Thursday, January 20, 2022

Excerpts from A Company Training Manual

Imagine if you could just think of any object you wanted and have it just appear? Incredibly, the properties of this exospace allows for just that. It's an incredible, near infinite resource for all humankind. You can be proud that you are an integral part of our extraction team. You do the hard work, so everyone can benefit.

But to do that work safely, there are a number of rules you need to follow. Unnecessary accidents don't just hurt the people involved, they hurt the Company and the entire industry! Keep these safety steps in mind. A lot depends on it!

  • Check your gear. Your sigil-guarded environmental suit and your tether are your literal lifeline. Make sure all functions are in the green. Remind your crewmembers to do the same!
  • Use the buddy system. Stay in communication with your assigned buddy on the standard channel the entire time you are in the outside. Make sure to perform reciprocal environmental suit integrity checks at the beginning and end of every shift.
  • Remember your mental focus training. The local exospace is psychomorphic--that means it changes in response to the thoughts and feelings of intelligent minds. Since that's the very property we're trying to extract, we can't have our ground crew getting in the way of our value-creation team. Let them do the wishing, and you just handle the pickup! [remove for next edition of manual. See cost-benefit analysis report of mental focus training. The in-development mental grounding app, designed to be triggered by vital signs fluctuation or physiologic signs of distraction has a planned rollout by Q3. ]
  • Keep your cool. Despite your training, one of your idle thoughts or the daydream of one of your team members can create unwanted alterations in the nearby space. These changes can be distracting, sometimes even frightening. Ignore them and get the job done!
  • Don't feed the animals. You've no doubt heard the rumors of native lifeforms. We're still trying to verify those claims. If anything should anything try to communicate with you, notify your supervisor immediately. In no circumstance should you respond to questions or exchange anything with them, including information.

Follow these rules and any updates provided by your crew chief, and you'll get home safe with a big bonus!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1981 (wk 2 pt 1)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around January 22, 1981.

Action Comics #518: I feel like it's been a while since we had a "good" issue of this title (and I'm trying to judge by the standards of the era), and Conway and Swan fail to deliver one here. A big claw comes out of the sky and steals a dam. Superman is contacted by an alien prince, Karmault, who explains that his people's telekinetic powers have been waning, so they need technical know-how they never needed before. Karmault states he merely wishes to meet with scientist and acquire knowledge, but his brother Farlung stole the bridge and plans to keep taking stuff. When Superman confronts Farlung, it turns out Karmault has played them both, setting Farlung up to steal stuff as a distraction while Karmault siphons the knowledge of Earth scientists. Superman sets them both straight. 

The Aquaman backup continues the DeMatteis/Heck storyline. We learn that Ocean-Master was working with the (maybe?) Greek gods, Amphirite and Poseidon. Meanwhile, Aquaman is trying to puzzle out how Orm got his hands on advanced Atlantean tech when Poseidon shows up. Poseidon proves to be Aquaman's superior in commanding fish, and Aquaman is pummeled to unconsciousness by their onslaught. Poseidon saves him from being killed, though, explaining to Cal that he is Aquaman's father.

Adventure Comics #480: More stories of heroes (and villains) submitted by the readers in Dial "H" for Hero. Chris and Vicki become Mr. Mystical and Molecular Maiden to help out the alien Sphinx in the first story and become Star Flare and Hypno Girl to take on the pirate Thunder Axe in the second. In the third story, it takes two sets of heroes, Solar Flare and Midnight Wisp and Strato-Girl and the Wrangler, to stop the Battering Ram at the circus. All of these are written by Wolfman with art by Infantino. Wolfman's writing is notable for the vicious retorts Vicki gives an annoying classmate. The character submission form is printed in the back of this issue, and it's surprising blatant marketing research.

Brave & the Bold #173: Conway and Aparo team the Dark Knight with a Guardian of the Universe and Green Lantern. The Guardian shows up in Gotham and tells Batman that there is an imposter within the Guardians. He follows Batman through some routine crimefighting before Batman agrees to go with him to find Hal Jordan. Jordan doesn't remember that he's a Green Lantern. It turns out the culprit and imposter is Sinestro. The three take off to Maltus to try to find a way to stop him. This is an unusually cosmic Brave & the Bold. I miss this Bronze Age Batman that would deal with this sort of stuff without being all grumpy about it and acting like it was a waste of his time when he could be stopping street crime in Gotham.

