Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC. July 1983 (week 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I've got the comics at newsstands the week of April 14, 1983. 

DC Comics Presents Annual #2: Elliott S. Maggin brings Kristin Wells, a history student from the 29th Century, who appeared in his novel Superman: Miracle Monday, into official DC continuity in this story with art by Pollard/De Carlo. In the 29th Century, Wells, now a history professor, is discussing the enigmatic Superwoman with her class and they debate how many of the heroine's powers could be replicated with "modern" technology. Foreshadowing! Anyway, Wells decides to go back in time to investigate because, I guess, in the 29th Century any history professor is allowed to do that.

Superwoman has appeared yet and Superman doesn't know who she is, but Wells (in a cover identity as a new Daily Planet employee) knows the heroine will show up soon and she has theories. When King Kosmos attacks from space and Superman can't handle him alone, Wells is forced to become Superwoman to help save the Earth, in a twist that might have surprised DC's putative tweener audience, but likely no one else. That isn't to say the story is without a certain charm. 

Saga of the Swamp Thing #15: Mishkin and Hampton continue the story from last issue. This may have marked the first time I bought 2 consecutive issues of a series off the spinner rack. Pretty sure I got it at the Suwannee Swifty store in Blakely. After being crystallized last issue, Swamp Thing's regenerative powers restore him to normal, and the Phantom Stranger just reappears, mysteriously back to his old form, playing a synthesizer. The silicon-crystal Nathan Broder plans to take over all the computer networks in the world and as his friends and colleagues discover his plans, he kills them. Swampie helps his wife escape, but they don't know how to stop him until Sally remembers he may be vulnerable to vibration at his resonance frequency and rushes back to her keyboard the Stranger was noodling on earlier. Broder shatters, and Swamp Thing returns to the Swamp.

Batman #361:  Moench and Newton bring us more Man-Bat. He's kidnapped Jason Todd and wants him to be a replacement son for the daughter he thinks (wrongly) that Batman killed. Neither the police or Batman appear able to contain him. Ultimately, Batman tracks him to the Gotham Natural History Museum and uses trickery (with some life-size photos of Langstrom's family, courtesy of Vicki Vale) to get the Man-Bat, but it's help from Jason that allows him to administer the antidote to his condition at last. Also, a new assistant is foisted on Gordon by Mayor Hill: Harvey Bullock.

Flash #323: Barry's and Fiona's rather rushed wedding day is here, by Bates and Infantino sort of tip their hand there, because their focus is on Barry (now tipped off to Zoom's return by the Guardians) frantically plays cat and mouse with the villain. I think I can guess how this one will turn out, but maybe Bates has a surprise up his sleeve.

The Creeper backup by Cuti and Patton/ reaches its conclusion none too soon with the Creeper having a showdown with Cris Kraken, the monstrously mutated drug supplier. There's a coda with art by Giffen that promising the Creeper's return, but I don't know if what was teased here ever actually happened.

G.I. Combat #255: The first Haunted Tank piece is a focus on Rick, who's feeling isolated until he has a whirlwind romance with a young Italian woman. After a German sneak attack badly scars her face, Rick decides to marry her, but the woman, fearing he's doing it out of pity, jilts him on their wedding day. The second story, the captain in charge of the tank group is in the spotlight. He resents having to right vague condolences to the families of the men he loses in battle, but after being forced to go into the field himself, he finds the vague condolences better that the gritty reality of war.

There's Kana story which has him doing the sort of thing he does while being the victim of prejudice. In the final story by Drake and Patricio, an infantryman reassigned to supply resents not being involved in the war, oblivious to the harrowing situations he gets into having to deliver supplies under fire.

New Teen Titans #33: When the new villain Trident is found down, the Titans (minus their resident detective, Robin) must find his murderer. Meanwhile, Adrian Chase and Robin break into the home of a crime lord. This issue is well put together, but the key to discovering the clears' identity isn't so much as hinted at early in the story but blared from a loudspeaker. It's probably more surprising to kids, I guess.

Omega Men #4: Slifer, Giffen, and DeCarlo serve up a pretty visceral issue, making use of their direct only status. There's some body horror as the Greeshagurt absorbs Kallista's body and mind, turning into her and transforming her into protoplasm. Meanwhile, tensions between Primus and Tigorr over leadership (stoked by Demonia) come to a head, and they engage in a struggle that turns savage, again thanks to Demonia's manipulation.

