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The Sword & Sorcery Paperback Renaissance

Sat, 10/16/2021 - 14:00

 Likely touched off by the success of the Lancer (and Ace) Conan paperbacks, the '70s was a Golden Age of Sword & Sorcery paperback fiction. Okay, most weren't that good, admittedly--but there was stuff like Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, Charles Saunders' Imaro, and a number of works by Tanith Lee that were good, just to name a few. Also, even books that weren't all that great were often graced with Frazetta covers.

These gradually disappeared in the 80s. Sword & Sorcery was a genre born in short fiction, and while perhaps workable in slimmer novels, the multi-volume, thick fantasy series was ill-suited to telling tales of wandering swordsmen or rogues. The small press magazines that published this sort of fiction were already rare and soon disappeared entirely.

Amazon and ebooks have provided an avenue for the genre's return in something resembling its 70s glory. A number of small presses (and self-publishers) put out this sort of material with suitable, throwback covers. I confess to not having read many (well, any) of these volumes yet, though I do have a couple on my list. What's more exciting, though, is some new collections of stuff I already like.

Sorcery Against Caesar: The Complete Simon of Gitta Short Stories collects all of Richard Tierney's Sword & Sorcery tales of his version of Simon Magus of New Testament fame. He mostly fights Lovecraftian menaces cloaked in pseudo-historic references. Chaosium had a collection a couple of decades ago, but there's wasn't complete.

Charles Saunders has passed on, but his Imaro novels are back in print, and then there's Nyumbani Tales, a collection of non-Imaro stories in the same setting.



Westernesse

Fri, 10/15/2021 - 11:00

While traveling some for work, I listened to Vance's Suldrun's Garden as an audiobook. It gave me an idea for a setting:
Westernesse (the historical place, not the one in Tolkien's legendarium) is first mentioned by that name in the 13th Century chivalric romance, King Horn, though there is little truth of the place in that work. The Greeks knew the isles by many names: the Hesperides and the Fortunate Isles chief among them. The unusual apples, tended by priestesses of such power they were believed by the Greeks to be goddesses, were known to the Celts as well. The Irish spoke of their source as Emain Ablach. Geoffrey of Monmouth would call it Insula Avallonis and noted that Arthur's half-sister Morgan was one of nine sisters who ruled there, though Geoffrey's information is a distorted echo of past political arrangements, not the status quo of the 12th Century.
Homer knew it as Scheria or Phaeacia. The Phaeacians were perhaps the isles' original inhabitants, besides the fairy, and were themselves of part fairy ancestry. They would later be called elves, and perhaps still later be mistaken for extraterrestrials, if what is said about the abilities of Phaeacian ships is to be credited.
Greek, Celtic, and Phoenician peoples and religions found the islands at some point and left their mark. Brendan of Clonfert introduced Christianity to them, though only heretical forms chased out of Europe have ever had any real purchase, and they always existed side by side with paganism in a pragmatic pluralism.

Merlin is said to be entombed there, somewhere in the ancient forest of Broceliande, home to fairy creatures and prehistoric animals long extinct elsewhere in the world--though there were persistent accounts of encounters with a living, and mad Merlin in those woods. A certain Duke of Milan was shipwrecked on a smaller island of the archipelago and managed to make of himself a great wizard with the aid of a trove of Merlin's lore.
What became of these wondrous islands in the mid-Atlantic? Certainly they appear on some old maps, though their multitude of names make their identification uncertain and their placement on these charts often fanciful. Irish legends of Hy-Brasil (yet another name for Westernesse) suggests that they are cloaked in a strange mist save for one day every seven years. Stories of the Bermuda Triangle (not the islands location most likely, but not far off either) are full of strange appearances and disappearances. Eventually, like so many other Phantom Islands, Westernesse was merely dropped from the map entirely.

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

Wed, 10/13/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of January 8, 1981. 

New Teen Titans #3: Wolfman and Perez introduce the Fearsome Five. They get together by answering an ad Dr. Light placed in an underworld paper. The Titans take them on twice and get beaten both times in variance with the usual superhero plot structure. They manage to do some infighting before that over Raven's mysteriousness, which Wolfman doesn't handle as well as Claremont would've. In the end, it's revealed that Trigon is using Psimon who is in turn manipulating Dr. Light to Trigon's ends. This title continues to really move. Everybody else this week seems less momentus (even Momentus, see below) by comparison, but I wouldn't say we've had a particularly good issue since the first.

Secrets of Haunted House #32: That guy, Judge Kobold, who escaped Mister E last issue was a werewolf and a vampire. Rozakis and Spiegle give his origin this issue, and it turns out he was a witch-hunting judge of colonial Boston who got cursed by a witch. Kobold attacks Kelly O'Toole who has now taken a job with Mister E. After making a disconnected telephone ring, E shows up to shoot the judge with a silver bullet. Mrs. Charlie Seegar and June Lofamia open this issue with an old Chinese man imparting a story about prejudice to some kids excluding a kid on crutches. It seems that a noble in ancient China was brought a paw cut from a marauding tiger by a warrior. The paw had transformed into a woman's hand with a ring the noble recognizes--his wife's! He confronts his now one-handed wife, and she admits she's a shapeshifter and pleads not to be cast out, but the husband condemns her to death. Before she is executed she curses him, and he wakes up the next day with a tiger paw in place of a right hand. The children now let the boy with crutches play with them thanks to this morally muddled story, and we see the old man has a tiger paw for a right hand.
The final story is a goofy yarn by Kelley and Sparling about vampire pirates. They're defeated when they break into a cabin full of nuns all brandishing crosses.
Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1: This seems like an excuse to retell the origins of the Legion and many of its members, but Bridwell/Kupperberg and Janes have wrapped a story around it. R.J. Brande, the Legion's inspiration and benefactor, is dying. While the Legionnaires are distracted, a man and woman dressed in black break into their headquarters to review their records (providing a recap on their history). When the Legion confront them, we find the man is Brande's assistant. He's convinced that the Legion files contain a clue to helping Brande. Brainiac 5 jumps to the conclusion that this means one of the Legion is suspected of killing Brande, which seems a bit of a leap, but I guess makes a good issue-end cliffhanger.

Superman #355: Bates and Swan have dared to imagine Isaac Asimov as a super-villain. Well, not technically Asimov, but a writer named Asa Ezaak with Asimov-sideburns who gives a lecture called "Science Says You’re Wrong If You Believe That–." It turns out he's used some dubious theories about gravity to give himself powers. He's into sort of an orange Clayface in appearance and calls himself Momentus. He kidnaps Jimmy so the "ace reporter" can't reveal his doings. Luckily, Jimmy finds a way to summon Superman. At first, it appears the Man of Steel has met his match, but Superman's super-dense body (being from Krypton and all) adds to Momentus's power until he overloads and explodes. Superman did try to warn him.
Bates and Swan are also on the Superman 2020 backup. We see the entirety of the Midwest is a desert waste, so that's one way their fictional 2020 is worse than ours. Anyway, human purists trap the young Superman in a way that if he breaks out it will set off a bomb and destroy New Metropolis. Young Superman gets wise to their scheme and summons Superman I and II to save the day. Crisis averted, he's ready to get the symbol on his chest, too.


Superman Family #205: Harris and Mortimer/Coletta continue with the return of the now villainous Enchantress. The Enchantress taunts Supergirl into coming to see her latest magical feat on Miami Beach. Just like last time, she's using the Moon, and Supergirl plans to just kick it slightly out of orbit. When she does, know, Enchantress casts a spell that stops her from moving it back! It also gives the witch the power she was looking for to become the premier crusader against evil in this Florida beach town. Anyway, Supergirl tricks her into using her magic in a way that gives Maid of Might the means to break her spell and depower her. She's also figured out the Enchantress is June Moone, but a quick spell remedies that, and the Enchantress is again free to swear she'll get Supergirl next time.
In the "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story by Bridwell and Schaffenberger, the mop-topped Earth-2 Luthor pulls a hunk of kryptonite to Earth in an elaborate plot to eliminate Superman by pretending to be a statue of himself made out of kryptonite. He's foiled by a kick to the shin and a hotfoot. "The Private Life of Clark Kent" is as boring as ever with Clark surreptitiously helping the annoying Steve Lombard save his aunt the mystery writer from a kidnapper. 
The Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen multi-part stories by Wolfman and Saviuk finally come together. Lane knows her name now and begins the process of reconstructing how she lost her memory, which leads her to Al Diamond, crooked would-be Congressman. She manages to make a pretty badass escape, all action hero-style, and runs into Jimmy Olsen. Olsen has been busy disguising himself as Diamond to dust his office for Ryan's prints, then scaling the side of a building with suction cups (do these two even need Superman?). Lois doesn't know Jimmy at first so she fights him like superheroes are wont to do upon meeting. The two manage to escape and make it to safety. Ryan is revealed as a HIVE agent, Jimmy and Lois save Diamond from a HIVE base and escape in a helicopter before it explodes. In the end, Lois calls Superman with Jimmy's signal watch and sits him down for a talk.

