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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fables: The End of an Era

As my faithful readers can attest to, I am incredibly fond of the Vertigo series Fables by Bill Willingham. In March 2015, the final tale will have been told with issue #150.

I came to Fables on a whim while I was at Borders one day with a coupon for 40% off. After I read through the first volume of the trades, I had to go back and get more. When Borders went out of business, I turned to both Amazon and my LCS to keep me supplied with the wonderful tales I had become enthralled with.

In the years since, I have been fortunate enough to have visited with Bill Willingham at 2 separate Emerald City ComiCon's as well as the final Stumptown Comics Fest in 2013. I've also been lucky enough to have caught-up with several artists who have worked on Fables or the various spin-off series.

My favorite artist of these has been Chrissie Zullo. She has a charm about her that I appreciate and she makes her fans feel welcomed when they visit her. I hope to be able to include a cover from Chrissie in an upcoming auction for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

My favorite cover artist that I have been lucky to meet would definitely be Adam Hughes. I must admit, I have been a long-time fan of Hughes work. I know that Adam is very busy with his work, but I would absolutely love to have a cover from him for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

I know that some may not consider me a true Fables fan because I primarily collect the trades instead of the single issues. In fact, I may have already met one of the individuals who would possibly be considered at the biggest Fables fan at Emerald City Comic Con back in 2011. When I was in line to get Bill Willingham's signature on a few of my single issues, the guy in front of me submitted his entire collection of Fables, Cinderella and Jack of Fables for him to sign. When Bill noticed that the line was rapidly growing while he was signing for this man, he kindly apologized to everyone in line and favored each of us with a food voucher for the concession area.

As a roleplayer, I have been considering adapting the theme of Fables to a storyline in a game I would someday like to run. I'm not sure if I want to run it in a fantasy setting where the characters are warring against The Adversary or a modern setting to include Fabletown, the Farm and the characters contained therein.

I haven't picked-up any of the Jack of Fables trades yet, but I feel I will so I can try to fill the hole in my life that will be there when the last of the Fables trades has been released. From what I'm currently seeing online, volume 21 will be titled "Happily Ever After" and scheduled for an April 2015 release. The title for volume 22 hasn't been confirmed, but it looks as though it will be released in June 2015.

As of this writing, I am currently reading Fables Volume 20: Camelot.

I hate to see Fables go, but I understand that Bill has other projects he's going to work on. This series has been 1 of only 2 series that I have been following steadily since I picked-up the first trade. The other series would be The Walking Dead. Both will hold a special place in my heart and on my shelves in my collection.

Thank you Bill Willingham for bringing this wonderful series to us. It has been enlightening and inspiring. I will treasure it forever.

TFAW Signing Event: Mike Mignola

Friday, February 20, 2015-

Again I had the good fortune of attending another signing event at Things From Another World's Portland store. Although there were 2 separate events, I only attended the first with Mike Mignola.

I've been to a previous Mignola signing event at this location, so I knew what I was getting into before I came. TFAW has made a few changes to their event protocol's that I would like to address:

  1. This event was ticketed through Eventbrite. Past signings have not been ticketed, but I believe that this was a great effort to reduce the "carnage" of having too many people in the area they have available. The tickets were free and I was able to use the Eventbrite app on my smartphone to show that I was indeed one of the allowed masses. I feel this is a welcomed change and I hope that TFAW utilizes this method for their future signing events. A+

  2. Instead of having everyone mulling about the store while the TFAW staff worked on the last minute setup, people were ushered out and queued in the parking lot and provided bracelets once we showed we had tickets. It's fortunate that the weather was unseasonably warm and dry. For future events, if they choose to use this method, I would hope that TFAW provides some cover for outside. While we were out there, we got to watch the delivery of the Rouge Ale boxes for this event. It wasn't until later that I would find out that these were more than what TFAW has normally offered. Here's the Rouge delivery vehicle:

  3. Once inside, we were again queued into one of 2 lines. 1 for Mike Mignola and 1 for the purchase of the "Right Hand of Doom Red Ale" bottles that were in the boxes being delivered. As I read the announcement of this beer only days before the event, I was excited to be able to purchase a couple of bottles. I hope they're able to do similar promotions in the future.

