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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sandman: The Dream Hunters

Title:
Sandman: The Dream Hunters







ISBN:
156389629X


Price:
$19.95


Publisher/Year:
Vertigo,
1999


Artist: Yoshitaka Amano


Writer:
Neil Gaiman





Rating:
3/5





This
book is not a graphic novel. Rather, The Dream Hunters is a beautifully
illustrated and exquisitely written story of ancient Japan involving magic,
love, sacrifices and, of course, dreams. Taken from an ancient myth, this
magical retelling is both a Sandman story and a freestanding work all its own,
without needing reference or background in the Sandman universe.





The
story begins, as so many stories do, with a wager. A badger and a fox wager
that whoever can roust a pious young monk from his temple shall have the temple
for a home. Despite their efforts, the monk is not fooled, and eventually the
wager is called off. The fox goes to the monk and apologizes, an unprecedented
move for the fox. The monk is accepting, and the two become friends.





The
fox learns of danger to her new friend, the monk, and is determined to save him
from almost certain death. Indeed, she travels to far inner spaces, and manages
to save the monk from the subtle spell that has been cast upon him. However,
the monk is as stubborn as the fox and his own efforts to save her are as just
as strong. He travels to the dreamlands in order to bargain for her life, and
is beset by dangers of all sorts, without losing his resolve. The ending is
unexpected, bittersweet and revealing all at once.





Yoshitaka
Amano's illustrations are a variety of media, ranging from etching on gold, to
watercolors, oils and pencil sketches. Each illustration is a marvel to be
admired on its own as well as adding to the story. I was lucky enough to view
his exhibit, which included original paintings for this book, and they are
incredibly magical works on their own.





Neil
Gaiman's wordsmithing whisks the reader off to a completely different milieu,
without leaving us floundering for some sort of context. I especially enjoyed a
cameo of two characters from The Dreaming comic book series, and was thrilled
to learn that they were actually part of the original myth that this story was
based upon.





In
all, the experience of reading this book left me trembling on the knife-edge of
tears and laughter. I found it to be an emotionally moving experience and
highly recommend this book to everyone whether they have previously enjoyed
Gaiman's Sandman stories or have never read anything by him at all. Reading The
Dream Hunters was a magical experience to be savored.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The NPC progession & character creation

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy bringing old characters (mine or others) back to life in the form of NPC's in my games. This way the back story that I or a friend originally created can live on or evolve into something new.



The Pathfinder game that I'm working on will be no exception... but it will take some serious work on my part to bring back some of my favorite characters into a fantasy setting.



Since about 1997, I've primarily focused of playing or storytelling White Wolf's World of Darkness games. Most of these games have been in a modern setting. While many of the character concepts can be easily translated to a fantasy realm, there are those that will just not do like the hacker character that I've re-envisioned from a ghoul in a Vampire: The Masquerade LARP to a house-bound Glass Walker for Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Although it could be done with some serious tweaking of the concept, I'm just going to let it go as there are a plethora of other characters I can use.



I'm planning on spreading these NPC's out across the land, but I'm sure that there will possibly be 1 of them that will travel with the players depending on if there's a major gap in the parties needs.



So that got me thinking about character creation. I'm actually considering the first session of the game to bring everyone together to create their characters at one time. This way, we could try and strategically craft each character to fill the roles for the party. I've done this a couple of times before with the mortal campaign, and it seemed to work well.



For those ST/DM/GM's that allow players to have technology at the game table, how do you regulate players from being distracted by going online? I'm torn on technology at game for a number of reasons:


  1. It's a distraction to players and they frequently lose track of their place in the game.

  2. Not all players have the necessary books for the game, and I would like to be able to share my digital copies as well as other specific online resources.

  3. Sending players an IM for secret communication is easier than slipping them a written note.

  4. Allowing players to use computers or similar tech for character creation will allow me a chance to gather copies of everyone's character sheets easier.


Depending on the location of the game sessions, the solution to the online issue could be as easy as not allowing players access to the wifi. If the sessions are held at a public place, like our LGS, then I don't really have control over that.



For the books I have digitally, it's easy enough for me to have them available to download from a thumb drive. Certain online resources, such as d20PFSRD.com, are invaluable to have access to. If only I could find an offline program that had the same functionality of that site, with all the information included. (You'll have to take a look for yourself to know its usefulness.)