Weird War Tales #95: This issue is kind of bland. Kashdan and Carillo open it up with a diminutive alien showing up on a Crimean War battle field. He takes command of a Russian force--the actual general is eager to get ahold of his advanced weaponry. Soon it's revealed that the Turks have an advanced weapons benefactor too, and the humans are all slaughtered. The two aliens congratulate each other on the game and remark on how war is all humans seem to want to do. Mishkin and Cohn and Infante deliver a short tale of Native Americans who become centaurs to avenge their tribe against the white man. Kanigher and Ditko have the statues of Easter Island (when they had bodies not just heads) avenging the slaughter of their people by another tribe. 
Finally, DeMatteis and Zamora deliver the best tale of the issue, though that's damning with faint praise. In WWII, A cornfed country boy full of violent fantasies from pulp barbarian stories beats up a Romany soldiers who dares disparage his affinity for violence. The aggrieved soldier takes revenge via "gypsy magic" to show the Texan the error of his ways. The Texan finds himself transported to a barbaric land where he is attacked by his barbarian hero. The Romany solider wakes up in a hospital to find they were both injured in an attack, but the Texan was killed--presumably by the illusions he intended to teach a lesson. He feels remorse, but soon finds himself assaulted by the fictional barbarian himself for being guilty of the crime of wanting bloody revenge.

Wonder Woman #275: Wonder Woman and the new Cheetah have their first confrontation, and it's underwhelming. Conway and Delbo have the Cheetah moving swiftly and stealthily in her high-heeled catsuit. She manages to sabotage a dam and flood a town for her radical environmental agenda. She also beats Wonder Woman in their first fight despite the fact we've been given no indication as to how she got super-powers. Wonder Woman figures out that Debbi is Cheetah, and they fight on Debbi's yacht-- which explodes in a collision with a ferry and Cheetah is presumed killed. Kobra is angry at the loss of an operative and ready for a confrontation with Wonder Woman. I wonder if Conway planned Cheetah as a one off villain? This issue certainly makes it appear so.
In the backup, Power-Girl and Huntress deal with The Thinker's crimewave. They attempt to visit the D.A. again, but the Thinker's got him in a closed-door session. Soon he's having him jump out the window, and the duo save him, but he recognizes Huntress as Helena Wayne!

Minaria: Immer

Mon, 10/11/2021 - 00:12
Immer is a hinterland compared to the grander, more civilized nations to the south like Mivior and Muetar. However humble its settlements, simple its castles, or rustic its lords, it still serves an important strategic purpose both as a buffer against the elves and goblins and as a rich source of natural resources.

The kingdom of Immer has its origins in the Vidvarnii adventurers who traveled north from Lake Lorimer to hunt and trap and trade with natives of the wilderness. They supplied the lands to the south with furs, honey, and beeswax. Eventually a stockade fortress and trading post was established at Muscaster, which would grow into the town as settlers followed the woodsmen north.
The nominal king (or Grand Prince, more accurately) of Immer is Euwint I, often called "Euwint of the Marshes" which he fancies as a byname to commemorate his dubious victory over a Muetarian sortie in the Wrogga Lowlands, but his detractors imbue his sobriquet with a different meaning entirely. Euwint is of the line of Hrorvikid warlords who beat back the encroaching Muetarians and subdued the northern tribes, establishing modern Immer. However, his upbringing was entrusted to the wizards of the Invisible School in the modern custom. They fostered him in the household of his more tractable cousin, a border lord of the Lowlands. The lords of the north and west consider him a bit effete, perhaps even soft. 

None would ever make such a claim regarding his wife, Igweena. Though she comports yourself in the required courtly fashion, she is the daughter of the Duke of Monen who holds Gap Castle and defends the land from the approach of the goblins of Zorn through the mountain pass. Igweena, it is known, has been counselling her husband in reinforcing the North, possible in preparation of seizing the land beyond the River Rapid to secure access to the gold found therein. 
It is also whispered that Igweena, like the peasantry of her mountain home, still holds to the tripartite goddess in secret--in fact, some claim she is even a priestess--despite public allegiance to the official Ansharite cult. 

The Small Setting

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 11:00


For some reason, the idea of a small setting has long had some appeal for me. Something like the British Isles or any other single country, sure, but also even smaller, like an single province of a country (Averoigne, Poictesme)--or smaller still, like an immense Gormenghast-esque castle and its environs.

Obviously, hexcrawling has limited to no utility in a setting like this, and it's probably not grist for a long term campaign, if you do the usual D&D activities. But you know, most campaigns I play in or run don't seem to be long term enough that that would create into a problem. My Land of Azurth campaign will be 7 years old this month, and while the players have now ventured beyond Yanth Country, I feel like we could easily still be in that terrain (roughly the size of the state of Georgia), allowing for the brief planar, time travel, and underground other-realm excursions they've done.

What's the appeal to me of the small setting? I'm not exactly sure. Perhaps it's the thought of accreting a lot of granular detail in one part of a setting in a way players will actually find interesting versus that detailed city supplement approach where most of it never gets used. There's also the possibility of developing more of a robust "supporting cast" and layering in mysteries big and small. It also makes adventure locales less likely to be one-offs, encouraging the portrayal of them as living, changing places.

In short, maybe, it's bringing some of the aspects of the megadungeon to a setting that isn't centered around a megadungeon.

Wednesday Comics: DC, January 1981 (wk 1, pt 1)

Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I start my second year (cover date-wise). I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  October 9, 1980. 

Batman #331: Wolfman and Fleisher team-up on the writing credits (Fleisher is credited as "scripter." Maybe Wolfman is spreading himself thin?) with workmanlike Novick pencils. A lethal vigilante, The Electrocutioner, stalks the streets of Gotham killing criminals that got off on a "technicality" which there seemed to be a lot of in 80s media. These days, we tend to think of that as "due process" and "civil rights." Anyway, Batman wants to stop this guy, but almost gets electrocuted the first time he tries. The next time they fight, the Electrocutioner seems to die of his own gimmick, but we get the ol' hand reaching out of the water bit, so you know he'll be back. In the midst of all that Robin just wants to talk about their relationship, because he knows Bruce is mad at him for quitting college, but Bruce just wants to catch the bad guy. When Dick discovers Bruce is letting Talia stay at his place, he blows up and storms out. Honestly, Wolfman is really trying to make this riff between the dynamic duo a thing, but at all comes off so one-sided, like Dick is just spoiling for a fight with Bruce. 

The backup story by Barr and Newton, has Batman disguising himself as a cop to infiltrate the GCPD and expose a corrupt cop who may be a friend to Gordon. It turns out there is a corrupt cop, but he isn't Gordon's friend, but one of that guy's colleagues. What's interesting about this story is Barr has Batman in disguise on a police firing range unable to shoot because he has a "psychological block" against using a gun. It's odd that Barr writes this, because in 1987 he'll write the infamous "Batman: Year Two" arc where a young Batman is forced to use a gun against the Reaper. He also will write other Batman stories post-Crisis where Batman will occasionally pick up a gun. I wonder what changed his mind?

