Thursday, March 31, 2022

Azurth Revisited: The Glamour of Virid

Since the party in my campaign has finally gotten to Virid, it seemed like a good time to revisit this post from 2015...

"Virid, the Western Country of Azurth, is the place where magic of the faerie is the strongest. There are a few mundane places there. Or perhaps it is truer to say the fantastic is the mundane in Virid. It's Queen Desira is called an Enchantress by those of other countries, either for her beauty, her sorcery, or perhaps both. Certainly, she has ensnared the hearts of her people, though they speak of her compassion and fairness, and the brave deeds she performed in her youth."

-  A History of the Land of Azurth

High Concept: A patchwork fantasyland ruled by a faerie-descended Enchantress, brave and beautiful, who with her companions sought adventure and love in her youth.
Conspectus: an inland sea of mists with a castle beneath its roiling color; creatures of myth and legend abound: mermaids, centaurs, unicorns; many of the rulers were once friends and companions on adventures--but also rivals for the affections of Queen Desira.
Media Inspirations: Wonder Woman comics in the Golden Age and her imitators; She-Ra: Princess of Power and her rival Golden Girl; the various incarnations of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, some magical girl anime and manga projected into the future when the magical girls are adults.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 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  April 9, 1981. 

Batman #337: Conway/Thomas and Garcia-Lopez/Mitchell present a new version of that classic tale: A scientist exploring the Himalayans is rescued by a gallant, if hirsute Yeti. Himalayan nights are cold, well, nine months, later, a sort of abominable snowman is born. That's really the villain's origin in this issue. He's is a thief with ice and cold powers, stealing to support his need to travel to really cold climes much of the year to support his weird biology. Did I say Conway was better on Batman? Perhaps I spoke too soon! I will say this story reads better than it thumbnails due to the great art by Garcia-Lopez. 

The backup is a Robin solo story where he visits the clown he last saw in the DC Comics Presents story a few months back (continuity!). Deadman's brother Cleveland Brand also works here (more continuity!). Anyway, Robin gets a job in the circus, and it appears his clown friend has committed a murder.

DC Comics Presents #35: Pasko and Swan deliver the unlikely team-up of Superman and Man-Bat. This one sort of follows up the Brave and Bold story from months back, as Man-Bat is still looking for a cure for his daughter's insomnia. He goes to STAR Labs and stumbles upon a theft of sonic wave device by Atomic Skull and his Skull cronies. Superman's powers get hobbled for much of this issue to give Man-Bat more to do. It turns out Atomic Skull wants to make his love interest permanently human because she's an evolved panther! Anyway, Man-Bat's daughter gets the sonic therapy she needs.

The backup by Teffenbacher and Kane is a charming "Whatever Happened to.." staring Rex the Wonder Dog. Rex teams up with his biggest fan, Detective Chimp, and the two beat some bad guys and accidentally discover the fountain of youth in Florida, so they get stay eternally young.

Flash #290: This picks up from last issue, with the Flash in possession of Shade's cane (which is hiding Shade) and on the case of the weird color leaching effect occurring in Central City. His "dad," meanwhile is still acting creepy and thinking ominously about Flash's death. The Rainbow Raider executes his plan before Flash can stop him, and now is able to shoot color beams from his eyes with various powers, but the with the Shade as his temporary ally, Flash prevails. At the end of the issue, we see a guy wrapped in bandages like a mummy in a hospital who the captions tell us is named "Barry Allen."

The Firestorm backup has Firestorm taking the time to interact with the little guy. In this case, some two-bit criminals that wind up stealing some toxic waste accidentally. The strong placement of this story in New York City through various details seems like Conway was trying to emphasize the realness of this locale versus DC's fictional cities.

Ghosts #102: Gill and DeZuniga present the story of a serial wife murder whose former victims' ghosts get their revenge by causing him to be burned alive in the crematorium with his last victim. O'Flynn and Estrada present ghostly revenge by sports car, as a father-in-law brings a reckoning to his murderous son-in-law. 

The Dr. 13 story by Kupperberg and Bender/Rodriquez has Thirteen's team (which now includes Mad Dog from last issue) busting a ghost in Chicago's Stillman Museum of art. The ghost isn't a ghost of course, but a thief using a fancy alarm to cause pain through high frequency sound.

G.I. Combat #231: Kanigher's first Haunted Tank story here is mildly amusing, which is something I guess. The Tank is supposed to secure a cache of Nazi loot to fund the Maquis so they will take out a Luftwaffe radar tower that endangers an allied attack, but a fight with a German tank ensures most of the money goes up in flames. Stuart manages to save a $10,000 bill, which they proceed to use to try to pay various French townsfolk they encounter. None of them can change it, so Stuart gives them an IOU assuring them the U.S. government is worth it, which none of the townsfolk believe. In the end, the radar tower goes down, and the crew has to burn that 10K bill to warm out their sluggish oil and get the tank moving again. The second story has the crew doing a Trojan Horse gambit when their tank is "salvaged" by some bandits in North Africa. 

The other stories include the typical gritty O.S.S. tale with a brainwashed agent sent to kill Control--only he isn't as brainwashed as he appears. Then there's a story set in Malaysia in WW2 by Newman and Henson where a native charm helps a British agent complete a mission. What stands out about this story to me is how its point should have been that the agent never would have gotten anywhere without the aid of various native peoples he comes across. The last story by Haney and Landgraf/Simmons is about a young soldier who goes soft on a captured German and doesn't execute him, only to have the guy come back with a squad and try to kill him and his friends. A luger he stashed away saves the day.

