Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, May 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 February 3, 1983. 

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #1: Following up on last month's preview, Mishkin/Cohn and Colon debut their new fantasy 12 issue "maxi-series." Amy Winston is a 13 year-old regular kid on Earth but an 18 year-old princess named Amethyst in the magical realm of Gemworld. She was sent to Earth to keep her safe as her family was imperiled by the conquests of the villainous Dark Opal and his allies. Largely this issue is a lot of setup and exposition, but it manages to move pretty well. The intended audience for this seems to be pre-teen/tween girls, but there's at least one jarring note in that regard: there's a scene with some troll troops of Lord Sardonyx who seem to threaten sexual assault against the princess. Anyway, Colon's art looks good with this sort of material.

Blackhawk #258: We get another Chaykin cover on this issue, though not as good as last issues. Evanier and Spiegle have the Blackhawks chasing down the plans for yet another German super-weapon, but this one isn't as fanciful as the War Wheel. It's the atomic bomb. They manage to steal the plans from the Germans and those with knowledge of them are killed, but not before a prototype missile is launched toward Blackhawk Island. They evacuate but forget a nurse that had been tending Stanislaus in the rush. That watch their home destroyed and a life lost in horror. Throughout the issue there is discussion and disagreement among the Blackhawks about the use or desirability of anyone having such a weapon. It's perhaps simplistic or trite by adult standards in 2023, but it would have a given a 10 year-old in 1983 a lot to think about.

DC Comics Presents #57: Mishkin and Saviuk/McLaughlin present a sort of Marvel-esque update of the Atomic Knights that will be the version we get in Who's Who, not the more fanciful version of Strange Adeventures. A series nuclear weapons system computer glitches throughout the world leads Superman and S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Marene Herald to the isolation tank of Gardner Grayle, a volunteer in an experiment to assess post-nuclear war survival scenarios. Instead, Grayle's mind has been manufacturing adventures of for himself leading a group of Atomic Knights in a fantasy, post-holocaust world. The computer, unconsciously urged by Grayle, has been inching toward bringing a nuclear apocalypse to a more horrible reality. Superman has to go into the dream world and convince Grayle to give it up.

Fury of Firestorm #12: Conway, Broderick, and Rodriquez have two Hyenas on the loose and Firestorm has been "infected" himself--though it only seems to progress when he is in Firestorm form, not split Ronnie and Stein. The Dr. Shi Hyena goes after Dr. Gleason, the chief resident of the hospital (the age and demeanor of the "chief resident" seem to suggest that Conway believes a chief resident is the "chief of staff" and not just the most senior of the junior physicians in a specialty), but the Summer Hyena tries to stop him, and Firestorm manages to capture them both. In the end though, Firestorm seems trapped in combined form.

Also this issue: Stein loses his job. Carew admits to having a tape (one where Stein probably admits he's Firestorm, but Carew did listen) except that now it's disappeared, and Stein's ex-wife seems to be running some nefarious plan against him. She reports to a mysterious stranger who refers to her as Operative Nine.

Justice League #214: The Justice Leaguers begin to remember who they are, but they are taken captive by the Devil Guards of Goltha. They are rescued by the Wanderer, who is revealed as Krystal Kaa, rightful ruler to the throne, and her friends the Siren Sisterhood, an all-female underground resistance. Black Canary is seemingly killed by their captor, Princess Kass'andre but Mother Moon, a mystic healer and leader of the Sisterhood, resurrects her, and the two groups join forces. There is some indication, though, that they Sisterhood might not be everything they seem, and a figure watches the League's doings from the shadows of a cave.

Wonder Woman #303: Mishkin and Colan bring back the Green Lantern foe, Dr. Polaris. After an incident in which a USAF plane is destroyed by a mysterious magnetism, both Steve Trevor and the newly arrived Maj. Keith Griggs make a dual test flight over the area. A gigantic apparition materializing before them. Wonder Woman comes to the rescue, recognizing the apparition as Polaris. Wonder Woman is unable to prevent the villain from putting the two jets on a collision course.

In the Huntress backup by Cavalieri and DeCarlo/DeZuniga  we seem to be getting a plot very like the Wild Wild West episode "The Night of the Ready-Made Corpse." Amos Tarr is helping villains fake their death to escape justice (and blame Huntress for killing them!) in exchange for part of their take--or their whole take as he seems to be killing them, himself. Huntress discovers the plot but falls into his clutches and winds up in a death trap.

Arak Son of Thunder #21: Arak and his companions cross a sea of sand, then a river and cataract of boulders, but they finally get to the castle where Angelica is holding Maligigi.

Arak and Valda rush to the top of Angelica's tower, leaving Satyricus and Johannes behind. The two surprise the sorceress and quickly overpower her. Arak hesitates in delivering her the coup de grace, so she is able to turn the tables and capture the heroes in a net. 

In the Valda backup, Pip encounters a phantom that appears to be his grandfather. Somethings not right, so Valda fights the spirit and discovers that it is under the control of Baron Ovis. She destroys it, but Ovis's men take Pip hostage. Valda takes Ovis leading to a standoff. Luckily, Charlemagne and his men arrive. Ovis dies of his own sorcery. Pip and then king reconcile.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Weird Revisited: Atomic Age Operation Unfathomable

This weekend, while getting over COVID, I was thinking about this idea again...

