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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Digital vs. Print

In this day and age, I hear more people going towards digital comics rather than the traditional print comics. I understand the appeal, but I don't think I would ever switch entirely to digital.



For about 8 or so years, I worked with books... from your standard paperbacks you can find at your local store to textbooks. I worked closely with rare books and for about 4 of those years, my workspace was right in the depths of a "rare book room". This room helped to imbue me with a sense of nostalgia and a greater understanding of the tactile world. The feel and smell of a good book can never be replicated by a digital version. Sure, I may be able to acquire a copy of Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz" easily through a digital service, but it provides little satisfaction from the sensation of holding an original printing of the actual book. You can almost feel the history from the actual book and imbibe it like a fine wine.



I'm thinking about engaging in a monthly digital comic book service subscription so that I can actually start reading what I'm buying, and therefore wouldn't necessarily feel so bad for not reading their stories until I get their subsequent trade.



Something I've also found is that there are comics from my younger years that actually haven't been compiled into a trade paperback format yet. I'm sure that I can find this issues digitally, so this would allow me to further rediscover my lost childhood readings without having to wait for the publisher to finally release a trade.



I'm sure that if I actually owned a tablet device to read digital comics, I wouldn't have nearly as much of an issue as I have. With the computers I own, I simply don't feel like either of them (1 laptop and 1 desktop) were ever meant to be used as a reading device for comics. I know that may sound a little silly, but I have a certain place where I read trades and I don't have my computers there. And my eye sight is bad enough without trying to read a comic book on my iPod Touch or smartphone. No thank you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gaming as Therapy

As many of my close friends can attest, I am an introvert and like to observe more than participate. I generally start characters who don't get into the middle of things and are not openly aggressive. My characters tend to start out as wallflowers and "blossom" from there as the game progresses. To me, this is very therapeutic from the day-to-day stressors of real life.



I know that there have been several crimes that have been directly or indirectly tied to gaming; from tabletop RPG's to MMORPG's. I can understand how gaming could have such an effect on someones mind, and this is why there are so many games with disclaimers on them. If a person lacks the mental or social discipline to treat this games as just a game, they should probably no partake in them. I have seen my fair share of people who have played the games and thought that the game world was their real world, and it scares me. So far, these people I've witnessed have not gone so far as to become destructive.



For me, gaming is a stress release. If I let all the stress I normally endure during a normal week build-up with no release, my head would explode. I play RPG's, LARP and video games so that I don't become a "disgruntled postal employee". For those that know me in real life, I generally project a calm demeanor and let most things slide off of me like water off a duck's back. While inside, I may be raging to kick someone's ass at whatever insult they may have lobbed my direction or some new way to get under my skin. It's a good thing I didn't take to chemistry when I was in high school for fear I'd work to develop a Jekyll and Hyde concoction.



I deal with in-game stress easier than I think most of my friends do. Recently, I've had several players communicate that they were sorry about an argument that took place in game. I understand that they didn't want me upset that it took a great deal of actual game time, but what they failed to understand in return is that disagreements and arguments are a way of life. I learn a great deal from fellow players by how they react to in-game opposition. As heated as some of the arguments may get, I never find myself taking an issue with it outside of the actual game and I try not to let it have an effect on me.



I game so I can de-stress, and this is a therapy for me. It's not all about escapism... even though that helps in the therapy. I also don't feel that I need a game to occupy what little free time I have in my life. If I didn't have my current responsibilities with my LARP group, I would probably have a relatively relaxful life. I guess that at that point I would have to game just for fun!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Hooked






Title: John Constantine,
Hellblazer: Hooked





ISBN: 9781401227289


Price: $14.99


Publisher/Year: Vertigo,
2009


Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Landini


Writer: Brian Peter Milligan


Collects: Hellblazer
#256-260





Rating: 3/5





Urban occultist John Constantine has straddled the fine line between
right and wrong since his debut more than 25 years ago in the pages of Alan
Moore’s acclaimed run on Swamp Thing. A conman and a trickster, he has proved
willing to make any sacrifice to achieve his objectives, whether that be friends,
family or even his own mortal soul. The jaded, cynical Constantine has allowed
himself to get close to someone, but the old weaknesses are hard to abandon,
and he resorts to using a love potion to win her commitment, something he would
never have needed to resort to in the past. But Constantine is getting old, and
for the first time he appears frightened of being alone, leading him to take
dangerous risks and sinking to new moral lows.