In the end, Kallista is saved by her people and Euphorix's force shield stays intake. Tigorr realizes he's being played before he kills Primus, and confronts Demonia, then kills her in combat. While Primus' wounds are tended to, he leads an assault against the Citadelians.

Superman #385: Bates and Swan/Hunt continue the revitalization of Luthor as a villain, started in Action #544. Luthor is out for revenge for the destruction of Lexor and builds himself an island base and starts recruiting. Superman, meanwhile, is unaware that Luthor survived. He's pre-occupied with guilty over his role in the death of a whole world's inhabitants. He starts hallucinating and sees images of Luthor everywhere. He causes damage at a local suspension bridge and the Superman Museum because he thinks he sees Luthor. Is this madness or some cunning revenge plan of Luthor's? This is a good follow-up to the Action anniversary issue.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Draconic Empire

To its foes, the Draconic Empire is perhaps the greatest threat to the peace. Rapacious and destructive as the chromatic dragons that founded it, it will enslave the free peoples of the world, burning what it cannot hold, either wittingly or unwittingly enacting the vengeance of the chromatic dragon's mother, the elder god, Tiamat. 

In the minds of most of the empires people, the liturgies of its priesthoods and the assurances of its diplomats, the Draconic Empire is the best hope for order and safety in a world beset by Chaos from without and enemies from within. If the Empire's hand must be firm, they contend, it is only because the stakes are so high.

What is not in dispute is that the Empire is the largest and mightiest state in the world. It was born from the rebellion against the Wizard-Kings and their allies whose sins in their pursuit of Immortality led the gods to withdraw their favor, leaving the world to its fate. After a period of war and unrest, a red dragon, mighty and cunning as any of her kind but more ambitious by far, seized a throne for herself and declared her empire. Many other chromatic dragons bowed to her, as did their kin and faithful minions, the hybrid Dragonborn. The Empress and her closest dragon supporters interbred with humans, creating sorcerous bloodlines, the Great Houses, who administer the Empire to this day.

The dread, red Empress has not been seen in some time. Officially, she has gone into seclusion to better focus her efforts on some great endeavor or another, but there are rumors that she simply disappeared and no one knows whither or why.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Where'd the Grot Go?

Watching Delicious in Dungeon and Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (which are both great, so watch them), I've noted that both display very D&Dish world, but ones completely without even token gestures toward the gritty and grime of Medievalism. They are grot free, nothing like this to be seen:

This could be put off to the style of anime or cultural differences between U.S. and Japan, but I noted this same thing back in my review of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Compared the production design and costuming of that film to something like Excalibur (which is pretty gritty despite all that gleaming plate) or even Jackson's Lord of the Rings

I think it's even in the art of a number of 5e products, too, and in The Legend of Vox Machina animated series (at least the parts of it I've seen).

I'm sure there are counter examples, but these are fairly high profile works in the D&D world, some of them official, so I think we're in a moment where D&Dish fantasy worlds partake of more of a fairytale feel, perhaps, in regard to depict of their environments. Nothing wrong with that, really, just an observation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 1983 (week 1)

My ongoing mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of April 7, 1983. 

Camelot 3000 #6: Barr and Bolland are back after a couple of months with the wedding of King Arthur and Guinevere. Morgan le Fay and her allies (both alien and on Earth) are working behind the scenes to bring about Arthur's downfall. Morgan tries to turn Tristan with the promise to turn him back into a man. Tristan resists, but then Morgan throws the cover ball of putting the reincarnated Isolde at the wedding. That's after the former fiancé of the woman Tristan was before re-awakening kills Guinevere while trying to assassinate Arthur. Luckily, Guinevere is revived by Lancelot's love or something, which I'm sure has no implications for her marriage to the King. Bolland's art remains the star of the show.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #2: Mishkin/Cohn and Colon spend a lot of time this issue dealing with Amy's lengthy disappearance from our world, giving her parents more to do. We find out how Amy got adopted in the first place and that there was already so unusual stuff about her. Then, in the end of the story her father straight up catches her jumping through a portal to another world. While all this is going on, Citrina is pretty gullibly falling into a trap set by Dark Opal, and Granch is revealed as an exiled son of Dark Opal, and he sets out to save other captive sons.

