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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reflections

As some of my favorite RPG titles are celebrating their 20th anniversary, it gives me pause to reflect over the last almost 3 decades I've spent with role playing games.



If I hadn't gotten in to RPG's...


  • I would not have met most of the people I currently or have called friend. (For the good or bad)

  • I would never have experienced LARP. (For the good or bad)

  • I wouldn't have gotten interested in CCG's.

  • No going overboard on collecting CCG's like Magic: The Gathering, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Wars, Jyhad/Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and (to a lesser extent at one time) Yu-Gi-Oh.

  • I probably wouldn't have survived the times of unemployment I have gone through since I wouldn't have had the books to sell to pay the bills.

  • I'd probably have a larger comic book collection. (The extra $$ I would have from not buying RPG books has to go somewhere, right?)

  • I wouldn't have to break my back moving my book collection when I've moved.

  • I would have so much extra space on my hard drives from not having so many RPG books in digital format.

  • I wouldn't have had such a great creative outlet for my ideas.

  • I wouldn't have a little, dark piece of guilt about Creative Pastimes going out of business.

  • I probably wouldn't have had as much fun in my life as I've actually had.

  • I wouldn't have this blog to post items like this. :-)


All-in-all, I have no huge regrets from getting into role playing. In my life, the PRO's outweigh the CONs.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fables: Cubs in Toyland


Title:
Fables: Cubs in Toyland





ISBN:
978140123761


Price:
$16.99


Publisher/Year:
Vertigo, 2013


Artist: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Gene Ha,
Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green


Writer:
Bill Willingham


Collects:
Fables #114-123





Rating:
4/5





For
those not familiar with Fables, the basic premise is that characters from fairy
tales, fiction, nursery rhymes and the like really exist, originally in their
own world, called the Homelands. 
Eventually, due to the machinations of the Adversary, they were driven
out of their native lands and settled in our world.





Things
are not completely as we know them to be, as Willingham has manipulated things
(fairly excellently) to incorporate separate tales into one big, intertwined,
twisted, beautiful, creepy, funny story. 
If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.  Here’s a “for example”.  Snow White and the Big Bad Wolf (who can
transform to human form and goes by Bigby) are married.  Bigby is the same wolf that appeared in both
The Three Little Pigs and alongside Little Red Riding Hood.  So, yes, he can blow a mean gale-force
wind.  Well, that’s because he’s the son
of the North Wind, duh!  And, don’t worry
that you’re going crazy, Snow White and Prince Charming were married, just like
Disney told you.  But don’t forget that
Charming also was with both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella — that all holds
true — he’s a philanderer and has been married (and subsequently divorced) to
them all.





It
doesn’t just stop there, though; the layers upon layers are just fantastic to
watch be built.  If you’ve got a favorite
character, chances are he/she/it has been in here.   And not just as a cameo — Willingham has an
uncanny ability to give these characters are voice, even when they’re around
for just a bit, you want to know more. 
It’s not even just the characters. 
Concepts — Arthurian legend, Super-heroics, The Fisher King — are
sneakily attached to characters and story arcs. 
In the Fables spin-off, Jack of Fables (centered around Jack, who is the
same guy in all “Jack” stories, — Jack Horner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack
Frost), we get the Literals, who are the embodiments of actual writing
techniques — the Pathetic Fallacy, Deux ex Machina, the Genres — and somehow it
all makes sense.  Fables is one of the
consistent great books out there and if auteur theory is true, then Willingham
fits the bill.





If
you’ve been reading this and think, “Well, that sounds somewhat like that show
Once Upon a Time!”, you’re not too far off. 
Fables did at one point have a television pilot ordered, for which a
script was written, at ABC.  Yup, that
same studio that does Once Upon a Time. 
Although Willingham has denied that there was any maliciousness, it’s
hard to not see the inspiration.





This
trade, collecting issues #114-123, encompasses two story arcs.  The titular story takes up the majority of
the trade (#114-121) and is a bit of a character focused story, as compared
with the big world evolving tales that happen every second to third arc.  These stories are probably more accessible
and don’t require as much knowledge of the previous 100+ issues, but despite
past successes, I always expect less excitement in these type of stories.  Add to that, this character arc deals with
Snow and Bigby’s children who, despite some recent developments, have been more
annoying than interesting.



