Friday, May 27, 2022

Weird Revisited: The Room At The End of the Hall

This post first appeared in May of 2012. It didn't make it into Weird Adventures...


An ominous door at the end of a hall in a cheap tenement somewhere in the City.  You step over the drunk sleeping it off outside.  Behind the door you find:

1. Two sets of men's clothes in puddles of goo.
2. A roiling, red-tinged fog that seems to pulsate as if with the beating of a heart.
3. A well-dressed man from nowhere.
4. Walls bare but for peeling paint.  The faint sound of a child sobbing.
5. A group of 1d6 hobogoblins gathered around table watching two men play Russian roulette.
6. A single bed with a large constrictor snake curled upon it with a ominous bulge.
7. Smears of blood on the floor; a naked hanging lightbulb swinging, as if recently disturbed.
8. A nest of bugbear hatchlings and their strange birthing machinery.
9. A hillybilly giant in a gingham dress sitting on a bed and sobbing into her hands.
10. The grim reaper seated at a table with a chess board.
11. The complete skin of an elderly man draped across a bed as if in repose.
12. Pulp magazines stacked almost ceiling high and forming a veritable maze.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Moons of Wanaxar

Art by TerranAmbassador

There are eleven moons of the gas giant Wanaxar. At least four of the moons are habitable due to their large size, the heat from their primary, and the churning of their molten cores. 

Ivo (Wanaxar I): Mud world, third largest of the major moons. It's oceans are kept muddy by the tug of Wanaxar, both it's gravity and the effects of its magnetic field on the metals in the mud. There are no intelligent inhabitants but mini-submarines adapted to its sludgy seas sift mineral wealth from it. There are some ruins in the highland regions and it has been suggested that this was the original homeworld of the Giff.

Halia (Wanaxar II) Fourth largest of the major moons, it is overwhelming covered by ocean. It's inhabitants are an intelligent invertebrate species known as the S'sessu, who look something like a cross between a earthworm and a salamander. The S'sessu do not appear to be native to Halia but don't discuss their origins with other species. S'sessu are widely disliked by members of other species owing to their extremely competitive and self-centered natures, but they pay well with radioactive isotopes from Halia's depths, so merchants from other worlds are willing to overlook their faults.

Ganameen (Wanaxar III): Largest known moon in the Solar System, Ganameen is a volcanic, world, mostly covered by cool forests. There are ruins on Ganameen relating to an advanced precursor civilization, but the main draw is its port, through which most of the goods of the Wanaxar system pass. Ganameen's native race are the dwarfish, hairy anthropoid Ifshnit. They are tolerant and easy-going, but not overly social. They let humans engage in most of the operation of the port, while they take a share of the profits.

Sallista (Wanaxar IV): Second largest of Wanaxar's moons, it was once the home of an advanced civilization, but now it is a scared, toxic ruin. Sallista is home to the Scro, a militaristic humanoid species with gaunt features. It is unknown if the Scro colonized Sallista after the destruction of its previous civilization (perhaps even having caused it) or if they are the mutated descendants of that people. Generally, Sallista is avoided, but the government of New Earth has taken the unprecedented step of using Scro units as troops in its operations in the outer system.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 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 May 21, 1981. This weeks entries will be a bit abbreviated as our internet's out and I'm doing this via my cellphone, but here goes:

Legion of Super-Heroes #278: Grimbor is threatening to crush Earth's atmosphere with his cosmic chains and the Legion has only one hour to stop him. In this issue, they aren't doing so great a job as he appears to outthink them at every turn. Reflecto shows up to save Shrinking Violet from drowning, and the team has to fight him, well--just because. And he beats them too. The story ends with several of the Legionnaires other taken out or captured by Grimbor.

New Adventures of Superboy #20: Bates and Schaffenberger have Superboy kidnapped by aliens who wish to add them to their collection and use a sort of mind control to keep him from leaving, but Superboy ultimately does and ends their coercive ways after saving them from an invasion. In the backup, a lost (and younger) Superboy winds up on a planet under a red sun and befriends some slug-like natives.

Sgt. Rock #355: Easy Company meets a group of 3 black WWI vets who stayed in France after the war, but are eager to to defend their adopted home with Sgt. Rock and his crew. They take to the bazooka well, but one of him winds up giving his life in this new war.

Kelley and Veitch present a story of a French professor in a runaway balloon who manages to strike a blow against the Germans and escape alive. Kim DeMulder gives us a sci-fi story of scientists testing a weapon on presumed subhuman creatures only to fine the creatures have similar designs on them. The "Men of Easy" feature is about a chess fan that likens war to chess, until Rock shows him the infantry aren't pawns.

