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Sunday, April 26, 2015

John Constantine, Hellblazer Presents: Chas - The Knowledge

Title: John Constantine, Hellblazer Presents: Chas - The Knowledge

ISBN: 9781401221270
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2009
Artist: Goran Sudžuka
Writer: Simon Oliver
Collects: Hellblazer Special: Chas #1-5

Rating: 3/5

The title character, Francis "Chas" Chandler, holds a fairly unique place in John Constantine's life: where most who know the magus for any length of time die -- or worse -- Chas survives. He's one of the few constants in Constantine's life, along with cigarettes and booze. For many years, Chas, a taxi-driver by trade, has been on the periphery of all the weird stuff his friend is always getting caught up in, frequently playing chauffeur. On the whole, though, Chas' life is ordinary, run of the mill. He carries fares, has an average marriage and otherwise is just part of the everyday fabric of London's life.

Chas' story opens with him dropping Constantine and a sexy young woman at the airport so they can hightail it for fun and sun in Ibiza. With his trouble-magnet friend off on vacation, Chas expects nothing more than average days working the London streets and maybe a pint or two at the local pub. But fate isn't that kind, and when an old chum's son goes missing and something old, evil and hungry awakens in the city, it's Chas who has to step up in place of Constantine and keep London from losing its very soul. The "knowledge" of the title is something known to all London cabbies, but turns out to be very much more, potent magic passed down through the ages in the most mundane bits of information.

Writer Simon Oliver (Gen13) mixes this supernatural plotline -- which has Chas feeling overwhelmed and in over his head -- with a glimpse at Chas' uncertainty about his own middle-aged life. His relationship with his wife is strained, at best (they're certainly not running off to frolic in Ibiza any time soon); his city is edging towards bland dullness and he can't even seem to do right by his friend's son. So when a lovely American steps into his cab, things start to go topsy-turvy and Chas is at somewhat of a loss. He must come to grips not only with saving London, but also the direction his life's going.

If any character in the Hellblazer storyline deserves a moment in the sun, it's Chas. He's put with a lot of crap from Constantine -- and because of him -- over the years, and it's nice to finally see an arc centered on him. Chas is a simple bloke, but not a boring one, and it's easy to see why Constantine relies on him. Oliver does a good job in juxtaposing and blending the two disparate parts of the story, and Goran Sudzuka's art is a good fit for John Constantine's world, making for a satisfying read.

An amusing aside: although Chas is a part of Glen Fabry's fantastic cover illustration for the volume, he's overshadowed by Constantine, who dominates the middle of the image. Poor Chas, even in his own series he can't get any respect! Fitting, though, given the shadow Constantine tends to cast over anyone who lingers near him for long.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Saga Volume 4

Title: Saga Volume 4

ISBN: 9781632150776
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Fiona Staples
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Collects: Saga #19-24

Rating: 4/5

Whether you've been reading Saga for years or just discovered it (perhaps by means of the recently published deluxe hardcover collecting volumes 1-3), one thing we can all agree upon is that there just isn't enough of it.

For Saga is a story with a lot of moving parts -- subplots involving so many characters, none of them perfectly villainous and yet none of them entirely lovable (much like the rest of us) -- and each story is twisted around the others, so that each time the plot advances, we have to go catch up on all the other characters, all doing their perverse and decadent and violent and loving things, and by the time we're completely engrossed in their stories, well, it's time to move on again.

As with the previous volumes, Saga Volume 4 is a visual feast. The word "surreal" gets tossed around a lot, but Fiona Staples does surreal with enormous style and gusto, going beyond the merely weird, making sure that there's enough real in her surreal imagery that every kick, bite, and punch (and kiss) gets us in the guts.

Cyberpunk is a visual medium with precious few great visuals. There's a lot of warmed-over Akira and Blade Runner, a little Wachowskis and a little Jodorowsky/Jodorowsky, but not much else that manages to conjure up whole new aesthetics out of the memes and tropes that have faded through repetition.

Fiona Staples has created a new, powerful visual idiom for sf, one that translates seamlessly into the real world, but that is unmistakably unreal (the reveal of Prince Robot IV's father just floored me -- I can't wait to see that cosplayer!).

As we dig further into the Saga story, and into all the battles being fought, it continues to blend social satire and commentary with romance and war comics, and continues to surprise with new moves and fresh ideas. I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a comic.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Evolution of my Pathfinder campaign

I recently binge-watched Game of Thrones from first episode to last of the 4th season in order to prepare for the recent premiere of season 5, and I have come to the decision that I really want to add some flavor to my campaign setting.

Though I'm intending on using the old Dungeons & Dragons setting maps for Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and the like, I've never been one to read much of the history of the settings. Though I would gladly utilize signature characters such as Elminster, Raistlin Majere or Lord Soth, I never really used much of their back story or the surrounding stories that exemplified the novels of Ed Greenwood, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I always gave them my own personal spin, and everything worked out well.

