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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Spider-Man: Big Time



Title: Spider-Man: Big Time

ISBN: 9780785192107
Price: $5.00
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Humberto Ramos, Neil Edwards, Stefano Caselli
Writer: Dan Slott
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #648-651

Rating: 3/5

I like Spider-Man: he’s a great character and has an enduring quality.  After his reboot a few years ago we’re back with a single Peter Parker living on a shoestring budget working for a paper.  This story arc brings Peter to a new low and high.  First he loses his apartment and ends up begging for a spot with every friend he has until landing at Aunt May’s door.  Things look up in a new job at Horizon, a mash-up of Microsoft, Apple and IBM; basically Massive Dynamics from Fringe.  He’s rolling in dough and works at a place where he can express all his technical ideas and inventions into reality, along with cool new toys and a great place to hide his Spider-Man life.  Other character and story building items develop with the newspaper, Jameson and our extra-large supporting character cast.  A new Hobgoblin arises and lots of violence and action ensues.

A real focus on character development and dialog from Slott: it plays well and gets the reader involved.  No real prior knowledge of the existing Spider-Man story is required so this is a great point to jump in.

Humberto Ramos has a very unique art style and it creates a love ’em or leave ’em attitude: lots of hard lines, jagged angles and kinked hair.  It’s bold and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Edgar Delgado provided vibrant coloring throughout that gave every page a strong punch.

The book ends with two backup explanatory stories that didn’t fit anywhere visually.  They were much weaker than the main story and I’m not sure what they added.  For extras we’re provided some variant covers and two character designs from Ramos.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Official... Rose City Comic Con


http://rosecitycomiccon.com/

It's just been made official today. I'll be going to Rose City Comic Con to help cover the event.



I've already lined-up photography from {Chrysalis Rising Photographic Studio}, so you can expect that this latest comic con report will be filled with some great photos.



I'm also trying to arrange an interview with one of the guests. I'll keep the identity of which guest a secret to keep you all guessing and interested. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers



Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers

ISBN: 9780785192091
Price: $5.00
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Collects: Guardians of the Galaxy #1-3 & #0.1

Rating: 3/5

Fundamentally, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers is a collection of six stories, with five introducing the readers to the team members. The sixth story kick-starts plot threads for the series and introduces readers to the concepts needed going forward.

Beginning the this collection is issue #0.1 which gives the reader the origin of Star-Lord. It tells of how his parents, his mother a human and his father the leader of a galactic empire, met and the experiences that motivate Peter Quill (Star-Lord) to be the man he is. This was originally only going to be a short story but, luckily for us, was given a full 22 pages full of great character moments. Through clever pacing Bendis has been able to create a relationship that doesn’t feel forced. Even though it involves an alien it feels like it naturally occurs, which makes things all the more moving when it Star-Lord’s father has to leave. Even though Peter Quill is only a child, the reader sees the seeds of the man he will become through his morals, bitterness and a tragic experience. While these might be familiar in superhero comics, the way they’re presented feels fresh.

Issues #1-3 are part of main narrative of the story and introduce readers to many of the concepts that the series will deal with going on. The basis of the story is that through a mutual agreement with the galactic empires of the Marvel Universe the Earth has become off-limits to everyone who is not native to Earth. But by doing so has made Earth a target and it is up to the Guardians of the Galaxy to protect the Earth from these threats.

These issues are full of action with a mixture of science fiction gunplay, close combat and a sprinkle of ship battles. Artists Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli do a wonderful job putting the action on the page with a mixture of large and small panels. The larger panels give the action a big budget feel, making it more exciting. On the other hand, smaller panels give each team member their moment without sacrificing too much the page count.

One thing I should mention is the inclusion of Iron Man on the team. While some are going to dig the idea, others might see it as a gimmick. Those not familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy might welcome the inclusion as it gives them a familiar character to work with. in my opinion, I think he gels okay with the team and acts as a good way to have concepts introduced to the reader. For those not big on the idea, don’t worry as he doesn’t stay in the series for very long.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers features plenty of humor, with Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon mostly responsible for it. Mostly coming through dialogue, Star-Lord’s humor is mostly wit, while Rocket’s is more a black humor. While these are not laugh out loud moments, they do give the title a sense of fun.

I really enjoyed the addition of politics to Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers with the different alien races discussing what they should do with Earth. It gives an extra level to the story and it makes this science fiction story feel much larger, like it covers more of the universe.

Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli’s art is great throughout, portraying real character moments, while still being science fiction. There one moment with Groot that I thought was fantastic, showing raw emotion on his face. This is something that I believe would not be easy to do with a giant tree alien. My only issue with the art would be Peter Quill’s hair in issue #0.1, which seemed to sit and move in an odd manner.