Jonah Hex #50: Fleisher and Ayers/DeZuniga set this one October (because Jonah's birthday on November 1st) is a plot point, as Jonah plans to go out on a hunting expedition to get his growing family meat for the winter. Things don't go as easy as he planned. He accidentally rescues a young woman who has been captive of an Indian tribe (and who is dressed slightly better than some sort of "sexy Native American costume" but not enough better.) and has to fight a bear while taking her to safety. All that done, he makes it home with bear steaks to celebrate his birthday with his wife.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Queen of Virid

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the party making their way to the city at the bottom of the strange, gaseous lake. Kully asks the guards to take them to the Queen, but they don't have the authority and don't know where she is in any case. They direct the party to the palace. 

Within the palace, they find a bunch of courtiers of the elemental faeborn race of Virid and the major domo, Glafko. After they prove their bona fides by relating how they rescued Desira's winged steed, Zephyrus, from the Cloud Castle, Glafko tells them the Queen is her folly at the center of the Silk Garden where her colonies of silk making spiders live. There has been a revel going on within that hedge maze for months, and the Queen hasn't emerged. 

Our heroes enter the maze and have a few strange encounters before reaching the green crystal folly at its center. They have a fight with a dragon-like creature with a snout and long tongue like an anteater that has the power to shrink people. Then they meet an elemental woman made of rock who seems to be pondering deep thoughts and wants to be left alone. Finally, they meet a raving elf named Melfon who warns of the end of the world. He says he read about it in a book called The Triumph of the Wizard of Azurth, but he believes it to be prophecy. He gives the book (really more a dime novel) to the party.

Finally, they reach the folly and find more intoxicated revelers and in a smaller flower garden, Queen Desira. Desira confides that she's been distracted of late and some of her advisors have become frustrated with her. She attributes it to being in love. When Dagmar asks who she is in love with, the Queen says they'll meet him soon.

After a bit more small talk, her lover arrives. A shadow man steps form a path into the center of the garden, and Desira greets him warmly.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Four Species of the Alliance of Inner Worlds

Human: Born of a distant world called Earth, which lost in some cataclysm and lost, humans have made there home on the third planet of the system and named it New Terra. It was there arrival that led to the formation of the Alliance.

Hadozee: An arboreal, anthropoid species native to the Verdis, Hadozee were the most technologically backward of the Alliance members. 

Plasmoid: Short, semi-gelatinous invertebrates native the Twilight Belt and adjacent subterranean regions of Myrkuro. 

Vrusk: Ten-limbed beings with an insectoid appearance, the Vrusk dwell in domed cities on arid Marza.  

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Many Worlds of Vega

I've posted this beore, but this is the setting for DC Comics' Omega Men. The links here will take you to detail about some of the locations, but of course, it might be much more game-useful to make up your own details.

I've been thinking about Spelljammer (again) so this sort of thing has been on my mind.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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 March 19, 1981. 

Detective Comics #503: I feel like Conway's best DC work in this era (such as it is) is probably on Batman. Here he teams up with Newton on a Scarecrow story. Batman, while on patrol, is shot with a dart that makes him start producing pheromones that cause people, even his friends and allies, to have a fear response to him. It falls to Batgirl and Robin to track down Scarecrow, but they get captured, and Batman has to go in for the final confrontation. Scarecrow gets overdosed with his own drug and winds up in Arkham, afraid of himself.

New Adventures of Superboy #18: Moosie slips over from frenemy to villain by teaming up with Kator, the android antagonist Superboy built for himself last issue. After Superboy destroys Kator, the android has his powers transferred to Moosie. The envious guy wants the Boy of Steel out of the way so he can ask out Lana. Superboy defeats Kator II, too, but we're told that Moosie will grow up to be the villain Master Jailer. 

The backup by Rozakis and Schaffenberger has Superboy trying out a yellow costume, but that doesn't work so well because the costume reflects the yellow sunlight that empowers him.

Sgt. Rock #353: Kanigher and Redondo give Easy a new C.O. in the form of a Major with something to prove. In the end, he leads from the front and earns the men's respect. Kelley and DeMulder present a story of a Roman soldier getting played by an Egyptian woman who turns out to be Cleopatra. The next story with art by Thomas Mandrake, "Red Devil" really isn't a war story at all, but the weird (but true) story of the "Red Ghost." The last story is a "Men of Easy" spotlight on Wildman by Kanigher and Randall.

Super Friends #45: Bridwell and Tanghal team the Justice League up with a group of Global Guardians. In Silver Age fashion, they divide up in mixed sub-teams to free a group of villains captured by the mysterious Conqueror. It all turns out to have been a gambit to gain possession of the villains powerful weapons/tools.

The Plastic Man backup by Pasko and Staton has Plas getting involved when actor Rhienhold Slaschenhacker is kidnapped from the set of Carnage the Barbarian (a film by Jon Militant) by villains Rubberneck and Puttyface. That's really all you need to know about that one.