Super Friends #46: This is a whole Green Fury-centric issue. We get her origin and the Justice League helps her battle a wicked shaman (grandson of the one who foretold her powers at birth) in the Amazon. Who knew Fire got so much "screen time" before the post-Legends Justice League?

Superman Family #209: Supergirl is welcomed in New York, while as Linda she is praised for her acting in the soap opera--and she gets a date with a guy who seems to prefer her to Supergirl. He may prefer baseball to her, though, but at least that gives her time to intervene in the mysterious violence breaking out at the game. Somehow, sports announcer Fred Fox is behind it, but the story's continued.

In the Mr. and Mrs. Superman feature, George Taylor (their old boss at the Daily Star) claims to have discovered Superman's secret ID, but he's killed by mobsters before he can reveal it, giving Clark a chance to doctor the evidence and catch Taylor's killers. In "The Private Life of Clark Kent" Clark thwarts a city bus hijacker secretly so a brave bus driver gets credit. In the  Conway/Oksner/Colletta Lois Lane story, Lois has to get rough with some mobsters who are threatening a family in witness relocation. Finally, Jimmy Olsen and his date find a diamond ring in a theater which involves them with drug dealers operating out of a novelty toy company.

Unexpected #213: Barr and von Eedon/Smith conclude the Johnny Peril story. Johnny manages to give the police the slip and seeks out his psychic friend from the previous story to help him get to the bottom of the mystery. He's able to full the would-be thieves from last issue with a smoke bomb and his friend posing as the mysterious woman into leading him to her. The woman is indeed the woman in the painting, cursed with immortality. She wants to die, but needs a dagger in the possession of the man that hired Peril to do so. The police arrive and try to convince Peril that the woman is crazy while his psychic friend urges him to give her the dagger. Ultimately, Johnny does so, and the woman stabs herself and ages to dust before their eyes.

Kashdan and Florese have a guy visiting a warlock to get a new appearance and identity so he can fake his death to escape liability for faulty school construction he did, but when his wife is accused of murdering him, he tries to get his identity back to save her. In the end, he and the warlock come to ruin as you would expect. In the last story by Kashdan and Mandrake, an anthropologist uncovers a fanged human skull--that bites him! The next day the the skull looks entirely human, but then the murders start. The professor has been turned into a werewolf by a prehistoric werewolf skull bite!

Unknown Soldier #254: Haney and Ayers/Tlaloc have the Soldier taking a junk down the Yang-Tze smuggling guns to help the Chinese against the Japanese invaders. They haven't reckoned on river pirates led by a beautiful captain, Lady Jade. Once the Soldier is captured, he appears to be falling for her charms, but he's still got a mission to complete.

Micheline and Simonson greatly revise Captain Fear and put the Carib pirate captain in the middle of some intrigue that connects the War of Austrian Succession with Japan.  In Dateline: Frontline by Burkett and Estrada, Wayne Clifford risks a lot to sneak into Bataan right before the Japanese overwhelm the U.S. forces.

Warlord #48:  Good issue. Read more about it here. The backup switches to Claw the Unconquered by Harris and Yeates. Claw's demon hand offends him, so he cut it off, only to have it crawl back and reattach itself. He complains to the Lords of Light, so they give him a magic sword and shield, and say "go forth and conquer, you big whiner." So, he rides out and into a battle where he befriends a warrior woman who's mail shirt suggests she fears not for the safety of her underboob, and meets the leader of the demonic horde--who has one human hand! 

A second backup from Thomas and Colon/DeZuniga introduces Arak, Son of Thunder. Arak is a Native America who has somehow come to Dark Ages Europe. In this story, he encounters a woman who is the "goddess" of an ancient temple. When viking raiders try to sacrifice her to some monster which hides in a drove of amber, Arak rescues her. A rather Conan-ish story to introduce Arak to the world.

Friday, May 20, 2022

An Old New Universe: A Comics Counterfactual

In another comic book counterfactual, I want to take a look at what might have been if Marvel's New Universe had been created in period where the Silver Age of comics was becoming the Bronze. Why? Well, I feel like there's a kernel of a good idea in some of the New Universe stuff but it's not always a good fit for the "world outside your window" concept. Just imagine...

Nightmask: A young adult gets the power to enter dreams through the actions of a villain that killed his parents. The high concept pitch for this is Spider-Man meets the 70s Sandman. Steve Ditko would be the ideal artist, but maybe Starlin takes over as it moves into the 70s.

Star Brand: Blue collar guy becomes a powerful superhero. Works well enough in a more standard superhero context. He'd need a different costume, though.

DP7: Another easy one. A little bit X-Men, a little bit Doom Patrol.

Kickers, Inc.: This title says Jack Kirby to me. Sort of if The Challengers of the Unknown were football pros. They need to fight monsters. Like, a lot of them. Probably still only gets a short run before cancellation.

