Friday, May 24, 2024

Fantasy Anime You Should Watch

I've been watching some fantasy anime of late, revisiting the classic Record of Lodoss War I hadn't seen since the 00s, but also checking out some new stuff. Here are some recommendations:

Frieren: Beyond Journey's End (Crunchyroll)
Frieren starts with a basically D&Dish world, but tells the sort of story most epic fantasy media doesn't really deal with: what happens after? The title character is a nigh immortal elven mage who realizes that she didn't know as much about her party members (the leader, Himmel the Hero, in particular) as she would like only after one of them passes on. She agrees to take on a child adopted by another one of her aging comrades as an apprentice and together they set out on a journey to retrace the steps of her original party's journey into the demon-haunted North to find the place where the dead can speak to the living. Along the way she picks up a warrior who is the protege of her old dwarf comrade and they meet other allies and get in adventures big and small on their journey. 

It's a nice combination of slice of life travelogue, magical duels, and character drama, with both humor and poignancy.

Delicious in Dungeon (Netflix)
Everybody knows about this one, I think, but it deserves the hype. A group of adventurers has a deadly encounter with a red dragon, and a few of the survivors plan to go back and save their cleric before she is digested to have her raised. They have no time to buy supplies, so they resort to eating monsters in the dungeon with the help of dungeon-dwelling dwarven chef. 

It's pretty funny, but despite the setup, it has surprisingly deep setting "lore" that is slowly revealed and helps it from being a single joke show.

Ranking of Kings (Crunchyroll)
This is the least D&Dish of the three. I've seen it described as "fairy tale Game of Thrones" which is probably a pretty reasonable descriptor, so far as it goes. In a world where the gods were defeated, a committee of some sort ranks the power of the mortal world's monarchs. The king that is awarded the number one ranking is entitled to a boon from the Divine Treasure Vault, a fabled trove brimming with riches and magical artifacts. Bojji, the main character, is the first born of one of these kings, the giant, Bosse. But Bojji is diminutive, deaf, mute, and weak. When the throne is given to his younger brother due to duplicity and a lack of faith in Bojji, the boy sets out to find a way to become stronger.

The fairy-tale type beginning and the cartoon art style which recalls Shotaro Ishinomori and Osamu Tezuka belie the hidden agendas and moral shades of gray of the story, as well as the level of world-building. The 1st season doesn't end as well as it begins (with some dragging out of the final fight to multiple episodes as you sometimes see in anime, and some abrupt story developments) but I'm still interested in the world and characters and want to see more.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 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 May 19, 1983.

Batman and the Outsiders #1: Barr and Aparo introduce a new team in an action-packed debut. When Lucius Fox is captured by freedom fighters in the nation of Markovia, Batman seeks the aid of the Justice League to rescue him, but Superman has already promised world leaders the League would stay out of that diplomatic tangle, and the others back him, so Batman resigns. There isn't, however, a scene like the one on the cover in the story.

In Markovia, the king dies leaving his sons Gregor and Brion in charge of the country. Batman and Black Lightning have infiltrated the war-torn land and soon (improbably) encounter other supers: Metamorpho who has come seeking Dr. Jace and a cure for his condition Katana, who's out for revenge, and an amnesiac young woman Batman nicknames Halo. Brion is given powers by Dr. Jace, and becomes Geo-Force, but he's betrayed by his soldiers and shot in cold blood. All the other heroes except Halo are captured. Batman wakes up in a dungeon to find that he and the other heroes and Fox are the captives of Baron Bedlam.

House of Mystery #319: Another intriguing Kaluta cover, depicting Bennett from "I...Vampire." Mishkin and Sutton bring that strip to a close with this issue, leaving G.I. Combat as the only anthology book with a regular lead feature, and perhaps suggesting that this whole title isn't long for this world--which turns out to be correct. Bennett is helpless, trapped in a decaying body because he rashly took the Russian formula, and Mary Queen of Blood seems to have triumphed. She drains Deborah of blood and plans to keep Bennett around long enough to watch the woman rise as her vampiric thrall. Bennett longs for death but can do nothing but watch. Deborah does rise, but she proves too strong for Mary to command. She defeats the Vampire Queen and drags her into the sunlight. It seems Deborah took the serum as well and her freshly dead body rather than one with centuries-decayed organs, it works as intended. She sits with Bennett, professing her love, as he too crumbles to dust as the sun rises.

