Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, March 1982 (week 1)

I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of December 3, 1981. 

Arak Son of Thunder #7: Thomas apparently wasn't up to writing chores this month as he's "plotter," and Conway and Barr are "scripters." Colon/Rodriquez still do the art. Arak and Valda end up in Rome seeking help from Pope Hadrian. He doesn't know much and suggests they go to Byzantium. They also meet the Wandering Jew and discover a subterranean people, the descendants of the followers of Pope Ursilus (presumably a standin for Antipope Ursinus give the years. Maybe just a typo?) who are followers of the mad, Black Pope. Arak is like someone's pseudohistorical D&D campaign.

DC Comics Presents #43: This is a fun issue by Levitz and Swan. Mongul takes Superman captive as he menaces Earth with the Sun-Eater, and Jimmy Olsen summons the Legion of Super-Heroes to help--the issue reminds us of Jimmy's history with the Legion. It also creates so tension in that the last time the Legion tangled with the Sun-Eater, Ferro Lad had to sacrifice himself to do it. Wildfire does here, but "sacrifice" is much less permanent for a guy made of energy, in fact it's turned into an end of the issue joke. Swan's stiff, more normally proportioned Mongul leaves a lot to be desired.

Ghosts #110: There isn't much worthwhile in this issue. There's a weird intro that promises "The Shattering Secret of Squire Shade" and then doesn't deliver. Unless the secret is that his carriage turns into a sleigh and his horses into reindeer at midnight on (presumably) Christmas? Anyway, Levitz and Gonzales present a vaguely Christmas story where toys commanded by an electronic device take revenge on a mean store owner. Then Kelly and Trinidad expect us to side with TV Network execs (I guess) as they plot and carry out the murders of every critic in the country after one of their fellows commits suicide following bad reviews. In Kelly's second attempt he's aided by a Paris Cullins who hasn't yet developed his distinct style for the story of a family plagued over the generations by the spirit of a cruel ancestor who is given a chance to walk the Earth again by replacing his doppelganger descendants.

Justice League #200: This is an issue fondly thought of by many, and I see why, but it's not my favorite of this Conway run. It does have an all-star cast of artists, though: Perez, Broderick, Kane, Infantino, Bolland, and Kubert. It riffs off the Appellaxian invasion from the origins of the JLA but adds the twist of a portion of the story where the newer League members must fight the original ones. It's got that hero vs. hero action, teams splitting up--all the classic superhero tropes.

Weird War Tales #109: This issue has a great cover to me. Kanigher replaces DeMatteis on the Creature Commandos and his characterization and dialogue is more consistent with the teams' origins, but at least this first part of the story has a bit less of the "war is hell" aspect of Dematteis' yarns, and he uses a lot more bombastic, Marvel style alliteration. Spiegle's art is probably more consistent with better visual storytelling than what we've got previously, but he doesn't really have a flair for monsters. Kashdan and Zamora follow-up the Commandos with the story of robots used as weapons in futuristic war, who wind up manipulating humans into staying in a continuous state of war to prolong their existence.

Kanigher and Hall/Celardo present an unusual War That Time Forgot tale by moving Circe to Dinosaur Island and having her turn hapless G.I.s into dinosaurs. Finally, Kanigher and Randall present a short, and obvious story about WWI soldiers fighting in a graveyard and dying in the same open grave.

Wonder Woman #289: True to form for Thomas, this issue re-introduces the Golden Age villain Dr. Psycho (though maybe we saw him briefly the issue before). This creates a bit of a continuity glitch, as Psycho had a few appearances in the 60s, starting in the nebulous period between the Golden Age and Silver Age continuity. These have been retroactively deemed appearances of this Dr. Psycho, but the original Who's Who lists this as his modern first appearance. Anyway, Psycho siphons ectoplasm from Steve Trevor and becomes Captain Wonder. The misogynist villain who is literally kind of a mental parasite is rife for modern use, and I think Grant Morrison made good use of him in this context in Wonder Woman Earth-One. Anyway, Silver Swan also makes an appearance at the end of this issue, promising an even bigger conflict next month.

The Huntress backup by Levitz and Staton sees her battling the Crime Lord, who's a crime boss really into the SCA--or at least wearing armor and carrying Medieval weapons.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Solar Wars: The Hutt Crime Family

The Hutt crime family was one of the most powerful criminal organizations of the Imperial era. Based on Mars, its reach extended throughout the system, owing to its connections to Nar Shadaa in the Jovian Trojans. It's most famous boss was Jaba, often called "Jaba the Hutt," who took control after a gang war in 3244. During Jaba's reign, the Hutt family was involved in smuggling, piracy, drug and weapons trafficking, and the slave trade, and well as various forms of cybercrime. 