Spitfire and the Troubleshooters: Jenny (called "Spitfire" due to her notorious temper) and her friends are a group of smart, prankster college students, who are forced to get serious when her inventor father is nearly killed by the bad buys. Donning his experimental suit of powered armor, Jenny (with the help of her friends) decides to bring them to justice. Its female lead and assemble cast would be an attempt to branch out beyond standard superheroics.

Justice: A knight from another dimension. The concept already pretty much fits the era, though the execution would be different. The name isn't great though.

Mark Hazzard: Merc: A bit less Commando and a bit more Sgt. Fury, Hazzard would be a "mercenary" like the A-Team, where he only takes on virtuous jobs. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 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 May 21, 1981.

Action Comics #522: A nutty professor with a life long love of Baum's Oz builds his own ticktock man. The robot helpfully tries to keep his absent-minded master by on time, but that leads to the creation of a time tornado, as these things do. Superman has to stop him, naturally. 

Speaking of nutty professors, in the Atom backup by Rozakis and Saviuk, Dr. Hyatt has built a device that can steal and store the energy of a hurricane, which he plans to send back to 1931 to hurricane season. When the Calculator shows up to still it, the Atom gets thrown into the time vortex too.

Adventure Comics #484: At this point, Wolfman is pretty much asking fans to come up with most visual details of this book. In addition to coming up with heroes and villains, he now asks for fans to decorate Chris's families new home and dress Chris's and Vicki's school peers. This leads to things like the really ugly costume on the Bounty Hunter in the first story here, and the weird design on his companion, The Pupil, who looks like a giant eyeball in a mortarboard hat. Of course, the Dial H kids defeat these clowns. There's a running gag with a grumpy homeless guy continuing to be in the way of the ongoing conflict, which pays off in the second story when he develops broadcast depression super-powers (thanks to a radioactive exposure in the first), and becomes a pied-piper leading the townsfolk to suicide attempts. Again the Dial H kids save the day. It seems an odd story for a kids' book, but hey, it was the 80s when you could play depression, homelessness, and attempted suicide in a light way.

Brave & the Bold #177: Barr and Aparo team Batman up with another detective, Elongated Man. When members of the charitable Hangman Club are being murdered, the two Leaguers are on the case, but the murderous Hangman seems to stay one step ahead, even hanging the Batman using Elongated Man as a noose and rope at one point, which is sort of gross. Anyway, the two ultimately realize the Hangman is actually killing the Club members to cover his real goal: killing his own wife. I like the way the issue shows the detective chops of both protagonists.

Detective Comics #505: Little Angela Lupus is dying of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant from her brother, Anthony Lupus. The problem is Lupus has disappeared. What Batman knows that the Lupus family doesn't is that Anthony was a werewolf, and after their first encounter, he may be dead. Turns out Batman may be wrong about that last part, as there seems to be an Anthony Lupus doing illegal hunting in Alaska. Batman manages to track down Lupus who is still a werewolf and capture him. Batman assures Lupus he can find a cure for his condition. Conway and Newton provide a sequel to the story in Batman #255 (1974). 

In the Batgirl backup by Burkett and Delbo, Batgirl is on the trail of hunchback killer who has terrorizing women all over Gotham. Batgirl plays lure to get the hunchback to attack, but in the struggle she drops the knockout gas pellet she was going to use to subdue him, and they both get knocked out.

House of Mystery #295: In the I...Vampire story we learn the secret origin of Bennett's elderly side kick Mishkin, who started hunting vampires with him as a boy after his mother was turned. Sutton's art is nice on this one. It's downhill after this story. The next story is about alien's targeting earthling by selling them fancy new cars in only red or blue. I don't get it. 

Then, Post and Henson deliver the typical cautionary tale about a kid who removes a mysterious woman's turban on a dare and is horrified by the monstrous face he sees on the back of her head. The last story by Jones and Craig is a bit "Living Doll" from the Twilight Zone and "Amelia" from Trilogy of Terror. Harry is trying to marry Isadora or her money, but her daughter Lilah sees through him, and eventually locks him in the attic with a Zulu fetish doll he wouldn't let her buy.

Green Lantern #143: The "backdoor pilot" for an Omega Men series continues. Hal spends most of the issue strapped down with his ring warding off attempts by the forces of the Citadel to take it away. Meanwhile, Carol (and the reader) get to here a number of monologues from Auron. The value/importance Wolfman puts on this character eludes me, other than he winds up being the deus ex machina to secure GL's, Carol's, and the Omega Men's escape.

Sutton and Rodriguez/Mahlstedt continue the Adam Strange backup. Strange returns to Rann only to find that Sardath and the Rannian people blame him for Alanna's death. A detail on her lifeless, crystalline form, reveals that it's a trick. Hoping she's still alive he heads out for a rematch with Alva Xar.

