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Sunday, June 28, 2015

52: Volume 1

Title: 52: Volume 1

ISBN: 9781401213534

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2007

Artist: Keith Giffen, Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Ken Lashley, Shawn Moll, Todd Nauck

Writer: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid

Collects: 52 #1-13

Rating: 2.5/5

The first collection of 52 works especially well as a trade paperback. In part because the weekly book offered only twenty pages instead of the standard twenty-two, the writers pack each chapter full of short scenes with plenty of information--sometimes, multiple plotlines are forwarded in separate panels on the same page. This makes an already sizable trade paperback feel even longer.

Though the authors knew they had fifty-two weeks with which to tell their story, there's no sense of decompression here, nor does any issue seem rushed. The pacing of the book only becomes uncomfortable, actually, in the rare points when it seems the authors tried to write against the book's type--an extended fight scene between Steel and his niece, for instance. Even here, however, the change in pacing functions to give the scene emotional resonance.

In using chracters with similar emotional conflicts, the writers give the disparate plotlines a cohesive feel. Renee Montoya has turned self destructive in the aftermath of her partner's death and her failure to take revenge, and the story opens with Ralph Dibney suicidal over the death of his wife, while Black Adam turns his anger over his family's death outward against the nations of the world. Steel struggles to be a true hero in a more dangerous world, while Booster practices heroics for his own personal gain. Booster's materialism, however, may hide true altruism, while Lex Luthor's professed altruism is certainly a cover for something darker. At the end of the book, Montoya leaves for Kahndaq, undoubtedly to meet Black Adam; I imagine the emotional similarities will generate interesting dynamics when all the characters, Seven Soldiers style, finally meet.

52 offers a very representative slice of what life is like on DC's post-Infinite Crisis "New Earth." The final issue offers a team-up of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, and Zauriel, coming together to help out Elongated Man; earlier in the story, Steel joins Dr. Mid-Nite at a hospital set up specifically for meta-humans, and Alan Scott makes a military-like courtesy call to the wife of the missing Animal Man. I'm not sure we would have seen such camaraderie among the heroes just a few years ago.

These kinds of touches reinforce the tone of the DCU post-Identity and Infinite Crisis, where the heroes live in a rich community of other heroes, and face danger not unlike policemen and fire fighters. Though the tone, overall, may be unrealistically cooperative and optimistic, it's a welcome change from the "grim and gritty" years. In removing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, 52 also shows the rich tapestry of the new DCU Universe, from the inclusion of lessed-used characters like Zauriel, Whisper a'Daire, and Intergang, to the apparent Xavier/Magneto friendship between the Metal Men's Dr. Will Magnus and the villain T. O. Morrow.

In lieu of the "History of the DC Universe" and other back-up features that originally ran with 52 the trade instead offers two page "Behind the Scenes" looks at each 52 chapter, usually commentary by one of the writers followed by a piece of script or an art breakdown. I enjoyed these very much and wouldn't mind seeing them in all trade paperbacks, though the stories here are richer because of 52's frenetic publishing pace.

What was especially interesting were the mistakes that the authors point out (Batwoman's unintended debut, the wrong Gotham Central officer drawn in), and that--in this day and age of trade paperback revisionism, as writers and artists use trade paperback to correct their mistakes--have been left in the trade (along with others that the writers don't mention, like Ralph Dibney's amazing disappearing, reappearing beard). Not only does this allow the trade reader to experience some of the pitfalls of a weekly series just as the weekly readers did, but it gives the whole thing the feel of watching a live episode of your favorite TV show.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Justice League Dark Vol. 2: Books of Magic

Title: Justice League Dark Vol. 2: Books of Magic

ISBN: 9781401240240
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2013
Artist: Mikel Janin
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Collects: Justice League Dark #7-13 & 0, Justice League Dark Annual #1

Rating: 3/5

Second acts are tough, especially in the DC Comics New 52. Neither the second volumes of Green Arrow nor Red Lanterns improved over their first. Superman Vol. 2's creative team left with the end of that collection. So it is with great pleasure, though not much surprise, that I found Jeff Lemire's Justice League Dark Vol. 2: Books of Magic is a significant improvement over Peter Milligan's first trade, and one that clearly demonstrates how Justice League Dark can continue successfully into the future.

