Sorcerer's Skull

Subscribe to Sorcerer's Skull feed
Updated: 5 days 9 hours ago

The Pulp Team

Mon, 07/15/2024 - 11:00

As with several genres adapted to rpgs, pulp gaming presents a little bit of a problem going from the inspirational fiction to the gaming table in that pulp fiction/movies/comics tend to be about solo heroes or a primary hero and sidekicks but rpgs tend to be about a group of equals. It's perhaps reasonable to play Indy plus Short Round and Sallah or even Doc Savage plus his Fabulous Five for one story arc, but it might not be as desirable for a long campaign.
On the other hand, a group composed of Indiana Jones, Jake Cutter (from Tales of the Gold Monkey), and Sam Spade may be fine for some, but seems to be less satisfying to me for a long-term campaign, because the characters don't see cohesive. 
The solution seems to me to build a group wherein the characters are roughly equal, but each has their own specialty, and they have the same theme/subgenre. Sort of like if the Fabulous Five didn't have a Doc Savage to outshine them. There are really more examples of this in comics rather than the pulps (though that may just be my knowledge of the pulps is less). Check out the Challengers of the Unknown:

Having the same subgenre is important for keeping power levels similar. Having the same sort of theme is important for helping support their reason for staying together as a group. Of course, both of these can be stretched a bit. 
Sometimes teams are brought together or forced to stay together by an outside force. DC Comics' The Secret Six and Suicide Squad (either the Silver Age nonsupers version or the later supers versions) are examples of this, but so is the more eccentrically charactered League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For that matter, the Avengers, particularly in the Ultimate Universe and the CMU start out like this too.

A Cold Reception on Level 4

Thu, 07/11/2024 - 11:00

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last weekend with the party still searching the lower levels of the mind of Gob looking for pieces of a magical suit of armor. Having explored the 3rd level, they had moved on to level 4, but avoided a room that appeared to be the site of a battle shrouded in some magical mist.  Their avoidance had been rewarded by the lucky discovery of an armor piece in a kobold gut-wagon.

Now, though there was nothing to do but brave the battle. They chose to skirt the edges of the room, having several near-misses with combatants--and some not misses, as a stray lightning bolt injured two of them. A group of the avian Fantsies, clearing the fallen, informed them that this was the site of an eternal battle between good and evil. They kept creeping around, and Waylon "recoveed" a Ring of Flight from the body of a slain ogre that almost literally fell into their path.

After skirting the room they encountered a giant with a whip and a captive woman wearing one of the gauntlets. Classic story: the giant claimed the woman was a monster and had to be imprisoned, while the woman protested her innocence and begged for release. The party didn't for a minute completely buy the woman's story, but they also questioned her imprisonment and treatment. And, at the end of the day, they needed that gauntlet chained up with her! They negotiated with the giant to let them get the gauntlet, but when they tried, the imprisoned demon in a woman's form escaped. Still, mission accomplished!

Next, they encountered a statue of one of the evil Phantfasms with the bird-like wings of a Fantsie instead of arms. They remembered the statue whose wings he been removed on an upper level. They went to retrieve them, the statue breathed cold at them and nearly killed poor Waylon.

Wednesday Comics: A Bigger Comic Book Implosion

Wed, 07/10/2024 - 11:00

In 2018, TwoMorrows released Comic Book Implosion by Keith Dallas and John Wells, which was an oral history of the DC's 1978 plan for an "Explosion" that ended in failure: The DC Implosion. I talked about the book here.
This year, Dallas and Wells are back with an expanded edition, this one with color. I haven't read it yet, but Amazon tells me it has "additional coverage of lost 1970s DC projects like Ninja the Invisible and an adaptation of “The Wiz,” Jim Starlin’s unaltered cover art for Batman Family #21."
I'm eager to check it out.

More Gwelf

Mon, 07/08/2024 - 11:00

Larry MacDougall released another book in his Redwall-esque fantasy series, Gwelf last month. This one is called Gwelf: Into the Hinterlands. In this one, Willburton Fox and his party set out into the North, first the Scrublands, then the dangerous territory controlled by the Ravens and menaced by Rats, Trolls, and the Mange.

MacDougall's art is just as wonderful as the first book, and there is good worldbuilding in the union of the text and pictures.

Wednesday Comics: DC, October 1983 (week 1)

Wed, 07/03/2024 - 11:00
My ongoing mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of July 7, 1983. 
There was a freebie this week, DC Sampler #1. It has no real story in it, just two-page ads for DC Comics and all comics that are already on the shelves. Two things jumped out at me. It does give away how Supergirl defeats her mini-clone foes, and the Legion of Super-Heroes ad cleverly evokes the titles and logos of old DC non-supers books to taut the various genres at play in the title.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #6: Granch and his brothers go down in defeat and are killed in their assault on Dark Opal while Amethyst says good-bye (at list for a time) to her Earth foster parents and undergoes a training montage. Princess Topaz is still mopey about his upcoming wedding. Not a whole lot of forward motion story-wise, but Colon's art is still great.

Wonder Woman #308: Nice cover by Andru/Giordano, and representative of the issues contents, for once! Sofia Constantinas is getting used to Paradise Island by eavesdropping and witnesses the ceremony in which Wonder Woman's bracelets of submission and magic lasso are restored by Athena and Aphrodite. She keeps snooping and hears the goddesses and the queen mention that Steve Trevor has been brought back twice from the dead. Elsewhere, Black Canary intervenes with a woman chasing an old man, only find that the old man is a Nazi, Karl Schlagel. The woman mystically transfers her consciousness into Black Canary's body. As Canary, she goes to the League satellite, and is captured by Wonder Woman and the Elongated Man, who learn that she is a Roma mystic and Nazi-hunter. Meanwhile, Black Canary, in Zenna's body, is captured by beast-men goons, and Dr. Schlagel prepares to inject her with something.
The Cavalieri and Bair (credited as Hernandez)/Gaicola Huntress backup seems to be mostly setting up a new status quo but it's awkward. There's a crusading reporter who reveals she's really just out to get Huntress because the heroine has the freedom she was taught she couldn't have as a woman. After allowing Huntress the use of his shower, Minelli asks her out--but we find out in a separate scene that he's an undercover agent for Commissioner O'Hara. The story ends with Huntress thwarting what she believes to be a drug deal, which turns out to possibly be a baby exchange.

Blackhawk #263: Blackhawk has been assigned to find and stop Domino while for her part, Domino has been ordered to assassinated Blackhawk. The two wind up in Marrakesh where they are captured by a group looking to ransom them both. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are tracking the war wheel and discover the secret of its appearances and disappearances (its being carted around by zeppelins) and bring all that to a stop. Blackhawk and Domino work together to escape, but then Hendricks shoots and kills Domino after she appears about to turn on Blackhawk. But was she? Blackhawk is haunted by the possibility she might have been ready to reform. I'm surprised they killed off Domino. Maybe Evanier just felt they had done everything with her they could? Spiegle's art really sells that seen though, and in general this issue with the war wheel and its large scale carnage this is a standout in an already great run from him.

