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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Games We Play: Multiple Venues/Genres

In the 80's, Palladium brought us a system with multiple universes (known as the multiverse), but they weren't actually connected. Then, in 1990, there was Rifts. This single game helped to bridge all the universes in the Palladium system under one big cosmological  convergence. Seasoned role players know Rifts well and there are many different viewpoints on it being a good thing or not. I for one am thankful for the invention of Rifts so that we could bring together concepts from different games together.

For instance... in the 90's, my group of friends and I were avid players of the Palladium system and began to utilize Rifts as a way to bring together our favorite aspects from other games. We brought together elements from Robotech, Beyond the Supernatural, Heroes Unlimited, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rifts and Ninjas and Superspies into a single world under the banner of being heroes, researchers and inventors. This was our sandbox, and it was fun.

One of the biggest inventions that came from this sandbox was called the "Omega". It was a mashup between standard mecha and the Invid Royal Command Battloid. This was meant so that even "normal" humans could utilize it. I happen to have an artist rendering by the player who developed the actual idea behind it.

In the 90's, White Wolf published... what is now know as... the classic/old World of Darkness. Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, Changeling and Wraith comprised the core of this new world, and as I was a long-time fan of the supernatural, of course these games became quick additions to my collection and our playgroup.

The great part of the World of Darkness is that you can play each game separately, or combine them together for the rich feel that Mark Rein·Hagen and the other developers had in mind. As much as they can be played separately, I feel that they are better combined. This is something that has been lost on the powers-that-be who develop the live action rules for the Mind's Eye Society, who seem to prefer to keep each game separate.

Sure, Dungeons & Dragons has their different settings such as Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft and so on. I never felt that inter-setting travel was not something that TSR and WotC had in mind... even though they do have inter-planar travel. I know there have been some DM's (myself included) that allowed for the inter-setting travel. This just helps to promote the rule of all RPG's that the no matter what the rules in the books state, the DM/GM/ST has final determination in their games.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Title: Fray

ISBN: 9781569717516

Price: $19.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2003

Artist: Karl Moline

Writer: Joss Whedon

Collects: Fray #1-8

Rating: 3.5/5

Hollywood script writer, Joss Whedon, has made a big splash with cult
TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Anyone who's seen it and
appreciates its themes and concepts knows Whedon clearly has comicbook geek in
his blood -- and background -- so it's not surprising that, despite the smaller
pay checks, Whedon has shifted over into comics from time to time. His recent
writing of the comic Astonishing X-Men has garnered mainly great reviews, but a
year or two before that, his first foray into comics was the eight issue
mini-series for Dark Horse comics, Fray, collected in its entirety in a TPB

Fray was a logical project for Whedon to test his comics scripting
skills, because it's actually a spin-off of his most recognizable property --
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's written in such a way that Buffy fans will
recognize certain references and themes even as it's sufficiently
self-contained that you don't really have to be aware there ever was such a
thing called Buffy the Vampire Slayer in order to follow it.

In the Buffy TV series, it was established that there have been many
slayers over the eons, with Buffy only the most recent one. In Fray, we jump
ahead a few hundred years into a dystopic, cyberpunkish future where we meet
Melaka Fray, a street thief who not only is unaware of her calling as a
Slayer...but doesn't even know what a vampire is! The Watcher's Council, which
oversaw the Slayers for generations, has long since fallen into disrepair, so
that it falls to a horned demon, Urkonn, to advise Fray of her place in the
cosmic scheme of things, as a new plan hatched by vampires threatens demons and
humanity alike.

In a world of occasional mutations, where Fray's mob boss employer is a
fish man, the demon Urkonn makes less of a stir than you might expect, as Fray
just assumes he's another mutated human. This is a world where the supernatural
has long since become forgotten and no one has clued into the fact that the
Lurks -- supposedly sewer dwelling junkies -- are really vampires. Fray, like
Buffyy before her, is a reluctant convert to the cause, particularly as she
mysteriously seems to have none of the Slayer's gifts other than super strength
-- no prophetic dreams, no intuitive senses. She's also dealing with her own
problems: she's a thief, her sister's a cop, and her brother was killed a few
years before by Lurks. She's also acting as a kind of surrogate big sister to
the disfigured ragamuffin Loo -- and in little Loo, Whedon pours all hhis
impressive skills for mixing tones. She's funny, touching, grotesque, sweet,
and heartbreaking -- sometimes all at once.

