Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is For Zoo

In Chicago, we're lucky to have the Lincoln Park Zoo. It's a free zoo to enter and has a wide variety of offerings that are always changings. For example, right now they just celebrated the birth of a baby gorilla, red panda, and tiger among many other additions.

In fiction, games, and other forms of media, the zoo can play an important role.

First, it's a location that has a lot of people in it. This could be useful if you need to have a setting where there are lots of people.

Those people mind you, are usually all about minding their own business because they are often there with children. Lots of noisy loud children.

Second it's a location that has a lot of potential trouble to it. The new movie coming out, Jurassic World is what goes wrong in a zoo of the future. In comics, there have been incidences where the characters use the animals around as assistants.

For example, in a Punisher arc, Frank shoots the glass out of a shark tank and the shark does the job of finishing off a criminal.

Third, it's a location that has a lot of potential activities to it. Characters could be looking for things to do and going to the zoo and watching ice sculptures being cut with chainsaws beats standing around in the cold doing nothing.

Other more likely scenarios include housing some unique animal or having events proclaiming the birth of a newcomer to the world.

Fourth, for a true turn of events, the characters can be from the zoo. They can be the animals that live there. The graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, written by Brian K Vaughan, features a group of lions that 'escape' the zoo when the country comes under attack. A powerful story with great art,

In a fantasy setting, such a place can be even more important. First off, it may have to be stocked. Where do such creatures come from in the first place? Sounds like a job for the characters.

When such creatures escape, as they are wont to do, who is there to put them back?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Y is for Youth

All too often you can hear critics of the younger people. It's become such a standard accusation, there's a meme for it. Telling them to "Get off my lawn."

Depending on which side of the fence you're on, you'll probably thrill to movies like Grand Torino where a grizzled war veteran played by Clint Eastwood has to teach these young pups a lesson. This is similar to another Clint Eastwood movie, the western Unforgiven, where what appears to be a docile old man is in reality, the fiercest killer of them all.

If you're on the other side of the fence, you may see the youth of fiction such as Harry Potter and his 'wild ways' being a specific type of hero to handle specific foes. That the world weighs on his young shoulders but he is able to bear that burden responsibly.

Traditionally, America is a youth oriented consumer driven culture. In most older tales, the 'heroic journey' starts with a youth who has to learn and be doing so, learn and become wiser.

As America continues to gray, that focus is starting to shift. While such actors as Clint, and other aging power houses, continue to showcase that there is an audience for movies like the Expendables, Red, and others, its started to hit other venues like fiction.

Take for example, Druss the Legend. David Gemmell, long before it was cool, used both young foolish heroes, and battle hardened vets in his tales. He even took Druss, whose first appearance is a grizzled aged warrior, and went to the well many times with him.

Other authors like Joe Abercrombie, have taken a page from fantasy and westerns and crafted new stories like Red Country.

I've rambled between youth and old age. I've even pointed out several instances in which the older, wiser, more world weary character is called on to save the world.

But the future belongs to the youth. After all, sooner or later the old people will be dead no?

For those who are starting to gray like me, what's the youth of your region like? Are we looking at an upcoming golden age or are we going to have to rely on old war horses coming out of retirement to save us one last time?

X is For X-23

X-23: Target X was another book featured by both Amazon and Google Play recently as part of their 'girl power' sale on superheroes.

X-23 is a clone of the Marvel Comics mutant hero Wolverine. At this point, with numerous solo movies and being a part of a team, X-Men, with multiple movies,  I'm not going to go into who Wolverine is. X-23 retains three claws, but only two of them per hand, and that third claw is in the foot. This gives her a bit of a surprise factor when fighting people used to battling Wolverine.

X-23 shares similarities to Firestar and Harley Quinn in that she was initially a character that appeared in cartons before her appearance in the comics. Since her initial appearance, X-23 has been in many solo series, team books, and limited series.

One of the strengths of Target X, is it puts X-23 firmly into the Marvel Universe. In her initial training, X-23 was trained to go into berserk rampages when hit with a 'trigger' scent. This is an odd 'weakness' but it has come into play several times.

But its important to note, some characters have a 'trigger' weakness that has nothing to do with going into a killing frenzy.

Here Captain America has come across a 'survivor' of a massacre. Too late as Cap puts her into an ambulance, does he realize that this 'survivor' is none other than the killer. Cap's desire to help has costs other people their lives even though he himself did not take them. Cap's need, his demand for acting the hero, was triggered.

X-23 also has her own nemesis here. the strange thing about the nemesis, is that in almost every encounter, even when X-23 gets the upper hand, this nemesis trounces X-23. So here's my question. Why make it a 'huge' deal to make clones of Wolverine when you can make an individual so powerful that they can trounce that clone?

That lady pounding on a young X-23 there? That's Kimura. She's indestructible. It's almost like one of those old poems where neither blade nor bullet nor whatever else you got punk is going to do anything to her. Kimura is also malicious and takes great joy in bringing pain to others, especially X-23.

X-23 grows in the volume in that her previous training and abilities as an assassin do come into play, but are also countered by her efforts at normalcy. Her time in high school gets her sent to the principal's office on numerous occasions as she has an almost Data or Spock like logic in answering questions posed to her, and with her wide body of knowledge, accumulated for the purpose of murdering people, her answers tend to fall on the rather shocking side.

For me, the volume was a hit on several areas. The art was good. The story was well paced. It took a former loner character and firmly put her into the Marvel Universe without overwhelming her with it. That is often a problem with a comic has a firm direction, like the original Runaways or Young Avengers, and it's so mashed into the greater setting, that the characters are overwhelmed.

The writers captured not only the things that make Captain America tick, but also Daredevil and Wolverine providing X-23 a great set of characters to compare and contrast to.

In the end, we're left with an X-23 whose on her own and has allies and perhaps even friends.

For myself, while I'm not a huge collector of comics, I've enjoyed her appearances in Avengers Arena as well as her stint in X-Force. The former a direct homage to Battle Royal and the later a tribute to the old New Mutants comic that evolved into X-Force, now come full circle to a hidden branch of the X-Men specializing in assassination.

Are there any particular story arcs others would recommend featuring X-23? Any particular dogs to avoid?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Women Warlords

I don't remember where or when I picked up Women Warlord by Tim Newark. It's another case of a subject, women who don't follow the standards, that I said, "I'll read that sooner of later." The cover is of Matilda, the Countess of Tuscany with her warriors and is painted by Angus McBride. The book is published by Blandford, but the size, 144 black and white pages, and style, photos of ancient weapons, armor, and art, remind me of Osprey Publishing.