The first part of the prophecy came true in the previous trade, as the
eldest child, Winter, became the new North Wind.  This arc results in two more of the
aforementioned prophecies occurring — I won’t spoil which ones (though there
may be some debate as to which came true) — and they happen in a really
touching way.  Therese, the shyest and
most introverted of the cubs, starts out our journey after being given a boat
as a gift at Christmas.  When she
discovers that the boat can talk to her, they go off together on a trip to the
far-away Toyland.





There,
she encounters a broken-down world populated with broken-down toys, all
proclaiming her as their new queen.  It’s
slow moving, but for a purpose — Willingham is setting the mood for what starts
off as a creepy, are-they-bad, type of story and changes into a redemption
story.  It’s really well paced and,
though the story takes place mostly in a place never seen before these issues,
Willingham spends ample time developing the location and these new characters.





Okay,
now a moment about Mark Buckingham’s art. 
Just look at the one single page above. 
He captures disgust and boredom in Therese’s face, details in the
landscape, and horrific realism in these beat up, broken, discarded toys.  His work is also spectacular and complements
the tone of this book.  Yes, it’s a story
ultimately about fictional characters, people, animals, and otherwise, but his
art is just the perfect amount of realism mixed with fantasy that this is all
believable.  Buckingham also has been
illustrating the side gutters since the start of the title, a little bonus in
terms of the visuals, but it works to contain the setting and mood of the
story.





The
second arc of the trade, printed in issues #122 and 123, is titled The Destiny
Game.  Right off the bat, the most
striking difference is that the art is not by series regular Buckingham, but
rather by Gene Ha of Top Ten fame.  It
gives this story a completely different look, a bit darker (which is strange,
given that The Destiny Game is not nearly as morbid as the Toyland story).  It’s a story told in the future, narrated by
another one of the cubs, telling a bit more history about Bigby.  Not as interesting as the first part of the
trade, but it works to add depth to the Fables framework.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wolverine: The Origin




Title:
Wolverine: The Origin





ISBN:
078510965X


Price:
$14.99


Publisher/Year:
Marvel, 2002


Artist: Andy Kubert


Writer:
Bill Jemas, Joe Quesada, Paul Jenkins


Collects:
Wolverine: The Origin #1-6





Rating:
3.5/5





Wolverine
was created by Len Wein in the pages of the Incredible Hulk; when Wein helped
overhaul the X-Men in the late 1970s, he made the Canadian Wolverine one of the
founding members of the new, multi-national team. Nowadays the X-Men franchise
(with various spin-off titles) is the backbone of Marvel comics, and Wolverine
has his own title, was heavily featured in the X-Men movie, and is arguably the
company's most popular character not created by Stan Lee in the 1960s. All
this, without having an origin story.





Calling
on my scattered memory of Wolverine stories, one of his superpowers is that he
ages slowly, meaning his true age is unknown. He also has no memory of his
early years, his recollections beginning when he was a wild man living in the
wilds of Canada, being befriended by James Hudson, founder of Alpha Flight. I
think that's the basics, though some of that may have been changed over the
years. Heck, in Wolverine's first solo mini-series, he refers to knowing who
his father was...but that's no longer supposed to be true. Wolverine has
learned various things about his past, but never his very beginnings.





Now
Marvel tries to answer that. However, this isn't just meant to be a super hero
adventure, but literature in a sequential art form. Even the minimalist title
-- Origin -- is grandiose, as if there can only be one character in all
comicdom that it's about (although inside the full title is Wolverine: Origin).
In some of the accompanying commentaries, it's claimed Marvel decided to tackle
the story -- and risk ruining the character's mystique -- because it was a
risk, to send a message that the old Marvel, after years of seeming too staid,
was back. Another motive was that with the X-Men movie franchise in full swing,
they wanted to provide an official origin before Hollywood beat them to it.
That latter explanation, though more mercenary, sounds a tad more plausible
than the first.





The
result is quite promising at first, ambitious and audacious, but not an
unqualified success.