Though this was Whedon's first comic, he tackles it deftly enough.
Maybe that should come as little surprise, as comics and film are similar
mediums. His sense of pacing is good, not making the mistake of dragging out a
scene too long. To fans of Whedon's TV work -- and Buffy in particular -- Fray
is well worth seeking out. There's no dumbing down, or dilution of Whedon's
talents. The quips are witty, the characters complex and multi-dimensional --
even without actors to say the lines, the characters live and breathe. Fray
really does seem like what it is...a wholly legitimate off shoot of the Vampire
Slayer mythos Whedon created.

It's a spin-off that Whedon couldn't have hoped to film before a camera
-- not without a hundred million dollar budget. Chock full of flying cars,
death defying leaps kilometres above the streets, epic battles, and a really
big monster, Fray is Whedon's imagination untethered by mundane questions of
budgetary considerations.

At the same time, despite having clever turns and surprise twists, for
an eight issue series coming in at close to two hundred pages, there maybe
aren't as many twists, or plot threads, as you might expect. The story stays
pretty focused on Fray and its chief plot. The result is something that feels
as though it could probably have been a movie with very little trimming or
editing. Which isn't a bad thing at all, but for a multi-issue comics saga, one
might have expected the plotting to be a little more Byzantine.

It's Whedon, himself, who has raised the bar so high on what fans might
expect from him. Fray ultimately is a good read, with the obligatory mix of
action and nuanced characterization, of horror and witty quips, of joy and
pathos, with a few clever twists and turns, all building to a genuinely grand
climax -- but the result might leave some Whedon fans saying: "yeah, impress me". There are the trademark wry quips -- but though
the lines that are funny, they're not always as laugh-out-loud funny as Whedon managed,
say, in his Astonishing X-Men stories. And the very familiarity of Fray and her
battles with demons, building to an apocalyptic showdown, means that, despite
all the good bits, all the clever bits, it doesn't necessarily surprise. We've
seen it before in various Buffy story lines (though fans might note that the
axe Mel wields pre-dates its introduction into the TV series' mythos). Even the
future Whedon envisions is pretty stock -- though the fish man is neat and, as
is mentioned in one of the collection's introductions, you really can't go
wrong with flying cars.

So does it need to surprise? Not entirely. Fray is entertaining, and
keeps you turning the pages. And for fans -- even TV watchers who might not
normally consider picking up a comic -- this is just as legitimate an extension
of the Buffy universe as, say, the TV series Angel.

Artist Karl Moline was, apparently, not that well known when he was
tagged to draw this, but he emerges as an accomplished talent right off the
bat. There is a slight cartooniness to aspects of his work, but there is an
energy and inventiveness to his pictures that blends well with Whedon's script,
and he nicely captures the sense of this far future dystopia, with its towering
skyscrapers and flying cars and its squalid, ground level ghettos, where the
story demands a seamless mix of the real, the sci-fi and the supernatural. In
all this he's aided by inker Andy Owen, and by colourists Dave Stewart and
Michelle Madsen who go for a lot of effective earth tones of greens and browns
as opposed to the more obvious metallic sheens you might expect for a future
adventure. Granted, in some of the fight scenes, with the beheadings of vamps,
Moline maybe could've toned down the graphics a bit. Instead, it's nudged
slightly into mature readers territory.

The story ends with a reasonably satisfying conclusion...even as Whedon
leaves things open for future adventures. Whether those adventures will ever
materialize is the question. Melaka Fray made a brief appearance in the Dark
Horse graphic novel, Tales of the Slayers (which featured short pieces about
slayers through the ages), and guest starred in the Buffy Season Eight
storyline, Time of Your Life -- but I don't think she's had any further, full
length, solo adventures. If Fray should ever return for a solo mini-series,
fine, but if she doesn't, that shouldn't really take away from what's here.

'Cause what's here is pretty good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Massively multiplayer online role-playing game's have eluded my attention. I tried playing a little EverQuest at the height of its popularity, but the fact that I was on a slow dial-up connection didn't really provide the experience I would have hope for from a game with a monthly subscription.

A friend actually bought it to give it a try and we used the free month, believing that if we didn't use the account after that free month there would be no additional charge. I will admit that I was the one who made that horrible assumption, and several months later there was the monthly fee charged to her credit card. I'm more mindful about such subscriptions now.

While I appreciate the graphic intensive trailers I've seen for games like World of Warcraft and Knights of the Old Republic, I have a strong aversion to spending so much money on something I wouldn't utilize all that ofter so feel as though I would never get my full moneys worth from it. Granted, I do have cable television and Netflix which are monthly services, but I feel as though I get my moneys worth... for the most part. The television is a bit of a wash because Comcast keeps raising their rates.