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Batman: Cacophony


Title:
Batman: Cacophony





ISBN:
9781401224189


Price:
$19.99


Publisher/Year:
DC,
2009


Artist: Walt Flanagan


Writer:
Kevin Smith


Collects:
Batman: Cacophony #1-3





Rating:
3.5/5





When
the Joker is sprung from Arkham Asylum and left to run murderous riot in Gotham
City, it seems like the Clown Prince of Crime is up to his usual tricks. But
what Batman assumes to be an accomplice turns into something altogether more
sinister – a new villain on the scene who seems intent on using Batman and The
Joker’s inevitable tussles as an opportunity to trap Batman.





The
key element of interest here is that the story is written by Kevin Smith and is
his first stab at taking on DC Comics’ iconographic Dark Knight. The Joker is a
good match for his talents, as Smith has The Joker unleash a barrage of snappy
one-liners that veer towards Smith’s traditionally ultra-crude cannon without
being wholly consumed by it. He also manages to provide the character a
malicious, nasty streak without going too far into nitty-gritty details of his
crimes.





Smith
writes the mysterious third man as a near silent mute, mirroring his films’
Silent Bob character. This helps maintain the mystery of the character above
and beyond his place in the plot – even by the end of the book we know
virtually nothing about him.





However,
Smith is surprisingly reverential to the Batman mythos, portraying the hero as
a calm, measured man with a mission to keep the impossibly imbalanced Gotham on
as even a keel as possible, using violence where necessary but clearly not
relishing that aspect of his persona. You might have expected Smith to take
this further – to out violence Christian Bale, to take The Joker’s madness
further than Heath Ledger, or to try and go darker than Christopher Nolan.
Perhaps it’s Smith’s own hardcore comic fan status that keeps him on this more
subtle, less cinematic path, but it’s a welcome refrain. The violence is
bone-crunchingly modern but it’s kept to the main characters, at least in terms
of what is shown rather than what happens off-panel.





Despite
all this Cacophony isn’t a great Batman story. Perhaps it’s because Smith
himself argues in his introduction that he’s already writing something better.
Perhaps it’s because it’s only a collection of three issues and it feels like
there’s much more story to tell. Or perhaps it’s because it seems like Smith
hasn’t finished with his silent villain quite yet. Whatever it is, Smith’s
first Batman story isn’t going to go down in history alongside the greats, but
I remain intrigued to see where he might take the Caped Crusader from here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

#CBC4C needs your help!



I want to thank every artist who has already donated work to our project as well as those who are currently working on their donations. Also, a big thank you to those who have place bids on our auctions to help raise money for cancer research. Without each and every one of you, this project would not have gotten this far.



The next stage of our project is to broaden the exposure of our cause. I've been promoting #CBC4C on Twitter, Facebook and several comic book message boards, but I feel that the message can be spread further.



To that end, I have already submitted an application for a fan group table for Wizard World Portland (January 24-26, 2014). In anticipation of being accepted as well as continuing this at future comic cons (namely Rose City Comic Con, Stumptown and the new Cherry City Comic Con), I need help with funding this stage of the project, and you can help.



To date, this project has primarily (95%) been funded out of my own pocket. I need help with signage for the table/booth area as well as brochures and informational flyers. The goal will also go towards expenses like transportation. Any excess will go straight into the donations to the American Cancer Society.



I have a GoFundMe campaign already started where you can donate to help us out. Here's the link:








Any help is greatly appreciated. If you cannot donate, please spread the word.







Sunday, November 10, 2013

Batman: Bloodstorm


Title:
Batman: Bloodstorm





ISBN:
9781563891854


Price:
$14.95


Publisher/Year:
DC,
1994


Artist: Kelly Jones


Writer:
Doug Moench





Rating:
2/5





The
second in the Elseworlds vampiric Batman series, this stunning tale is the
ultimate test of the Batman's vow never to take a life. What happens when he
can no longer control his appetite for blood?