Lemire delivers a consistently excellent product on the horror comic Animal Man, so it's no shock that his supernatural-themed Justice League Dark should also be good. But what Lemire does early on that helps the book immeasurably is to pull it somewhat out of that "magic" realm. Whereas Milligan's book opened with the Justice League outclassed against a magical force, Lemire takes the supernatural Dark team and depicts them in a rather "regular" superhero mission, matching wits with long-time Justice League villain Felix Faust.

The biggest impediment to these supernatural team titles is that in depicting magic they tend toward the flowery, and instead Lemire makes the title immediately more accessible and familiar. There's even an unusual aspect of espionage action to this supernatural book; ARGUS's Steve Trevor recruits John Constantine to head a kind of "black ops" group of mystics, and a key sequence in the book takes place wholly within one of ARGUS's secret bases.

Second, not to be overlooked, Lemire benefits Dark by making it "cool." We saw a ragtag team in Justice League Dark Vol. 1, essentially lead by Madame Xanadu and with less well-known characters like Shade, the Changing Man and Mindwarp. Lemire wisely puts Constantine in the lead (after all, who's cooler than John Constantine?) and benches Xanadu for most of the issue, spotlighting instead more recognizable characters like Zatanna and Deadman. New member Black Orchid also isn't as well known, but Lemire and artist Mikel Janin fit her naturally with the team on a number of levels -- Orchid is visually interesting and more traditionally superheroic-looking than Shade, for instance; she stands in for the reader as the "skeptic," someone not as versed in magic as the rest of the team; but additionally, as we learn by the end of the book, magic is not so foreign to Black Orchid as she may pretend.

All of this serves to sweep the reader from a fight with Faust to the team's new headquarters, the House of Mystery, and then to a magic-fueled battle inside ARGUS's Black Room. Books like Dark, Shadowpact, Primal Force, the "Sentinels of Magic" stories and others have suffered in my opinion from being too esoteric and fantasy-driven in their magic superheroes; what Lemire presents here is a book that a fan of Justice League or Justice League of America could pick up, as well as fans of these magic characters, and and not be put off by too many pages spent on flowery incantations.

I also appreciated that even as Lemire's story is a break from Milligan's that came before, Lemire preserves what happened in the last volume and moreover, it matters. Constantine and company gained Steve Trevor's attention because of their earlier fight against Enchantress; moreover, Xanadu is still having the same apocalyptic visions that she had in Milligan's story, and Lemire further co-opts these as the doings of the story's villain. One can pick up this second volume without having to read the first, but I appreciated that the first still counts and that Lemire keeps the characters basically the same as they were before (something less true between the Dan Jurgens and Ann Nocenti Green Arrow books, for instance). It helps immeasurably that DC kept Janin on this title; I'm glad they didn't sweep the entire original team out, but kept Janin, whose pseudo-realistic style is just right for this title.

I worried in reading the first volume of Dark that John Constantine, newly released back to the DC Universe, came off toothless; he cracked wise and smoked a bunch of cigarettes, but wasn't in all the legendary bastard I'd been lead to expect. Lemire solves this too, whether it's Constantine telling Zatanna a pretty compelling lie in the beginning to gain her help, or Constantine snapping young Timothy Hunter's neck in the end (a ruse but entirely believable). I only paused a bit at Lemire's suggestion that Constantine truly (rather than just another of his cons) has feelings for Zatanna; obviously this doesn't keep him from using her to his own ends, but I felt it was perhaps a bit out of character for Constantine to "love" someone, and especially so early in this series.