DC Comics Presents #59: Giffen is still working hard to make Ambush Bug catch on. This story works better than the last one and also features other characters Giffen will return to (to humorous effect) later in the decade: the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Ambush Bug escapes from prison and attacks Superman at exactly the wrong moment only to end up in the 30th Century. With no one else to turn to and other time travel work to do, Superman drops him with the Subs. Ambush Bug plays Daffy to their Porky Pig for the rest of the issue. Reading this in 2024 and knowing where these characters are going, this is sort of fun, but I wonder what I would have made of it in'83?

Arak Son of Thunder #23: Arak, Malagigi, and Johannes go to hell and confront the demon, Baphomet. Johannes answers the demon's riddle correctly and Baphomet grants his wish to release Gog and lets him go. Arak and Malagigi, Baphomet plans to eat. Malagigi makes a play to answer another riddle and release Magog to counter Gog. Baphomet kicks the wizard out of his domain.

Back in White Cathay, Angelica follows Johannes into Hell. Meanwhile, Arak answers the riddle. The demon keeps his bargain by releasing the Magog and not killing them, but he won't let Arak go. He leaves with Arak stranded in hell with Angelica.

Blackhawk #260: Spiegle gets a break, only drawing the framing story this issue, while Evanier teams with other artists for three "Detached Service Diary" solo character shorts. Chaykin draws an Andre story, Rockwell a Hendrickson one, and Toth ends the issue with a Blackhawk tale. All of them are okay, but none are really a standout, though Toth's art looks great with the material, and I wish he had done more.

Fury of Firestorm #14: Stein and Ronnie are attacked while separated by the Enforcer who captures Stein.  His ex plays a part in his capture, but it's still unclear who she's working for. Stein manages to escape well enough from the Enforcer to form Firestorm, but that was exactly what their enemies wanted. They're captured again and the mastermind behind this all is revealed as Multiplex. A better issue that the previous Hyena saga, I think, from Conway and Broderick/Rodriquez.

Wonder Woman #305: Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin have Wonder Woman attacked in D.C. by transformed animal men, which really sort of gives it away that Circe is behind it all. The artwork in this issue looks particular nice, I think, though I can't really say why. Colan just draws a good animal man, I guess.

In the Cavalieri and Bair/Bryant Huntress backup, the Huntress has been captured and whisked off the Arkham which is apparently under the control of the criminal doctors Tarr and Fether. They are using the criminal insane to further their ends. They plan to lockup Huntress for good, but then there's a breakout on their "violent cases" ward.

Justice League #216: Conway and Heck wrap up the Microcosmos saga, and Conway says goodbye to the title. The Sisterhood with its allies and the League rout Kass'andre and her guards, but then the groups have a falling out over the fate of the Atom. Stealing into the city separately, they see there moment to strike when Kass'andre turns against her father and assassinates him. Krystal Kaa and Kass'andre battle and the villainess is killed, while Mother Moon uses her healing power to free the Atom of both Goltha's mind-control and his own madness. The new ruler of L'arra Sha sends the Leaguers home, where Ray and Jean Palmer are happily reunited.

The issue ends with "A Personal Note" from Conway saying he's enjoyed his "five-years and sixty-six issues" on this title, but it's time for him to move on. His run isn't necessarily a lauded one, but I think it's more good than bad, if seldom spectacular. It is also unfortunately under collected. You'd have to buy multiple collections and still not get everything after issue 181. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Elements of Generic D&D

Over the years since its creation, the standard mode of D&D has become a subgenre of fantasy unto itself, codified now in the other rpgs that followed on its coattails and the other media they've inspired. GURPS terms it "Dungeon Fantasy," though I don't think it required dungeons--though obviously they play a big part.

The essential element as I see it are:
  • The primary characters are a loose group of companions.
  • Well-defined character roles/types and capabilities, very often recognized within the fictional world.
  • Characters engaged in quests or missions in dangerous locales, mostly commonly underground. 
Other elements that are common are:
  • A setting with pre-modern technology.
  • Adventurers as a recognized role in society.
  • A large variety of monsters, categorized and taxonomized. 
  • Hierarchies of capability within character types.
  • The development of character abilities and capabilities over time through dangerous trials. Sometimes there are in-setting codified tiers or levels.
There are, of course, others but these are things I feel like are less common in fantasy works that aren't in the subgenre than those that are. There may even be some work that if you play loose enough with definitions that would fit all of the above that we wouldn't consider "D&D fantasy," but genre boundaries have never been impermeable and precise things.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Xeno-File: Ythnat

Art by Jason Sholtis

The ythnat evolved from omnivorous, beaked homeotherms. They are smaller than most known sophonts being around 1 meter tall on average. They are not above using their size and appearance to ingratiate themselves or at least appear non-threatening to others. It would be a mistake to underestimate them, however. They are "first among equals" in the Interstellar Compact by their own admission. In actuality, the o'omkaro and the hna-hunkpa are essentially client civilizations.