One other thing that TFAW did to help make this event go well and quickly get people their signatures was to actually limit the number of items they could get signed to 2. As much as I would have liked to have been able to get the rest of my Hellboy in Hell issues signed, I chose to get my copies of Hellboy: The Midnight Circus and Batman #700 signed by Mignola. I don't regret the choice.

Keep up the great signing events, TFAW! I'm already looking forward to visiting the Beaverton store in March for the Terry & Rachel Dodson signing event!

As most of my faithful readers know, I don't really take too many photos of people. This event was no exception. Here's the only other pic I took while at the event and the guy in the mirror sporting a NW Comic Fest t-shirt may look a little familiar.

Fairest: Return of the Maharaja

Title: Fairest: Return of the Maharaja

ISBN: 9781401245931
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2014
Artist: Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, Russ Braun, Meghan Hetrick, Christian Alamy, José Marzán
Writer: Sean E. Williams
Collects: Fairest #15-20

Rating: 3.5/5

There’s a new Maharaja in town, and you can bet young Nalayani is going to have words with him. The chief defender of her village once all the men went off to wage war with the Adversary, this woman is now looking for their leader’s help to ward off invading Dhole and secure their lives from the advances of unwelcome men. But what Nalayani doesn’t know is that this Maharaja has had a lot of experience with beautiful, brave, and accomplished women — and yet there are still a few surprises for him in store.

The Fables Universe is already known for being pleasantly full of strong female characters, but there’s something about a book the narrows the vision in on these women that really ups the ante. Fairest could have been the fan service title, with bosomy adventures cast across time and lands (if you know what I mean), but what we got instead was a book that took that commitment to solid character and expounded upon it.

Fairest is not just a book about fairy tale women. It’s a book that repeatedly blends ethnicity with, and infuses LGBT heroes and heroines into, some of our most well-known tales. And it consistently does so in a way that is mature, clever, and entertaining. And this third story arc from the ongoing series serves up the best yet in that endeavor.

Sean E. Williams weaves a really fun tale of the Hindu “princess” Nalayani meeting the man who would eventually fall in love with her. It’s a great table-turn for the man who becomes the new Maharaja, and while I am loathe to reveal his identity in spoilers, it’s fair to say if anyone can charm the pants off Nalayani, it’s this Fable. And yet, that’s the strongest showing of what this title does, in that the featured female protagonist is far from object. Her agency is in full force, and her destiny, even to the very end, is still her own to determine. This is thankfully not a tale where the lady swoons and is swept away to live happily ever after, but it’s not one that punishes her for her independence either.

Not having much background in the Hindu myth that bears our heroine, I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Williams’ representation, but the fullness of Nalayani’s character and motivations is certainly realized on the page. She’s fierce without being cold, focused without letting herself ignore her own intuition, and more than anything, she’s self-taught and determined to evolve. Hard to find complaint in such a well-developed warrior figure, and even harder to dismiss the delight in seeing her in action across the page.

The artistic partnership of Stephen Sadowski on pencils and Phil Jimenez on inks could not have found a more perfect subject than in Nalayani and her enemies. The young woman is rendered with such natural beauty, her Indian features well-chosen, and her stern expressions tempered by a virtual light in her eyes. And lest I forget, the guys aren’t so bad either. I’m pretty convinced the village hunter Bildeo was born full steam out of one of my most pleasant dreams. It’s no wonder he attracted the eyes of at least one of the young men in the story at hand.

As the tale features a large animal cast as well, combining elements of The Jungle Book with local Indian folktale, Sadowski manages to make each character come alive without needing to anthropomorphize their appearance in the slightest. They feel utterly real as animals, and the addition of their intelligence does nothing to mitigate their physicality, as we often see in these types of stories. It’s a beautiful menagerie that’s wrought in these pages, and everything from horses to a massive crocodile is rendered with strength, beauty, and to my eye, physical accuracy.

