every turn seems to be trying to out Clark as Superman. In the end it's revealed that George Taylor, in an effort to out Queen as Green Arrow, spiked his coffee with a truth drug. Goofy, perhaps, but if you're going to have big anthology books stories like this that revel in the shared universe seem a good way to go. 

The Conway/Oksner Lois Lane story is sort of amusing too, but with less charm. Lois loses an award to another woman reporter she thinks is a lightweight bimbo, so she puts herself in ridiculous danger to prove she's the real investigative journalist.  In the Jimmy Olsen story by Conway and Delbo, Jimmy runs afoul of the IRS, but then has to clear his name as a suspect when the IRS agent is murdered.

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1: This issue is better than most of the Green Lantern issues since I started this. Maybe it's just that it seems more modern. Wein and Barr and Staton and McLaughlin, bring the entire Green Lantern Corps to Oa on an emergency call, which gives an excuse for Hal Jordan to fill in new GL Arisa on both his origin and the origin of the Corps, beginning with Krona's transgression. It turns out that's more than ancient history, because Krona has been freed from his prison by some mysterious master and is on the loose in the universe. The stakes get raised when the central power battery explodes. The Guardians disappear to seek out and confront Krona's master while the Corps--with only 24 hours of ring power energy each--vow to seek out and confront Krona.

Weird War Tales #99: Kanigher and Cockrum and Ordway bring back the War That Time Forgot with a B-52 crew dealing with all sorts of oversized dinos. In the end, the skipper is hauled off for his outrageous claims of dinosaurs and the crew deny any of it happened to avoid the same fate.  Kasdan and Estrada bring light to the perils of colonialism, as a cruel English governor in Bengal takes a wife who turns out to be Kali. In another story by Kashdan with art by Ditko, a K-9 soldier is reluctant to put down his dog after it's bitten by vicious guinea pigs from the biowarfare experiment. He finds the contagion can not only be passed to dogs, but to humans too. The final story by Barr and Amongo has the ghost of a Japanese pilot in WW2 saving his younger brother from dying in a kamikaze attack.

Wonder Woman #279: Conway and Delbo open this one in media res with an injured Wonder Woman staggering into the shop of voodoo practitioner, Mother Juju. Etta Candy appears to have been kidnapped by a demonic cult. Through the use of Juju's magic, Wonder Woman is able to track the cultists to a "government-funded think tank on Chesapeake Bay." She breaks in and finds Etta--in the hands of demonic creatures! This story almost feels like a throwback to a lot of Marvel stories of the 70s. It remains difficult to get a handle on just what Conway thinks Wonder Woman's powers are. Certainly he doesn't portray her as a real heavy hitter in terms of strength or invulnerability.

In the backup, Huntress is still on Gull Island dealing with the prison's takeover by the inmates. She challenges Lionmane to a one on one fight. This has some interesting parallels with the first fight between Batman and the mutant leader in The Dark Knight Returns.

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Howling Dark

Bedlam is one of the worst duties you can pull. Some guys think the Company's punishing them, but that would require them to take notice of us, wouldn't it?

Anyway, only the small ships go to Bedlam and they slow down toward the end so you spend longer in sleep than on a lot of runs. They have to do it that way, because Bedlam is all inside. You drop out into a big cavern. It's all caves and passages. If there's a surface or a single star in that whole reality, nobody has seen it.

The Company and other corporate partners are mining that rock. That part's not too bad. Gravity pulls you toward it, like somehow you were inside a rotating hab and it's all spin gravity, only it isn't spinning. It's weird, but no weirder than other places. What's bad about Bedlam, what drives the miners and support staff crazy, are the winds and the dark.

No sun, no stars. No light. Except for the lightning we put in, it's totally black. 

And those winds--they don't make any sense. Where are they coming from? Where do they go to? They come screaming through those big tunnels and its like a banshee behind you. You can't hear anything. Can't think even. People go deaf from it, true, but the ear protection helps with that part. There's something else, though. The tech guys say it's infrasound--sound so low you can't hear it with the ears. It gets in your head, though. Effects the brain. Causes paranoia, hallucinations. Drives people crazy.

At least they say it's infrasound that does it. I wonder. Ask anybody that's been there are they'll tell you the whole place is thick with, well, malice. I think that place hates us, and it's out to get us all.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Weird Revisited: Mystery House

This post first appeared almost 10 years ago, February 6, 2012...