It has been opined that the ythnat have no laws, only obligations. Compared to human cultures, they certainly rely on complicated webs of patronage, referent power, and custom, more so than codified law. The contract, however, is always sarcosanct. The planetary political structure of the ythnat is prone to change to a dizzying degree, but the powerful merchant princes and syndicates effectively control the planetary economy and that of the entire Compact. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Retro-Reviews Continue!

This is your periodic reminder that Jason Sholtis and I are still watching old TV shows free on streaming and blogging about them on the Flashback Universe blog. This week was the Western  Have Gun – Will Travel (1957). The week before was the trucker drama Movin' On (1974).

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Wednesday Comics: Fourth World Omnibus vol 2

Recently DC released The Fourth World Omnibus vol 2. This 1336 page, backbreaking tome is the companion to the equally voluminous volume 1. That volume covered most of Kirby's work on the Fourth World mythos. This volume picks up with the continuation of the characters in concepts by other hands: Gerber's Mister Miracle, Conway's New Gods revival, the Great Darkness Saga in Legion of Super-Heroes, and Kirby's return with Super Powers, and a lot of other stuff. A lot of it is, well, not that great but some things (like the Great Darkness Saga and the Justice League two-parter on Apokolips) are, and others are at least interesting.

Here's the full contents:  Mister Miracle #19-25; The New Gods #12-19; Adventure Comics #459-460; The Brave and the Bold #112, #128, and #138; DC Comics Presents #12; First Issue Special #13; Justice League of America #183-185; Legion of Super-Heroes #290-294; Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #3; Secret Society of Super-Villains #1-5; Super Powers #1-5; Super Powers (vol. 2) #1-6; Super Powers (vol. 3) #1-4; Super Powers Collection #13-23; Super-Team Family #15; and stories from DC Special Series #10 and Legion of Super-Heroes #287.

I'm not a thick omnibus reader myself, but I do like to see these handsome volumes sitting on my shelf while I read digital.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Shreev Comes to Thono Inn

Our Gnydrion game in Grok?! continued last Sunday. The party:

  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond. Reckless.
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A vagabond as well, but more measured.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - Dabbler in the arcane. This time, he dabbles!
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - Scruffy teamster with a blunderbuss and a willingness to use it.

With the alleged Wol Zunderbast defeated, the party has to come up with a way to keep him restrained until the Shreev arrives. They come up with a plan of "harsh swaddling" with bedsheets, but the assassin almost breaks free, and they have to subdue him again. Just when they think they have it figured out, the concierge arrives, concerned with the noise.

The concierge summons the owner, Gris Samber, who takes position of the restrained assassin and has his men lock him in a closet. The group isn't happy about this, but they don't have a way out (though Antor certainly contemplates stunning his way out). They do insist that Yzma be allowed to stand guard, and Samber agrees.

While they wait, Jerfus contrives to get a look at Zunderbast's room. His attempts to drive off the guard set there by Samber with odious habits backfires and instead wins him a friend--unfortunately not friendly enough to allow him in the room unobserved.

At last, Shreev Molok and Var Nee arrive. They group follows them to the closet--which when opened appears empty! It's only a trick, and Zunderbast drops from the ceiling and makes a break for the door. Yzma shoots him in the leg, halting his escape.

For their efforts, the Shreev allows them to keep Zunderbast's full purse and to stay another night at the resort on the Compulsor's account.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1982 (week 4)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, we look at the comics hitting the newsstand on March 24, 1983.

Green Arrow #2: Barr and von Eeden/Giordano catchup with Green Arrow trying to uncover the identity of the person who wants to kill the again-wealthy Oliver Queen. He has a lot of suspects, given very few of Abigail Horton's would-be heirs are happy that Ollie inherited instead of them. When Ollie makes himself a target, Ted Horton, Jr. takes the bait and tries to kill him. Green Arrow pursues him, but he's unable to stop Count Vertigo from killing Ted before he can be interrogated. I had this issue as a kid, but I didn't remember much about it other than the distinctive cover.