A fantastic follow-up to volume 2 that only expands the world of Fables to encompass even more diversity, The Return of the Maharaja is the first story told in this world in a long time that I feel deserves an immediate follow-up. Williams, Sadowski, and Jimenez should be applauded for the care they gave their lead, but more than that, they’ve managed to add to the world with such strength that it would be a shame to not see more of the same very soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition

Title: Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition


Price: Varies

Publisher/Year: White Wolf 2011

System: World of Darkness (Classic)

Out-of-print: Print on demand

Available on DriveThruRPG: Yes

Overall rating (1-10): 8

When White Wolf ended the Classic World of Darkness line in 2004 with the Time of Judgment event (Gehenna, et. al.) and introduced the New World of Darkness, I was upset.  I felt betrayed because my favorite game system and setting was gone and not returning.  I nerd-raged when I saw how different the setting of the New World of Darkness was.  I hated how they had removed the wonderful and complex back story.  I didn’t buy the new books, and as much as I loved playing Vampire the Masquerade, I moved on to other systems.  I played a lot more Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars D20, and Legend of the Five Rings, but in the back of my mind, I was always thinking about the World of Darkness and especially Vampire the Masquerade.


When the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire the Masquerade was announced, I had already gotten back into Vampire the Masquerade, running the Revised Edition for a group of gamers who had never played VtM.  I was so excited to hear that my favorite game was coming back, and when the Onyx Path announced their plans to begin publishing the Classic World of Darkness game lines (along with New World of Darkness, Exalted, and Trinity), I felt like a Djinni had granted a wish!  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to order a copy of the deluxe edition or to attend the Grand Masquerade in New Orleans, but I couldn’t have been happier.  I ordered a copy of V20 as soon as I could afford it from DriveThruRPG and the book I received was beautiful.

V20 is a nearly exhaustive single volume that displays all of the greatness that was Vampire the Masquerade back in the 1990s when I started role playing, and it has also lead to a resurrection of White Wolf products through Onyx Path Publishing and CCP (makers of Eve Online).  However, V20 is not a perfect product.  Because it was conceived as a single book devoted to fans of the Classic World of Darkness and Vampire the Masquerade, several issues exist with the presentation of the material.


The first thing I noticed when opening the book was the artwork, a mixture of black & white and color.  The artwork chosen for V20 is a mixture of the old and the new, bringing together the nostalgia of old sessions sitting with friends I haven’t talked to in a decade and the desire to build new chronicles and share them with new friends and even strangers.  Pulling from the vast amounts of artwork from previous Vampire the Masquerade books, the authors have chosen some gorgeous images that capture the essence of the setting, but they have also carefully avoided artwork that was too ‘90s.  The new color artwork is breathtaking, especially the images of stereotypical members of each clan that grace the pages opposite the start of a new chapter.  The artwork is vivid and beautiful and perfectly reflects the tone and atmosphere of Vampire the Masquerade.

Every major clan is included in V20 along with their bloodlines and disciplines.  The amount of options presented can be overwhelming, and some of these clans and bloodlines should have been left out.  While I understand the authors’ need to include an exhaustive list of every possible clan or bloodline, along with their disciplines, I feel that perhaps they went too far.  Including clans from Dark Ages Vampire (such as the Cappadocians and Lamia) or minor bloodlines (such as the Ahrimanes) or even the especially strange Children of Osiris, was unnecessary except for the sake of completion.  I have no particular dislike of any of those clans or bloodlines but I believe the space spent on these could have been better used.  More on that later.


Aside from some minor changes and tweaks, the core mechanics are much the same as they were in Second Edition and Revised.  The most important change to the system is to the Abilities section.  Several new skills have been added, such as Technology (for using electronics that are not computers), Larcey (for picking non electronic locks) and Awareness (for identifying supernatural phenomena).  Dodge has been incorporated into Athletics.  Secondary skills have been completely removed, simplifying character creation, although some hobby abilities remain but only to round out character concepts.  The focus however is on the primary Abilities.  Also, the rules for multiple actions have been tweaked slightly and much improved by simplifying it.  I was never a fan of the way dice pools were split in Revised; in V20 you simply decide on the number of actions, then determine the smallest dice pool, and finally split the smallest dice pool amongst those actions.  Backgrounds have gotten a needed boost through a mechanic that allows players to pool their background points thus binding a coterie together and letting them invest into a shared resource pool.