Also included in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers is Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers. This is a collection of four short stories that introduce Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora and Groot to readers giving them a feel as to who they are and their motivations. While some elements feel like exposition, they definitely make up for that with character moments and a roster of fantastic artists. Michael Avon Oeming, Ming Doyle and Mike Del Mundo all do a fantastic job in bringing their character to life. One can only hope that they get to tell more stories with these characters and settings. The only issue with this is the placement of these stories, which would have been better suited to closer to the front than the back.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers does a great job at introducing new readers to the characters and concepts. While this release has big action and humor, it is the quieter character moments that make the series shine. If you are looking forward to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie then this is the comic you should be reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Expedition to Undermountain



Title: Expedition to Undermountain



ISBN: 9780789641575

Price: $34.95

Publisher/Year: Wizards of the Coast 2007

System: Dungeons & Dragons 3.5

Out-of-print: Yes

Available on DriveThruRPG: Yes



Overall rating (1-10): 7



The cover is the same material and finish as Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, but is a good deal more red than the greyish brown of that book. Still, the book feels like it's not going to be sliding around on the table when you use it, and that's really the important part.



The general format is unchanged, though there's one major difference in the table of contents. Instead of laying everything out twice, which there apparently wasn't room for, the single-encounter expansions are relegated to being referenced from the appropriate encounter entry. They do still manage to put each of them on its own page, though, and none of them starts the first of two pages on an odd page, which is still damn handy.



They haven't actually cut out any of the Forgotten Realms flavor text, except for the name of the city, Waterdeep. Waterdeep is referenced and described somewhat in a 1/3 page sidebar, but they excised pretty much every world-specific thing they can, presumably to get more people to buy it. Regardless, it's not as though Undermountain is exactly dripping with Forgotten Realms flavor in the first place. It's pretty much now the classic "There's an insane wizard, and he's got a gigantic dungeon under a huge mountain, let's go raid it!" adventure of D&D.



There's a quick, two page or so rundown of services available in the city, from who, though no major NPC write-ups are given, just names, and sometimes not even full names. Khelben Arunsun, for example, isn't mentioned at all, though Blackstaff Tower is, as THE place to go for effective, but extremely expensive arcane aid.



The opening premise of the adventure is pretty simple. One day during midday or so, gigantic screaming Halaster faces appear in the city, screaming in despair, along with visions of ruin and destruction and a distinct feeling that the shit is about to hit the fan. That night, a whole bunch of adventurers, of all levels, are hit with visions summoning them to Undermountain to fix something that's gone very, VERY wrong.



Chapter one opens with some important advice and tips for the DM, including a third of a page or so on creating the illusion of more detail than you have, something that more DMs could stand to read, and how to railroad PCs temporarily until you flesh out certain areas, which ideally shouldn't be done at all. Also given page time is random encounters, which Undermountain doesn't exactly use extensively anymore, but ARE present, because it makes sense. Undermountain has always been largely random, and while this one's less so than the rest, if you remove the randomness entirely, it's really not Undermountain anymore.



A couple pages are devoted to factions in Undermountain and Skullport, though there aren't many, and they're mostly in Skullport. There's nothing really remarkable, here, and for those familiar with Undermountain, it'll all be pretty old news.



The overall map of Undermountain makes it look less impressive than it is. It almost resembles a map for a Metroid area, though there are fewer vertical areas than there really should be, and no major slopes.



If there's one major complaint I have about this book, it's that the maps, being confined to the 8.5x11 splat size, cannot possibly do justice to the size of Undermountain. The first level map was, in the original box set, a full poster, eight times the size of the one we get here, and it shows. The map is very twisty, very turny, and it is, as far as I can tell, totally intact, including the homage to adventure module B1, In Search of the Unknown. Yes, faithful readers, the entire first level of the keep, in most of its screwed up geometric glory, is present on the first real dungeon level of Undermountain. To check for yourself, you can open the module itself, and go to page 19 of Expedition to Undermountain, look halfway up the right side of the page, and look for the cross-shaped room and the < corridor right below it.



Even the Lost Levels from the Undermountain II box set are reproduced here, including the Wyllowwood, in all its underground forest with fake sky glory.



Honestly, the maps are so absurdly small in places that WotC should consider selling D&D branded magnifying glasses to go with this thing, or at least giving a disc of printable large scale maps.



The random encounters section is actually depressingly small, leaving it to the DM to add more variety if he wants it, though I approve of random wandering Crawling Claw Swarms. Splinterwaifs are pretty pathetic, honestly, but if the DM overuses their "special" hook, the game's going to get "special" real quick.



Unfortunately, the adventure conclusion is a whole lot of a letdown. I'm not going to spoil it, but it's definitely not really a conclusion in any sense except that it marks the end of the module.



