Friday, June 9, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Claw the Unconquered in Action

 After the first playtest session of Swords Against Sorcery, the Bronze Age of comics Sword & Sorcery rpg I have been working on, I went through 1975's Claw the Unconquered #2, by Michelinie and Chan, and broke it down in game terms just to see if I thought the rules as I'm currently envisioning them could handle it.  Here's one fight scene from that issue.

The story up to this point: Claw and a former would-be assassin turned ally Gofflok climbed a rope to escape dog creatures and find themselves in a floating city. A beautiful maiden, Myrallya, appears and welcomes them to K’Dasha-Dheen. She invites the two to her palace to partake in food and rest. As the two visitors are eating, Myrallya reveals that her city hangs suspended between two separate planes of reality. It also grants its inhabitants immortality but this enchantment has to be renewed through the sacrifice of a god. Since no gods are available, the two men are informed that they will have to suffice...

With so many blades pointed at him, the guards are clearly out to intimidate. Claw's player makes his reaction roll of his dice in his Might Attribute and Swords Domain, counting a 5-6 as a success. Claw succeeds! Now it's on, He's going to enter combat, despite the odds.

The GM says since the guards still have the drop on him, they attack first, meaning Claw will react to their attack. Claw's player plans an acrobatic evasion that will morph into an attack, and wants to use Daring+Deeds for the Reaction. The GM agrees, but adds he'll have a penalty of -1 die for being seated. The guards attack as Tough foes, meaning 2 successes are need to avoid their attack. 

Against the odds, he succeeds! Now, it's his Action, and he uses Might+Swords to make his attack roll, looking again for 2 successes as they have a Tough Defense too. It works and the guards sustain Blows.

It's Grofflok's turn and he gets his Action first thanks to the Surprise Claw gave the guards. His coming up behind his target assassin-style, rolling Cunning+Swords for his attack with one die bonus.

The two continue to fight side by side, getting in some different maneuvers:

Claw uses Daring+Swords to improvise a ranged attack. Then, he uses Might+Swords to heave a piece of furniture in their way, spending a couple of Momentum he's generated from extra success in this scene to get catch multiple guards in its delaying condition.

Anyway, that's one way all that could have gone.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1982 (week 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of June 10, 1982. 

Batman #351: Conway/Levitz and Colan/DeZuniga have vampire Batman stop Dick from turning Vicki, too. He manages to subdue his ward and bring him back to the Batcave. It seems, according to Father Green, that they can only be cured by a serum made from the Monk's blood. Batman and Father Green go to the vampire's lair, but they only find Dala, who tells them about the Monk's hiding place in an abandoned church. Batman and Father Green go to the place and after a brief confrontation, Batman defeats the Monk and Dala, allowing Father Green to start the transfusion process. Meanwhile, Bard and Gordon get closer to discovering Rupert Thorne, Thorne hires Deadshot to take out Bruce Wayne (who he now believes is Batman), and Christopher Chance seems poised to discover Batman's secret.

In the Jones/Gonzales Catwoman backup, she teams up with an FBI agent who has been investigating the case of Candy Carole, a woman wanted by several loan sharks in Cleveland--the woman Selina has been mistaken for. Impersonating Candy once again, Catwoman lures the criminals out of hiding and they capture the whole criminal gang. That only leaves Roscoe, Candy's former lover, who forced her into a life of crime. When Catwoman finds Roscoe with all his criminal loot, he tries to escape, but dies in the attempt.

Flash #313: Barr takes a deep cut and brings back William Dawson, the guy whose body Grodd stole in wayback in Flash #115 (1960) as the psi-powered Psykon. Psykon is out for revenge on Grodd but Flash won't let him kill him--while largely sympathizing with Psykon's beef. When Grodd tries to betray his ally, the Flash makes a plan with Psykon that keeps hm his body back and leaves Grodd's mind in the body of a homeless alcoholic. Which hardly seems fair to the homeless alcoholic, but I guess that's Central City justice for you.

In the backup, Dr. Fate is able to defeat the combined forces of a Lord of Order and a Lord of Chaos by adding Inza to the mix of Nabu and Kent--shades of one of the conceits of the Dr. Fate 1987 limited series by DeMatteis and Giffen. It's surprising to see how far back that idea goes.

G.I. Combat #245: In the first Haunted Tank story, a German tank crew so horribly burned they look like undead returns to menace Jeb and friends a second time (after a brief stint in a circus sideshow). Jeb tries to save the commanders life, but he chooses to die after his defeat. In "The Easy Way" Kanigher and Talaoc have the path of apparent least resistance mean death for a group of GIs. In the O.S.S. story, Kana is put on trial for refusing to go through with his mission to assassinate the Emperor of Japan. Rather than go to prison, he prepares to commit seppuku, but he's saved with MacArthur orders the Emperor is not to be killed. In the second Haunted Tank yarn, Craig meets up with an old friend from WWI who is now a Colonel and moves Craig to a desk job due to his age. In the end, though, Craig is meant to be a tanker, and proves it. Also, Craig seems rather easily to have taken over the role of doubting Jeb's sanity from Slim. Kanigher wants to keep the same story formula, I guess.