The second story by Mishkin and Ordway sees an underhanded Hollywood agent get his comeuppance when he orders a sandwich named for a form client of his he drove to his death and then dies from rat poison, courtesy of his ghostly chef.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #10: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner pick up where last issue left off with Supergirl is still seriously ill thanks to the radiation she absorbed from Reactron. On top of that, she has made an enemy in the vigilante-hating police Lieutenant Peters after her battle with Reactron. Oh, and she's got a date that she refuses to cancel despite the fact she's sick. After her date ends early, she tangles with Matrix-Prime again and is taken captive. She's turned over to Professor Drake, one of the Council members, who has developed a cloning process. He immerses Supergirl in a bath of chemicals that causes foot tall clones of Supergirl to form, all of them under his command. Unfortunately, as the mad scientist informs Supergirl, she will not survive the cloning process.

Green Lantern #167: Cavalieri and Tuska/McLaughlin continue the story from last issue. Hal manages to rally after his defeat by Gallius Zed wielding one of the power rings supposedly without the weakness to yellow. Hal is able to turn the tables in the rematch noting ironically that Zed's greatest fear (not being strong enough to wield the ring) seemed to manifest. As Hal tracks down Eddore to the planet Tront and defeats him too, a pattern emerges: Eddore's greatest fear becomes manifest and sews the seeds of his loss. Hal recalls how this all started with a group of striped outfit loving space pirates called the Free Lancers who had clued Kaylark on to the existence of these rings. Hal heads to Kaylark's planet, D'xe, where she has crowned herself Empress Surrenda.

In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Klein and Gibbons equoid Lantern Brin returns home to his family and retirement from the Corps. He relates that his failure to repulse an invasion by the Spider Guild (their first appearance) is what led the Guardians to let him go. But the Guardians honor him by selecting a replacement from his own household. Both his sons hope it will be them, but instead the Guardians select Brin's family's robotic nanny, Teacher.

Sgt. Rock #379: The main story by Kanigher and Redondo is certainly a departure from the usual. It involves a new private so ambitious he's willing to murder superiors to create the context for his promotion. He makes the mistakes of gunning for Rock and loses his life instead. 

The second story by Harris and Lindsey is less good with a French father moved to spare a Nazi officer who had previously threatened to kill his daughter if he didn't give up a hidden U.S. paratrooper due to the revelation that this Nazi had a daughter too.

Warlord #72:   I reviewed this first, non-Grell penned issue main story here. In the Barren Earth backup by Cohn and Randall, Jinal and friends infiltrate the Mulge guardian to get back their captured friends, encountering dangerous plants and fungi, and breaking up a creepy Mulge ritual to cause fungi to grow threw the bodies of sacrificed humans. This is probably the most interesting installment of this series so far.

Legion of Super-Heroes #302: I didn't comment on it last issue, but Levitz and Giffen are now credited as co-plotters. Lightning Lord shows up at Legion HQ, ostensibly out to find his sister, Light Lass, and puts a beating on a number of Legionnaires. Eventually, Lightning Lad steps in to fight his brother, and he and Saturn Girl decisively defeat him. Meanwhile, Ontiir of the Science Police lures Supergirl, Brainiac 5, and several other Legionnaires into trap on Webber's World, where they are blasted unconscious by the Emerald Empress's Eye. Meanwhile, Element Lad and Erin Schvaughn head to Imsk to investigate...well, something.

This is a good issue, but it bugs me a little bit with a conceit common to team books wherein a villain that usual fights the heroes with a team (in this case, Lightning Lord) is powerful enough to be a threat to the whole team of heroes, until that one hero shows up to best them one-on-one. 

Night Force #13: Katina and her son Gowon (who we learn is also Baron Winters' son) agree to help him save Vanessa after he tells them Vanessa is his daughter. His later comments to Merlin suggest this was a lie to get their help. Katina uses her very real inner demons to banish the ghosts, saving Vanessa and Jack. Those two leave the series never to return. Meanwhile, the vengeful ghosts burn Jack Carter with psychic energy in retaliation. Winters is ready to admit defeat and give up his position (whatever than is), but Katina forces him to accompany her through a portal to some mystic ziggurat where they are to journey into memory through some pool. Winters sees them as young mystic students of some sort whose romance was forbidden, so they were separated. Seeing them together again, the forces that wished them separated now declare that they are willing to kill them to do it.

The letter column announces that the next issue will be the last of the series but promises Night Force will return as a series of 4 issue limited series. The first half of that is right, but the limited series won't come to be. It will be 13 years before there is a Night Force volume 2.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Clerics and Druids

A little bit more about a couple of types of spellcasters in the Elden Urd setting Elden Urd setting I have been working on.

