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 #377: 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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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 March 10, 1983. 

Omega Men #3: Slifer, Giffen, and DeCarlo introduce Lobo, though as with many of comics character introduction, he really isn't much like hit character he'll become in the 90s. The Citadel is trying to conquer Euphorix (the last world standing against them), but they thwarted by its shield. Enter Harry Hokum, a human who claims he can help them. Presumably, at Hokum's urging, the Citadel sends out a false message that Euphorix's shield has fallen and it is under attack. Kalista takes the mothership rushs there, not waiting for Primus and the others to return. It's a trap, of course, and Lobo and Bedlam defeat the crew and take Kalista captive. 

Hokum, Lobo's employer, interrogates Kalista, demanding the secrets of Euphorix's defenses. He exposes Kalista to a telepathic creatue, the greeshagurt. The greeshagurt begins to physically merge with her, absorbing her bodily and mentally.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #14: Yeates is still on the cover, but there's a new team on the interior: Mishkin and Bo Hampton/Scott Hampton. This was the first issue of Swamp Thing I ever read, and my brother and I read (and re-read) this issue and the next many times in our preteens. It's structured, really, more like a Phantom Stranger story more than a Swamp Thing story. Nathaniel Broder, a genius working with a new electronics technology, transforms his body into a mass of living silicon crystal. Despite the parallels with Swamp Thing, they aren't the same. Broder seems corrupted by his power and turns both Swamp Thing and the Phantom Stranger into crystal.

Batman #360:  Moench takes over as writer. His run on Moon Knight will be coming to an end in a few months, but his long run on the Bat-titles is beginning. This issue really feels like it could have been a Moon Knight story: a knifing-wielding killer with a horribly scarred face, the Savage Skull, is killing cops--and Batman figures out Gordon is next on his list. It turns out the killer is a disgruntled former cop out for revenge. It's perhaps not a great issue, but it has several good attributes: it's got a nice gritty vibe, making Batman distinctly "street-level" and has him actually being a detective.

Flash #322: Continuing from last issue, the Reverse Flash is back and out for revenge, and Barry and Fiona seemed to moving (remarkably quickly) toward marriage. All of this feels like Bates building toward Zoom killing another spouse or at least almost spouse which seems really lazy storytelling. In fact, having Reverse Flash back from the dead seems sort of lazy to begin with. It hasn't been that long. Does the Flash have other worthy rogues? Granted, we haven't seen reverse Flash since 1980, so it's been a few years, and Bates may be going to swerve. We'll see. Anyway, Flash is caught between the Sabre-Tooth (or the Sabre-Tooth's apprentice, the issue suggests both) and the Reverse Flash, but isn't yet aware Zoom has returned.

The Creeper backup has Patton on art, and it looks amateurish. Cuti is now the writer. Everybody's passing this storyline around like a hot potato! Anyway. the Creeper invades the Kraken Clinic (the name's a bit on the nose, even for comics) to try and stop the spread of the monster drug and runs into more patients who become monsters.

G.I. Combat #254: The conceit of this issue is that it covers all the wars from World War I to Vietnam. The two Haunted Tank stories deal with Craig's service in the first World War and its relationship with the second, and they're okay. In the other two stories. dealing with Korea and Vietnam, Kanigher strikes a sour note. First off, there are a lot of racial slurs against Asians. Maybe this could be defended as authentic--maybe. But the stories fail to humanize the North Korean and Viet Cong forces. In fact, the point of the Vietnam story seems to be best to treat civilians as enemies because you can't trust anybody. This from the writer who has given us numerous "honorable Nazi" antagonists in other stories.  I don't recall previous stories by Kanigher dealing with Asian wars to know if these are anomalies, but they aren't great.

New Teen Titans #32: Two costumed youths calling themselves Thunder and Lightning wreak unexplained havoc in the streets of St. Louis on an urgent, but mysterious mission to find someone. The Titans respond and try to diffuse the situation, but wind up having to fight. Eventually, it's discovered that the brothers are from Vietnam and are looking for their father, because they believe he is the key to controlling their elemental powers. Wonder Girl tells them their father is dead (which isn't true, but he is missing) and promises to get them help at STAR Labs, ending the crisis.