Instead
of four-color fisticuffs, Origin begins as if it's a superhero origin as
written by, say, one of the Bronte sisters. It begins on a wealthy estate in
the 19th Century, as young Rose comes to join the household staff. In true
gothic style, there are brooding undercurrents and family secrets. An unlikely
three-way friendship is formed between Rose, the sickly son of the master of
the estate, and the rough and tumble son of the gardener. There's little action
in the first part, but plenty to keep one's interest in the various characters,
and a certain complexity applied to many of them. Particularly the gardener's
son who, abused by his father, is a tragic figure, both hero and villain.
Eventually things come to a head, and Rose and the boy- who-will-be-Wolverine
flee, finding work in a remote mining camp and the literary inspiration seems
to shift from Bronte to Jack London.





Up to
this point, it's pretty effective, even if it seems too self- conscious of its
reach for greatness. And it delivers a particularly nice mid- story twist. Adam
Kubert's art is unusually evocative of his father, Joe Kubert -- and that's a
compliment. The senior Kubert being precisely the sort of artist who would suit
this non-superhero superhero story. Blended with the pseudo-painted coloring,
the story is visually atmospheric, evoking equal parts gothic melodrama and Tom
Sawyer, with the children protagonists particularly well rendered, and lots of
scenes of constricted beams of light stabbing into dark rooms, as if trying,
and failing, to illuminate the secrets.





Like
a lot of American depictions of Canada, it's unclear how familiar Jenkins and
company are with their northern neighbor. I can't claim to be an expert on late
19th Century Canada, but the early part of the story is so clearly modelled
after a British milieu in dialect and class conflict, that it's a surprise
when, later, the reader learns it was Alberta all along (I could maybe easier
believe it as 19th Century Ontario). It's a pleasant surprise, though. Given
that Wolverine is one of the most famous "Canadian" characters in pop
culture, it's nice Marvel decided to keep him that way (as opposed to having
him be English or American by birth).





Unfortunately,
when the story hits the mining camp, it loses some of its impetus. The
characterization isn't as complex, or unexpected -- Wolverine incites the ire
of a local bully whose motivation is that, well, he's the local bully. And the
plot loses much drive -- it's not entirely clear what we're waiting for. The
problem with telling Wolverine's "origin" is: what constitutes his
origin? Being born with latent powers, we're not waiting to see how he becomes
Wolverine. And though we're waiting to see how he ends up a wild man in the
woods, it's not really that gripping a question. Wolverine already demonstrates
feral leanings, running with a wolf pack. So, although something does sever his
ties with civilization, there's a sense it would've happened regardless.





Characterization
also is uneven, as often seems to be the case with modern comics that think
they're sophisticated, but put the trappings of sophistication before the
substance. The story is narrated by Rose in her diary, but Wolverine is often
depicted in a hands off way, without Jenkins putting us into his head with
words, and the relationship between the two is not totally developed. Early on
we assume Wolverine will fall for Rose -- her red hair foreshadowing his later
infatuation with fellow X-Man, Jean Grey. But as the story progresses, nothing
is really developed beyond the platonic, so that when Wolverine belatedly
announces he always figured they'd end up together...it, frankly, comes out of
nowhere. If love, requited and/or unrequited, was going to be part of the
story, Jenkins needed to give it more focus.





Another
curious thing is how oblique the first few chapters are. Although one can infer
relationships and attribute significance to certain things, and guess Wolverine’s
biological father isn't who he thinks he is, it's never stated out right. One
expects everything to be articulated by the end...but it isn't. On one hand,
that can make the story seem sophisticated, making the reader work for the
answers. On the other, one can't help wonder how many readers might finish the
book, never putting two and two together.





Ultimately,
there's a feeling the writers put most of their effort into the first half,
with its unexpected character developments and, as noted, a clever twist. But
the last half just trundles ahead in an unsurprising way that, frankly,
could've been told in half the number of pages.





A
frustrating aside is that one of the commentaries refers to "extras"
in the collection, including descriptions of alternate story proposals. But
that isn't here -- I assume that was only in the hardcover version. I can't
decide if Marvel left them out of this softcover collection as a bonus for
people who bought the expensive hardcover...or to thumb their nose at people on
a budget who buy the softcover. Either way, it's disappointing.