Justice League #219: Only a few months after his exit, Conway is back, albeit teaming up with Thomas. I wonder if this turn is due to cancellation of the JLA/Avengers project, which Conway was writing? In any case, this JSA/JLA team-up story seems more of a Thomas idea as it is in service of a retcon regarding the history of Black Canary--though that goal isn't entirely clear from this issue. Johnny Thunder's T-bolt attacks the two Flashes then assaults the annual JLA/ JSA reunion, incapacitating only those heroes born on Earth-One, leaving Black Canary, Red Tornado, and the Justice Society members uninjured. Before they can figure out what's going on, the heroes they have to go off to stop the Crime Champions, who are attacking various locales on Earth-One. Starman and Black Canary, meanwhile, trail the Thunderbolt to his home dimension, where they discover villain behind it all is the criminal Earth-One counterpart of Johnny Thunder--and he's got transparent coffin type thing containing the bodies of Larry Lance and Black Canary!

Arak: Son of Thunder #26: Ron Randall comes on board as artist. Arak and Satyricus arrive in Byzantium to report the death of Kallinikos to Emperess Irene and request the use of a ship to get back to the New World. Those plans have to wait as they're attacked by a lioness that Arak must defeat Tarzan-style, which leads to him getting an offer to be a charioteer for the Green team (not to be confused with the Green Team).
The chariot race is about as Ben Hur amped up for comics as you might imagine, but Arak is victorious after killing some rivals. Before he can ask his boon of Empress Irene, he seems the lioness about to be burned alive in a cage in front of the cheering crowed--then she turns into a beautiful woman!

DC Comics Presents #62: Rozakis/Mishkin and Novick/Hunt serve up a goofily patriotic team-up with the Freedom Fighters, which seems like it would have been more at home in the bicentennial ramp-up of 1976, but I guess is honoring the 4th. There's even a framing sequence where a kid visiting a museum who doesn't care about the U.S.'s history reads this very comic and sees the error of his ways. In the story proper, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters come to Earth-One to stop Neo-Nazis from stealing and destroying the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which in fact, are some sort of totemic, mystical protectors of America. Superman is busy dealing with the national crises the theft caused and can't help. We do get a couple of references to the Freedom Fighters' 70s series, at least.

Fury of Firestorm #17: Conway and Broderick/Tuska/Rodriguez open on the funeral for Ed Raymond, who we find out isn't dead. There are suggestions of maybe some sort of witness protection type situation, but we aren't given a lot to go on. Anyway, Ronnie and everyone else believes he's dead. While this is going on Hewitt's experiment turns Lorraine Reilly into the nuclear-powered, Firehawk, who has been conditioned to obey Hewitt's commands. He sends her to attack Firestorm. Ronnie, distracted by grief and the feeling he is responsible for his father's death, initially just tries to escape the attack, but once Firehawk burns some civilians, he fights back and quickly defeats her. When she reverts to Lorraine, that gives Ronnie something else to feel guilty about. 
Dissatisfied with Firehawk's performance, Hewitt decides to create another superhuman. This time, he'll be the test subject.

Way Up North

Tue, 07/02/2024 - 11:00

Art by Vsevolod Ivanov
While I was vacationing in Alaska a couple of weeks ago, I got though idea for a campaign inspired by the Klondike and other Alaskan gold rushes. To give something for fantasy rpg PCs to do besides turn prospector (though they could do that) I figure the forbidding northern wilderness would have once been part of a prehistoric empire whose great works and lost wonders have been buried.

To complicate matters and make for some interesting factions, there would be a current empire filling the "haughty Elvish jerk" niche that claim suzerainty over the region but spend most of their time fighting a rebellious faction of their own people. There would also be a more technologically primitive native people (maybe Neolithic dwarves or something) who naturally resent the invaders from afar.

Magic Like This

Fri, 06/28/2024 - 11:00

 I'd like to see a traditional fantasy rpg with magic like this:

Podmore picked up his fork and stood it on its end. Snaith stood, stepped over to the shelf behind Arthur’s head, and picked up a sharp knife. Moving by instinct, Arthur reached out and knocked over Snaith’s wine-glass. Snaith slipped on spilled borscht. He lay on his back looking confused, as if he had no idea what had just happened or why he’d stood up in the first place...

...Arthur said, “George—I’m sorry.” 

He snapped the stem of his wineglass, causing the leg of George’s chair to snap so that he fell on the floor and hit his head on the chair behind him. The dowager dame who’d been sitting in that chair gave a little shriek, then got to her feet and left, taking her party with her. A couple of waiters quickly came and led George off, bleeding from the head, in search of first aid. 

- Felix Gilman, The Revolutions

And this:

Her bedroom was still dark when Sadie woke up and there was a lump in her throat. She turned her head and coughed, and spat a stone into her hand. It was the size of her thumbnail, chalky white and light as a feather. Its dimpled surface was covered all around with tiny holes, and when she held it up to her ear she could hear wind in the treetops of a faraway forest.

She mixed a resin and coated the stone several times, until it was as hard and shiny as a nut, then took it outside where the morning sky had begun to turn pink along the horizon. She set the stone in the middle of the long trail that ran south from her house, through ruined cornfields and over the Arkansas River.

She left the stone there and went inside, laid back down in her bed and went to sleep.

- Alex Grecian, Red Rabbit

The last quote is the beginning of a sequence of events wherein the "stone" is picked up by a squirrel which is in turn carried away by a hawk, dropped and eaten by a fox, which is in turn killed and eaten by the man the stone is a message for. He chips a tooth on it before realizing what it is, putting it up to his ear, and hearing the witch's message.

In both of these works, magic isn't visually fantastic or flashy. Not at all like super-powers. But it is nonetheless powerful and mostly quick without a lot of ceremony. I suspect there are modern/occult rpgs with magic like this, but I'm unaware of any traditional, Medievalish fantasy with it, but I'd like to see it.

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1983 (week 4)

Wed, 06/26/2024 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics on the newsstand on June 23, 1983.

Sword of the Atom #1: After Ray Palmer discovers his wife Jean cheating on him with her new legal partner, he takes a trip to the Amazon jungle to give them some time apart in search of a White Dwarf Star Fragment. Unfortunately, the pilots of the plane he charters are also cocaine smugglers so when his explorations get too close to their facilities, they attack him. He fights them off as the Atom, but the plan crashes and he's stuck in his 6-inch size. Luckily, He meets a tribe of similarly sized, yellow-skinned people, citizens of the hidden city of Morlaidh. Unluckily, he takes the side of the condemned Taren, and is also condemned to death by rats. Meanwhile, in Ivy Town, Jean hears that Ray's wedding band has been discovered in the plane wreckage in Brazil and assumes her husband is dead. Strnad and Kane remake the Atom as a Lost World/Planetary Romance sort of hero, which is a combo Kane was born to draw.

Ronin #2: The samurai reborn in a cybernetic body in the 21st century spends most of the issue looking for a sword, encountering Miller's phantasmagorical underbelly of future Manhattan. He final gets one, and violence ensues. Well, there was violence before that, but now the samurai is getting his licks in. Meanwhile, an AI catches a corporate security leader up on everything that went down last issue, she sends her men to start looking for the samurai. The demon is lurking in the background, also. It's inhabiting the body of the corporation's CEO. Again, while the similarities to Miller's later work like Dark Knight Returns is clear, I'm struck by how much this seems like something that could have been serialized in Heavy Metal.