While watching GoT, I thought of a few things I want to add to my setting:

  • Families with notable histories and various duties.

  • Firm religious orders with hierarchy setups and ideas on how to possibly progress a religious movement.

  • Working off the religious orders, I want to create 1 or 2 that are counter to the norm. (i.e. cults)

  • Not that I feel that it would actually come-up in the campaign I have designed, but military orders at various levels for each family and royalty. (i.e. Kingsguard, Night's Watch, The Unsullied.)

  • I had already planned on having some special swords for a specific part of my overall storyline, but I never really thought of naming them until watching GoT.

  • Secret societies like Skull & Bones.

As I'm writing this over the course of several days, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2nd trailer was just released, and I would also love to incorporate some of what I'm seeing from that as well:

  • Going back to the religious orders I mentioned above, that would include something similar to the Jedi and Sith. Could also be considered a military order as well.

  • Ruins from epic battles that will make my players take notice. (i.e. The ruins of a fallen Star Destroyer from the SW trailer, the Titan of Braavos.)

  • Military orders with notable differences in rank and file. (i.e. The different Stormtrooper uniforms/armors.)

This means a lot of work ahead of me before I am ready to get this game actually going. This is taking me a lot longer than I had originally anticipated.

My biggest roadblock is that I have never been good with coming-up with names... especially for a fantasy setting. I love the family names George R.R. Martin came-up with, and I'd like to try and create names that give a similar feel when you hear them. You can't deny that (at least from those who have either read the books or simply watch the TV series) you have some sort of feeling when you hear the name Lannister, Stark or Targaryen. I want to be able to instill similar feelings into my players when they come across NPC's from my noble families.

If you happen to have a good resource for fantasy names, please leave a comment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Free Comic Book Day 2015

For those of you wondering what to do for Free Comic Book Day this year, this is where I'll be! Tony's Kingdom of Comics! If you're in the Salem/Keizer area, stop by. You won't regret it. Bring some non-perishable food to donate while you're at it.

Cherry City Comic Con 2015 Review

Last year (2014), my hometown of Salem, Oregon hosted its first comic con. Even though it was held during Mothers Day weekend, it had a good enough showing that a 2nd event was planned for 2015. Last year I came in as strictly a consumer with an agenda of getting some autographs, having a sketch cover done and buying stuff along with taking in everything. This year, I went specifically to take in everything and let you know how the 2nd annual event has changed under its new management.

To start, this year the event is utilizing the entirety of the Jackman-Long building at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Last year, the event only utilized maybe 2/3 of the building. The floor plan was greatly improved from the previous year as well and it had a feel of a comic con.

When I arrived shortly after 10am on Saturday, there were 2 fairly long lines. The lines were an obvious distinction between those who had paper tickets and those that were either purchasing or had them waiting at will call.

After waiting in line for 30-45 minutes, a dark-haired lady with a Cherry City Comic Con "STAFF" shirt came out and told those in line that if they had tickets at will call, they could get in the shorter line. When those of us who moved to the new will call line got up to the door, the staff there indicated that they did not have the will call list and could therefore not give us entrance to the event.

Needless to say this little SNAFU upset several people and the staffers were trying to rectify the situation. That is when I saw the organizer from last years event, Mark Martin, in a "STAFF" shirt telling others what to do. This initially upset me because I... along with several others... were informed that he was not a part of the event due to his PR issues in the past. (For further insight as to what I'm referring to, please check out my original comic con schedule for 2015 I posted in January HERE.)

Mark Martin (picture from his account on Twitter)

I put my personal feelings aside... got my media pass and wristbands... and went into the event to enjoy.

The 2nd annual event also brought us celebrity guests such as Michael Jai White, Honky Tonk Man and Naomi Grossman. This elevated the legitimacy of Cherry City Comic Con from the last year when there were no media celebrities.

My initial reaction to the show floor was a positive one. They set everything up more like a comic con rather than trying to fill space; something I felt that was done for the 2014 event. This setup allowed for a natural flow through the event. My only issue was the placement of the e-cig/vape vendor next to the entrance of the food area, which also was the only are where you could easily find a place to sit down for a moments peace/rest from walking around. I had to walk through a veritable wall of fog when I went past them.

While I am not against the idea of "vaping", but when you have a setup like that right in front of a high traffic area, I don't think it was a good placement choice. While a single "flavor" of the vapes might be a pleasant smell, the combination of probably 4-5 of them nearly had me choking on the "safe" vapor.

I didn't let this deter my enjoyment from the rest of the event.

My first priority was to connect with my friends who were vendors or guests for the event, so I made the circuit.

Tony Grove of Tony's Kingdom of Comics in Keizer, Oregon.