World's Finest #270: My brother and I had this issue as kids so I have fond memories of it. In the Superman/Batman story by Conway and Buckler, Metallo has busted out of Superman Island and now has a Black Hole as a power source. Once the heroes track him down, Metallo uses the intense gravitation to take out Superman, but Batman smashes his control board, and Metallo gets sucked into his own Black Hole. 

In the Haney and von Eeden/Smith Green Arrow story, Count Vertigo is back and uses his vertiginous powers to force Green Arrow to acquire the crown of Vlatava. GA does so, and Vertigo smashes it with a sledgehammer! To be continued. In the Hawkman/Hawkgirl story by Rozakis and Saviuk/Rodriguez, Hawkman has been cured but a Thanagarian invasion fleet is leaving the planet, headed for Earth, and Hawkgirl has got to deal with the Shadow Thief before she can do anything about it.

In the Red Tornado story by Conway and Delbo, Reddy takes on Robot Killer a luddite with a homemade (but snappy) costume. Finally, in "Our Son, the Monster" by Bridwell and Newton, Captain Marvel has to help the son of a neighbor who has been transformed into a chubby green creature, by aliens' misguided efforts to reward him with good-looks.

It was enjoyable to revisit this issue, and I think that it's one of the better issues I've read of the title since I started this review.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Weird Revisted: Spectacular Losers

The original version of this Weird Adventures post appeared in May of 2011... 

For every adventurer that achieves fame and fortune there are a dozen who have short careers and die pointless or bizarre (or sometimes both) deaths in cramped spaces underground. The successful ones get celebrated at Munsen’s Museum. The losers have their own shrine on the boardwalk of Lapin Isle: Jago’s Museum of Death in the Depths. Here’s a sampling of the stories to be found there:

“Sweet Tooth” Artie Gaff: Lost his life in a macabre freak accident after a roll of the hard candies he habitually carried became tainted with a droplet from an ooze he and his party had defeated earlier.  The "sugar slime" that grew from the remainder of the candies required the action of the Exterminators to stop it.

Nellie Eastpenny: Supposedly crushed under the boot of a giant. It has been of little solace to her grieving family that scientists have since proven that a giant of that size is an impossible violation of physical law.

Smiling Dave Delgroot: Contracted a peculiar wasting disease from a plague-carrying undead creature. His facial features were the first thing to go.

Janice Doppelkin: Was executed for her crimes. The jury at her trial was unanimous in their verdict of guilt, but divided as to whether her crime was better termed “double murder” or “murder/suicide.” After three days on a delve, Miss Doppel returned to find her man en flagrante with a duplicate of herself, apparently created after she looked into a magic mirror on the first day of the expedition.

Wilbert Vrockmorton: Died more indirectly from delving than most of his fellow unfortunates in the museum. After a successful expedition, Vrockmorton was drinking with his fellows at a City saloon. A challenge from Zanoni (born Theron Astley) lead to his consumption of a bottle of wine brought up from the underground. Upon downing a glass, Vrockmorton disappeared--whether by disintegration or some sort of teleportation no one could say.  Occasionally, a magic item turns up in the hands of various dealers in the City: A glass eye called the Eye of Vrockmorton--said to impart protection against inebriation if carried.

Augie "the Mace" Munce: Decapitated by the bite of a monstrous humanoid, probably a troll--a creature Munce had turned his back on after presuming its defeat.  In certain adventuring quarters, the verb "to munce" is used to refer to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 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 May 7, 1981.

Justice League of America #193: This continues the Red Tornardo/T.O. Morrow story from the previous issue. Morrow can't seem to replicate Reddy, so he's going to take him apart to figure out why. Aquaman plays Batman and busts through a window to save him, but Morrow takes him out easily. The JLA attacks Morrow as a group, but the Tornado Tyrant has been unleashed and defeats them all but (Conway creation, I'm sure that's no accident) Firestorm. Firestorm meets the relatively small Tornado Champion and hears its origin and by extension the origin of Red Tornado. I have no idea if there are any retcons here as this is the version I know from Who's Who. Anyway, Firestorm helps the Champion reintegrate with the Tyrant with Firestorm's help so they can revive Red Tornado, even though that means the Champion will again lose his memory/identity.  Firestorm is now the only one that knows Reddy's true origin story. 

Then there is an All-Star Squadron preview by Thomas and Buckler/Ordway. This is basically set-up but pretty interesting. It's December 6, 1941, and FDR is trying to get in touch with the JSA, but they're all off doing other stuff--and running into villains that they don't know but who know them, implying they are time displaced. Degaton is at the root of all this, and Pearl Harbor is about to occur without the heroes to help. This is a solid issue, I would have no doubt read and re-read as a kid.