Action Comics #547: Rozakis, Kupperberg and Swan/Colletta/Marcos complete the Planeteer story arc. Superman keeps flying around the world, rescuing the kidnapped world leaders and unknowingly doing exactly what the Planeteer wants to power him up to Superman(ish) power levels. It isn't enough though, and after a goofy but not unappealing combat where they keep punching each other around the globe into landmarks (the Redwood of California, the Great Wall of China, the Sphinx), Superman defeats him at the North Pole. 

All-Star Squadron #25: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan add some new complications to the Ultra-Humanite arc. The JSA splits up as they are wont to do and encounter duos of new powered beings (the Infinitors from the future, it turns out, but you'd only know that from the cover) who seem convinced by Ultra that the JSA are working with the fascists. These combats end with a number of the JSA disappearing mysteriously. Meanwhile, Amazing Man has decided with work with the All-Stars to save Detroit as his parents are there. Infinitor Brainwave, Jr. wakes up and realizes he may be too late to stop his friends who are inadvertently going to cause a catastrophe.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #11: Moench and Duursema/Mandrake work in some stuff borrowed Blavatsky. An reveals an underground passageway beneath the palace, leading to the ruins of an ancient city of the Rmoahals. Arion and friends discover a being encased in a block of ice, and they bring tit to the surface for study. Ar
Arion is training with Calculha's crystals to try to reclaim his magic, but the psychic energy awakens the creature trapped in ice. It's a mutant created by the Rmoahals to remove their need for traditional food, as it feeds on psychic energy. After rampaging for a bit, the creature targets Mara who has the most powerful energy. She changes form into a chimera with doesn't have the level of mental energy the creatures needs and fights it tooth and claw. Arion then arrives and kills the creature who actually wishes to end its existence with a sword.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #19: The cover proclaims Thomas and Hoberg as the creators, but the actual credits list Shaw as the plotter and Cavalieri as the scripter. The Zoo Crew goes on a cruise and once again encounter Frogzilla who is in cahoots with a shady landcrab real estate speculator. Cavalieri's scripting as opposed to Thomas's or Shaw's is decidedly less pun heavy, which seems to me a bit of an improvement. 

Detective Comics #529: Moench and Colon/Giordano continue the story of Nocturna from this month's Batman. The Thief of Night is in custody after his last encounter with Batman. Justice is swift in Gotham because he's about to get his day in court, except Batman convinces the DA to hold it at night so he can show up to testify. Before that, however, Jason Todd who's running away to return to the circus happens to encounter Nocturna. She actually advises him to stick with his foster parent. She makes a good point, but Jason ultimately decides to go through with his plan.
Nocturna attends the hearing in disguise, then attacks the transport van taking Thief of Night to prison using her hot air balloon and some weaponized jewelry. Batman foils the escape attempt and captures both criminals.
All the time this has been going on, Bruce has been absent from his relationship with Vicki Vale. Fed up, she asks for an assignment out of the country and plans to leave town.
In the Green Arrow backup by Cavalieri and Gonzales/Magyar, the Russian embassy in Star City is attacked by 1983 topical right-wing paramilitary nuts led by the Survivalist. Ollie happens to be there for his paper, so Green Arrow is able to stop the attack, but he can't do anything about the suspicious the Soviets have that the U.S. government was behind events. GA shows one of their captured weapons to a General at the local army installation, who confirms it's of an advanced type, not a standard issue. They're interrupted by an attack by the Survivalist and his followers, who are using a device to start raising nuclear missiles from their silos. Their plan is to precipitate a nuclear war as they feel they will be prepared to take over in the aftermath.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #2: Giffen is still involved as co-plotter here with Levitz, but he hands off art chores to Gibbons, which isn't as good as I might have thought. Gibbons just doesn't seem to have a real handle on some of the character designs. Anyway, the Projectra and Karate Kid are married in a ceremony unmarred by super-villain attack. The only wrinkle being that several of the Legionnaries got accidentally marooned in the past where they encounter Durlans masquerading as the Greek gods and have to rescued. It's an odd interlude, but not a bad issue.

Jonah Hex #76: Another nice cover, this one by Jim Aparo. Emmylou is back she issue, so I guess Fleischer hasn't forgotten her. She's still traveling with Jonah (and still dressed in Native American garb) though she's once him to settle down, and Jonah frets he's misleading her, because he isn't in love with her. Turnbull has hatched another plan for revenge on Hex. Does it have something to do with the governor requesting Hex undertake a secret mission going undercover in the territory prison? Hex's cover has him branded a criminal (and Mei Ling sees the charges in a newspaper), and things are pretty grim in the prison thanks to a sadistic and corrupt guard.

New Adventures of Superboy #45: A change in the art time this issue as Saviuk is on pencils and Schaffenberger inks. Despite everything going on in Smallville with Clark now dating Lisa, his father being asked to run for political office, and some sort of shennanigans at the local paper, Superboy finds time to head to Japan to help the authorities against Sunburst, a tokusatsu movie hero who apparently has real super-powers and seems to be behaving like a villain. We're left with a cliffhanger.
In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Jensen, Chris and Vicki tell Nick Stevens about how they got the dials and he wants to see the mysterious box in Chris' attic himself.  They figure out a way to witness a past battle between the Master and a super-hero called the Wizard which leads to the creation of the dials and allows Nick to get over his mental block in drawing a sketch of the Master's appearance.

World's Finest Comics #295: This one is from a plot by Kellogg and script by Kraft with art by Moore/McLaughlin. With a setup that would seem strange with the "creature of the night" Batman post-Crisis, Batman is called to Cape Canaveral to investigate the possibility of sabotage of a new space weapon satellite. Batman has only begun to consider suspects, when there's an attack by the Moon Dancers, a very 70s Marvel Two-in-One team of themed adversaries. They manage to escape by incapacitating Batman with a gas bomb which turns out to contain a deadly alien virus. Superman strives to save his friend, and after traveling all over space finds the cure in the burning heart of a comet. (Yes, I know comets don't have burning heats. Tell Kellogg and Kraft!) 
Batman is cured, but this turns out to (amazingly) by exactly what the mysterious mastermind behind the Moon Dancers intended, because it involves Superman making a device with the cometary energy source. He sends the Moon Dancers to steal it, and Batman is too weak to fight them off. Superman shows up, and the heroes track the thieves down, discovering that NASA scientist Nakamura is the mastermind. A survivor of the atomic bombing of Japan he wanted to end the nuclear threat forever. The Moon Dancers wanted the same end, but were in the dark in regard to his means. The heroes defeat Nakamura and the Moon Dancers repent--in fact, the heroes just let them get away, despite their crimes. 

Superman III (Superman Movie Special #1): Weirdly, although the title on the cover is Superman III: The Official Adaptation of the Movie, the indicia for the book says the title is "Superman Movie Special, Vol. 1, No. 1." I wasn't able to get ahold of a copy to read, but I remember the movie and there's a review of adaptation here with some sample pages.

Amid the Kobold Parts

Mon, 06/24/2024 - 11:00

Our 5e Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party searching the room they fought the spider god in, then wedging shut the exits so they could take a much needed rest.

Once that was done, they explored beyond a secret door they had found. They gave goodberries to a troop of white apes to avoid conflict and then a suit of extra leather armor to a small party of rebel goblins. They took a seemingly magical crystal from the hands of an ensorcelled dwarf who appeared to have had his memories stolen by it, but unfortunately that led to his death despite the party's best intentions.