Another reason I will probably not get into MMORPG's is the fact that my primary computer is a Gateway desktop that is about 8 years old and still runs Windows XP. It does everything I need and I'm fairly certain that I have upgraded it to the fullest extent of its capabilities. If I ever have the need to upgrade it, it will be to buy a new desktop.

In the end, I view MMORPG's just like I view recreational drug use... Okay for others, but not necessarily for me. (Please don't take this last statement to mean I necessarily condone the use of recreational drugs, but more so the old adage "different strokes for different folks".)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Games We Play: Mortal Campaign

Over the years, my group of friends and I have gone through several variations of plot for our campaigns. I'm going to illustrate these various campaigns so that it may help to inspire you to try and think outside-the-box when coming-up with your next campaign idea.

Our first variation began around 1999 when our games began to get a little stagnant and one of the storyteller types in our group decided to do something out-of-the-ordinary. This became one of my favorite concepts for future games.

In the original mortals campaign, each of us created mortal characters in the original World of Darkness setting based on our real life. Yes, our characters turned-out to be us. We voted as a group to determine how many dots each character received for their abilities and attributes. We also used the group to determine things like willpower, merits and flaws for the characters as well.

The storyteller had setup a system to determine the possibilities for what our characters would become while traversing in the World of Darkness. (i.e. Vampire clan, Werewolf tribe/auspice, etc.) This information was kept quasi-secret from the players... but we each had our suspicions for each player. For example, because of my interest and skill with a computer, it was assumed that my character would likely become a Virtual Adept Mage. The first campaign I recall actually being embraced as a Brujah by one of the other PC's.

Another interesting aspect of this game was that our knowledge of the various games in the World of Darkness transferred into the corresponding lore. (i.e. Vampire Lore, Mage Lore, Werewolf Lore, etc.) This made for some cumbersome but fun interactions for our characters as we had foreknowledge of events through meta-plot. For instance, the aforementioned PC that embraced my character sought out a Methuselah Brujah in Chicago by the name of Menele... who just happens to be of the 4th generation. Also, in the hopes of awakening as a Virtual Adept, I remember actively trying to contact the archmage Virtual Adept known as Dante. Good times.

One variation that I ran utilizing the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rules was very interesting. I had the players make standard characters, but when the game began I stated that each of us were about to get ready for a game of D&D in character... breaking what could be called the fourth wall of role playing. As the "characters" were ready to begin the story, my "character" left for the bathroom... and it was at that time I employed the time honored DM tool of "there's a bright flash, and you wake-up somewhere else." When they each woke-up, they were in their character's bodies... yet they still retained their player knowledge. I guess you can say I enjoy using the meta-game to my advantage.

After being a storyteller and player for so many years, I've developed a great many PC's and NPC's that I appreciate using in my games. In my D&D version of the mortals campaign, I decided to use characters each player could somehow relate to by utilizing characters that each of us had played in our LARPing days. This added another level of interest for the players, and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Star Wars: Darth Maul

Title: Star Wars: Darth Maul

ISBN: 1569715424

Price: $12.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 2001

Artist: Jan Duursema

Writer: Ron Marz

Collects: Star Wars: Darth

Rating: 3/5

Darth Maul blows into Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in one piece and
leaves in two. Otherwise, very little is known about this demonic-looking Sith
who helped launch the rise of the Empire.

Ron Marz fills in the gaps with this graphic novel, dynamically
illustrated by Jan Duursema. Taking place before the events of Menace,
obviously, the story demonstrates just how tough a character Maul was, how
brutally efficient he could be and how devoted to his evil master's cause he

The primary focus of Maul's attention here is the Black Sun, a
widespread criminal syndicate that Darth Sidious (the future Emperor Palpatine)
fears could prove a thorn in his side during the coming conflict. Maul's
mission is to cripple the syndicate enough to diminish the threat without
destroying it beyond the hope of being useful later.

He carries out his mission single-mindedly and ruthlessly. Anyone who
enjoys the Star Wars brand of action will love it, because once he gets going,
Maul is a juggernaut. And Duursema's pencils carry the action brilliantly and
colorfully forward so that Marz's story splashes right from the page.

I am not a diehard Maul fan, in part because the character was so
underdeveloped in the movie. This book makes me appreciate the character a
whole lot more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Holdays!