Written by Tim Newark, the book is broken into the following chapters:

The True Amazons: 

When talking about the Amazons that the Greeks battled, Tim makes a case for them being an actual historical group.

Sometimes these 'Amazons' are attributed a different name. For example, "There is a Scythian race,' wrote Hippocrates, 'dwelling around Lake Maeotis [the Sea of Azov] which differs from other races. Their name is Sauromate [Greek for Sarmatians]. Their women ride, shoot, and throw javelins when mounted. They remain virgins until they have killed three of their enemies and only then may they marry once they have performed the traditional sacred rites." (pg 12)

As I read a variety of material, I look at the supposed meeting between Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons and Alexander the Great. The two supposedly lay together for 13 days after which she left. Her sole purpose? To get a child of Alexander. I can see either a super hero comic or a modern thriller where the descendants of those two strive to live up to that legacy. Perhaps without knowing it, good old Doc Savage could be one of their children.

Amazons of the Jungle: 

Brazil and Dahomey. When searching for the lost city of gold El Dorado, beware the amazons lead by Conori. The 'problem' is that even thought this is happening around 1545, confirmation is still not easy to come by. First, it's across the ocean. The failures of the Spanish initially might have needed a little... 'boost' to explain that it was not normal failure and that victory was just around the corner.

Now that takes care of Brazil. In West Africa? Warrior women were not unknown. "A further four (women) stood behind him, carrying flintlock muskets on their shoulders. They were naked from the waist upwards, wearing gold rings around their arms and beads around their neck and in their hair. They were members of the king's elite bodyguard, composed completely of women. And this is during the 1850 era of slave trade.

There's some interesting quotes here. One of them reminds me of how mercenaries treat war. "War is our great friend,' said one. 'Without is there is no cloth, no armlets. Let us to war, conquer or die.' (pg 44)

The author of Imaro, Charles Saunders, had done enough research in his creation of Imaro to have enough material to create Dossouye, a warrior woman based off of West Africa body guards of kings, similar to the above.

Historically, it appears that ehre were four kinds of warriors as follows:

The Agbaraya or blunderbuseers: Veterans of the army and called into action only when urgently needed. The biggest and strongest warriors of the force, each accompanied by an attendant carrying ammunition.

The Gbeto, or elephant huntresses: The bravest warriors that carried out dangerous hunting expeditions and bore feocious scars of close encounters with wounded elephants.

The Nyekplehhentoh, or razor women. They carried a hinged sword about 18 inches long that shut into its scabbard like a razor. The blade was used for decapitation.

The Gulonentoh or musketeers, the majority of the armed warriors. (pg. 48)

Braver Than Her Husband: 

Artemisia and Zenobia.

Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnassus, goes back in time. From the time of the West African Amazons, the author takes us to the time of Xerxes in 480 B. C. Those who've been to the movies might recognize the name Xerxes as he's the villain in Frank Miller's novel and movie, 300. Turns out Artemisia was a skilled strategist who might have turned a few of the failures of Xerxes to victory had he but listened to her.

Zenobia was wife and advisor to Odaenathus, ruler of Palmyra. Here we have a scenario that sounds like it played out of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. Zenobia and her husband did much together. She was well respected. She was known to the soldiers. She was 'reputed' to be a descendant of Cleopatra.

But her husband was going to leave the kingdom to his son Herodes, and this son was from a previous marriage and well, wasn't too useful. Listed as worthless and spoilt.

So apparently Zenobia has Maeonius, the ruler's cousin, kill him. The cousin is in turn killed by Zenobia's soldiers. Herodes disappears after his father's death.

Zenobia rules as regent for her son, Vaballathus. She was not a modest regent either. She took a troop of some odd 70,000 soldiers into Egypt and defeated the Roman-Egyptian forces there. Mind you, those forces had their own problems with Goth Pirates from the Black Sea. Timing is everything eh?

Unfortunately for Zenobia, Rome came under new leadership, Aurelian, Roman Emperor between 270 and 275. And to all things that rise, they must fall. Despite some daring stopping maneuvers, Aurelian won the conflict.

Celtic Queens: 

Medb, Cartimandua, and Boudica are included here. While I'm familiar with Medb and Boudica, I'm no scholar on either of them and it's good to see information on all three in one spot.

The author starts off with a brief telling of The Tain Bo Cuailnge. Medb having a confrontation with her husband about who was better off before they married the other. The husband has a slight advantage that Medb seeks to immediately redress by in her way the warrior known as Cuchulainn. She soon learns why they call him 'the Warped One' as when she seeks to trap him, he turns into a super human mass of muscle and power and tears through those setting the trap like tissue.

Lots of people turn up dying in this instance for one bull. Hundreds if not thousands. Heroes inflicting mass carnage and spilling gore of hundreds upon the land.

Cartimandua lives in the first century AD. She was the leader of the Brigantes, a confederation of tribes and was made richer by Roman governor Plautius who made her a client ruler.

Unfortunately, a falling out with her husband Venutius, winds up with Venutius leading Celts against Cartimandua who tries to rely on the strength of Rome to hold her position.

This indirectly leads to the rise of Boudica a few years later. When Boudica protest her treatment at Roman hands, she is whipped and her two royal daughters cornered and raped by Roman soldiers.

In exchange, Boudica gathered forces, spoken encouragement, waited while the Romans fought against the strength of the Druids in north Wales, and when the time was right, burned the colonial settlement at Colchester to the ground including all the men, women, and children.

When the legion IX Hispana was sent to bring order, only their leader, Petillius Cerealis and a few cavalry escape with their life.

Boudica continues her vengeance with some reports of deaths of Romans rising as high as 70,000.

It took several legions and one mass battle to decide the fate of Boudica and history at this time casts Rome as the winner.  That 70,000 number of Romans supposedly killed is matched in horrific manner as "no less than 80,000 Britons died".

Women of Christ: 

Included here are Aethelflaed, Matilda of Tuscany, and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Aethelflaed of Mercia is well known to me not necessarily because of any actual effort I've put into reading history. Rather the writer Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales gave the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great quite a starting role in several of the books.

Aethelflaed, after her husband's death, works with her younger brother, Edward, to make England more united than it had been previously, and in so doing, make it a stronger England able to withstand the Viking invasions.

She was a political creature at heart. She didn't name herself queen, but rather, Myrcna hlaefdige (Lady of the Mercians). An official title that doesn't put her at odds with her brother, King Edward.

Despite the threat of the vikings, the people of Mercia were under attack from numerous forces including Irish, Norwegian, and Welsh. Aethelflaed responded by building more burhs and fortifications and sending armies against those who would do her people harm.

Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, doesn't have the same historical problem that Aethelflaed did. For the Lady of Mercia, her brother had to be seen as the guiding power, the crafty hand, the sole mover of events.