Unexpected #211: Drake and Catan open this one with the story of a gourmand actor with a taste for exotic foods who meets his end when he attempts to get peacock tongues and the birds peck him to death. In the next story, the domineering wife of a fisherman convinces him to attempt to prove he's a descendant of the Man in the Iron Mask. The ghost of Marchioly instead takes its vengeance on her as a descendant of the Bourbons. Drake's back again with Garcia and a story about a spaceship crew's response to a distress signal that winds up being from a hungry planet. 

Finally, Barr and von Eedon/Breeding bring the Johnny Peril storyline to an overdue close. The Master of the Seven Stars reveals the stars are a beacon to bring Lovecraftian alien horrors to Earth. I don't know how everything he was doing up until this point makes sense with that plan, but I also admit I haven't been reading too closely, so maybe it's airtight. Anyway, Peril and his friends triumph, the end.

Unknown Soldier #252: In a story by Haney and Ayers/Tlaloc U.S. bombers are unable to take advantage of the "Bomber's Moon" because the crews keep being struck by a strange madness mid-flight. The Unknown Soldier joins the crew of the Buckle Down Winsocki and discovers the malady is cause by music broadcast in Holland. The Unknown Soldier parachutes in and takes out the church being used as a broadcast point in a story that hits all the Low Country highpoints: a Dutch boy with the requisite hair cut, tulips, windmills, ice skating, and dikes.

In the Enemy Ace backup by Kanigher and Severin, Hans Von Hammer does a lot more ruminating about the nature of honor and war and his role in it, still trying to find a way to get a message to the downed English pilot's sister. He discovers the young woman he met at the party in the last issue using a flashlight to signal allied pilots.

Warlord #46:  Read more about it here. The OMAC backup is not credited, but Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics says it is still LaRocque and Colletta, and I believe it as it looks like the same style, but it is even worse than last issue. I can't believe DC published this. The story is OMAC being naïve and getting duped in the corporate controlled future, so same old stuff.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Pulp Inspirations

A few passages from science fiction of the pulp era to get the creative juices flowing.

"Carse walked beside the still black waters in their ancient channel, cut in the dead sea-bottom.  He watched the dry wind shake the torches that never went out and listened to the broken music of the harps that were never stilled.  Lean lithe men and women passed him in the shadowy streets, silent as cats except for the chime and the whisper of the tiny bells the women wear, a sound as delicate as rain, distillate of all the sweet wickedness of the world.

They paid no attention to Carse, though despite his Martian dress he was obviously an Earthman and though an Earthman's life is usually less than the light of a snuffed candle along the Low Canals, Carse was one of them.  The men of Jekkara and Valkis and Barrakesh are the aristocracy of thieves and they admire skill and respect knowledge and know a gentleman when they meet one."

- The Sword of Rhiannon, Leigh Brackett

"At the corner gleamed a luminous red sign, “THE CLUB OF WEARY SPACEMEN.” In and out of the vibration-joint, thus benevolently named, were streaming dozens of the motley throng that jammed the blue-lit street. Reedy-looking red Martians, squat and surly Jovians, hard-bitten Earthmen-sailors from all the eight inhabited worlds, spewed up by the great spaceport nearby. There were many naval officers and men, too—a few in the crimson of Mars, the green of Venus and blue of Mercury, but most of them in the gray uniform of the Earth Navy."

- The Three Planeteers, Edmond Hamilton

"Graff Dingle stolidly watched yellow mold form around the stiletto hole in his arm. He smelled the first faint jasmine odor of the disease and glanced up to where the sun glowed unhappily behind a mass of dirty clouds and wind-driven rain.

Dingle kicked morosely at the Heatwave thug left behind to ambush him, and the charred body turned soughingly in the mud. 'Be seeing you, bully-boy, in about five and a half hours. Your electroblast may have missed me, but it cooked my antiseptic pouch into soup. It made that last knife-thrust really rate.'

There was a dumb dryhorn blunder, Graff reflected, sneering at himself out of a face that was dark from life-long exposure to a huge sun. Bending over an enemy before making certain he was burned to a crisp.

But he'd had to search the man's clothing for a clue to the disappearance of Greta and Dr. Bergenson and—even above Greta—the unspeakably precious cargo of lobodin they'd been flying in from Earth.

So I'll pay for my hurry, he thought. Like one always does in the Venusian jungle."

- "Ricardo's Virus," William Tenn

"The small, round metal platform rocked uneasily under his feet. Beyond the railing, as far as MacVickers could see to the short curve of Io's horizon, there was mud. Thin, slimy blue-green mud.

The shaft went down under the mud. MacVickers looked at it. He licked dry lips, and his grey-green eyes, narrow and hot in his gaunt dark face, flashed a desperate look at the small flyer from which he had just been taken.

It bobbed on the heaving mud, mocking him. The eight-foot Europan guard standing between it and MacVickers made a slow weaving motion with his tentacles."

- "Outpost on Io," Leigh Brackett

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Spock Has A Twelth-Level Intellect

A perhaps silly idea I had back in 2017...

This is something I thought of the other day: certain parallels between comic book alien species and those in Star Trek. What's the use of it? I don't know. Trek with different aliens or different backstories for the aliens? Supers with Trek aliens? Some sort of Wold-Newton Space (Woldspace)? Make of it what you will.

Skrulls and the Founders/Changelings
The Founders are a shapeshifting race that runs an expansionist space empire and so are the Skrulls. DC's Durlans would fit the shapeshifting part, too. They've faced prejudice like the Changelings, but they don't run an empire.