First on my list was my pal Tony who owns and operates Tony's Kingdom of Comics and Collectibles. Tony has been the biggest supporter for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer as he has donated at least 90% of the blank covers we've used to raise $$ for cancer research. Without him, #CBC4C would not be as successful as it has been.

Kira "Kitty" Hatfield (front) from Octo Kitty Creations and Kristel Joslin (behind) from Kristel's Kreations.

Next stop were a pair of crafty friends "Kitty" and Kristel. Due to the issues from the holiday bazaar, they were upgraded to a corner set of tables. They have a great setup and tons of wonderful creations!

Adam Gallardo, author of Zomburbia & Zombified.

Several years ago I met Adam Gallardo while I was working at The Book Bin in Salem. I have been a fan ever since and now he's the one who works at The Book Bin. If he ever retires from writing, he has a fallback career as a sign-maker as you can see the makeshift sign he had on his table. Such a good writer and a very humble person. He informed me that he currently working on a new project, so keep an eye on what Adam's going to come-up with next.

Robert "Floydman" Sumner of Planet F Studios.

My next stop was another stop along the trail of wonderful artists who have contributed to #CBC4C in the form of the artist Robert "Floydman" Sumner from Planet F Studios. Floyd has a great style that people love. I now wish I had taken a photo of his original series Star Trek cast cards that he had matted and framed together.

Randy Emberlin showing-off his latest cover for Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer.

Continuing my trek of artists who have/are contributing to #CBC4C, I came to Randy Emberlin. As my regular reader know, Randy is the artist who originally inspired me to try my hand at comic book inking. He a great artist and wonderful to talk to. He told me that he was getting a lot of people who were interested in the cover he was doing for #CBC4C and he wanted to continue to display it and ink it as well. To see the finished work, go to the #CBC4C Facebook page. I'll have a scan of it in our Finished Covers album.

Randy Kintz

One of our latest contributing artists to #CBC4C is Randy Kintz. I've been admiring his work online for quite some time, and it was good to finally meet the man behind the art. I always take pleasure in meeting the various artists who have helped, or are willing to help, make #CBC4C successful. We shared some memories about his Larry Hama meetings and my missing him a few years ago when he had the flu and couldn't make it to Emerald City Comic Con. Thankfully, he's scheduled to come to Rose City Comic Con this year. (I already have my application for a media pass filled-out a ready to send.)

Shua Kreger

I originally met Shua Kreger at the First Wednesday event held back in February. I was introduced to him by his brother and independent comic book publisher (Warrior Innkeeper Creative), Benjamin. Love his work and I appreciate that he can now be counted among the contributing artists for #CBC4C as well. Shua also has a comic that Warrior Innkeeper Creative publishes called Super Vampyre Bunny. For those of you who don't have any Warrior Innkeeper Creative comics available in your area, I know that Benjamin is working to get the digital editions made available through Comixology. When that happens, I will make sure to share it through my Twitter feed (ZanziberPoV).

AnnMaré Grove & Shawn Cruz of Corrosive Comics.

Another new contributing artists to #CBC4C and AnnMaré Grove and Shawn Cruz from Corrosive Comics. AnnMaré happens to be the daughter of Tony and is also the artist who has ever had the chance to put ink to my skin. (Only 1 tattoo as of this writing... though I hope to change that.) Another thing I can thank Tony for is introducing me to these two. The covers that they're donating are great and you should check them out once I have them posted on the #CBC4C Facebook page. I look forward to seeing more great art come out from this pair as well as the rest of the Corrosive Comics team.

Ryan & Ashley Alonzo

One of the first contributing artists to #CBC4C and his daughter Ashley were also representing Ryan Alonzo's work at Cherry City Comic Con. It was great to finally meet face-to-face and I was fortunate enough to pick-up one of the Undertow complete sets that he had available for sale. I hope we can team-up again for another cover or two.

Anna Ewert (left) & Brenda "Spekle" Martinez (right) of Battle Ready Artists.

I've known "Spekle" for a while, and I know she's a great artist. Teamed with her friend Anna they form Battle Ready Artists. As we were talking, I hope to possibly get them to do a cover for #CBC4C. With the current popularity of comic book variant covers from Skottie Young, I think something similar to that Spider-Man you see pictured would do well to help raise $$ for cancer research as well as promoting these wonderful artists.

Last year, Haven Gaming had a large contribution to the gaming events and demo's of various games. This year I didn't see that. I also saw a bigger area for Haven, Wild Things Games and newcomer to this years event Borderlands Games. I really hope for a larger gaming appearance for next years event. It was unfortunately that Cherry City Comic Con opened on International Tabletop Day. I know that there is a strong Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer presence in the area and I can't help but feel that if there were some connected events that included these, and other popular games, that there would be an extra level of attendance.

At the beginning of 2015, I wasn't sure that Cherry City would even be able to grace us with another event. Under the new management, they not only made a huge return, but also got it all done within 4 months time! Kudos! I can't wait to see what they can come-up with when they give themselves more time to schedule.