The Nemesis backup by Burkett and Spiegle has the vigilante in England, on the trail of a chess grandmaster, Noel Chesteron, who's on The Council. For some reason, Chesterton is trying to kidnap Sir Robert Greene, a Knight of the Garter. Utlimately, Nemesis fails and finds himself facing an officer of Scotland Yard who thinks he was in with the kidnappers.

Green Lantern #139: Green Lantern has been split into a good and evil parts by Eclipso. The villain leaves evil GL to take care of the good one. The evil lantern has red power, so Green Lantern figures he's vulnerable to purple and uses that to defeat him. Green Lantern manages to fight his way into Eclipso's "murder moon" where the villain plans to use solar power to free himself from Gordon once and for all and achieve greater power. GL has messed with his computer though, and Gordon asserts control again. Meanwhile, someone is forcing Carol Ferris to plant bombs at Ferris Aircraft.

In the Adam Strange backup by Laurie Sutton and Rodriquez, Strange is returned to Rann by the zeta-beam, but separated from Alanna. Searching for her, Strange encounters a queen of the Mer-People. The mer-folk need help dealing with a warlike machine, which Strange surmises is some sort of ancient weapon of war. Tracing it back to it's origin, the two explore an old military installation and encounter a robot who seems to be protecting it. This sort of planetary romance stuff is exactly what Adam Strange should be doing.

House of Mystery #291: Two vampire stories this month. DeMatteis and Sutton continue Andrew Bennett's adventures in I...Vampire. Bennett is trying to take down Emil Veldt, a vampire using heroin-addicted labor to unload his shipments of illicit drugs. It turns out Veldt is also a heroin addict, as he has been feeding his workers. Heedlessly running into the sunlight to get his fix, he's killed. DeMatteis and Ayers present another vampire story about a vampire on a derelict sailing ship getting on to a new vessel to feed. One sailor opposes and ultimately kills him, but is turned into a vampire himself, and the cycle begins anew. 

The authors of the last two stories need to be reminded this is a horror title. Barr and Tanghal/DeMulder present a "humorous" short about an unscrupulous lawyer looking to swindle Cain out of the oil rights to the land under the House of Mystery. Cain transports the guy to the age of dinosaurs so he can get the fossil fuels while they're fresh. The last story by Gill and Zamora tells the tale of an author who throws away his dedication to the noble and decent in life to write tales of depravity and immorality--and gets successful doing it. Then, he commits suicide when he feels like he's gone to far, and his previous wholesome work gets respect after his death. 

Unknown Soldier #250: This is a special issue with the sort of craziness only Bob Haney could bring to it. The Unknown Soldier appears to have turned traitor! He and Hitler are inseparable in their bromance and every step of the way an all-star group of U.S. troops and allies are out to kill the turncoat. We get assassination attempts by Mademoiselle Marie, the Haunted Tank crew, the Losers, and finally Sgt. Rock and Easy Company. I guess Haney ran out of pages so he couldn't include the Viking Commando? Maybe he wanted to keep it "realistic?" Of course, it's all very silly, but Haney makes it work. It turns out, naturally, that the Soldier is only pretending to join the Nazis so he can get his hands on their frightening new bioweapon and destroy it. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Retro Expanse

The Expanse
had its finale on Amazon Prime this week. Its rocket-propelled space battles, intrasolar system conflict, and relative paucity of AI, cyber-, or bio- tech got me thinking about science fiction of the Golden Age and the pulps. I think you could fairly easily transplant much of the conflict and setting of the series to a setting with gleaming-hulled rockets, habitable planets beyond Earth, and 50s haircuts. That last one is optional.

There are different approaches to take, of course. You could go full Captain Future with every celestial body in the system with enough gravity to be spheroid having native human life, or something more like the work of Stanley Weinbaum where the other worlds are not so hospitable to humans and the life there is alien. I think a Weinbaum approach would fit well with the protomolecule and ring gate stuff, but that material is less interesting to me that the human-colonized solar system conflict. My approach would be something along the lines of Asimov's Lucky Starr juveniles or some 50s work of Poul Anderson:  a view of the planets that proved to inaccurate, but was plausible (if optimistic) at the time the stories were written.