Shi'ar and the Romulans
One species has a space empire with a bird motif and a sprinkling of Roman Empire terminology and the other is the Romulans. Sure, the Romulan Star Empire never seems as multi-species as the Shi'ar, but no reason it couldn't be. Might want to drop the link to Vulcan, though...

Coluans and Vulcans
Turning to DC comics for the Federation species, I'll note the somewhat emotionlessness and computer-like logic of the Vulcans and Brainiac's people, the Coluans.

The other other identifications I thought of, but some are too similar to add anything particularly interesting (The Khunds and the Klingons) and some distant enough to be suggest substitution (Thanagarians and Andorians. Thanagarians might stand-in for Romulans, too, depending on which version we're talking about) but you get the idea.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Whale Hunting in the Skies of Azurth

 Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last Sunday with the party on their way to Virid (still!) and encountering an odd character repairing an airship of the sort they had seen used by the Cloud Folk. He gave his name as Captain Ahab Flint and told them his profession was recovering treasure from balloon whales.

It seems these large but slow-moving creatures sifted clouds for food and invariably swallowed all sort of items from old Cloud Giant civilization. These ancient items could be sold for a profit, if you can induce the balloon whales to vomit them up. Flint was bereft of crew and offered the party a ride to Virid and a share in the treasure for their help. The party agreed.

Flint instructed the party in the use of  the net gun to fire the net and reel in the beasts, and the "ticklers" (long poles with leather covered padding on the end) which is used to poke and stroke the balloon whale ribs to make this disgorge the treasure.  Finally, he requested one of them server as "the diver" to potentially fish stuck items out of the very mouths of the balloon whales.

Soon, they sight one of the creatures and the hunt was on. The creature looks like a plump, giant manatee with a sad looking almost human face (not unlike a blobfish). They manage to get a haul of weird gold tokens or nonmetallic coins out of the first one.

Flint also has a musical instrument that looks uncannily like an older version of Kully's. Flint says it was given to him by a guy named Drue. Kully does an experiment by scratching a mark inside his instrument, then later he examines Flint's and finds it on the inside!

After a couple of hauls, they hear a thunderous bellowing, which Flint hypothesizes might be the Giant Shepherd of the Night Skies. This being supposedly claims the balloon whales, but Flint has never seen him. Sure enough, an ebon giant whose skin seems marked with stars and nebula comes stalking across the sky. He throws an ice storm at the ship, forcing it to drop precipitously. The party attacks with spells, but the giant seems unfazed. Flint dives and soon they are beneath the clouds and the giant is far behind.

After stopping to effect repairs, the ship arrives in the Virid capital the following day. The party is confused, when all they seem is a vast lack, but Flint tells them its below the magical waters, and they dive down...


Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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 March 19, 1981.

Action Comics #520: Conway and Swan don't bring in yet another alien menace, at least. Eric Burton, some superstar tech-entrepreneur, has his sights on Lois Lane, and he's using his money and technology to make sure Superman is distracted by every event on Earth that might need his intervention. Burton isn't causing the events, he's just making sure Superman knows about them, and the Man of Steel can't resist helping. In the end, Lois needs help and Burton shows his cowardice while Superman saves the day. Not a great story, but I think there's a kernel of something interesting here regarding Superman's sense of duty.

The Aquaman backup by DeMatteis/Heck comes to an end (that's even the title). Aquaman and the robot Poseidon with his dad's mind go to confront his crazy mom. She throws a bunch of robots at him in the form of his foes, highlighting how obscure most of Aquaman's rogue's gallery are. In the end, her sister shows up and reveals Aquaman isn't the prophesized one. Atlanna sees the error of her ways and says she's sorry, then destroys herself and the robots. Aquaman opines that as far as he's concerned, this parents were gone a long time ago, practically stating outright that this storyline will be ignored in the future.

Adventure Comics #482: The villains come and go pretty quick in whatever town Vicky and Chris live in! Well, I guess the first one, Interchange, is attacking Washington, D.C., but that still puts 2 super-villians in their at-best medium-sized city. There's Silversmith (with the power to coat things in silver), and the H.I.V.E. assassin Blademaster. Various rookie mistakes bring Chris's cop dad ever closer to figuring out the two are someone related to the superheroes that all show up only once.

Brave & the Bold #175: Batman teams up with Lois Lane to fight Metallo with Jim Aparo on art. Lois might not be the perfect partner to take on a villain with a Kryptonite heart, but they get the job done in the end. Not a bad issue, but far from standout.

In the Nemesis backup by Burkett and Spiegle, Nemesis teams up with the Scotland Yard guy as they figure out the bad guy is playing a chess game with all his kidnappings, and his ultimate target is the Queen.

Green Lantern #141: Wolfman and Staton introduce the Omega Men. Jordan and Carol Ferris go for a campout since they've both lost their jobs at Ferris with her father's return to a more active role. In the woods, they run across the Omega Men. These guys are played more antagonistically in this first encounter than I'm used to seeing them. Also, I never really thought about it, but most of this initial group have an animal-based schtick: tiger, reptile, and bird.  

House of Mystery #293: I..Vampire is back by DeMatteis and Sutton. Bennett and his sidekicks are still on the trail of the Blood Red Moon and attend a rally by racist politician Q.B. Stonewall. He's denounced by a Black Senator, Olive, whose house is later set on fire by the KKK. Bennett is sure Stonewall is a vampire (though he doesn't see the red crescent mark on Olive), but Stonewall is dead. It turns out his assistant is the vampire, but before Bennett can strike, his friend Dmtri stops him. The assistant is his mother!