DC Comics Presents #29: Starlin brings a bit of his cosmic flourish to an encounter between Superman and the Spectre. Picking up where last issue left off, Superman is trying to find his cousin, who went flying off to who knows where at supraluminal speeds. Superman goes faster and faster until he shifts into higher planes of existence. He sees Supergirl, but then the Spectre stops him. Spectre tells Superman that the one he works for has sent him to stop the Man of Steel, but just like in the recent Martian Manhunter issue Superman takes anyone telling him to hold on a second as an invitation to fight. Not that he can do anything to the Spectre who is by now in his cosmic being mode. Superman eventually gives up, and Spectre presents Supergirl, still unconscious. He explains that Superman's actions ripping the fabric of reality and all could have destroyed whole universes. Superman has learned his lesson, and he and his cousin head home. This issue reminds me a lot of an issue of Alan Moore's Supreme, with a Starlin-esque style and a run in with a Spectre stand-in that humbled the titular character.  
The backup is "What Ever Happened To..." Dr. Mid-Nite. Again, I feel like Rozakis and Saviuk just give us essentially another Dr. Mid-Nite adventure. It doesn't really live up to the title.  

Flash #294: Conway pinch hits for Bates and has the Flash fighting the Pied Piper in a story lame enough that it loses the cover to the backup feature. Pied Piper is blackmailing cities by leading hordes of exotic animals (from zoos or something? I don't know) to attack unless he's paid off to "lead them away." No one can figure out how he's summoning them, but Flash eventually does and uses the Piper's own trick against him.
In the Firestorm backup, the Flash accidentally causes a sonic boom beneath Superman's flying prison, and the Atomic Skull gets loose. The Flash actually hitches a hide on a jet liner then runs across the clouds to check it out. Anyway, a blast from the Atomic Skull irradiates him, and the Flash will be a swift moving hazard unless he can find some way to get rid of it. He goes to Firestorm for help who obliges, but then gets drunk off all the nuclear energy. The Flash has got to manage drunk Firestorm to get him to take out the Atomic Skull. It's goofy enough for a Bob Haney yarn, but it's just more Conway.

Ghosts #96: Doctor Thirteen keeps ghostbreakin' in a story by Kupperberg and Adams. An air show is apparently haunted by the ghost of a WWI pilot, but when a vintage biplane with no one at the controls shoots down another plane, killing the pilot, Thirteen is on the case. It turns out it's a guy with a remote control device and an overly complicated plan, hoping to crash the plane into an office to destroy records of his embezzlement. See, there's no such thing as ghosts!
Meanwhile, the rest of the comic is full of ghosts. Kashdan and Henson have two stories this issue. The first involves a criminal who can't escape from a train because the engineer he killed still has his ghostly foot on the deadman's clutch until the train arrives at the prison. In "The Phantom Strangler" a buffalo poacher is smothered to death inside the buffalo carcass he's sleeping in overnight by the ghost of the man he killed. Finally, Allikas and Landgraf reveal "Dread of the Deadly Domestic" which is really a cautionary tale about not taking a reference for a housekeeper from the sister of your dead wife who thinks your a murderer. While Rodney's away in Europe, the new zombie-like housekeeper with fuchsia hair terrorizes his wife who becomes convinced the maid's the ghost of Rodney's former wife. Rodney returns form Europe just in time to reveal it was all a ruse and the housekeeper is actually his former sister-in-law doing some sort of Scooby-Doo-esque scaring. How has Rodney deduced all this? Twist! His plane went down over the Atlantic, and he's a ghost. The ghost of his former wife told him.

Jonah Hex #44: The story continues from last issue, with Hart and Hex having escaped the Apaches, but now facing the Spast Brothers. The Brothers crease Hart's scalp, knocking him out, and Hex gets shot in the shoulder. They make it to the river where they hide out until the Spasts are gone. Hex takes Hart to a farm house to heal while he sets out to clear his name. Mei Ling, meanwhile, has recuperated and gone to a saloon to try to find Hex, only to find the Spast Brothers. Hex shows up and guns them all down when they threaten his girl. Back at the farm, Hart reads the message Hex left for him, then helps the family fight off an attack by the bandits sent to run them off by the land-grabbing, wealthy cabal in town. That cabal hears that Hex is still alive when he and Hart appear to be facing off in the street. Hex outdraws the marshall, then goes to negotiate with the businessmen. They confirm his suspicions about their misdeeds and offer to cut him in if he'll finish running off the homesteaders. Marshall Hart, very much alive, has heard their confession and arrests them. He and Hex had planned a ruse to flush them out. DeZuniga joins as inker here. He'll be on this title for quite some time.
Next issue, Hex is to be married to Mei Ling. I'm sure that will go off with no problems.

G.I. Combat #225: As usual, there are two Haunted Tanks stories written by Kanigher with art by Glanzman and Ayers. The first is the best of the two, with the tank crawling through a cave on the lookout for a secret weapons cache, which Prussian military officers plan to use to start another world war after Hitler's inevitable defeat. Thankfully, the cave has tunnels big enough for the tank crew to complete their mission, and the leader of the cabal is fortuitously killed in the Allied bombing of Dresden. The second story sees the Haunted Tank damaged, without working weapons and forced to tow a Stuart tank with weapons but no functioning treads, becoming a "2 for 1 Tank." We get a flashback to the early days when the Haunted Tank first became haunted and they had another loader before Gus named Arch.
The others stories include an O.S.S. tale, where in a departure, the protagonist survives. He gets close enough to kidnap a German scientist working on chemical weapons in Italy by taking a sedative and playing a corpse in a coffin. He smuggles the scientist out of the country in the same way. Boltinoff and Matucenio deliver a perfunctory story about a glider crew in the Invasion of Normandy. Haney and Evans present a yarn about a wheelchair bound vet who deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the war, but nobody survived to write the report to get him one. One day, after a chance encounter with the Japanese ambassador in Washington, the soldier accompanying the ambassador reveals he was the enemy commander on that island that day and confirms the vet's story. The short yarn by Allikas and Amongo has a salty old British fisherman getting the better of a German frogman with a bucket of chum and a hungry shark.

Justice League of America #186: This issue is dedicated to Dick Dillin. Conway is again joined by Perez for the return of the Shaggy Man. Or rather return of one of the two Shaggy Men. The Shaggy Man is rampaging through Moscow and the JLA, absent their heavy-hitters have to rely on Batman's planning to stop him. After leading the Shaggy Man where they want him to go, Batman lures him onto a rocket and they blast him into space. Maybe not as epic as the New Gods arc, but I feel like Conway is getting a much better feel for the JLA now and delivering solid, Bronze Age stories.

Minaria: Half-Elves

Mon, 10/04/2021 - 11:00
This continues the series on my version of the world of Minaria, extrapolated from the map, manuals, and pieces of the boardgame, Divine Right.


In my post about the elves of Neuth last week I neglected to discuss the Ercii or Half-elves. The name comes from a contraction of the Elvish term for "mixed blood." Half-elves have faced persecution within the forest of Neuth, alternately being expelled or limited in terms of their movements and activities.

Some Ercii, however, do perform an important function within Elven society, and members of that select group have even managed to prosper. Elven nobility finds direct engagement with financial matters beneath their station. Unwilling however, to leave these matters strictly to elves or lower station, have brought on individual Ercii or sometimes groups of them as factors or bookkeepers. Some of these have become prosperous enough to be able to act independently acted as moneylenders to other noble houses.

The Elvish Crown has also employed Ercii as ambassadors or diplomats to other lands or and allows them to operate as money changers (so long as the Crown gets its share of the profits). Some of the these Ercii have not only become wealthy but able to wield (discretely) a great deal of political power. Perhaps some times more power than the Elves know, as they are the conduit through which the kingdom interacts with the outside world.

Still, their status as second class citizens is something they are unlikely to forget. Many Ercii in service to Elven nobles were taken from their families as infants and raised as servants to the noble house. More than one has had their fortune seized by a covetous noble who claimed it was their due. Others have lost their lives for their effrontery of being a noble's creditor.

Minaria: Elfland

Fri, 10/01/2021 - 11:00

This is the first post in a series, perhaps. My version of Minaria, extrapolated from the map, manuals, and pieces of the boardgame, Divine Right.


Humans are not welcome in the shadowed and quiet forests of Elfland. This antipathy is ancient. In the age following the fall of the Lloroi Empire, the Elves of Neuth (as they call the great forest in their own language) viewed the primitive tribes that they encountered as they ventured from their home as little more than clever beasts. The years have taught them that those beasts can be dangerous; they have learned to be wary of humans, but not to respect them.