So the settled inner worlds would include Earth, Mars, and Venus. Venus would be a water world, perhaps with artificial islands or undersea cities. Mercury would likely research stations or the like, controlled by the UN on Earth. Unlike in The Expanse, Mars and Venus would likely have native life, though probably not intelligent life.

The Belt would be much like in the show, though in keeping with pulp conventions, pirates would be more common. The Outer moons might be a bit more hospitable (perhaps a lot more depending on how pulp you want to get) so the Outers as a whole group might be a bit better off than in The Expanse.

What does this add? Well, it certainly adds a new aesthetic. And of course, since this becomes alternate history, so you've got the potential for it to go in a very different direction from similar core conceits and concepts.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Sixth and Seventh Cities of Heaven

Art by Luca Nemolato

Hidden in the crags of the windswept heights of the Holy Mountain, the tenacious Pilgrim may glimpse, no doubt with some relief, the gleaming, orichalcum gates of the Sixth City. While they will find respite from the wind and cold, the Sixth City is not as hospitable as some of the cities through which they have passed before. The Sixth City, though grand, is a necropolis. It's buildings are mostly the ornate tombs of all the sleeping monarchs of the Material Plane's hopes, those noble figures that will return to the world when the need is greatest. Their bodies, perhaps has much dream as flesh, now reside in these tombs, always with a guardian of some sort, whether it be mighty warrior, dutiful pet, or merely a humble witness.

There is a palace in the center of the city. The souls of the awaited heroes sit in unending council at a great table within the palace's hall. Unworthy visitors who somehow arrived at the palace gates will be denied entry, and if they protest overmuch, may be thrown from the Mountain by frightening and terrible deva. Those who are worthy are given a seat at the table. They will be counselled to return to the world and focus on the performance of noble deeds. What is another lifetime of service to a selfless soul? But what would it mean to the suffering world? For those who remain steadfast in their goal, the monarchs will answer three questions put to them, but for every question they demand a dangerous service on the Prime Material Plane that will take a year and a day. Each service requires climbing the Mountain to the Sixth City again. 

Where the path to the summit runs from the Sixth City no one who has not reached it can say with certainty. It is conjectured to be one of the secrets of the monarchs.

The Seventh City is known only by rumor. If those rumors are to be believed it scarcely merits the name city; it is a monastery. Quiet and shrouded in clouds, the monastery is the home of those ascetics who could have joined the Unity, but tarried to guide the travelers that would come after. They dress in black robes, because they mourn the suffering of the worlds. They bid any pilgrim to sit and mediate with them. In these devotions, the Mountain is said to sound the true depths of the Pilgrim's conviction. After seven days, the Pilgrims who the Mountain has accepted are taken by the monks to the gates where the four archons stand guard, there to begin the final unknown steps of their journey.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wednesday Comics: DC, April 1981 (wk 1 pt 2)

My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around January 8, 1981.

Justice League of America #189: Conway and Buckler bring us that JLA standby: an invasion by Starro. Conway does a good job of having the invasion slow-build with sort of a prologue before the first attack on JLA members. Conway keeps the JLA split in good team-story writing fashion so that some of the members can fall to Starro to heighten the tension. All and all, several things about Conway's approach here (and perhaps Buckler's art) make this feel like it could have easily been an Avengers story.

New Teen Titans #6: Never having read these early issues, my impression of Trigon from other media and later sources was that he is sort of a demonic entity. There's an element of that here in Raven's origin, but mostly Wolfman and Perez portray like an alien dictator, like a Darkseid or Thanos. And boy is he bad! He disintegrates a little girl who called him a monster after Raven saved her once from his energy attack that scarred her. In the end, though, the Titans' defeat of him feels all too easy after all the build-up, even though they are only able to accomplish it with the help of Raven's mother. I think it's a mistake to have a villain go down in 25 pages, after you've built up their power and menace over at least 3 issues. Still, as a single issue, it may be the best of this series since the first to me. 