New Teen Titans #10: Terminator is back and HIVE wants him to steal stuff from Project: Promethium, which Terminator does, but he plans to auction off to the highest bidder. A lot of the issue is taken up by "slice of life" character stuff with the Titans before Terminator's machinations draw them in. In the end, HIVE betrays the would-be bidders, Terminator betrays HIVE, and the Titans trick Terminator who thought he had killed them in his demonstration of a "Promethium bomb." The competency of the creative team is clear, but this story feels like treading water between better stuff, though clearly since this is the second issue with it, Wolfman is more enamored of Promethium as a MacGuffin than I am. Also, this title has a bit of a 80s cartoon feel in that HIVE and Terminator have been such recurrent villains over this first year.

Secrets of Haunted House #39: Another lackluster issue, though a couple of stories here are just odd. In the Seegar/Patricio opener, a woman (named Taaro of all things) finds an injured man in an alley and brings him back to her place and kind of lets him move in. She shows him her wall full of memorabilia: photos from her modeling career, the cast she recently had removed and the crutch she used. Ignore the weirdness of this wall, because this is essentially a Chekov's gun moment. Romance doesn't bud, but the guy does kill her rival for a commercial gig-- 'cause he's a vampire. Then he gets jealous of her and a guy that offers he a job. He reveals he's a vampire and menaces her, but she stabs him through the heart with the handy crutch. 

The last story is by Drake and "Magpie-o" (Magpayo). A man escapes from psychiatric hospital and abducts his daughter (presumably) for a trip to Mexico. He encounters a reclusive but locally famous silver artist called Caballo, who wears something like Aztec get-up and long gloves all the time. The guy thinks all of this doesn't add up. He hears about Xotoka, a god who had a silver touch, and he reads about a ritual in an old book he took from Caballo's. He performs the ritual, and receives a burn on his forehead, but now everything he touches becomes silver. One afternoon, he returns to the hotel and his daughter is gone. He races to Caballo's for a show down, convinced the artist is trying to protect the secret of the ritual, but it turns out Caballo doesn't have that power--he's just a murderer that dips people in silver--including the man's daughter!

The Mister E story by Rozakis and Spiegle has E in Boston dealing with two dogs that work for witches. And this is ill-conceived yarn has a second part.

Superman #362: Lana and Lois both fall ill from a mysterious illness, which causes a great deal of distress for Superman, who realizes its the same illness that killed Jonathan and Martha Kent. A lot of the issue is consumed by that flashback, which is maybe new here, I don't know. It's continued next issue.

The backup is an "In-Between Years" story by Rozakis and Schaffenberger. Clark arrives at college in Metropolis only to find the campus on alert due to a bomb threat by Vietnam protestors. I figured this was going to be some criminal ploy blaming the protestors, but nope they are indeed responsible. However, a group of criminals does try to fake bomb scares after the real bombers are apprehended, but they are stopped by Superboy.

Weird War Tales #102: I'm surprised the Comics Code let DeMatteis and Carillo get away with this Creature Commandos story with a bunch of brainwashed kids shot up with some sort of super-soldier formula by the Nazis. The creatures (as is common in this strip) show the most humanity, viewing the children, however murderous, as more victims of callous science--not unlike themselves. In the end, the kids turn on their creator just before the unstableness of their condition kills them. 

The other stories aren't as strong, but two-thirds are okay. In the Fleisher/Zamora story a G.I. gets the ability to predict another soldiers death by seeing their dog tags glow, and winds up trading out dog tags with his buddy to save his friend's life. In a best-forgotten tale by Kashdan and Celardo a genii fulfills the wish of an ambitious officer to to lead an army of fierce soldiers, so the genii shrinks the guy to the size of an ant so he can command ants. The last story by Mishkin/Cohn and von Eeden/Ordway is a bit like The Last Starfighter (3 years away) where a kid playing a video game frees an alien people and is honored by them.

Wonder Woman #282: This is probably the best installment of this Etrigan team-up arc, but I still don't like Delbo's rendition of the Demon. Conway's script actually handles him pretty well, though. Anyway, the Demon and Wonder Woman escape the Netherworld and manage to bring Etta Candy home. Wonder Woman realizes Diana's and Etta's landlord--ex-Senator Abernathy is the one that set them up as potential sacrifices. When confronted, he admits it and says he was being blackmailed by Oscar Pound of Delphi. Wonder Woman again infiltrates Delphi only to find the Demon is already there and has fallen under the control of Klarion. Before she handles that, Diana has got to deal with Pound who has been turned into a Minotaur as Klarion's cruel way of fulfilling his promise to make him walk again. Etrigan refuses to kill Wonder Woman who he calls his friend and breaks free of Klarion's control. He seems to destroy Klarion but tells Wonder Woman that such a creature can't truly die. Pound is human again, but also unable to walk. They leave him for the police.