Matilda did not have the issue. Rather as the sole remaining child of Boniface of Canossa, who was assassinated in 1052 through the plotting of Emperor Henry III, Matilda was trained to excel.

She did so through not only courtly learning, but that of arms.

And while Matilda had no love for the German emperors, she did however, have loyalty to the papcy of Rome.

Her own private life was not easy. Married to Godfrey the Hunchback, she suffered the loss of a child who died in infancy. She separated from her husband who'd been rumored to attempt an assassination on the Pope. In 1076, Godfrey was murdered.

At this point, Matilda's loyalty to the pope is tested as Henry IV sought to depose of the pope, rising an 'antipope'. But the threat of excommunication gave Henry IV pause not necessarily because of what he thought, but of how his enemies could use that event against him. Matilda allowed the Pope to stay at the castle of Canossa and humbled the German emperor but it was a temporary humbling at best as in three short years, Henry IV elected an antipope.

Henry's initial forays worked well and Matilda suffers greatly during this period. The only thing preventing a total victory by Henry is the weather as the summer forces the soldiers to retreat north to Tuscany.

The pope secures the assistance of Robert Guiscard and his Norman warriors. Claiming other business, Henry retreats to the north.

Not one to waste such an event, Matilda uses the confusion to lead a small force of soldiers including horsemen and foot-soldiers and using a classic night ambush, dispatches several of her foes.

When times passes and Henry lays siege to her again, she proves a worthy warrior and leads her elite men out of a secret entrance of her castle and using a dense fog as cover, panics the forces of Henry who retreat rapidly.

Closing out this section, Eleanor of Aquitaine inherited a vast estate in 1137 at the age of 15 upon the death of her father.  Due to this amount of wealth she controlled, the Capetian dynasty made her the Queen of France. As she grew older, she grew more involved with the politics of day to day. She traveled with Louis when in 1146 he 'took the cross', travelling the Holy Land.

Things didn't go well for Louis. Eleanor perhaps not taking the trip seriously, dressed in armor and carried weapons, as did her maids. Eleanor's favorite vassal, Geoffrey of Rancon, moved too far out of the other warriors and Turks ambushed them killing many. Geoffrey was held accountable and sent back to France.

Worse for Louis when in Antioch they meet Raymond, the prince of the city and Eleanor's uncle. Supposedly the two had something greater than he being her uncle between them. Conflict between Louis and her spread from that point until their marriage was annulled in 1152.

But she would be alone only a short time. So vast her wealth, she quickly took another husband, Henry Plantagenet, who might be more familiar as Henry II King of England.

But that relationship also went sour. She  have five sons and three daughters by Henry. Richard I and John, the last born, would also become Kings of England. With some suspicion of her being the 'ringleader' of a rebellion against him, Henry brought Eleanor home and had her imprisoned for some odd 15 years and it wasn't till his death that she was freed.

She didn't let age slow her down though and remained very active, including gathering the random for Richard I release from the Duke of Austria as well as supporting John when he became king.

Hundred Years War Women: 

While I'm reading for the new information, such as Jeanne of Montfort and Christine de Pisan, I did know Joan of Arc.

Jeanne is literally a leader. When he town is under siege, she dons armor, rides through the streets, encourages the people to fight. To take stones from the buildings and throw them at the enemy.

She leads a group of 300 horseman into the enemy's deserted encampment and sets it aflame.

When she escapes the French, she returns with reinforcements!

Because of her efforts, her town holds out long enough for the English army sent by King Edward to arrive.

That wasn't the only bit of action Jeanne had. She later wound up assembling 1,000 men-at-arms and 8,000 foot-soldiers to La Roche Derrien to fight against the encroaching French.

Further on timewise, Christine de Pisan was a writer who wrote Treasure of the City of Ladies in 1405. Her writings are a call to arms or rights if you will, for those women to take what is rightfully theirs and to seek "to protect her rights boldly by law and reason'. Another book mentioned here is Feats of Arms and Chivalry and compiles material from ancient military authors as well as modern ones.

Christine de Pisan died around 1429 and right before then, around 1428, Joan of Arc at the age of 16, is instructed to help the King of France.  In 1431, after a brief and brilliant time as a symbol of France, Joan is burnt at the stake.

Because its covering such a wide swath of history, if you wanted more details on any of the subjects and individuals brought up, further research is recommended. Thankfully Tim includes a great bibliography and there are many new resources these days as well as more information comes to light and research becomes easier and more expanded.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

V is For Viking

I've long collected the various series by Osprey Military that include the Warriors Series and the Men-At-Arm series. With the +HISTORY channel just finishing airing Vikings Season Three,  I decided to delve into my Warrior Series Volume 3, Viking Hersir 793-1066 AD: Weapons>Armor.Tactics. Note the cover below is not the current cover, but is is the one I have.

Vikings are a popular. Part of this is the warrior heritage. They are individual who 'do' things. It's easier to involve characters into stories when they are active in that story.

They are also not restricted to their own time. Marvel Comics for some odd forty years has been getting good mileage out of reimagining the adventures of Thor, one of the gods of the Vikings. This has included numerous versions of Thor in both the past and far future, as well as individuals with the power of Thor, thanks to an enchantment placed on Thor's hammer.

Even DC, which has mainly stayed with the Olympian Pantheon via Wonder Woman, has gotten mileage out of names such as Wotan, a mystical super villain who battled Dr. Fate.

In terms of writing, there are numerous tales of the Vikings which come to us, often hundreds of years after the events take place such as the saga of Vinland that I recently blogged about.

But for more modern audiences, writers like Bernard Cornwell are getting their milage out of the era. Bernard currently has eight books in his Saxon Tales, the latest being the Empty Throne, a first person narration and while I'm behind one book in the series, it's another look at the vikings that I've enjoyed.

The viking presence is also felt in role playing games. While I don't have the specific issue of Dragon Magazine in front of me, Dungeons and Dragons has taken it's own look at some of the berserkers from Viking lore.

Later on, during the 2nd edition era of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR started doing 'historical' books. The first one they did was HR 1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook. This was a green faux leather cover book and while no longer available in print, DriveThruRPG is selling it in PDF format for $9.99.

This doesn't count other companies like I.C.E. who had their own historical line that brought different eras to Rolemaster. Their own book Vikings was another look at how to implement the mundane and fantastic mythological elements into MERP and Rolemaster. Makes perfect sense since at the time, I.C.E. was also doing Middle Earth Roleplaying, the aftermentioned MERP, and there are quite a few nods to the Norsemen in Middle Earth.

In short, Vikings were, and still are, a popular subject, especially to write about.