I just wanted to wish all my loyal readers Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Experiences as a Member of the Camarilla/Mind's Eye Society

I've already written about my time in Live Action Role Playing games, but I wanted to delve a little deeper into it as what I posted was more a brief summary of my experience rather than specific thoughts, feelings and moments.

When I first joined the local Camarilla, I was given my first opportunity to learn about the organization by becoming the Assistant Chapter Coordinator (ACC) for my chapter; Ascending Twilight. This also helped me to progress in the organization by earning "prestige"; the magical number that is followed to show your elevation in the organization by your assigned Member Class or MC. I thought this was great and jumped at the chance to earn as much prestige as possible. That was in 1996. Today, in 2012, the system has changed quite a bit but has also remained the same. I've been waiting for my MC review that has been sitting at the Regional level since about August. There is apparently some problem with the prestige reporting from 1996 - 1998. I'm not entirely sure what's going on right now, but I'm also in a position of not to complain or worry about it too much. I anticipate losing about 1 1/2 years worth of prestige that I earned while I was the Chapter Coordinator (CC) for Ascending Twilight because of this reporting error.

After a few months of being an ACC, I thought that I could do more but also wanted to spread my wings as a creative role players. That's when I first started down the path as a Storyteller (ST) for LARP.

In 1997, the organization decided to make some changes with the rules and reset the current campaign setting, or chronicle. This means that we began with a clean slate and new characters. Everything we had accomplished with our previous characters had no impact on what was going to happen in the new story. This gave me the perfect opportunity to begin as an ST, and we needed a new Domain Storyteller (DST). I won the election and there we were.

I knew that I couldn't handle the games all by myself, so I enlisted the aid of a couple friends, who became my Assistant Domain Storyteller's (ADST's). There were also Chapter Storytellers (CST's) to represent each Chapter in the Domain. We were full of ST's and ideas and this made the Domain a fun place to play. I was DST for about 7 months, and then something happened.

In those days, we didn't have the resources like Google Drive or Wiki's that we do now. I spent the 7 months of my term as DST trying to get answers to so many questions:

  • What was the proper format for my monthly reports?

  • Was there a report template for these reports?

  • Who/where do I send the monthly DST reports?

  • What all should I add in my monthly report?

Because I never received answers to these questions, it looked as though I wasn't doing my job. Also, important items that (I learned later) should be on my report were missing, and this became the inevitable downfall to my term as DST.

At one of our normal games, we received a large influx of out-of-town players that we were unfamiliar with. They were signed-in and we played game. (I should note that our games started at around 8pm and could last into the wee early hours of the morning.) At around 11pm, one of the out-of-town players shouted "Time out! Who is the DST? I need to speak with him." I came up to find out what the problem was and was informed that he was the Assistant Regional Storyteller (ARST) and he had some serious items to discuss with me. He, and 2 other ARST's, took me aside and began to berate me about certain item's that I had allowed to happen, such as:

  1. I allowed the diablerie of a Player Character (PC) happen without reporting it... even though I was not informed I had to do so. (Please see the definition of diablerie for more information.)

  2. I did not take serious action against the PC who committed the diablerie, even though doing so would have taken my out-of-character knowledge and brought it in-character.

  3. I did not personally verify characters that were brought into play from the 3 ARST's. Each of the ST's took responsibility for conducting sign-in. This was not a time where it was my responsibility and the ARST's apparently brought in characters that should not have been allowed in play.

I think the biggest mistake I made that evening was not allowing my ADST's to join in the "conversation" I was having with the ARST's. At the end of the very public chastising, I was told that I would no longer be the DST. This was my first instance of dissolution in the organization as I felt very mistreated by members of the Regional Storyteller staff. Life went on.

For the next several years, I would be a Coordinator and I would be an Assistant Storyteller, but until I returned in 2011, I would not hold a primary Domain position again. I think that this benefited me as others helped to define the basis of whatever reports were necessary. I'm thankful that today there is a defined process and even some templates that can be used for reports, and the scope of responsibilities for both the Storyteller and Coordinator offices are easier to understand.

After a personal setback in January 2000, I felt like I didn't fit-in with the people that I had literally grew-up with in the organization. Even though I was given responsibilities, I felt like I was looked down upon for mistakes I had made. I felt betrayed by several of the people I once called friend. This lead to my eventual departure from the Domain of Salem and joining the Domain of Dreams in Eugene.