As anyone who has followed the character will know, things never end
well for the streetwise shaman whenever a woman gets involved, and this story
is no exception…





Writer Peter Milligan obviously has a long game plan for his run on
Hellblazer, and there is much set up here which will only be resolved in
subsequent volumes, but that shouldn’t discourage new readers from exploring
what dark and deadly corners of reality he is taking John these days.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Zanziber is Going to Wizard World Portland!








That's right! Thanks for an offer on Groupon, I was able to afford a ticket for Friday, February 22nd. My plans are to go primarily for some autographs and take some photo's.





As I previously posted, I am unable to afford the expense of going to Emerald City Comic Con this year, but Portland is a day trip from my home, and easier to afford. I'm also currently working on getting some time with a special guest at Wizard World for my very first interview!





I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that I'm planning on attending Stumptown Comics Fest this year. This will be my first year attending, and I look forward to connecting with special guest Bill Willingham from one of my favorite series, Fables.








As always, I will post about my experiences at both of these fine conventions along with whatever photos I happen to be able to take.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Games We Play: Customizing Your CCG's

When I was regularly playing Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, I found an interesting site that provided instructions for creating customized cards for the game. I thought this was a unique idea and went for a ride with it. I was able to create cards based on some of my past and present character in the various Vampire: The Masquerade games I've played... including the Camarilla LARP games. Here are a few of the cards I've designed based off my personal characters:





Anthony G. Keel- This was one of my LARP PC's. He was a part of a large and somewhat infamous Ventrue family known as the Keel's. His backstory was that he used to be a member of the Giovanni family and was taken by his sire before he received the proxy kiss.



























Erika Kekman- Those people that know me know that my favorite vampire clan are the Tzimisce. Erika was an NPC I developed for a game with my ex-wife and some friends. As I recall, she quickly became a thorn in the side of all the PC's.



























Simon Archard- Probably one of my favorite character's from Vampire: The Masquerade. I have used him as an NPC in several of my tabletop games, and I'm currently working to develop him into a LARP character for the next Mind's Eye Society chronicle. There is a long story behind Simon, and I've recently decided to try and write his story for possible publication.























Alexander Bennette- This is another of my NPC's from the same game that I used Erika in. You can see, from their respective titles, that I played Chicago as a contested city. Considering that one of the PC's was Alexander's childe, this provided a great deal of drama for the game.

























Khalid- Another of my NPC's from the Chicago-based game. He became more of a key player in the political scene that I had originally intended. This was primarily due to Alexander's childe bonding with Khalid. A young Toreador bonding with a Nosferatu. If you know the clans, you'll understand the strangeness.

























Hiroko "Blade" Takano- For the Cam/Anarch side of things, "Blade" was probably my favorite LARP character in the Camarilla organization. I designed him as a weapons dealer, and with a couple of friends, we created the Takano family that spanned across the United States and even crossed venues. There were several Takano in the Cam/Anarch venue, but there were also numbers in Sabbat, Werewolf and even 1 Changeling. In time, I hope to again develop this Japanese family for use in the Mind's Eye Society.



















Dakota Black- This was my first actual LARP character. He originally was a Tremere, but was soon adopted into the Brujah clan to help save him from the Tremere. Playing Dakota was the best times I had before the 4.0 chronicle for the Camarilla organization. I traveled up and down the Willamette Valley to play this character. That was back when such inter-Domain gameplay was promoted. Now, there is very little reason... outside of getting together with friends in other cities... to travel for other games. This is one of the several reasons why I'm considering dropping LARP from my list of social obligations. We'll see.















Azima- A counterpoint to Erika in my Chicago game. I'll be honest, I don't remember much about her character, but I do remember that the concept for her was based off of an old Dark Ages character I played.



If you're interested in creating your own Vampire: The Eternal Struggle cards, this site is a great resource... even though it's out of date:



Damnans' VTES Page

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.








Title: Spider-Woman: Agent of
S.W.O.R.D.





