Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Monday, March 29, 2021

King Atacres the Undying

Atacres II was cursed by a wizard and never died. He has ruled for four centuries, because the laws of succession state what happens when a ruler dies, but not what happens if the ruler lives on past death, and since the king is the final arbiter of the nation's laws...

(Constitutional experts were surprised to discover that there is no law against undead heads-of-state. According to sages, it "just never came up".)

Atacres is over 400 years into his reign now, and his descendants -- the so-called "Rulers-in-Waiting" -- have had mixed opinions over the centuries. Revolutionary efforts have faltered because Atacres is, despite appearances, a fair and popular king, and trying to depose him based on his unfortunate... condition looks an awful lot like bigotry and prejudice, and everyone knows that a successful revolution these days is all about good optics.

That said, Atacres' relationship with his own state church is strained. The king is wary of clerics and paladins and will only grant audiences at a distance, or through intermediaries. One over-zealous -- pun intended -- holy man spaffing Turn Undead in the throne room, and all of Atacres II's hard work is up in smoke, or dust, or whatever the D on the Turn Undead table signifies.

The king's attitude to other undead creatures is complicated and evolving. He considers himself (un)living proof that not all undead creatures are soul-sucking monsters, but fears challenging his people's view of the walking dead. Rumours persist that he has held secret meetings with liches, vampires, and other high-functioning corpses.

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That image of Atacres popped into my head one day -- probably a weird after-effect of The Event™ -- and I thought he had potential, perhaps as an unusual NPC, the sort of thing a D&D party would go try to kill most days of the week. There's probably also a bit of an influence from Steven Erikson's "friendly" lich Bursting With Wit, from Blood Follows.

In terms of game statistics, Atacres is probably either some sort of lich with no magical powers, or a beefed up skeleton with the charisma and intelligence of your standard rpg wise king archetype.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Marvel 1991: Silver Surfer #46

This should be nice and quick, because nothing happens. Well, sort of.

The Silver Surfer is trapped inside the Soul Gem, meets a bunch of other characters, walks around for a bit, and has an inconclusive chat with Adam Warlock. Meanwhile Gamora fights Drax in order to distract him so he doesn't destroy the Soul gem -- and everyone trapped within -- through sheer force of will. Or something.

At the time the comic was published, the characters the Surfer meets in the Soul Gem had not been seen for over a decade, and after such a long time it would probably be quite exciting to see them again. In 2021, when the same characters -- apart from Pip the Troll -- are, if not household names, at least well known through being the stars of a successful film franchise, the impact is somewhat lessened, and the actual weakness of the story is clear. The big selling point is the return of these characters, and without that there's not much going on.

Ron Lim's artwork is okay. The linework and storytelling are clear, but there's nothing that impresses or surprises. It's a good, solid, functional job, but it's far from exciting.

All in all, it's fine but stripped of its main schtick it just feels flat. Time has not been kind to Silver Surfer #46, and I award it just two Cables.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Cinematic, Yes?

It's #DrawDeathsHeadDay again! And I almost missed it, again!

This is based, of course, on the cover of Death's Head II #1 from 1992, and the beheaded, er, Head, is the version of the character that apparently appears in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, although I didn't spot him!

(He's one of the Collector's exhibits, I'm told.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Marvel 1991: Excalibur #34

Oh dear. We have fallen very far behind with these. The good news is that of the seven issues I picked for February, all but two were either unavailable, or were comics I have read before so have been rejected on the basis that the whole point of this endeavour was to see what 1990s comics were like, which doesn't work if I've already read them.

No such danger here, as the only issue of Excalibur I have read before is the one where they go to the pub -- because Warren Ellis -- and this one is... very different.

This is "School Spirit (or Cheerleaders from Heck)", so called because in the A plot, Kitty Pryde and her school friends travel to London to enter a cheerleading competition at half time in a match between the New York Giants and the British Yeoman -- "Britain's 1st professional 'American' football team" that never appears again, according to every wiki I can find -- because that's something that British schoolgirls do.