I thought I could start new in Eugene, and it was working out fine until I was put into the position of Chapter Coordinator. There were decisions that had to be made, and I was not the person who should have been making them at that point in my life. I let people's opinions cloud my better judgement, and through that I made some bad decisions. I think I was CC in Eugene for about 3 months before I had to step away. I kept playing for a while longer until certain people started to bend the rules of the game way too much.

I'll admit that I put in a great deal of work when I create a character for these games. Because of this, I have felt personally slighted when people abuse the rules to manipulate me or (especially) to kill-off character's that are close to me and my character. This happened with my pack in our Sabbat game. Our pack was seemingly causing too much of a problem with certain people, so one of the players played a non-player character (NPC) that was specifically designed to kill our leader.

The way it was handled bent the rules of the discipline (power) called Vicissitude. This power allows the wielder to manipulate flesh and bone, however you need to actually use your hands to do so. The flesh and bone does not simply move to your whim and you cannot make yourself into a pile/pool of flesh with other disciplines or a certain combination discipline. Either way, the NPC could not (by the rules) drape them self over another person, yet this is what happened and our packs leader died. Shortly after this exchange, I decided to take a long sabbatical from the organization.

From 2004 - 2011, I stayed in contact with only a few of the friends that I had made while in the Camarilla. Without social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, I probably wouldn't be in contact with many of them now... or vice-verse. Of the friends I made during my original tenure within the organization, I only have regular contact with a handful of people. Now that I'm back with the new organization, I occasionally get a chance to meet-up with old friends and reminisce about the old days.

Now it's 2012. The organization has changed quite a bit. It's now called "Mind's Eye Society"... at least in America. I don't feel as much of the camaraderie with other Domains as I once felt. Early on, there were week's where several of us would go to Oregon City, Portland, Vancouver, Corvallis, Eugene and still make it to the Salem games. This helped to breed an air of companionship, friendship and trust. It feels like that aspect has been lost to us. Back then, our core local group would host regular tabletop games and other social activities. Now it feels hard to get anyone motivated to do anything fun.

Maybe it's because I've done a lot of growing-up since those days and now that I feel like a responsible adult (some days), I feel like I don't have much time to take on extra activities. Perhaps this is a feeling that is shared with others. We're responsible adults now and not fun-loving youths able to stay-up until the wee hours of the morning talking, playing games, hanging-out at Denny's and the like. Perhaps what I'm feeling... and perhaps others... is the horrible side-effects of getting old. We are not as young as we were in 1996. Some of us aged more than others during that time.

There's talk about a new chronicle starting in 2013 and how the organization is going to make some major changes to the different games. There's talk about keeping the Camarilla and Sabbat in separate "universes", making a New World of Darkness venue and capping MC for certain venues to try and level the playing field. I'm not actively a participant in these talks so I'm very frustrated when I hear of new changes and I can't express my opinions on the ideas to the proper individual's. While I understand the reasons behind things like MC capping, the games I play are collectively called the "World of Darkness". It's not the World of the Camarilla or the World of the Sabbat. The system was originally setup to incorporate ALL aspects of the various games; from Vampire to Hunter and everything in between. If it's not the World of Darkness, then why am I paying an annual membership fee to be here?

I apologize that this ended in a bit of a rant. In writing this, so many emotions came flooding back to me. I hope you understand that I'm merely stating my opinions and I, just like you, have the right to express them. If you disagree with anything I've written, I welcome your feedback. Fair warning: I took speech and debate in high school, and I was fairly good at it. :)

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mike Mignola signing @ TFAW

This was my first experience to attend a signing at Things From Another World. I'll admit that I wasn't an early fan of Mignola until the first Hellboy movie came out. I like his writing and art, and I'm always happy to get a chance to meet anyone in the comic book industry.

A picture of what TFAW had to offer, being fully stocked on all things Mignola. It must be nice to be so close to and have a good working relationship with Dark Horse.

The man of the hour... or rather 3+ hours. Nice guy. I always enjoy the comic pro's that are willing to chat with you at events.

I did have to ask him what it would take to bring him to Salem to sign for charity at my LCS, but unfortunately he's both a) trying to get out of making appearances -and- b) booked out for the next year and a half. His wife is his scheduling coordinator.

Here's what I got signed. A FCBD book, an Emerald City Comic Con exclusive from 2011, a poster I picked-up from the above mentioned ECCC and both covers for Hellboy in Hell #1. Funny story about Hellboy in Hell:

The morning of the signing, I wanted to make sure that I had copies of Hellboy in Hell #1 for Mr. Mignola to sign for me. I went to the TFAW website, placed my order and chose to have them delivered to the store for pick-up.