ISBN: 9780785119999


Price: $24.99


Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2010


Artist: Alex Maleev


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis


Collects: Spider-Woman
#1-7





Rating: 3.5/5





It’s a got a great, moody noir feel. 
This can often be heavy-handed and forced, but not here. The gritty mood
and Jessica Drew’s first-person perspective is quite appropriate for a former
secret agent (two times over) and private detective who is at an all-time low
and seeking some sort of redemption after the Skrulls have tainted her name and
reputation by replacing her with an imposter as their queen during Bendis’
INVASION storyline. The noir atmosphere is especially right for a story in
which Drew is hired by a shady counterterrorism organization to hunt down the
shape-shifting Skrulls, first in a nasty part of the world.





Normally, I would hate muddy art like what’s used in here, but artist
Alex Maleev’s inked drawings/paintings really adds to the gritty feel. Clear,
distinct art just wouldn’t work here.





Drew first was an agent of Hydra before working for SHIELD. Now an
Avenger, Drew is recruited by Abigail Brand to be agent for S.W.O.R.D., the
Sentient World Observation and Response Department.





“It’s an international counterterrorism and intelligence agency that
deals with extraterrestrial threats to world security,” Brand tells Drew in
their first clandestine meeting on an empty bus.





Give Drew’s history with espionage (on the sides of both good and evil),
one would think she’d be full of confidence. But her inner monologue reveals a
skilled woman who not only second-guesses herself and her situations, she’s
just plain neurotic. She’s equal parts confident and unsure of her next move
and obviously, who to trust. This makes Drew come to life. She’s not just a
spurned superhero on a mission. This is important since AGENT OF S.W.O.R.D.
truly is a Jessica Drew story, not a Spider-Woman one (regardless of what the
title is).





Drew doesn’t have the stereotypical everything-is-under-control
demeanor of a James Bond- or Jason Bourne-style superspy. She’s more of a
shoot-from-the-hip-and-I’ll-figure-it-out-later person. At the same time, she’s
reluctant to use lethal force and even more hesitant to release her pheromone-based
gift of making others either fall in love with her (in turn, getting them to do
what she wants) or making them deathly afraid of her. It makes for a fun,
unpredictable mix.





Adding more intrigue to Drew’s character is her heritage, considering
she was raised in the Hydra terrorist organization and has a tumultuous
relationship (if you can call it that!) with Madame Hydra aka Lady Viper, whom
Drew calls “queen of the crazy women.”





I’ll let Jessica explain: “Factoid. In her most crazy moments, she
actually thinks she’s my mother. She’s not. My mother’s dead. I know because I
watched my Hydra terrorist father kill her right in front of me.”





Visually, what’s intriguing Maleev used Joylnn Carpenter as his
real-life model for Jessica Drew. Maleev makes Drew quite realistic, especially
with her expressive eyes - an extremely nuanced and difficult to do with any
character. Since I was curious as to what Carpenter actually looks like, I
found her on the Internet Movie Database (aka imdb.com). In short, Carpenter is
a stunning looking woman with incredibly alluring and sexy eyes. Maleev’s Drew
is attractive, but not in any kind of supermodel, or even underwear model, way.
Well played, sir!





Combine all this with Bendis’ obvious lifelong jones for Spider-Woman
and, well, this tale has legs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

ECCC 2013 Personal Announcement











Over the past 2 years, I have made it a priority to attend ECCC in Seattle. I have posted about my experiences and have always enjoyed the trip and the convention. This year, there are several of my favorite artists that will be attending. I was extremely psyched to go this year.



Due to several financial obligations, it seems like I will have to miss this years event. I had even tried to make considerations for not staying in Seattle as long as normal and driving up with a friend instead of taking the train. Unfortunately, the numbers did not align in my budget.



I am making plans to attend Rose City Comic Con this year (September 21-22), and look forward to it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that with the new partnership between ECCC and RCCC will allow for some of the artist I'll miss in Seattle to come to Portland. (Ron- If you happen to read this, I'd love to help you any way I can help make this a reality. ;) )







Tabeltop vs LARP

Certain things have started me to think strongly about my desire of playing in a live action setting versus your traditional tabletop game, and I thought I would share some of these thoughts and feelings. I welcome any and all comments and opinions on the subject. (FYI- My basis for the LARP pros and cons are based off of my experiences with the Camarilla/Mind's Eye Society.)




Tabletop



Pros:


  • Familiarity with rules. In all of the tabletop games I've played over the years, I have never had to create a large document to explain a multitude of house rules. When I've had house rules, it's usually limited to a single page.

  • Easy access to rule and setting material. I know that with e-books this becomes less of an issue, but some people (like myself) don't have a tablet/e-reader to take full use of this resource. Most of the tabletop games I've participated in are art a friends house (or my own) where the books are available.