Jonah Hex #64: We pick up with Hex in San Francisco, losing at cards, then rescuing a damsel in distress from some thugs. The woman is Sharon Hilliard – daughter of wealthy copper baron, Maxwell Hilliard. She claims her now deceased sailor boyfriend found a pearl of great value, and she knows where to get it but she needs protection. Jonah has to fend off her advances while dealing with the disapproval of her father (who doesn't believe any of this pearl nonsense) and unscrupulous treasure-seekers who do. Jonah and Sharon are kidnapped and threatened with death if they don't reveal the secret. Jonah manages to win their freedom, but after all that trouble, Sharon admits the story was a lie.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #5: Pasko and Yeates left Swamp thing in the hands of Sunderland goons and now he arrives at a private clinic for treating Sunderland employees. Dr. Barclay, who appears to have psychic healing powers, seems like a nice guy and heals Swampy, but something still isn't right. He finds out just what when he discovers that a lower level of the clinic is full of unconscious human clones. The clone are empaths and the wounds from the employees (and Swamp Thing) are being psychically transferred to them. Barclay and Elizabeth Tremayne are as horrified as him, and work to free the clones, but not before Dr. Kay (revived by the transfer of his burns to a clone) arrives to try to stop them. The revenge seeking clones overwhelm the staff, but not before Kay escapes in a helicopter, and our heroes flee.

New Teen Titans #23: Wolfman and Perez shift back to Vega System stuff. As the DA chews out the Titans for complicating his attempts to bring down Brother Blood and his cult, Starfire is hit by a Gordanian mental probe and goes wild. Then, She's captured by the Gordanian slavers under the command of her renegade sister, Princess Kornand'r. The other Teen Titans, with the help of Aqualad, salvage two Gordanian ships and infiltrate the Gordanian mother ship, but they're overcome by its defenses and hurled into space, where Raven's soul-self protects them until they can be rescued by Superman with the tractor beam from the Justice League satellite. Superman is unable to aid the Titans' rescue mission, since his powers were halved (as seen in Action Comics this month). The Gordanians escape with Starfire.

Superman #375: Bates and Swan/Adkins bring the Vartox/Lana wedding thing to an end. Syreena's treachery causes Lana to be turned to stone while Vartox jealously attacks Superman. When Vartox snaps out of his rage, the heroes managed to capture Syreena. She pleads her love for Vartox and eventually agrees to cure Lana. She does, but only by turning herself to stone. Another side effect is that the field that would have allowed Lana to live on Vartox's world is gone. The lover's part, with Vartox carrying the petrified body of his ex home with him.

The Fabulous World of Krypton backup here by Rozakis and Kane is better than average. A Kryptonian reporter spies on the Fel-Kar, head of the Kryptonian Science Council, and the agent Fel-Kar sent to spy on Jor-El. They learn of the scientist's plans to illegally launch a rocket bearing his son to Earth. But, when the Councilman fails to report the findings, the reporter realizes Fel-Kar plans to steal the rocket and escape in it himself. He fights with the Councilman and they are both killed in the collapse of the building, but not before Jor-El's ship rocket's the safety and the reporter records his account for posterity. Later, a group of aliens listen puzzled to the account, but cannot understand the Kryptonian language and decide to sell the device as junk.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Plane of Whatever It is, I'm Against It

No one is quite certain how the Concordant Opposition came to be. It is quite possible that some soldiers of Law and some warriors of Chaos tired of the endless battle of natures and paradigms and came together in that consensus to make another alternative. Others believe (or hope) that it is the place where the last fragment of the Godhead exists. a strange loop of dreaming God unconsciousness, a bulwark against a schizoid multiverse. People in the City of the Sigil, in particular, like this idea.

However it came to be, it stays because he serves a purpose. It's the phase boundary between not only Law and Chaos but the other syxygies which emerged from their conflict come together. It is the place of concordant. Of course, it actively resists being incorporated into any camp (though they all try). It is a place of opposition.

Across it's expanse none the Powers hold sway, yet no where are their philosophies more discussed and debated. There are groups of evangelists and missionaries from other Planes working to convert travelers, though these all die out eventually, either in conflict or by loss of faith. The plane does not mock, but it is actively indifferent.

At the edge of these Outlands are the Border Towns. Their appearance vary from town to town, but they control the flow of traffic from whatever plane is on the other side. All are fortified, no matter how benign the appearance of the Plane on the other side. Indeed, from the perspective of the Opposition, the most benign are often the most dangerous.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Kharron the Slayer! Anatomy of a Pregen

Kharron was one of the pregens I put together for the first playtest of my in-progress comic book Swords & Sorcery ruleset, Swords Against Sorcery. I don't know any more about Kharron and his background than these stats suggest. I gave the player a picture of DC's Stalker as drawn by Steve Ditko for an illustration, but I also had in mind Kharon: Scourge of Atlantis, a character created by my friend Jim Shelley and artist Pierre Villeneuve for the Zuda competition. Jason Sholtis drew this rendition with that in mind:

Anyway, every SAS character has two Archetype descriptors. These determine what abilities they have. For Kharron these are Cursed Warrior.  

His Distinction is "Neither Living Nor Dead," which can come into play as a special bonus once per session, but can also be used as a penalty at other times.

These are the primary abilities of the game. Every roll is a Attribute plus a Domain with situational modifiers. I talked about these before. Attributes range from 1-5 (with 2 being the minimum for heroes) and Domains 0-4 (with 1 being the minimum for heroes).

Expertises and Talents further flesh out a character. Expertises are skills they are exceptionally good at, while Talents are sort of special abilities that allow a character to "break" the usual rules n certain circumstances.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1982 (week 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of June 3, 1982. 