(It isn't.)

Although, to be fair, that is the sort of weird plot that would turn up in a British kids' comic -- school hockey team ends up at the Olympics by accident, that sort of thing -- although I rather suspect it is not a deliberate homage to Tammy or Jinty.

There is also a B plot involving the rest of the Excalibur team, Mesmero, and the Fenris twins, but it's somewhat forgettable and doesn't go anywhere interesting before it clashes with the cheerleading stuff later on. In fairness, this is billed as part three of three, so there was probably more of the Mesmero plot in the first two parts, but even so I imagine it's a bit of a limp ending to that story. On the plus side, I love the costume design of the twins, even if it is basically 2000AD's Zenith. Maybe I like it because it's 2000AD's Zenith.

This is Chris Claremont's final issue of Excalibur, which I was surprised to discover, because it feels a bit like a half-hearted fill-in rather than a grand finale. I would not be surprised to find out that Claremont was sacked, or got burned out, or some similar behind-the-scenes drama. The main plot, despite its odd, almost twee, feel, isn't bad but the rest is a bit naff, as if the writer lost all enthusiasm in what he was doing. There is also some... unfortunate scripting here and there; Claremont's attempt at an African-American voice is cringeworthy at best, and a schoolgirl asking Nightcrawler "Is that tail really prehensile?" is not something I imagine would be okay even in 1991.

Art comes from Ron Wagner, who draws in an unexpected style that feels quite retro. Yes, I know the comic is from 1991 so it is, in fact, retro, but there's none of the contemporary not-yet-Image style here. Wagner uses lots of angular lines and sweeping curves, that make characters look almost like architecture than people. That said, there's an element of expressive cartooning in the storytelling and there's a lot of personality in the faces and body language. It feels quite European, which I suppose is appropriate enough, and I like it a lot.

(I wasn't sure I had read any Ron Wagner comics before, although the name was familiar, so I looked him up and discovered that he often got into trouble for "insertion of sexually explicit content into his backgrounds" on Morbius: The Living Vampire, which is quite funny. Oh, and it turns out he pencilled Spitfire and the Troubleshooters #3, which I have read as a back-up in Marvel UK's Transformers, and is probably how I recognise the name.)

I suspect this isn't considered a classic issue of Excalibur, and it's an underwhelming final issue for one of comics' most prominent writers, but it's not awful. I'll give it three Cables out of five.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Where It Is At

This is me a couple of weeks ago:


I was in accident and emergency, having been rushed there by the ambulance, after a mysterious seizure™. I had a previous mysterious seizure™ a couple of years ago and, after a barrage of tests, they couldn't say what it was or what caused it, but I was told if it happened again to call an ambulance.

So that's what happened.

Again, no idea what it was or why it happened. A repeated round of tests lies in my near future, so we'll see if something comes of those. I doubt there will be any answers.

It took about a week to recover, and then I was catching up with work missed during that week, so that's why blogging has slowed, and why we haven't done any February comics for Marvel 1991. Things are a bit more normal now -- I still have a bit of a fuzzy head and am occasionally confused by things that shouldn't confuse me -- so expect more content soon.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Octopath Strangler

The dread Mantopus. Or Octoman. Name TBC.



I may have posted a black and white version of this earlier, but I had to do a colour version so I thought I would post it.

Content has ground to a halt of late because of a bit of personal drama I may share in a future post. I hope to get back to stuff soon, not least the Marvel 1991 project, because that's slipping further and further behind!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Werewolf Gauntlets

These furry, clawed, mittens are made from the arms -- forepaws? -- of a werewolf. They look somewhat ridiculous but can be surprisingly deadly. It is said that they were created by the infamous armourer Malarck.

The gauntlets do 1d4 damage but are bulky and unwieldy and make it impossible to pick up or manipulate objects.