The Elves believe themselves to the heirs to the Lloroi, possibly even a direct continuation of that great race. They take pride in being the only culture to withstand the Cataclysm without a reversion to barbarism. They prefer not to discuss the crumbling spires of their half-buried, ancient capital of Letho or the much reduced extent of their lands.

The Great Forest is relatively unspoiled by human standards. Their craft and science (they do not call it magic) is such that their communities often blend into their surroundings. Only another elf might know that they were there.

Humans who have dared to enter the forest easily become lost and often have returned with their memories completely gone. Those are the ones that return at all. Elven rangers patrol the wood with hounds whose howls are uncannily like human voices in lamentation and whose all too human faces hold horror in their eyes. Few elven settlements would give shelter to human stranger, raised as every elf is on tales of the malice of the beast Man.

"One day," say the elven lords to their knights when they are feasting in their hidden halls. "One day our host will ride forth and scatter the human rabble before us."

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 2, pt 2)

Wed, 09/29/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 25, 1980. 

Legion of Super-Heroes #270: Conway's and Janes' story continues with most of the Legionnaires in the hands of the Fatal Five. Timber Wolf warns the others, but Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl are captured when the villains assault the Legion headquarters. Only Light Lass and Timber Wolf remain free to come to the rescue. The Fatal Five, however, are at least somewhat distracted by their resentment at having to take orders from the mysterious Dark Man. Timber Wolf discovers the identity of the Dark Man at the end of the issue: he's an unbifurcated Tharok! Another solid issue from this creative team.

Mystery in Space #114: This issue is a mixed bag. The first story by Wessler and Craig has a couple trying to find a refugee from their world that's imperiled by an imminent collision with another planet, only to fall into the hands of a planetary despot. The woman appears to choose to marry the despot and have her former lover exiled, but that's only a ruse to allow him to escape. The planet they arrived on is the planet their homeworld is going to collide with! The next story by Levitz and Spiegle is slight, but a little more clever. We follow a day in the life of a really nice guy in the future, only to find out it is only for the sake of this good-hearted guy that tentacled, extradimensional horrors haven't yet destroyed the Earth.
The co-creators of Blue Devil and Amethyst, Mishkin and Cohn, team-up with von Eeden for a kind of shaggy dog story about a man escaping a future conquest of Earth in a vessel with a damaged warp drive. It sends him back in time to...Ellis Island. Skeates and Ditko team up for a cynical, EC-esque story about a loving couple leaving a time capsule to be found by future generations. Their heart-felt expression of love only becomes another reason for people to kill each other in the primitive, post-apocalyptic future. Conway and Yeates finish out the issue with a time travel yarn about an attempt to kill Hitler that leads to a worse consequence--which precipitates a chain of assassinations as successive time travelers try to fix the failures of the past.

New Adventures of Superboy #12: The lead story here is weird because Bates seems leave the primary conflict unresolved. A harried Superboy still dressed as Clark Kent winds up saving a rich man from driving off a cliff. The man uses his resources to track Clark down and begins publicizing his heroism and putting down Superboy as not as heroic because he has powers to protect him from danger that the man assumes Clark does not. Neither Clark nor the Kents like all the attention he is getting. This plotline is never really resolved; Instead, the rich man's nephew and heir tries to kill Clark and Superboy stops him. Maybe they're going to deal with Clark still being famous next issue, but I kind of doubt it. The backup by Bridwell and Tanghal relates Superboy's first meeting with Perry White where he reveals to the world in an interview that he's an alien. This story is mainly interesting because Superboy says he revealed his origins to President Eisenhower, thus setting these events somewhat specifically in time.

Sgt. Rock #347: This issue opens with one of Kanigher's blunt and simplistic, but not ineffective, anti-war tales. Easy is saved from a tank by the heroic actions of their CO, but the man is left blind and dumb, if not in something of a vegetative state. With the Germans advancing, the staff plans to leave him in the hospital for the Germans to find and move to one of their hospitals as the rules of war dictate. Rock isn't having any of that, so he personally drives the mute and expressionless officer through a forest, avoiding a German personnel carrier, and nearly getting blown away by a artillery. On the way, Rock talks of his father (dead in a steel mill accident), his brother (dead in a daredevil dive off a bridge), and his other brother (missing since the Japanese took the Philippines). Rock sees his company advancing into the range of the artillery and takes what action he can to save them. After the battle, they find the CO was killed by shrapnel in the drive over. Rock opines he bled to death without a word, as if perhaps that was a measure of his mettle, but the man hadn't spoken since his original injury. It was unclear if he could. Anyway, Easy Company buries him and moves on to the next battle.
In the next story by Kelley and Severin, a bomber going down under fire thinking it's mission to destroy a German refinery was a failure lucks up and hits the real refinery. We get a second Sgt. Rock story or vignette about the Easy Company member Little Sure Shot. There's a one page profile on the Seneca war chief Cornplanter, then a story by Eads and Veitch about the only woman "who ever lead an American armed expedition against enemy forces," Harriet Tubman.

Super Friends #39: The Overlord decides to send evolved clones after the Super Friends. The first proves too powerful for them until they use his advanced traits against him, finally weakening him with concentrated exposure to a trace element in the Earth's atmosphere--krypton. A clever, though perhaps goofy, turn in a definitely goofy story. The Bridwell/Tanghal backup story has the Wonder Twins at a disco and tangling with a DJ and lightning tech using their powers for no good. These Wonder Twin stories are mildly interesting (mildly!) if you think about the roundabout ways they defeat villains. Who would ever think "form of a peacock" would be the right call?

Unexpected #205: This one is pretty good. First up, we get a Johnny Peril story by Barr and Sparling. Young Angela Lake has apparently been possessed for a second time, but Peril smells a rat, not brimstone. It turns out the exorcist is also a hypnotist and has faked Angela's possessions. The story ends with the possibility the exorcist himself might be possessed, though Johnny doesn't buy it. "A Match Made in Hades" by Kashdan and Rubeny has a lovelorn businessman buying a love potion from an old witch. When the object of his affections becomes positively obsessed and scary, he pays a hefty price for the antidote. Only then do we discover that the young woman is the witch's daughter, and it has all been a con. The last story by DeMatteis and Catan winds up getting reprinted in the Best of DC digest in 1981. Bruce used occultism to literally retreat into a psychic realm of fantasy after Cornelia dumped him. But he can't escape reality entirely, and his efforts to do just that cause him to confuse the two, resulting in the tragic death of Cornelia. To pay for his crime, Bruce sends himself to a Hell literally of his own imagining.

Unknown Soldier #246: Haney and Ayers/Tlaloc have the Soldier in Egypt, trying to help defeat Rommel. He winds up chasing a spy named with stolen war plans from Cairo into the desert. There are sandstorms and bandits-- and then the Soldier finds out it was all a trick! He unwittingly delivered the plans to Rommel himself. Luckily, some quick improvising on the Soldier's part makes Rommel think the plans are misdirection, so the Desert Fox is defeated in the Allied offensive, though he escapes to fight another day. Kanigher and Yeates give us a tale of the Vikings where an aging Chieftain discovers his greatest warrior in a recent raid was actually his daughter in disguise. The final story by Burkett and Ayers is continued, but starts off with a classic war comic opening: U.S. aviator is disparaging the "ruptured duck" B-17 he's forced to fly. When they reach the bombing target the bay doors won't open. They are unaware one of their crew (captured after the last raid) is being held in the German installation beneath them.

Warlord #40: Read more about it here. No OMAC back-up in this issue. Instead we get a "Tale of Wizard World."

Minaria

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 11:00

Thanks to everyone who came to my aid after Friday's post and offered suggestions of settings to riff on. I actually might wind up dabbling in more than one as so many good suggestions were offered. First though, I think I'll start with Minaria, the setting for the Divine Right board game.
It turns out there is actually quite a bit of background for Minaria if you take into account the articles written by the game's author in Dragon. I've only read a little bit of that, but there's good stuff there. Still, I think I would like to go with the map itself--evocative of so much "pre-D&D as genre" fantasy--and the slim setting information in the rules and game components.

The art on the personality cards supports the older fantasy feel of the map. None of the characters look "cool," rather the art makes me think of classic illustration in older fantasy works like the works of Cabell, Dunsany, or Eddison. Also, the humor in some of the naming in the map puts me in mind of some of those works as well.