Justice League Dark Vol. 2: Books of Magic ends on a cliffhanger, and just as one of my favorites, Frankenstein, joins the team, too. No question Jeff Lemire has won me back for a third volume, and it's this volume, more than Justice League, that has me excited for Trinity War, too. I don't know how this title will change when J. M. Dematteis comes on, but I'm eager for what Lemire does in the meantime.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Updates to comic con schedule for 2015

It seems as though people have figured-out that Oregon is a big draw for comic related events. This year, we saw the addition of 2 new events:

First announced was the Eugene Comic Con (EUCON). I was interested in going, but this week they announced that Larry Hama would be attending and this was the motivation to ensure that I was going to go. I know he's going to be at Rose City Comic Con in September, but this is a rare opportunity and I want to be able to take advantage of it. Also, I'm planning on getting Hama to sign a couple of the G.I. Joe covers from Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

This one came out of nowhere and was just announced this week. Emerald Valley Geek Fest will run October 3-4. There hasn't been much information posted yet, but I'll welcome any chance I can get to attend another comic event.

I'm hoping that I can acquire a media pass for these events and look forward to writing a review for each.

Along those lines, I have some additional news related to Rose City Comic Con. I'm still waiting to hear back if I'll be receiving media passes. This year, I'll be bringing a photographer with me to finally get some great photos to go along with my write-up. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I also want to do an interview or two while there. Once I find out anything, I'll be posting here, through my Twitter and on Facebook.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark

Title: Justice League Dark Vol. 1: In the Dark

ISBN: 9781401237042
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2012
Artist: Mikel Janin
Writer: Peter Milligan
Collects: Justice League Dark #1-6

Rating: 3/5

In DC Comics's announcement of the New 52 initiative, Justice League Dark emerged as one of the most compelling reasons for the reboot -- a title that would spearhead the reintegration of many of DC's classic supernatural characters from the Vertigo imprint into the DC Universe proper. No less, the book would be written by Peter Milligan, a long-time Vertigo writer with celebrated runs on Shade, the Changing Man and John Constantine's Hellblazer, both characters Milligan would write again in Dark.

The joy of a comic that includes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and then also Constantine, Shade, Zatanna, and Deadman, among others, remains. And Justice League Dark: In the Dark's final cliffhanger and the fact that DC superstar writer Jeff Lemire comes on as writer in the next volume both warrant checking out this series' second collection. But Milligan's first arc on Dark is overlong and fails to effectively use the Dark characters, ending up more like "just another" team book than the site of Vertigo horror in the DC Universe.

In terms of where to find "the Vertigo" in Justice League Dark, Milligan brings it forth most clearly in the characters of Deadman and Shade. The each have a troubling relationship with the women in their lives, as Deadman tries to entice girlfriend Dove to have sex with a random man while Deadman possesses his body, and Shade has created his companion from the ether without telling her she's not "real." That the only way the book can show a character to be disturbed is to have them victimize a woman is problematic, but the result is that Milligan gives more depth to Deadman and Shade than the other characters in the book.

That Milligan even addresses Deadman's sexuality falls squarely on the Vertigo side of things. Milligan's conclusion that Deadman must essentially violate a person in order to be intimate is only logical, most likely the reason no other writer has approached it until now; to Milligan's credit, what he's done is to take an obvious but unseemly aspect of Deadman and bring it to light, thereby building on the character in a faithful way.

Later, Milligan mitigates it all by suggesting the Enchantress's dark magic spurred Deadman to sleaziness, though the character might be all the more interesting if left his own flaws. Either way, Deadman is a good example of how Milligan tries to present the darker side of DC Comics's dark characters here.

The rest of the characters receive far less spotlight. Milligan would seem to bank on John Constantine's reputation to make his impression in the book, since fabled louse Constantine does nothing untoward nor really terribly controversial in these pages. It becomes almost a running joke that the Justice League-level sorceress Zatanna's spells fail in this story, rendering her nearly useless. And Milligan brings back new character Mindwarp from Flashpoint: Secret Seven, though Mindwarp's role in the book is fairly minor.

Indeed, In the Dark's greatest problem is that the first five-issue arc consists almost entirely of the characters moving from place to place, maybe bantering, maybe fighting something, before they move again and repeat. The story's antagonist is apparent almost from the beginning, and so there's little suspense as the various characters are introduced and argue with one another, until enough issues go by that Milligan brings it all to a close.