  • No need for cosplay. As much as I appreciate watching people who costume well, I am a cosplay slacker.

  • Dice versus RPS. As I am a traditionalist, I prefer the feel of dice over the cold nature of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Besides, there is an element of psychology in RPS that is taken away when you utilize dice. It evens the playing field.

  • Single source for rules clarifications. I think this is self-explanatory.

  • More intimate setting. What I mean with this is that generally you play a tabletop game with a group of friends.

  • More options available for holding game. It's a great deal easier to host a tabletop game than a LARP. Most 24-hour restaurants will let you stay there for however long you need as long as you're a paying customer. Some game stores even have a room or space that can be used for such a game. Many players even appreciate having people over at their house/apartment for game.


Cons:


  • The feeling you need to bring snacks/drinks. This has always been an element of stress for many games I've participated in. Often times there are people who feel obligated to bring food or drink for the others, and occasionally the host feels obligated to prepare a meal for those invited. This becomes an element of undue and unspoken stress for all parties.

  • Kids. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate children... especially when they can go back to their parents in the end. :) There have been too many times where children have become a large source of unnecessary stress. Some times parent's feel as though the host's home is like a Chuck E Cheese's and they can just drop them off and forget about them. If the children are old enough and mature enough to participate in the game, this becomes somewhat moot. I won't even go into the topic of children being mobile incubators for vile strains of sickness and plague.





LARP


Pros:


  • Cosplay. As I said before, I do appreciate those people who can cosplay well.

  • No kids. Some are good for LARP, some are not.

  • Number of people. Generally, a LARP game can accommodate more players. This is, in part, due to player driven plot and additional ST's. I have my thoughts about adapting this in tabletop play. (I smell another subject for another post in the future.)


Cons:


  • Cosplay. As I said before, I'm a cosplay slacker, so for me this is both pro and con.

  • Rules being changed. In the Camarilla/MES, there is not a single person who can make strong rules clarifications at games. Yes, the presiding ST can enforce their specific ruling but are accountable to people higher in their chain of command. In my time since 2011, there have been numerous changes to the rules for one reason or another. There was even an occasion where the rules were changed in a manner of a week or less. This is not ideal (IMHO) for a global organization or even simply a national game. This actually goes for rules surrounding game as well as the out of game rules about earning prestige and advancing in member class.

  • Monthly reports. For people who old a primary coordinator or storyteller position within the Camarilla or MES organization, you are expected to provide a report on a monthly basis to the next level above your station. (i.e. VST report to DST. DST to RST. RST to NST.) For some people, this is problematic and they choose not to deal with it. My personal opinion is that if you don't want to do everything that is your responsibility, you shouldn't volunteer for the position.

  • Not a closed environment. In tabletop, you generally invite people who are your friends or those who are compatible with your play style. In the Camarilla/MES organization, you have people that are your friends and people you may not care for in your games. There are also those that are very socially awkward or extremely shy that simply hang around and view rather than take part in the game. On the rare occasion, there is also unstable element that could easily turn your well-designed evening of fun into a crime scene.

  • Finding a stable site location for games. When I began LARPing in 1996, we had a single location for our games and we appreciated it. Yes, it was outdoors but we didn't mind as much back then. Eventually, we got an indoor site at the same location. When the city decided to re-carpet that indoor location, we were forced to go back outside. In 2011, we evidently got thin-skinned at unused to the cold and wet weather our locale offers on a regular basis. We were fortunate to find an indoor location for the Winter of 2011-12, but that location was not available to us for the Winter of 2012-13. There are few locations that can support the number of people we have AND allow a group of live action role players who are acting like vampires AND stay open until midnight. As of this writing, we have only cancelled 1 game due to lack of location so far. I do concede that having a LARP game at someones house is an option, but sometimes not a viable option for those who cannot travel or have issues with being at someones home.

  • Prestige and Member Class. Yes, I put this as a con because there are those that feel that acquiring prestige and advancing their Member Class is everything. Yes, the Camarilla/MES is an organization based around helping the community and we try to do our part. Since I became the Domain Coordinator for my Domain, we've earned enough money to donate a new XBox 360 to the Children's Cancer Association and we've made a fair donation to the Keizer Food Share. Most of the people who donated for the XBox weren't thinking about earning prestige, and that's the way it should be. The problem is that to advance in Member Class, and thus providing a better start for your characters, you need to earn varying amounts of prestige. When you've earned enough to advance your MC, you receive a special benefit to your characters. It is very easy to simply buy your prestige for those who have the desire and money. This has been a topic of much debate for most of my time with the Camarilla/MES, and I seriously doubt it will end any time soon.