Having explored this level of the mind of Gob, they took the stairs down the the next level. In in the stairwell, they could hear the clamor of battle. They explored in a direction other than toward those sounds at first and came upon a pair of villainous Phanfasms gnawing on the choice bits of a wheelbarrow full of dismembered kobold corpses.

These guys the party fought and their numbers quickly won the day. Within the corpse wagon, they found a glittering gauntlet, one of the pieces of armor they sought!

John Benteen's Fargo

Fri, 06/21/2024 - 12:23

On my recent vacation, I decided to check out the men's adventure paperback series Fargo by John Benteen after discovering the whole series was cheap on Kindle. I became aware of the series thanks to the upcoming graphic novel adaptation, Fargo: Hell on Wheels, by Howard Chaykin.

Amazon bills the series as a Westerns, and I suppose some of them are, in the same way The Professionals (1966) or Fist Full of Dynamite (aka Duck You Sucker) (1972) or other adventure films in Western locales are considered Westerns. They take place in the early 20th Century (1912-1915 in the ones I've read so far) and involve imagery and action out of Westerns (tough men in wild country on horseback with guns), but they involve a range of locales more again to traditional adventure pulp. They range to the jungles of the Philippines and Panama, as well as the more traditional Mexican desert or Yukon.

I've read blogpost reviews that refer to Fargo as sort of a "Western Conan." I can see what they mean in that Fargo is tough as hell, irresistible to women (apparently due to sheer manliness, as he is described as unhandsome and hardly has a scintillating personality), and good at most everything in his warrior and outdoorsman purview. However, Benteen's attention to detail regarding gear and preparation for obstacles his hero faces, and his penchant for pitting Fargo against enemies that appear to be a match for him, serve to make the series feel more grounded and realistic. Only slightly pulpy instead of completely so.

Benteen's prose is lean in the mid-Century way, not pulp purple. His action and dialog are punchy and mostly effective but without any lyricism or descriptive vistas despite their natural locales. Unfortunately, but expected given their genre and when they were written, they carry a streak of misogyny, some of the volumes moreso that others. There is likely some cultural and racial insensitivity lurking in their too, but in the volumes, I have read the narrative is not unsympathetic to both Native Americans and Latinos, and Fargo himself doesn't exhibit any prejudice that I recall--though some of the villainous characters use racial slurs. 

They're all quick reads (under 200 pages) and fast-paced. So far I've read:

  • Fargo (vol 1): Set in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution, Fargo is hired to rescue an engineer (and his mine's haul of silver) from deep inside that war torn and escape bandits with revolutionary pretensions.
  • Panama Gold (vol 2): A prequel set in 1912. Fargo is asked by Teddy Roosevelt himself to investigate and thwart an attempt to foreign powers to use a mercenary army to sabotage the nearly completed Panama Canal.
  • Alaska Steel (vol 3) In 1914, Fargo is hired by a movie starlet to find her wayward husband so he can claim his oil money inheritance. The problem is, he's disappeared in the Yukon where he was seeking his fortune as a prospector.
  • Apache Raiders (vol 4) Just started this one, but Fargo is back in Mexico in 1915, smuggling guns for Pancho Villa. Presumably there are Apaches.

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1983 (week 3)

Wed, 06/19/2024 - 11:00
My mission: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around June 16, 1983.

Warlord #72: This was the first issue of Warlord I ever bought, at the age of 10. I reviewed the main story here. In the Barren Earth backup by Cohn/Randall, Jinal and her allies make an assault on the Mulge ritual site to get their friends back. The mushrooms have already gone through the chest of one of the men, so they kill him out of mercy, but Skinner they are able to save after painfully removing the fungi.

Omega Men #6: Courtesy of Silfer and Giffen/DeCarlo, Tigorr and his forces continue their assault on the Citadel, and it all goes pretty well despite the concerns of Primus, which has the effect of making his conservative leadership look bad. Silfer tries to ameliorate this by hinting multiple times that something bad will come of all this. The reveal of the first Citadelian as kind of a serpent in the Eden of the Vega system, a source of aggression that will continue after the defeat of his forces, is deployed in the service of this idea, but all in all it looks like a victory for Tigorr and the forces of freedom, despite some dialogue to the contrary.

Arak Son of Thunder #25: This issue feels like it culminates in a bit of a new direction for the series, though whether that goes at a natural turning point in the storyline or as an attempt to attract new interest is hard to say. Not long after leaving White Cathay, Arak and crew are attacked by Tartars led by Xadox, son of Xadox who is understandably upset Arak killed his dad in Hell. A spell from Malagigi drives off the tartar horde, and Xadox is captured. The group takes refuge in a cave for the night and Arak and Valda get some private time in a hot spring.
Xadox escapes and releases a dragonish salamander from a cocoon, which immediately attacks. Malagigi is able to turn the creature back on Xadox, and Arak kills it with a stalactite.
The next morning the company splits up, with Arak and Satyricus setting out the journey back to North America and find the surviving members of his tribe, and Malagigi and Valda heading back to Frankland.

Batman and the Outsiders #2: Barr and Aparo pick up where last issue left off with Batman, Black Lightning, and Metamorpho prisoners. Baron Bedlam gets to tell his side of things, and it reveals him to come from a family of Nazi collaborators and to be an abuser of women, just in case there was any doubt he's bad.  
When left alone, the heroes combine their powers and break free. They meet up with Katana, Halo and Geo-Force and together they thwart Baron Bedlam's army, and Metamorpho rescues Dr. Jace. Geo-Force goes one on one with Bedlam and tosses him to the peasants of Markovia for suitable punishment. Batman approves.
With the battle over, Batman suggests the group to return to Gotham City with him to find new purpose and work together as a team, and the Outsiders are born. All and all, a serviceable origin story.

Camelot 3000 #8: Barr and Bolland/Austin finally have Arthur betrayed as they have been teasing. Merlin is the removed, thanks to a magic item, but who did the it? Arthur devotes his attentions toward finding the traitor. Of course, the story leads you to believe it was Tristan as he even agreed to help Morgan in exchange for being returned to his male body, but through psychological trickery Arthur discovers the traitor is Kay. Kay misguidedly was trying to lift Arthur from his funk and rouse his to action but misunderstood the gravity of his actions. Arthur sentences Kay to death, but before he can carry out the sentence, aliens attack. Naturally, Kay dies in battle, but Tom Prentice is also wounded. Arthur elevates him to knighthood.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #11: Kupperberg and Infantino/Oksner pick up where last issue left off with Supergirl presumed dead by the Prof. Drake, the scientist working for the nefarious Council. Of course she isn't, and she breaks out of the cloning chamber just in time. Despite her weakened state, she manages to battle her way out of the laboratory and head for the Fortress of Solitude. Drake, at the Chairman's command, sends the six mini-Supergirl clones after her. In her current state, the clones defeat her, and begin dragging her toward a disintegration pit!