Secrets of Haunted House #35: The Rozakis/Speigle Mister E story, "The Lair of Lady Frankenstein" follows up where the last story left off. An undertaker is under suspicion because the finger-prints of bodies he was supposed to have buried wound up at a crime scene. He calls Mister E for help, but he has his own suspicions that his assistant and hearse-driver is involved some how. He goes along on a run to watch him, and sure enough at a rigged traffic light, the coffin is stolen out of the back of the hearse. The body snatchers are Cecile, the titular lady (though she isn't called Frankenstein in the story), and her assistant. She's been assembling new men from dead ones and using them to murder people, but the jig is up, because Mister E is in this coffin. They think they defeat him and seal him back in a coffin, but someone he's down the street having called the police on them.

Haney and Carrillo present an odd story about a guy who "combines scientific method with mastery of the occult" and his hapless assistant, Matt. One day, the scientist pops out for sometime and a green imp with tentacle arms goes out of his experiment. Matt's got to chase it down and try to stuff it back in the hole it came from. Matt doesn't let the scientist know about it when he returns though. Later, the scientist goes missing and Matt gets blamed for his murder, so Matt goes on the lame. After 10 years, he discovers his mentor still alive on a deserted island in the Bermuda Triangle. The imp creature is there, too, only now it's bigger than a man. The scientist explains it's a kili, and it's one of a group of demons lurking within the earth that would destroy humankind if freed. He and Matt split up to scour the island and destroy the monsters. Matt shoots one that turns into the devilish Darkwing, Lord of the Kili. He brags about his cult and followers before disappearing. Their job seemingly done, Matt and the scientist head back to the mainland--Matt doesn't see the tattoo matching Darkwing's on the scientist's chest.

The final story is typical "outside misunderstanding things" bit by Drake and Williams where aliens mistake a homeless woman is mistaken for the queen of the Earth.

Superman #358: The Bates/Swan main story has the feel of something that could be modern if approached a little differently. An immensely powerful being, Cron,  shows up and starts setting up devices to transform the Earth into his idea of natural perfection. He is in conflict with a female being of power who has different ideas about planetary biosphere's than him. Superman ultimately defeats him by bluffing him with the destruction of the Earth if Cron doesn't relent. The backup by Rozakis and Denys Cowan doesn't really do anything memorable except have Bruce Wayne be Superman. I think there's something with terrorists, I don't know.

World's Finest Comics #267: Burkett and Tanghal/Smith send Superman and Batman to track down the person responsible for a string of rare coin thefts. These mystical artifacts from Atlantis are being stolen by Dr. Zodiac to give him zodiac sign based powers. This isn't the first appearance or the last for this forgettable villain that didn't even make the Who's Who, but certainly it shows why he isn't considered very important. The Green Arrow story has the Emerald Archer leaning hard enough on organized crime that they kidnap the daughter of a Japanese restaurant owner to force him to do something about it. He's a master of the katana, so it isn't as unreasonable as it might sound. Ultimately, the two team up and turn the tables on the mobsters.

Conway continues the Red Tornado story plotted by DeMatteis, drawn by Giella and Delbo. T.O. Morrow in his android creation's body is making time with Tornado's girl, but she begins to be concerned by the Tornado's shouldn't change to more arrogance and anger. Tornado show's up in Morrow's body, and after a fight, manages to regain his android form. Hawkman hasn't gotten any more interesting, with the Thanagarian hero fighting Lord Insectus. Hawkman gets to use his bird-summoning power to defeat the insect men, but the venom from a spider bite a few issues ago might kill him unless Hawkgirl can get him back to Thanagar--the planet that exiled them.

The Captain Marvel story by Bridwell and Newton retells Captain Marvel Jr.'s origin. It reveals he had a brother, Kit, so Bridwell seems to be gearing up for the revelation that Kid Eternity is Captain Marvel Jr.'s brother.

Weird War Tales #98: No Creature Commandos, and this issue is poorer for it! The first story has a Nazi colonel in the Egyptian desert using a magic talisman to command ancient Egyptian statues. A couple of British spies manage to steal the talisman, and are forced to bring the Sphinx to life to make good their escape. The talisman and the Colonel get squashed under a Sphinx paw. The next story by Kanigher and Duursema/Mahlstedt, has Julius Caesar getting an actor to be his stand-in for a trip to the Senate on the Ides of March. When the actor is assassinated, his wife attacks Caesar and knifes him on cliff overlooking the Tiber. In the last story by Kashdan and Tanghal/Colletta, a Union officer in the Civil War eager to prove his worth by stopping a plague, despite having been expelled from medical. He steals some ceremonial garb (and a ceremony) from a Native American Medicine Man. He is able to cure some soldiers, but the plague spirits he takes into his own body kill him.