Clerics wield the power of the gods, the form of magic brought forth by Aion Demiurgos when he created the Cosmos. How clerics came to possess this power is one of several mysteries contemplated and debated by theologians of their faith. As instruments of the church, they preform rituals, mediate with the spirits, cast out demons, return ghosts and undead to rest, tend the sick and wounded, and always strive to make human kin virtuous of admission to the Higher Heavens where the gods reside.

The also tend to wear distinct headgear as part of their vestments.

Druids are the priests of the titans who remained neutral in the War and did not forsaken the world: primarily Earth Mother and the tripartite Moon. They are also the prophets of the great spirits to human kin. 

Druidic cults mostly found in the wild places and rural hinterlands. Their association with the titans of old put them at odds with the Church of the clerics and their tendency to resist modernizing authorities has made them enemies of the Draconic Empire.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Roaming the Mind of Gob

After a hiatus we returned to the Land of Azurth last Tuesday and picked up where we left off in an adaptation of the Role-Aids adventure Swordthrust. The party was roaming the labyrinth inside the mind (or at least brain) of the giant, crystalline gnome, Gob. They were trying to collect all the pieces of a magical suit of armor.

This time, they avoided some fights with some Rat folk cultists, a dining troll, and a kobold Necromancer:

This, and their previous expressions of solidarity with some goblin revolutionaries made their job of exploring the dungeon easier because it allowed them to backtrack through controlled territory. This was particularly useful then they wanted to move from one "hemisphere" of Gob's brain to the other. 

They didn't negotiate their way around everything, though. They had to kill an irate cockatrice and 3 disagreeable harpies:

Like these guys but more birdy

No armor pieces discovered this session, so the quest continues!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 1983 (week 2)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I've got the comics released the week of May 12, 1983. 

Justice League of America Annual #1: This Levitz/Wein story with art by Hoberg/Giordano is notable mainly for having appearances by Dr. Destiny and the Bronze Age Sandman, both of whom will appear in the early issues of Neil Gaiman's Sandman in 1989. Beyond that, it's a classic JLA story of the team splitting up to deal with dream-related menaces before entering the Dream Dimension where Destiny has imprisoned Sandman and stolen his supply of sleep sand. Mention is made of the crisis in Markovia and Batman being on the outs with the League which will occur in Batman and the Outsiders #1.

Batman #362:  Moench and Newton bring back the Riddler who was last since seen in Detective #526, but outside of that cameo, hasn't had a story since '81. He's up to his same old schtick, but Moench throws in some decent wordplay for the Dark Knight to unravel. Meanwhile, Bullock decides to abandon his false charges against Gordon after...well, I'm not really sure how we're supposed to read what happens, unless it's a veiled threat by the Batman against Bullock made by giving him an egg with his name on it similar to ones the Riddler had employed in his caper.

Flash #324: Bates and Infantino/Jensen officially kick off the "Trial of the Flash" saga (or I guess you could say last issue did sorta), though that name is not, of course, used in the issue since there isn't any trial yet. With Fiona waiting at the altar and his family and friends gathered expectantly, The Flash engages in a round-the-world chase to stop Professor Zoom killing Barry's bride to be. He succeeds--just barely--but apparently the Reverse Flash loses his life in the process.

G.I. Combat #256: The first Haunted Tank story is mostly from the ghostly Stuart's point of view, as we see how he came to be watching over a "yankee" tank crew (Alexander the Great's orders!) and how he is unable to warn the crew of an ambush coming. Naturally the Haunted Tank makes it through. The second story is told from the perspectives of the Sherman and a German Tiger II tank. It's better than the first though not improved by Kanigher's "equipment's perspective" gimmick.

There's a "Silent Service" submarine story about the crew of the U.S. sub, Barracuda, willing to do whatever it takes to sink a Japanese sub-hunting destroyer, and another story of the Pacific Theater where a G.I. hides a gun in his bandages to get the drop on a Japanese ambush. 

The Mercenaries are back, and Kanigher and Catan have them in a mythical African micronation, Zamora, where their plan to get work with the king is sunk when his son kills him in the name of American petroleum interests. In a surprise turn, the king names Prince his successor, but once they've thwarted the coup planners, he turns over leadership to a teacher and political revolutionary--whose first act as president is (wisely) to tell the Mercenaries politely to leave the country.