Green Lantern #168: Cavalieri and Tuska/McLaughlin continue the saga of the improved power rings. Jordan heads to D'xe to confront Kaylark who has taken over her homeworld and declared herself Empress Surrenda. The Free Lancers who started this whole mess show up to make Kaylark fulfill her bargain by giving them the improved power ring to copy, but she reneges as is the privilege of Empresses. She throws them in a dungeon. They get out later to fight Jordan but get defeated. These guys are weird; they're distinct enough and important enough to the story it feels like Cavalieri is trying to make them a thing.
Anyway. Jordan makes Kaylark see her past and feel the fear of being unloved and unrecognized, which similarly to the others, was powering the ring. With her defeated, he retrieves the ring and destroys her fortress. He heads back to the Guardians with the recovered rings and Dorine fretting over the fact Hal thinks of everyone but her.
In the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup by Harris and Moore/Trappani we begin the story of Lysandra. She is bequeathed the ring by a dying lantern but her people on the planet Zinthia have a religious taboo against even looking at the stars, much less traveling in them. The Guardians are surprisingly cool, though, and let her be the lantern of her single world, but then she discovers her world's star is going to go nova. If her people won't leave, she'll have to move the planet!

House of Mystery #320: The Kaluta cover on this issue has nothing to do with this issue's contents. In the first story by Kashdan/Catan, a murderous, would-be thief finds himself condemned to work as a slave on a Chinese junk where even death provides no escape. Barr and Harris present a tale of a Nazi agent in London working as a DJ, who gets her comeuppance when the ghost of the woman she murdered calls down a German airstrike on her.
The last story by Jones and Morrow is interesting in that it is unpredictable. An underground, post-nuclear war society is still plagued by racism. However, the sole black member of an expedition to the surface gets to shed his second-class citizen status when rain reveals the white members of the group are actually unaccountably ease to corrode robots and he is the only actual human among them.

Sgt. Rock #380: In main story by Kanigher and Redondo, Easy gets 3 new troops. Two are seasoned fighters, the third is the untried, nervous sort. Easy tries to make the kid feel at home, but ultimately when his two friends are injured, he steps up to save the day. The issue is filled out with a short about a WWII aviator that goes from the frying pan to the fire has he encounters a dinosaur after a crash, a sci-fi piece about robot gladiators in an alien arena, and features on WWII era pin-up girls and atomic war.

Legion of Super-Heroes #303: The Emerald Empress has taken command of Weber's World and sets the artificial planet on a collision course with the United Planets' fleet. The Legionnaires she captured manage to break free, though, and Brainiac 5 comes up with a plan for Supergirl to knock the planet off course. In defeating Emerald Empress, Shrinking Violet demonstrates she has knowledge of a Durlan special move. Could be important later. Brainiac 5 tells Supergirl why his thinking has been so muddy lately: she's too distracting for him. Also: Jecky and Karate Kid get ready for their wedding. 

Night Force #14: This is the final issue, and it feels a bit rushed. Katina plans to take on the Beast in the present, while the Baron and Gowron go for a little father-son bonding to confront his minions in the past. I don't feel like we're given a clear indication of who the nefarious players are here and how they got the power they have. I suspect it's because Wolfman was perhaps forced to shorten it. Anyway, despite it beating them before and them talking about its power, they manage to beat it with a point stick in the 1930s. The good guys are victorious, and the house is free of malign spirits. A new status quo is established with Katina and Gowron moving into Baron's house, as well as an accidentally time displaced young woman from the '30s. So long Night Force. It feels like your potential was unrealized. 

Weird Revisited: Untrue North

Mon, 06/17/2024 - 11:00
My recent trip to Alaska brought to mind this old post from 2011...
An arctic of only (melting) ice is sort of boring, don’t you think? At least in comparison to the flights of Age of Exploration fancy. Why settle for mere ice when you could have a magnetic Black Rock, a swirling whirlpool, and islands of pygmies? Check out this 1595 map:

Gerard Mercator based his maps and his descriptions (in a letter to John Dee in 1577) off older works. He describes a landmass divided into four lands by channels through which water rushed into the whirlpool surrounding the Pole, and "descends into the earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel.” This unusual geography supposedly led to the deaths of 4,000 men from the expedition King Arthur sent to the island, according to Mercator's report. The ultimate source of this version of pole is believed to be the account in the Inventio Fortunata, a 14th Century work which is unfortunately lost.

At the pole itself, in the center of the maelstrom, was a giant, black mountain, Rupes Nigra--the Black Rock or Black Precipice. Mercator writes: “Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic stone. And is as high as the clouds...” Its magnetism was said draw ships made with iron nails to their doom.

A really interesting adventuring site, I think.

Seven Blades in Black

Thu, 06/13/2024 - 11:00

Seven Blades in Black
is the first volume of The Grave of Empires series by Sam Sykes. A scarred, gunslinging bounty hunter with a magical sentient gun seeks the vengeance on the seven mages that betrayed her in the war-torn landscape of a country caught between two powers. 

The plot and some aspects of the setting certainly have a classic Western feel to them (and perhaps a bit of Kill Bill), and the guns and devices (including tanks) employed by the Republic have a Steampunk feel to them. For me, what it has the feeling of more than any Steampunk novel, however, is anime. This is mostly in certain aesthetic details. The gun employed by the heroine, Sal the Cacophony, shoots shells of various magical effects like the caster Gene has in Outlaw Star. The mages are classed by the type of magic they employ, and these tend to work like super-powers or special abilities rather than spells. Then there are little aesthetic things: Sal has a signature long scarf. The wind mage has tall spikey hair when "powered up."

Another thing that might be borrowed from anime is the very cinematic approach to action, which there is a lot of, and I think, very well done. This is the heavy worldbuilding sort of fantasy with a glossary in the back, but the setting is well realized, and a lot of interesting details are dropped. Despite my pointing out references or inspirations above, the setting has a number of unique elements. For instance, mages can hear "the Lady's song" when other mages employ magic--the mysterious voice of the goddess magic is derived from. When a mage dies and the Lady takes them, only ashes are left, which are harvested to make magic items like powerful healing spells.

There is a touch of the, well, Whedonesque to the proceedings. Sal's snarky, first-person narration might grate on some readers, and the telling the story to an interrogator frame could feel a bit precious. Both were deficits to me, but more than made up for by the book's strengths. I intend to continue with the series and perhaps seek out other books by Sykes.

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1983 (week 2)

Wed, 06/12/2024 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! Today, I've looking at the comics released the week of June 9, 1983. 

Superman Annual #9: The stories here seem like they may have been sitting around a few years waiting for the place to publish them. The first has a Silver Age-y (really perhaps more of a cinematic story of the era) by Elliott S. Maggin where Lex Luthor supposedly exposes Superman to Red Kryptonite, causing the hero to be changed into a duplicate of Luthor, so he gets arrested in Luthor's place. Batman guest stars, though, and the heroes are one step ahead of Luthor. The portrayal of Luthor here seems very Superman: The Movie informed. To the extent this story works, I think it all comes down to the great art by Toth. The Kane cover is great, but it's a shame Toth didn't do that as well to match.
The second story sees Earth-Prime Curt Swan visiting Earth-One and meeting the Superman he draws. It's pretty much for what you would expect for these sorts of stories.