A special "THANK YOU!" to John Roach who helped make this happen and afforded me with my press pass. Hope to see you again next year!

Me & my credentials.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book I: My Father Bleeds History

Title: Maus: A Survivor's Tale: Book I: My Father Bleeds History

ISBN: 0394747232

Price: $14.00

Publisher/Year: Pantheon Books, 1986

Artist: Art Spiegelman

Writer: Art Spiegelman

Rating: 4/5

Maus: A Survivors Tale, My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman is a classic account of a young man’s survival of and endurance throughout the beginning years of the Holocaust. The narrator, Artie, retells his father’s tale of his experiences during the Holocaust as a Jew through this graphic novel. Artie's father, Vladek Spiegelman is the main character in this well written page turner. Although it is not written in the typical form of a novel, it has the power to transform even the most classic reader into an avid graphic novel lover. Spiegelman moves his story through themes that all young readers can draw on. While doing this it also shows artisanship and a master of the language.

During the events Vladek is explaining to his son, Poland was just beginning to feel the grasp of the Nazi’s hands. He saw his first Swastika while taking his first wife, Anja, to a sanitarium. The story began with tales of German cruelty. “It was many, many such stories. Synagogues burned, Jews beaten with no reason, whole towns pushing out all Jews. Each story was worse than the other”. Eventually these acts lead to the mass murder of Jews across the continent. First, Vladek fought for his business, then it ended with him fighting for his freedom and life in Auschwitz. While ending with almost all of the characters dying. “My whole family is gone, Grandma, Grandpa, Momma, Poppa, Tosha, Bibi, my Richiev”! It portrays the hardships of each character, the loss of friendship through such difficult times, and the progression of worsening conditions. The Jewish people are portrayed as mice while the Germans are portrayed as cats. This only emphasizes the complicated submissive-dominate relationship between the two sides.

This novel is not just a story, it is a look into the psychological difficulties related to such events and the turmoil felt by millions of people during and after the Holocaust. The collection best portrays the power of family and the eventual importance of self preservation. While emphasizing these, the story also leaves the reader with an understanding of the importance of interpersonal relationships. Vladek remarried after his first wife, Anja committed suicide in 1968. This left him to find a new wife, Mala who is seen several times throughout the graphic novel. Everytime she is in the novel, Artie experiences the disjointness with his father and his second wife due to the effects of the past. Mala draws on Vladek’s inability to let go of physical items, “He drives me crazy! He won’t even let me throw out the plastic pitcher he took from his hospital room last year! He is more attached to things than people”!

Maus is an ideal novel to use in a classroom studying the Holocaust because it is a nonfiction piece that grasps the reader's attention and forces them to be thrown into the story. Readers must pay attention to the text while also focusing on the pictures as well in order to understand the text as a whole. Sometimes the readers may have to remind themselves that the Germans and the Poles are not actual animals. And because they are drawn as animals, strangely readers may feel more empathy for them because they are always exposed to the killing of humans in movies and on television which makes them immune to it. However, many people find it sadder when an animal dies in a movie because they are cute and cuddly. Not to mention, the relationship between cat and mice is one that is familiar to readers of all ages. But, due to the graphic nature of the novel, it may be only appropriate for students in high school who are studying the Holocaust who may want to do something different than The Diary of Anne Frank.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition

Title: Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition

ISBN: 9781568821818

Price: $34.95

Publisher/Year: Chaosium 2005

System: Basic Roleplaying Game

Out-of-print: Yes

Available on DriveThruRPG: Yes

Overall rating (1-10): 7

As one can tell, Lovecraft told tales of humanity facing an uncaring cosmos. There are vast forces in the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. It would not do to call them evil, suffice to say that they are to humanity as we are to gnats.

In the Call of Cthulhu RPG our heroes take on the role of investigators dealing with these unknowable horrors. The game itself is something of a living fossil, for though it is in its 6th edition it has not changed very much since its inception - the latest version of the game is certainly thicker than the original 1st edition boxed set, but this is a result of new material being added. You could take a 1st edition Call of Cthulhu adventure and run it with 6th edition characters and rules without any need for conversion.

The Call of Cthulhu game tends to assume that the investigators will be set in one of three eras - the "classic" era (the 1920s and early 30s, during which Lovecraft was active), modern times, and the "gaslight" era of the 1890s. Major expansions have been released to support the middle ages (Cthulhu Dark Ages) and Imperial Rome (Cthulhu Invictus).

The 6th edition version I have is a thick paperback book. It is pretty durable, having survived being tossed into numerous bags an being passed around the table.

The book opens with a reproduction of Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" short story, dealing with the operations of the Cthulhu cult and those who have faced it. This has been in all versions of the game since the 5.5. version of 1998. I think its inclusion is a good idea, it answers very well the common RPG question "what do I do".