Adventure Comics #491: Adventure returns as a digest of mostly reprints, but there's a new Captain Marvel story by Bridwell and Newton. Satan assembles Ibac, Sabbac, Master Man and Darkling to get rid of the Marvel Family and Kid Eternity. The heroes are on a hike when it gets uncommonly dark. Realizing Darkling is responsible, the Marvels try to transform, but the darkness is so intense even magic lightning can't get through. Having been given the power to see in magical darkness, Master Man puts his hand over Kit Freeman's mouth before he can use his power. Billy Batson tricks Sabbac into conjuring a flaming light and Kit uses it to burn the gag from his mouth and says his magic word. He summons Zeus, who brings along three Shazam lightning bolts for the Marvels. Ibac, Sabbac and Darkling are defeated, but Master Man summons four gods of evil.

Arak Son of Thunder #13: Thomas and Colon/Acala continue Arak's adventures in Greece. A chance encounter with some dead monks and soul-taking Keres demons, leads to Satyricus and Arak impersonating the monks at a monastery and agreeing to investigate a story of demonic influence in some neighboring caves. Inside the cave, the satyr mysteriously falls asleep, and a swooping Keres causes Arak to become lost. He finds a thread which leads him to a tapestry which depicts his native land and He-No the god of thunder.

In the Valda backup by the Thomases and Colon, the gifts of treacherous Hun ambassadors are ensorcelled and meant to harm the Charlemagne. Valda prevents the king's own sons from killing their father who they perceive as a stag thanks to the magic. She destroys the cursed helmet, and the king plans to punish the huns for their treachery. It's interesting how different Colon's art looks here when he inks it himself compared to the main story with Alcala inks. This is more cartoony and gleaned lined, and the other grittier.

DC Comics Presents #49: Thomas/Kupperberg and Buckler bring Black Adam and Captain Marvel over from Earth-S for a team-up with an unusual angle. After a terrorist bomb shakes an ancient Egyptian temple, the Billy Batson of Earth-One has a dream about becoming Captain Marvel. Black Adam turns up on Earth-One intent on conquest, and Superman needs Captain Marvel's help, but he'll need Billy Batson and the secrets of the temple to get him here. 

Fury of Firestorm #4: Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez have Firestorm at the mercy of Killer Frost, lest the people of New York suffer. Her first demand: bring her actor Curt Holland (a Burt Reynolds stand-in) to be her consort. Firestorm heads off to do that, but first has a pointless but Marvel-style fight with his teammates in the JLA who want to help, but won't let Firestorm do it, his way. Eventually, they talk it out and collaborate with Ronnie on a plan involving a device built by Stein and Red Tornado impersonating Holland. It works, and Frost is defeated. 

Justice League #206: Conway is joined by Infantino for this one with Tanghal's inks reining in some of the excesses we see in his work on Flash. In the 25th Century, Thomas Parker recounts to his son one of the Justice League's adventures, while the two visit an exhibit in the JLA's honor in the Space Museum. Unknown to the League, the demons Abnegazar, Rath, and Ghast had caused the mystic Jar, Bell and Wheel used to imprison them to be left behind in the Souvenir Room of the original Secret Sanctuary when the Justice League moved to their satellite headquarters. The artifacts were eventually discovered and used to free the demons from their crypts. The demonic trio attacked the satellite and then battled the heroes a second time at Stonehenge. They trick Zatanna into using her magic to destroy the 3 objects that can imprison them, but they are defeated when she uses her magic to recreate the Jar, Bell, and Wheel and imprison them again. 

I've said before Conway's run here is generally good, but uneven, and this is one of the less good issues. It feels like a Silver Age throwback, and not just for Infantino's art.

Sgt. Rock Annual #2: Kanigher and Spiegle have Rock sent on a special mission to rescue a man with sensitive information who has fallen into German hands--and if he doesn't think he can rescue him, Rock is to kill him. A hard enough assignment any time, but harder still because the man in question is Rock's younger brother. With the help of the Haunted Tank crew and Mademoiselle Marie, a handpicked group of Easy rescue Larry Rock, though a rogue's gallery of villains get in their way: the Iron Major, Helga Voss, and a over-sized robot called the Goliath of the Western Front. Larry's been tortured and has a head trauma causing him pain. He wants desperately not to fall into German hands again. He attempts to get Rock to kill him, and when he won't, Larry jumps from the top of a cable car in the mountains. Rock tries to save him, but can't keep a grip. Mission completed, Rock and his men return to Easy. This was a good one, justifying the extra-page count, I thought.

Weird War Tales #114: Kanigher and Carillo bring back G.I. Robot (JAKE-2) with a cameo by the Creature Commandos. I suppose the story is a silly if you think about it, but I also feel like it's probably the most poignant of the week, even moreso that Kanigher's other effort Sgt. Rock. There is pathos in Sgt. Coker's devotion to his robot "buddy," in a way perhaps more now than in its era. JAKE always seems to have some humanity, but his mute, inexpressiveness never allows you to know whether it's an expression of his soul or just his programming, when he sacrifices himself for others or even puts his arm around a frightened princess.

Wonder Woman #295: Thomas/Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin are keeping it topical with this storyline about a nefarious video game. Wonder Woman stops a riot in a department store caused by a rush of people trying compulsively to pick-up the Commander Video. The villain here, the Sandman foe last seen in 1974, General Electric, is in prison, but he has taken over the mind of the warden and many others by means of his game. Electric contacts General Darnell, another of his mind controlled lackeys, and has him transfer bombers and nuclear missiles to the prison just as Wonder Woman bursts in after destroying Steve's Commander Video game. She attacks Darnell, but the controlled general brands her a traitor, and she's on the run to try and stop the weapons transfer. Her jet takes a hit from a missile at the transfer site, and she falls unconscious and into the hands of the military.