In the opening story by Conway and Tuska/Celardo, a dead man's dog pesters a gravedigger until the man follow's the dog. He hear the deceased's son confess to the dog's master's murder. The dog was guided in these actions by his master's ghost. "The Senior Sin!" by Ms. Charlie Seegar and Tenny Henson has two young hoodlums who like to prey on the elderly getting cursed by the people whose deaths they've cause to age prematurely, then they are murdered by other young punks.

Legion of Super-Heroes #276: I'm embarrassed today say, I didn't catch the hint regarding the villain of this issue in the title "Lord Romdur's Castle." Conway has the team on of those Medieval worlds the 30th Century seems to have, and they go to check out this villainous Lord Romdur who turns out to be Mordru! (See, Romdur is an anagram for Mordru.) The art by Ditko and Chiaramonte seems mostly phoned in. The cover by Buckler and Giordano is the best part of the issue.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Marvel Super-Heroes with Step Dice

I got a set of those unusual DCC polyhedrals this weekend just for the hell of it, and I was musing on Discord how you could replicate the MSHRPG rankings (Feeble to Unearthly) with a complete set of those dice, like this: Fe (d4), Pr (d5), Ty (d6), Gd (d7), Ex (d8), Rm (d10), In (d12), Am (d14), Mn (d16), Un (d20).

I suppose switching to that sort of mechanic would allow you to ditch the action table, but but keeping something even loosely approximate to the success percentages of the actual game would probably be complicated enough to require one, as shown here:

If you didn't care about sticking as closely as possible to Marvel's percentages (and admittedly, even with this, you've had to give up on the chance of a red success for lower scores) then you could give flat roll thresholds: 4 for green, 7 for yellow, and 10 for red.

I don't actually think there is any reason to do this, but it was amusing to think about.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Pulp Sci-Fi Technology

Star Wars
(and to a lesser extent Star Trek) are products of their respective eras in regard to the futuristic technology then portray (or don't feature), but both are also probably beholden to their pulp antecedents and the imagine (and failures of imagination) of the authors that wrote them.

While I won't claim to have made an exhaustive study, here are some things I've noticed about the technology of the retro-future, supplemented by things noticed by Marcus L. Rowland in his excellent Forgotten Futures rpg Planets of Peril based on the works of Stanley Weinbaum, and by GURPS Ultratech 2.
  • Radium: Radium seems almost sort of unobtanium in a lot of old stories, an is imbued with uses and properties it doesn't really possess in real life. This goes along with...
  • Radiation: Various sorts of radiation (or even sometimes a vaguer property called "vibration" of matter or energy) can do almost magical things. This continues in science fiction, of course, but by the Atomic Age the language used to describe it much less mystical.
  • Mechanical not Electronic: One can hardly fault writers of the 20s-40s for not including many (or often any) computers in their works, beyond the occasional mechanical brain, but it's interesting how even the electrical devices appear sparingly, outside of things like visiplates/visiphones (visual communication devices). Some more planetary romance leaning authors like Leigh Brackett, tend to describe virtually none of this sort of technology. This has implications we might not think of: Edmond Hamilton's stories for instance have no jail cells with coded keypads or even simply push button keypads like Star Trek. All his futuristic locks seem to require a hand held "vibratory key."
  • Planet and ship based: Artificial satellites and space stations are very rare. In fact, I don't think I've read a story written before the 50s that had them.
  • Acquired not Synthesized: Many more breakthrough materials or pharmaceuticals are harvested from alien worlds that made in the laboratory. Even breakthrough laboratory discovers often require some exotic "natural" material.
  • Solitary Inventor: Great scientific leaps from space travel to super-weapons are typically the province of single geniuses or experimenters, not teams of government or industry-funded scientists. First space travel is almost always mentioned as a work of a sort of Wright Brothers instead of a NASA.
  • Atomic Energy: Everything is atomic powered it seems like.
  • No TV: I'm sure there are stories that make reference to something like television as an entertainment medium, but it appears in very few stories. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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 March 5, 1981.

Justice League of America #191: As established in previous issues, Zatanna is losing her powers, so she calls on the Atom or help. Why he was the guy to call, I don't know, but let's just go with it. Suddenly though, all the members of the JLA begin to experience the loss of power. The culprit is Amazo, reactivated against his will by the Key, who's stealing the Leagues energies for his own use and to cure the Key of his freakish dwarf body state. In the end, Zatanna shows compassion and cures the Key with some of her magic. She reveals to the Atom her power loss wasn't caused by the Key and is apparently permanent. 

Not a bad issue, but it leaves me with the impression the whole "Zatanna is losing her powers" bit was all just a means by which Conway could reduce her powers, perhaps because he buys into the whole "magic is too powerful because it can do anything" idea that shows up in comics fandom and writers from time to time.

New Teen Titans #8: This is a Claremontian :each character does their own thing and deals with their own stuff" slice of life sort of issue. Starfire starts modeling jeans with Donna Troy as her photographer, and we meet Donna's beau, Terry. Cyborg meets some kids with prosthetics at the park and plays ball them. It's all pretty well-paced and well-done. With this sort of story, I can see how New Teen Titans developed the reputation it did for being different and better than a lot of comics in its era. This sort of thing is common place now, and it devolved into soap opera at best and treading water at worst in X-men from late era Claremont on. But this is 1981 not '91, and it feels fairly fresh. 