Batman #363:  Moench and Newton/Alcala pick up where last issue left off, with the newspapers proclaiming Batman's continued failure to catch the Thief of Night. We're introduced to Nocturna, a beautiful woman as dramatic as she is pale, whose lifestyle the smitten Thief is supporting with his thefts. As Natasha Knight, Nocturna is invited to a Wayne corporate event where she meets and does a little flirting with Bruce, until the Thief of Night shows up and robs everybody there. Still, Bruce notices the connection between the two, and later, as Batman, confronts her. Nocturna reveals her origins as the adopted daughter of a criminal who taught her to value the high life. The Thief shows up and knocks Batman out, but Nocturna doesn't let him kill the Dark Knight. When Batman wakes up, Jason is there, having followed the Thief from Wayne Manor. Bruce scolds him and sends him home, so Jason calls up his friend Waldo the Clown.
Batman tracks Nocturna and the Thief of Night to the Gotham Observatory, where Nocturna is collecting her things preparing to leave her job. Batman confronts the Thief and flips on a light to keep his shadow-blending from giving the Thief an advantage. Batman captures his enemy, but Nocturna manages to escape during the fight in a hot-air balloon. I don't know that they ever had staying power, but Nocturna and Thief of Night seem a decent addition to Batman's Rogue's Gallery.

Flash #325: In the aftermath of the Reverse Flash's death, Barry Allen is still absent as the Flash goes into full heroic mode to distract himself from thinking about what he's done. Members of the Flash's Rogue's Gallery steal Professor Zoom's body from the morgue to hold their own memorial where they eulogize him then condemn his failure. Fiona is admitted to the hospital due to acute stress and spends most of the issue unconscious. As the media coverage continues, the Flash is summoned to the police station where he is placed under arrest. This was a pretty good story from Bates/Infantino/Jensen. I particularly liked the sequence with the Rogues.
Bates and Saviuk/McLaughlin also provide a Kid Flash backup. In Blue Valley, Kid Flash learns that his new girlfriend Jill Manners has psychic powers (what is it with Kid Flash and girls with psychic powers? He's really got a type) that warn of impending danger, which goes in handy with the day they have.

G.I. Combat #256: The first Haunted Tank story is a bit of a rarity for Kanigher as it contains fantastic elements beyond a ghostly Civil War general giving commentary. Attila the Hun is apparently the guiding spirit of a panzer, so he rushes the Haunted Tank and slashes it with his ghostly sword, somehow throwing them back in time rescue a warrior girl, Zeena, from a Hun onslaught. Finding their advanced tech doesn't work, they make common cause with Zeena and try to journey to safety. The story is continued next issue. The other Haunted Tank story involves prejudice toward Algerian immigrants in a French town and an Algerian boy they bravely rides along with the tank crew to help them navigate, when the bigoted French townsfolks approval.
There's an O.S.S. story by Kanigher and Cruz where Control is (again) haunted by all the agents he sends to their deaths, so he goes into the field himself and is only saved from a bomb strike by Allied forces thanks to an underground stream. Drake and Redondo have perhaps the best story of the issue about a bomb disposal squad reunited by a ceremony honoring them in the French town they saved. They must overcome their lingering irritations with each other, and the frailties time has brought to each to disable an uncovered bit of unexploded ordinance from the war.

New Teen Titans Annual #2: In TV terms, this would be called a "back door pilot." Following up on the events of issue 34, Adrian Chase is seriously wounded, his family is dead, and Robin his having to answer questions he'd rather not in front of the media and ultimately on a witness stand. He wants to bring down Scarapelli, but thanks to a restraining order, he can't get near the guy and has to convince the reluctant Titans to help him. Scarapelli is making unwise decisions too as it goes against the advice of his capo, the Godmother, and hires some quasi-super-powered mercenaries through the mysterious Monitor in a satellite above the Earth. This turns out bad for the Titans, but they have a mysterious helper, too, who only Robin ever meets: the Vigilante, Adrian Chase's new crime fighting identity. In the end, Scarapelli gets justice and there's a new crime fighter with more lethal methods in New York City.
As is not uncommon with introductions of new characters, the Titans are sort of made to look weak to give Vigilante some spotlight but given he's just a DA who I guess works out some, it seems forced. Much is made of his willingness to kill like it's something new when the Punisher is sitting right over there
Anyway, this issue has some other introductions. While the Monitor technically back in issue 21, he wasn't named in this issue, I don't think. Also, one of the mercenaries he calls in to fight the Titans is Cheshire, who will go on to play a significant role in Titans lore.

Superman #387: This issue has a groovy Kane cover, but the interior feels like a throwback to at least Superman stories of a couple of years ago, if not the 70s. So much so, I wonder if it was an old story they just dusted off to use here. Anyway, it's Rozakis plotting and Kupperberg scripting. In Egypt, eight heads of state are kidnapped and imprisoned in force filed cube by the Planeteer, who claims he's a reincarnation of Alexander the Great from the stars or something. His force fields are strong enough to give the Man of Steel a hard time, but as always, through ingenuity Superman prevails--only (in a plot twist we've seen before) maybe that's what the Planeteer wanted to he could use Superman's actions to generate energy. In an end of the issue development, a couple shows up at Global Broadcasting asking for help, claiming the Planeteer is their son.

Wednesday Comics: DC, September 1983 (week 1)

Wed, 06/05/2024 - 11:00
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 June 2, 1983. 
The Meanwhile... column in this issue mentions a number of projects in the works. The ones that won't ever see publication are Teen Titans/X-Men volume 2, JLA/Avengers (not this version, at least), and a Firestorm graphic novel.  The ones that will come out include Thriller, Nathaniel Dusk, Infinity, Inc., New Talent Showcase, Star Trek, and Atari Force, as well as the Star Raiders and Warlords graphic novels. Joe Kubert's The Redeemer is an in-between case as it will see print but not until 2013!

Wonder Woman #306: The Kane cover here differs from the previous sort of iconic covers in that it looks like it might have something to do with the issues contents...but doesn't! Mishkin and Heck/Giacola pick up where last issue left off with Trevor down under the onslaught of Aegeus and Wonder Woman jumping to his defense. Aegeus is out for revenge and has gotten special daggers from Vulcan to do the deed. These daggers are strong enough to destroy one of Wonder Woman's Bracelets of Submission, which according to this story puts her in danger of losing her mind in some unspecified way. She still beats Aegeus though by spinning him around, so his dagger slashes dig a whole into the ground, then leaving him there. There's some more stuff about Abernathy's crimes, and it turns out that it was a hawk in the government looking to use his past to turn public opinion against a new treaty with the Soviets. Wonder Woman thwarts another attack on Trevor (whose already in the hospital with a dagger lodged internally) by Aegeus, but she has to let him go because somehow, he's involved with the U.S. government and this mess with Abernathy...I don't know, the explanation given made no sense to me. Anyway, Trevor pulls through, and Aegeus slinks off.
The Cavalieri and Bair (credited as Hernandez)/Gaicola Huntress backup is let down by its art. It's all a hallucinatory sequence (presumably caused by an injection in a previous issue) where the Huntress confronts her fears: the insurmountable legacy of her father and the dark side of her mother. Dr. Strange makes a cameo in one trippy panel. 

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #5: Granch manages to get ahold of the amethyst again, and he and his monstrous siblings tumble through a warp into Amy Winston’s classroom, outing her to her parents at least if not the school and the cops. Meanwhile, Dark Opal is delivered his tribute, Princess Emerald and the implication is that he kills her, though this happens off-screen. Prince Topaz is unwilling preparing for his wedding, as he doesn't want to marry Princess Sapphire, but is instead smitten with Amethyst. Mishkin/Cohn and especially Colon continue to turn out solid work on this series.