Action Comics #544: Lex Luthor and Brainiac get their cool new 80s looks that will be short-lived in the comics, but indelibly stamped on the memories of fans of a certain age (like me) thanks to their use in the Garcia-Lopez drawn marketing art used in the DC Heroes rpg, their appearance in plastic in the Kenner Super-Powers toyline, and their use in Crisis. What this issue reveals is that they were part of an attempt to revitalize these villains.

The first story is by Bates and Swan and introduces Luthor's powered armor, designed by Perez. It's revealed that there is a world, Luxor, where Luthor retreats when getting beaten by Superman time and time again is too much for him where he is hailed as a hero, and he has a wife and child. Luthor begins to reform and has a change to give up his vendetta against Superman and live a happy life, but he ruins it because he just can't let it go. His last attempt on Superman's life leads to the destruction of Luxor and the death of his family. It's a nice story and would be even better with a modern approach to characterization and more pages.

The second is by Wolfman and Kane and introduces Hannigan's new Brainiac design. In a story perhaps inspired by Star Trek: The Motion Picture or 2001, Brianiac's consciousness is expanded by becoming disembodied then re-assembled in the advanced computer core of an alien prison planet. Reborn in a new body, the villain believes he has seen the Master Programmer, the divine force behind the universe's creation. This story is really all setup, and Kane's art not only may not be the best for the subject matter but also isn't his best in any case.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #8: Continuing from last issue, Arion and his allies attack Atlantis. Garn isn't up to facing Arion magically now and his imperious ways have led to mismanagement by his disgruntled army commander, so his troops aren't up to the task of defending his conquest. With Garn sent running, Arion is acclaimed as a hero and liberator--which may present difficulties for the king and his heir on their way back to their kingdom.

All-Star Squadron #22: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan continue the fight with the Ultra-Humanite, Cyclotron, and Deathbolt from last issue. Ultra is trying to gather artifacts for some reason, and now he also wants to transplant his brain into Robot-Man's body. We get Ultra's background and also some more on the origins of "Thor's hammer" used by the villain a few issues back and now in Ultra's possession.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #16: This issue gets a lot of jokes from references to the career of Steven Spielberg and E.T. in particular, which had been released the year before.  Screeching Tire (a villain like a tire-based Big Wheel or War Wheel) is coming after Steven Spielbird-dog for revenge. Ultimately the two work it out and the guy comes on board for one of his films.

Detective Comics #527: Because comic writers can't leave well enough alone, Man-Bat is back, this time so Moench can take a whack at him. Conway cured him to shuffle him off stage exactly a year ago in issue 348 after Pasko sort of ushered him off stage back in '81. Anyway, Langstrom forgets to take his cure because he's so busy, reverts to Man-Bat form, heads to the Batcave and winds up kidnapping Jason Todd who insists on calling Bruce his "new Dad" when Bruce is Batman, in contrived way. Not Moench's best, but this is only his 2nd Batman issue. Art in this one is by Day and Marcos.

There's a Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Cullins/Marcos. It introduces the typical for comics "just past the sell date" cultural trend-based character, Ozone, a graffiti artist and super-villain, who employs super-high pressure aerosol cans in his crimes. He accidentally takes an aerosol can loaded with botulinus poison. Green Arrow tries to capture Ozone during a robbery at a men's magazine office but instead gets thrown through a window 30 stories above the ground by a high-pressure can.

Jonah Hex #73: Fleisher is joined this issue by García-López, and it looks great. After a double-cross during an attempted ambush, Hex winds up in double casts. After some crazy wheelchair rides and other improbable events, he still manages to bring in the bounties.  

There's a El Diablo backup by Cohn and Ayers/Rodriguez, but honestly, I can't recall what happened other than-- ghostly vengeance!

New Adventures of Superboy #42: A jerky classmate of Clark's gets super-powers from a meteor and becomes the costumed villain, Dyna-Mind. As is typical with these Superboy stories, he gets the upper hand this issue. Also, Clark manages to damage his burgeoning relationship with the girl he asked out last issue.

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell and Bender/McLaughlin, a super-villain working with the Master pretends to be the devil and agrees to help an old crank in his crusade against immoral pop culture in exchange for old coot's soul. I assume this prank is just for the lolz of the Master because it makes no sense. Anyway, this involves attacking a comics store where Chris and Vicki and friends are doing some cosplay. Chris and Vicki dial up heroic IDs based on their friends' cosplay (X-Rayder and Lavender Skywriter) leading the Master to deduce they draw their identities from the minds of people nearby.