Jaba's base of operations, his so-called Palace, was a former monastery of the Bomar sect, located in the Martian desert. Jaba's palace was in really a fortress, guarded by a compliment of his soldiers and any number of bounty hunters and contract killers vying for employment. Jaba was rumored to keep a unique, genetically engineered creature called "the Rancor" in a pit beneath the palace that he used to dispose of those that had displeased him.

This is a follow-up to this post.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1982 (week 4)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 26, 1981. 

Action Comics #528: Wolfman and Swan bring back Brainiac (previously reformed by Superman's actions). He's arrived to get Superman's help to stop a Death Star-looking doomsday device he built in his villainous days, which is now headed for Earth. No disrespect to Swan, but as a kid reading comics in the 80s, the Buckler cover was more enticing than the Swan interiors.

Adventure Comics #490: With this issue, we say good-bye to Adventure Comics in this format and to Dial-H for Hero as its own series. While I can't say I'm super enamored of the concept, it wasn't really done any favors by the very episodic nature of its stories (even in an era of more "done in one.") While there was a sort of ongoing background plot with a shadowy Big Bad, that was never really given the attention it needed.

Anyway, this final issue has got some interesting designs but also some of the worst looking art in places. A villain called the Abyss transports our heroes to some weird worlds like something out of 70s Marvel but cycling through different super-identities is a winning strategy. At least in the story--not for comic sales.

All-Star Squadron #6: Thomas and Buckler continued travails of the All-Stars within days of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. They rescue Hawkgirl from sacrifice by the Feathered Serpent, but he still manages to gain supernatural power over people with "pure" Native American ancestry and decides to revive an empire. He even starts pushing around his Nazi Allies. Eventually, our heroes defeat him, and he's revealed to be a German in redface. His power is dissipated, and everyone goes back to normal. The JSAers who intended to give up their costumed identities and enlist are confident they are living the homefront in good hands with these new heroes.

Detective Comics #511: Bruce is convinced there's something more to Reeves' colossal political blunder that cost him the election, and he's right. Reeves finds out himself that the architect of his downfall was Rupert Thorne. Meanwhile, Dick decides to go back to college. Then, Batman tangles with another one-off Conway villain: the illusion producing Mirage.

New Adventures of Superboy #26: Inventor Phineas Potter wants to help Clark out, so he doses him without his knowledge with a spray that makes him irresistible to women, which complicates his activities as Superboy. There's also a gang convinced the inventor gave Clark some pills to make him bullet proof. It all works out in the end, of course. In the backup by Rozakis and Delbo, Superboy goes 4 years into the past (1962, specifically) to do research for a school paper on a space flight and sees his younger self thwarting saboteurs in an incident he no longer remembers. But why not?

Unexpected #219: This issue feels like left over Time Warp material or maybe a test run at a new sci-fi anthology. Helfer and Estrada have the cover story maybe inspired by the Outer Limits episode "The Invaders." Tiny aliens are pursued by very early animals including cockroaches and have the misfortune of trying to hide in a roach motel which gets tossed into a pile of garbage and burned. Mayer and Matucino follow it up with a convulted sci-fi yarn about a space traveler who hitches on to a ship that is unfortunately run by long-lived beings. He ages, imprisoned there, and the alien captain plans to use the human as a patsy for his crimes, but ultimately, he somehow gets the girl and immortality. 

Kashdan and von Eeden present the story of a feral human child raised by aliens who gets revenge on the man who killed her parents. Cohn and Giffen provide the only non-sci-fi story in the group about the devil trying to sell prosperity to a town for a price--it's the same deal he gives Nazi Germany.

Unknown Soldier #260: A crew mutinies and takes a Q-boat into a fjord to surrender to the Germans. The Soldier goes in disguised as a ruthless German commander to shock the crew into not turning traitor. Turns out those boys were just tired and want out of the war, so once the real Nazis are dispatched, Unknown Soldier is willing to say they were killed in action and let them go. Such is the war as portrayed by Haney and Ayers/Talaoc.

In the backup, we get Enemy Ace by Kanigher and Severin. A general decides von Hammer is too important to the German war effort to let him lead his squadron anymore, so they send in a ringer, but Hans ain't having it. He stills a plane to go and join his men.