Part of this is their mythology. They have a full cycle. They know what is supposed to happen at the end of the world. They know that if they fight and die, they will go to join the king of the gods Odin.

Part of it is the unique elements they possess. For example, naming weapons and armor. Good weapons and armor will go down in history. Those who do legendary deeds, will do the same.

One thing that Viking Hersir pointed out that I did not know before, was that with the fragility of weapons versus time, especially over an era covering almost three hundred years, that if a sword broke, but it was a good quality sword, it would be reforged into a spearhead. The good metal too important to let sit rusting somewhere.

Other bits that Viking Hersir point out, that perhaps should be obvious, are that that scabbards do not survive. They often becomes melded through time into the weapons themselves. In fantasy campaigns, having a shealth that survived the tides of time would be a sure indicator that there was something not normal about sword and scabbard.

I admit one of the reasons I like the Warrior Series by Osprey, is the art. This volume is no exception. Gerry Embleton. He's a fantastic artist whose work can be found here. Gerry brings us twelve different full color plates.

As someone who also paints miniatures, one of the things I enjoyed was a full page of shields. While there are several 'normal' shields, there are also several patterned shields. While some cultures may have very elaborate and impossible to design by hand shields in 28mm, that's not true of the Vikings who often had one to three bright colors and simple designs.

Outside of Gerry's art, there are numerous photographs of actual items from the era ranging from swords and axe heads to helmets and scans of ancient art that has survived into the modern era. Makes for a great immersion even though the book is relatively short.

If you're a fan of the Vikings show and want to dip your toe into something that's going to provide a little more information and is written easily enough to follow with a ton of material referenced at the end, Viking Hersir is perfect.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

U is For Unique

In comics, books, and roleplaying games, there are often new characters, villains, and technology introduced with great frequency.

Sometimes these things are merely copies or built upon ideas formerly launched in the past. The recent run of Spider Man with it's whole Spider Universe for example, brought in numerous variants of Spider Man including some of whom have gone on to get their own series like Spider Gwen and Silk.

On the other hand, often there are new characters or monsters introduced that are unique.

Look at fantasy role playing games. New magic items, new spells, new classes, new variants to generate that 'unique' feel people want.

One of the original things people looked at when reading Elric for example, is that he was the opposite of Conan. He was not a barbarian. He was not a brawny thief. He was a spellcaster who worshiped a chaos god and used a magical sword. Not just any magical sword but a soul drinker. Perhaps not the first of its kind but quickly imitated in mass from that in games like Warhammer Fantasy and others.

Games like Dungeons and Dragons don't come out with numerous Monster Manuals and Fiend Folio's and have 3rd party supplements because people want the same old same old.

People want the unique. They want the unusual. They want the different encounters.

Sometimes this will be a hit. The original Fiend Folio from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for example, has the race of Gith, the Elemental Evil Princes, Death Knights and other entities that stand the test of time for the last twenty years. On the other hand, some like the Flumph, while enjoyed by some, have not stood out quite so well. Pathfinder by Paizo even did a book to 'redeem' a lot of those monsters.

But don't be afraid to take risks. People may get a chuckle out of a failed unique encounter, but when it hits the right bars and that magic comes together to create a great encounter, you've got a home run.

Friday, April 24, 2015

T is For Trouble

When I say T is For Trouble, I'm not exactly talking about Big Trouble in Little China.

But I could be!

No, T is for Trouble in that your hero, your protagonist, could be minding their own business. They could be going about their daily chores. They could be, for all intents and purposes, dead to the world.

The world will not return the favor.

I've blogged about Usagi Yojimbo before. Published currently by +Dark Horse Comics , one of the hooks Stan Sakai uses to get Usagi into the action, is having his ronin rabbit stumble unto trouble as it's occurring.

Which is why I mentioned that I could be talking about Big Trouble in Little China. When it comes to an everyman whose bringing the audience into the action, you can't get much better than Jack Burton. Not only is he an entertaining SOB, he's got a few traits of survivability.

He's such a normal guy, he drives 'The Pork Chop Express', a semi.

But his friends? They know some weird people.

And when Jack goes with his friend to pick up said friend's girlfriend? Well, it leads into all sorts of interesting supernatural situations. What turned into the horrific real world enslavement of another person, becomes something more fantastic as Jack has to pit his wits, what few he has, against the ancient evil that has endured all that China's gods can throw at it.

Trouble comes in all shapes and all sizes. Trouble may look like it wants intervention but may not. One horrific thing that happens with much more frequency than it should, is when someone is being physically and verbally beaten and if someone goes to interfere, instead of being grateful, the person who is being beaten is outraged that an outsider would dare bring themselves into this private thing. "He doesn't mean it!" may be heard by any helpful outsider.

In such a situation, what is the hero to do? Taking on more responsibility as such a point may actually be irresponsible unless the character is willing to become fully enmeshed in the activity that drew his attention. How much time, how many resources, is the character willing to spend on what to all intents and purposes is some off change encounter?

Trouble has a way of showing up when you least expect it. Below are some examples:

Disease: Without warning, a disease that no one is prepared for exploded unto the scene.

Mugging: The characters have taken a short cut and in doing so, are witnessed to a mugging or worse.

Mistaken Identity: When the characters are entering the city, they are mistaken for another group of characters. This could range in circumstance. For example, one of the character could look exactly like another character or the characters as a whole could meet the metaphysical description of a group that is supposed to save the city, country, planet, universe, or something even grander like the multiverse.

Challenged: While minding their own business, perhaps even shopping, the characters are challenged. If one of the characters is a renowned swordsman, another swordsman has come to test that claim.

One in a lifetime opportunity: While out and about, the character discovers something that they never knew before which changes everything. This could be an opportunity to study in another country, or a deal on something they've wanted for a long time, but the "deal" is still so expensive that they have to sell everything else they own.

Trouble is always around the corner and it's the quickest way to get the characters moving when they appear to only want to stay home and bake peach pie.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is For Supergirl and +Google Play both recently had numerous comics featuring leading ladies on sale. I managed to pick up quote a few deals at $2.99 per volume. Supergirl was another character that received a reboot in the new 52 with the first volume being Supergirl Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton.

Weighing in at 160 full color pages, this reintroduction to Supergirl is a win for me on several levels. About the only place it's not a win? The costume.

I'm not talking necessarily about design or anything but there's a lot of skin on the legs exposed yes?

So when reading the actual comic and it puts some information in perspective, you have to wonder, WTF?

For those who can't read it, "It's not clothing, it's armor!"

So you send your daughter through space and time with no armor on her legs or head? Now mind you, when I think about it, I have to wonder why the big S doesn't have a mask of the same material. Were the super advanced people of Krypton that vain? "Let us shield our soldiers and people but not the face!" 