Weird War Tales #124: So here we are at the final issue. The Creature Commandos and G.I. Robot (he's mentioned in the text though very hard to actually see in the panels) appear (barely) in a one-page story where they are court martialed for showing too much humanity and sentenced to death by General (Paul) Levitz. They're put into a modified V2 aimed at Hitler. Instead, the missile becomes erratic and heads off into outer space. This will be the last appearance of the Pre-Crisis version of these characters. It's hard to read this as anything but Kanigher expressing some displeasure with editorial. Whether it was resentment over cancellation or being mandated to write a story to tie it all up, I don't know.

The cover story is typical Kanigher Weird War fare about a struggle being carried out between combatants resurrected across the ages. The other two stories written by Robin Snyder (who also answers the letter column in this issue) are war tales but not at all weird and seem like inventory stories.

World's Finest Comics #292: Moench's last issue as writer teams him up with Jerome Moore and Frank Giacola on art. Superman and Batman appear on a radio talk show (Susan LaSalle, The Siren) and say some not really very well-thought-out things about crime before we're spared their weird musings by some guy calling in an anthrax threat. The two have to work together to discover the bomb and the crook, though the whole time it feels like something Superman's powers would have easily dealt with solo in his own book.

In interesting aside: General Zod appears in a flashback as Superman is talking about Krypton, but his he looks like General Zod from Superman II instead of how Earth-One General Zod is usually portrayed.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Talislanta Final Edition

The 6th edition of the Talislanta game and setting (being billed as the final edition) by Everything Epic released in pdf to crowdfunding backers last week. I haven't gotten a chance to review the books in depth yet, but being as Talislanta is a setting that I'm quite fond of I couldn't wait to share some initial thoughts.

One of the main questions for me regarding this edition was going to be how updated was it going to be? I mean this is several different ways. Most (or at least several) editions have advanced the timeline and altered some of the cultures or the political climate. For example, the Arduans became Aeirads and "evolved" in a more human direction in 3e (as I recall), and at some point, the Quan Empire was overthrown by their soldiers, the Kang. 

It looks like this edition has again updated the timeline, changing the political picture and bringing in some of the cultures/species which had appeared in the spinoff setting Midnight Realm--though I'm unsure if there's in "in world" reason given for this last part.

The other, large question of updating was in terms of modernization. The desires and expectations of gamers are different in 2024 than they were in 1987 and even in 2006. The art and presentation in the new edition is largely in keeping with modern gaming which is both more heroic in its depiction of the characters and sexied up at times as well. This will not afford you the chance to play a Marukan dung-merchant, if such was ever your desire.

Given Talislanta's age and source material there were aspects that would be problematic in the current era. Their approach to this is varied, one might even say haphazard. Some things have been removed; others were tweaked in an attempt to ameliorate the more problematic elements. Others appear to have been left as they have always been. I guess this could be viewed as the middle road, which I guess was the way to go, I'm just not sure how they chose what got changed and what didn't.

System-wise, this is just another tweaking of the system Tal has had since the beginning, which is fine, because I think it's a pretty good one.  I have read in places that there is a need for some errata, but that's sort of to be expected.

Anyway, look for more posts on this as I get to read more. Maybe I'll continue my survey of Talislanta across editions and some point.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Descent in the Outer Dark

When Janus stopped being just an orbital mechanics curiosity and became a genuine anomaly by broadcasting a signal, a flurry of probes was quickly launched, and Earth waited for the report. Janus was revealed not to be a moon at all. It was an alien artifact. 

It took some time to find out what sort of artifact. Even now, none of the experts are completely sure. Its creators and purpose remain obscure. What humanity learned was there was reward inside: the strange but sometimes useful artifacts of an unimaginably advanced civilization. And then there was something else. Death. It comes in hundreds of ways, at the hands of bizarre traps or random environmental shifts, but also at the hands of murderous alien beings or animals that reside inside the structure.

The Company runs the station serving Janus. Security is provided by a multinational group, but it was expedient to let a corporation run the actual operations. Plausible deniability. Contractors recruited from the desperate masses of a climate stressed and economically depressed Earth sign up to be minimally trained, fitted into battered, armored environmental suites and sent into the alien labyrinth inside, hoping to steal crumbs from the table of strange gods and get out of their realm alive. The statistics aren't good, but the stories of the few that survive to retire rich keep the volunteers coming.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 1983 (week 3)

My mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around March 17, 1983.