The next section of the book deals with the main rules of Call of Cthulhu including items such as character generation, skills, combat.

In a nutshell, Call of Cthulhu uses a version of what is called the Basic Roleplaying System, frequently abbreviated as BRP. BRP first appeared as part of the first version of RuneQuest, originally published by Chaosium. It has since been published by Avalon Hill and Mongoose Publishing and a new version is forthcoming by The Design Mechanism. Variants of BRP found their way into games like Elfquest, Ringworld, Stormbringer, Pendragon, and lots of other games.

Most versions of BRP use a set of attributes which typically range from 3-18. In Call of Cthulhu they are Strength, Constitution, Size, Intelligence, Power, Dexterity, Appearance, and Education. Size and Intelligence are generated with 2d6+6, Education with 3d6+3, and all others with 3d6. There are several derived stats including:

  • Sanity - starts as Power x 5 but can go down as a character faces various horrors. It is something of a joke in the Call of Cthulhu community that even if you survive long-term your character will probably go insane.

  • Hit Points - an average of Size and Constitution. They never increase as you "level up". Most characters are a well-placed gunshot away from death at all times. This does intend to encourage caution.

Your character starts with a default value in a variety of skills. Skills are ranked from 0 to 99 and represents your chance to succeed at a task using those skills. There isn't much given in the way of contested actions and various difficulty levels, though the newest incarnation of the BRP rules (not required to play Call of Cthulhu) has some guidelines and most Cthulhu GMs (or "Keepers" as they are called) develop their own rules. The default values vary somewhat depending on the era of play being used.

After generating attributes one then selects an occupation. You get 10 x Intelligence to improve any skill and 20 x Education to improve a subset of skills dependent on your occupation. Clearly based on this not all characters are created equally. That said, min-maxing is a fairly pointless exercise in my experience of running Cthulhu games. More important than a well-skilled character is an intelligent player, or even better, group of players. The foes in Cthulhu are such that a character with 99% in handgun is still one bite doing 10d10 damage away from death. Unlike D&D there is no concept of "levels". Most of the game is built around your skills. You improve your skills primarily by using them. During an adventure you check off skills that you successfully used - with the Keeper's approval - they have to be important uses of the skill not. After the adventure ends you make a skill test for each skill but instead of wanting to succeed you want to fail. If you fail your skill goes up. In other words, as you improve in a skill it becomes harder to improve it.

There are rules for combat and skill use - they are pretty general. Cthulhu assumes a game that has a Keeper who is comfortable making rulings during play. I don't want to give the impression that its totally free-form, but it is far less detailed than games like D&D 3.x and 4e games. One weakness in the game, in my opinion, is some vagueness in rules such as dodging, parrying, etc.

There is a lengthy section of rules for using Sanity. Exposure to various horrors, eldritch and mundane, can wear away an investigator's Sanity. For the most part exposure to such sanity-blasting horrors causes the character to make a Sanity-check. Failure causes the Sanity to go down by an amount, success means no loss, or, in the event, of worse horrors, a smaller amount. Making use of magic in Cthulhu usually incurs a cost in Sanity that cannot be avoided. The more you increase your Cthulhu Mythos skill the lower your maximum Sanity becomes.

Losing a certain amount of Sanity at once causes a character to go temporarily insane. Larger losses result in extended insanity. A Sanity of zero removes the character from play as he becomes a slave to the forces beings of the Cthulhu Mythos. Lower Sanity also makes later checks less likely to succeed as Sanity rolls are made based on your current score.

The Sanity rules, while not something out of a psychiatry textbook, avoid turning insanity into something laughable. I'm pleased that the rules for Sanity are treated maturely - as a person who has dealt with mental health issues in his family, it is not something I take as humorous.

Sanity can be regained, though it tends to be far easier to lose than regain.

The Game System section closes with a section on magic. It does not include sample spells (those come later) but rather it discusses how one learns magic. Magic is learned from studying tomes of the Cthulhu Mythos. These books are difficult to decipher, typically written by madmen, often  in dead languages. It can take months to complete the reading of such a tome.

Casting magic requires the expenditure of Magic Points. Magic Points start equal to a characters Power and regenerate over the course of a day. They also usually require the expenditure of Sanity points. Some truly powerful spells require the permanent expenditure of Power. There are ways to gain Power but this is a difficult undertaking and one that is not guaranteed to succeed, usually by testing one's Power against other beings.

The next section in the book is its lengthy Reference section. It includes items such as:

  • A discussion of the Cthulhu Mythos

  • A discussion of the Necronomicon, one of the key books of the Mythos

  • A biography of H.P. Lovecraft

  • A list of mental disorders

  • Guidance for Keepers

  • Creatures of the Mythos - something of a "monster manual" for Cthulhu

  • Deities of the Mythos - stats of Mythos deities. The stats aren't really needed - most could read "eats 1d4 investigators per round". However the description of the deities is useful as it gives guidelines for the followers of the deities.