In
the end, Origin does smack, at times, of an audacious undertaking, a risky
attempt to tell Wolverine's origin, not as an action-adventure piece, but as
something akin to literature. It's moody and involved...but loses its drive
before the end, becoming prosaic and conventional. Ultimately, the
"greatest story never told" (as the tag line for the book goes)
becomes decent rather than great. It will be curious to see how this impacts on
later Wolverine stories since the reader now knows his beginnings, but he
remains ignorant. Enough characters connected to him remain around at the end,
that it wouldn't be hard for someone to work this in to later stories, or have
Wolverine encounter the grandchild of someone here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Games We Play: Drawing Concepts from Movies, TV & Literature

I know that I've mentioned that I've taken character concepts from characters in movies, books and television; but I'm not sure that I've ever run a game where it was entirely based off of one of those mediums. I've never run a Star Wars "A New Hope" campaign based primarily around the movie or an "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" campaign... although the later might be incredibly fun if done right. :-)



The closest I've come to this is bringing my players into the game as their characters similar to the 80's Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. That was the extent of taking from the cartoon and I never introduced a little Dungeon Master character... even though that would have been cool.



As I was driving home from work today, I started thinking that a couple of books that have been made into movies would make a great campaign. I'm going to try and connect with someone who can help me bring my idea to life, and I think the finish product will be exciting.



My question to you... Have you ever run, or been a part of, a game that was directly based off of a movie, book or television program? And no I don't mean have you run or played in a licensed RPG system but rather the campaign was designed around a specific book, movie or TV program. (i.e. Campaign was "A New Hope", but not necessarily set in one the of various Star Wars RPG systems.)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something to Fear




Title:
The Walking Dead Volume 17: Something to
Fear





ISBN:
9781607066156


Price:
$14.99


Publisher/Year:
Image, 2012


Artist: Charlie Adlard


Writer:
Robert Kirkman


Collects: The Walking Dead #97-102





Rating:
4/5





In
return for goods from the Hilltop, Rick and his group agree to protect them
from an unseen gang or tyrants led by a man named Negan. Given all that he’s
seen and been through, Rick isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. But he’s
dreadfully ignorant of what Negan and his crew are capable of, or who/what a
confrontation will cost them.





Almost
everything notable about this book happens in The Walking Dead #100, which is
at about the halfway point. It’s there that we meet Negan, who’s drawn his
share of comparisons to the Governor, based on their obvious similarities, and
the fact that they’ve both served as the series’ main living antagonists. It’s
not an unjustified comparison, but Negan is very much his own character. While
the Governor was deceptive and manipulative at times, Negan is very much up
front about his intentions: “Give me your shit or I will kill you. You work for
me now.” The Governor was a manipulator, but Negan is a bully, plain and
simple. He’s the Walking Dead equivalent of a schoolyard kid who’s bigger than
everybody else, and will take your lunch money just because he can. He strikes
a very familiar chord from childhood that makes him instantly unlikeable.





As
his first act of villainy, Negan kills Glenn by smashing in his skull with a
baseball bat covered in barbed wire. As Glenn’s been with us almost since the
beginning, that was a tough kill for long time fans to endure. Was there a
pressing need to kill Glenn off? No. But the audience was expecting someone to
go in issue #100, and Glenn was expendable. Plus, his death can potentially
provide some interesting new depth to the Maggie character, and further disturb
young Sophia’s already unstable psyche (though we have yet to see either of
these in the monthly series). I also enjoyed the way Kirkman cracked the fourth
wall, so to speak. Through Negan’s dialogue, he seemed to give us a glimpse
into his thought process about who to kill off. It added another dimension to
the scene, while at the same time continuing to make Negan look like a terrible
bastard.





This
issue also did fans a favor by killing off the Abraham character. For my money,
he was always just a poor stand in for Tyreese. Kirkman tried to give him some
intrigue by placing him at the center of a love triangle, but that never really
did anything for me. Even the way he died was annoying. He takes an arrow
through the back of his head, and the damn thing is sticking out of his eye.
But then for some reason he keeps talking. He says another five sentences with
that arrow sticking through his eye as if nothing happened. I’m not sure if that
has any basis in medical science or not, and it was obviously done for horror
effect. But it took me out of the story regardless.





In
contrast, I’m very interested to learn more about the Jesus character and what
his story is. He’s got a martial arts/parkour thing going on that makes him
very memorable, as opposed to some of the other characters introduced after the
group left the prison.