I'd like to mention that this is obviously not all the Pro's and Con's for each style of play and that with each pro or con, there can be a different way of viewing it to turn it to the opposite. Also, these are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of other people nor are they meant to slight the Mind's Eye Society or its membership.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Volume 3








Title: Spider-Man's Tangled Web
Volume 3





ISBN: 078510951X


Price: $15.99


Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2002


Artist: Duncan Fegredo, Sean Phillips, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Paul Pope, Leandro
Fernandez


Writer: Zeb Wells, Ron Zimmerman, Brian Azzarello, Scott Levy, Paul
Pope, Daniel Way


Collects: Spider-Man's
Tangled Web
#12-17





Rating: 3.5/5





Synopsis: Five different stories featuring five different creative
teams:





    I was a Teenage Frog-Man - Leap Frog is out of prison and turning
over a new leaf, but his son can't take the embarrassment of having a loser
former super-villain for a father.  The
kids at high school are constantly making fun of him until he takes matters
into his own hands - and becomes the new Frog-Man!





    Double Shots - A group villains get together at a super-villain bar
and tell stories of their battles with Spidey. 
Kraven (the son) and the Vulture tell their stories until Norman Osborn
(the Green Goblin) trumps then all with his story.





    The Last Shoot - We get the story of Crusher Hogan before the
fateful night he challenged all comers and wound up against a masked teenager
who would become Spider-Man.





    The Collaborator - A teenage girl idolizes Spider-Man and gets yelled
at by her dad.  She sneaks out and
witnesses a new super-villain battle the cops until Spider-Man shows up.  Then she realizes who the new super-villain
is - her dad!





    Heartbreaker - Tombstone has a bum ticker and gets sent to prison
where he's in danger of having a heart attack at any moment.  The Kangaroo takes a special dislike to him
and he may never make it out of prison alive.





The art can be a bit rough, but works with the gritty crime angle to
the stories





This third volume of Tangled Web explores the darker side of the street
by focusing on Spidey's villains.  It's a
refreshing set of gritty stories with surprising appeal and much better than
the second (even the first) volume.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Collecting vs Reading

When I first began to collect comic books, I bought them for the art and writing and I read each of them. After reading them, I put each into their own plastic bag with acid-free backing board, sealed the end with a piece of scotch tape, and put them into a box to be saved. Later, I would come to realize that several of these comics that I had collected had value to them. This piqued my interest, and I started to collect more but read less.



These days, I collect titles based on my interests and current trends so that some day they may be worth more than I spent on them. I don't read them anymore as I prefer to wait until storylines have been collected into trades. It's kind of like waiting for a particular TV series to come out on DVD or Netflix instead of watching each individual episode. This is a nasty habit that I learned from my ex-wife, but there are still a few series I do watch each episode of.



There are several problems with collecting comics books like this:


  1. You miss-out on current storylines until they have already passed. Since I'm not reading the comics I buy, I'm missing the "Death of the Family" storyline in the Batman books. I do read enough information online that I keep my interest satiated for a while, but I do kind of feel like I'm cheating myself just a bit. There's a part of me that would get into reading digital comics to keep me up-to-date, but I don't get the same feeling reading a comic on a computer as I did when I read the print version. I appreciate the experience and feel of the print comic over the ease of the digital. Besides, digital comics don't increase in value so there's no investment. :)

  2. Variants! In the 90's, there were a few publishers that decided it would help stimulate the market by providing incentive covers for people to collect. Chromium seemed to be the "drug of choice" for many in those days. Now, we have the retailer incentive covers that are provided when retailers order a certain number of a specific title. Then there are titles that produce multiple covers for a single issue. One of the worst offenders in my collection is Lady Death. For each issue, they put out 3 "standard" covers that are unique. Then there is the Art Deco cover, that you pay a little more for. A few months down the line, the publisher offers additional covers such as:


    • Convention covers

    • Limited editions

    • Holiday covers

    • Special editions

    • Auxiliary editions


  3. eBay! I'll admit that I've used this avenue to sell my comics in the past, but it seems like everyone uses eBay to value their comic books. I remember when the guide was Wizard. Overstreet only comes out once a year, and therefore isn't a good indicator of the fair market value for many issues from the modern era. eBay is the reason that when most people post their collection on Craiglist, they have an inflated concept of what their comics are worth. For what it's worth, I've found that Comics Price Guide has been a fair source for gauging values.