Thunder and Lightning seem weird to me. I mean, I can explain their actions within the story, but why their costumes, why did this particular background and story seem the way to go? I suspect the answer is "Vietnam" seemed a much more dramatically laden concept in 1983 than it does today. 

A lot of this issue is team drama in the usual X-Men-ish fashion. Wolfman isn't adequately articulating whatever angst Robin is suffering, so it makes him come off looking bad, and I can't help but view it as just a means to an end to debut Nightwing. The Titans TV show had a similar problem making Grayson's angst sympathetic instead of annoying, but at least it made it understandable. 

Superman #384: Bates and Swan/Hunt continue their reshaping of Superman, and in this issue that means writing out Steve Lombard. Some sympathy is cultivated for the generally Flash Thiompson-esque jerky jock, Steve, as he is fired by Morgan Edge after being pummeled by his old college roomie has built a belt to get super-powers. The old roomie comes back to kill Steve, but Superman intervenes. Steve finally lets Clark know that he values his friendship before walking out of the book.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Xeno-File: O'omkaro

Art by David Monge Bustista

 O'omkaru are newcomers to interstellar civilization. They are often found accompanying other species from the Compact sphere. 

The word o'omkaro, though used as such by others, seems not to strictly be the species name, but rather denotes the spirit or mentality of the species or the species as an ideal. As best as can be determined, their modern government seems to be via some form of adhocracy, and in their interactions with each other and with other species they seem to place a great value on the debating of options and consensus. This is not to say they are particularly conformist by the standards of other species. To the contrary, they seem to have a great tolerance for eccentricity, displays of emotion and individuality. 

So far as is known they have two sexes. Bidirectional hermaphroditism occurs, so that an individual may switch sex several times in a lifetime. The triggers for these changes are unknown, and it seems to be a topic they are reluctant to discuss with other species. Personality changes occur along with their sex, and o'omkaro society accommodates this shift in its members, altering responsibilities and roles as needed.

Many o'omkaru are followers of cultural fads (especially those from other species) and many are collectors of some sort. Almost any new religion, political philosophy or art form they sweeps known space is guaranteed to count o'omkaro among its enthusiasts. O'omkaro history has been painted but historians of other species as a churn of secret societies, revolutionary ideas, and religious awakenings.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Got to Catch Them All

Inspired by Vance mostly, people have considered spells as living entities. It was discussed in the Gplus days, and it shows up in Eric Diaz's Dark Fantasy Magic. Back in 2011, before I had really read a whole lot of Vance, the Vancian magic of D&D and the film Pontypool got me imagining spells as a neurolinguistic virus or memetic entity.

Anyway, all that as preamble to a related idea which I'm sure someone has had before but came to me seeing my daughter play Pokemon Go. If spells are living things in some fashion and wizards are forced to adventure to find them and master them, aren't they kind of like Pokemon? Eldritch viruses or self-assembling arcane subroutines. Free-living (at least currently) cheat codes to the universe. Things to be captured and tamed and bent to will of the mage.

I think this sort of framing could make the finding and learning of spells on scrolls more interesting (or at least more challenging), and I think it would definitely suggest interesting things that could be used to develop the background the campaign world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, June 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 March 3, 1983. 

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #2: Mishkin/Cohn and Colon bring Amy Winston back to Gemworld (they've got 11 more issues after all) and right into danger as Amethyst is captured by Dark Opal's son, Carnelian.  In a standoff, he forces Citrina to immobilize her defenders. He takes her cross country on his monochrome mechanical cat mount and again there's the threat of sexual assault, but its more subtle than last issue. Amethyst plans for an escape, but ultimate it takes the intervention of Amy’s dog comes for her to achieve her own rescue. 

The type of fantasy on display here is interesting. It has fairytale-ish elements like trees with faces and the mixing of technology like Carnelian's cat, and focus on princesses and the like, but it's not really kiddified or geared toward romance any more than the S&S comics on the stands. Colon's slightly cartoon art is a great fit for it, too.

Justice League #215: Great Perez cover here, as Conway and Heck continue the Microcosmos saga. The evil despot Goltha unleashes a crazed, amnesiac, and giant Atom against the city, leading Krystal Kaa to tell the JLA how Goltha usurped the throne years earlier by controlling the Atom's mind and using him as a weapon. (The Atom arrived in this world almost a century earlier than the rest of his team despite their having made the trip to the micro-world only hours apart.) The League and the Siren Sisterhood plan to sneak into the city through the sewers and recover Krystal Kaa's power-staff, but are stopped when they encounter Kass'andre, Goltha's daughter, wielding the staff against them.