In the Huntress backup by Levitz and Staton/Mitchell, our hero is trying to find the Joker by looking for the source of his Joker venom tracing precursor chemicals. She comes up empty until she gets an idea. She heads back to Wayne Manor, which she hasn't visited for years, and the Batcave. Which makes we wonder why she as the heir doesn't do something with it? Aren't the taxes on the place killing her? Anyway, we cut to the Joker who sees a report of a sighting of Batman, swinging through Gotham. The Joker is overjoyed: he didn't want the Batman dead until he kills him. The last caption tells us that the Joker thinks the Batman is back, and we readers think it's the Huntress in disguise, but we are both wrong.

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Spider's Web

 Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued last night with the part heading out for Subazurth, and then to journey through its subterranean highways to the the mysterious domed city of Yai. Along the way to the road, they learn a bit about the history of the local kingdom of Subazurth: How the deposed Rorquar the Gnome King was an enemy of Queen Desire but his son, Gheode, the current king is her ally. The the "gnomes" of this area are Earth faeborn, mostly with a crystalline appearance. 

In Subazurth they are met by Captain Malachite:

He has prepared a cover story for them as "fungus hunters" and has a giant pillbug drawn wagon to give them. He also providers a star-shaped compass that will allow them to navigate to the northern Noxia border. 

They head out beneath Virid to the Virid-Noxia border. The route is pretty easy going. The road has paving stones and the way is lit by phosphorescent fungi on most of the walls. Passing through one outpost, though, they are stopped by a salty veteran of the Subazurth Rangers who tells them the passage is closed for some distance ahead due to a monster infestation. He welcomes them to stay a week or so while he hires a group of adventurers to clear the way.

The party responds that even though they are humble fungus hunters, they will give it a shot. The ranger agrees to let them try. Half a day in, they pass an alcove for a waystation that is full of spider webs. They roll on, but remain vigilante overnight in the next alcove. Dagmar things she sees something at the edge of the light, but by the time she summons Shade, whatever it might have been is gone.

The next day, they again head out, only to be attacked by the breath weapon of some sort of dragon-spider hybrid. It gives the party quite a time, and Kully goes down, but they are able to slay the creature in the end, and take it's head to present to the ranger. They also, of course, search its lair and recover its meager treasure.

Modest reward for their efforts acquired, they again head northeast

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
debuted on the Paramount+ streaming platform this past week. For anyone that hasn't heard of it, it follows the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike and his crew on the Enterprise--the group we saw in the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage."

Pike and Spock played important roles in Discovery season 2, so in a way this is a spinoff of that show. A such, we unfortunately, don't get a retro-aesthetic like the Mirror Universe two-parter on Enterprise or even a straight modernization of the TOS aesthetic like Abrams' Star Trek, but rather something that moves Discovery looks in a modernization of TOS direction. The uniforms here, though, are much better than the one's shown for the Enterprise in Discovery S2, being something like a combination of elements of the Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Beyond uniforms.

Anson Mounts' Pike isn't like Jeffery Hunter's but then we only saw Hunter play him pre-The Cage. Those events no doubt impacted him, but the biggest thing Mounts' Pike is dealing with is the aftermath of Discovery. It's a minor spoiler, but Pike is now aware of the fate that awaits him where he ends up in the sad condition we see him in in "The Menagerie." Mount isn't playing another version of Kirk here, which is good.

Ethan Peck's Spock is likewise good, but doesn't quite nail the Nimoy vibe in the way Quinto does. However, "The Cage" pilot was before Nimoy and the writers really made Spock the character we know, so that's okay. The other "recast" characters (Number One, Nurse Chapel, Dr. Mbenga, April) didn't have so much development in the serious previously that a new actor seems like a change. Indeed, all of these actors are good in their roles. Young Uhura likewise seems reasonable to me or that character.

That does bring up one of the (minor) problems with the series for me. In their eagerness to throw in character callbacks, they aren't really respecting continuity. Mbenga appears to be Chief Medical Officer here, yet he is at most second in command to Dr. McCoy by the time of TOS. Maybe McCoy got brought in an outranked him, but that would explain why he looks pretty much the same age as here as he does in TOS with seven years supposedly separating the shows. Indeed, the actor in TOS is a decade younger than the one that played him in SNW.

Also, Uhura stellar communication's officer (at least as far as the "extended universe" of the novels and comics tell us) is one her first cruise here here, but has only made it to lieutenant 7 years later? Maybe that's possible, but it just feels like they didn't think it through.