After my order was completed, I found the "small print" that stated "Please allow 1-3 business days for processing." Oops! I took my receipt with me and spoke with the manager of the store. Unfortunately, I couldn't swap-out the books I hard ordered because their sales are separate, but he said he would have the order held for me until I could make it back up to Portland... as I explained that I rarely have the opportunity to make it that far north.

I was very impressed with how everything was handled by the staff. They were all very helpful and infomative. I'm keeping my eyes open for future signings that I can attend there.

On a side note, my only problem was with the parking. Their parking lot is very small and I drive a minivan. If it wasn't for the assistance of a fellow customer who I was parking next to, I would have had a more difficult time actually parking there. I didn't get his name, but if you happen to read this, THANK YOU again. Next time, I will take full advantage of the Fred Meyer parking lot that is only about a block away. :)

Ghost Stories

Title: Ghost Stories

ISBN: 1569710570

Price: $8.95

Publisher/Year: Dark Horse, 1995

Artist: Adam Hughes, Matt Haley

Writer: Jerry Prosser, Eric Luke, Steven Grant

Collects: Comics’ Arcadia
Week 3: Ghost
, Ghost Special, X #8

Rating: 3/5

She's a ghost who doesn't know who she was. She doesn't remember how
she died, or why. But she is compelled to learn who is responsible and take

Ghost Stories collects the early stories that introduced the character
to Dark Horse readers in 1993. She rode initially on the coattails of the
publisher's existing setting of Arcadia and the masked vigilante called X. Soon
enough, she was ready to stand on her own.

The insubstantial protagonist is difficult to see by those in her
presence; when she does appear, she appears in a ghostly white leather with
scooped cleavage -- as if seeing a ghost wasn't distracting enough! -- with a
hood and mantle. She teasingly notes that only her constant concentration keeps
her clothes from phasing through her and falling to the ground.

Those who see her, if they can tear their eyes away from her corset,
will also notice a pair of big handguns -- the bullets that fire from their transparent
barrels are all too real.

Her name, she learns, was Elisa Cameron, and she was a news reporter
who poked into things she should have left alone. The details are sketchy,
however; even finding her childhood home and seeing her parents and sister fail
to ignite even a hint of memory. Her quest for knowledge and revenge is at
times bloody, but her ghostly spirit lacks a conscience over such matters. She
certainly has a bone to pick with men in general.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Batman: The Widening Gyre

Title: Batman: The Widening Gyre

ISBN: 9781401228750

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2010

Artist: Walter Flanagan

Writer: Kevin Smith

Collects: Batman: The
Widening Gyre

Rating: 4/5

The Widening Gyre ends with a cliffhanger -- and one of the most
shocking final-page spreads you're likely to see in comics.

The creative team -- filmmaker Kevin Smith and pal Walt Flanagan --
drew some criticism for their previous Batman tale, Cacophony. And, while I
think some of the critics were unduly harsh, I have to admit that the story in
Cacophony is serviceable without being spectacular.

But with The Widening Gyre, they hit it out of the park.

One of the strangest perks for this tale is, get this, a happy Batman.
You don't get to see that very often. But Smith has given Batman alter-ego
Bruce Wayne a very good life, complete with exciting romance, and it works far
better than one might expect. I mean, Batman has to be grim, right? Not so.
This works.

So, the romantic-minded of Batman's readers -- at least, those who
don't prefer him single -- seem to want things to work out with Selina
"Catwoman" Kyle. Most other relationships in Batman's storied career
seem flat, unoriginal, uninteresting. But Smith pulls Silver St. Cloud out of
his sleeve, a character I've never seen as anything more than two-dimensional
arm candy, and makes her sing. And let me tell you, it's a genuine pleasure to
see this buried side of Wayne's personality come out to play.

Some critics complain that there are too many pages devoted to Batman's
personal life. Me, I'm happy to see it for a change. It's a nice reminder that
there's a man behind the mask, and maybe he deserves a good day once in a

Of course, this is Batman, so you know something bad is going to
happen. And that's all I'll say about that ... except to note that The Widening
Gyre ends on a cliffhanger, so don't expect everything to tie up neatly by the
last page. To be continued, as they say.

Meanwhile, there's also a new hero working the streets of Gotham, the
mysterious Baphomet, and I'll let you meet him on your own terms. Suffice it to
say, he has a lot to do with Batman's recent good spirits.