That close, even, peters out -- for all the running around and worrying that the Dark characters do, ultimately Constantine speaks one spell by himself that ends the Enchantress's mad rampage. Similarly in the sixth issue epilogue, Deadman possesses Shade and suddenly Shade's wild golem disappears. That Milligan's focus is more on the characters than on the action isn't a detraction, but neither side has quite enough heft here.

Part of In the Dark's rooting around might be attributable to the fact that the final issue leads in to a four-part crossover with Joshua Fialkov's I, Vampire in the next volume. If Justice League Dark did have to mark time so Vampire could get in place alongside it, Dark was the worse for it. The main plot of In the Dark could certainly have been two or three issues instead, and then perhaps that extra space might have been used to convince the reader how the DC Universe's new Constantine and new Zatanna stand up to their old iterations.

Again, however, there's a simple joy in reading about a team that includes Constantine and Zatanna and Shade, and the fact that Jeff Lemire -- who wrote perhaps the best DC New 52 debut so far with Animal Man -- is taking over only portends good things for the book. Artist Mikel Janin does fine work throughout with a detailed, almost photo-realistic approach to the book's various decaying ghouls, and it's good news he's sticking around, too. Justice League Dark: In the Dark is not a strong debut for this much anticipated series, but there's evidence better things may be in store the next time around.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book

Title: Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book

ISBN: 9781936685325

Price: $49.99

Publisher/Year: Margaret Weis Productions 2014

System: Cortex

Out-of-print: No

Available on DriveThruRPG: Yes

Overall rating (1-10): 7

Debuting in physical form around GenCon 2014, the Firefly Role-Playing Game whisks the players off to the ‘Verse of the Joss Whedon “western in space” television program of the same name. If you haven’t watched Firefly, let me just say that you are seriously missing out and should stop immediately stop reading this review and go download it on Netflix/buy it on Blu-Ray/whatever. This review will assume that you have done so. Checking in at north of 360 pages, the full-color hardcover has a suggested retail price of $50. The book is also available as a PDF, and this review is based on the PDF (it was a review copy, for those who consider that an important thing to know).

Note: This is a review of a book, not a system. This is a review of a core book, which means I’ll be talking about basic mechanics, and I’ll say if something seems obviously problematic or cool, but this review should not be mistaken as a source of subtle analysis of  things like character creation or combat option balance.

The Firefly RPG is set up for the PCs to be a group similar to the main characters of the show, if not actually just playing as the main characters of the show. You have a ship, you have a crew, you’ll hopefully have a job, and you’ll be flying around the 5 star systems and 72 planets of the ‘Verse (I can tell you these numbers only because the RPG tells me these numbers, so the RPG does deliver some the basic political and geographical situation of the ‘Verse in a more coherent and detailed way than you get it in the show). Note that you do not have to play a crew that is hostile to the Alliance.

Firefly is published by Margaret Weis Productions, and uses their Cortex Plus system that is also used in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Smallville (each of these games uses variants on the system – Firefly is Cortex Plus Action, Marvel is Cortex Plus Heroic, Smallville is Cortex Plus Drama, and there is a lot of variance between them). Note that the older Serenity RPG used what is now called the Cortex Classic system. Characters have various traits – mostly commonly Attributes (mental, physical, social), Skills, Distinctions, and Assets – and each of these traits has a die rating (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12). When taking an action, the player rolls dice (at least two for Attribute and Skill, possibly 10 or more if there are a whole mess of things going in the character’s favor) and then adds the two highest together. This roll (called raising the stakes) must exceed the total rolled by the GM for the NPC involved (the GM’s roll is called setting the stakes, is produced in a similar fashion, and is rolled first). If the PC is on the defensive, then the order will be reversed – the PC sets the stakes, and then the NPC must raise the stakes. Any die that comes up a 1 is a jinx – it can’t be added to your total (even if this leaves the character with zero or one die), and might saddle the PC with Complications. All ones is a botch, and I think we can all safely assume that’s a Bad Thing for the PC.