So in broadstrokes, Minaria (from this material) strikes me as a place of Medieval(ish) lords and nations jockeying for power through warfare and intrigues, not unlike Game of Thrones, but with the slight humor Dunsany or Byfield's The Book of the Weird.
More to come!

New Flesh On Old Bones

Fri, 09/24/2021 - 11:00

Staying busy with other stuff (including gaming sessions), the blog has suffered from me having a lack of time to cogitate sufficiently for many posts on new ideas. I thought it might help to go back to the old standby of riffing off an existing setting. I find constraint sometimes stimulants creativity and placing boundaries on things limits the number of tangents that can distract you.
So, I thought it might be interesting to take some older setting that was perhaps open-ended in its approach or sparse in its presentation and see how I would develop that. At least, it's an idea to consider; whether I get around to it or not is another matter.
But what setting? The perennial favorite to "make one's own" is the Wilderlands. But there are two publishedindividual visions of that, and blogs with other good versions (and some good versions on blogs that are now lost as Atlantis). I don't know that I have anything to add there without getting really variant, and I've never really got the Wilderlands in the way these folks seem to, so I would really be riffing off them to some degree.

Another setting similarly sparse in its original presentation is the Greyhawk folio. The later box set, for that matter, is only a little more detailed. While not as popular as the Wilderlands for this sort of thing, certainly folks have offered there own take on it to--here's Evan again.

Beyond those, what else? The Known World (pre-Gazetteers) is terse in its original presentation in The Isle of Dread, though the helpful (for the neophyte GM) cultural references might hem it in more than the ones mentioned previously, despite it's shorter length. Is there anything else? Powers & Perils' Perilous Lands, or does in that way lie madness? (It's not really terse at all, but curious unspecified in some ways.)

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 2 pt 1)

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 11:00
My goal: read DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands around September 25, 1980.

Action Comics #514: Everywhere computers are going haywire and causing trouble. After noticing the pattern, Superman traces the problem back to the Fortress of Solitude. There, he's bedeviled by his own robots and security measures, but fights his way through to the culprit: Brainiac. Brainiac is rebuilding himself after his last encounter with Superman and Supergirl and needs the help of the Fortresses computer to reprogram parts of his brain. When, he gets done, he says they won't meet like this again, shakes Superman's hand and flies off. It's a whiplash shift, and it made me wonder for a moment if their was a missing page or at least panels. But no, Superman explains that he used his powers while Brainiac was distracted to pull a Doc Savage move and reprogram Brainiac's brain for good. An interesting twist by Wolfman in an otherwise ho-hum story, one which will lead to a short "new direction" for Brainiac. Short, because he's only got only 3 more appearances over as many years before he gets his new, more robotic redesign.
The Air-Wave/Atom backup makes the Sunspotter out to be a super-powerful villain, but it isn't enough to keep him from being defeated, and it isn't really enough to make this feature interesting. Sunspotter does have sort of a Marvel vibe and design, though; he reminds me of some one or two appearance Marvel Team-Up foes. Next issue promises a solo Atom story (presumably still by Rozakis and Tanghal). We'll see how that one goes.

Adventure Comics #478: This issue will be the last of the 3-way split in Adventure. Each of the features is getting sent off to another title. But here, DeMatteis and Giordano/Mitchell finish their Black Manta storyline--sort of. Manta and his army of the disaffected attack Atlantis, but Aquaman escapes from the cell where Manta left him in time to rally the Atlantean troops and give an impassion speech to Manta's forces, many of whom desert and take an offer of sanctuary in Atlantis. Mera recovers from her illness and arrives in time to stop Black Manta, and Cal Durham is with her. Cal finally gets to tell Aquaman what he's being trying to tell him for 3 issues: that's not really Black Manta!
Levitz and Ditko have Starman succeed in saving M'ntorr from his own people, but M'ntorr is then exiled to the physical universe. He tells Starman he's proud of him and regenerates Starman's destroyed staff before deciding to die anyway. I have a hunch the follow up in DC Comics Presents will be more tying off loose ends than continuing the story. The Pasko/Staton/Smith Plastic Man has Plas up against a group of former criminals turned P.I.s who are acting like criminals again to prove they haven't "lost their touch." They also happen to look just like the Marx Brothers. Honestly, I'm surprised Plastic Man lasted as long as it did, not because it's terrible, but because I feel like it was very much out of step with what comics readers wanted in 1980.

Brave & the Bold #169: Barr and Aparo have Batman investigating Angela Marcy, faith healer of the Marcy Temple, after the suspicious death of her husband. Zatanna is an attendee of the temple and a believer. She tags along to prove Batman wrong. It turns out Raymond Marcy was killed by a mobster he refused to use his healing gift on. Angela's powers are a fraud, though her assistant has been faking the most dramatic cures without her knowledge. The killer is brought to justice, and Batman suggests Angela Marcy open a mission in Gotham's slums instead of a temple. A solid, if unremarkable team-up yarn. 
The Nemesis backup continues not to do much for me, other than I appreciate Spiegle's art. But hey, it graduates to a Batman team-up next issue so we'll see where it all winds up.

Detective Comics #497: In the lead story, Conway and Newton take Batman out of Gotham to track a gangster to Baja California. In one difficult night, Batman's mission intersects the disparate lives of several individuals, and leaves most of them better off--even when his actions interfered with their plans. It's a clever concept for a story, though I don't feel like it comes together as well as Conway might have hoped. 
The Batgirl backup is more interesting. Barbara Gordon is a suspect in the murder of Representative Scanlon, there appears to be a frame-up. The only way to alibi herself is to admit to being Batgirl. Her father has mysteriously disappeared, so she's on her own. Barbara is arrested in the issues cliffhanger ending. Delbo's art seems not up to his Wonder Woman standards here, though. 

Green Lantern #135: I just don't feel like this Dr. Polaris story needed 3 issues. It's decompression before decompression was a thing. Well, not really decompression, perhaps, but more not getting to the point. Polaris has conquered the world and a ringless Hal Jordan and his pal Thomas go to try and stop him somehow. Polaris recognizes them but spends so much time toying with Jordan that our hero has time to mentally call his ring back. Polaris keeps absorbing magnetic power so he doesn't think it matters. GL changes strategies, though, giving Polaris more power so that he becomes one with the magnetic field of the universe (or something) and disappears.
The Sutton/Rodriquez Adam Strange yarn likewise feels like a study in taking so long to get to the ending that the ending feels flat. The story title, though, is "The Zeta-Bomb Maneuver" which references the ST:TOS episode "The Corbomite Maneuver." Strange pulls exactly the same sort of trick as Kirk in that episode when he bluffs the existence of a super-weapon called a zeta-bomb to defeat the rebels.

House of Mystery #287: The Micheline/Bercasio story must have inspired the cool Kaluta cover, but doesn't really have anything to do with it. An Arctic weather outpost is plagued by mysterious deaths where the bodies are found drained of blood. Oh, and there's that coffin that's there with them nobody can explain, so already several of the remaining crew are thinking vampire. In the end, one guy, the skeptic is left, though he manages to kill the vampire, he is bitten and finds himself transformed here in the middle of no where with no blood to drink. 
The other two stories aren't quite as good, but not terrible. DeMatteis and Cruz give us a story of an old woman who is domineering toward the niece she supports because she is secretly jealous of her youth. She makes a deal with a very chipper Devil for a second youth, and for a while lives it up. Then, she realizes she's been tricked and is aging back to childhood. Her niece takes charge of her life and finances and sets out to treat her as cruelly as she feels she was treated. The last story by Oleck and Saviuk seems overly complicated in that it makes the slaughter-happy treasure-seekers attacking Native American-appearing folk aliens instead of--well, Europeans. Captain Jurok is convinced there is a city of gold, so he leads a side mission without approval of his superiors to find it. They are taken captive and forced to toil as slaves in that hidden city of gold. Jurok escapes, but dies of exposure, though not before being found by his people. They leave the planet, never noticing the shackles he wore were made of gold.

Dark Sun: The Sand Raiders

Mon, 09/20/2021 - 11:00


I've run two sessions now of Dark Sun using Forbidden Lands (and the Burning Sands Dark Sun adaptation you can find online). To keep it easy as we were getting used to the system, I decided to run the short adventure in the 4e Dark Sun book.