At the close of World War II, captured German scientists revealed to both the Americans and the Soviets the existence of an unfathomable Underworld on hinted at in legend and folklore. Perhaps driven mad by experimentation with Underworld technology, the Soviet scientist Yerkhov, with the consent of his superiors, takes an artifact known as the Nul Rod and leads an expedition of crack Soviet troops into the depths. The exact fate of the expedition is unknown, but one of Yerkhov’s assistants emerged from a cave in the Nevada desert. His mind broken by his experiences, he gave revealed little reliable intelligence, but did have in his possession a rough map of the expedition’s journey.

Denying the Soviet’s the Nul Rod and establishing an American presence in the Underworld is now our strategic priority. We believe a smaller mission, attracting less attention from the hostile locals, might be able to succeed where Yerkhov failed.

So, I think it would be pretty easy to drop Jason Sholtis's Operation Unfathomable into a 50s sci-fi/monster movie sort of setting. It already has a lot of the right elements. I could see a TV show (by Irving Allen, naturally), something like a cross between Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Combat!.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1983 (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 January 27, 1983.

Weird War Tales #122: Kanigher brought us a Robo-Samurai and a Robo-Geisha before, so I guess the arrival of a Robo-Sumo was inevitable. George Tuska draws this one.

The second story is a gimmicky one, but pretty good. Roger Baker is bitter because he hasn't been given a chance to live up to his brother's example as a pilot but in New York in 1933 he gets more than he bargained for when he's called out to deal with a certain (unnamed) primate's rampage. In the last story by Mishkin/Cohn and Newton, a submarine commander hears of the attack of a mysterious submariner, and an old submariner from World War I tells him of an encounter with a vessel flying that same flag all those years ago.

Brave and the Bold #197: This issue by Brennert and Staton/Freeman has been reprinted in several collections, including Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. It's the Earth-2 Batman, a few months prior to his death, writing down in his memoir the story of how he fell in with one of his former enemies, Catwoman. As the cover indicates, it involves a plot by the Scarecrow, though the most interesting part of the issue (and the thing that leads to Batman being able to have a lasting relationship with Catwoman) is his realization that Bruce Wayne has really been the mask. The events of the story allow him to find both Bruce Wayne and the love of his life. It's a good story that DC can really only tell because it has the "spare Batman" on Earth-2.

Action Comics #542: Wolfman and Swan bring back Vandal Savage (last seen in #516), and he's got a cunning plan which somehow involves creating Superman robots to perform heroic deeds for Metropolis and then tricking the Man of Steel into destroying them. I feel like Savage could have come up with a simpler plan with a similar chance of success, but I guess we'll see how things play out. I'm also not sure how this will lead up to the "exciting new era" promised on the cover.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #6: Moench and Duursema/Mandrake have the Atlantean refugees looking for safety, so Arion and his friends make their way south guided by magic. General Balar has a different direction in mind, so he and D'Tilluh part ways with the group, while Arion leads Chian, Wyynde, and Mara on a quest.

They find a sort of lost valley with sub-men and dinosaurs. They're captured, but after Arion helps the sub-men with the dinosaurs, they become friends. Meanwhile, Garn breaks into Arion's tower to steal his magic. He summons a demon from the Dark World that possesses Chian. When her will proves to be too powerful, the demon takes control of sub-man chief, Grondar. During the battle, Arion and Chian are transported to Dark World.

All-Star Squadron #20: After standing around last issue and watching the JSA members fall to Brain Wave's power, the Squadron rushes in and, well, joins the fallen JSA on Brain Wave’s illusionary, psychic battlefield. 

Green Lantern finally arrives at the New York World’s Fairgrounds. He also enters Brain Wave’s mental environment, but his superior willpower allows him to overmatch Brain Wave. He manages to free his friends but the devastation wrought by his rage in the illusionary world leaves him shaken and quoting the Bhagavad Gita, "prefiguring" Oppenheimer and the Trinity test. And so the point of this sideline is revealed: to get in a reference to the horror of the atomic bombs that will end the war.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #14: Bridwell/Shaw and Gordon fallen get to the crossover with the Just 'A Lotta Animals promised in previous issues. These are the characters Roger Rabbit has been writing and drawing in his comics. We get a Silver Age-y brief on alternate Earths and then the traditional style of these crossovers, though it's continued next issue. There is some mildly amusing rivalry between Super-Squirrel and Captain Carrot.

Detective Comics #525: We get a new penciler this issue in the form of Dan Jurgens. My friend Chad Bowers had previously put forward a concept he called the "prefab villain." This is a villain created to be a big deal in contrast to a villain who is created for a story, then later evolves over time into a big deal. A prefab villain isn't bad--Galactus is sort of a prefab villain. But many of them are a bit "try hard." Killer Croc is clearly a prefab villain, but while Conway's intentions are evident, it's worked okay so far. In this issue, Batman tracks him into the sewers, and Croc gets the better of him forcing Batman to allow himself to be washed away from the fight which leads Croc to assume Batman is utterly beaten and a coward, when in actuality Batman's actions are more strategic.

Bruce also has a falling out with Vicki after he kind of implies their relationship is not serious. At the Sloan Circus, Robin makes a decision that may well have serious consequences, as he asks the Todds for their help in capturing Croc.

In the Green Arrow backup, Arrow manages to outshoot the crooks and get out of the situation he found himself in last installment, but Machiavelli beats a retreat. He shows up again at a Teamsters meeting late, but before he can talk them into a city-paralyzing strike, GA fakes a fire with his smoke arrow and shows the audience how they should depend on each other--rather than on "number one"--to get to safety. Worker solidarity over crooked demagogues.  