Certain disciplines have been updated as well.  The biggest changes have been to Celerity and Potence.  However, the changes balance these powers effectively giving both of them a passive ability as well as an activated ability.  Now the player has the option to choose with Celerity whether to roll more dice on attack or spend blood for extra actions. (The amount of blood spent for Celerity can exceed the generational maximum.)  Potence has a similar change.  Other Disciplines have been rebalanced.  The first level of Presence, Awe, now requires the expenditure of a blood point to activate.  Disciplines for all the major clans are present up to their ninth level along with some options for levels six through nine for some disciplines.

Setites are becoming my favorite clan


The combat system retains the quirks of the older editions as well as the simplicity that I always loved.  Although it is possible to use grid maps and plot every movement during a battle, that level of detail is unnecessary.  The focus is on fast and loose combat that doesn’t require anything more than the players’ imaginations and a few dice rolls.  The initiative system did receive a minor change.  Now prior to each round of combat the players re-roll initiative.  This can slow down combat rounds slightly but it can be easily changed without affecting the system to rolling initiative once per combat.


Overall, V20 preserves the essence of the Classic World of Darkness while updating it for the future.  However, I do have one major gripe with this book.  While I understand that this book was targeted at existing fans of the system as an anniversary edition, the lack of an in depth history of Kindred is a big problem especially with the inclusion of bloodlines like the Ahrimanes and Children of Osiris (are they a bloodline or a sect?) or clans exclusive to the Dark Ages setting.  However, as a book to introduce new players to Vampire the Masquerade, this book fails to deliver needed back story to put these clans and especially the bloodlines into perspective.  I understand that V20 is supposed to be metaplot neutral, meaning that events such as Gehenna or the Gangrel leaving the Camarilla are left to individual storytellers, but the lack of explanation in V20 means that new players lack knowledge that could have been included in this tome by cutting extraneous clans like the Ahrimanes.  The history of the Classic World of Darkness setting has always been complex and often contradictory, but its exclusion from this book is one of two glaring errors on the part of the authors.  The other error is the omission of the Caitiff which was added in the V20 Companion that was released shortly thereafter.


The 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire the Masquerade marks the welcomed rebirth of the Classic World of Darkness and Vampire the Masquerade.  Vampire has long been missed by its fans, and I look forward to introducing more new players to this wonderful game.  I am looking forward to the next Kickstarter for The Onyx Path.  Werewolf’s 20th Anniversary Edition has just been made available at DriveThruRPG and Mage is next up along with plenty of other books representing the rebirth of the Classic World of Darkness.  If you are fan of the World of Darkness this book is a must buy.  However, if you are a new player, you’ll need to do some reading on the history and mythology of the World of Darkness or find a veteran to explain some of the minutiae of lore founded in these pages. In the future I hope that The Onyx Path, CCP and White Wolf publishing publish a book that gives more background information on this very deep setting.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zatanna: Shades of the Past

Title: Zatanna: Shades of the Past

ISBN: 9781401233006
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2011
Artist: Stephane Roux, Chad Hardin, Cliff Chiang, Jamal Igle, Wayne Faucher, Jon Sibal, Robin Riggs, Travis Moore, John Dell, Victor Ibáñez
Writer: Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Mathew Sturges, Derek Fridolfs
Collects: Zatanna #7-16

Rating: 3.5/5

Shades of the Past is the second trade paperback finishing off Paul Dini’s run on Zatanna, as well as the finale of the book before the big New 52 relaunch.  Sadly, this was not one of the books to be relaunched either in neither the first wave nor any of the subsequent ones.  It is quite a shame as well as she is a character with so much potential.  Currently though you can find her in Justice League Dark for all new adventures.

I found this particular volume better than the first.  There was more action in it which kept the story moving at a bit of a quicker pace and the stories themselves were more interesting.  Also, it felt like Dini himself got a better handle on the character and was more comfortable writing her as the series progressed.  Compared to the first volume which I looked at earlier, it was miles ahead better than the first.  Not to say that the first one was terrible, but if I were to re-read them, I would definitely go for this one.