One of the bonus features of this volume was a sketchbook showing numerous designs. One of my favorites is probably the all white version. Mind you I could go for it in the traditional colors but the coverage, especially for armor, seems more appropriate.

I'm not going to get into the history of Supergirl. I'm not necessarily the best scholar of such. She's gone through a lot of changes and in most of her incarnations, has had some good writers and some bad runs. The DC staff mandate has changed from Superman is the only Kryptonian to "Hey, we put Zod back in the movies so let's not waste this opportunity!" although to be fair they've been using Zod in various ways in various incarnations for a while now.

The good news is that this is a strong introduction to the character. One of the problems I've often though female leads have is that they lack strong enemies. This Supergirl does not have that problem. Not only does she have a scientist trying to determine who and what she is (as if the Big Red S isn't a huge clue eh?) but she has foes directly tied into her Kryptonian heritage. Enemies that are as strong, if not stronger than her.

The variety in enemies, from characters that are soldiers in power armor, to generically engineered creatures on Earth, to those created from Kryptpton, as well as the solid designs on them, allow Supergirl to finally stand away from Superman in that she has a bit of her own mythos, her own reason, he own motivation. She's not just Clark but with legs.

If you're a fan of superhero comics and the opportunity to pick up at least the first volume in the New 52 happens your way, you won't be disappointed with this volume.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is For Roland

I've been watching the History Channel's completely historic-unhistoric show Vikings. Currently on season three, the Vikings are invading Paris, an actual historic event with of course the History Channel's usual flourishes.

The King of France is the grandson of King Charlemagne. Worthy of his own entry, suffice it to say King Charlemagne was reknown for many attributes and deeds that his children would strive to live up to and often come up short. But of those who served under King Charlemagne, it is Roland who has his own tales, told most famously in the book The Song of Roland.

Outside of the Song of Roland, this Paladin also features in the Matter of France or the Carolingian Cycle.

Personally, I remember Roland best not for his foolhardiness displayed in the book, but rather, for his appearance in Dragon Magazine and it's regular feature, Lords and Legends, issue 127 . This was a feature that often took characters from history or myth, and provided gaming stats for them.

In some ways, it was nice. You could see what a professional thought such and such would be in an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons. On the other, often because of the historical nature or at best 'legends' of the character, these heroes were woefully under equipped for Dungeons and Dragons having few magic items.

Roland is a part of France's history and his sword a part of what many could consider the first Holy Avengers in terms of its legend.

But those magic items they did have... For whatever reason, the author of that article, made Roland's sword, a named blade called Durandal, a +7 long sword holy avenger with other abilities like automatically hitting anyone with non-magic armor. As a power gamer even back in the day, I was impressed with it.

But I was also impressed because I had read the Elric saga when I was younger. These books are ancient so beware the spoilers ahead. In the later volume, Elric seeks out a Horn. It's Roland's Horn he seeks out and the Elric and Roland duel with Elric being the victor. In my youth, I had visions of Stormbringer, stats pulled forth from the original Deities and Demigods, and Durandal.

But the reason that fascinated me, was I had read the Song of Roland. I knew who Roland was. If you're reading a book and it throws an odd character in there whom you've never read about before or know anything about, the result probably isn't going to be the same.

That's why I always urge people to expand their horizons. Don't stick with just the popular current stuff. Dig into the older material not only so that you can see where the foundations of the modern authors often lie, but so that you have a broader appreciation of the genre as a whole.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Quote

Who has been in a game of Dungeons and Dragons and the cleric turns towards you and says "I find your lack of faith disturbing?"

How about Rifts and getting ready to raid a hideout of Xenos? "It is all about that base."

Quotes bring a lot of entertainment to a game.

They help everyone share the current pop culture, as well as showcase the group's personal preference for older material.

I know that in my group, the original movie Predator has many lines taken from it. The dreaded "If it bleeds we can kill it." is by far the favorite. It's even been made into a meme with "If it has stats we can kill it."

Quotes can also take on a life of their own. A Game of Thrones has a line, "You know nothing John Snow." One of the players accused the DM of not knowing anything. So that because "You know nothing Tom Snow." And we've used it many a time.

What are some of the favorite quotes that get thrown around at your gaming table?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

P is for Poseidon's Gold by Lindsey Davis

Another sneak entry into the A to Z Challenge, Poseidon's Gold is a novel I've been reading since I finished Lindsey's previous volume. Unfortunately the back pain and the pain killers have made reading a bit more difficult than I'm used to. Having a hard time focusing on the material in front of me which winds up with me fifteen-twenty pages later wondering exactly what I've read.

Despite that obstacle though, I have finished Poseidon's Gold! The short review? Reading one of the book's in the Falco series of Ancient Rome is like visiting an old friend. You are anxious to hear all about the happenings and going ons and see how everyone in the neighborhood is doing. If you've enjoyed the previous books, you will no doubt enjoy Poseidon's Gold.

The longer review?

Interesting. If I had finished this book earlier, I might have put it down as F is for Family.  This book focuses on several different relations of Falco and does so in a way that brings his own love, Helena, closer to the fold.

Falco's older brother, Festus, was a soldier who had a habit of falling in with not only the wrong crowd, but with every crowd. Wherever he went, there were fans and friends aplenty. But everything didn't always work out his way. Especially when there were those plots that failed to come to fruition and well, with Festus dead some odd five years at this point, for others to come calling on those old debts? Why, it's enough to have Falco's own mother hire him to clear the family name!

Such things are not easy though. For one of those who had been looking for Festus, a fellow soldier, turns up dead only hours after having last been seen in the company of Falco. So not only must Falco clear his brother's name, he must clear his own.

Which leads to the long hated Father, Geminum, also known as Favonius, a man who left Falco's mother many years ago. A man who Falco had never forgiven.

The trials and tributions put the duo through the ringer and they both come out with a greater understanding of the other. Add in Helena whose inquisitive nature and refusal to be a wallflower and you've got a trio of characters put into situations that a senator's daughter might not normally ever be a party to.

The book also introduces some new characters whose activities are as corrupt as they come and who have their own hold over Falco and his father thanks to Festus. These two would almost be a worthy match for the Kingpin of Marvel Comics Fame in that they're not going to go to the police to report their missing funds, but rather, will get those funds one way or another. These individuals do not suffer the full and righteous justice that Falco would prefer, and I'm sure with her skilled pen, Lindsey Davis will bring them back for another go around in a future volume.

Family, even dead family members, can bring out the best and the worst in the remaining family. Did one parent favor one of the children over the other? Is there any animosity between siblings? Do cousins have secrets that only one child knows?