Jonah Hex #71: This is a weirdly paced issue in that Fleisher dispenses with what has been a multi-issue storyline in the middle of the issue with Tim Daniels heroically sacrificing himself to thwart the plans of the cult leader, Manitou. His conniving son goes to his reward courtesy of Jonah, who shoots a stalactite down so it stabs the younger Daniels through. That done, we move to the next story with El Papagayo kidnapping Emmy, and Jonah forced to steal a Queen Isabella necklace from the Mexican government while disguised as Papagayo. Of course, he walks right into a trap.

New Adventures of Superboy #40: Aliens appear in orbit and convince Superboy they are friendly when they really want to get him out of the way. There's a school dance coming up and Clark doesn't have luck getting a date. Ma Kent strangely reveals his identity to her friends, but no one believes her and when a kid at school makes fun of him and his mother, Clark loses it and slugs him. Clark decides decides to stop being Superboy. Not sure where Kupperberg and Schaffenberger are going with all of this!

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Adkins, a new villain called the Coil (not unlike Coil-Man from the Impossibles) stills the car of a wealthy man that Chris' dad happens to be driving for a security test. The kids dial up the identities of Kinetic Kid and Genesis to pursue him.

World's Finest Comics #290: Cool Hannigan/Janson cover. On the inside, Moench and Gonzales deliver another odd one. Bruce Wayne is enjoying a shiatsu massage from a woman named Yumiko, but before things can get more romantic, there's Bat-Signal in the sky and Bruce has got to go. He leaves Yumiko in his bedroom while he races down to the Batcave.

Meanwhile, Superman is dealing with a giant worm attacking a ship in the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to Supes, the worm takes the ship underwater to a cave near Gotham where a stalagmite humanoid commands its worm "brother" to drop the ship in a pit of magma. The creature then somehow siphons the energy from the oil inside and calls forth more of its kind.

Yumiko sees a green glow coming from a cave near Wayne Manor and investigates, getting captured by the stalagmite creatures. In the meantime, Batman is on his way home but is swarmed by bats and nearly driven off the road. Using a special sonar from the Batcave, Batman manages to wrangle the bats, and he contacts Superman for help.

Superman relocates the bats to elsewhere, and the heroes investigate what caused this. They go into the cave in where Yumiko was taken. As they get closer to the source of the green glow, Superman gets weaker until the heroes finally find the central chamber, filled with stalagmite creatures and Yumiko as prisoner of the leader of the monsters: Stalagron! Finally, Superman realizes what should have been clear from the beginning: the source of the creatures' power is Kryptonite.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The Weird Mind of Gob

Our Land of Azurth 5e game continued, with the party avoiding fighting the snooty elves at the dinner party they crashed last adventure. The elves let them pass into "The Room Revolving," but only if they promised not to steal anything. The party did. Reluctantly.

The revolving room left Waylon and Shade dizzy and motion sick, but when they stopped, they found a centaur with a Brian Blessed-type, expansive personality and a need to brawl to regain full "reality"--whatever than might mean for a figment of a crystalline, giant gnome's imagination. For their troubles, Wayon is gifted with a lucky silver horseshoe.

Next, they encountered a room with a town of tiny people in colorful costumes--who started shooting siege weapons at the party when they crossed their land. Next was a webbed filled chasm....and where there are webs, of course, there are giant spiders. These were adept at shooting webs and entangling the party, but eventually they were felled thanks to distance weapon work.

Next room sucked them in and threw them against the opposite wall with some strange force. After that insult, it was empty.

They came a room in darkness save for a revolving, sparkling orb. Two monk-like figures, bifurcated black and white, each declared the other a villain. Within the room was a silver sabaton--one of the armor pieces the party was seeking!

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Star Frontiers "Appendix N"

Jim Burns

Star Frontiers has a list of "Reading for Fun and Ideas" but (and I'm not the first to point this out) it's really just a grab-bag of good and/or classic science fiction. The relationship between the list and SF's explicit and implied setting and the sort of elements that would show up in a game are elusive. It isn't anything like a "how-to" manual.

So I thought it was worth coming up with a list of inspirational media that is more to the point. This will be my perspective; I make no claims about what works the original authors made in mind. I will, though, at least for the works I dub "core," try to stick to works that could have been inspirations back in 1982.

The Core
General features: A lack of focus on cybernetics, dystopia, interaction with inscrutable aliens, common psi, or space empires. They tend to have generally a more upbeat (at least not brooding or dour) tone and a focus on adventure rather than tech. 

CJ Cherryh - The Pride of Chanur. Interesting but accessible aliens. space trading. 

Alan Dean Foster - Humanx Commonwealth series, particularly the subseries of the Adventures of Flinx and Pip. Strong human-alien cooperation (and with insectoid aliens), conflict with another alien species, unusual planets for adventure.

Andre Norton - Solar Queen series. Corporate-centered space travel and free-trading. Mysteries of previous civilizations on isolated worlds.

Jack Vance - The Demon Princes series. Travel between core worlds and a frontier region, Space criminals and cops. Strange societies.
                     Planet of Adventure series. Stranded on an alien planet after a crash with a lot of weird stuff going on.

Ralph McQuarrie

The Frontier
These works are either post-1982, have fewer elements of homology to the Star Frontiers settingor both.