In the Huntress backup, Alfred has been poisoned by a unknown, time-release toxin by a mobster out for revenge. When threatening the life of the thugs responsible doesn't yield any useful information, she rushes him to the hospital. Not knowing what the toxin is, the doctors don't know what to do. A desperate Huntress decides to science this herself. After all, she watched her dad do this sort of thing and she's had "two courses in organic chemistry." This being a comic, she's successful and Alfred lives.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Swords Against Sorcery: Wizard's Challenge!

 Last night, I did the first playtest of the Bronze Age comic book Swords & Sorcery system I have been working on. I made a few pregens and this was the line up:

  • Oriax the Red, Gladiator Champion (Aaron)
  • Thunda, Barbarian Acolyte (Andrea)
  • Korag, Primitive Warrior (Jason)
  • Kharron, Cursed Warrior (Paul)

The adventure began with the heroes all at a seedy tavern in the city of Djadishar. They are surprised by the sudden appearance of a robed sorcerer with a brass dome over his head like Mysterio. He said he was Narznn Gath and he was here to cause the death of the heroes as his divinations had showed they would thwart his plans in the future. The other tavern patrons rise up, seemingly under the sorcerer's control to take.

Bronze Age Sword & Sorcery comics tend to get to the action very quickly, typically with foes the heroes can deal with relatively easily. Here it also serve the purpose of giving everybody a try with the basic mechanics.

The heroes fairly easily dispatch the unfortunate tavern lowlifes. They figure they had better take the fight to Narznn Gath or he'll keep coming after them. Thunda and Kharron, with their combined occult knowledge, know that he is reputed to dwell in the Tower of Eyes deep within the hellish Desert of Urrd. The heroes aren't eager to cross the desert with a wizard waiting for them. They want to try for the element of surprise. Maybe swifter mounts of some sort or magical transport?

Kharron knows a sorceress who lives in a villa on the outskirts of Djadishar who might be able to help. The decide to seek out Yasheeng of the Gossamer Veil. 

Kharron actually failed his roll here, but with a "fail forward" sort of mentality, this just means a complication down the road.

Yasheeng agrees to see them and even his an idea that might help, but there's a catch. She has a magical mirror which can allow them access to the idyll plane where Zaarzog the Demon dwells. There grows a tree whose fruit can secure the cooperation of the winged creatures than nest in the caves of the Vestari Mountains nearby. However, in return for her aid she wants the large opal at the bottom of the pool near the tree--and she wants a few drops of Kharron's magical blood to ensure they don't double cross her. The party agrees, and jump threw the mirror.

They are greeted to the scene of glade with a small hill and a huge, gnarled tree with strangely fleshy leaves. At the center of the glade is a limpid pool with a giant statue of a seated demon on the far side. While Korag climbs the tree to gather fruit, Kharron dives into the pool after the mikly-colored, potato-sized, gem. Thunda investigates the statue and notes one of its eye sockets is empty, but the other has a white gem in it.

When Korag picks the large, pear-shaped fruit, thick juice drips from the sap. When it hits the ground, wriggling creatures began to grow, ultimately to two-foot tall goblin-things. When Oriax cuts down a few, more grow from the spilt blood.

Meanwhile, Kharron as emerged from the water with the jewel which feels strangely warm in his hand, but then, the statue comes to life with a grinding of it's stone joints. Thunda calls upon her gods and the demon is transfixed for a moment, buying them a little extra time.

Oriax runs to their aid, while Korag jumps from the tree and kicks his way past goblins to the portal. Kharron taunts the demon with the stone--perhaps unwisely, as it snatches him up. 

Oriax attacks but his blade is no match for stone. Kharron manages to pry himself loose. They all try to make for the portal, but Kharron is tripped and pulled down by goblins. Thunda comes to his aid, and everyone runs through the portal, a grasping horde of goblins on their heels.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Dr. Banner or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gamma Bomb

This is a post in my Omniverse series of a "realistic," shared superhero universe. The original version appeared in the Gplus days in February 2018.

The official narrative regarding the creation of the Hulk prompts one to question: Just what was going on at Los Diablos Missile Base? Let's review the eyebrow raising details: Bruce Banner is given a shocking amount of freedom to place restrictions on and make demands of the base’s military commander, a Russian scientist has somehow gotten security clearance, the control room is grossly under-staffed, and the detonation is down to just one push of a button. Ultimately this is all the result of the government's Cold War mentality, but the immediate cause of the irregularities in the base’s operation and the tragedy that followed is Dr. Bruce Banner.

The first mystery (this one obscured by governmental secrecy) is just what the gamma bomb was. It was not a gamma ray weapon—though that was exactly what Banner had dangled in front of the Army to get his project off the ground. Once he had funding and security clearance, Banner went for something more daring: he planned to build the K-Metal Bomb the German’s had sought near the close of World War II, but never perfected. He hoped to use the K-Metal (or Kryptonite as it was becoming popularly known) to power a weapon that would weaken and incapacitate but not kill (in a manner similar to so-called “slow kryptonite” developed years later by Metallo) and would also not destroy infrastructure. “Gamma” became the Army’s codename for this weapon.