Families can be much more than fodder for the sorrow pile and Lindsey's talented hand ensures that even when all members of the family aren't getting along, like all good families, when outsiders come calling, they pull together and work hard to clear that family name.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

O is For Odyssey

Another entry into the 'classics' that I've been hitting on, The Odyssey is the homeward journey of Odysseus from the War at Troy.

If you were looking at it from the modern perspective, it would be the end of a trilogy that started with The Iliad, moving into the Aeneid, and finishing in the Odyssey.

The Odyssey is filled with a great number of bits that have been incorporated into most fantasy role playing games.

1. The Greek Gods: While not present in every fantasy RPG, the influence of them is often heavy. Not only in fantasy though, but often in Super Hero comics. For example, Marvel Comics and DC Comics have both made extensive use of the Greek Pantheon including the use of Hercules and Ares, and even going so far as to make Wonder Woman an actual daughter of Zeus in the new 52.

2. Monsters: Man seducing sirens who sing men to their death. Great and towering cyclops who eat men whole while guarding their flock of sheep. The terror of sailing between Scylla and Charybdis.

3. Strength of Arms: When Odysseus makes his return home, he finds his wife under siege from numerous suitors. Her solution? Only the one who can string and fire the boy of Odysseus may claim her.

4. Dangerous Journey: One of the worst aspects of most role playing games is the tedium of ship travel. Here that wasn't quite a problem as Homer puts his characters through the paces several times, including having them come within sight of their home only to have the foolish men above the ship unless the bag of winds and blow them back off course.

I've mentioned previously that unless I've personally read a different version, I go with the Penguin Classics. In this case, the Penguin Classic I recommend isn't the standard one, because there are several, but the one translated by Robert Fagles. His work didn't do much for me on the Iliad, but man, his version of the Odyssey was fantastic. It flowed like a calm river carrying me with it and allowing me to enjoy the ride.

N is for Necromancer

Necromancy has come a long way from it's humble origins.

In a historical context, it's about communicating with the dead. I won't say that's it, but yeah, pretty much, that's it.

In those terms, the old Martha Wells novel, Death of The Necromancer, plays with its original function as well as what it's later become.

While it's long out of print, the Kindle version is only $2.99 so it makes an interesting read and Martha is a hell of a writer.

In role playing terms, especially in the grand father of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons and it's sibling, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Necromancy is a school of magic. It's also, depending on the edition, a sphere of priestly studies. The effects tend to go well beyond merely speaking with the dead.

But not only necromancy as a school, but as a character archetype. So fascinating is the subject, that even 'back in the day', TSR was able to get a DMR (Dungeon Master Reference) out of it with The Complete Book of Necromancers. This was a fun little book with its own island setting making it useful for almost any standard setting that TSR was publishing back in the day.

The book isn't available in print anymore but you can buy it at nowadays for $9.99. If you want Necromancers that are more than game stats, it's a solid book. Don't misunderstand me, it includes a lot of gaming information for AD&D 2nd edition but unless you're playing that edition, the game mechanics might be a little dated.

When thinking about Necromancers, there are a lot of subjects to think about.

What happens to dead people? This isn't a question of people rising as zombies after death but rather, a question on what happens to a person's corpse. In a fantasy setting that is known to have magic that can raise the dead, what purpose would not burning the bodies or at the very least, binding the bodies have? "Well, I know that necromancers are real and that the undead can be created through their magic, but hell, let's not actually do a single thing to prevent that."

Is Necromancy Inherently Evil? Necromancers are often portrayed as evil individuals from their dealings with all of the negative energy they handle. The Complete Necromancer's Handbook plays against type with some options, and Kobold Press has a book, New Paths Compendium, with a White Necromancer. Nat Russo has his own take on it in his series starting with the Necromancer Awakening.

Thinking about the role of necromancer in the setting can have a huge impact on how the entire setting works. Are there famous necromancers? Some that are 'fated' to return?

One of my favorites in that region was Nagash in the Warhammer Old World. There was something appealing in a 'normal' person who creates the whole concept of Necromancy. Who creates the first  vampires. Who undergoes a physical change to such a point that his own body becomes engorged with the power and he becomes a giant.

If you've followed me on Twitter or over on, you'll note that I've wanted Nagash to return to Warhammer for a long time. When Games Workshop was doing their yearly story lines, I had hoped for a 'Summer of Nagash' where they would release new sculpts of old figures with new stats and have one of those campaigns where the players would determine the fate of the world!

Mind you Games Workshops efforts in this endeavor had failed to a certain extend in previous years thanks to the ham fisted writing of the Games Workshop staff who seemed unable to accept that Chaos was stomped into the ground so soundly when they should have been posed for victory...

But Games Workshop in an effort to invigorate the Old World, went a step further. Nagash was the first to have his 'End Times' book published and it literally was the start of the end for the Old World of Warhammer.

But other companies, like En World Publishing, have their own versions of a powerful necromancer. In this case, it was a book called Necromancer's Legacy, Gar'Udok's Necromantic Arts. A book designed under the OGL and d20 license for 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It was filled with monsters, prestige classes, spells, and magic items with it's own story of Gar'Udok. Good stuff for those looking for a name less famous than Nagash.

Necromancers have long been a staple of fantasy games as the villains. How have you used Necromancers in your own campaign? One shot use? Campaign villain? Individuals who have challenged the likes of Orcus for their throne?

Friday, April 17, 2015

M is For Master

One of the things I enjoyed about Fullmetal Alchemist was the different villains that it showcased. There always was another villain behind the current one. It allowed the heroes to progress in power, ability, and knowledge, while still providing them a challenge.

When we are first introduced to the minor character Cornello, he is a false priest stirring up revolution. His claim to fame is the ability to craft 'miracles' based on his faith.

When Ed and Al defeat him, Father Cornello is then confronted by Lust and Gluttony. Another bit higher up the chain. That encounter does not end well for the poor father.

We then encounter further 'Sins' up the ladder such as Envy and Wrath. Sometime later 'Father' and the first of the 'Sins' Pride.

By having multiple villains of various power level and various abilities, the characters have to learn and adapt. For example, when fighting the Sin known as Greed, Ed learns that Greed's Ultimate Shield is carbon based and manages to weaken it using his alchemy.

While it's good to have a chain of villains related to one another, in this case Cornello working for Lust, Lust working for 'Father' and the various other circles that happen due to 'Father's influence, such as the Crimson Alchemist working for Pride who in turn works for 'Father', it's also important to have characters and opposition that is not necessarily related directly to those foes.