Blackhawk #259: Nice Chaykin cover on this issue. Evanier's and Spiegle's many story is a sort of Eisner's Spirit riff of telling the story of a regular guy kind of character who happens to cross paths with the protagonists.  Winslow Shirk, a nobody who wants to be a hero, tries to seek out the Blackhawks, and gets too close to the site of their bombed, original island base. Thanks to the radiation, he's turned into an invisible man. He finally does catch up with the Blackhawks and ends up prevents the assassination of Winston Churchill but runs away before the team arrives. The Blackhawks are left with the mystery of just who the Blackhawk was that saved Churchill's life. Shirk's invisibility wears off, and he goes home, feeling better about himself.

There's a Chop Chop solo story with art by Ziegler. Chop Chop investigates a Chinese style villa in the Alps. There he finds Soong Kai-Sen, a formerly vocal Chinese leader against the Japanese. Kai-Sen wants to give up that role. Chop Chop tries to convince him to return home and resume the fight, but a ninja shows up that needs to be dealt with. That sorted, Chop Chop then makes a final plea to Kai-Sen, but the other man counters by questioning why Chop Chop isn't in his homeland. 

Arak Son of Thunder #22: The Thomases and Gonzales/Alcala open with Arak and friends caged in Albracca and awaiting execution. The wiles of the thief Brunello (from an installment of the Valda backup) and the distraction of the guards with the Tartar siege on the city walls gives them a chance to escape.

When they reach the walls, they see that Haakon has finally arrived with Kallinikos, the keeper of the secret of Greek fire. Arak is forced to join with Haakon to fight off the Tartar horde to order to protect Kallinikos. Once they get back over the wall, Arak and the others are recaptured.

Arak is given the chance to fight Haakon in a duel to the death. Their fight is interrupted by a revolt inside the city gates. The priest Johannes has revealed himself as the rightful king of White Cathay who was exiled by Angelica's father. He engages the sorceress in mystic combat, but when Angelica rains snakes on the citizen of the city, Johannes loses his power drawn from their faith in him. In a desperate "Hail Mary" to stop Angelica, Johannes constructs a pentagram to travel into Hell and bargain with the demon Baphomet for a Gog army. Malagigi and Arak impulsively join him on the trip.


DC Comics Presents #58: Barr and Swann/Hunt provide a triple team-up with Superman, Robin, and the Elongated Man. The three tangle with the Intangibles, four seemingly phasing crooks who are actually tricking the group to copy the Man of Steel" super-vision powers to use against him. Not bad for a slightly Silver Age-y one off.

Fury of Firestorm #13: I'm over this were-hyena stuff, and thankfully this seems to be the end of the saga. Firestorm flies off to Kenya in the hopes of finding a cure for the curse that is turning him into a were-hyena and now has Stein and Ronnie trapped in composite form. Firestorm meets with the president of Kenya and shows him the diary of Summer Day, hoping to get help. I guess he felt like he needed to go right to the top.

The president has a mystical ceremony set up to cure Firestorm of the curse. Before that can get done, the presiding shaman's former friend who is a guerilla revolutionary shows up and attacks. Firestorm is cured and captures the rebels, but the shaman is killed. Firestorm realizes that the only reason the president agreed to help him was that he wanted to maneuver Firestorm into fighting the revolutionaries on his behalf. Frustrated, Firestorm flies back towards the United States.

Back in Manhattan, Harry Carew tries to convince Quentin Quale to give Martin Stein his old job back without any luck. Then, he runs into Martin's ex-wife and maybe there are sparks? Elsewhere, Lorraine Reilly is being held bound to a chair in a small room by unknown captors. Oh, and at Bradley High School, Ed Raymond storms into Principal Hapgood's office demanding to know where Ronnie is, but nobody has any idea.