Not only were the generals incredibly interested in what Banner was offering, but Banner’s secrecy (either conscious or unconscious) regarding the physics involved only served to leverage a virtual celebrity status for him. A status coupled with Cold War thinking regarding means and ends would prove disastrous for more than one person present that faithful day.  Truth being more complicated than fiction, Windsor-Smith's version of these events in Monster would split Banner into two characters: a traumatized victim of a sadistic experiment and the sadistic scientist running the experiment. 

Dr. Leonard Samson, psychiatrist, wrote extensively about the psychological dynamics of the principles after the fact. That Banner was rigid and emotional repressed was obvious to virtually everyone, but Samson argues that he projected his anger for his mentally ill and abusive father onto the bellicose General Ross and taunted him in a passive aggressive manner. (This, incidentally, only served to heighten Ross’ daughter’s attraction to the emotionally unavailable scientist.) It was Banner who demanded and got unprecedented control over the test and a limited, handpicked staff. 

Which brings us to the oddest figure in this drama, “Igor Starsky,” the Soviet spy. Igor had been assigned to establish a relationship with Banner in graduate school—something not easy to do with the young physicist. For reasons of his own, Banner suffered Starsky’s presence, but seldom showed him any genuine warmth. When they were working together on the gamma bomb, he often treated the man like a lackey. Samson surmises that Starsky’s presence on the project was merely another way for Banner to assert his mastery over Ross, his father surrogate. He was the personification of foreign power in Ross’ domain. Banner would deny ever having considered that Starsky might be a Soviet agent, but he pointedly did not reveal any more of the science involved with the project to his colleague than to the military.

Why did Starsky attempt to kill Banner in the gamma bomb test when his presumed mission was not yet completed? Clearly, he had reason to resent Banner for the treatment he had received, but wouldn’t have stealing Banner’s secrets for his government been revenge enough? Samson believes Starsky’s murderous feelings against Banner were a reaction-formation of his attraction to the scientist. His tolerance of abuse had been the masochistic, unconscious expression of the depth of his feeling, but in a pivotal moment he pushed the button to free himself from Banner, and perhaps the intensity of his own feelings, once and for all.

That isn’t, of course, how it turned out.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC. August 1982 (week 4)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we bring 1981 to a close with the comics hitting the newsstand on May 27, 1982.

Action Comics #534: Wolfman and Swan/Hunt bring back Satanis and Syrene. Superman is pulled into the 14th Century by Satanis, as he's been trapped there by, well the actual Devil, but he still plans to conquer all of time, using Superman's physical might to do it. Satanis and Syrene are still vying for the Runestone of Merlin. Their magical duel somehow splits Superman into two duplicates.

In the Air Wave backup, Air Wave becomes aware of alien invaders with a plan to scour the Earth of life. It turns out one of his teacher's may well be part of the invasion force.

All-Star Squadron #12: Thomas and Gonzales/Ordway have revealed Hastor as the villain behind the fake alien invasion. We're given an extensive retelling of the Golden Age Hawkman's origins to explain it all, which is a bit tedious to me, but was probably necessary for the reading public in 1982.  Hastor comes by his power via a device that channels the brain waves from comatose scientists, the originators of this plan to save mankind, which he's co-opted for evil. He's confident in his ability to best the All-Stars, but acting on a complicated hunch, Hawkman uses the ancient sacrificial knife (his psychic connection to his previous life, Prince Khufu) to battle Hastor, on the astral plane. When Hawkgirl adds her psychic energy to her beau's, they are able to beat their old foe. The captured All-Stars use their mental energies to keep the flying eye from crashing, and the day is saved.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #6: No sooner have the Zoo Crew defeated the Yolk Monster from last issue, then they see more of these things attacking the White House. They rush to save the day with Oklahoma Bones Jr. and his snake coming with them. It seems this is also the work of the ambassador from San Salvador who is really Bones' old nemesis Baron von Vermin. He tells the Crew about the Space Bunny who bought the eggs from another world and buried them on Easter Bunny Island. The Space Bunny encased himself in a cocoon and buried himself on the Island, too, in case the eggs were ever awakened.

The Crew goes to revive the Space Bunny to help against the monsters, which once awakened, he does. He also turns von Vermin into a statute and embarks on a mission to subjugate the Earth. He captures all the Zoo Crew easily, but Captain Carrot manages to escape by changing back in Roger Rabbit and slipping his bonds. After eating a cosmic carrot to turn back super-powered, he manages to tie the Space Bunny's ears into a knot, causing the being to blast himself when he tries to use his powers.

Detective Comics #517: Conway/Levitz and Colan have the non-vampiric Batman return to Wayne Manor and struggling to control his unholy urges. He does wind up losing control with a criminal, though. Father Green shows up to provide Alfred the secret origin of "the Monk" (really one Louis Dubois) and his sister Dalia. He also suggests he knows a way to cure Batman.

Meanwhile, Gordon and Bard get closer to uncovering the puppetmaster behind the shady political doings in Gotham. Vicki is still at the party, but she's offered a ride home by Dick--who is still under the control of Dalia.

In the Batgirl backup by Burkett and Delbo, Barbara figures out how do de-snakify her legs by thinking hard. She is forced to adopt a shorts or skort version of her costume for the rest issue. The doctor's tell her she's got to get some venom from the serpent that bit her to save herself. She tracks down Lady Viper and snakewoman to snakewoman, defeats her, leaving her confined and taking the venom. Cured, Batwoman returns to deal with Lady Viper, but the villainess has been in snake form too long and devolves into a snake permanently.