New Teen Titans #34: Wolfman and Perez deliver something better than the last couple of issues, though mostly for set-up. Terra is grumbling that the Titans don't seem to trust her as they haven't shared their identities or anything. The Titans have reasons for not doing so, but all those are forgotten after the Terminator attacks and Terra plans a big part in defeating him. A staged part, it turns out, as the reveal at the end shows she is infiltrating the Titans on Slade's orders. Meanwhile, Adrian Chase's vigilante tactics (which he dragged Robin into) has consequences as a bomb comes off in his apartment. Also in this issue, Donna says yes to Terry's proposal, but wants to wait to marry him until she finds her parents, and it turns out Sarah (the woman Cyborg was into) isn't engaged after all.

Superman #386: Bates and Swan/Hunt continue Luthor's quest for revenge against Superman as he (wrongly) blames him for the destruction of Lexor. Despite the overall more serious approach to Luthor in this arc, this issue shows hints of characterization inspired by Hackman's Luthor in Superman: The Movie. Luthor discusses his plans with minions as one of them shaves and buffs his head. When he comes to believe killing Lois won't have the same impact on Superman since the two have broken up, he muses on working to get them back together then killing her. For right now, he settles for tricking Superman with a sham device similar in appearance to the one that destroyed Lexor and taunting the hero. He promises to strike for real when Superman least expects it.

Saga of the Swamp Thing #16: Pasko is back and joined by Bissette and Totleben on interior art, an artist team destined to make their mark on this character. After finding Linda Holland's grave empty, Swamp Thing and friends are on their way to Washington, D.C. to uncover the roots of the Sunderland Corporation conspiracy against them. On the way, Swamp Thing finds himself in an eerie small town where a form costume shop operator gives him a mask that appears to transform him back into Holland. He romances a local girl but doesn't feel right about his deception. In the end, it's revealed that everyone in the town is wearing a mask to hide some mutation or deformity. They invite Swamp Thing to stay with them, but he declines, feeling he can't abandon his mission.

Monday, May 13, 2024

The Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Despite the attention lavished on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and even Star Trek or the Alien universe, I feel like the science fiction franchise most consistent in quality is the Planet of the Apes. Sure, it's not without its duds (Burton's film) and lesser lights (the last original film, the cartoon, perhaps), but the Wyatt/Reeves reboot?/prequel? series of the 2010s defied sequel gravity and only got better as it went along. (To me, anyway. Some would say Dawn was the high point. Either way, War was still good.)

When Reeves left and Disney acquired Fox, I had some trepidation about where the series would go. Happily, it seems like Wes Ball has things well enough in hand, at least with this first installment. While it's not as good as the best of the 2010s series, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes was more enjoyable and more substantial than any other existing-franchise entry I've seen in the theater since the end of the pandemic--though perhaps that's damning with faint praise.

Anyway, it's "many generations" after the time of Caesar. He has become a mythic/religious figure. His name is borrowed. and his legacy evoked by an up-and-coming bonobo tyrant who (like King Louie in the Jungle Book) wants the technology of humankind. He needs (ape) slave labor to get it at it and a mysterious, young human woman, so when he captures Noa's village and kills his father, the young chimpanzee makes common cause with the human. 

There are hints of Beneath of the Planet of the Apes in here, and (perhaps unintentional, perhaps not) Biblical echoes with a hero named "Noa," but those are as they should be with an ape installment. The special effects are amazing, and it makes me mad the Marvel Cinematic Universe films often seem sloppy. I guess when your whole premise requires motion capture, you have to get that thing right.

I miss Andy Serkis here like everybody else, but he trained the new cast of apes well. It probably could have been a bit shorter, particularly for a film that is a lot about establishing a new conflict, but I'm not immediately sure what I would have cut.

All that to say, if you liked the previous ape films you should see this one. If you haven't seen any of the new apes films (which lately I've discovered a large group of folks that haven't) then you should see those and see this one.

You can also check out the watch and commentary Jason "Operation Unfathomable" Sholtis and I did of the much less good but still entertaining 70s Planet of the Apes TV show over at the Flashback Universe Blog.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Notes on the Common Kin

 Here are some notes on the standard D&Dish races (focused on the "how our [x] are different," as you do) for a world I've been blogging about recently, a world which I'm now calling Elden Urd (inspired by Tad Williams' Osten Ard in his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy).

Warrior mercenary companies, distilled spirits, artisans in metal and gems. They mostly dwell above ground though not entirely. The dwarven throne has been empty for ages; they are ruled by a republic.