Brian Daley - Han Solo Adventures series. fast-paced adventure, human-nonhuman cooperation.
                     Hobert Floyt and Alacrity Fitzhugh series. friendly aliens, humorous and picaresque.

Edmond Hamilton and others - Captain Future series. space criminals and mad scientists. A smaller number of worlds.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. More action pulp than serious sci-fi. Costume design aesthetic of roughly the same era as the game.

Firefly. Smaller setting. ragtag crew like a PC party.

Comic Books/Strips:
Atari Force vol. 2. '80s science fiction aesthetics, friendly humanoid aliens.

Star Hawks. Space law enforcement.

Star Wars. The post-Empire Strikes Back era of the comic has aesthetics not unlike the game, and the comic and comic strip at times have more general Space Opera plots.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 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 January 20, 1983.

Camelot 3000 #5: Barr and Bolland/Patterson are still taking their time, but there's the sense things are being setup now. Morgan le Fay reveals what she's been up to since Malory's account, which includes acquiring alien allies and an alien disease. Meanwhile, there are fractures in the Round Table company. Lancelot and Guinevere renew their affair. Galahad threaten to leave, and Tristan, eager to physically be a man again, may be prepared to make a deal with Morgan. 

Warlord #68: I reviewed the main story in this issue here. In the Barren Earth backup by Cohn and Randall, the city is attacked by the reptilian Harahashan. That prompts Skinner and Jinal to consider the humans should negotiate with the desert-dwellers. When the king doesn't agree, they kidnap him in the middle of the night, which doesn't seem the best plan.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #6: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner pick up where they left off last issue. Brains is still trying to make her get away when a big robot rises from the Lake Michigan. The robot is Matrix-Prime, and it has drone-robots inside its body. It steals a large box from a hangar at O'Hare and fights Supergirl. She lets the robot get away so that she may follow it to its base in an air-filled dome on the bottom of the lake.

In the Lois Lane backup by O'Flynn and Oksner, Lois goes undercover to rescue Jimmy from Brainstorm's former gang, but things go south and the two have to put a beating on the gang. Who needs Superman? Then Lois finds a baby on her doorstep, with a note with a note explaining she's the daughter of Lois' old roommate, Kristin Cutler. Cutler turns up dead the next day.

Green Lantern #163: The point of this two-parter eludes me, but Barr and Pollard/Hoberg bring it to a close here, whatever their intention. Jordan and Dorine Clay keep encountering traps until they stumble into a room with poisonous gas. Dorine passes out, but then Hal sees his missing power battery in the next room. He drags Dorine to the next room and attempts to grab it, but the airlock opens, and they get thrown out to space. With only seconds to live, Green Lantern grabs the battery ad recharges his ring. He subdues the murderous ship, and they fly back to the planet to tell the kid's parents about his death. Hal promises his killer will be found and punished, but then he disappears cloud of smoke, leaving his ring behind.

Meanwhile, Arisia tries to stop Eddore whose ignored the Guardians' command to cease his current mission. But Eddore overpowers the rooky, and pushes on, convinced this is the only way for the Green Lantern Corps to survive.

In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Klein and Patton, we're introduced to the world of Rhoon where "sorcerers" (it's unclear if they actually have magic or some sort of mutant powers) have been pushed to an isolated by the ruling scientists, but now the discovery of the energy source, glowstone under that land makes the scientists want to get at it.  Hollika Rahn is the Green Lantern of the world the orphaned daughter of scientists, raised by the sorcerers. She goes into battle for them and the meets the son of a scientist likewise pushed into a war he doesn't believe in. Like many of these shorts, the worlds and setups are often interesting, but the stories themselves don't go to much.

Night Force #9: The criminal who was Baron Winters' unwitting operative in New York last issue is still stuck along with the residents in the alien-occupied brownstone. The alien does kill anyone or even hurt them, in fact, it even gives them things from time to time. It just won't let them leave. And when they die for whatever reason, it consumes them, leaving only bones. Wolfman makes it clear he intends this as a metaphor for dictatorship, but given how the creature operates, I don't find it terribly apt. Even in the ways it does fit, it certainly isn't deep or illuminating. Still, this is a comic for kids and it's an interesting horror situation with a kind of Twilight Zone vibe. 

House of Mystery #315: In "I...Vampire" Mishkin and Cullins/Sutton have our heroes checking out a public rally of the American Crusade religious movement led by Reverend Warnock. When Mishkin realizes that his vampire mother Dunya is one of their leaders, Deborah goes to infiltrate the group. She's kidnapped and taken to Washington, D.C. Warnock backs Senator Payson for the presidency with the plan to turn him into a vampire after the election. Bennett is captured trying to rescue Deborah and gets staked and placed on a burning pyre. Mishkin rescues Deborah, and together they save Andrew from a fiery death. He stakes Warnock on stage while the tent around them burns, then mesmerizes Payson to erase his memory. Andrew and Deborah flee the scene, but Dmitri stays behind to confront his mother.

Newman and Talaoc present a tale of the 16th Century where a Baron cuts the hand from an ape-like beast he meets in the forest, only to find that it reverts to the ringed hand of a woman. He becomes suspicious of the wife of a visiting friend who keeps her injured hand covered. In the last story by Cavalieri, Yeates and others, a couple made rich by the sale of a quack medicine must face justice from a mob of people deformed by their product.