It's most often found at the end of a stretch of dirt road, be it along a lonely bayou in the South, perched precariously on a ridge in the Smaragdines, or rising like a mirage out of the hardpan in the West. Those that seek it seldom find it without magic, but the lost are somehow drawn to it. However visitors arrive, few can forget the sprawling mansion known as the Mystery House.

One story says that Hulysses Mulciber, heir to the Mulciber Repeating Arms Company, was troubled by nightmares of a gaunt gunslinger riding ahead of an army of the ghosts who had died due to his family’s rifles. A medium told him that he should build a house designed to confuse and confound the spirits to escape the wrath of the Spectre of the Gun (as the medium named the gunslinger) and his vengeful army. Another less fanciful story holds he began the house as an elaborate gift to his wife who was angry over his philandering. Whatever the reason for its construction, records agree that building originally began in the Smaragdines.

The house even as conceived twisted and turned back on itself. It was almost a maze--and that was before it gained a life of its own. Hulysses didn’t live to see it; he died of blood poisoning following an accidental shooting in a hunting accident. The weapon that did the deed was, of course, one of his own company’s manufacture. His wife Ansonia, fervent believer in the reality of the grim Spectre, completed the project and paid numerous thaumaturgists (real and otherwise) to lay all sorts of protections on the house. And construction continued.

Whatever protection conferred to the house didn’t extend to Ansonia. She died of thirst, having gone mad and gotten lost in her own home. It was shortly after her death that the house disappeared from its original lot.

There are some stories of treasures in the house, mostly the mundane riches of the Mulcibers, but most who seek it do so out of curiosity. Most who find it, though, didn’t intend to. Those that have been there and survived report doors to nowhere, hallways that turn back on themselves, and rooms that shift. The stale air is filled with the low, arthritic creaks and groans of the house twisting and rearranging itself, and the distant sound of heavy footsteps--and jangling spurs.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

A Roadside Picnic Discussion

A couple of weeks ago, Anne of DIY & Dragons and I had a conversation on science fiction novel Roadside Picnic and the ways it resembled and didn't resemble D&D. She posted that conversation over on her blog.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 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  February 5, 1981. 

Batman #335: Wolfman's "Lazarus Affair" storyline comes to a close. Batman agrees to join Ra's to save the lives of his friends, but nobody believes it, including Ra's. He shows Batman the Lazarus Pit and explains who it brings immortality. Again, al Ghul asks him to join him, but Batman refuses and a fight breaks out. Al Ghul's hulkish goons bring Batman down, and Ra's sends him to be converted into one of those goons. Meanwhile, the other heroes and Talia break loose. They arrive in time to rescue Batman. Talia is shot by one of al Ghul's minions. She's placed in the Lazarus Pit. Once she's saved, Batman and the Demon's Head have their one-on-one combat, and the others (except Talia) leave them to it. Ultimately, al Ghul tumbles into the pit, but he comes out on fire and still looking to fight. Batman knocks him into the pit again. He and Talia escape in a helicopter as the island explodes behind them. Looks like Ra's stays dead until July of '82.

DC Comics Presents #33: It's Conway's turn to get script help from Roy Thomas. They team Superman up with Captain Marvel with Buckler/Giordano on art. Superman finds his powers and costumes switched with the Big Red Cheese. Both heroes have to go through their day coping with having different powers. Mxyzptlk is to blame, and in the end it's revealed that he's in cahoots with Mr. Mind. 

The "Whatever Happened to.." backup  features a Star Hawkins story by Tiefenbacher and Saviuk. Star solves a big case and retires with a large reward. He marries Stella Sterling, and Ilda marries Automan, who makes a guest appearance.

Flash #297: Bates gives us a weird story here, sort of made weirder, I think, by Infantino's art. Captain Cold has reformed and is fighting crime, but the Flash doesn't trust him. It turns out Cold's change is genuine; he reformed for his new actress girlfriend. When he discovers that girlfriend is using his outfit and gun to commit crimes for which he'll get blame, he goes for a murder/suicide thing--maybe. Somehow, he ties them both up (seems fishy to me) and hangs them inside rings of "cold fire" to quick freeze them for eternity. The Flash shows up and rescues them. In the B plot, Barry Allen's parents come to town. As his Dad is expounding on how "tough love" led them to ignore their widowed and grieving son's entreaties to visit until he had made peace with Iris's death, they get in a car accident and fall over a cliff. With his mother in a coma and likely to be hospitalized for a while, his Dad comes to leave with Barry. His father's thoughts reveal he's in Central City to "end the Flash" in "the most horrible demise imaginable." Now that's a cliffhanger!