Blackhawk #261: Evanier and Spiegle send the Blackhawks off to protect world leaders from being assassinated by Hitler lookalikes after der Führer's nutty scheme to enhance his rep after being seen to personally kill his adversaries is revealed. Andre and Chuck meet with the French underground and protect De Gaulle. Stanislaus and Chop Chop head to the Soviet Union to protect Stalin. Olaf and Hendrickson go to protect Roosevelt who is secretly visiting London. Blackhawk also heads to London to protect Churchill, but he is captured by the one remaining assassin. Still, Blackhawk and Churchill together prove capable of the defeating the killer. With the mission done, the Blackhawks learn that Domino has escaped from British custody. The team is tasked with finding her while Hitler commands her to kill Blackhawk.

DC Comics Presents #61: Wein and Perez/Marcos and Hoberg team Superman with OMAC, his first appearance since the end of the Warlord backups in '81. I would say the plot seems derived from Terminator, but that film is over a year away, so it can't be. Intercorp sends its robot assassin, Murdermek, back in time to kill Buddy Blank's ancestor, Nathan Blank, so that OMAC will be wiped from history. OMAC follows through time and both arrive in 20th Century Metropolis. Murdermek acquires a gang armed with future tech, while OMAC meets Superman and in typical comics fashion they have to fight. Eventually, they team up and Superman takes on the very powerful Murdermek while OMAC deals with his thugs. Nathan Blank is saved, but his identity remains a mystery to the characters (if not the reader) at the end of the story. Brother Eye helpful figures out a way to transport OMAC back to the future.
Given the usual approach to team books, I expected some retcons or at least some tying up of dangling plot threads from OMAC's story, but no, it's just a team-up.

Fury of Firestorm #16: Ronnie and Stein both are in the featureless, black nether reaches of their (I guess) combined mind as Firestorm. They can't remember how they got there. Stein calms Ronnie and gets him to slowly relate what he remembers. He calls they discovered Lorraine Riley had been kidnapped, and they had another tangle with Multiplex. Then he remembers he tried to visit his father at work and discovered he was acting strangely and making comments as if someone was after him. Eventually, they are able to discover what he is that that caused their state, what they can't remember--what Ronnie is blocking. Firestorm tried but was unable to save his father from an explosion at their home. The effect of the delayed reveal is marred by it being given away on the issues cover, but if you ignore that and just go with the interiors, Conway and Broderick do a good job with the structure.

Justice League #218: Burkett jumps into the writer's chair with Patton/Tanghal still on art. This story is fine, I guess, but it seems as throwaway as last months. It's like filler. Super-powered androids appear and kidnap various top athletes, including Black Canary. The robots prove too tough for individual Leaguers, so the whole team goes into action. While Superman, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, and Red Tornado try to stop the androids from further abductions, Aquaman, Hawkman, and Wonder Woman attempt to trace them to their base. It turns out Professor Ivo is behind all this. He's been monstrously disfigured as a side-effect of the immortality serum he drank (back in The Brave and the Bold #30), and he plans to use a machine powered by the life-energies of people with the needed genetic makeup to restore himself.  Aquaman, disguised as one of the androids, sneaks into the base destroys their power source, allowing the Justice League to abruptly triumph.

The Spider God in the Other Hemisphere

Fri, 05/31/2024 - 11:00

Our Land of Azurth 5e campaign continued last weekend with the party exploring the left hemisphere of a level of the mind of Gob. Strange encounters were once again the theme of their explorations.

They ran into some snooty mermen who they nevertheless were able to convince to trade one of the pieces of the armor suit the party is seeking for an ever-full jug of waters. Then, they rescued one of the bird-like guardians of the level and a particular sagacious giant slug from torture by a group of sadistic Phanfasms.

Lastly, they came up a run with a hanging, diabolic looking, giant spider statue with a gleaming rod of some sort clutched in its fangs. They debated what to do, but before consensus was reached Waylon, the frogling thief just snatched it. The spider instantly started moving and attack. And it was fearsome.

Without the healing of Dagmar the Cleric, it's likely the whole party would have died, and in fact, Erekose was briefly hovering on deaths door. In the end though, their numbers wore the spider down. For their troubles, they won (ironically) a Rod of Resurrection.

Wednesday Comics: DC, August 1983 (week 4)

Wed, 05/29/2024 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics on the newsstand on May 26, 1983.

Arion Lord of Atlantis #10: Moench and Duursema/Mandrake continue the story from last issue with Arion ensorcelled by Icestarr, the very 80s ice sorceress. He goes with her home "at the top of the world," but they are followed by Chian. Arion hears Icestarr's tragic backstory about being tricked into becoming the jailer for a frost giant, but how that job has given her immortality via a gem. Unfortunately, the gem draws energy from the sun and weakens it, causing the world's impending Ice Age.
Chian discovers Arion's just playing Icestarr. He and Chian confront the ice queen and convince her to give up her immortality allow the sun to be restored. In her doing so, the frost giant is released, and Arion's own magic is diminished in defeating it. Still, with the curse broken the ice which threatened Atlantis is pushed back. Not a bad story, but it feels like an easy resolution of what seemed like a major conceit of the series.

World's Finest Comics #293: This one is by Kellogg and Moore/Giacola. What's interesting about it is that it directly deals with the events of Batman and the Outsiders #1 (which means it must take place after BatO #1-3 and a couple of other things). Both heroes are regretting the breach in their friendship, but Batman is still too angry (or too stubborn) to let it go--he's even using Alfred to dodge Superman's calls! It's a nice bit of continuity though to see this team-up book just not being a bubble where events elsewhere don't matter.
The story involves a cult centered around Tonatiuh, an alien trapped on Earth for centuries whose spent his time masquerading as an Aztec sun god. He and is followers tend to dress in ridiculous pan-Native American stereotyped style of a level of flamboyance that would have let them fit in with the 70s rock band Redbone70s rock band Redbone. Well, Tonatiuh is probably more flamboyant with his fringed jacket, one finger mittens, and helmet like a tv set. Anyway, he captures Superman with the intent of draining his power. Batman intervenes (though not after pitching a fit when the media pans him for his first failed attempted to stop the villain in Metropolis) and Tonatiuh chooses to blow himself up.

Action Comics #546: Wolfman and Kane conclude their new Brainiac arc, and it's an action-filled finale. Superman recruits the Justice League and the Teen Titans to help him take on his new old foe. It's taking all of their power to fight his forces to a standstill, but Superman gets the idea to use a sunspot to disrupt Brainiac's computer systems. Since there isn't one suitable, Superman lures Brianiac closer to the sun and creates one himself. Brainiac doesn't see it coming; He's defeated, but he gets away.
One thing I enjoyed about this one was how "in continuity" it is, at least for the Titans. We open on Kid Flash talking to his mentor about whether to stay in the Titans or finish college, and we get Wonder Girl telling Wonder Woman about her engagement. Also, Terra's thoughts hint at her duplicitous nature. It seems like you wouldn't really get these sorts of small details today.