    There you have it. I buy and collect comics as more of an investment than anything else. I buy and collect trades and graphic novels to actually read. I know I can't be the only one out there who does this. I'm glad I have an LCS that can keep my addiction of comics going. :)



    And then there's a service like Comic Bin that allow you to read digital comics for a monthly fee. If anyone who reads my blog had tried their service, are they any good?



    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    Collect vs Play

    I know this rings true more for CCG's and miniature games than RPG's, but I thought I would tap into the debate of collecting versus playing.



    When I first started my foray into CCG's, I thought I was buying them to play. I wanted a sizable collection so that I had several different cards to chose from to make decks. When games like Star Trek and Star Wars were released, then I wanted to make sure I had the cards of the primary and familiar characters. Occasionally, I even bought certain cards because I appreciated their artwork. NéNé Thomas and Quinton Hoover provide 2 of the most breathtaking pieces from when I originally collected Magic the Gathering.



    Little did I know that I was actually buying to collect and then try to gain value on the more rare cards in my collection. All that time sorting out the rares and uncommons from the commons and putting them into plastic 9-pocket sheets in 3-ring binders just made it that more easy to sell them.





    That's the trick with CCG's. That first "C" stands for collectible, and therefore it gives you the impulse to buy more to be able to complete your collection. You trade with your friends to get the cards you need, but that is never enough. This leads you to try and sell your cards so that you can purchase those you need. It's an endless, vicious cycle.





    In all the CCG's I've collected over the years, I have never just purchased the cards to play... that is until recently. With my renewed interest in Star Trek and Star Wars (both the Decipher versions), I have found myself collecting just to play. Yes, there have been a few cards that I've found while organizing my collections, but it's only been the foil cards that I don't see a reason to keep when I have perfectly good regular versions of them. I sell the foils that I don't play with to help pay for the cards that I do use. I feel that I have found a balance.





    I do think that CCG packs should come with the same warning that I've seen with the lottery: they are for entertainment purposes only and not meant to be an investment. I know that there are people that purchased boxes of cards in the early days of Magic the Gathering that have definitely earned a great deal of value, but I don't honestly see that happening again in my lifetime. Only time will tell.




    Sunday, January 6, 2013

    Dark Avengers Volume 1: Assemble






    Title: Dark Avengers Volume 1:
    Assemble





    ISBN: 9780785138525


    Price: $19.99


    Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009


    Artist: Mike Deodato


    Writer: Brian Michael Bendis


    Collects: Dark Avengers #1-6





    Rating: 3.5/5





    Essentially serving as the first major story beat under Marvel’s
    recently wrapped company-wide storyline, "Dark Reign," Assemble
    serves as the origin story for the Dark Avengers.





    Who are the Dark Avengers? Well, they’re basically the normal Avengers,
    but DARK.





    Just kidding.





    The Dark Avengers are a team of super villains, “assembled” by head of
    H.A.M.M.E.R. (presently S.H.I.E.L.D.), former-Green Goblin and media/political
    darling Norman Osborn. Their role in the Marvel Universe is to serve as the
    public face of Osborn’s regime. On the outside, they don the costumes and
    titles of recognizable and time-honored heroes, meaning Venom is now
    “Spider-Man,” and Wolverine’s spiteful, vengeful, bisexual, over-exposed and
    Punisher-killing son, Daken, is now masquerading as “Wolverine” himself.





    (Sorry, I still haven’t quite forgiven Daken for the whole “chopping
    the Punisher to pieces” thing. For the record, though, that was an awesome fight,
    well worth reading for any fans of John Romita Jr’s art, or brutally violent
    scenes of superhero violence.)





    The whole point of the Dark Avengers is that, their actions -- however
    beneficial to the people of Earth -- ultimately adhere to the will and
    nefarious machinations of Norman Osborn.