At the caravanserai of Dur-Taruk, the party (Eowen, Elf Ranger; Insam, Ranger; and Keeb-Raa, Thri-Kreen druid) accept a job from a dwarf factor named Urum ath Wo of the merchant house Zawir. It seems a Zawir caravan arrived with one wagon missing and with it its cargo of grain, wine, and wood. Fifty silver was offered for clear directions to the cargo or its return, and the party is eager for the coin.

The party is able to pick up the trail of the lost wagon and track it to a place it was set upon by saurian silt runners.  In fact, some of the silt runners are still there, and the party engages them in combat, ultimately emerging victorious. The bodies have attracted the attention of a pack of kruthiks. The party has to kill them before they can follow the tracks showing where the silt runners too the cargo. They lead to the ruins of an ancient tower.

Stealthily approaching the tower, the party finds a vault where the silt runners and their leader have taken the cargo and the still-living wagon crew. The leader is a largely reptilian creature who has a dagger coated with some greenish ichor. He doesn't get a chance to use it because Insam puts an arrow through a gap in his carapace and kills him.

In the battle that follows, one silt runner escapes but the others are slain. The party decides the cargo is too much trouble for them to carry back, but they free the crew, and after making camp for the night in the vault, they return to Dur-Taruk in the morning for their payment.

The Dwarf Folk of the Wilderness

Sun, 09/19/2021 - 14:30
Art by Jason Sholtis
Another Antediluvian people of the Wilderness are often called names that would translate as some variation of "dwarf." They arrived as the retainers of the First Folk lords who called them simply "the smiths." They were, and often still are, forgers of implements of bronze and iron, and cunning artificers.
They are clearly cousins to mortal humankind, but are shorter in stature, more powerfully built, and courser featured. One of the first human tribes to meet them in the new world called them "hairy ones" in their tongue, a name adopted by later arrivers in a mangled form as goohagatch. These latter folk believed the dwarf people to be cursed to wander, but also protected from harm by the True God. This has not always sparred them violence from their human neighbors, and they have mostly moved away from encroaching settlements.
There are some dwarf folk who have adapted to a greater extent to humans ways, and perhaps even interbred with humans. They are sometimes called "civilized dwarfs" but just as often "petty dwarfs."

Weird Revisited: The Black Train is Coming

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 12:25
This is a Weird Adventures related post from 2011. I don't think it made it into the book. I re-read the Manly Wade Wellman story that inspired it yesterday, so it brought it to mind...
“A black train runs some nights at midnight, they say..”

-- Manly Wade Wellman, “The Little Black Train”
Hobo-goblins, human tramps and bindlestiffs, and other Brethren of the Road, tell stories in their camps of a preternatural train that runs from this world to planes beyond. This lore is seldom shared with those outside their communities, but folklore records regular folk having chance encounters with the phantom.

The appearance of the train changes with time. It always appears old, like it has a decade or two of service behind it behind it, but otherwise stays current with locomotive technology and styles. It's not marked in any way, and has been described by observers in paradoxical ways. It’s plain and nondescript, yet powerfully commands intention. Some feel an intense unreality upon seeing it, others the cold hand of fear.

The train starts on mundane tracks, but as soon as it's "out of sight" of its observers it begins to shift into other realms. Some dreamers have seen it crossing the lunar wastes from the vantage of the parapets of the Dream Lord's castle. It is known to make stops in depots in the Hells. Planar travelers have attested to seeing rails that fade into nothingness at the mouth of the gyre at the bottom of reality.

Mostly, it seems carry certain dead to the afterlife, though why it comes for some and not others is unknown. Hell Syndicate snitches know of it, but not who operates it. Angels likewise keep a serene silence. Most who ride the train are dropped off in the waystation realm of the dead, from there to travel on to their souls' final destination.  Some, however, are taken directly to the outer planes. Others seem to ride the train for longer periods of time. They're found snoozing in couch cars, or drinking and playing cards in the dining car. Waiting, perhaps, for something. They’re sometimes inclined to conversation, though they seldom have anything useful to say.

Adventurers have sometimes used the train as a quick ride, either to the Other Side, or the Outer Planes. Hobo-goblin glyphs sometimes point the way to likely places were the train may appear. The train’s gray, nondescript, and seldom seen staff do not object to taking on new passengers, so long as they pay the fare--which varies, but is always in silver.

There's always the option, for those with fare or without, of hopping one of the train’s empty freight cars, but riding an open car through other planes is a dangerous proposition, and the boxcars are only empty of freight--not necessarily other travelers.

Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 1, pt 2)

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm continuing my look at the comics at newsstands on the week of September 11, 1980. 

G.I. Combat #224:There are two Kanigher and Glanzman/Ayers Haunted Tank stories, as usual. In the first, the tank's crew must out think a German Panzer while on loan to the British Army in North Africa. As is often the case, the crew is mistrustful of their commander, Jeb, but he saves them in the end. In the second story, U.S. tanks keep disappearing in a secluded valley that was the site of a battle in WWI. The Haunted Tank is the last to go in, and they find themselves assaulted by poison gas. Thinking quickly, they escape and discover a WWI German unit has been improbably hiding and defending this valley since the last war ended. "You can't cheat death twice," as the title says, and these Germans and done in by the Haunted Tank team. 
"Reward for A Traitor" by Kashdan and Bercasio is a cautionary tale about trusting colonial powers if you're an indigenous person.  The son of a Pacific Island chief makes that mistake with the Japanese and gets put to work in a mine for his trouble. The O.S.S. story by Kanigher and LeRose has spies making a heroic sacrifice for the war effort, which is how these stories always go. Different here is that Control can't make the decision to shoot down their plane, even if not doing so reveals to the Germans their plans. He seems much more "all about the mission" in previous stories. The next story by Douglas and Evans is an appreciation of parachute fitters and is refreshing to the extent that its protagonist wants to be as far away from combat as possible at the end of the story, despite his heroism. The next story by Wessler and Bercasio is a short, bleak tale of a unit's practical joker who, despite being a thorn in his sergeant's side, jumps on a grenade to save him, thereby playing the ultimate joke: leaving the others "stuck with the whole lousy war."

Justice League of America #185: Conway and Perez's New Gods arc comes to an end. It's good JLA/JSA team-up storytelling, with the different sub-teams coming together in the end. Highlights include Batman and Mister Miracle comparing escape artist notes, and Wonder Woman and Big Barda tag teaming against Granny Goodness. In the end, the energy meant to destroy Earth-2 is redirected to strike Darkseid instead. Perez draws an off-model Darkseid this entire issue, but that quibble aside, I feel like this three-parter has been the best of Conway's run I've reviewed so far.

New Teen Titans #2: This issue continues to move at a pretty fast pace. Starfire doesn't yet know how to speak English (she learns it here, by kissing Robin), so how were they a functional team? Anyway,  The H.I.V.E. tries to hire Deathstroke (I didn't realize he had that name from the beginning) to take them down, but the Terminator refuses, so they decide to make their own. They get a volunteer in the form of Grant Wilson, a neighbor of the Titans who Starfire stopped from committing domestic violence. He becomes the Ravager and attacks the Titans with Terminator's reluctant help while they are Claremont X-Mening it in a fan service, pool frolic. The defeated Ravager ages pretty quick from pushing his power and dies. Deathstroke attends his burial and reveals he is Grant Wilson's father. He takes the H.I.V.E. job as revenge against the Titans, which seems to be what H.I.V.E. planned all along. 
This title doesn't yet have the character drama that would be a big part of why the Wolfman/Perez run is often praised, but it is definitely different from the other DC supers offerings (even ones written by Wolfman).