Smith also writes good supporting characters here, primarily the former
Robin, Dick Grayson, and the current sidekick, Tim Drake. Selina, too, makes a
few heart-wrenching appearances.

Also stepping up his game is Flanagan, who was soundly criticized by
many readers for his mediocre work in Cacophony. Nothing mediocre here, folks.
The dude's been practicing.

The bad news is, the second book in the series isn't on the shelves
just yet. I'll be waiting.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On being an inker

I know this is a little off what I normally post on here, but I was inspired when I started writing a piece for my other blog, RPG4EVR, which is centered around my years as a role player. I wrote about my experiences trying to get into the comic book industry as a writer and how I used role playing games to help with that. It's entitled Comics & RPG's: A Mingling of Interests, I invite you to take a read.

I don't remember the actual year, but the first comic book show I went to in my hometown of Salem, Oregon was a pivotal moment for me. I had faced the rejection as a writer and didn't know where to turn my attention next. That's when I met Randy Emberlin.

Some of you may have heard of Randy. He's been around for several years. My first introduction (unknowingly at first) to Randy's work was in Amazing Spider-Man. When I looked through my collection to find books for him to sign, I found that he was the inker for the original storyline of the character Carnage. I love both Carnage and Venom, so I brought my copy of the Carnage trade for him to sign. When I realized that he wasn't the primary force for the art but rather the subtle background man, I thought that I could perhaps also do that.

When I was a child in elementary and middle school, I had traced my fair share of pictures out of various "How to Draw" books available from the school library. I never had the talent to draw my own characters, but I was able to stay in the lines and add definition to original penciled work.

In 2000, I joined a group known as Purple Comics Studios. The originator of this studio was based out of the United Kingdom, even though the bulk of the artists and writers were from the United States. I did some inking and designed the website for Purple Comics until they folded after about a year. Here's some of my work from them:

I don't remember the title for the fantasy series, but the title for the series that looks more modern was "Bad Girls, Inc." I had no say on the title and I couldn't tell you what the story was, I was just glad to be a part of a group that was working towards publication.

As you can probably assume, none of these titles were published.

Not my best work, but I did what I could from what I was given. After this, I started looking else where for things I could work on. I came across an online community where people shared their comic artwork. There were many there that created unfinished, penciled art for people like myself to print and use to practice their inking skills. This community was called Comix Matrix. This was before I learned about places like deviantArt. I picked-up the following pieces from Comix Matrix and worked on them:



This is one of my favorites. She has a Tomb Raider look to her.

I also decided to use some of the hundreds of fonts I have collected to design my signatures. Might as well get some use out of them. Maybe I'll try my hand at lettering next.





My next step, and what I've been working on lately, is to work off of hi-res scans of professional sequential pages and covers. Here are a couple that I have scanned that I am most proud of:

This one is the cover for Ripclaw #2 from Image. I loved working on this so much, I actually purchased the actual comic for comparison. I'm happy with my work.



This is from X-Force #100 from Marvel. One of these days, I'll probably find and buy this issue for comparison.



Sorry for all the unused negative space. It didn't want to format friendly.

Comics & RPG's: A Mingling of Interests

About my sophomore year in high school, I had decided I wanted to become a writer. My primary influence at the time was the writings of Stephen King. I was hooked on his stories, and it was then that I was reading "IT" which set my imagination ablaze.

My sophomore English teacher adamantly despised King and insisted that his work was an affront to literature. I always felt that he didn't like me that much, since I always brought copy of "IT" to class. In my way of biting my thumb at him, I decided to chose King as the subject of my final paper for that class. I wrote an extensive biography citing references and everything. This was in the days before the World Wide Web and the abundance of information at your fingertips... I had to do some serious research through books and magazines. I remember spending house going through the computerized microfiche system at the public library to find articles written on King. Got a B... think I may have been screwed on the grade, but I accept it.

My junior year in high school, they offered a "Creative Writing" class. I jumped on-board, and then I learned who was teaching the class; the very same teach I dealt with my sophomore year. Our attitudes hadn't changed much and we butted heads a couple of times over my writing style and appreciation of the genre of horror and Stephen King. I received a B in the class that I actually felt I deserved. This made me want to become a published writer. I had a spiral notebook that I wrote outlines for so many different stories. I had pages of name combinations for characters. I even wanted to legally change my name when I was of age. It would have been Richard Baughman, in honor of King's pseudonym of Richard Bachman. Thinking back now, I'm glad I didn't make the change.