Legion of Super-Heroes #298: Some Legionnaires investigate a murder on a mining asteroid and runs into an Kharlak (a Champion of Khundia), who holds them at bay, then escapes. Meanwhile, Duplicate Boy tracks Colossal Boy and Shrinking Violet down to their romantic getaway on a resort planet and gets into a brawl with Gim. Jilting her old beau without warning is out of character for Shrinking Violet, and other Legionnaires take notice. Foreshadowing!

This issue also has a preview for Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld by Mishkin/Cohn and Colon. Amethyst, a stalwart princess of Gemworld battles the sinister Dark Opal who is looking to get a hold of her gem and conquer Gemworld. In the end, Amethyst is revealed to be the alternate identity of a 13-year-old girl in our world. I wonder if this preview's presence in Legion is proof of the frequently repeated assertion that Legion's audience included a higher proportion of women?

Sgt. Rock #375: I've mentioned before that Kanigher recycles ideas, and I think Sgt. Rock may be where that's most apparent. I'm not going to even consider the "introducing soldiers just to kill them that issue" as recycling, because I think it's just more a byproduct of this type of storytelling, but Rock is sleeping and symbolically visited by the ghosts of three such new casualties. The last one to die, Whittler, was working on something secretly (just like the artist soldier is a previous issue) and it turn out to be carvings of the heads of the members of Easy.

There's some repetition in the shorts too. There's a movie star who manages to become a real hero in death. The final one parallels the lives of a Japanese and a U.S. Marine up until their fatal confrontation. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Strange Things Along the Road to Thono Inn

After a holiday hiatus, our Gnydrion game in Grok?! continued last night. The party on hand:
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - A Vagabond, possibly coming up in the world.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - An arcane dabbler in need a good, stout staff.
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - A teamster once more.
Drafted for a special mission by the Eminent Compulsor, the party wastes no time in exercising the perquisites such as they are of that position. Cue shopping montage with the hapless Deputy Var Nee in tow.

Provisions obtain for travel and Jerfus now dressed for the job he aspires to rather than the job he has, the party also acquires a caloot-pulled wagon to make the journey. The caloot is pictures above.

On the way, they encounter a peculiar--one of those various of abherrant magical energy. In this case, it's a circle of blue light accompanied by a sound of heavy breathing. When a beetle is placed inside, it gets exuberant growth on its carapace. None of the party deigns to enter themselves.

Closer to the lake, they encounter an intinerant salesman's wagon missing a wheel and apparently abandoned. They find a supple of two sorts of bottles inside. One is labelled "Hyunnir's Remedy" and the other "Balm of Tsura." Imbibing the remedy makes Jerfus feel invigorated, tingly, and extremely confident.

Next, they directed their attentions to a locked trunk. Jerfus fails to jimmy the lock, but Yzma succeeds in breaking it with the butt of her blunderbuss... 

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Season of Science Fiction

 Over the past few months, I've been on a science fiction reading kick. Here's most of what I read, leaving out only a few classic short stories from pulp magazines:

The Demon Princes. I listened to the first 2 of Vance's Demon Princes series as audiobooks: The Star King and The Killing Machine. They concern Kirth Gersen and his efforts to bring justice one by one, to the cadre of infamous criminals (The Demon Princes) that massacred his people. These are probably not Vance's best, but middling Vance is still very good. They would have made a very good late 60s-70s sci-fi TV series, I think.

The Sun Eater. This is a multivolume space opera by Christopher Ruocchio. The conceit of the series is a fallen hero, who caused the deaths of billions in destroying a sun to genocide an implacable alien species is relating his life story and how he came to the decision he made. The setting is Dune-esque for the most part but updated to include some more modern post-cyberpunk and transhuman elements. The first novel, Empire of Silence, details Hadrian Marlowe's escape from the future his father has planned and his various travails until he winds up being sent on a mission to find the homeworld of the Cielcin species in hopes of ending their war with humankind.

Howling Dark, the second book in the series, takes Marlowe and his companions out of the worlds of the Empire and into the posthuman societies of the Extrasolarians beyond on a searched for the fabled world of Vorgossos. There they encounter an undying, posthuman king, a character out of their legends, and even greater mysteries.

After that, I checked out some of the short stories he's written in the same setting in the collection Tales of the Sun Eater, Vol. 1, and the novella Queen Amid Ashes from the Sword & Planet. More on that one below.

Sword & Planet. A collection edited by Ruocchio. I haven't read all of it, but most of the stories I have read don't particularly strike me as Sword & Planet--either they are Space Opera and/or Science Fantasy, but I guess they do have swords and planets. Anyway, there is a prequel to Simon Green's Deathstalker series that reminded me of the sometimes goofy but breakneck paced thrills of those books, but DJ Butler's "Power and Prestige" is my favorite. It's a humorous, sort of Vancian Dying Earthish, short dungeoncrawl starring mercenaries Indrajit and Fix.

The Pride of Chanur. I read at least part of this as a kid, but I don't recall if I completed it. In any case, I'm glad I checked it out again. This is the first of group of related novels by Cherryh set in a multi-species Compact and is reportedly part of her large Alliance-Union universe. It concerns the disruption to the political balance of the Compact and to the planetary society of leonine hani after a hani captain, Pyanfar Chanur rescues a member of an unknown species: a human. Cherryh's xenospecies may veer a bit to the anthropomorphic and perhaps monocultural, but their psychologies and cultures are well thought out and interesting and their precarious, barter-based Compact feels much more realistic than any number of feudal kingdoms in space or single galactic governments.