The "new" mechanics section is really, REALLY short, as almost everything used in the mod is prefab. There's a new legacy item valid only for dwarves, and for dwarven wizards, it's absolutely amazing. Too bad the Least Legacy is absurdly difficult for a PC to complete. Two Augment Crystals (from MIC) are included, but they're not new. For some ungodly reason, they saw fit to grant an eighth of a page or so to a named greatsword that has nothing unusual about it other than having a name related to its function, another entry for an alternate-form headband of intellect +2, and a new variety of potions that aren't liquid, use Craft Wondrous Item, and are limited to a really tiny spell list, most of which sucks. On the up side, apparently WotC has determined that the Brew Potion feat is worth less than 5000 GP, since there's an item that grants a better form of it for 5 grand. Not only do you get brew potion, if you already have it, you can brew in half the time, you can convert scrolls directly to potions for the upgrade cost, and you can buy a half-cost potion of cure light wounds once per day from it, for no XP cost. Sounds good to me, potions are terrible.



Five spells are detailed in the back, only two of which are new, and have been a LONG time in coming. Specifically, Halaster's Scrying Cage and Halaster's Teleport Cage are both printed, on page 219. For a not so very expensive cost, you too can teleport-proof AND scry-proof your entire stronghold. This is something villains have needed for a long time, so you can expect these spells to show up in the hands of a conscientious DM near you.



New monsters, there are only two. The second is a Myconid, which nobody actually likes. The other, though, is a swarm of Eyeball Beholderkin, which are just the cutest li'l abberations ever. The thought of hundreds of the cute little buggers working in perfect hive-mind concert makes me giddy like a schoolgirl. It's pretty obvious why these things are rated at CR 4. They can easily slaughter a party of level 1 or 2 characters, but as soon as you're level 5, you're practically immune to everything but their crappy damage, and one good ireball really ruins their day.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Brightest Day Vol 3



Title: Brightest Day Vol 3

ISBN: 9781401232177
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2011
Artist: Ivan Reis, Ardian Syaf, Joe Prado, Patrick Gleason
Writer: Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi
Collects: Brightest Day #17-24

Rating: 2/5

By the second chapter of Brightest Day Vol. 3, Deadman Boston Brand has already been usurped by the White Lantern and forced to seemingly kill his fellow heroes. Hawkman and Hawkgirl fall first, then Aquaman two issues later, the Martian Manhunter an issue after that, and Firestorm enters the mix right after. That is, in the concluding book, Brightest Day sets up its pins and knocks them down with alarming swiftness. If the earlier volumes seemed to plod along, to their detriment, but also give a good mix of stories to their benefit, the third volume's focus is more singular, and it's the most cohesive of all three books.

The Lantern states outright that its interest is not in the characters' conflicts -- the Aquawar, Firestorm vs. the villain Deathstorm, and so on -- but rather in the characters' emotional growth; as each character has an epiphany, the Lantern whisks them away. This unfolds in deus ex machinas, like the Lantern rescuing Firestorm Jason Rusch's father from the Deathstorm in the span of a word balloon, when Rusch and co-Firestorm Ronnie Raymond had spent the better part of a couple issues attempting the rescue themselves. The Lantern may not be invested in the story, per se, but the reader is, and these quick conclusions are disappointingly brusque.

Writers Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi have explored life in all its contradictions in Brightest Day and we're meant to understand here that life is neither convenient nor fair -- as when Hawkman loses Hawkgirl and Dove loses Deadman, all for the purposes of the White Lantern -- but the reader might have cause to feel cheated. That the Deathstorm conflict and Martian Manhunter's fight with D'kay, among others, ultimately count for naught in the book's climax makes one wonder if Brightest Day couldn't have been shorter, or else what was the purpose of a number of storylines that simply fall by the wayside.

There are, of course, new DC Comics series now starring almost every character featured in Brightest Day. Whether Aquaman and Hawkman's stories follow directly from the events of Brightest Day remains to be seen, but we know that Firestorm's does not (explicitly, at least), and long-time Firestorm fans must be disappointed by the character's decades-long saga ending on a cliffhanger (or a strange Flashpoint reference, I'm not sure which). Brightest Day acts like it's another cog in the wheel; in the same way Blackest Night lead to Brightest Day and Sinestro Corps War lead to Blackest Night, so too does Brightest Day suggest more to come. Given that there's not more to come, at least for some iterations of these characters, I might have preferred more conclusion.