Fullmetal does that with their antihero Scar. Originally from the war torn country of Ishval, he hunts down the State Alchemists who he feels are responsible for so much pain and suffering in his home country. He almost manages to kill both Ed and Al in their first encounter and only through strange circumstances do Ed and Scar wind up as allies against the Sins.

The Pathfinder Adventure Paths by Paizo follow a similar pattern. The first few books may often involve some lowly creature, like say a horned bandit king in Kingmaker, while five books down the road, the power behind the throne awaits. Because it's a huge setting, Paizo also throws a few other bits in there to insure that it's not just all minions of the big boss all the time.

And often there are opportunities to bring foes over to your side. This allows former enemies to become allies. In Kingmarker there are several such opportunities and in other Adventure Paths, similar circumstances allow players, through clever role playing or mercenary individuals who see opportunity when the player's come calling, to switch sides.

When designing your own villains, don't forget, there's always somebody smarter than yourself.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

L is For Leadership

When it comes to role playing games, there aren't necessarily a break down of the group into leaders and followers.

So what am I talking about when I say L is for Leadership?

Be the type of player you want to play with.

Do you show up late to the games and hate it when other people are later then you? Think about it and make the effort to show up on time.

Have you ever blown off your group and not called to let them know you weren't making it?

Have you ever been at the game and had the GM waiting to find out what's going on with that one guy?

Think about it and make the small effort to call and let the group know you're not going to be there. The earlier the better because if other people cancel, and some of them don't call? The game itself may be cancelled.

This type of 'leadership' can go into everything that happens at the game.

Do your games get bogged down in rules questions? Learn the system better. You're not doing it to showboat your knowledge of the game, but rather, to get the game moving forward again.

Does your group use miniatures? Can you provide your own?

Are you going to someone else's house to play? Bring the host refreshments. I've been to games that have run where no one outside of a few select people bring soda and chips and you have to look at the other guys like "Really? You'll sit here and eat the food and drink the soda and never bring any yourself?" Don't be that guy.

Here's another tip. If the place you're playing isn't owned outright by the host, bring something for the actual owners. Order them a pizza. Role players can be loud and obnoxious at times without ever meaning to. I know there has been more than one shout of "Nat 20!" in games I've played and if anything, I'm positive my group is not alone in that.

I know that for some people, there is a financial costs here that even when moderate when compared to other things (what is it, $4 for a Starbucks coffee) that you may not be able to afford it.

That's when you need to do the non-costing things. Get there early. Offer to help set up. Offer to hep clean up. Offer to take out the garbage if enough has accumulated during game time. There are things that don't cost any money that are appreciated.

Be the gamer you want to play with.

Are there any other positive attributes we gamers should be bringing to the table? Throw a comment down below!.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

K is For Knowledge

For many people in the so called 'industrialized' world, we live in an age of almost instant knowledge. Want to know stats of your favorite baseball team? What to know when a war started or ended? Google and other resources are handily available.

Our ability to know things is tremendous.

Our capacity to double that knowledge is ever increasing as the world becomes more networked. What took hundreds of years to double the body of human knowledge is now a fraction of that time.

The problem is that people are involved in such information.

For example, you look at a web site like "You Are Not So Smart" and it point out how terribly stupid people are.

Some of my favorites:

The Science of Misremembering. You can't trust your own memories. How horrible is that? As you age and your opinions change and your ideas evolve, hey, guess what? You tend to think you always thought that way. This could be one of the big reasons why politicians are always caught flip flopping on issues. It's not that they honestly don't remember holding another position, it's that their own brains have rewired their memories so that they've always thought, that what they currently think, is what they've always thought.

There's also the Black Swan effect. When things happen that no one thought would happen, people look on it and then invent whole scenarios and stories about why we didn't stop it. Why we didn't plan for it. All along the ability to actually plan for something of similar scope happening again? Ignored.

A great blog post by Post-Mortems, talks about the Whys of things. One of the things it points out, is that we honestly think we're going to be smarter in the future then we are today. For some reason, we've convinced ourselves that if we have a problem today, that if we have the exact same problem or a similar one in the future, because hey man, we make progress around here, it'll be easier to handle.

Big can of Nope there! If the effort isn't put in to advance the knowledge of how to prevent, fix, document, ad etcetera the problem to begin with, whoever comes after you is going to run into similar problems and have to start at ground zero in fixing them.

There's also the problem in that numbers mean what you want them to mean. You have to have a huge amount of context when dealing with numbers, including knowing what the other person's point and goal is.

For example, there are more white people on public aid then there are black people.

Counter, there is a higher ratio of black people on public aid than white people.

In both instances it's terrible that we need public aid to support people as opposed to having excellent job training, public college to assist in that training, and public health care to you know, not bankrupt anyone whose ever had medical issues, but each number tells you something and depending on who you're talking to, you'll be able to quickly see where they stand on a number of social issues.

K is for Knowledge but it's not something we should be proud of. When thinking about who you are, write it down. Come back to it in a month, in a year. Are you still the same person. When looking at a problem you've had in the past, write it down. Develop your method for dealing with it in the future. Did it happen again? Did it help?

Knowledge isn't just the regurgitation of information. It's the application.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

J is for Janissaries

Janissaries are a military force whose origins date back to the 14th century. Like many elite military groups, Osprey even has a book covering them.  In the fiction novel, The Religion, by Tim Willoocks, the main character is a former Janissary.

According to good old Wikipedia, they have a few traits that sound just about 'standard' and could be fit inspiration for any military organization.

Their original formation was as bodyguards and to be an elite unit. They were taken from slaves. Normally Greek and Albanian, due to the close proximity of those countries.

Hundreds of years later? That elite ranking is no longer in place and instead of being by deed, it was hereditary. Instead of being known for their loyalty and fighting ability, they became known for their corruption.

By the time their end came around? They were able to hold the government itself hostage with their numbers and positions. Not a palce you want to be for long term viability because at that point, you're no longer a benefit.

The Janissaries are a fascinating look at how a military organization changes with the times and not always for the better.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Frog God Games Grab Bag

Ye old Frog God Games, aka Necromancer Games recently sent out a coupon for the Grab Bag. It's $300 retail worth of product for $100. The coupon was $25 off of that.

I put in an order, mentioned a few of the things I already have, as a former backer of some of the Kickstarters and long time purchaser of Necromancer Games and Frog God Games products.

It was VERY quickly delivered. Packaging was top notch. Everything very well protected. Separated into different sleeves for maximum protection. There is a mix of OSR material in the form of Swords & Wizardry, as well as more modern gaming material in the form of Pathfinder support.

And here's what's in there.