Tar-Aiym Krang. I listened to this as an audiobook and it has the same narrator as the Demon Princes books I listened to, Stefan Rudnicki. It's billed as the second of Alan Dean Foster's novels of Flinx (a young man with psychic abilities) and pet Pip (a poisonous, winged serpent), but it was the 1st actually published. It's part of his larger Humanx Commonwealth universe. Flinx and Pip wind up part of an expedition that takes them off their homeworld of Moth to the ruined world of a long-dead alien species on a search for an ancient artifact. It's short by modern standards, ending pretty much might where a modern novel would be getting started, but there is a sort of naive charm to Foster's world and characters I found appealing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1983 (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 January 13, 1983. 

Batman #358:  Conway is joined by Swan this issue, who is certainly an interesting choice for this sort of material. It mostly works, though Croc looks a bit more like Cactus than might be ideal. Killer Croc visits the Tobacconists' Club and tells them he's taking over Gotham. They decide to test him out by having him break into STAR Labs. Meanwhile, Batman and Gordon are tracing the bullet (and the rifle) he used to kill Squid. Robin also learns that Croc is behind the protection racket leaning on the Circus.

Ultimately, Batman finds Croc's home and waits for him there. We get an odd confrontation where Croc seems enraged primarily that the sanctity and solitude of his home has been violated. Croc destroys the building and flees to the river below, losing Batman in the process.

Flash #320: Bates and Infantino/Rodriquez bring the Eradicator story to its conclusion. The Eradicator nearly disintegrates the Mirror Master, but through the trick mirrors the Flash is able to track the Eradicator to the old windmill (for some reason) where he's holding Fiona. The vigilante and the Flash do battle, and it seems like the Flash is going to be killed, but he moves the battle to the cemetery where conveniently the Eradicator's victims are buried close together.  Shocked by the graves, Philips wrests control from the Eradicator personality and turns the power on himself. Miles away, some farmers find Tomar-Re in a field after he was knocked down by a swarm of yellow meteorites and recognize him as a Green Lantern, though not the one they know. Maybe we'll find out about this Green Lantern business next issue?

Anyway, this ends okay, but it was some odd storytelling, almost like an alternate comics evolution. It is Silver Agey (or at least early Bronze) in some ways, but modern in others. I guess it's like some Gerber stories in 70s Marvel (I'm thinking of the Foolkiller stuff, who's a similar villain) but without the indication that it is kind of tongue in cheek. Well, there is Captain Invincible...Maybe it is just more 1976 than 1983?

I confess the noirish Creeper backup is hard for me to follow. The short segments are a part, but it just hasn't engaged me either. Anyway, we finally get something more in the realm of Creeperish doings this issue when the nephew of a doctor involved in these goings on transforms into some sort of monster, and so does Jamie, Ryder's editor's son, who is in jail who was in possession of the fraudulent prescription last issue.

G.I. Combat #252: The first Haunted Tank story has the crew in North Africa and forced to work with a similarly situated Wehrmacht tank crew to stay alive under assault by bandits at a poisoned oasis. The second story is a more original one, at least, with an Italian grandfather vowing to name his soon to be born grandson after one of the crew, but when he's injured and near death he can see and hear the ghostly J.E.B. Stuart, so names the kid Giacomo Stuardo.

The O.S.S. story with Kana feels like a complete repeat. At least it's made of repeated elements from other Kanigher yarns. Kana is forced to work with a racist G.I. who doesn't trust him. There's a white guy from a Pacific Island who turns out to be a German working with the Japanese, but the G.I. doesn't want to believe it at first.  

The other tales are by Kashdan with Matucenio and Zamora. In the first, a doll looted from Italy is the death of one G.I. but the savior of another.  In the second, a "Women at War" installment, a woman judo instructor is sent on a mission to Germany to still some plans.

Omega Men #1: After the teasing this issue last month, and months of various writers trying to get fans interested in them, the Omega Men debut in their own series, courtesy of Silfer, Giffen, and DeCarlo. This is a direct sale only title on nicer paper like Camelot 3000. It starts in media res, so if you didn't already know the Omega Men, I could see you being a little lost. For those who do know about the Omega Men and their war with the Citadel, the new thing here is that it appears we'll get some focus and background on the individual members. 

After taking a Citadelian base, the team heads for Changralyn, Broot's native world. They hope to recruit more fighters as strong as him, but Broot tries to warn them his people won't be of much help. When they arrive they find out he was right. The Changralynians are devoted pacifists and refuse use violence, even in self-defense. Further, the Changralynian elders reveal that they have a pact with the Citadel who provides "protection" in exchange for a number of babies given over to them. When they see this transfer in action, Broot becomes enraged and attacks the Gordanians handling it. In retaliation, the Citadel orders a Branx ship to drop a nuke-bomb on a district of one of Changralyn's cities. 

Saga of the Swamp Thing #12: Pasko and Yeates continue Swampy's fight with the Golem from last issue. Swamp Thing manages to deactivate it by erasing one of the Hebrew letters inscribed on its forehead, changing the word from "life" to "death." Karen telepathically sends Kripptmann and crew a message challenging them to confront her at a synagogue where Kripptmann once worshipped. Wanting to avoid the golem attacking from wrong foe like last time, They then put Karen's locket on the golem before the re-activate it.