Legion of Super-Heroes #300: It's an anniversary issue, so Giffen and Mahlstedt share art duties with a number of Legion artists from the past: Schaffenberger, Staton, Bender, Swan, Sherman, and Cockrum. The whole Legion of Super-Heroes assembles for an anniversary ceremony, but there are some other things going on as they do. Mon-El and Shadow Lass (with a new look) destroy a giant Khund spaceship in humanoid form. Much of the issue is taken up by Brainiac 5 and Rond Vidar working to cure the psychosis of Douglas Nolan, brother of the late Ferro Lad. He experiences a number of alternate timelines (providing the stories for the guest artists to illustrate). Ultimately, they allow the tortured Nolan to physically escape into an alternate timeline in which he replaces his dead brother in the Legion.

I suspect this is an issue that is more enjoyable the more you are steeped in Legion history.

Night Force #11: Wolfman and Colan start a new storyline. In a mansion in Maine in the 1930s, a cabal of occultists uses their power to help bring Hitler to power, only to be betrayed and murdered by him (also sealing his own fate). Decades later, a wealthy couple buys the house and finds it haunted. They are assaulted by the spirits who brand "666" on the husband's head. The couple turns to Baron Winter for help and for a large sum, he agrees. He and Vanessa prepare in open a door in his home and step out into the 1930s. After a stop in a soda shop to have an egg cream (priorities I guess) the Baron contrives to set up a meeting with the cabal.

This seems a bit more standard fare than the last two arcs, but it's just the first installment so there may be twists to come.

Brave and the Bold #199: Barr and Andru/Hoberg team up Batman and the (Earth-One) Spectre in the penultimate issue of this title. It's got a nice setup: Jim Corrigan (the Spectre's host) disappears while a moving train while the Spectre is out of his body, so the ghost goes to the Dark Knight Detective to solve the crime. It turns out the sorceress Kalindra is trying to get a bad for spirit of her lover, banished to the Astral Plane by a cruel and vengeful wizard centuries ago.  Batman tries to deal with the powerful Kalindra, while Spectre and the lover's spirit fight to the Astral Plane. Spectre wins quickly and then helps Batman by releasing Kalindra of her spell, ending her life. In the aftermath, Batman is angry at the unnecessary death, but the Spectre explains that the lovers' souls were due in the afterlife long ago, and now they are reunited there.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #8: Kupperberg brings in his creation from 1977 (though they were last seen in '82), the new Doom Patrol. Reactron, an atomic-powered foe of the Doom Patrol, is lured into the open by the Patrol's gambit of offering Negative Woman as bait--and Linda Danvers happens to be a bystander! She's shooed away from the scene by Tempest, who doesn't know she's Supergirl. Cheryl and Daryll, who have accompanied her to the park, take her back home, and Linda has to watch the battle with her super-vision. Reactron escapes and later appears on the university campus, drawn by the emanations of a secret, experimental nuclear reactor, and Supergirl gets her chance to confront him.

Green Lantern #165: Barr and Pollard/Adkins bring back John Stewart to team-up with Green Arrow. The Guardians contact Stewart to deal with the threat of the alien warrior, Krystayl. The creature was a weapon created on the planet destroyed millennia ago by the combined willpower of the Green Lantern Corps, shattering the monster to shards. This also killed all the people he had absorbed, something the Guardians deemed as acceptable losses. The fragments drifted through space, until one of those shards arrived on Earth and awakened, continuing his lethal orders.

The first encounter between the heroes and the monster doesn't go so well. Some civilians are absorbed, and Ollie's arm gets encased in crystal. Freeing Ollie's arm gives them the idea of finding the crystal's weak point, and they use that trick to shatter Krystayl, freeing the people he absorbed. Green Arrow invites John to get some chili.

In the epilogue, Green Lantern Galius Zed confronts the supposed traitor Eddore and takes his Globe of Power. However, when looks into the globe, he instead joins with Eddore and declares they must tell their fellow Green Lanterns about the Guardians' betrayal.

The Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Klein and Gibbons continues the story from issue 163. After showing Hollika Rahn a vision of what might happen if she shirks her responsibilities as a Green Lantern, a Guardian reveals that her friend Mikkin has strayed into Scientist and gets captured by some taken to the Ministry of Science. The Guardian shows Hollika Mikki's location, and she heads to the rescue.