The
ending might leave some readers shocked but it's well worth it, and appropriate
for the story. Those who might take issue with the final pages might do well to
remember that in a sense, Batman has changed fundamentally from what he once
was and is some other sort of being altogether. In short, don't look a gift
horse in the mouth. If you can get past the not-so-shocking but still juicy
ending, you'll realize that Doug Moench has served up a wonderfully written
dark fantasy that takes the Batman mythos right to the edge and over it without
once appearing ungraceful or faltering even a little bit. As Elseworlds stories
go, it's damn near perfect in the way it is completely unafraid to dance up
close and personal with some rather disturbing images and yet never loses the
feel of being a completely accurate Batman story.





The
Batman's mystique is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it lends itself to a
number of gothic, iconic images, none more so than that of the ultimate
creature of the night, the vampire. The thought of combining the two images in
the heart and soul of a man who is himself one of the greatest of hunters is a
thought almost too delicious too contemplate. The treatment alone, no matter
how awful, would have been worth a look. Moench wrote a story that struggled
under the weight of the idea in the first volume, Red Rain, but has found its
stride from the first page to the last in Bloodstorm. Moench has the bit in his
teeth with this story and doesn't intend to let the reader off easy.





The
atmosphere is very Blade-like as Batman becomes both a truer version of what he
is, a creature of the night, and a more tortured human being because of his
conscience. The inner struggle quickly becomes an outer one as Batman has to
grapple with whether or not he is inflicting evil upon his city simply by
existing.





This
existential quandary is the heart of the action: the Joker has taken over the
legions of the undead and is forming an army to, naturally, wipe out the
Batman, as if to prove the theory that Batman creates chaos by being who he is,
as opposed to stopping it, which is the vow his life is founded on. At some
point the hard question has to be asked, and the answer won't be easy for a
fighter like him.





Another
familiar face, Catwoman, plays an important role as a beautiful were-cat who
aids the Batman. Her role is unhappily cut short. This comic has the feel of a
monthly title to it. She truly fills out the role of helper in the manner she
might originally have if Batman, when they first met, had ever allowed her to
fight by his side. There are no Robins in the universe, so the role of teammate
falls to the woman who almost had the job in the first place, and it fits her
like a furry purple glove.





Kelly
Jones, of Sandman fame, turns in beautiful gothic art that commands the eye at
every page. John Beatty adds stark touches with a heavy hand on the lines,
creating brooding, splendid images that carry the mood of the story perfectly.
It's a must have for all Batman fans.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The beginning dilemma

So, I want to make this campaign epic and memorable so that the players will remember it and stories will be told for years. I have the overarching concept for the game, plus the end result for the finish. There is even a clever way of getting the party together. But right now I'm stuck on the horns of a dilemma...



Do I start players at 1st level characters, or do I advance them so I can get them into the meat of the epic?



I plan on having experienced players for this game, so it's not like we'll have a huge learning curve to get through... but the way I'm bringing the characters into play, they won't necessarily be accustomed to their skills and class specific stuff like spell casting.



I feel that if I start the characters off at 1st level, there may be a level of boredom for the players as the tediously advance to a level where I can begin running them through on of the adventures I've scouted for this campaign.





I know that reading this may not make much sense to some of you, but I don't want to give away my surprise for this game. Think of it like watching M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" or "Signs" for the very first time. You didn't know what the twist was or where it would come into play, but when it did come, you were amazed... or at least amused. I'd like to try and get that feeling from my players.



I've already been able to adapt a couple of modules from 3.5 to get the characters to at least 3rd or 4th level, and that's almost enough to get them ready for the larger campaign.



I am planning on giving the players a brief questionnaire that will help me to give the world a feel that they would enjoy instead of playing everything cookie cutter canon. My intent is to give the campaign the fantasy feel of whatever setting world they choose, but give it enough customization to liven it up and give it a more personal feel. (i.e. Inclusion of black powder weapons. Use of undead.)



I welcome your thoughts and opinions.