Finally there are several scenarios. This is extremely useful - I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the sample scenarios included in the game. They tend to assume a game set in the 1920s, though they can be moved to other eras with some adjustment.

Though I've had Call of Cthulhu for years and played off and on I've gotten a lot of play over the past two years or so. While the game has a reputation for a horrific body count my games have tended to involve some very cautious investigators who have managed to survive, albeit scarred and somewhat mentally damaged. For the most part my games have involved dealing with human cults and minor servitors of the Mythos - no battles with Cthulhu.

As I mentioned in my Overview, the rules themselves are pretty light. The engineer in me who loves to tinker keeps on thinking I shouldn't enjoy the rules as written but every time I play a game of Cthulhu I find the rules serve their purpose perfectly - they fade away when not needed and work well when they are required. One key, and I think this is true of many games, is knowing when not to use the rules. If a character is searching for a secret note right where the note is, of course they find it.

Pelgrane Press has released their own Cthulhu game, Trail of Cthulhu, using their Gumshoe system, a rules engine very focused on investigative games. It is designed to solve the problem of making sure the game is not derailed by a single failed roll. It's something I'm curious to try out. I've had hints of that problem in my own Call of Cthulhu games but never to the extent that it blocked progress. However one should be aware that many older Call of Cthulhu scenarios, available via Chaosium or RPGNow, while mostly excellent, sometimes have points in the adventure that are totally dependent on a single clue or a single decision. With that caveat, it is a very nice feature of the game that there are a lot of premade scenarios available, both from Chaosium and several licencees.

My own experiences have primarily been in the classic era. I'd be very curious to try running a more fantasy-oriented Cthulhu game, set in a setting like Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne cycle. 

All in all I've found Call of Cthulhu to be an enjoyable game. It's core book is a nicely complete game though there are a ton of supplements out there. If you're not playing Cthulhu it still has some value - if you're playing another BRP game and want to add some cosmic horrors, the beasties here slide in rather nicely. It also makes a nice inspiration work if you are running games in other systems, though I'd argue in such a case you might be better off just reading the works of Lovecraft and others of his circle.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Batman: Hush Volume 1

Title: Batman: Hush Volume 1

ISBN: 1401200613
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: DC, 2013
Artist: Jim Lee
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Collects: Batman #608-612

Rating: 3/5

A light, easygoing read that is one part mystery and one part soap opera, Loeb delivers with his usual flair for drama and character insight. All the right parts and pieces necessary for a drawn-out, slowly unraveling revelation are there; yet the first half of this story arc is curiously lacking in real suspense, while the rather lightweight plot feels more like Loeb is going through the motions of telling a story that is too contrived to be very engaging.

The story opens with Batman rescuing a young boy from the clutches of Killer Croc, a villain who doesn't usually have enough brains to pull off a complicated stunt like kidnapping. Batman rescues the boy but suffers grave injury: his bat-line is cut midflight, sending him plummeting to the streets below. He recovers with the help of Tommy Elliot, a childhood friend from Bruce Wayne's past who just happens to be a rather brilliant surgeon. Elliot's character is introduced to the Batman mythos through a series of well-placed flashbacks, which is one of the things Loeb manages to get right.

Batman assumes that there must be someone behind Croc pulling the strings, and his assumption is dead-on. After visiting Croc in prison, the trail of clues Batman follows leads him to Catwoman, Poison Ivy, a night at the opera and a rather cliched showdown in Metropolis with Superman. It quickly develops that there is indeed a villain hiding from the shadows, working out a scheme against the Batman.

While beautiful to look at, there is a lack of real substance in the story, which is slow to start and is additionally hampered by a plot line that has by now become a familiar staple in the Bat-universe; namely, that some unknown villain has a vendetta against Bruce Wayne/Batman and is masterminding a complicated plot to destroy him a piece at a time by going after the people he cares about.

It might have been intriguing if it hadn't been the exact same predominant theme in the yearlong Murderer/Fugitive crossover story arc, as well as being the central theme of the eight-part miniseries, Batman: Family, which immediately followed. Both of these stories took place right before Hush with hardly a break in the pattern. The rather striking resemblance between the plotlines for each maxiseries might be reason enough why the story feels so flat. While an entertaining return to the days of simple, pure fun that brings to mind the Batman of the '70s and early '80s, the theme of a villain trying to bring down both Batman and Bruce Wayne through a series of sneak attacks that are meant to cripple his spirit and break his will is a rather shopworn concept, and has been since the days of Bane.