Swords & Wizardry Coloring Album 4.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Golden Meadows 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Troll Hills 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Pirate Coast 9.99
Hex Crawl Chronicles: The Shattered Empire 9.99
Swords & Wizardry MCMLXXV 9.99
Grimsgate 9.99
Saturn Night Special: Ice Tower of the Salka 9.99
Castle Baldemar's Dungeon 9.99
Razor Coast Map Folio 9.99 4.99
One Night Stands: Curse of Shadowhold 11.99
One Night Stands: The Spire of Iron and Crystal 11.99
Swords & Wizardry GM Screen 11.99
Razor Coast Freebooter's Guide 19.99
The Black Monastery 33.99
Razor Coast Heart of the Razor 39.99 19.99
Tome of Horrors 4 44.95
Rappan Athuk  Level 7B  9.99
Rappan Athuk Bestiary 8.99
Rappan Athuk Player's Guide 9.99
Rappan Athuk Level 7B 9.99
Rappan Athuk Cylopean Deeps Part 2: Cult of the Khyrll 9.99
318.74 293.76

Note that on the Rappan Athuk material, I'm 'guestimating' 9.99. There are no prices on it. I checked the Frog God Games website and they have a few of these listed, one of them for $8.99 so I adjusted that price, but many not at all. I also received two copies of Rappan Athuk Level 7B for some reason.

Note that where you see a secondary cost, such as with Razor Coast Map Folio and Razor Coast Heart of the Razor, I included that because when you pay full for the listed price on Paizo's web site, you get the PDF as well. If you were looking for a more 'accurate' count, you really should take the cost of the PDF , which gives you $294.76. Still a hell of a bargain. Less still of a bargain if you're a smart shopper and visit places like Noble Knight Games that have quite a few of these on sale for less, sometimes significantly less, than these prices.

Good news? I actually don't have any of it.

Bad news? Not a fan of Swords & Wizardry so the Razor Coast stuff, while useful for background information, will probably wind up going out.

The other stuff looks like it's useful for one shots. The Tome of Horror 4... I've read unflattering reviews of it but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now and try to find time to do an actual review later.

For those who've ordered the mystery grab bags from +Frog God Games , what did you get? Any stands outs? Any particular bits that you didn't know that you would love?

For me, I suspect the Black Monastery will be getting a run in the near distant future (meaning I'm in the middle of an Adventure Path now but...).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I is For Iron Man

Another character that needs no introduction, Iron Man is a superhero whose origins actual start not in some modern post Middle East country, but rather, Vietnam where a young Tony Stark was captured after being injured by a mine. Using super science to save himself and at the same time, create suit of armor, the invincible Iron Man was born.



Marvel Comics uses this thing called a 'sliding' scale so that whenever a character would be aged beyond a reasonable doubt, the real world events are switched over to something more modern and sensible. Back when Iron Man was first created , 1963, Vietnam was something recent as opposed to now (2015) where the Middle East is still a hotbed of activity.

This is, again, one of the reasons I try to recommend people look beyond the current crop of what's popular.

While the Iron Man movie franchise of movies has been entertaining, and Robert was a brilliant casting decision, fully showing what superhero movies can be, it's a very modern take on the character. While I'm not going to say that the original comics are works of art, some stories hold up better than others, it's a fascinating look at where we thought technology would be at the time.

Think about it. In 1963 they came up with the idea for someone who could create a suit of armor that is both defense and weapon. That had a myriad collection of abilities. That would evolve and change with the times. That would get specific suits to deal with specific menaces. That's a lot of imagination today, much less over forty years ago.

Another interesting aspect of the historical read? Crimson Dynamo, Black Widow, and Titanium Man are all Russian superhero counters to Iron Man, brought on by the Cold War. Modern readers may not even have the proper context for what that means. It's almost like being a historian, picking up clues as to what type of society Iron Man was created in and his stories told in. The comics reflect the culture.

Another thing? Hawkeye. While popular in the movies, Hawkeye was initially Iron Man's enemy until he became a hero. A redeemed soul so to speak. It's a showcasing of how things progress over longer periods of time, as opposed to a movie that at best has over an hour to bring in all that character development and special effects. 

One inexpensive way to get some of the back story of Iron Man, are the Essential collections.  It looks like the first few are out but secondary sellers have them.

For those not interested in such, Marvel Comics directly has an 'Unlimited' pass that allows you to read any of the digital comics on their website. It's usually about six months behind the current publication dates and it, last I had a sub, was a little bit chaotic in it's organization, but if you are a comic fan, it is well worth it.

Anyone have any favorite Iron Man arcs? Any arcs that are absolute garbage and should be avoided? Throw a comment into the old blog and share those hits and misses.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

H is For Howard

Back to the semi-regular A to Z Challenge.

H is for Howard.

Robert E Howard to be more specific.

On one hand, some people might think that Robert E Howard needs no nod, needs no recommendation, needs no introduction.

I would ask those people how they enjoy Robert's historical fiction. How they like his Western stories. What they think of his horror writing. How they like his boxing tales. Yes, a genre devoted to boxing! Hey, the 20s and 30s were a different time man, don't judge!

For some people, I don't want to generalize and say most, but for some, Robert E. Howard only comes to their mind thanks to the movies about Conan. With three movies under his belt and another supposedly on his way, Conan has earned a bit of that fame. No shame in that.

Some might have been introduced to Robert E Howard though one of the other movies including Kull or Solomon Kane. Neither of which actually has much to do with the material it was based on. Well, in that aspect at least the Conan movies share some similarities as much of the material in the movies has little to do with the fiction.

Outside of the movies, Robert E. Howard has benefited greatly from the efforts of +Dark Horse Comics who have not only kept Conan alive and relevant in today's market, but have also brought many of his lesser known characters, including the aforementioned Kull and Solomon Kane, to comics. Even better, they have reprinted many of the older books, including the magazines. This brings the older era of comics to a modern audience who otherwise would not have that historical context to enjoy. For an example of not Conan action, check out tehir Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword with a free preview here.

Equally important, not that long ago, Del Rey publishing brought back numerous stories and not just Conan. This allows those with an interest in one of the giants of many genres, not just sword and sorcery, but horror, history, pulp, and western, to get a taste of tense, action packed writing.

When I talk about a solid foundation, one of the benefits of reading material written long ago, is no matter what the author's intention, you also get a touch of the author's time. Robert E. Howard was no stranger to the recently ended horrors of slavery. He spoke with numerous people whose relatives had been freed in living memory. Whose relatives might have directly come from Africa. He knew the horrors of the boom town. The lure of money and the desolation of the wastes. His America was a different one that we currently live in.

Take some time and get to know Robert E. Howard beyond Conan, beyond Solomon Kane, and beyond Kull. You'll be glad you did.