Wonder Woman #278: In New Delhi, Wonder Woman has fallen into the hands of the Kobra Cult. She manages to turn the poisonous snakes from the pit they've thrown her in back on Kobra, only to find he's an imposter. She jumps out of the pit to attack the real Kobra, but a giant mechanical snake intercedes. By the time she's done with that, Kobra and his minions have gotten away. She does find a map pointing her to Egypt, though. Tracking the signal from the Cobalt 93 isotope, Steve Trevor comes to the same conclusion and heads of on his on the tackle a terrorist organization with a nuke. I can't believe his superiors okayed that plan, but all right. In Egypt they discover a Kobra temple beneath the pyramid of Cheops. Wonder Woman tangles with Kobra and crew, while Trevor sneaks into the missile to disarm it. Our heroes prevail, but the pyramid gets blown to breaks! 

In the Levitz/Staton Huntress backup. The Huntress has a heart-to-heart with Harry, her D.A. boyfriend who has guessed her secret identity. He doesn't want to continue a relationship with a superheroine. Then, there's a prison riot on Gull Island, the secluded spot they chose for their meeting. Lionmane, who looks like a beefier Sabretooth, has lead the break. The Huntress for some reason has a grudge against Lionmane and plans to take him down.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Different Dark Suns 2

Back in 2014, I did a post on "Different Dark Suns." There I kept the dying earth desert as the essential element but changed other things about Athasian culture. But what if we just ditched the desert?

Green Hell, Dark Sun
Athas is dying, but not because it's drying up, but because it's been choked out by a dreadful fecundity. Torrid jungles have swallowed most of the former civilization. The roads between city states must be cut anew every few weeks. Metal armor and weapons quickly corrode and rust away. The jungle is not just alive, but hungry. With the dimmer sunlight, plants have been forced to become predatory. Athas more as some versions of Pulp Venus, Weinbaum's "Parasite Planet" being particular useful, perhaps.

Frozen Beneath A Dark Sun
The sun isn't just dark, but dim, and Athas is frozen in its final Ice Age. There are deserts, true, but deserts of trackless white. The sorcerer-kings' main drawn would be their ability to create magical warmth in the cities to keep people alive. We'd have to forego that Brom barbaric costuming...Well, maybe not if we believe Joe Jusko:

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Fourth and Fifth Cities of Heaven

The path up the Holy Mountain out of the Green City is less frequently trod and thus harder going. None but the most dedicated servants of the Mountain would come the way of the Pilgrim; other visitors typically arrive by magical gates or portals and receive a less welcoming reception from the devas.

The Fourth City of Heaven is Golden and effulgent. Here resides the spirits of many sages and philosophers who inhabit libraries full of everything that is known, though the finding of information within their vast repositories is a task that staggers most mortal endeavors. The city's rulers are a triumvirate of 3 masked judges, though some say they are but one ruler with three forms called Forethought, Awareness, and Reflection. They question each pilgrim regarding their reasons for making the journey, and point out ways they might serve the cause of Noble Law in the Material World. Some Pilgrims are sent back to the Material Plane with specific tasks, others they will bid stay in the city under the tutelage of the learned souls residing there. A few they will direct to the secret exit and the trail leading upwards.

The Fifth City has walls of iron and spires sharp as swords. It is a city under siege. It sits upon a crag overlooking a wide valley where demonic forces are encamped. These forces frequent assail the city's walls, but are forever driven back by the warrior deva. Pilgrims must pass through the demon's lines to gain entrance to the city. Once within, their bravery will be commended. The general archons will advise them of places in the world where their fortitude might be used in the cause of Noble Law. They also offer them a chance to join the city's defenders, for it is their grim judgement that should the Iron City fall so goes the Mountain, and no Pilgrim will see the summit again. Many warriors have stayed and fought; others have returned to the Material Plane armed in heavenly panoply and done great deeds. These do not reach the summit of the Mountain in this incarnation. 

Both of these cities become the stopping places of good and lawful souls. It is said that only a steadfast and resolute few continue upward. Beyong the fifth city, they must climb.