The gauntlets detect as magical, and also as cursed, if such a detection ability is available in your game.

Work out what day the full moon is this month -- either in game or in real life -- or pick a number between 1 and 30. Every time a character puts on the gauntlets, roll a d30; if the number matches the day of the full moon, or the number you picked, then the following effects occur:

  • The character is frenzied and must save versus spells in order to break off from hand-to-hand combat, or to remove the gauntlets.
  • The gauntlets have a chance of infecting those injured by them with lycanthropy. Use whatever rules for lycanthropy exist in your game of choice, or refer to the guidelines below.
  • Anyone infected by the gauntlets has a 7% chance of being possessed by the spirit of the werewolf that was killed to make them, and will be consumed by the desire to avenge themself upon the current owner of the weapons. Yes, the original werewolf was none too clever.
D&D-type Lycanthropy: Any character who loses half their hit points to the gauntlets in a single battle contracts the disease and will turn into a werewolf at the next full moon. Or you can pick a number and roll a d30 as above. Whichever is most fun.

(I have a text file on my computer containing weird names that I think I could use in a story or adventure one day. In there, for some reason, is "Werewolf Gauntlets". I see Mr Gauntlets as some sort of Victorian action detective, perhaps, but until then, you get this.)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Marvel 1991: Uncanny X-Men #272

This is the last of January's picks -- as sort-of-suggested by Calvin -- and we're a week away from the end of February. I am falling behind.

We are in part seven of "X-Tinction Agenda", one of those sprawling X-Men crossovers that seemed to dominate the 90's. The X-Men, plus some other mutants from other teams, are on trial in Genosha for... reasons. We'll get to that in a bit. Their powers have been disabled but even so, some of the mutants escape and begin a fight back. Some people change sides, and there's a gladiatorial fight between Archangel and Wolverine in there too.

Well.

Let's start with the art. There's some dodgy posing here and there, and at least one case of poor Psylocke suffering with a broken back, but for the most part Jim Lee does a great job, and I can see why everyone tried to copy him. His storytelling is dynamic and full of character, but what impresses me most is the level of work Lee puts in. I haven't done a mathematical study, but it looks like there's an average of about six or seven panels per page, and some pages have up to nine. Lee also doesn't skimp on backgrounds and while there are a handful of panels with manga speed lines, they are justified by the action. It's a bit weird to read, because every page is a clear example of what we think of as 90's superhero art, but there are very few of the flaws that are notoriously associated with that style. I'm not a huge fan of the general square-jawed blockiness of Lee's character designs, because I prefer something a bit more loose and wild, but in general this is a good looking comic, and that surprises me.

The writing is... less successful. Chris Claremont has a certain style to his scripting that I can best describe as "tolerable"; I can see why people like it, but it's not to my tastes. The plotting is a bit of a mixed bag; it is clear in the sense that I can follow what's going on, and for the most part event A leads to event B, and so on, but it's opaque in terms of why this stuff is happening. The first page is a series of talking heads about the situation, but it's more a bit of fluff to bring in some cameos from around the Marvel Universe rather than a proper recap. I would have used that to bring new readers up to speed.

(Yes, I know that to a certain extent it's my own fault for coming in at chapter seven of nine, but that's a poor excuse when someone could have picked this off the shelf in 1991 and be similarly confused. Everyone's comic is someone's first, and all that.)

Cyclops also does that annoying "We have escaped because I predicted you would do X, Y, and Z" thing and that's just bad writing. Unless it's played for laughs.

(Yes, that's me with no full-length published comics to my name, criticising a writer with a career spanning decades and millions of sales. Behold my lack of shame.)


Get in the sea, Cyclops, you crimson-eyed gimboid.

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Uncanny X-Men #272 is a pleasant surprise. I've never been much of an X-Men fan and I've always been wary of the wayward crossoveriness of the franchise in the 90's, so I wasn't expecting much from this. Jim Lee does most of the heavy lifting, but all in all it's not bad. I give it three Jim Lee Cables out of five.