Secrets of Haunted House #37: The cover story by Wessler, von Eeden and Smith has a tipi-dwelling (in the modern day) Native American shaman using magic to turn the tables on an unscrupulous developer bent on murder. A bit better is the story by Charlie Seegar and Barretto/Colletta where a conman charms an old widow but not her adopted daughter. In the end, he discovers his bride is really a pet canary transformed into the semblance of the demonic young girl's deceased caregiver. The girl transforms the conman into a bird, too, so he can be with his new wife forever. In a "weird western" tale by Kashdan and Estrada, a frontier doctor removes a bullet from the arm of a young man, only to find it's silver, and he's saved the life of a werewolf.  

In the Mister E story by Rozakis and Spiegle, Kelly returns to the Old Country to help out her aunt who has been thrown in a psychiatric hospital. Mister E mysteriously shows up there, too. It's a good thing, because Kelly's aunt isn't mentally ill, she's being menaced by a leprechaun. Mister E threatens the little guy into leaving her alone.

Superman #360: Yet another story with another group of aliens that we will never see again making an attack on Superman in some indirect way. In this case, making Clark Kent forget he and Superman are the same person. How long has it been since we've have a bona fide super-villain in this title? Either the writers or editorial think Supes' rogues gallery is played, which may be a defensible point, but they seldom replace it with anything worthwhile. I feel like Action is the better of the Superman titles at this time, though neither are spectacular.

The backup is by Rozakis and Saviuk/Colletta is a World of Krypton story. WoK stories have a sort of charm because they tend to accentuate what a crazy place Krypton was. In this story a boy and his father find an odd stone in a river that gives off energy. Unfortunately, it's getting this energy from the sun, absorbing all the sunlight in the day and releasing energy at night. It's destroying Krypton's ecosystem and the Kryptonians don't know how to stop it, until the kid that found it just feeds it to a metal-eater beast in the forest.

Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #2: "Defeat" is an apt title for this Empire Strikes Back installment of the limited series that sees the Guardians defeated by Nekron and the Corps, despite doing well against Krona's troops, defeated by the Maltusian himself. Hal Jordan is the last to fall, but it all seems pretty hopeless. The Barr plot and Wein script seems much more modern than a lot of stuff from this era. The realm of Nekron is reached through a fleshy hole or necrotic lesion in the universe. Staton's design or Nekron is kind of modern, too.

Weird War Tales #100: The main event of this issue is the Creature Commandos getting a little War That Time Forgot action, courtesy of Barr and Hall/Ordway. It's an action-packed tale that reveals the some total of Hall's knowledge of dinosaurs likely comes from King Kong (1933). Their orange and magenta hides probably don't help verisimilitude either. Anyway, in the end, the Creature Commandos act to stop the U.S. military from exploiting the dinos like they've been exploited. 

There's a silly one-pager by Snyder and von Eeden/Breeding where a solider cracks under pressure, only to be revealed to be an actor on a set. The last story is a pretty good one by John David Warner and Vic Catan Jr. In feudal Japan, two scavengers are robbing the dead on battlefields which earns them the ire of Death and a samurai army of living dead. They are pressed into service, but manage to make it out alive. No sooner do they promise not to meddle in the affairs of the Spirit Realms again than they are planning to hock stolen demon masks. 

Wonder Woman #280: I was wondering where Conway was going with the cult storyline, but apparently he was going to appearances by Klarion, Witch-Boy and the Demon, so I'm satisfied with that. Klarion is behind the cult, to what purpose we don't yet know, but clearly he wasn't giving the head of the Delphi Group use of his legs again out of a sense of altruism. Wonder Woman, who realizes she's out of her depth after fighting a demon, gets help from Mother Juju. She refers the Amazon Princess to Jason Blood, but it's the Demon who's eager to take on the forces of darkness. 

In the backup, Huntress has her showdown with Lionmane. The Huntress triumphs in the end, and we learn she had a score to settle since Lionmane had given her mother, Catwoman, a severe beating years ago. While all this is going on, the Huntress's love interest falls victim to the Joker.

World's Finest Comics #269: This issue is pretty good. Conway and Buckler/McLaughlin have Batman buried alive by a crook, and Superman and Robin must race against time to save him--or to show up after he saved himself, because he's Batman. Batman's escape is well done, but Superman's power gets a bit diminished to make the story work. Haney and von Eeden/Breeding have Oliver Queen chasing down a lead about drug smugglers on a fictional Caribbean island, and Green Arrow becomes involved after saving an attractive woman (obviously very attractive, Arrow keeps talking and thinking about it for several pages) from a crook. It turns out the woman's ploy to save her brother is a con, but GA was never fooled. Rozakis, Saviuk and Rodriguez deliver the best segment so far in this Hawkman/Hawkgirl arc, as the winged wonders return to Thanagar so Shayera can save Katar from the bite of a mutant insect in the not very good early parts of this story. The Shazam! family segment by Bridwell and Newton/Adkins has Captain Marvel Jr. defeating Sabbac. 