It's entirely possible I might be more over the moon about the end of Brightest Day if I hadn't already known about the appearances of Swamp Thing and John Constantine, or if I didn't know both characters now have DC Relaunch titles of their own. No doubt Swamp Thing's appearance in Brightest Day #23 was a breath-taking moment, and Constantine on the last page of the book equally shocking. Unfortunately, when you know what's coming, there's flash here but not much substance. The last page of Blackest Night featured the White Lantern, an ominous, mysterious image; a splash page of Constantine cursing is not really so exciting, when you're already over the excitement of Constantine's return, as Constantine actually doing something might be. (Jim Shooter's got it right that this is a tease, not a cliffhanger.)

Two related points: First, it would be a fallacy to say that all comics work the same in periodical and collected form; rather, some stories lend themselves to one and some to the other. The third volume of Brightest Day's single- or two-issue stories and its successive conclusions (of sorts) was probably much more satisfying in single issue form, where Aquaman's "Aquawar" unfolded over a month rather than sandwiched between the Hawkman and Manhunter wrap-ups. There's some business going around now about how spoilers enhance enjoyment of a story, but I'm skeptical of that -- I venture I'd be much more enthused about the end of Brightest Day if I hadn't known what was coming, and perhaps even didn't know that Swamp Thing and Constantine would each be appearing in loosely-related series following after. In this case, I think the Brightest Day series held more impact for the reader in original form than as a collection after the fact.

Second, despite knowing what was coming, I've been considering why Swamp Thing and John Constantine's appearances still caused me so such glee, when I've only had limited exposure to each. I'm a late-blooming fan of DC's supernatural characters -- Sandman, yes, but I wasn't much for Fate or Primal Force, not until Bill Willingham's Day of Vengeance and his Shadowpact series. Shadowpact, for the first time, made DC's magic fare accessible to me, perhaps largely because Willingham used Blue Devil and the lovable Detective Chimp and more traditional-type villains. Constantine and Swamp Thing, by inference only, seem more accessible supernatural characters of this type, grounded in Earthly horror and not Atlantean wizardry. That they are formerly of Vertigo also helps; Vertigo has a modernity that DC heroes have often lacked, and to bring that spirit into DC is something I soundly applaud. I can't attest to being a fan of these characters, but I'm glad they're here, story spoilers notwithstanding.

The third volume of Brightest Day is ultimately a sound read, and I did enjoy the characters' victories and feel sad at the tragedies within. It serves effectively as "Rebirth"-type story for the main characters, streamlining and defining especially Firestorm and Aquaman (the stand-out star of this series). These successes, however, only leaves the reader wanting more, and that's where the book fails. Brightest Day ends with the tag "The Beginning," when in fact this is really more of the end, and I'd have liked to see more acknowledgment of that in these pages.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book II: And Here My Troubles Began



Title: Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book II: And Here My Troubles Began

ISBN: 0679729771
Price: $14.00
Publisher/Year: Pantheon Books, 1991
Artist: Art Spiegelman
Writer: Art Spiegelman

Rating: 4/5

It sounds like a sick joke: a cartoon history of the Holocaust in which the Jews are mice, the Nazis cats, the Poles pigs, and so forth. And it would indeed be grotesque if Art Spiegelman didn’t draw the life of his father, Vladek, with such defiant grace. The anthropomorphic animals are there for a reason, as Spiegelman is the first to admit: They give the artist and his readers the distance necessary to absorb horrors almost beyond imagining.

Those new to what has become Spiegelman’s life work should go back to the first volume of Maus (1986), which contains chapters originally released in the new-wave comic Raw. The earlier book follows Vladek through his early years in Poland — his romances and marriage, the gathering Nazi threat, his imprisonment in labor camps — leaving us on the doorstep of Auschwitz as if to pause for breath. Maus II drags us inside, but while parts of the book are exceedingly grim, this is no parade of atrocities. Instead, it’s an astonishingly rich portrait of survival through wit and luck.

One of Spiegelman’s finer points is that, in a sense, his father didn’t survive — at least not as the clever, urbane Vladek we meet in the first book. Framing the Auschwitz segments in Maus II are scenes set in modern-day New York, in which Art cajoles his ailing father (he died in 1982) into recording his memories. Here, Vladek is a bitter and needy old man, a neurotic hoarder who may have driven his wife, Art’s mother, to suicide. It’s not a flattering picture, nor is the artist’s portrait of himself as a rebellious son torn between coming to terms with his father and keeping him at arm’s length.

But Maus is not about rounding off the edges of the past. It’s an attempt to understand a man and his place in history through small, evocative drawings. Spiegelman’s mice are no Disney concoctions — their blocky solemnity defies cuteness. They’re intentional abstractions, meant to put off pathos until we can take in the details of what happened. Then, and only then, are we allowed to get closer. At the very end of this brilliant memoir, Spiegelman prints a photo of his father in 1945 — and with one devastatingly simple step leads us back into the world of man.

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 ...