Descendants of fey trapped in the Cosmos when it was made. To this day they care little for the gods. Extremely long lived and slow to reproduce so they are a dwindling people.

Preservers of some of the knowledge of the Age of Wizard-Kings. Artificers and makers of mechanisms.

The people of the plains and meadows, sometimes called "grass runners." Some are settled in sod house villages, work farms and tend flocks, others are itinerant traders and entertainers. 

Descendants of Fiends, the fallen Titans. They sometimes face prejudice from the common folk, but among the sorts of people that consort with adventurers their ancestry hardly merits notice.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 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 May 5, 1983. 

Wonder Woman #306: Great (if utterly unrelated to the issue's contents) cover by José Luis García-López. Inside, Heck is now on art. Senator Abernathy, Diana's and Etta's landlord, suffers a heart attack and is whisked away by Steve Trevor and a military team. Unsure what's going on, Wonder Woman follows them, and helps nab a team of terrorists who try to kill him. She's angry at Trevor for being secretive, but it turns out Abernathy had given some information to an enemy nation in an attempt to save his wife, which led to him being kept under surveillance. Trevor just didn't tell Diana because he knew she liked Abernathy and wanted to preserve her impression of the old man. At the end of the issue, Aegeus abruptly appears and stabs Trevor.

In the Cavalieri and Bair/Bryant Huntress backup, the Huntress manages to fight her way of the Tarr and Fether's criminal psych ward, making common cause with one of the "violent cases" to do so. Unfortunately, something happens to Huntress shortly after their escape.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #4: Mishkin/Cohn and Colon pack a lot of story into these pages. Granch enters another dimension in a belly of a giant reptile to free Dark Opal’s other sons, but they don't believe he's there to help them and try to kill him. Dark Opal lures Amethyst into a trap with Citrina's soul as a lure, but the Princess and her mentor are able to outsmart him. Meanwhile, Lady Emerald is forced to turn over her eldest daughter to Dark Opal. and on Earth, Amy's parents deal with her latest disappearance.

Arak Son of Thunder #24: The Thomases and Gonzales/Alcala reach the two-year mark with this title, and they provide a map of Arak's travels, which is a touch I always appreciate. A lot is going on in this one! Arak and Angelica are still in Hell with Baphomet. Malagigi and Johannes are in Albracca desperately trying to find a way to stop Gog and Magog, rival armies fated to destroy the world. Satyricus and Brunello are trying to rescue Valda from Haakon. Arak arrives just in time to help those two (his and Angelica's escape from Hell having weirdly occurred off-screen), but when Gog and Magog arrive as giants made from the bodies of each army, everybody (but Angelica) works together to halt their rampage with Greek fire. In the aftermath, Angelica tries to reclaim what's left of Albracca, but Malagigi's magic stops her. 

Johannes becomes Prester John like we knew he was going to, and Albracca does a Brigadoon. Our heroes head out, presumably to return to France.

Blackhawk #261: Nice Cockrum cover on this one. Evanier and Spiegle get back to more interesting stuff with the return of Domino and the War Wheel. After stealing a German code book, the Blackhawks intercept messages that reveal the German's have the British blue code book. This is due Domino, who has been seducing and murdering a series of British generals. The rest of the Blackhawks try and fail to stop the new War Wheel, which gets away, while Blackhawk goes after Domino and ultimately captures her. Hearing of Domino's capture, Hitler dispatches 4 mean that look just like him, the four Zwillings, to kill the leaders of the Allies. We also get in extended flashback to Domino's origin this issue, and I suspect Evanier modeled the stern Frau Bulle who trained her on Granny Goodness.

Camelot 3000 #7: Arthur and his knights win some victories, but the good feelings are short-lived. The untimely but inevitable betrayal occurs, and Arthur banishes Lancelot and Guinevere after catching them in the act. Then, the issue ends with Tristan contacting Morgan Le Fay and agreeing to betray the knights in exchange for being turned back into a man. One of the things most interesting to me about the series is Bolland's futuristic 80s designs, and they are really on display here.

DC Comics Presents #60: Burkett and Novick team Superman with the Guardians of the Universe. The Weapon-Master (the villain from a recent arc in World's Finest) steals the power of the Central Power Battery of Oa which enables him to control the minds of many of the Green Lanterns, so the Guardians send Superman out with the wannabe poet who was supposed to have been monitoring the power levels on the Battery. Pretty standard stuff after last issues Ambush Bug zaniness.