During my high school years, I continued to collect comic books and play role playing games. I never thought about merging my interests until my senior year in high school when I started to collaborate with my best friend and artist.

We had first met when he came to my high school my junior year. He played the french horn, where I played the baritone saxophone. We found common interests in role playing games and music. Later, he would open my mind up to anime and a different genre of comic books that I may have never noticed without his help.

On a casual phone call near the end of my senior year, the idea came about to create our own comic book. We each developed our own characters for the comic and even created them as RPG characters in Palladium's "Heroes Unlimited" game setting. They were Starshadow and Raven, collectively known as "The Shadows of Justice".

Our logo.

This was a design for t-shirts that we had printed. The shirts actually had color to them, though.

We played the characters in our previous Heroes Unlimited game that incorporated several different aspects of the Palladium multi-verse. They fit in just fine and we were able to better develop their personalities. Through the game, we tackled a few of the plot points that we had designed for the comic book as a series. I spent many hours working to write the script for the first issue and create an outline for the first 6 issues. In the end, we were able to put together a decent proposal that we sent to Dark Horse Comics. We chose Dark Horse because they're local to us (relatively) and the submitting editor was very receptive and helpful on our requests for information. (Remember, this was all before the WWW and we had to either call or send snail-mail to communicate.)

Here are the pages that were actually finished for our submission:

For those of you who understand comics and the industry, you can obviously tell that we didn't have Blue Line pages to actually put the sequential work in the industry format. The last 2 pages were drawn on a template that I had created. Unfortunately, our ideas were not accepted by Dark Horse... but they did provide some good feedback. My next attempt to get into comics as a writer wouldn't be for many years.

Before Jim Butcher published his character of Harry Dresden, I came up with my own version named Jonathan Spectre. This idea was based off of a human medium with some magic (Numina) in the World of Darkness. He even had a "sidekick" (of sorts) in the form of a wraith named Mimic. I had supporting characters outlined, a fictional town designed, a house where Jonathan would work out of, and an outline of about 7-8 stories. I even approached an artist (who I can't remember their name any more) to bring my characters to life. Here are the resulting pictures:


Unfortunately, I found that I had no real follow-through and never really progressed beyond this stage. If Dresden had not been published, I might have gone back to develop this idea.

All these characters, except for Marcus Jones, was originally a character of mine based in White Wolf's World of Darkness. As mentioned before, Jonathan was a hedge magician. Mimic was actually a Spectre based out of Wraith: The Oblivion. Rose was a Hollow One from Mage: The Ascension.

As much as I would have liked to bring my love of comics and RPG's together to break into the industry, it never seemed to be in the cards. What I think I'd like people to take away from this is that comics can be a great resource for ideas in your games, and likewise characters in your games can be a valuable inspiration for a comic book.

Just as a side note, I also write another blog specifically about comics books called Zanziber's Point of View. If you're interested, I'm going to write about my experiences of being a comic book inker. (Yes, mock me with your taunts from Chaising Amy all you want. I'm comfortable with what I do.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Title: Ultimatum

ISBN: 9780785133001

Price: $24.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009

Artist: David Finch

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Collects: Ultimatum #1-5

Rating: 1/5

Billed as a miniseries in which big things happen, Marvel is hyping the
final installment as a "series finale that will shock fans for years to
come!" True enough of the first four issues. But, is shock, minus any
significant characterization, worth the hefty price tag?

The afore-mentioned shock is partially due to an evil mutant (The Blob)
cannibalizing a member of the Avengers (The Wasp), with her death being
"avenged" by her husband (Yellow Jacket) when he bites the Blob's
head off… Literally. And, though fans may justifiably expect to see Sabretooth
(another evil mutant) rip a wing off of Angel (an X-Man) with his teeth, or
Magneto snap the neck of X-Men founder Charles Xavier, what was the point of
Dr. Strange being squeezed until his head exploded? This is not just shock, but

Far from being meaningful, the deaths of characters with such history
behind them seem much smaller than they should be the fact that it took place
in Marvel's much younger Ultimate universe, notwithstanding.

There are more deaths, caused by world-wide disasters engineered by
Magneto, but it all feels forced.

The only good thing about the series is the incredibly detailed art of
David Finch. His work crackling with energy and emotion, Finch could one day
become a master of comic book art ... IF he can learn to be a bit faster, and
tone down the super-model quotient among his female characters.

Ultimatum is only recommended for the most hardcore Marvel-head, and
only if you may suffer heart, kidney or nerve damage if you DON'T get it. It's
the cheapest form of prevention.

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