World's Finest Comics #276: Barr pens the first two stories this issue. Dr. Double X breaks out of Gotham and tangles with both Superman and Batman, putting Batman in a death trap where Superman might inadvertently cause his death. Then, Oliver Queen is caught in a prison riot thanks to a loss of power. He has to improvise a bow and arrow to keep the assassin Slingshot from killing an ex-gang boss. 

In the Zatana story by Kupperberg and Speigle, a trick gone wrong leads to her manager being nabbed by demons. Zatanna must cross through the portal into the demonic realm and encounters and evil version of herself. Rozakis' and Infantino's Hawkman pines for his missing wife, feels guilty about flirtation with Mavis, then here's from birds that something is weird with the weather. Weather Wizard is the cause. The Captain Marvel (really Marvel Family) story by Bridwell and Newton has the Marvels trying to find off invaders from another dimension and needing help from some aging vets--who somehow get help from dead comrades in arms. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Across the Solar System

This is a follow-up to this post about a hard(er) science fiction Star Wars confined to the Solar System.

Lando Calrissian reportedly became Baron-Administrator of Bespin, the largest cloud city and mining facility in the atmosphere of Saturn, after winning a high-stakes a card game. Largely Calrissian ignored the mining operation (except to collect his skim of corporate profits), instead focusing on running the entertainment facilities where the workers spent their credits.

The capital of the Solar Empire and largest city in the system was Coruscant, a Bishop Ring at Earth-Luna L4. 

The Kaminoans of Europa were known for their expertise in cloning and genetic engineering. Their techniques were disapproved of in the Republic and eventually outlawed under the Empire.

The Sand People of Mars represented a remnant of the first, genetically-engineered colonial population. They were hostile to later, post-complete terraforming colonists.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, February 1982 (week 3)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around November 19, 1981.

Brave & the Bold #182: Kraar and Infantino team-up Batman and the Riddler to follow the clues and find kidnapped mystery novelist Hugh Creighton. Well, Batman wants to find the novelist; the Riddler wants to take down the crook who's jacking his style. Turns out Creighton is behind it all, and wants revenge on Batman who he feels upstaged him. He would have gotten away with it, too, if the Riddler hadn't saved Batman from the deathtrap.

In the Nemesis backup, the hitman Greyfox manages track down Nemesis through his helicopter and lays a trap.

Legion of Super-Heroes #283: Levitz comes on board as writer with Broderick on art, and things immediately get a little better. The Legion must stop a band of organleggers from making off with organs from Medicus One, but doing that is easier than defeating the life-energy-sucking monster they leave behind. Luckily, Blok isn't organic life.

Green Lantern #149: Jordan returns to Oa and remains adamant he's going to quit the Corps after this business on Ungara, even though Katma Tui and Arisia try to talk him out of it. Meanwhile, Gold Face is beat up by his former flunkie who is revealed as the Qwardian St'nlli. The Qwardian then goes looking for Green Lantern.

On Ungara, the impending ice age proves beyond Jordan's ability to stop until Arisia arrives to lend a hand. Just as they seem to have accomplished the task with a giant mirror, St'nlli attacks.

House of Mystery #301: In the opener by Mishkin and Duursema, a sheriff rescues a woman from the surf who wears antiquated clothes and has the speech patterns to match. Is she a timelost survivor of the lost colony of Roanoke? Anyway, they eventually are going to get married, but strangers show up, reveal the story of her being from the lost colony to be a lie, and take her away. But then maybe that isn't true? My question is: Is this horror? Then there's a short by O'Flynn and Giffen/Smith about a woman deciding she must kill her vampire lover.

Cavalieri and von Eeden find mutant, thousand-legged cats to be the solution to (human) overpopulation, while Mishkin/Cohn and Rubeny suggest a deal with the Devil (who really does live inside the Earth) is the solution to the energy crisis--at least for a while. Finally, a man in need of money for his wife's cancer treatment agrees to help an alien reporter find a deadly lifeform on earth, which winds up being his wife's tumor cells.

Phantom Zone #2: Gerber and Colan/DeZuniga continue to add to the Phantom Zone mythology. The Kryptonian criminals are out, while Superman and Quex-Ul are stuck in the Zone. The criminals throw the JLA satellite out of orbit, steal Green Lantern's power battery, and almost start a nuclear war. Supergirl battles them and is defeated. Batman goes to the Fortress of Solitude, but Zod has already destroyed the Phantom Zone projector. Wonder Woman gets the full story of what happened from Nam-Ek.