Fury of Firestorm #15: While Multiplex and Enforcer engage in some exposition-delivering discussion, Firestorm manages to break free from containment. He briefly defeats Enforcer, but Multiplex outsmarts him, and eventually both villains escape. Clarissa, Stein's ex, continues to try to drive a wedge between them and gain Ronnie's confidence. Senator Riley is forced to accede to the demands of the ultra-wealthy industrialist who is employing Multiplex and Enforcer, voting to grant him some sort of atomic energy monopoly lest his kidnapped daughter come to harm.

Justice League #217: Kupperberg and Patton/Tanghal are on board as the new team, and we get a story linked to Kupperberg's Arion: Lord of Atlantis mythos. When an energy-beam emanating from an undersea crevice (where old Atlantis lies in ruins) causes seaquakes in the undersea city of Atlantis and transforms three surface humans into elemental beings who attack other cities, the Justice League goes into action in their usually "divide and conquer" fashion. The villain turns out to be the ancient, Atlantean sorcerer, Daanuth. Now, this guy shares a name and a home base with the villain in Arion, but he looks nothing like him, but less Elric-y and more wizened bald guy. I wonder if Kupperberg wanted to use the concept, but they weren't sure if Arion was actually in DC continuity as yet? Anyway, this issue for some reason feels a bit more of a throwback to the middle of the Bronze Age than some recent issues that preceded it (though not really the immediately previous arc).

Sgt. Rock Annual #3: Kanigher is joined by Spiegle on art for "No Time for Graves," which like the last annual, is a notch above the standard Sgt. Rock tale, aided by the increased length and Spiegle's art. Easy is headed to R&R, but when a new standoffish Polish American soldier steals a truck, Rock and crew figure it's to sell the contents to the black market. It isn't, as they discovered as they chase him across German lines. Instead, it's full of Polish kids whose parents were various sorts of "undersirables" the Germans sent to camps, and a priest trying to get them to the coast to meet a boat bound for Haifa. When the soldier gives his life to destroy a machine gun nest, Rock and the others take up the transport. The trip sees some of the kids that get introduced lose their lives and the priest too, but the rest make the ship. Rock and the others leave the bodies of both refugees and Wehrmacht on the beach where they fell because they have places to be and there is "no time for graves."

Monday, May 6, 2024

The Age of the Wizard-Kings

During the Titan War, the gods empowered human worshippers to serve their cause, and in response, so did some of the titans. The techniques they taught mortals are still employed by adventurers today. When the war was won, some of these champions were able to seize scraps of knowledge and fragments technology from salvaged weapons of the gods and from plundered titan strongholds, even from the outer precincts of Heaven itself. 

One wily titan, eager for revenge against the traitorous gods, gave mortals the secret of the paths of Immortality--a means to make themselves near equal to the gods. When the gods shut the gates of the Overworld, barring mortals from Heaven, their former champions began seeking their own apotheosis. What wouldn't be shared, they reasoned, they would take.

Connecting with the pillars that supported the cosmos--the so-called Spheres of Matter, Energy, Thought, and Time--mortals began to walk the paths to Immortality. In the process, they discovered more secrets of the Cosmos's creators. They developed technology that allowed them to conquer the world and usher in an age of advancement and wonder with flying cities, automata, and sagacious, living libraries. It was also an age of excess and violence with strange monsters crawling from the subterranean laboratories and towering war machines wielding eldritch weapons to lay waste to cities. This time was known as the Age of High Magic or the Age of the Wizard-Kings.

The end of the Age came when internecine fighting had weakened the Wizard-Kings such that they could not defend against a succession of threats: the forces of Chaos launching sorties into the Cosmos, and irruptions of the Underworld caused by the Lich Lords, and continued subversion by the fiends from Hell. In the end, a coup by chromatic dragons toppled the most powerful surviving Wizard-Kings.

The remnants of their power remain, though. In the ruins of sky cities or in the depths of the dungeons they built adventurers still encounter they creations, technology and servitors. Perhaps somewhere the secrets of Immortality await the lucky delver?

Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Undying Kings of the Underworld

In the aftermath of the Titan War, with the withdrawal of the gods left from the world, humans were able to seize divine knowledge and tools as spoils of war. This theft would reverberate even far, even to the gloomy halls of the Underworld. 