Even by itself, though, Hush is nowhere near as gripping as Loeb's earlier, excellent work in The Long Halloween or its sequel, Dark Victory, which featured complex plots paired with avant avant-garde style art that perfectly matched the pacing of both stories. The art in Hush is perhaps part of the reason why it's so hard to take seriously: Jim Lee's style, while visually lush and stunning, does not seem well suited to Gotham's gritty soul but is married instead to places like Metropolis, where Lee's ability to showcase the heroic aspects of a superbeing's anatomy and the huge skyscrapers of the city is more at home. There's a very sexual element to his art; he draws Batman's boots, Poison Ivy's clinging vines and Catwoman's strategically placed whip very, very well. While enticing, it's such a theme in both the cover art and throughout the series that it has a feel of late-night, soft-core cable porn and is not necessarily helpful to the plotline, which unfolds at the speed of molasses being poured.

The characters, including yet another new character from Bruce Wayne's past, are well done if somewhat one-dimensional. The internal dialogue of Batman has a somewhat generic quality that doesn't really let us into his mind or motives very well, and a long-anticipated romantic scene between him and Catwoman feels very contrived, more of a letdown than a surcease from the overt sexual tension that has always coursed between the pair.

There are some wonderful moments in Hush, including a scene with Bruce and his friend Tommy looking up in the sky at a younger Green Lantern (now Sentinel) doing battle with the bad guys. It recalls the earlier days of old-fashioned comic book superheros to which this story seems to be a homage, with its rather standard superhero scripting and setup fight scenes. It's not what one would expect of Loeb in terms of writing but, overall, Hush is a welcome return to the pre-Miller days of Batman as a more humane, less complicated human being. While somewhat shallow, there's a definite feel that this Batman is more sane and less twisted than he has been in recent years, and that, more than the slow pacing that keeps the story from truly advancing, is reason enough to enjoy one of the better Batmans we have had the pleasure of reading in a long time.

Lee's artwork, rich in hues and color and detail, are a good if not entirely perfect fit to this series. The panel work is sometimes too choppy to follow but, taken as a whole, is stunningly beautiful and one of the more well-illustrated Batman stories. The artwork alone is worth the price, and the story does manage to generate a degree of curiosity, just enough to make you wonder what happens next. Hush is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Interview with the founder of Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, John Rogers

Welcome to all my loyal readers and new-found friends. This will be the first time I have had a chance to interview someone outside of a working environment. I have been on the interviewee end for trying to get a job, and I have occasionally been one of the interviewer's trying to find the right person to fill the position we had available in our company. None of the experience has helped me with the interview which you are about to read.

And now... without further ado... I present to you my first interview.

For many years, I have contemplated doing an in-depth interview for my blog. There are so many people in and around the comic book industry that it was very difficult to chose the first. Now that this interview has gone well... and will hopefully be well received... I hope that I can extend my range to more individuals and begin a new item for my readers.

You may have heard me mention Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer before in other posts, but I thought it was the right time to hear from the man that started it all.

I am proud to bring to Zanziber's Point of View, John Rogers!

   Zanziber- Thank you for allowing me to interview you for my blog and welcome to my little slice of the internet.

   John- It's a pleasure to be here. I've been a long-time fan and avid reader of your work.

   Zanziber- So let's start off with something easy and would you please give my reader's a little background on who you are and what brought you to comic books.

   John- Certainly. I was born, raised, and still live in Salem, Oregon. I had a good upbringing, but I could never find a single subject to focus on for a career. I've thought about becoming a writer (fiction and comic books), police officer, journalist, web designer, comic book inker, online sales representative, computer tech, and probably a few others I have since forgotten.

   When I was a child, my Dad and I had a tradition when purchasing fireworks for our 4th of July celebration. After getting the fireworks, we would go to the only comic book shop in our city and he would buy me Star Wars trading cards. It wasn't until I was around 10 years old that I was actually introduced to comics and their wonderful stories.

   I was home sick one day and my Dad asked if there was anything I wanted from the grocery store. I asked if he could pick me up the latest issue of MAD Magazine. When he returned, he informed me that the store was out of MAD and he picked-up a comic for me. G.I Joe: A Real American Hero #50 was my first and I still own that very copy.


   I had a direct subscription from Marvel growing-up for both G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Amazing Spider-Man. I remember that I got the ASM subscription right when Todd McFarlane had taken over the art duties and one of my first issues I received was #300. Unfortunately, I do no still have ASM #300 in my collection. I remember that I went to a comic show in Portland after high school and trading it to a vendor for some Marvel Overpower CCG card packs. Worst trade ever.

   I've been collecting comics (off and on) for over 30 years now. I've still got a small collection (10 long boxes) even though I'm not actively purchasing issues on a regular basis. I also try to keep my ears and eyes to the comic book community with the help of Twitter and Facebook.

   Zanziber- Sounds interesting. What kinds of things do you like to do outside of comic books?