I think the next step I'm going to take is developing my NPC's and figuring out a clever way to organize character creation.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Batman: Battle for the Cowl

Title:
Batman: Battle for the Cowl







ISBN:
9781401224165


Price:
$19.99


Publisher/Year:
DC,
2009


Artist: Tony S. Daniel, Dustin Nguyen, Guillem
March, ChrisCross, Jamie McKelvie, Alex Konat, Mark McKenna


Writer:
Tony S. Daniel, Fabian Nicieza


Collects:
Battle for the Cowl #1-3, Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? #1, Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive? #1





Rating:
3.5/5





Batman:
Battle for the Cowl is something of a bridging book. The Batman that
generations of fans know and love – the alter ego of Bruce Wayne – has disappeared
and presumed dead, after the events of Batman R.I.P. This has thrown Gotham
City into turmoil, as everyone from the smallest of crooks to the maddest of
super-villains see this enormous gap in law enforcement as a license to grab
what they can.





The
remaining sidekicks and superheroes, particularly Robin and ex-Robins like Dick
Grayson (Nightwing), are left wondering whether they should take over the
mantle of Batman. However, while these guys are deliberating on their
worthiness to wear the cowl, someone else has taken the opportunity, clearing
Gotham’s streets with a brutal and deadly force that would make Bruce Wayne
turn in his grave. Who this is and what they’re up to is part of the mystery of
this book.





Short
and sweet, this pivotal moment in recent Batman history takes up only three of
the five chapters in this collected edition but it’s expertly paced, well
written and nicely illustrated. Although there are lots of supporting
characters they’re fairly incidental, and it’s the bigger names that get top
billing. There’s a swelling feeling of youth stepping up that gives the book a
real feeling of new beginnings and lifts these characters well beyond their
accepted side-kick status.





The
supporting material that bulks out the rest of the book is two chapters
originally published to book-end Battle for the Cowl – here they’re both
presented afterwards. Along with its companion volume, all of this could
probably have been brought together to make a good, solid chunk of a book,
though I suppose the slimmed down two-volume version at least means you don’t
have to buy extra background material if you don’t want it.





So
this ends up being an above average superhero tale, despite the fact it doesn’t
even contain the Batman we know and love. As an introduction to the next
episode in Dark Knight history, however, it’s a solid piece of work. Batman is
dead. Long live Batman.


Friday, November 1, 2013

4 years strong!







Another
year has gone by, and I have yet to run out of reviews. Since joining Twitter last year, I've picked-up over 280 followers and have started to share older reviews through #ThrowbackThursdays. You can follow me at @ZanziberPOV.



This is a screenshot of my very first post, announcing myself to the world:







The reviews on the Borderlands Games website are all gone. I wish I had kept them because I'd love to post them on my RPG4EVR blog for role playing games. Lesson learned because I have copies of ever single review I've posted here archived on one of my external hard drives.



As for pitching a weekly article to the local newspaper, I haven't gone down that road... and I doubt I ever actually will. I think the biggest reason behind that decision is because I would prefer to keep myself accountable to just me.



The website stats seem to suggest that there are more people reading Zanziber's Point of View than last year. At the time when I wrote this post, the counter was at 18,795. :-)



I'm working on a project to raise money for the American Cancer Society. I call it "Comic Book Covers For Cancer" (#CBC4C). The idea stems from a project that The Hero Initiative ran this year with artist covers for The Walking Dead #100.






As you can see from that website, these covers raised a considerable amount of money. I'm working to start small with local artists to raise money for cancer research. This will also help to promote each artist's name and work.



Each artists would donate their work on some various blank cover comic books that I will provide. In turn, I will auction off each completed comic book with the proceeds going to the ACS. With each comic sold, I will include artist information and a certificate of authenticity.







A special shout-out to my LCS; Tony's Kingdom of Comics.
Tony is the best "comic book guy" in the local area. He is also my
biggest sponsor for #CBC4C! Without him, this would be a difficult task.



As I've posted before, there is a simple way to support this blog. I have an affiliate membership through Lone Star Comics.
If you click on the link (located below) and make a purchase, I will
receive a % of your purchase as store credit. This is the closest thing I
have to a sponsor right now.



I appreciate those of you who follow my reviews and those who have helped by making purchases through my affiliate link. I hope that the coming year provides as much fruit as the past years offered. As always, I'm open to suggestions and requests for reviews.



Here's to another year of reviews. Enjoy and thank you for your continued support.





Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I

 Title: Cerebus Vol 3: Church & State Volume I ISBN: 0919359094 Price: $ Publisher/Year: Aardvark-Vanheim, 1987 Artist: Gerhard Writer: ...