Each player starts each game session with one plot point, but there are several ways to get more. Pretty much all of the Distinctions (more on those later) can give out plot points. If a PC rolls a Jinx, the GM can give the PC a plot point to create a Complication (more on those in a moment). And the GM can hand them out if the player is awesome in some fashion. Plot points are quite versatile, and can be used to activate certain Distinction abilities, create an Asset that lasts until the end of the scene (or for the rest of the episode, for two plot points), add a third or subsequent die to the die roll (chosen after knowing the roll and possibly after knowing the target number, so a very potent function), or not getting Taken Out.

Assets are any random thing that the player can come up with that has some positive relation to the activity. Normal assets are created temporarily by spending plot points. Signature Assets are permanent, appearing on the character sheet and getting used whenever applicable (Signature Assets can also have abilities like Distinctions). Assets can be physical objects, preparation, attitudes, or relationships. So, for example, Malcolm Reynolds might have the Serenity as a high-level signature asset – any time he makes any roll that has to do with the Serenity, he gets to roll an additional d8. Or Zoe and Wash might have assets that give them extra dice to roll when they’re working together. Kaylee might have an easier time convincing someone she’s innocent of a crime because she’s so gosh durn cheerful and sweet. And so on. The only limitations on adding dice from Assets are how many plot points are on hand and how much the GM will let the player get away with.

Complications are something like anti-Assets – they’re something the character is saddled with that gives the opposition an extra die when it comes into play (and the PCs may get to add Complication dice to their pools when the NPCs have Complications). Whenever a PC rolls a Jinx, the GM can give the PC a plot point to inflict a Complication (the more jinxes, the nastier the Complication). A character may also have been saddled with Complications in order to stick around in a confrontation rather than being Taken Out. Complications can be worked off – there are recovery rolls, and PCs can spend plot points to reduce or remove Complications whenever an NPC rolls a 1.

Assets and Complications play a big, big role in shaping the action in the Cortex system.

The GM may determine that a roll is high stakes for one or both of the characters involved. If a roll is high stakes for a character, then losing the roll means that the character will be Taken Out for the rest of the scene. The most obvious example of a high stakes roll is combat, but there can also be social rolls that invoke this rule (e.g., the character is humiliated and cannot meaningfully socially spar any more that night). By default, this is still a single roll – so, unless one of the combatants wants to extend the fight, even combat is a one-roll affair. But characters with plot points available (and who are not hopelessly overmatched) will likely want to stay in the fight a little longer. A character can spend a plot point and taken a complication (typically a wound, for a combat action) to keep on rolling. This makes the next roll worse for the character, but at least she’s still got a shot! Well, for a little bit anyway – eventually one of the complications she’s been saddled with will be too much, and will Taken her Out anyway.

There are three levels of character creation available in Firefly. First, you can just play as the crew from the show (Jayne’s Hat is not a Signature Asset – I say start a petition!). Second, you can choose one of two dozen archetypes with some additional customization. Third, you can build your character up from scratch.

If building a character from scratch, you can make all of your Attributes even, or set them primary/secondary/tertiary if you want the character to be have broad strengths and weaknesses. Each character starts with three Distinctions, which can represent roles, personality traits, backgrounds, or whatever (examples include Alliance Officer, Con Artist, First Mate, Doctor, Mechanic, Companion, Captain, Pilot, Chatterbox, Fashionable, Know It All, Brothers, Rich, Drunk … there are a whole mess of them). Each Distinction does several things. First, each identifies three highlighted skills. Each of these skills improves from the default d4 (if a particular skill is highlighted in multiple distinctions, the skill gets stepped up multiple times), and makes the skill cost have as much to advance later. Each Distinction will add an additional die to any appropriate roll – so if you have the “Fed” Distinction, which relates to hunting down criminals, then you’ll get to roll an extra die whenever you’re hunting down a criminal. Finally, each Distinction has three triggers. One of those three is the same between all of the Distinctions and you always start with it – reduce your Distinction die down to a d4 in order to gain a plot point. The others tend to require spending a plot point or taking some other temporary disadvantage to activate, but some particularly narrow effects have no cost. You get to choose a couple of these triggers (in total, not per Distinction) to start with as well.