Those fannish quibbles aside, I like the show. I like the episodic nature of it, which moves it back in the direction of older Trek after the very serial Discovery and Picard. I like that we're getting an Andorian on the ship, if the trailer is accurate. I'm hoping will get more tie-ins to older Trek lore than Discovery's over-arcing plot allowed.

Friday, May 6, 2022

New Terra

New Terra is uncannily like humanity's world of origin in terms of size and atmospheric composition. Even the native plant and animal life proved mostly compatible with the biochemistry of organisms from Old Earth. It made an ideal new home for the refugees from across the stars.

The technology that allowed humankind to make the journey in great arks has now been lost. Humans may have left the Earth behind, but they could not flee the worst parts of their nature. Wars for territory began soon after their arrival and in them much knowledge was lost.

Something like two centuries have passed since that time. An international governing body was formed to ensure peace, and it did so for a time. Corruption and entanglements on other worlds led an economic depression. The previous government was ousted by popular vote in favor of the New Earth Order party under it's charismatic leader, Hastor Trask. 

New Earth Order blamed most of New Terra's woes on undue influence of aliens, and has proscribed the travel of nonhumans on Earth, while pursuing a military build-up and expansion of New Terran hegemony into the Belt and beyond.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC Comics, August 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  May 7, 1981. 

Batman #338: Conway/Thomas and Novick/McLaughlin put Batman up against a villain whose a master athlete with various sports-theme gimmicks. No, it's not the Sportsmaster (he's on Earth-2). This guy hates sports and is killing sports stars and journalists. It turns out he had a dad who really pushed him into sports as a kid, but not just in the usual way. He injected him with his own sort of super-athlete serum. His mom, reasonably viewing this as child abuse whisked the kid away, but the damage was done. The Sportsman is a super-athlete, but his achievements were tainted by him knowing they were chemically induced and the enhancements caused him to develop fatal cancer. This adds up to a workman-like Batman tale, with a one appearance (I assume) villain.

The Conway/Newton Robin backup solves the murder mystery in the big top, and I guess it's a twist I didn't see coming, but then I also stopped carrying about this story a couple of installments ago.

DC Comics Presents #36: Because someone demanded it (maybe) Levitz circles back to wrapped up the story of Starman which was abandoned with the switch in Adventure Comics months ago. This time he's got a more suitable artist perhaps in the form of Starlin. Starlin's Mongul comes along to be the heavy. Some time has apparently passed since we last saw Starman because now he's gotten the throne that previously belonged to his sister (who didn't know she was his sister) upon her death. Mongul assassinated her and then married Starman's lady love Merria because he knows the wearer of the crown of Throneworld has access to a planet destroying super-weapon and an empire. Starman teams up with Superman to put a stop to all this. Interestingly, the story doesn't end with the "rightful king" being restored, but rather the dissolution of the empire and Starman destroying the doomsday device his ancestors had used to coerce obedience.

Flash #300: This special oversized issue, mostly is an excuse for Bates and Infantino to recap the origins of the Flash, Kid Flash, his Rogues, and even his friend Elongated Man. Absent this filler, though the core story isn't bad. The bandaged guy in a hospital bed we've seen over a couple of issues who was named Barry Allen, turns up to be the Barry Allen. He's visited by a new psychiatrist that looks a lot like his father due to Infantino's art, but anyway the doctor is trying to convince Allen that the Flash is a delusion and that the accident with the chemicals left him horrible scared and paralyzed instead of making him a superhero. Allen is convinced this is a villainous plot (he's right) but the villains play a pretty convincing game until right up to the end, when the Flash turns the tables and exposes Abra Kadabra as the mastermind. The reveal makes the story seem "smaller" than its anniversary issue page count would warrant, but it's well-crafted one of the puzzle sort.

Ghosts #103: The lead story here is one of the best so far this year. A group of kids in a hospital unit sneak into the the room of one of their peers to perform a séance to determine the cause of the kid's mysterious coma that has the doctors baffled. It turns out the boy's spirit is considering leaving his body as he lost his mother in the accident that put him in the hospital and is now an orphan. He even tries to draw away the spirit of another little girl to come with him. The group holds strong and convinces the boy not to leave life yet. In the morning, he miraculously awakens from the coma and the kids are found sleeping in a circle around his bed. Levitz's kid dialogue here is occasionally schmaltzy in a Twilight Zone sort of way, but Spiegle draws kids well and really makes it work.

It's downhill from there. Allikas and Gonzales give us an EC-esque potboiler about the ghost of a murdered man getting revenge on the crook how murdered him who attempts now to rob the dead man's grave in search of a value ring. Snyder and Gonzales supply a take that would have perhaps been better suited to one of DC's short lived "gothic romance" titles of the 70s, where an elderly woman gets to be reunited in death with her departed husband after showing her psychiatrists that ghosts do exist.