Secrets of Haunted House #31: This issue features the debut of Mister E in a tale by Rozakis and Harris. He'll become a bigger deal in the Vertigo 90s. Right now, he's just a blind guy who's been stalking a vampire who's been committing murders, but he's is easily stymied by a blow to the head by the vampire's immigrant, ingenue housekeeper. Luckily, she realizes her mistake and stakes the vampire herself, otherwise this would have been Mister E's last appearance.
In "Short Road to Damnation" by Drake and Henson, a nebbish, height-challenged secretary steals a pair of Napoleon's boots and suddenly becomes a proactive and commanding guy, which includes committing two murders. The boots that gave him the ability also prove his undoing as they link him to the crime scenes, as discovered by a Detective Leba, whose name is of course an anagram for Elba. A story by Kashdan and Brozowski rounds out the issue with an escaped convict happening upon a scientist's laboratory in a swamp. The scientist is working on an antidote to the "death factor" that causes cells to die and potentially could provide immortality. The criminal takes the antidote before the scientist can explain fully and kills him in a scuffle. The criminal's caught, but he doesn't die from his gunshot wounds, and he can't be executed. Every potentially mortal wound ages him at a faster rate, however. The antidote to death was senility (though the story calls this factor "morbidity.") We end in the future time of 1999, with the criminal locked away in a futuristic prison, a wizened husk.

Superman #354: Another Silver Age-y "mystery" plot from Bates, but again a not uninteresting one. Superman takes down a group of high flying thieves led by a Mr. Alpha, who winds up escaping into the sewers, which happens to put him a good place to hear about the origins of a suit of powered armor found in the Egyptian desert. Clark Kent is there too, having responded to an invitation from senior archeologist, Thalia Tate. Tate presents the young man who was wearing the armor who claims to be a time travel from a highly advanced, prehistoric civilization. He and his beloved were separated by a time storm--and he thinks Tate's assistant Susan is actually his long lost Myyla. Supporting his story is that Susan looks like Myyla and is wearing an identical amulet to his. When she removes it, she's no longer speaking English. Susan needs some time to sort this out, but Mr. Alpha kidnaps her, forcing the visitor from the past to get in his armor and fight Superman or else.  Superman manages to keep his attacker at bay long enough to located Alpha and free Susan. He's also figured out what's really going on. It's Tate that is really the visitor from another time. Separated in the time storm, she and her beloved arrived in the future decades apart. Not wanting her beloved to have to be with an old woman, she chose an assistant that looked a lot like the younger her, did some hypnosis, gave her the amulet, etc. The truth revealed, they return to their own time with Superman's help, and Thalia/Myyla is restored to youth in the process.
The backup story is about the Superman of 2020, the grandson of the original. That has some interesting implications for when Bates thinks the first Superman's adventures take place (if it's 1980 as in the first story, you'd think Superman would have to be having his kid pretty soon), and possibly for the expected duration of heroic careers. His future is brighter than our present: 3 supermen, and no pandemic.


Wonder Woman #273: This is the first appearance of the second Cheetah, courtesy of Conway and Delbo. Wonder Woman responds to a oil tanker accident and meets a group of environmental activists led by a young woman in a bikini and a captain's hat who happens to have access to a yacht. She's Debi Domaine. After Wonder Woman gets a shower and the yacht returns to dock, Debi gets a letter from the aunt who raised her who is apparently on her death bed. Wonder Woman heads off to work and some sitcom antics as she makes dates as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman for the same evening. Debi visits her dying aunt and discovers she was once the costumed criminal, the Cheetah, and then is captured by Kobra agents. While Wonder Woman puts on her disco cape and heads out on her date, Debi is subjected to the Clockwork Orange treatment, mentally conditioning her with images of environmental devastation. She emerges as the Cheetah in an outfit similar to her aunt's except with a deep-V neck and high-heels, and is ready to become an environmental terrorist for Kobra!
 In the Huntress back-up by Levitz and Staton, Power-girl threatens the DA over a new anti-superhero vigilante rule in Gotham, which really sort of makes his point for him, I think. Huntress shows up to intervene. She and Power-Girl go to chat, and she reveals to her friend that she's been dating the DA. Meanwhile, we discover that the Thinker is behind the DA's actions, because who could be against costumed vigilantes but a super-villain, right? In the end, a sudden crimewave breaks out in Gotham at the Thinker's command.

World's Finest Comics #266: Burkett and Buckler provide the Batman/Superman story where they tangle with the new super-villain, Lady Lunar who attacks a STAR Labs moon exhibit. She is actually a double bit of continuity referencing. She has the same powers (and origin basically) as Moon Man from World's Finest #98 in 1958 (in fact, this issue is the last appearance of Moon Man's alter ego), and she turns out to be an astronaut trainee from Wonder Woman's stint as an astronaut back in 1979. The Haney/von Eeden Green Arrow story is goofy, but charming. Editor George Taylor is sure Oliver Queen is Green Arrow, so he challenges him to 48 hours of flagpole sitting for charity, convinced that Queen will be unable to meet his column deadlines. With the help of Dinah send him stories via Morse code and what not, Ollie keeps writing his stories and sending them to Dinah via arrows right under Taylor's watchful eyes. 
The Red Tornado story be DeMatteis and Delbo has RT looking for an apartment and almost getting stabbed by a 13 year-old girl who's high on...something. He takes an interest in helping the girl and saves her from falling off a building, which finally gets her mother to recognize the severity of the situation. All, the time T.O. Morrow is watching. The Rozakis/Landgraf Hawkman story "Something Sinister in Sewer Seven" has the best title of the issue. The something or somethings are giant, mutant bugs. The main conflict is city bureaucrats trying to cover it up. Birdwell and Newton unleash a space armada of ships shaped like Dr. Sivana's head on Captain Marvel. This comes after Sivana and IBAC go planet to planet and have IBAC beat up planetary despots until they declare Sivana their ruler. Meanwhile, Mr. Mind intends to side with Sivana only until he has the opportunity to destroy him. I continue to enjoy this updated "Monster Society of Evil" saga.

The Fire and the Void

Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:00


Our Land of Azurth game continued last night with the party in the midst of exploring the strange, ruined temple beneath the Crooked Hills. The party ran afoul of a group of skeletons that they quickly dispatched. They avoided a pit trap where they also found another strange item--a vial of silvery liquid. They were disappointed to find it wasn't magical.

They came to a room with a relief of a muscular, bearded man holding a scorched brazier. The group tried burning something in it and a secret door opened. On the other side was a room with a large oven with a roaring flame inside. They discovered the flame was a fire elemental who suggested it needed to be bribed to allow them to pass through to the run beyond the oven. Dagmar gave it gold pieces, which it melt in its flames. Then it parted like a curtain to allow them to pass.

On the other said was a wide, shallow bowl with a whirling void on the inside. As the party began to investigate, a group of the sleepwalkers came in. They largely appeared to ignore the party as one took a couple of items the party took to be trinkets and dropped them into the void where they disappear. When that was done, he extended a hand expectantly to the party.

They decided to give him a trinket to see what happened. He took it and put it in the void. They kept giving him the trinkets they had, even the newly acquired silvery vial, and they all disappeared. The sleepwalkers turned and left.

When they were gone, the party investigated the room further. Waylon figured out that the void was only an illusion. Items dropped into it went down a passage. Erekose found a secret lever to open a secret door. What they found, down a short passage, was essentially a glorified closet with a number of trinkets and other items that had been dropped into the void.

Mindful of the townsfolk's warning about the trinkets exploding, they cautiously experiment with putting groups of them together in the same place, but nothing seemed to happen. Eventually, they divided up the nonbroken items and took them with them.

The First Folk of the Wilderness

Fri, 09/10/2021 - 11:00

This is a follow-up to this post.

The First Folk were the earliest inhabitants of the Western Lands, that is certain. Their tradition holds that all people emerged from the navel of the Earth, somewhere in the far west, but that they, the Children of the Dawn, were specially loved by the gods who taught them their secrets, which the first Folks used to found the earliest civilizations in the world in the Eastern Lands.

Some human scriptures teach that the First Folk are the hybrid children of rebellious greater spirits, sometimes falsely called gods, and humans. They cite the Great Flood as the True God's punishment for the iniquities of the First Folk and their parents. This religious condemnation did not stop human tribes from studying under the First Folk and learning their craft and science. Of course, these humans, too, committed the same sins in the eyes of God, perhaps, for was not their island home destroyed in a cataclysm for their wickedness?

After the Flood, the surviving First Folk lords and their people returned to the shores of the Western Lands. There they found members of their own race, fallen in their own reckoning, living primitively in the endless forests. They sometimes met these kinsfolk in peace, sometimes in violence. They raised new cities, though perhaps not as glorious as those in the East. The barrows and ruins of these people are still found, though in the end a strange fall overcame them, so that they were only a shadow by the time the first humans came West. 