There were the recently arrived souls of great mages and heroes, fallen in the war either fighting for the titans or the gods. These personalities burning with power and rage at the perceived injustice of the universe, resisted the pull of dissolution. Their souls would not enter the cycle of reincarnation. Without the Unseen Lord, God of the Underworld, to quell their rebellion, they ransacked the cities and forests of the lands of the dead to find a way out. Their frenzy cracked the Underworld itself, and they found themselves on the event horizon of the Negative Energy Plane. 

They stared into the abyss and the abyss stared back. And then, perhaps, something within it spoke. The great mages and heroes discovered a way for their intellects to live beyond death, and even to be returned to their physical bodies. To power these miracles, they would need to build receptacles to house the negative energy. The only accommodation necessary to utilize this new and seemingly endless replacement for their life force was a small one. They would just have to give up their souls.

These nine (so it is believed) Undying Kings, or Lich Lords as they are sometimes called, became the new rulers of the Underworld. When that was accomplished, they sought to extend their reach to the world of the living. They sent tendrils of Underworld rising up, and the swirling mists formed cysts of the land of the dead, the Shadowfells. From these bridgeheads, the lich lords raised armies of undead, led by mighty warriors, called Death Knights.

Their conquest of the world of the living isn't driven merely by a desire for territory. Their goad is the Negative Energy Plane, and its hunger for unmaking and entropy. Their own fates are tied to its eternal appetite, so it's needs are their necessity. The self-centered nature of the Lich Lords has hampered their cooperation, and that combined with the weakening of the Shadowfells in daylight hours has slowed their advancement, but the Undying Kings are not hurried as time is something they have in abundance.

This is part of this setting.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Wednesday Comics: DC, July 1983 (week 4)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I look at the comics hitting the newsstand on April 28, 1983.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #9: Nice cover by Duursema. The conflict Moench foreshadowed last issue comes to pass as General Balar returns to Atlantis with an army only to discover that Arion and his companions have already liberated the city. Balar is angered when he finds the people erecting a statue of Arion and the technological defenses of the city destroyed. Arion is forced to intervene when Balar takes out his frustrations on some of the citizenry, so Balar orders his arrest. He doesn't have the power to make that happen, so he's forced to retreat and instead works to undermine Arion with the newly returned king.

Fed up with politics, Arion heads north to help save Atlantis from the approaching ice age. Chian goes with him on the quest which leads to a palace of emerald ice. Inside a seductive sorceress named Icestarr puts some sort of spell on Arion.

Ronin #1: This, like Camelot 3000, is another prestige product for DC and shows their editorial risk-taking in this era. Miller tells the story of a samurai from Feudal Japan whose battle with a demon over a magical sword causes them both to be reborn in a dystopian future (not unlike Camelot 3000!). What's different is, C3000 is basically a good comic of its era, where Ronin looks like it could have been published today with Miller's use of "widescreen" panels and other modern layout techniques. His art here isn't like his work in Dark Knight Returns a few years in the future. There are strong influences of both Moebius and (I think) Enki Bilal as well as Goseki Kojima. Modern as it is in some ways, it's also pure distillate of the 80s: all dark future and samurai swords.

Green Arrow #3: Nice cover by von Eeden and Giordano. After a little "harsh interrogation" of Count Vertigo, Green Arrow finds out the Russians sent him to keep an eye on the chemical company, but he doesn't know why. Ollie's next attempt to bluff a CIA agent and then the company's board to find out more, gets him nothing but embarrassment. So next, he tries playing the rich playboy buffoon to lull his hidden enemies into believing him defeated. Maybe that works? Anyway, he realizes what the dying Ted Horton was trying to tell him: he was drawing a benzene ring. With that knowledge he guesses Abby's password and learns the secret Horton project is a synthetic oil substitute. Unfortunately, his enemies know he knows and that marks him for death. Only the intervention of the CIA agent, Jones, saves him from an ambush. Green Arrow and Jones set out to reveal Abby's killer and bring them to justice.

This limited is underappreciated I think only because of the embarrassment of riches that 80s DC was to soon become.

Action Comics #545: Wolfman and Kane continued the Brainiac story from last issue. Brainiac captures Superman and keeps him alive only to analyze him, attempt to learn how to counter the Master Programmer. This, as seen last issue, seems to be Brainiac's conception of God--a god who has sent Superman to destroy him! Superman manages to escape, barely, but Brainiac is in pursuit. Supes knows he's going to need help to deal with this one.

Meanwhile, Cave Carson, Rip Hunter, Rick Flag, Dolphin, and Dane Dorrance--a group of "Forgotten Heroes" if there ever was one--comes together.