New Adventures of Superboy #32: Bates and Schaffenberger reveal a rift in the Superboy Revenge Squad as s renegade member Trohnn (the extra "n" means extra nefariousness!) tries to destroy Superboy...not at the time the others want to do it, I guess? Anyway, this leads the other members try to secretly work to save the Boy of Steel.

In Dial H for Hero Bridwell and Bender switch up the formula as Vicki has to undial from a superhero identity to save herself as she is trapped on a world where she has super-strength, but the heroic identity doesn't. 

Tales of the New Teen Titans #3: Wolfman and Perez reveal the origin of Changeling. I'm not sure what of this issue is there invention or what has appeared in previous issues. I would guess most of the stuff post his original stint with the Teen Titans (his time on the TV show Space Trek: 2022, the attempt on his life by his former guardian who had taken over the identity of the super-villain, Arsenal) is all new, and likely the stuff before that is greatly expanded. Anyway, this seems less padded than the last issue and the juxtaposition of Gar's self-important narration with actual events is a nice touch. It's interesting how much body hair Perez makes Gar. That kid is as hirsute as Wolverine! 

Unknown Soldier #266: Continued from last issue, the Unknown Soldier's planned execution of the beloved Major he believes murdered the general in charge of "Bannon's Marauders" has to wait as Rommel's forces are attacking. Rommel seems suspiciously aware of their tactics, and it turns out it was the Lieutenant who had recently been captured by the Germans but "escaped," who has betrayed them and killed the General. The exonerated Major carries the day and is appointed General by the Unknown Soldier, who I guess can do that. The mystery here to me is why the Major never mounted any defense when charged with killing the General. Did he think he was covering for his men?

In the Kanigher/Severin Enemy Ace story, a passing French plane injures von Hammer as he is riding along in a car, so he's recovering when Balloon Buster challenges him to another duel. A younger pilot goes up in his place and gets shot down. Von Hammer and Savage plan to meet again, but when they do they are both forced to land on the French side, and von Hammer is taken captive. In the final story, Kanigher/Evans revive the Viking Commando for some reason. The Commando gets arrested and sent for a psychological evaluation as the brass finds it hard to believe he's really a time-displaced warrior from the 12th Century.

World's Finest Comics #282: Burkett and Novick open with Superman and Batman tracking down the Weapon-Master's lost stash of weaponry stolen from the Fortress of Solitude. They find the time-displacer at the hands of some low-level criminals. One of them activates the weapon and sends Batman back in time, forcing Superman to travel back to Earth's prehistory to save him. In the past they discover a civilization of extradimensional, winged-tiger riding wizards, the Eldiran, who are working to prepare the Earth for maturity so it can bring forth it's children (whatever that means). One of wizards tries to sabotage the mission, though, and Superman is threatened by a magically enhanced fire-lizard from a volcano, until Batman makes the malefactor undo the spell. This story is crazy, but not in a particularly interesting way.

Barr teams up with Gil Kane for this issue's Green Arrow/Black Canary story. Canary is kidnapped by Slingshot, and GA is lured into a trap to get her back--a cannier trap than he knows, as Slingshot is in the employ of the mother of a criminal he accidentally killed back in Flash #217. She plans to destroy the archer by tricking him into killing again! Rozakis and Infantino bedevil Hawkman with a precarious situation and annoying alien who hulks out when he feels unwanted in "Doctor Katar and Mister Plert." The ending, if genuine, seems to rush Katar's reuniting with Shayera, but this storyline hasn't been great so that may be okay.

Finally, Bridwell and Kane bring back Kid Eternity foes Her Highness and Silk who are working for Marvel family baddie Aunt Minerva. They plan to get the wealthy to a charity circus starring the Marvels so their houses can be robbed. Kid Eternity's intervention helps the Marvel's quash the plot.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Planet of the Apes Episode 3

This is a repost from a few weeks ago on the Flashback Universe Blog and a reminder that Jason Sholtis and I are reviewing the entire, single season series over there, once a week on Tuesday!


 "The Trap"
Airdate: September 27, 1974
Written by Edward J Lasko
Directed by Arnold Laven
Synopsis: The gorillas pursue our heroes to the ruins of San Francisco. When they are buried underground in an ancient subway station during an earthquake, Burke and Urko are forced to work together. Above ground, Galen and Virdon try to figure out a way to help Burke, with the reluctant assistance of several gorilla soldiers.

Trey: This episode was written by Edward Lasko who wrote a lot of TV back in the day, including episodes of Six Million Dollar Man, Mannix, The Mod Squad, 4 episodes of Wild Wild West, and one bad episode of Star Trek, "And the Children Shall Lead." How does he do here?

Jason: Well, it ain't Shakespeare! This episode had some of the clunkiest dialogue yet in the series, perhaps due to sloppy editing and time pressures in the production schedule. 

Trey: We're only two episodes in!

Jason: Three! Anyway, I'm not familiar with much of Lasko's work, but I get the feeling the old pro blasted this one out in one sitting, turned it in, congratulated himself on another job done, cashed his check and never looked back. All that said, I must admit that fun and amusement could still be harvested for those sympathetic to the franchise or 70s TV in general. 

Trey: Our perpetually on the run protagonists hide out with the Millers, a family of humans refreshingly at least passively resistant to ape hegemony.