House of Mystery #317: In "I...Vampire," Mishkin and Cullins/Sutton have Bennett, Deborah, and the fictional Mishkin (Dmitri) battling the forces of the Blood Red Moon led by Mishkin's mother, Dunya. They are trapped in the former Mishkin family home as the sun comes up. While the vampires sleep, Deborah tries to find the hiding places of the Blood Red Moon forces laying siege and kill them to even the odds. When night falls, Dunya's vampires attack. Deborah is about to shoot Dunya with a solar gun, but Dmitri leaps in front of the blast to save his mother. He begs her to finally love him, but she scorns him once again. As Dunya is about to bite Deborah, Dmitri stakes his mother from behind, killing her. He dies of his injuries in Bennett's arms, realizing at last that his mother was long dead.

The other story by Mayer and Zamora is sort of clever. In a magic-based analog to the 20th Century, a couple is aghast to learn their son has been practicing science in the basement. They are visited by the magical authorities, but the son uses his renegade science to save his family, then casts a powerful spell that transforms the world in our technological one, with only him remembering how things were and retaining magical power.

Sgt. Rock #376: The main story, "The Worry-Wart," is one of those introduce a new Easy Company member with a distinct (usually eccentric) trait yarns that forms a significant part of Kanigher's repertoire. This is the variant where the newbie learns something that makes them a better soldier and doesn't die. 

The two backup stories are weird and feel like maybe they were rush jobs or inventory pieces. Both are about the ironies of war, even in the future. The first is a space opera-ish text piece illustrated by Sid Wright. The second is a post-apocalyptic tale with amateurish or underground-looking art (or both) by Brian Bilby, who's only credit are short's (2 of them humor) in 3 issues of Sgt. Rock.

Warlord #70:  In the Barren Earth backup by Cohn and Randall, The Harashashan and humans are cooperating on setting up a serious of aqueducts, but the prejudices run deep and it isn't easy. It gets even harder when the fungoid Mulge attack. They are repelled, but not before they kidnap Skinner. I reviewed the main story in this issue here.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Monorail Station Mosh

Our Action Tales system sci-fi game continued last night with two additional characters meeting up with the crew: Ariana (Mercurian technician) and Rusty Tam (an Earther Smuggler). 

The party had to get back to their contacts room on the spaceliner Solar Queen to achieve the encrypted datachip to pay the pirates who had "salvaged" the Ares Corp yacht. The problem was, Ares thugs had the monorail station staked out, waiting for them.

The crew didn't have many distance weapons, so when the Ares guys pulled electrolaser stunners, all they could do was dodge through the transit station kiosks, making a break for the train. It doesn't go smoothly. There's a lot of tripping and running into each other.

Eventually, though they get on the train and throw out the one thug that managed to get on with them. It's a short trip to the space port where the Solar Queen is in Bay 04. They cross the ramp to the ship, but there's a guard waiting there who demands ID.

Rhyn and Rusty stun him, and the group proceeds inside.


From the game running perspective, this adventure shows the Action Tales System tends to end up with a lot of "yes, but..." That's not a bad thing, but care has to taken in choosing what the complications are lest things start to seem comedic, even slapstick. The same sort of thing tends to occur with the Grok?! system too. It's not really a problem for either of my groups, but I could see it bugging some people or perhaps working against certain settings.

Friday, March 15, 2024

The Uninvited Worm

Our Gnydrion game in Grok?! continued last Sunday. The group:

  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond with a stun wand--and reckless is his middle name!
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A vagabond, as well. A man who enjoys a good meal.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - Dabbler in the arcane. When a spell is cast, he does it.
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - Teamster with a blunderbuss.

The group sends a message by courier to the Shreev Molok and the Eminent Compulsor. They don't expect back up to arrive for hours, so they must prepare for the rendezvous with the mysterious Wol Zunderbast themselves.

As anyone faced with nothing to do but wait and the ability to expense luxuries, they order room service: grilled velocipede haunch with a side of turnips. Antor requests his well done to the scandalized reaction of the staff. When Nortin opens the dome on his dish he finds a large, fat worm-caterpillar thing with glowing, strobing eyes. 

The creature was attacking them psychically! They had to struggle to avoid its soporific effect. They attacked the creature, and Jerfus finally knocked it to the ground, smothering with his bulk. 

At that point, the man calling himself Wol Zunderbast revealed himself. He was then wearing the traditional garb of a professional assassin. He had an organic-looking ieldri style needle gun pointed at them.

The group firmly declined his offer to politely allow him to kill them. A combat ensued, a mix of successful moves and almost slapstick failures. Despite Zunderbast's superior skills, he was out-numbered, and Antor and Yzma had distance weapons.