The Red Tornado story is probably the issue's low point, but even that isn't so low. RT is looking for a tool he needs to repair himself so he doesn't fall apart and winds up saving the owner of an electronic store who is being held captive by Marxist terrorists led by Madame Redclaw (who must have inspired the DCAU villain Red Claw). Conway has this goofy thing of having the terrorists make Communist revolutionary sort of statements, only to have them immediately shown to be wrong. 

Monday, March 7, 2022

A Game I Would Like to Have Seen

Logan's Run may have come out a bit too early for an rpg tie-in, but it seems like the sort of thing FASA would have got a hold of if anybody did.

I think the setting has a lot of rpg potential, particularly as developed in the TV series.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Weird Revisited: The Life Aquatic

This post first appeared in 2011...

A merman and his landwoman bride.  Grand Lludd, 5825.

In the waters west of Ibernia, ship passengers occasionally glimpse and wonder at light in the depths. These are the lights Undersea, municipality of the mer-folk. Part of the empire of Grand Lludd, the citizens of Undersea have never been Her Preserved Majesty’s most loyal servants. Only the threat of submarine bombardment has stifled open rebellion at times. Still, in these hard years following the Great War, land and sea need each other too much for such squabbles.

The mer-folk are not to be confused with mermaids, despite similarity in names. Those half-fish creatures (and wholly nonhuman, whatever their appearance) are more akin to faerie. Mer-folk look, for the most part, like surface humans except for a slight bluish tint to their skin, eyes a little larger than usual, webbed hands, and a slight tendency to barrel-chestedness--though its common for portrayals of them in art to exaggerate their inhumanness. So little apparent difference for beings naturally inhabiting great depths and pressures hint at the subtle magics that have been used to adapt them to a submarine life. Scientists suggest this points to them being an engineered race, perhaps derived from Meropian stock. Mer-folk find this whole line of speculation dull, and are largely unconcerned with their own origins.

Perhaps its this lack of curiosity, among other traits, that has led to the common Lluddish stereotype of Mer-folk as thickwitted. They're also held to quick-tempered and lascivious (a judgement perhaps derived from their indifferent attitude toward clothing--at least in the seas). Mer-folk don’t drink (at least not in their usual habitat) but their men tend to enjoy licking certain sea slugs for an intoxicant effect, and singing (it can be called that) gurgling, warbling shanties, while their women perform suggestive, water ballet-like dances.

Though they are limited in the areas of metallurgy, chemcal, and alchemical sciences, the mer-folk are not utter primitives.  They use magic to shape stone for buildings, and have either used animal husbandry or magic to enhance the abilities of sea creatures for their use.  The lantern jellyfish sometimes seen in aquariums are best known example. 

On land, mer-folk must wear something like reverse diving suits--pressurized suits filled with water--unless they have access to magic aid. They're able to breath air, but the exertion quickly tires them and it's uncomfortable for more than a half-hour or so. Their skin quickly dries out in air, as well.  The use of heavy suits isn't as cumbersome as it might seem as mer-folk are stronger than a surface human of comparable size.

There are some mer-folk enclaves in the New World. The largest of these are in New Lludd, there mer-folk are involved in fishing, and the Southron coast where they engage in sponge harvesting, as well.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Constraints & Creativity

Occasionally, after I do a post on science fiction limited only to the Solar System or single country settings or the like, I get somebody commenting that seems too small or too limiting a space for them. In a similar vein, I feel like settings or games that provide a lot of options for PCs are lauded whereas limiting options for characters is viewed in a negative light.

People are free to like what they like, of course, but I don't agree with these complaints for the most part. Every setting or game excludes as many things (or more) as it includes in how it defines itself. Even kitchen sink or gonzo settings have parameters and boundaries. Game systems themselves constrain with their rules. 

There is obviously some give and take here. A GM who wants to run a D&D setting with more than the usual restrictions on options should communicate that and probably the reasons for it before hand, but armed with that knowledge, players ought to trying to make up characters that would fit the setting and negotiating with the GM regarding parameters. Honestly, I feel like I've had just as much fun playing a well-defined pregen than making up my own character, at least for short-run games.

I'm hardly the first to note this, but it seems to me constraint can stimulate creativity. It's true on the player side, but I think it's also true on the GM/setting creation side. With an large number of worlds to play with, it should be a trivial matter coming up with interesting planets, but the Star Wars franchise seems to have a tough time showing us anything but the same three or four biomes over and over. And most of those are are one biome: deserts, but perhaps that's a different problem. I don't think Star Wars is the only franchise that lets quantity substitute for quality. It's easy to do.

But If you've got a smaller number of worlds like a solar system, you've got to make every one count, and you might well use each one to it's fullest. Maybe they aren't all single biome planets, but even if they are, you would tend to have them have different sorts of jungle or different sorts of deserts to get the most out of it. All of that is creativity you would never have been forced to exercise if you had a bunch of planets to spare.

Maybe its just me. Try it for yourself, by self-imposing some constraints you wouldn't normal give yourself in worldbuilding or adventure design and see how it turns out.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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  March 5, 1981. 

Batman #336: After Wolfman's lackluster al Ghul arc, Rozakis/Thomas bring us a much better done-in-one story with Garcia-Lopez art to sweeten the deal. The obscure 60s villain, the Monarch of Menace, has convinced various C-grade Gotham criminals (several other minor characters from over the years) that he has captured Batman and they should pay him to keep the Caped Crusader locked up. Batman, as we know, has only been out of the country, and now that he's back he starts taking these mooks down, including the Monarch. This reminded me a bit of Mike Barr/Alan Davis run on Detective after Crisis, which I liked a lot.