All-Star Squadron #24: Thomas and Ordway/Machlan are 3 issues into their Ultra-Humanite arc, and it feels a bit padded. The Ultra Humanite has his "sub-men" capture Dr. Chuck Grayson, who transplanted a human brain into Robotman's body, in hopes of having him transfer Ultra's brain into Robotman's form. This gets Batman and Robin involved as Robin had been visiting his "cousin several times removed" Chuck at the time. Ultra then almost the carrier Normandie to demonstrate his power, but Green Lantern manages to at least keep it from sinking. Tarantula gets a new costume then meets an angry guy who claims to be from 1983 and says he has come back in time to warn the All-Stars. He calls himself Brainwave, Jr.

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #18: This is another "solo adventures" issue with several writers and artists. Thomas writes the prologue and epilogue with art by Hoberg and Trapani and also a Rubberduck story with Houston inks and a ice cream themed gorilla villain. Cuti and Goldberg/Houston do an Alley Kat-Abra story where she fights a gnu genie. Engel and Chan pit Fastback against a solar-powered bear.  Letter column promises the next issue will be a full-length story with the return of Frogzilla, but the last issue for Scott Shaw. It also explains that Shaw "abruptly" deciding he "could not handle a regular monthly title," suggesting without specifically saying so that this issue and the previous one are perhaps a result of that.

Detective Comics #529: Moench and Colon/Giordano introduce a new villain in the form of an all-black clad burglar called the Thief of Night who is stealing high end items for a mysterious, unseen woman he's in love with, and managing to thwart Batman with his agility and his ability to head in shadows.
Meanwhile, Lucius Fox gets word from the board of Wayne Enterprises, that one of their employees, a Ms. N. Knight, has suffered an accident with a laser while working at the Observatory and her medical bills for dermatology treatment of her completely depigmented skin are very high. Fox considers the situation and realizes that Wayne Enterprises might have to give the lady additional compensations. I don't think you have to have read this issue before (though I have) to get suspicious Ms. Knight and the Thief of Night might somehow be related concerns.
Also, Jason pals around with a clown form his old circus and decides to go back to that life.
In the backup by Cavalieri and Cullins/Giacola, Green Arrow Rick helps free Ollie and the rest of the people Ozone glued to the floor and reveals that the man who is after Ozone is his father, a former bioweapons scientist with mental health issues. He warns GA about the botulin toxin cannister. Arrow manages to track down Ozone. Lucky for both of them, the botulin is inactivated by the heat of a nearby furnace, and Ozone is captured.

Green Arrow #4: Barr and von Eeden/Giordano bring the limited to a conclusion. Arrow, Black Canary, and the CIA agent "Jones" head to get the formula from Abby's ship, but they find it has already been commandeered by a flamboyant pirate called Captain Lash, because he swings a mean whip. Our heroes prevail and Lash gives up to mastermind. Green Arrow goes to confront Gerrold Sinclair only to find him near death from a gunshot and the real mastermind--Ollie's old flame Cindy--waiting to kill him and pin her husband's murder on him. She plans to shoot before he can loose an arrow, but Gerrold's last act is to shoot her. Ollie leaves that mess for the cops. Later, he hands over the reins of the company (and Abby's fortune) to the lawyer, Stein, after drinking one last toast in Abby's honor.
The fight with Cap'n Lash here seems an odd Bronze Age flourish to pad the page count, but otherwise this is a satisfying conclusion to an underrated series.  

Jonah Hex #74: Nice Ross Andru cover. We pick up where last issue left off with Hex in an uneasy alliance with Railroad Bill Clinton, the man he was hired to bring in until Graphus, and a heavy handed Pinkerston, got indiscriminate with his shooting. They escape an ambush by the Pinkertons, but some of Bill's gang and some relatives are killed. Hex and Bill part ways because Bill knows Hex isn't going to give up and it's only a matter of time before they are at odds again. The very next scene, Hex is spoiling a train robbery the gang is trying to commit. Bill becomes convinced he has to kill the bounty hunter and sneaks up on his camp at night. Before he can kill Hex, Graphus shows up. Bill shoots Graphus first, and warning Hex who then gets Bill when the bandit won't surrender.

Omega Men #5: From a plot perspective, this is an interesting turn for the series. Primus who has been the leader throughout their other appearances and the voice of reason against the hot-headed and presumably reckless Tigorr is sidelined with injuries following the fight last issue, so Tigorr is in charge now. Things go a lot better than one would expect from that setup. Tigorr's aggressive daring flummoxes the Citadelians. His successes rally those opposed to Citadel rule on numerous worlds. Hundreds of rebels stand up to follow Tigorr's lead. Back on Slagg, Primus and Doc are still convinced it can't last, and perhaps they are right, but it certainly argues that a bit more of Tigorr's approach, tempered by Primus maybe, would certainly have done a lot of good.
Lobo and his weird sidekick appear again briefly, but they take off before we can get a Lobo/Tigorr fight.

New Adventures of Superboy #43: Another cool cover by Kane. Kupperberg and Schaffenberger/Giella aren't as done with Dyna-Mind/Johnny Webber as last issue made it seem. With directions given him by Webber, Superboy is flying around to remote locations trying to recover the loot Dyna-Mind hid. The villain whipped up some powerful guardians including the simulacra (presumably) of Neptune seen on the cover. But Webber's tricking Superboy into thinking he was mentally effected by the red kryptonite. Superboy battling the guardians is just storing up energy that will deliver the loot to Webber. Superboy realizes the setup is suspicious, however, and springs his own trap. Webber's continued criminal nature is revealed and the stolen property recovered.
In the Dial H backup by Bridwell/Rozakis and Bender/Giella, Chris and Vicki have to overcome dialing up the not particularly powerful identities Fuzzball (a Pac-Man ripoff) and Raggedy Doll (pretty much a rag doll) to overcome the minions of the mysterious Master and rescue Nick Stevens. Luckily, one of those minions is Power Pirate who copies their lackluster powers, making him easy to defeat. Nick discovers their secret identities, too.

Setting Ideas I'll Probably Never Run, but Still Think About

Tue, 05/28/2024 - 11:00

I've posted a lot of setting riffs on this blog over the years and others on various social media platforms. Most of these are just ideas. All of them I think would be cool, but some definitely speak to me as something I would want to run more than others.

Here are a few that I have definitely considered running but for various reasons have never got around to and honestly, probably never will.

Talislanta: Planet of Adventure: Using Talislanta's world as a Planetary Romance setting for the players would be crashed space travelers.

Wuxia-fied Fantasy: Not in way of the old OA, more creating a secondary world with a number of wuxia traits. For added fun (or madness!), I'd like to use a fairly heavily modified version of MERPs Middle-Earth as the setting.

Solar Wars: Star Wars set in our Solar System, either pulpy or more hard sci-fi. Actually, it's a toss up between which I'd want to run more: Solar Wars or Solar Trek.

Cold War Planescape: A bit like a combination of Planescape, White Wolf's Mage, and some John Le Carre novel, with an appropriate dosage of William S. Burroughs.

Spelljammer by way of Flash Gordon: Spelljammer that feels a bit more like early sci-fi or Sword & Planet fiction.

Fantasy Anime You Should Watch

Fri, 05/24/2024 - 11:00
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 Comics: DC, August 1983 (week 3)

Wed, 05/22/2024 - 11:00
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.