Meanwhile, Mon-El tells Superman there are levels to the Zone and maybe a way out. Superman and Quex-El are going to try and find it.

Sgt. Rock #361: Kanigher and Redondo bring the feels (as the kids say) with Rock vowing to get a gravely injured lieutenant to the town of St. Antoine alive. He does it, but barely. The lieutenant lives long enough to tell the Italian war orphan he had been planning to meet that he and his wife are adopting her. He gives her a picture of her new mother and sends her on her way before dying.   

Tim Truman writes and illustrates the story of an old Apache renegade pitting himself against a young Apache working as a scout for the cavalry. Mandrake delivers a futuristic tale of a cyborg whose plans of conquest are foiled by the aging of his still-biologic organs. Randall finishes things off with a story of samurai in feudal Japan.

Superman Family #215: Pasko and Mortimer have Supergirl tangling with Toxus, a polluting villain from the future. She's aided by the Supergirl from 500,000 years in the future, who explains two villains have been released and switched in time. The Supergirls switch time periods themselves to tackle the misplaced villains but have trouble adjusting to the different eras. Mr. and Mrs. Superman finally resolve the Insect Queen storyline by getting the scarab away from Lana and thwarting the ultra-ant (Ultra-Humanite in an ant body). In the Private Life of Clark Kent, the ace reporter discovers that Frank, the doorman at his apartment house, is really Franklin Pierce Jackson, an old star from baseball's Negro Leagues, and he gets him to coach some kids. 

Lois Lane finds a billionaire who has been missing for almost seven years and wants stay missing. She winds up helping thwart a relative who stands to inherit his money and wants the ex-billionaire dead. Finally, Jimmy Olsen investigates a charity with mob ties--and grows some self-respect and breaks up with Lucy Lane once and for all.

Warlord #54: I detailed the main story in this issue here. The Levitz/Yeates Dragonsword story concludes with Thiron appearing to be near defeat by the Emperor Quisel, but then the sword, man, and dragon become one and he transforms into a dragon man. He burns Quisel to ash, rebuffs the offers made to him by the two calculating mages that wouldn't help. Bidding goodbye to Dsyillus whose descendants he claims will inherit the land, he flies off into comic book limbo.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ruined Temple [Broken Compass]

We continued our Broken Compass game last night, "The Quest for the Serpent Throne" with the adventurers facing a number of jungle pulp adventure perils. First, their path was blocked by rapids on a tributary of the Hooghly. Sam Stone managed to make it across but hardly unscathed, (he took a spill and acquired the Bleeding Feeling.) so the rest of the party decided to find a way around. While they were separated, Sam was taken captive by a jungle tribe. There others were too once they were reunited.

After the Professor spoke to the tribe's chief, the chief sent them to a ruined Naga Temple. There they read ancient inscriptions that revealed the very items they sought could be used to fulfill a ritual brining the return of the Naga's from the Underworld.

Then they had a run in with a giant cobra. The managed to hide in the temple and block the door until the snake went away.


Still getting to know the system, so I made a couple of missteps in running this session. The giant cobra was either an Enemy if you fought it or a Danger if you tried to run away. In either case, the difficulty level was such that the character was likely to fail. But a fail in Broken Compass doesn't mean you don't succeed in what you were trying to do, it just means you had to rely on Luck (and use some Luck Points) to do it. The player's were sort of treating Luck like Hit Points and wanting to be too granular with their actions (trying to do one thing to set up something else), when mostly, the scene seemed to be constructed to be an obstacle that made player's use up some Luck to get by. I presented the situation as one they had to succeed at to get through, but really the players were always likely to get through, it was just a question of how much Luck they lost.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Space War

Here's the idea inspired by Andor: It's the 33rd Century and the solar system is a powder keg ready to blow. Twenty years ago, a fascist regime toppled the ailing Solar Republic to establish the Empire. But on the colony worlds and orbital habitats resistance to the new government was never completely crushed. If these groups can get organized, there will be a full-scale rebellion.

Take the grittier turn on the Star Wars universe of Andor and Rogue One, filter it through The Expanse (with a bit more advance technology like terraforming, cloning, and AI) and set it all in the 33rd Century (just like Lucas did his original treatment for The Star Wars) and you've got a less pulp and perhaps more cyberpunk version of my Pulp Star Wars setting.

There would be no nonhumans (well, no alien species, perhaps robots or droids are still common--and clones), no jedi, and fewer worlds. But drawing on the dark shadows of the Star Wars universe, I think would translate pretty well.