Meanwhile in Munich, Grasp forces his way into the hotel room where Dennis Barclay and Liz Tremayne are doing the "will they, won't they?" and threatens them to learn Kripptmann's whereabouts. Dennis and Liz manage to slug Grasp and escape, but that was Grasp's plan. Now they'll lead him to Kripptmann and the others.

At the synagogue, Swamp Thing, the golem, and the psychics almost kill Karen, but the evil inside her manages to escape the dying vessel. After briefly possessing Liz, it attempts to take control of the Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing's tremendous willpower drives the thing out. 

Grasp gets in a position with a rifle to snipe at the group, and a computer monitor in Sunderland suggests interestingly that his code number is "666." There's a bright flash of light, the evil entity transports Swamp Thing, Liz, Dennis, Kripptmann, Grasp and the golem to a huge metal fortress where they are about to meet Satan.

In the Cuti/Carrillo Phantom Stranger backup, an 18 year-old with progeria so that he looks more like his late 60s dreams of being an astronaut and he's also in love with a young woman who thinks he's an old man. An experimental medical treatment cures him, and he gets both of these dreams. As he's preparing to take his first spaceflight, the Phantom Stranger warns him not to go. He does and comes through one of those time warps astronauts occasionally fall into and returns to Earth decades later, though he hasn't aged. He returns to his home to be great by his girl, also apparently unaged, but the Phantom Stranger reveals to the audience that it's really her daughter.

New Teen Titans #30: While Kid Flash is still histrionic over Raven being evil, The Brotherhood of Evil gets the jump on him, and Speedy and Frances Kane. At the same time, Robin and Starfire accompany Adrian Chase to see Bethany Snow, who offers them information on Brother Blood in return for protection--but really, she's working at Blood's orders. Meanwhile, in what seems an unheralded turn from last issue, Terra gets a new costume and decides to join the Teen Titans. Cyborg meets a co-worker of Sarah Simms's who claims to be her fiancé, making him feel foolish for thinking there might be something between them. Raven resurfaces at the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square and the Brotherhood is there, too. The Titans and allies confront them but when Phobia turns the crowd against them, they're unable to prevent Raven's abduction.  Elsewhere, Terry Long proposes to Donna.

Kid Flash's whining aside, this is a solid issue that well mixes the character subplots and the various villain related threads. It makes me a bit wistful for the time when so much would happen in one issue. 

Superman #382: Bates and Swan/Hunt get to the end of the Superman/Superboy switch and finish the Euphor business. Superman/Boy manages to defeat the Euphor-empowered Lois with a nerve pinch and brings her to the Fortress of Solitude where he reveals what's been going on, which makes relieves Lois as now she realizes why he's been so distant and had eyes for Lana. When Superman/Boy realizes that recreating the accident is the only way to reverse things, she reminds him Superboy/Man in the past has probably already had this thought and is likely waiting on him in the timestream. Makes sense, I guess.

Anyway, that works out and Superman then rushes to confront Euphor who after revealing his origin on TV has taken over Metropolis. Superman can't defeat Euphor directly but tricks him into following him through time (despite the other dilemma is this storyline showing the dangers of time travel!) to the destruction of Krypton. Witnessing it triggers his super-grief (my term, not the issues) that causes Euhpor's power to overload when he tries to absorb it. Everybody in Metropolis gets their negative emotions back. Yay.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Journey to the Center of the Mind

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with a quest in the role of Zabra Kadabra (the pre-gen enchantress from Mortzengersturm). 

Viola, the Clockwork Princess, needs a suit of armor called the Quicksilver Panoply as some sort of control mechanism for the metal giant she plans to unearth to overthrow the Wizard of Azurth. This armor hasn't been made but has been conceived of in the mind of Gob, the giant, crystalline gnome who was the co-creator or constructor of the Land of Azurth.

She wants the party to use a backdoor she had previously placed into the dreaming or meditating mind of Gob as he sits quiescent in the center of the Earth. Easy enough, she says.

The party is dubious, but she gives them a cubic device for making entry and tells them about the basic inhabitants of Gob's mind. There are the friendly, glittering and birdlike Fantsies, and the malevolent, noxious Phanfasms. She also tells them in thumbnail sketch what they need to know to collect the armor pieces.

Off they go. They discover the crystalline recesses of the mind to also be inhabited by other creatures. Some are dreams or thoughts of Gob, but there are goblins who were smuggled in by the Phanfasms, and they have formed too factions. Some are soldiers of the Phanfasms in areas they seldom go themselves. The others are rebels, mentored by a Kobold druid, seeking liberation from Phanfasm control.

The party manages to get on friendly terms with the rebel goblins, but has to almost immediately slaughter a group of Phanfasm soldiers.

Avoiding fighting with most dream creatures, the part comes to a dining hall where High Elven warriors in finery are supping. The elves refused to speak with the party, and their snoody air is irritating to the group. Things seem about to come to a head when the party is determined to cross through their hall, no matter what.

This adventure is an adaptation of the Role Aids adventure, Swordthrust. It's one I've long wanted to reskin for Azurth, and I'm glad I finally got the chance

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Two Species, Two Systems

For comparison, here are two of my Strange Stars setting sophont species in both Black Star and Star Scoundrels terms. Both are pretty simple! For Black Star, species just provides innate traits as listed. In Star Scoundrels the species is a Trademark which is sort of described by the words in parentheses after it. Those words might also suggest Edges that could be selected.