   John- Well... I'm also a 30+ year veteran of role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, Pathfinder and the like. I like watching movies, trolling the internet (jk), writing the occasional blog post for one the various blogs I write for, spending time with friends and family, and getting stamps in my McMenamins passport. In May, I'll be celebrating my 1st anniversary of getting my 1st #mcmpassport and at the moment, I've completed 2 passports and working on my 3rd. #NoRegrets

   Zanziber- Let's go ahead and get into talking about Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer. Why do you tell us what inspired you and how you started?

   John- In the summer of 2013, I found a link on my Facebook feed that directed me to The Hero Initiative's The Walking Dead 100 Project. This was honestly the first I had heard of these types of projects to help raise money for their organization. They do some great work, by the way. I love what they're doing and I wish them continued success.

   This got me thinking about the possibility of doing something similar to help raise money for cancer research. My motives for specifically targeting cancer research is because my mother is a survivor of 2 separate cancers and my father currently has leukemia.

   When I first started, I approached the owner of my LCS, Tony, from Tony's Kingdom of Comics and Collectibles. He was happy to help me with discounted blank covers and then became our biggest supporters by giving us so many of the blanks covers we've had. Without Tony's help, I don't feel that #CBC4C would be as successful as it has become.

   To find artists, I wanted to try and start local to try and keep costs down. I guess I should mention at this time that we started everything off out of my own personal wallet. It wasn't until later that I began our GoFundMe campaign to raise money to actually support the project. I was able to find a handful of artists from around Oregon, but was really coming-up short. I posted ad's on Craigslist and on the Digital Webbing forums. Unfortunately, it seems as though a handful of the "artists" who contacted me through the ad of Digital Webbing either took on too much work and decided it was easier to stop responding to my repeated emails for updates after 6+ months, or they were simply scammers in the first place.

   It was during the early stages of our project, I was contacted by an "artist" from Indonesia who really wanted to help our cause. He convinced me to send him 9 different blank covers. It wasn't long before I realized that my good nature had been taken advantage of. This... and the sheer expense of shipping... is why I chose not to ship blanks to internationally-based artists. Since then, I have had a handful of wonderful artists who have understood my position, and have donated their work to us.

   I am fortunate that I live close to Portland, Oregon and therein lies several talented professionally published comic book artists. We has thus far received covers donated by both Randy Emberlin and Ron Randall. I am currently arranging for other published comic book artists from the pacific northwest to donate as well.

   Since the beginning, we have been fortunate enough to have the great support of my friend Paul Rowden. He originally donated a couple of covers in memory of his adoptive father Francis Joseph Bernauer, who died of colon cancer. Since that first donation, he has placed bids, helped promote and hooked us up with various covers from a variety of different artists.

   Around the time of San Diego Comic Con in 2014, Paul contacted me and let me know he'd be sending us a very special cover that he was able to procure while he was at SDCC. It just so happened to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary Special that had a sketch done by Kevin Eastman himself!

   Kevin himself was happy to help us promote the auction when it went live. To date, this has been our most successful cover that garnered not only the most attention but the highest bids. BTW: Mr. Eastman did the cover without charge.

   Zanziber- Tough break about getting taken advantage of, but so great for all the success that has been had since then. I was a fan of TMNT when I was a kid. Sort of still am now as an adult, come to think of it. I guess you never really grow-up out of some things, huh. For those people that are unfamiliar with how to get some of the great covers you've received for #CBC4C, can you please give us some insight on how and when you sell them?

   John- We always wanted to try and get the most out of every cover that we sell, so our marketplace of choice easily became eBay. I've been using it for years already, so it was the natural choice. It also helps that they already have charitable donation as a part of the auction procedure.

   For every cover sold at auction on eBay, 85% of the final bid is given to the American Cancer Society through their Giving Works program. The other 15% pays for the eBay and PayPal fees. To date, we've been able to raise just over $2,000!

   The opening bid for each auction begins at only $8! This makes for a low enough price point for those who want to help support the cause but don't have much money in order to do so. Our eBay id is CBC4C.

   Zanziber- And how does an interested artist, or for that matter anyone, get connected with you to help support the #CBC4C project?

   John- For artists interested in donating some of their work to be featured in one of our auctions, simply send me a Private Message (PM) on Facebook through our page ( and we'll get the logistics arranged if you want to send us covers you've already worked on or need blank covers sent to you first.

   For every cover that is donated to us, #CBC4C provides a certificate of authenticity to go along with it when it sells. Also, we ask each artist to provide a business card or some information to pass along to the final buyer of each cover so that they may contact them for future work. This is to help promote each artist.

   For everyone else who wants to support our project in some way, here are a few ideas that will really help:

  1. Like us on Facebook here:

  2. Share our Facebook page with your friends. The more word of mouth, the better.

  3. If you go to comic con's and are willing to connect with artists to have them donate to us, we'd love that.

  4. As I mentioned earlier, we're always in need of financial support, and we have our GoFundMe campaign active for those donations here:

   Zanziber- Thank you for taking this time to speak to me. I think you're doing some great work here and I hope for your continued success.

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