Jason: Urko and Galen both know the town in question has a reputation for harboring fugitives, which suggests some kind of human resistance or at least non-compliance. Unless Astronauts intrude from the past in even greater numbers than the apes would care to admit!

Trey: Some bits and pieces of old wiring from a nearby ruined city give Virdon the hope there might be some near functioning technology left there.

Jason: Wires mean hope to Virdon, but Burke remains, perhaps sensibly, totally unconvinced.

Trey: I get that Burke is supposed to be more of the pessimist/realist about the prospects of returning home but given that his buddy has a wife and family he wants to get home to, he seems kind of dismissive and flippant at times! Show some sensitivity, guy!
Jason: We all cope in our own way! At least Burke is willing to go along with Virdon's plans, because what the hell else are you going to do on the POTA? I suppose he could settle down and begin a new life in a human village, but the company seems pretty lackluster thus far. 

Trey: The ruined streets of San Francisco are obviously a city street set on a studio backlot, but they dress it up nicely post-apocalyptically.  It does seem awfully well preserved for a nuclear holocaust, though.

Jason: It looked surprisingly good, I thought, though as the episode wore on it was clear they shot a handful of streets and alleys from every conceivable angle. I felt a twinge of sympathy for the studio workers who had to clean up all the apocalyptic mess after shooting. 

Trey: The ancient subway station and train, on the other hand, needed a bit of work. It looks like the small tram for a studio tour.

Jason: I didn't think of that, but now that you mention it, yeah, last stop, tour over.

Trey: Pretty good action sequences this episode.

Jason: Urko brought some appreciable gorilla-strength to his struggles with Burke, tossing him around effortlessly, which was the first hint of a disparity that I've detected in the series. 

The epic mano a mano brawl between Urko and Burke was an especially fun flavor of cheese. Between flying kicks and Judo chops, Burke and Urko engage in a verbal struggle straight out of a Marvel comics fight scene! Burke attempting to pummel the denial out of Urko, whose mind was blown by a poster advertising a rather barbaric-looking zoo that featured a gorilla behind bars. 

Trey: That poster and all the posters in the subway station demonstrate that printing technology suffered in the future!

Jason: Again, here I empathized with the beleaguered art department temp that had to crank these out before lunch. They were indeed crappy. 

Trey: Irritable Urko is amusing. He's constantly "fed up with this shit!" He's like the lieutenant tired of the cops that don't play by the rules.

Jason: Mark Lenard's back pain may be the inspiration! Roddy McDowell's ape-gait looks more sustainable...

Trey: Zako, Urko's lieutenant, gets to shine a bit this episode. I wonder if we'll ever get a payoff on his discovery of the truth about the past?

Jason: It would be nice! Zako's climactic choice is a dramatic highlight of the episode, indicating that gorillas are more than jack-booted thugs and that perhaps Urko is just an exceptionally grumpy ass.

So, what's your verdict on this one?

Trey: Overall, this is at its base a pretty cliched basic plot: enemies have to work together. I think it comes together pretty satisfyingly, though, and I like the way Burke maneuvers Urko. This also increases the stakes for Urko. These humans are not just a threat, they're a threat to his worldview. You?

Jason: My bottom line: I'm still entertained. Onward to Episode 4!

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Superhero Challenges

Something I've noticed about comic book superhero storytelling over the years: often the solution to the obstacles faced don't have their solution in the direct application of the hero's most powerful trait. Superman, for example, may use his strength or other powers in overcoming the central problem in one of his stories, but the powers alone are seldom sufficient. It's not accident Superman foes are often smart/clever guys like Luthor, the Toyman, or Mister Mxyzptlk because they facilitate these kinds of stories. Even in clashes with villains that have vast powers like his own like Phantom Zone criminals, the key to his victory brains not superhuman brawn. Sure there's his tussles with Doomsday and maybe Mongul where this maybe isn't true or is less true, but I think those are the exceptions.

I feel like the same thing is true of other heroes like Spider-Man and the Flash. Again, their solutions to problems will include use of their powers, but its less often the obvious, most direct use of their powers. Spider-Man, known for his agility, maybe have to bring his intelligence or just brute strength to the table.

There are exceptions. Interestingly, I think this is not true of nonpowered/low powered heroes--or at least less true. It seems like Batman and Hawkeye generally achieve victory by just...doing their thing. The Hulk, though hardly low powered, may be another outlier, but I would need to read more Hulk comics to judge.

Does this have application to superhero gaming? It could, but it's obviously much harder to implement there. The game becomes unfun when it's about "guess what the GM is thinking" to accomplish your goal. Still, I think GMs could be mindful of this when playing adventures, making sure to introduce obstacles that might suggest out-of-the-box thinking and reliance on less used traits.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 1982 (week 3)

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 20, 1982.

Brave & the Bold #189: Kanigher and Aparo continue Batman's team-up with Thorn. Sort of, because no matter how many times Thorn helps him out, the Dark Knight is determined to go it alone. He tracks the Nazis to a secret base in (of course) Brazil, but he walks into a trap. The Nazis have captured Rose Forrest, who is still looking for her father's corpse, which was stolen by them as a means of coercing her to giving them what they want. When she learns that the Nazis have dumped the corpse in the river, Rose runs into the jungle and disappears. Thorn appears out of nowhere to help Batman break free and together, they take down the Nazis and sink the cannister of Inferno to the bottom of the river. Batman is curious about Thorn's real identity so he uses hypnosis to try to get her to spill it, but even she doesn't know.