    Writer Brian Michael Bendis manages to cover a lot of ground in this
    first story arc, all while managing to keep continuity neophytes up to date
    (including me). In order, we get the obligatory “how they all came together”
    sequence, immediately followed by the team’s first field deployment. Being as
    this is a book about villains masquerading as heroes, it’s only appropriate
    that the Dark Avenger’s first mission is to rescue Dr. Doom, a member of Norman
    Osborn’s recently installed string-pulling Cabal organization, from the wrath
    of the vengeful time-traveling sorceress Morgan Le Fay.





    Casting Morgan Le Fay as the villain of this first story arc in the
    series turned out to be a wise decision, as her magical abilities make her a
    formidable opponent to everyone on the Dark Avengers roster (the Superman
    power-leveled Sentry included). As well, it adds an interesting dynamic to the
    story to know that, despite Le Fay wanting to kill the central characters of
    the story, her intentions are righteous in the sense that she’s trying to
    prevent the formation of the Cabal, and thus pre-empt the entire "Dark
    Reign" storyline.





    The protracted battle sequence set on Dr. Doom’s home turf of Latveria
    that dominate most of the pages of this story, with art by Mike Dedato, is
    exciting and beautifully rendered, with some genuine drama throughout as the
    heroes battle the demons and monsters at the command of Morgan Le Fay.





    Despite what could have been a confusing mess, the plot is
    well-structured, with wonderfully kinetic pacing that makes the book hard to
    put down. I particularly enjoyed the two independent sub-plots involving Norman
    Osborn and The Sentry and each's questionable grasp of reality. Both characters
    have always been a little loopy, but in this instance, Brian Michael Bendis
    puts these issues front and center, causing the reader to question both whether
    Osborn’s going to put on the Goblin costume again, and whether the Sentry has
    any clue just what he is or how much power he has at his command.





    It’s a thing of beauty watching Sentry repeatedly perform the superhero
    equivalent to miracles, only for the next panel to cut back and show the Dark
    Avengers, his teammates, wide-eyed and quaking with fear over obscene power
    wielded by their unstable comrade.





    My one gripe with the story progression in this arc was the fact that
    some characters definitely could’ve used so more air time for us to get to know
    them better. In particular, Daken (the dark "Wolverine") and Marvel
    Boy ("Captain Marvel") seemed to get the short end of the stick in
    terms of characterization, while characters like Ares were at least given a
    panel or two teasing the reader of future plotlines.





    As is the norm for Bendis stories, the dialogue is a highlight.





    While his forte seems to lean more towards the humorous and childishly
    immature, Bendis’ dialogue is, at the very least, always entertaining. Some
    characters, like Bullseye (“Hawkeye”) and Ares, are played for laughs, but on
    the other side we’re given characters like Moonstone (“Ms. Marvel) and Norman
    Osborn who speak with an uncommon level of measure and articulation. It goes a
    long way towards legitimizing Assemble as a serious story arc.





    In other words, though you’ll sometimes find yourself rolling your eyes
    and snorting at the silliness of the some of the exchanges and asides, you’ll
    never be bored reading Dark Avengers.





    In particular, Bendis’s use of Mac Gargan’s Venom as a comedic element
    is just about spot-on perfect.





    All of the Dark Avenger’s series is pencilled by Deodato, whom I first
    took note of when I started reading he and Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts series.
    Employing much of the same style he used there, and indeed throughout the past
    decade or so, Deodato’s art is that of a semi-photorealistic painting style,
    with an emphasis on detail and motion being the order of the day. His lines are
    fluid and borderline “smudged,” such that characters don’t so much have
    outlines as they do “silhouettes.”





    Deodato was an excellent choice of artist for Dark Avengers, if not for
    his realistic style, which is wholly appropriate given the political nature of
    the story, then for his versatility. Whether the characters in his panels are
    fighting demons and dragons, or sitting in a TV studio doing an interview,
    everything is brilliantly rendered, and framed in an effective and cinematic
    fashion.





    By the way, you’ve probably read it elsewhere, but I suppose it’s worth
    noting that, yes: Mike Deodato did in fact use actor Tommy Lee Jones as a
    reference for Norman Osborn. Some have complained that they find it
    distracting, but personally; I kind of liked it.





    Come to think of it, I liked this comic. It was by no means perfect,
    but Dark Avengers: Assemble held my interest throughout with its roster of
    colorful, identifiable, and ultimately dysfunctional characters and the
    frequent shenanigans/interplay between them.

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