Follow the links with the names to get more background on the species.


In Black Star:

Traits: Claws, Tough.

In Star Scoundrels:

Hwuru (Strong, Climb, Forest Survival, Claws, Intimidate)


In Black Star:

Traits: Extra Limbs, Acute Hearing.

In Star Scoundrels:

Bomoth (Enhanced Hearing, Extra Manipulators, Music, Slang, Philosophical, Unflappable)

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 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 January 6, 1983. 

Blackhawk #257: We get a Chaykin cover on this issue. He'll go on to do some good stuff with the Blackhawks later in the decade. For now, Evanier and Spiegle are continuing the story from the last couple of issues. The Blackhawks manage to track Merson to Zurich and strongarm him into creating an antidote for the Ubermeister transformation. Four Blackhawks fly to Paris to get von Tepp. Chop Chop is guarding Merson but gets ambushed and outfought by Domino.

In Paris, Blackhawk is captured by von Tepp and his monster. Von Tepp steals Blackhawk medallion as a trophy. He doesn't know it's the nightmare medallion, and his will being somewhat less than our hero's, is overwhelmed and he dies of psychic distress. Blackhawk shoots the monster with von Tepp's luger not knowing it is his friend Stanilaus. It's not too late to save him though. as the rest of the Blackhawks show up, and they administer the antidote to Stanislaus, who (in the following few days or weeks) recovers.

DC Comics Presents #56: The most notable thing about this issue is the cover by Kane that prefigures the iconic cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. The story by Kupperberg and Swan is less memorable. Superman and Power Girl are teleported to another universe that is ruled by some be-permed jerk named Maaldor, who forces them to compete in gladiatorial games or see the people of that universe destroyed. The Swan's art renders a story staid that in the hands of a Marvel artist of this era would have at least been dynamic. I do kind of like the usual Bronze Age Superman ending where Supes has to kind of trick the badguy rather than beat him up.

Fury of Firestorm #11: The Hyena bugs me because her/his (there are two now) whole deal is really just a werewolf schtick and Broderick draws the creature as a wolf person not a hyena person and the colorist goes along with it. We learn Summer infected her Arizona doctor with the Hyena curse, and Ronnie is apparently also infected but holding it at bay with Firestorm powers, I guess. There's a fight atop the World Trade Center, where Firestorm blasts the Summer hyena, sending her falling presumably to her death, but it's continued next issue. Also, Stein's ex ostensibly enlists Ronnie's help to try to convince Martin to get back together with her. 

Justice League #213: After a lackluster arc the last two issues, Conway and now Heck/Tanghal bring something that starts out a bit more interesting. In fact, it's very Marvel-y, like a combination of Hank Pym's recent (in 1982) woes and weirdly, Ant-Mam & Wasp: Quantumania. Due to some career setbacks, Ray Palmer suffers a nervous breakdown and, when his wife Jean and Hawkman attempt to help him, he rebuffs them and vanishes into an unexplored, sub-atomic world--the Microcosmos. Using one of Ray's inventions, the Justice League follows him, but they lose their memories in the process. They encounter a mysterious woman called Wanderer and have to fight reptilian humanoids she calls Devil Guards, minions of Goltha, the micro-world's tyrant whose symbol is curiously like the Atom's. The heroes go with her to the capital city, unaware that the Atom, now a comparative giant, is a captive there, Gulliver-and-the-Lilliputians style, just behind a castle's walls.

Wonder Woman #302: Mishkin and Colan bring the Artemis story to a close. Wonder Woman spends much of the issue chained in a dungeon which provides plenty of time for flashbacks to tell Artemis' origin story: how she was Hippolyta's best friend and the first chosen "Wonder Woman" emissary, but then was corrupted by Man's World and defied Athena's will. The skeletal Artemis is out to kill Hippolyta, but Diana manages to escape just in time to stop her. In one-on-one combat, she defeats the original Wonder Woman by stealing her sword, the source of her unlife. Artemis's skeleton crumbles to dust. Elsewhere, Circe, the sorceress responsible for reviving Artemis, watches and vows revenge.

In the Huntress backup by Cavalieri and DeCarlo/DeZuniga Helena thwarts a D-grade villain called Pat Pending whose gimmick he uses a lot of novelty gadget inspired stuff, but he uses a drug to (I guess) slow his respiration and heart to fake his death--and sets Huntress up to look like a murderer. How he wakes up and escapes before an autopsy is performed, I hope gets explained next issue, but I'm not holding my breath.

Arak Son of Thunder #20: It seems like the Thomases and Gonzales/Alcala are sort of padding out the issue count on this journey to White Cathay. This issue, as Arak and his companions cross a vast desert led by the priest Johannes we get fantasy desert danger buffet including a sandstorm, sinkholes, a giant antlion, and undead warriors. Meanwhile, the sorceress Angelica watches it all, and it gives her a chance to fill Malagigi in on the history of her land. The city is currently besieged by tartars, and Angelica seeks the answer to a riddle which will bring a powerful demon to her side. Malagigi, knows the answer, but refuses to tell lest it lead to harm for his approaching friends.

In the Valda backup, Valda is on the hunt for Pip, the son of Carolus Magnus that got disowned last issue. She has to fend off a pack of wolves, but eventually she finds the hunchback prince hiding in a graveyard. She gets him to shelter, then she hears a ghostly evil voice...