After distinctions are chosen and give their skill increases, you get points to spend on more increases, but they cost double if they aren’t highlighted skills. Finally, you get a pool of points to spend on Signature Assets and Skill specialties. Specialties add another die whenever applicable. So if a character had a Physical d10 and Shoot d10 and a Rifles specialty and, say, a Vera d8 Signature Assets, then whenever he shoots at you with Vera he’s rolling a 2d10 and a d8 and a d6, which is why Jayne is really good at shooting you – and he’s probably using his Mercenary Distinction to throw in an extra d4 and gain a plot point.

A character’s “experience” is simply based on the number of episodes she’s completed. Episodes can be used in two ways. First, each of the episodes in a characters Episode Guide can be used once per session as a plot point if the player can come up with a callback to what happened during that episode.

Second, episodes can be spent to train up the character’s abilities. Episodes can be spent to increase all sorts of things, but they’ll mostly be used to turn temporary Assets into Signature Assets, add skill specialties, and maybe unlock new abilities for Signature Assets and Distinctions. Attributes can be modified and Skills can be increased, but these options are prohibitively expensive compared to messing around with Signature Assets and specialties.

Ships have some similarities with characters, but are ultimately more straightforward. Like characters, ships have three Attributes (Engines, Hull, and Systems). Ships also have three Distinctions, one of which will be its Class (e.g., a Firefly-class freighter or a Tohoku-class Alliance cruiser … because your GM is totally going to let you have one of those). Each ship has two more Distinctions, one based on its history (Brand Spankin’ New, Battle-Scarred, etc.) and one for customization (Cruisin’ the ‘Verse for better passenger-carrying, Automated Controls to hopefully be able to avoid using a Pilot, etc.). Like character Distinctions, the ship distinctions have their own abilities. Ships can also have Signature Assets, and each comes with two for free. Once play begins, Assets and Complications can be applied to ships just like they’re applied to characters, and most rolls involve ships will involve some dice from the crew as well.

So, the above is about 105 pages, which leaves quite a bit more. What else is in there? About another 40 is GM material – how to use the narrative system and general GM tips. There’s an adventures (What’s Yours Is Mine), and that’s almost another 40. The biggest single chapter, however, is an Episode Guide, which runs about 130 pages. And I have to say that I found it a rather odd bird.

Finding an episode guide in a licensed product like this is not new – I can recall a number of anime RPG core books that were more episode guide than RPG. But this is not an episode guide in a traditional sense. It goes through all of the episodes, but the purpose isn’t to serve as a reference on the episodes, but rather to use the retelling of each of the episodes to remind and inform the players about the setting, and to very slowly introduce game mechanics, using examples from the series, up to and including GM techniques. Also, scattered throughout the episode guide is where you’ll find all of the NPCs, ships, equipment, and gazetteer information that I’d normally expect to find broken out in their own sections of the book (there are also suggestions for how the GM could do things a bit differently than what happened in the episode). Chinese phrases are also scattered throughout this chapter, but for them there is an appendix later with a complete list.

Unfortunately, this combination of functions leaves the episode guide fairly ineffective at these two distinct functions. As a “learn to play” section, it’s too long – you just have to read through too much stuff that’s not really related to learning how to play. And as a reference it really does not work. They have put an index in the front of the book and then a list of citations later in the book in the GM chapters, but it’s still really inconvenient to try and look up crunchy bits in an RPG book when they’re scattered all over the place. I remember when the L5R RPG switched to having literally all of the mechanics in its supplements at the very back of the book (they used to be clumped at the end of each chapter). I was skeptical of this at first, but once I actually started using those books it turned out to be incredibly convenient. Firefly goes in the opposite direction, making it a hassle to reference NPCs, ships, and gear during session prep and gameplay.