The best story dealt with a possessed marionette or more accurately a man transformed into one by Zatanna’s father Zatara.  It was a good blend of story and action with just the right atmosphere to accompany it.  It was fun, and creepy (talking dolls!) and it had Zatara – one of the best characters ever.  It is not often we get to see Zatara in a comic and when it happens, it is usually pretty awesome.  The other stories were good, but this one was the best by far.  Good stuff all around.

Overall, it was a very solid ‘second’ chapter of the ongoing series.  Again, it would have been nice to see where Dini would have taken us if the New 52 had never come along.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Zatanna: Mistress of Magic

Title: Zatanna: Mistress of Magic

ISBN: 9781401230074
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2011
Artist: Stephane Roux, Chad Hardin, Jesus Saiz
Writer: Paul Dini
Collects: Zatanna #1-6

Rating: 3.5/5

The crippling problem with characters and storylines that revolve around magic is that there’s no natural set of rules to lay down the score. If the infernal druid mage from the 8th circle of hell rears his tri-wand at a magic-wielding protagonist, the writer can just summon a mystical deus ex machina to wrap things up nicely.

Fish-netted heroine Zatanna proves to be the poster child of this dilemma in her new series. She’s so ridiculously over-powered that watching her confront a spell-slinging baddie is about as suspenseful as a showdown between an ice cube and a sauna.

The silver-age witch and reserve Justice Leaguer confronts an assortment of supernatural foes like she’s a peppier John Constantine, cracking witty asides in the face of trans-dimensional crisis. This isn’t much of a challenge for Zatanna—all she has to do is utter a phrase backwards and reality bends to her will. Unless she’s suffering from strep throat or battling God, few challenges are going to prevent a victory.

Veteran writer Paul Dini nails the character’s alluring mix of snappy confidence and quiet vulnerability, but he’s going to have to stray into some more challenging territory to let this femme fatale show off her real magic.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

G.I. Joe: Silent Interlude 30th Anniversary Edition

Title: G.I. Joe: Silent Interlude 30th Anniversary Edition

ISBN: 9781631400353
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: IDW, 2014
Artist: Larry Hama, Steve Leialoha, Joe Benitez
Writer: Larry Hama
Collects: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero #21, G.I. Joe: Origins #19

Rating: 5/5

Way back in 1984, when Marvel Comics held the license to publish comic books based on the ridiculously popular G.I. Joe toy line and animated series that Hasbro had unleashed upon the public, it was pretty much universally agreed upon by pre-pubescent boys the world over that Snake Eye’s was the coolest character in the history of the universe. And yeah, those comics that Marvel was pumping out every month? They were pretty fun. They were able to expand on what was established in the TV series and provide fertile minds with plenty of ideas for action figure adventures of their own undertaking.

When issue #21 hit shelves, however, it was a whole different story and fans witnessed then what would go on to be widely considered the coolest story to have ever been told during Marvel’s run with franchise. Not only did it focus on Snake Eye’s pretty much entirely, but the whole thing was done without a single word balloon. No dialogue! It made sense, given that Snake Eye’s doesn’t speak, but still…. no dialogue!

The story was simple enough and fit right in with the continuity established in the twenty issues prior though, like issue #20, it was a standalone story. Written and penciled by Larry Hama and inked by Steve Leiahola with colors by George Roussos, the splash page shows us Stormshadow flying on a glider to Cobra headquarters with Scarlet in tow. He’s holding her captive, much to the delight of Cobra Commander (featured here in his best uniform, the hooded version!). As Scarlet is taken to a holding cell on the lower level of the base, a green air force plane flies overhead. Snake Eye’s jumps out, knowing full well that Scarlet is there and that Stormshadow is going to rough her up a bit.

Destro is monitoring the surveillance system and is alerted to the presence of an intruder. As Snake Eye’s lands on top of the base, Scarlet uses a hair clip to try and get out of her shackles. She succeeds and dupes Stormshadow, bravely making her way out of the cell and into the base itself. Snake Eye’s takes out countless Cobra grunts, ninja style, but then must confront some of Stormshadow’s ninja troops before taking on Stormshadow himself. Will Snake Eye’s and Scarlet make it out of Cobra headquarters alive or will Stormshadow’s take them both out once and for all?