In my
review of Vol. 16, I talked about the inevitability of tragedy. Coming into
this book, it was pretty clear something terrible was going to happen. Mostly
likely a massive attack of some kind that kills a handful of people in Rick’s
crew. Kirkman planted a bunch of red herrings in this book to make us believe
that was just what would happen, and that Andrea would be the one to die. But
he pulled a great swerve on us, giving us a smaller tragedy that ultimately had
the same amount of impact (if not more) than a big massacre would have. Ergo,
we come away with a lessons learned: In the world of The Walking Dead, always
expect the unexpected.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland





Title:
Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland





ISBN:
9781401224790


Price:
$22.99


Publisher/Year:
Vertigo, 2012


Artist: Craig Hamilton, Jim Fern


Writer:
Bill Willingham





Rating:
4/5





Bigby
Wolf embarks on a quest through the American Heartland to find a new location
for Fabletown, a secret society of exiled fairy tale characters living among
the "mundys." In his wanderings, Bigby stumbles across Story City, a
small town that seems to be occupied solely by werewolves. Oddly enough, they
seem to already know and revere Bigby, but at the same time they've captured
and caged him.





FABLES:
WEREWOLVES OF THE HEARTLAND tells an epic tale that began well before Bigby
Wolf set foot in the bucolic plains of the Midwest. It began long ago when he
served in World War II and became mired in a Nazi experiment that would change
nations. It's soon evident that murder in Story City is the least of their
sins, and unraveling the town's many mysteries may cost Bigby, the seventh son
of the North Wind, much more than his own life.





First
a warning - this is a violent, gore fest more often than not.  Bigby isn't a subtle man to begin with and
these folks pissed him off something bad and he lets loose on them.  Also there is a lot of nudity running around
these pages.  Male and female.  I wouldn't call it explicit persay--girls are
obviously girls, guys are obviously guys, but it’s pretty clinical overall.





FABLES
remains one of my favorite comics and barring something slipshod editor
deciding to butcher it, that's not likely to change.  I've looked forward to this book for a long
time mainly because Bigby is my favorite character, bar none (save Snow White
and Cinderella), and it promised to give us a bit of back story on the man
behind the wolf.  In that it didn't
disappoint.  Bigby has spoken of his time
in WWII, when he helped out the Allies (unofficially) to stop the encroachment
of the Nazis, but in this he reveals just what he did exactly.





The art
isn't anything to write home about, its not up to the usual standards of the
comic and part of that may be because most of the story arcs had one artistic
team (inkers, layout, pencils) throughout. 
WEREWOLVES has numerous inkers and in a comic book that can really fudge
up the artwork.  From a reader's
perspective, it made folk hard to tell apart (I kept mixing up Diana and Oda,
or Alwin and Carl for instance, which in turn confused me as all four had
separate agendas more or less).  The
werewolves, whether intentionally or not, were all colored basically the same
so even though Bigby was going through them wholesale at one point, I had no
idea who was dead and who was not.





Story
wise this was an interesting conundrum for Bigby.  He kind of helped create the mess and was at
a loss as to how to finish it. 
Technically no one in that town is a true Fabletown resident.  None of them came from the Homelands, or were
born from parents who fled the Homelands (such as Snow and Bigby's children),
and thus the charter didn't cover them. 
On the other hand they weren't exactly Mundys (humans).  He basically let it play out, hoping for a
graceful outcome, but knowing the outcome would be far worse then anything he
wanted to find.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Rose City Comic Con 2013

















SEPTEMBER 21-22, 2013


Oregon Convention Center

777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.

Portland, OR 97232



Here are some booths that I highly recommend checking out while you're there:


  • #302 - Tony's Kingdom of Comics: My LCS will be representing at RCCC, so stop by and check them out!

  • #1006 - Warrior Innkeeper Comics: A great local independent publisher of titles such as "The Black Suit of Death", "The Less Than Historical Adventures of Li’l Lincoln", "The Magnanimous Inventions of Ben & Mike" and "One-Man". 

  • J-06 - Sardonic Productions: If you need props made locally, this is the guy to turn to.





Don't miss this event! Tickets are already on sale. I'll be there the entire weekend, and I look forward to seeing you there as well. I can't wait!

MtG Decklist - One Deck to Rule Them All

  A few years ago, I was watching a video on The Commander's Quarters YouTube channel, and I remember loving the concept so much, that ...