The art in the book is a combination of screen shots from the show, new photographs (most commonly new NPCs, and drawn art for the chapter openings and the character classes. The shots I tended to like best were (1) the best character straight-on character images from the show (or, possibly, from promotional material for the show), then jazzed up with effects like star backgrounds and presented on a large scale; and (2) the sepia-toned shots that are mostly (I think) their own work. I have to say I was not a fan of some of the split-screen art boxes that were used, where they had a square or vertical rectangular space they put art in, and they fill it with two or three screen shots stacked up on top of one another. The images sort of blend together in a way that I did not find appealing.

Editing, layout, and graphic design were good – not a lot of typos, layout looked nice and I didn’t see any goofs, and things like the graphic displays of the five start systems (one with all five and five with one each) were well done. There are also schematics of Serenity and some of her component systems.

I do not know if it’s something inherent to the Cortex system, or something modified just for Firefly, but I think that the way the experience costs push character growth makes it feel like what you see on the show. Character capabilities don’t really change much – Wash doesn’t become an even better pilot and Kaylee doesn’t suddenly learn how to punch well. What you tend to see instead is learning more about characters’ pasts and personalities and relationships. In the game, these are Signature Assets, and they are relatively cheap to acquire.

The plot point flow seems extremely important – you might almost be hoping to roll a jinx here or there to tempt the GM to hand you out some more. At a minimum that will let you trade a few lousy rolls at one point in the adventure for a killer roll later in the adventure, which is usually a fairly strong effect.

One of the observations I frequently make about RPGs is that a lot of us will buy a lot more RPG books than we will ever use (or buy books where we really only end up using one particular mechanical bit). That means that it can be important whether an RPG is simply good reading material. For that purpose, I can’t recommend the Firefly core book – too much is taken up by that 130-page intro/episode guide chapter, and it does not make for good reading material.

Ultimately, I think that whether you’ll value this as a game will, unsurprisingly, come down how you feel about Firefly (or, more specifically, roleplaying in the Firefly universe). On the bright side, I think that if you are interested in that, this will work – licensed RPGs just fall flat on their faces from time to time, or try to implement systems that just don’t work well with the feel of the source material. Firefly avoids any such pitfalls. With that said, having successfully surpassed that threshold, how much players dig the Firefly RPG may depend on how they feel about the fairly elastic nature of the Asset system. Do you have nightmares of players getting to just make up any random old thing to try and get a bonus whenever they want one, without any real mechanical limitation? Then this system may not tickle your fancy. Do you think it’s really cool to be able to just name relationships and equipment on the fly, following your narrative without excessively detailed mechanical restrictions? Then you’ll probably really like this.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Deadpool Vol. 5: The Wedding of Deadpool

Title: Deadpool Vol. 5: The Wedding of Deadpool

ISBN: 9780785189336
Price: $15.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Mike Hawthorne, Scott Koblish, Evan "Doc" Shaner, John McCrea, Paco Medina, Niko Henrichon, John Timms, Dexter Soy, Alvin Lee, Shawn Crystal,Bong Dazo, Carlo Barberi
Writer: Gerry Dugan, Brian Posehn, Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Christopher Priest, Jimmy Palmiotti, Frank Tieri, Gail Simone, Victor Gischler, Daniel Way
Collects: Deadpool (2012) #26-28, Deadpool Annual (2013) #1

Rating: 2.5/5

This is a weird trade -- not because of what’s in Deadpool Vol. 5: The Wedding of Deadpool, but rather in how it’s assembled. It collects issues the first Annual along with issues #26-28 ... but the Annual is also included in a later trade, this particular book starts with #27 and ends with #26, and the Annual came out before any of the issues published here. Since they’re in the book out of order, I’ll talk about them out of order.