G.I. Combat #232: Kanigher's and Glanzman's first Haunted Tank story has Jeb replaced by a lookalike German assassin sent to kill Patton. It turns out Patton can see the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart, too, who warns him off-screen. The second story has the crew taking a castle back from the Germans, and being forced to resort to Medieval weaponry after the tank lands in the moat. Whether war comics are made better by this sort of "high concept" stuff is difficult to say. I do like G.I. Robot! On the other hand, I think the more grounded Sgt. Rock is generally better than the Haunted Tank.

The O.S.S. story introduced Kana, a ninja working for the U.S. In this first story he gets to kill the commander that had his parents executed as American collaborators and also faces some prejudice from the American troops he's fighting alongside. In an "Underwater War" segment, a frogman must stop the German's from salvaging the experimental "laser gun" from a sunken submarine. Apparently in the DCU the term "laser" existed well before 1957. Drake's and Vicatan's "Battling Bard of Co. B" has a Shakespeare professor turned G.I. has it's ostensible hero, but I can see how his constantly quotation and grammarian ways would have irritated guys just trying to stay alive and fight a war, so I can have too much sympathy for him. He does save the day in the end. 

Jonah Hex #52: Mei Ling is about to give birth and Hex has to go into town to get a comforter he has secretly purchased for her bed. There's a young wannabe gunslinger there looking to make a name for himself by outgoing the famous bounty hunter. Hex ignores the guy's attempts to goad him by calling him a "coward" but it rankles him because his abusive father did the same thing. When he sees the gunslinger strike a kid, Hex gives him the fight he was looking for, though he doesn't have his six shooters. In the end, the gunslinger is going to Boot Hill, and Hex carries his dirtied, but otherwise okay comforter home to his wife and new child. While these stories aren't much considered today, the comics market being so focused on superheroes, I feel like Fleisher and the artists consistently deliver solid work, pretty much on a the level of sophistication 70s tv primetime Western--which isn't my attempt to damn with faint praise; remember comics in this era were aimed at kids.

The Bat Lash story is actually a follow-up to the tale from a few months back that I thought was a one off. Bat Lash tracks down the woman who stole the deed to the "social club" that he won in the card game. He discovers she's after the club for a stash of Confederate gold. When he tries to confront her and get the deed the "soiled doves" of the social club come to her defense.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Mothership Adventure Inspiration from the Pulps

The varied worlds appearing in the short fiction of science fiction magazines in the 30s through the 50s have a lot to offer any of the recent sci-fi horror games. Few of these stories are actually horror, but elements of them can easily be viewed through a horror lens. Here are few examples:

"Immortals of Mercury" (1932) by Clark Ashton Smith. Explorers on a tidally locked Mercury have to deal with resentful indigenous people, one a known, primitive, group, and another an advanced subterranean species that would like to wipe humanity off the planet. In many ways, this story is in large part of dungeon-crawl, but the basic set-up could be played all kinds of ways.

"Salvage in Space" (1933) by Jack Williamson. This one is reminiscent of Alien. A down-on-his-luck asteroid prospector finds a derelict ship floating in the Belt and attempts to salvage it. The ship is loaded with jewels, but also taxidermied alien monsters. The crew have all apparently been killed by violence, but the bodies are gone. It turns out the ship had carried an expedition to the Titania, the moon of Uranus, which is covered with "unearthly forests sheltering strange and monstrous life." The miner must discover what happened and find a way to survive the danger still stalking the ship. 

"Parasite Planet" (1935) by Stanley Weinbaum. Weinbaum's Venus is probably the most "ready to be used for horror" setting that isn't already already a horror setting in science fiction. This is how it's described in this story:

A thousand different species, but all the same in one respect; each of them was all appetite. In common with most Venusian beings, they had a multiplicity of both legs and mouths; in fact some of them were little more than blobs of skin split into dozens of hungry mouths, and crawling on a hundred spidery legs. 

All life on Venus is more or less parasitic. Even the plants that draw their nourishment directly from soil and air have also the ability to absorb and digest—and, often enough, to trap—animal food. So fierce is the competition on that humid strip of land between the fire and the ice that one who has never seen it must fail even to imagine it.

Humans have to wear full body suits with respirators least mold spores get into their bodies. And if all that isn't enough it's terrifically hot and humid. "Prospectors" come to Venus to get rich acquiring native plant life with pharmaceutical value.

"Love Among the Robots" (1946) by Emmett McDowell. As the title suggests, this story is light in the way it plays out, but absent the "meet cute" there's an isolated asteroid mining operations with a small human crew testing learning and adapting robots, where the robots begin to gain a bit too much freewill. If it can't be gotten under control, the company will nuke the asteroid.