DC Comics Presents #34: The Superman/Marvel Family team-up continues, and in true Roy Thomas fashion we even get obscure Marvel family members like Uncle Marvel and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny. No Hilly-billy Marvel, though. Buckler/Giordano might not be the go-to team for the Marvel Family, but they make it work. The team-up of Mxyzptlk, Mr. Mind, and King Kull  have managed to take out the wizard Shazam and make King Kull more powerful than all the Marvels and Superman, but their alliance crumbles when the other two have more bloodthirsty aims than Mxy, and being villains, they tend to want to insult each other rather than compromise. A fun issue. Better than the first part.

Flash #298: The storyline with Barry's parents continues from last issue. You know what? Infantino's art of this era is made a lot better by Bob Smith's inks. Central City is being plagued by periods when everything is drained of color. Flash suspects the Rainbow Raider may be responsible, but he's in prison painting away. Shade shows up from Earth-Two to ask for the Flash's help. He reveals that every time Central City goes black and white Keystone City gets much more colorful. The story ends with Rainbow Raider gloating in his thoughts regarding his coming triumph. Also, this issue features two truly creepy panels of Barry's dad grinning like a maniac, and in the second of these he's holding up Flash's costume and saying he knows just how many days the Flash has to live.

The Firestorm backup has him still fighting Multiplex, but since Ronnie was unconscious when Firestorm was formed, Stein is in charge and things don't go so well. Firestorm is captured, but he manages to escape and manipulates power cables to drain Multiplex, causing him to recombine.

Ghosts #101: We get extra Dr. 13 this month to make up for the lack last month, and I have give it to Kupperberg and Bender: it's better than a gladiator's ghost. Thirteen is recovering in the hospital after the events of #99 (which I don't remember him being injured, but ok. The caption says he got there last issue, but he wasn't even in last issue!). Turns out the hospital appears to be haunted by the ghost of a Haitian contractor that died during construction, but of course, Thirteen doesn't believe it. He and an orderly who gives his name as "Mad Dog" are on the case! It involves a Haitian voodoo cabal using a drug to fake heart attacks and make people appear dead, only in the case of this contractor he fell off the roof and actually died. At a crucial moment, his ghost may have save Mad Dog and Thirteen, but of course, Thirteen is unconvinced.

In the last story by Kashdan and Landgraf/Colletta, thieves shoot down a plane with a bazooka to steal the payroll it was carrying. They hide the loot in a cave, but then one of them gets greedy and murders the other. He's chased by the ghost of his former partner until he runs into some cultist types in robes. They force him to participate in a séance where his victim's spirit reveals his guilt. Then they declare him evil incarnate like them and demand he stay. Later a group is taking a guided tour of the Cave of the Cult of Darkness (sure, I guess that could happen.) where the cult supposedly hid out "100 years ago" and is perplexed by an additional skeleton at the cult's table wearing modern clothes.

G.I. Combat #230: The Haunted Tank stories this issue may be worse than usual. One has Kanigher making his already problematic romanticism worse with a story about a battle of "brave banners" where a German tank commander flying the Nazi flag goes up against the Haunted Tank and its stars and bars. The other yarn is actually not bad, it's just completely ridiculous. The crew leaves the European Theater on a special mission to South East Asia where they join up with some Chinese fighters. They wind up having to use a gunboat like an improvised tank, rolling it along a track of logs and--well, I think that's enough on that, really. Read it yourself if you want more.

The O.S.S. story opens with the replacement of a German officer with a duplicate having gone off successfully. The only problem is the O.S.S. has sent an assassin to kill that officer, and he won't know about the switch! Before the assassin can strike, the real officer escapes. The assassin faces the man and his doppelgänger, not knowing which is which. The French agent saves himself by saying a Hebrew prayer for the dead. The Women At War segment by Laurie and Vicatan has a nurse thrown off a torpedoed troop ship pulling some soldiers into a raft, fighting off a shark attack, then diving to throw a grenade into a Japanese sub's torpedo tube. In a story by Newman and Matucenio, an Italian American G.I. gets to visit the village where he was born and help them fight off the Germans. It's interesting  that the period these war comics stories tend to take place in obscures the fact Italy was an Axis power. They aren't necessarily inaccurate in their portrayal, necessarily, but reading them you  just never know. Kashdan and Henson round out the issue with a short, goofy story about a entomologically obsessed G.I. whose obsession saves his sergeant's life.

Jonah Hex #48: Hex and his bride are really making a go of the farm life and have just gotten in their corn crop in for market, but Hex is careless with a still-burning cigarillo. The crop and their barn go up in flames. In order to get the money they need to pay their mortgage, Hex returns to bounty hunting, but lies to Mei Ling about what he is going to do. Her anger at him is preempted by her finding out she is pregnant. Their disagreements forestalled once again, they vow to make it work.

In the backup, we get Bat Lash by Wein and Spiegle, and it's a nice little story. Bat Lash wins the deed to a social club in New Orleans in a crooked (though he doesn't know it) poker game on a riverboat headed down the Mississippi. The man who had tried to fix the game to win that deed sends men to kill Bat to get it. He outsmarts them, but the lady dealer from the poker game suggests a romantic interlude which Bat Lash is quite willing to indulge in--right before she steals the deed and pushes him off the boat.