The Annual was the first work for Marvel by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker of Thrilling Adventure Hour fame, and it simultaneously brings back a character while explaining away a format change. The previous volume of Deadpool by Daniel Way featured a second set of captions to go along with the traditional yellow boxes. The white boxes weren’t as funny, took up too much room on the page and often interrupted the story’s flow. Acker and Blacker reveal that this is because during an adventure, Deadpool and fellow immortal vigilante Madcap died and fused together; the white boxes were Madcap’s thoughts. This actually makes re-reading Way’s Deadpool a lot more worthwhile; it’s also reminiscent of Deadpool bodily merging with Cable in the Cable and Deadpool book.

Marvel built up Deadpool’s wedding as a big second-quarter event, introducing his new wife-to-be in the online-first Deadpool: Dracula’s Gauntlet. The opening of issue #27 provides the basics for the reader: her name is Shiklah and she’s a demon queen who can turn into a gorgeous human form. Wade saved her from becoming Dracula’s new wife. She’s not the most captivating of characters, but she has a strong identity and purpose apart from her husband and has an excuse to be elsewhere when Deadpool is on adventures. They even have similar problems with being pursued by enemies; she’s dodging vampires while Deadpool’s fending off attacks from ULTIMATUM. After an action-packed first part, the story transitions into some wedding hijinks as Deadpool forgot to get a minister.

Despite considering getting the Purifiers to run his wedding, Deadpool ends up being approached by Nightcrawler in one of his first appearances in another title since his resurrection. This allows Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn to bring back the North Korean X-Men subplot and set up a meeting between Kurt and his Korean counterpart. In issue #28, this becomes the main plot of Deadpool and Shiklah’s honeymoon trip to Asia. The writers’ ability to weave their subplots together is really impressive; they’re not afraid to make callbacks to issues published years before. While the record-breaking cover doesn’t quite represent the wedding in the book, it’s still attended by the Avengers, the X-Men, and other major heroes. It’s a sign that they do appreciate Deadpool no matter how much he annoys them. There are some great cameos too, with the aforementioned Madcap, Big Bertha of the Great Lakes Avengers, and Bob, Agent of HYDRA all showing up. Blind Al is also seen ... although she doesn’t quite make it to the wedding. Weasel may be in one of the crowd scenes but I can’t be certain.

This is just the beginning of the nostalgia rush, as the rest of issue #27 is made up of ten stories by every writer of a Deadpool solo book. Duggan’s story bookends the conceit behind the stories: they’re all the other times Deadpool has had a wedding. All of them are false or exaggerated but they’re still fun. Posehn teams up with Scott Koblish to do an inventory short with Deadpool marrying Carol Danvers in Vegas in the '80s. Fabian Nicieza gets two stories, with one how Wade learned to love chimichangas and the other as part of the Cable and Deadpool run. (Rob Liefeld’s influence on Deadpool goes unacknowledged apart from the credits and it doesn’t affect the book at all.)

Mark Waid, who wrote the very first Deadpool mini-series, regales us with a fourth-wall-breaking tale which might also explain Wade’s comics awareness. Joe Kelly’s story is the best of the lot with a great use of captions and a heartbreaking ending. Christopher Priest teams with Niko Henrichon of Pride of Baghdad to tell another beautifully-drawn downer. Jimmy Palmiotti’s story is hectic like the rest of his run while Frank Tieri concentrates more on Deadpool’s time as part of Weapon X.

Gail Simone returns to the Agent X era to regale us with Wade’s wedding to Outlaw as well as the resolution of the shrunken Rhino plotline from that book. The last two, by Victor Gischler and Daniel Way, illustrate the weaknesses of their run: Gischler’s Savage Land story is overly salacious and Way’s is just goofy and awkward. Three of the stories involve Copycat, Deadpool’s first love interest, who it appears has returned to life and will hopefully return to the main book. The Wedding of Deadpool also includes a guide to identify the 236(!) individual characters on the cover.

Between the honeymoon and the Annual is issue #26, the best inventory issue. It sends Deadpool back to the '60s to save Nick Fury from a time-travelling Hitler. Cable gets involved and things don’t end well for the dictator. This is actually a prequel to issue #20 but ends up being much better. Cable is rarely used in the current run, so whenever Duggan, Posehn, and Koblish bring him out, hilarity always ensues.

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