The Firestorm backup has the hothead clashing with Multiplex, who is able to create duplicates. Interestingly (and unlike most duplication powers) Multiplex's duplicates get smaller if he creates a lot of them, so he also has kind of a shrinking power.

Ghosts #100: I hoped you liked the "Ghost Gladiator" from last issue, because that guy is all over this! All the stories feature him except the last one, and all the stories are written by Kashdan, with only the non-gladiator story drawn by Bright instead of Carillo. A archeologist is haunted by the gladiator in the ruins of Pompeii, but it turns out his assistant has promised the ghost release in return for the haunting. The archeologist frees the ghost and deals with the assistant. In WWII, the ghostly gladiator helps the Allies defeat Germans planning to destroy Pompeii's ruins. In the final gladiator story, the spirit saves the great-granddaughter of the archeologist in the first story when a thief threatens her while trying to steal Pompeiian artifacts from a museum.

In the last story, the leader of an outlawed democratic movement faces death in a caricature Middle Eastern country. First though, his hands are cut off. That night, the evil ruler is strangled to death by spectral hands. Probably just a coincidence.

G.I. Combat #229: The first Haunted Tank story has Jeb and crew trying to fulfill the wish of a dying Italian and his granddaughter that he be able to hear the bell of the Abbey on Mt. Cassino one last time before he dies. This involves driving into German occupied territory being bombed by the Allies. In the end, a dying German sniper falling from the bell tower gives the old man his wish. In the O.S.S. story by Kanigher and Cruz, an O.S.S. agent and a Norwegian woman, Ingrid, are sent to Norway to make contact with her brother, a resistance fighter named Lars, and together take out a German jet field. When the Germans are on to them at every turn, the agent believes Lars is a traitor, but it turns out Ingrid is. She dies with the destruction of the German air field. 

Kasdan and Barcasio tell a story from the perspective of a pair of binoculars. In Kashdan's second effort with Vicatan, a captain climbing up to a Nazi-occupied castle substitutes the corpse of a German soldier on his climbing line to make good his escape. In occupied France, the resistance kills the occupying troops with poisoned meat in a yarn by Allikas and Sangalang. The final ridiculous and possibly offensive Haunted Tank story has the crew encountering a shambling, malnourished group of men in hospital clothes--but they're willing to pick up guns and kill Nazis like anyone else. The crew gives them some candy and follows them to their destination: a psychiatric hospital.

Jonah Hex #48: An old friend from Hex's scout days shows up to request Hex help him deal with the Crow on his trail who want to kill him. Back in the day, Hex saved the man from torture by the Paiutes who had wrongly blamed him for the death of a young girl. It turns out that Hex is also acquainted with the Crow chief who reveals his friend isn't so innocent in this case and has committed murder. Faced with turning his friend over for torture, Hex instead shoots and kills him himself. 

In the backup, we've said good-bye to Scalphunter and hello to El Diablo, by Skimmer and Andru/DeZungia, who hasn't appeared since 1976. El Diablo's thing is that he's Lazarus Lane, who was nearly killed by a gang of thieves and left in a coma, but a Native American shaman, Wise Owl, revived him to a sort of sleepwalking Old West avenger, El Diablo. In this story, a robber follows El Diablo home and tries to make Wise Owl give "control" of Lazarus to him, but that doesn't work out so well in the end. Nothing special, but I like it better than Scalphunter.

Justice League of America #190: Conway's story opens with the uncontrolled Leaguers getting the grim message from an admiral that the government intends to destroy New York City to contain Starro. They go into action to prevent that from happening. Meanwhile, Red Tornado, who has only been feigning Starro's control makes a break for it. As the League infiltrates the city and tries to keep Starro's forces from escaping, we find Flash and Zatanna are still in turmoil over their attraction, and Zatanna has the added issue of having some trouble with her spells. The little boy from the prologue last issue has accidentally discovered that the cold weakens Starro's control. The League uses this information to free their friends, and Firestorm and Green Lantern team-up to freeze Starro. Buckler's art is uneven here, which I blame on Smith's inks, but the Brian Bolland cover (only his 6th for DC) is great.