Of course, we all know the answer to that but in 1984, the suspense for younger readers delving into this issue for the first time was pretty real. This comic broke the rules – it left it up to us to fill in the blanks but gave us enough info through clever panel layout and facial expressions that we had no trouble doing that. It offered up everything that we could ask for in a G.I. Joe comic of the era: ninjas, hand to hand combat, great locations, and yes, even some character development (there’s no way that this adventure didn’t go on to solidify Snake Eyes’ relationship with his lovely red-headed associate!). It was mind-blowing when it hit stands and it remains a superb example of visual storytelling to this day.

So in addition to the original comic, presented in a newly restored edition scanned from the original artwork, we get some pretty great bonus features too. First up is an introduction by Mark Bellomo that precedes Silent Interlude and offers up some great history as to how and why this issue came to be. See, the regular creative team had fallen behind and rather than skip an issue, Marvel kept an inventory on hand of single issue stories to keep the gravy train rolling. We also learn about the importance of Larry Hama’s work on the series at this point, not only as a penciller but as a writer and editor as well and how his personal want to try to tell a story completely without words eventually lead to this issue’s birth. We also learn how Hama’s visit to the animation house working on the cartoon inspired the idea for this issue and the perfect setting for the story to take place in and after that, how Hama went back to his New York City apartment and put the whole thing together over a remarkably quick three day stretch. Oddly enough, after this issue went to press Marvel got letters from kids claiming their copy was misprinted, because all the words were missing. The essay then goes on to (rightly) make the case for the influence and importance of this issue and Hama’s work. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes story and one well worth reading BEFORE sampling the comic itself.

IDW has also provided all of Larry Hama’s breakdowns for the issue, and though they weren’t able to be scanned from the original pages (the splash page is inked, the others are just pencils), this black and white un-inked and uncolored version allows us to further appreciate Hama’s fantastic layout and design skills employed in this issue. It’s rough and a little sketchy looking but anyone who enjoyed the issue will relish being able to see what went into getting it made.

This is followed by a second text piece, simply titled Issue Notes, that give us plenty of welcome background information on Snake Eye’s and how the character was created and evolved over the run, leading to his becoming arguably the most popular character in the series. We get a similar rundown for Stormshadow and plenty of quotes from Hama as to what he was going for with his work on this series add plenty of interesting historical context here. There are also some continuity notes that might answer a few questions regarding how their stories play out, some notes on the vehicles used in this issue and a small list of corrections that were made from the original version.

From there, IDW presents issue #19 of their series, G.I. Joe Origins. Written and laid out by Hama with finished pencils from Joe Benitez, inks by Victor Llamas and colors by J. Brown, this is a fun follow up story to the original issue from the eighties and once again, Hama does it all without a single word of dialogue. When the story begins, Snake Eye’s is jumping out of a personal carrier. His parachute lands him safely in a deeply wooded area where he sees a wolf caught in a barbed wire fence. He frees the wolf which triggers an alarm at a nearby installation. Enemy forces arrive via snowmobile but he takes them out quickly and uses the snowmobile to get to the base where those inside are planning to take down the plane he jumped out of. A battle ensues, the enemy helicopter gets airborne and Snake Eye’s destroys what he needs to destroy before fleeing the base. Enemy soldiers give chase, but you just know Snake Eye’s is going to win the day.

This is a fun take on what made the original so involving but it never quite reaches the same level of intensity. Still, it’s well drawn and once again very well laid out. The use of color here is strong and there are a couple of really striking panels that impress. Hama also does a great job of tying the ending into the opening with a neat twist that somehow feels completely appropriate.

Closing out this hardcover collection is a reproduction cover of the original issue’s piece illustrated by Ashely Wood for Hasbro’s line of G.I. Joe 25th Anniversary toys. All in all, this is a really thorough, comprehensive and lovingly put together document that presents the original story in all its remastered glory along with a nice companion piece and, almost as importantly, a whole lot of text documenting the history and influence of the comic.

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 ...