Right. So, that's January done. I've got a week left in February to do four comics. Onward!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Marvel 1991: Incredible Hulk #377

Bruce Banner undergoes therapy with Doc Samson and the Ringmaster -- that was a surprise -- and examines his past trauma in an effort to understand the rage within that manifests as the Hulk. The process works, sort of, but Banner is not cured. Instead, a new incarnation of the Hulk emerges.

This issue markes the first appearance of the so-called Professor Hulk, a version of the character that combines Banner's intellect with the Hulk's raw power, in a best of both worlds situation*. Although I only know that from outside knowledge; based on this issue alone it's not clear what this new Hulk is all about, and artist Dale Keown makes him look quite sinister on the final page. I've been spoiled by my knowledge of this run of stories -- more on that in a bit -- but I imagine it would have been a cracker of a cliffhanger at the time.

(By the way, it's quite by chance that I picked the first appearance of the character. Well, sort of. I chose this comic, rather than use my random method, but I based my pick on the cover and had no idea the comic was "important". I didn't even notice the "new" in the title until afterwards.)

Through my involvement in comics fandom and my brief dabbling with comics journalism in the first decade of the 2000s I had somehow absorbed the idea that Peter David's run on Incredible Hulk was considered definitive, up there with Frank Miller's Daredevil or Walt Simonson's Thor, but I never read an issue. This was in the dark days before Comixology, when you actually had to find physical back issues and collected editions were things the publishers tried to put out when they remembered. My only experience of David's writing at the time was a bonkers Star Trek novel about Guinan's sister fighting the Borg which, while entertaining, wasn't sending me to scour back issue bins to find his comics.

I can't judge the entirety of David's 12 years (!) on the comic by this one issue, of course, but I can say that this one issue is pretty good. The idea of Banner sitting down and talking things through with a therapist may seem a bit twee, maybe even obvious, but back in 1991 it was probably an innovative approach to the character. The important thing is that 30 years later it still works; there's a nice logic to it, and it allows David and Keown to segue into horror as Banner faces his childhood trauma. And it's proper horror too; we see characters being burned alive, we see a literally nightmarish projection of Banner's father -- although it's also Banner himself, because dream logic -- but perhaps the most disturbing, although also most mundane in comparison to the other imagery, is that we see the killing of Banner's mother. A fantastical monster kills her, but the creature is just a stand-in for a man, and it doesn't burn or shred her with its claws, it just hurts her, and that sort of abuse is all too common. I know the Comics Code Authority had become increasingly toothless by 1991, but even so I'm surprised this comic passed.

(There are some other interesting, if sometimes odd, bits and pieces in there too. The Hulks -- there are two of them, green and grey, at this point -- think Banner's mother is beautiful but also that she reminds them of Betty, Banner's love interest. Er... that particular psychological trauma probably needs a follow-up session, lads.)

David does an excellent job of not only showing how messed up Banner is, but also how he got so messed up, or at least what triggered the damage to dominate his personality. It's good, solid character work that sits well alongside the more overt horror imagery. If David was this good for 12 years, then I've been missing out.

I'm not at all familiar with Dale Keown's work. I know him as one of the second wave of Image escapees but I don't think I've ever read one of his comics before. Here, Keown shows a clear John Byrne influence and some static storytelling in the more mundane moments, but you can see sparks of something more interesting when things go a bit more distorted and strange in the dream therapy scenes, and as mentioned, his Professor Hulk is suitably creepy.

Would I Read More of This?

Yes I would! There's an effective building up of horror, which culminates in a chilling final page, and it's got me keen to see how the cliffhanger is resolved and who this new Hulk is, even though I know already. That's pretty good writing.

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Despite the chronic lack of juicy Punisher content, I give Incredible Hulk #377 four Cables.


*Professor Hulk is more or less the Hulk that appears in Avengers: Endgame, if you're only familiar with the film versions.