With this and the Lex Luthor story early in the month, the villain makeovers have certainly led to more interesting stories.

All-Star Squadron #23: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan introduce the first really new character in this book (though even he borrows the name of an actual Golden Age character). With some of the All-Stars and JSA in the hands of Ultra and his cronies, the remaining heroes sort of go various ways and pursue means to find their friends. Dr. Fate and the Atom headed for Fate's Salem tower, intent on finding the missing Spectre. The tower has been invaded, and Fate's powerful old full-face helmet in the hands of Amazing-Man, who has absorption powers. We get Amazing-Man's origin and understand why the former Olympic champion is working with Ultra.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #17: Thomas writes a prologue, but Bridwell is the writer working with a team of artists on this "solo adventures" issue that appears to be a filler. We get a Cannonball Run riff with a disgruntled stunt-platypus in a Rubberduck story. Fastback tangles with a jackrabbit thief whose real skill is being still, and Pig Iron visits Ewerope and fights a monster in "The House of Frankenswine." 

Detective Comics #528: Moench with Colon/Janson continue the misery for Gordon, as his newly appointed assistant (or underminer) Bullock re-opens the Savage Skull case when another cop is killed. Bullock manages to track the Skull to an abandoned building that was formerly used by the GCPD for officer training, but he is unable to reason we him despite their former friendship. Gordon shows up just in time to save Bullock's life, and Batman to save Gordon's. The Skull is defeated, and Bullock wants to have a press conference to say how wrong he was about Gordon and give the commissioner credit--but instead uses it as a platform to attack Gordon again. Moench's Batman is more "street level," a portrayal aided by the gritty Colon/Janson art. It's a harbinger, perhaps, of the "Iron Age" Batman that will emerge from the end of the Bronze Age.

In the Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Cullins/Marcos, GA saves himself from last issues cliffhanger by aiming the spray can at the ground and propelling himself back through the window. It turns out Ozone has accidentally stolen a cannister of a bioweapon, now even badder guys are after him.

Jonah Hex #74: Fleisher and Ayers/DeZuniga present a bounty hunting adventure of Hex's that drops the relatively close continuity of the previous few issues. Jonah is hired by a railroad to bring in a former Confederate turned bandit dubbed Railroad Bill. The situation is complicated by the Pinkertons already being on the case. There's a botched ambush not dissimilar to the opening of The Wild Bunch, to show us the Pinkertons aren't exactly the heroes as they are callous to civilian casualties. Hex catches up to them as they have Railroad Bill and are about to hang him. Hex's presence gives Bill the opportunity to escape, which makes it look as if they are working together--a misperception that gets Hex shot. The bounty hunter and the bandit do make common cause after that with the Pinkertons after them both. 

New Adventures of Superboy #43: Nice cover by Kane. Kupperberg and Schaffenberger continues Superboy's conflict with Dyna-Mind, who is secretly one of Clark's less honorable classmates. Dyna-Mind keeps besting him at every turn, but the Boy of Steel figures out his foe's abilities came from red kryptonite and will wear off soon, which they do, just in time. Ever Duplicitous Johnny Webber plays like he has no memory of what he did, and Superboy buys it was all the red kryptonite altering his personality. Also, Clark goes on a date to see True Grit, suggesting this story takes place in 1969,

In the Dial H backup by Bridwell and Bender/McLaughlin, comic artist Nick Stevens is kidnapped by the Master, who wants somehow harness the power that has been leading to Stevens' characters coming to life in Fairfax. Chris and Vicki attempt to intervene as (respectively) Spheror and Fuzz-Ball and Turnabout and Raggedy Doll.

World's Finest Comics #293: We've got David Anthony Kraft writing this issue, whose work I really only know at Marvel. Art is supplied by Gonzales and DeZuniga. It's not particularly distinguishable from what has come before with an emphasis on the "bro-dom" of Batman and Superman, though this issue does have the added twist of a villain bro team, as well. It's also interesting in Null and Void aren't defeated by Marvel-style punch 'em up, but they are more inclined to escape than fight as they really don't want to hurt anyone--they're just old guys with debts they are resorting to crime to pay off. The heroes capture Void after he transforms back into his civilian identity, but he refuses to give away his friend Null's identity. Null later faces his reckoning with the IRS. 

There also an amusing opener to this issue where the Daily Planet is under siege by a garish villain calling herself the Expropriator who wants to rob from the owner and give to the workers, who is revealed to be sham without powers, and really a Planet employee--a working mom angry about not getting a bonus.