Wonder Woman #304: Mishkin and Colan/McLaughlin continue the fight with Dr. Polaris from last issue. Wonder Woman manages to save Griggs and Trevor from crashing, but Polaris demands that Green Lantern come fight him or he'll continue his rampage. GL is inconveniently exiled currently, but Polaris is having none of it. He flies off, and Wonder Woman figures that he has gone back to his polar fortress. With Steve disguised as a stand-in Green Lantern, suspended by a rope from the invisible jet, he can act as a decoy while she battles Polaris and Griggs booby-traps Polaris's fortress. The magnetic villain catches on, but too late, and he appears to be caught in the blast that destroys his base. Wonder Woman and friends return home.

In the Huntress backup by Cavalieri and DeCarlo/Marcos, our heroine manages to escape the Undertaker's crematorium deathtrap, and defeats him, but she's injured when the crematorium oven overheats and explodes, and is strapped to a stretcher and whisked off by another villain.  

Monday, March 4, 2024

Luna Blues


Last night, taking a break from 5e Azurth, we played a gaming using Peril Planet's Action Tales system (kitbashing rules from Star Scoundrels, Neon City Overdrive, and Terminal City) in the Buck Rogers-inspired setting I discussed last week. 

The year is 2979 and the PCs are the (former) crew of a corporate hauler doing a Luna-Ceres run. Finding themselves out of a job when their employer was bought out by Ares Corporation (the Martian baddies), they find themselves sitting in the Tycho City dive called the Free Fall Bar and Grill, listening to bad karaoke and spending their last paycheck. The characters are:

  • Hesperos (Tug): Pilot from the Venusian Cloud cities.
  • Ryne Ganult (Andrea): Engineer from the Belt.
  • Zarek (Bob): Martian ex-soldier with a cybernetic arm.

The group is approached by a woman who gives her name as Chandra Roberts. She's a lawyer who needs a crew to fly a salvaged ship back to Earth. She's offering 1000 Martian Yuan for a one day job. It's good money, so the group says yes, but almost immediately things get complicated.

A guy and some goons come in. The guy claims to be a Lunar cop and places Chandra under arrest. Something smells fun, though, because why aren't these goons in uniform? And why doesn't the leader's uniform have identification? When the group balks, one goon draws a gun.

When Hesperos quick draws his pistol, a fight breaks out. In short order, the thugs are on the ground courtesy of the stunners Zarek and Ganult have, but the real cops are likely on their way.

They flee the bar and as soon as they get a moment, Roberts reveals that she works for ORE, the Organization for the Renewal of Earth, and the ship in question is a stolen yacht that once belonged to Ares Corp chairman, Alexei Loehr-Zau, and seems to contain a drive with sensitive Ares Corp data.

Roberts wants the crew to help her buy by the data (and the ship) from pirates.


Friday, March 1, 2024

Encounters at Thono; Our Heroes Don't Get Baths

Bao dwek Thabub (art by Steven de Waele)

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

  • Antor Hogus (Paul) - Vagabond on holiday. He wants to use that stun wand.
  • Jerfus Grek (Jason) - Also a vagabond. Here, a large man at spycraft.
  • Nortin Tauss (Aaron) - Dabbler in the arcane. He wears a star in the center of his tunic.
  • Yzma Vekna (Andrea) - Teamster out of her element.

Ensconced in a suite in the Thono Inn, expensed to the Eminent Compulsor, the group enjoys a nice dinner and a bit of rest. The next morning finds them beginning their investigations to uncover the identity of Wol Zunderbast. In doing so they encounter (and are distracted by) some of the other guests: Bao dwek Thabub, typically pungent hwaopt scholar studying something called "fey vortices" in the area; Sula Av and Tharom Welk an overly friendly couple on holiday from Ascolanth.

Finally, after leaving a message at the desk in a failed stratagem to find Zunderbast's room, they encounter the man himself:

He's intense and no nonsense but arranges a meeting later that evening with Nortin to discuss the "item" further. He also invites in the game in the casino (five frond hokus or thari or even quorn lancets) but Nortin declines.

With the meeting set, the group decides to take advantage of the famous gas bathes fed by the eldritch substance of the Lake of Vermilion Mists. They head to the bathhouse, but they are told its out of order by the inebriated engineer, Ormuz Halx, who raves at them briefly about something in caves that wants to kill everyone. Before they can dig into these remarkable claims, Gris Samber shows up to usher Halx away apologetically, citing his drunkenness as the source of his odd behavior.