Legion of Super-Heroes #290: Levitz and Giffen/Mahlstedt kick off the Great Darkness Saga in earnest. The Legionaires fail to keep creatures serving the Darkness from stealing 3 mystical artifacts across the world. During this, drama ensues as Chameleon Boy faces fallout from his recklessness on Khundia, Lightning Lad suffers from a neurologic condition, Saturn Girl and Timber Wolf try to deny the unresolved tension between them, and the Legion prepares for elections, with multiple candidates throwing their hats into the ring.

Meanwhile, on a barren world, the Master of Darkness feeds off the magical artifacts, then decides it's time he move to draining the living.

Green Lantern #155: Barr and Staton/Smith have the Guardians condemn Dalor to a Ritual of Endurance, which will either clear him or kill. This strikes Hal Jordan as a primitive way for them to operate, but hey, the Guardians are the boss. Jordan is tasked with going to Dalor's home planet to break the news of his death to his wife and kid, as it is assumed he won't make it.

Upon arrival, Jordan discovers that its a pervasive cultural trait to show gratitude for others' good deeds in any situation with gold. Dalor was just following his customs. Jordan realizes he messed up and flies back to Oa, entering the test to save Dalor. He does, but appears to drain his ring, and Dalor returns the favor and rescue him.  After Dalor heads home, Hal reveals that he just faked running out of power to see if Dalor would rescue him. The Guardians commend Jordan for learning a lesson.

House of Mystery #307: Jones and Sutton have Mary show up in Maine, 1964, with Andrew still chasing her. He rescues a young girl, Deedee, from drowning, and then her really trusting parents pretty much trust him completely and let him stay at their house. That night Mary appears and threatens to kill the kid if he doesn't give up his time-traveling ring. She reveals that the child is a young Deborah Dancer. When Andrew gives up the ring, Mary tries to kill him anyway. Adult Deborah in the future looks back through time and is able to take control of her past self long enough to save Bennett from death, but he can't travel time anymore.

Next up, Kelley and Matucenio tell the story of a "mad bomber" who decides to go after the girl who rejected him in high school, only to be killed by his own device and a miscalculation.  The last story by Jones and Spiegle is an EC sort of riff and probably the best of the issue. A mobster trying to escape a hit has an associate fake his death while he hides out in a bomb shelter. When time passes and he hasn't heard anyone, he tries to leave, but finds he's been buried alive! Sure that he has been betrayed, he digs his way out to find that the city has been destroyed by nuclear war and he'll now join it in death since he left his shelter.

Night Force #1: Wolfman and Colan/Smith continue the story they started in the preview. At the Potomac Psychiatric Hospital, patient Vanessa van Helsing sees visions of demonic forces, calling to her to join them. Baron Winters grants an interview to Jack Gold and tells him about Vanessa.  At Georgetown College, Professor Caine continues his experiments in parapsychology. He discovers that his experiments are taking place at the same moment that Vanessa is experiencing her paranormal visitations. Baron Winters arranges to have Vanessa released into Caine's care, which seems really unorthodox psychiatric treatment to me, but hey, it was the 80s.

Meanwhile, strange supernatural occurrences begin taking place all over Georgetown.

Sgt. Rock #366: Kanigher and Redondo repetitively tell us what a badass soldier Rock is as he tries to make his way back to Easy after leaving the hospital and has a hard time, allowing him to prove himself an ace artillerist, skilled frogman, and decent glider pilot.

DeMulder gives us a sci-fi tale of how communication barriers and misunderstand leads to war between humans and aliens. Then there are two Battle Album features: one a topical rundown of the Ninja, and the other about a futuristic tank. Finally, Bisson and Hardin provide an unexpected gremlin story where the creatures actually save a bomber from bad weather in WWII.

Superman Family #221: I thought it was over last issue, but nope, Kupperberg and Mortimer think than can get at least another installment from this Master Jailer thing. Supergirl tracks down the villain, but he converts her into light-energy with another weapon he devised and sends her into space. Supergirl manages to alter her course, sending herself into a space-warp that returns her to normal. She returns to Earth and captures the Jailer. At last. Kupperberg/Delbo do better with Jimmy Olsen. I mean, the story has still been a bit padded, but the end is kind of clever if convoluted. Jimmy has revealed Clark as Superman realizing he was being manipulated, but not realizing Clark actually is Superman! He hoped to give Supes room to catch Brainstorm, which he does ultimately by cluing Clark in. He tricks Brainstorm when he thinks (correctly) that he has siphoned some of Superman's power into Jimmy, and the villain is defeated.

O'Flynn and Oskner continue to do good stuff with Lois Lane. I should clarify that to say, I don't know it will much appeal to the average reader of superhero comics now or then, but I think they are accomplishing what they set out to accomplish. This story ties back in to a 70s LL socially relevant yarn about tainted water in an inner city school, but now Lois and a photographer stumble onto a plot to cause fear flashbacks in those who ingested the tainted water by reactivating the chemical as a trial run for spreading it in the entire city's water supply.

In Mr. and Mrs, Superman, Bridwell and Novick bring back the Archer, another Golden Age baddie. On one hand, it's nice to see these historic Superman foes revived. On the other hand, most of them seem ill-conceived as Superman foes.

Warlord #60: I detailed the main story in this issue here. In the Kupperberg and Duursema Arion backup, Arion goes astral (I guess) himself to do battle with Daanuth, and proves himself more than a match for the evil sorcerer.