These human tribes sometimes warred with the surviving First Folk from the East, but over time became beloved of the the First Folk of the woodlands. Later human tribes would not be so receptive to the First Folk ways.

The Folk of Forests have receded ever further as human civilization has encroached upon the dark wood beyond the mountains. It is wise for travelers to abide by their rules and attempt to placate them, however, as they have be known to punish those who do not respect their ways.

The First Folk of the east were taller (perhaps as tall as 8 feet, with some of the ruling class of the great kingdoms of the East even taller) and in general, considered more beautiful than humans. Their lifespans were exceedingly long--before the Deluge they were immortal--and their physical capabilities exceeded those of man. Their eyes and sometimes their faces, were said to have a subtle radiance about them, perhaps a suggestion of their Celestial heritage. The Folk of the Forest are not as tall, and often more angular, but still strangely beautiful, possessed of a glamor, it is said.

Solar Trek Episode Guide - Updated

Thu, 09/09/2021 - 11:00

In honor of Star Trek's 55th anniversary (yesterday), it seemed like a good time to revisit my 2019 posts on Solar Trek, a solar system confined, more hard science fiction rationalized Star Trek. Here are all the posts to date, titled with the TOS episode/setting element that inspired it.
The introductory post
The Orion Syndicate
"Return of the Archons"
"That Which Survives"
"The Cloud Minders"
"The Trouble with Tribbles"
"Tholian Web""The Amok Time""The Way to Eden"


Wednesday Comics: DC, December 1980 (wk 1 pt 1)

Wed, 09/08/2021 - 11:00
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of  September 11, 1980. 

Batman #330: A gangster on death row sends assassins to make sure Batman dies before he does. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are trying to find Lucius Fox's son, who's gotten tangled up in a plot by the crime lord Falstaff to get at Bruce Wayne. Wolfman has Batman and Robin disagreeing over how to deal with the the confused, young Fox, an extension of their disagreement over Grayson quitting college. This is consistent with Wolfman's portrayal of their relationship in New Teen Titans, but he doesn't show up outside of his stories. Talia also appears here, but doesn't do much. The last assassin, a guy with an Old West gunfighter theme is an interesting character, but I suspect he doesn't appear again.

DC Comics Presents #28: Wein and Starlin continue the story of Superman's fight against Mongul and Warworld. Here, Superman teams with his cousin, Supergirl. They are presented here as much more powerful than we typically see them portrayed today (this is sporadically true of other Silver Age heroes, like Flash, as well, in this era). The Super-cousins use "microscopic vision" to follow the trail of subatomic particles to Warworld and telescopic vision to surveil it. We get Mongul's tragic origin, which is basically that he's a former dictator kicked out by his people in favor of a dictator who was just as bad (in Mongul's opinion). The Kryptonians hold their own against what Warworld can throw at them until Mongul's brain burns out commanding the station. They finally defeat it by having Supergirl fly at superluminal speeds and smash a path straight through the station, which Superman uses to enter and reprogram its systems at super-speed. But where does Supergirl end ip?
The backup story is perhaps the first genuine "What Ever Happened to..." in the series. Tiefenbacher and Kane have the Old West hero Johnny Thunder and his sometimes competitor, Madame .44 teaming up and revealing their true identities--and true feelings--for each other. Then they get hitched! Kane's not at the top of his game here, but he still draws great Western action.

Flash #292: Either some time has passed since last issue, or Fiona Webb got over her fear that Barry Allen was trying to kill her really quickly after learning the truth, because Bates and Heck have the two on a date at a carnival. A carnival where the Mirror Master gloats over his plans to defeat the Flash. The Flash's foes seem to physically warp/transform his body a lot, and Mirror Master is no exception. He makes Flash uncoordinated by mirror-image reversing his body! The Flash figures this out and manages to save himself then Central City. He outruns a reflected "solaser" beam and has time to paint a building in silver nitrate before the beam arrives. During all this Fiona Webb is on again, off again, based on perceived slights on Barry's part due to his distraction while dealing with Mirror Master. Sometimes she has a point, but it makes her look really high maintenance! Nice to get a "done in one" story.
In the back up story, Conway and Perez have Firestorm tangle with the Hyena, who attacks a police station because they are corrupt and not doing a good enough job, I guess? Then, he heads off to stop a robbery. I had no idea the Hyena was a vicious vigilante until this story.

Ghosts #95: The first story goes back to a schtick Ghosts hasn't played up in a few issues: the idea that the stories are real, but gives it a bit of a "meta" bent has it purports to be the story of why the author (Kashdan) didn't write the story the editor assigned to him about Gurney Castle, which includes a meeting with a ghost in that castle. Clever, but there isn't much to the story beyond the conceit. "Spectral Bullets Cannot Kill!" by Wessler with that distinct Henson art I've come to appreciate is better. A mobster sends a hitman to kill a guy with a gambling debt. The man pleads his inability to pay due to his recent car accident, but the mobster has no pity. In anger, the man puts a curse on the hitman's gun. When the time comes for the deed, the bullets don't hurt him. He taunts the hitman that their "spectral" nature. The hitman returns to the mobster to admit failure to find the man already there. The mobster demands he shoot again, but when the hitman does, the bullets pass through the other man and hit the mobster. The twist: the bullets were ok, but the man was a ghost, having died in the car accident. The next Wessler yarn isn't quite as good. A man plots the murder of his friend in a cave so he can get the girl, but rainwater erases the paint trail he had left for his own exit. The only trail he can find proves to be blood leading him back to the scene of his crime.

In the last story by Kupperberg and Adams/Blasdell, Dr. Thirteen the Ghost-Breaker returns, having last been seen in 1977. This story also features an appearance by Rutland, Vermont. Thirteen has retired from the fraud-exposing business to write books and make the talk show circuit, but a mysterious man named Kowalski asks him to take a case in a Rutland community theater where unusual occurrences are being blamed on the ghost of a playwright, Tilson. Thirteen quickly discovers it's all being faked by an actress who's trying to get out of her contract, but it turns out that Kowalski was the real name of Tilson.

Jonah Hex #43: Marshall Jeremiah Hart takes a look at the body of the businessman Hex supposedly killed and something doesn't add up. Still, he sets out after the bounty hunter, only stopping to contend with the Spast Brothers who want their sibling out of jail. Instead, they wind of joining him. Meanwhile, Hex is again promising Mei Ling he'll put down his guns as son as he gets this last bounty, the man who shot the banker. On the trail, Hart gets the drop on Hex. He tells him that something about the alleged crime does add up, but he still has to take him in. Unfortunately, Apaches get a drop on them both. They bear a grudge against Hex going back to the incident where his face was scarred. Working together, they manage to escape, but then the Spast Brothers prepare to spring an ambush.

Weird War Tales #95: "The War That Time Forgot" is back for the first time since 1976. This story by Kanigher and Reyes is typical of the WTTF sort in that the dinosaurs are Godzilla-sized, far bigger than they were in reality. The Devil Dinosaur-red tyrannosaurus carries around a Sherman tank for much of the story after the tank crew rescues the native woman that was intended to be a sacrifice to him. The crew booby traps their tank and blow up the monster. This is by far the best story of the issue. 
The next by Kashdan and Ayers/Adkins has an Imperial Japanese experiment to breed a voracious insect to act as a defoliant going wrong when the insects decide to dine on their creators. The next story by DeMatteis and Forton has a wealthy businessman, Geller, hounded by people accusing him of being Nazi war criminal Geisen. A Holocaust survivor claims to recognize from the camp. That night, Geller seems to awaken in the concentration camp. He is beaten and tries to escape, then is taken to the showers. As he screams and cowers in terror, it's revealed that this all has been a bit of theater. He's been drugged and brought to a movie set by the Holocaust survivor to torture him into confessing, but--oops--his assistant comes running in with a message from Israel clearing Geller of being Geisen. He's actually the camp doctor, Reinhart, who was sympathetic to the prisoners and was tortured by his superiors for his actions. The trauma caused him amnesia. Now, the camp survivor remembers why his face was so familiar! The final story by Kanigher and Carrillo is a riff off the "Angel of Mons." Both the Brits and the Germans troops glimpse what they believe to be the flowing robes of an angel leading them to victory, but it turns out to be scythe-wielding death for all.

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