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.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Mix and Match



Another piece from the upcoming Hughuenauts and Other Distractions. This poor chap is a hybrid of goat, bear, and man, and is none too happy about it!

Monday, February 08, 2021

Marvel 1991: The 'Nam #52

I promise, these aren't all going to be Punisher comics.

Well, I say that, but this is 1991 so there's a fair chance that any Marvel comic I pick is going to feature The Punisher, Ghost Rider, or Wolverine as a guest star.

Anyway.

Welcome to The 'Nam! I had a vague awareness of the existence of this title, although I had no idea that it ran for 84 issues. To my eyes, born four years after the war ended, in a country that -- surprisingly -- wasn't involved, it seems like a very niche subject for a comic from a mainstream publisher. Is this the last great English-language war comic? I can't imagine anything like this running for 84 issues these days, although Garth Ennis is probably up to #187 with something over at Avatar.

The comic makes a great first impression with the cover art, which I adore. Click on it to see a bigger version and have a look at all those chunky lines. Jorge Zaffino's art is jagged and rough, almost untidy, but I think it looks great. It's got a raw, visceral feel, which I suppose is appropriate for a Vietnam War comic. The 'Nam #52 gets one Cable for the cover art alone.

They should have got Zaffino to do the internal art as well. It's not bad, but it doesn't have any of the energy or style of the cover. "Functional" is a good description. Given that The 'Nam was intended to tell realistic -- if not actually real -- stories about an actual historical event, perhaps a more stylistic approach to the visuals would have been seen as inappropriate. It's fine, it does the job, but it's not interesting or memorable.

Which, alas, is also true of the writing. It trots along from A to B to C in a neat linear path, but there's nothing exciting going on. There is a twist of sorts, in which -- SPOILER FOR A COMIC FROM 1991 -- the "villain" is killed and then -- ANOTHER SPOILER FOR A COMIC FROM 1991-- revealed to be a double, but it feels unconvincing and arbitrary.

There's a second attempt at a shocking twist with the cliffhanger ending in which it is revealed that our protagonist is dead! Oh, sorry, A THIRD SPOILER FOR A COMIC FROM 1991. Except there's a second part to this story in the next issue, and said protagonist is the Punisher, so we know he's not dead.

(Although apparently this is the Punisher of Earth-85101, so they could kill him off here, as anticlimactic as that would be.)

The characterisation isn't any better. The NVA sniper the Punisher is sent to kill is a caricature at best, coming across like the "Achtung! Pigdog!" Germans in the old WWII comics I read as a child, and with more than a hint of Yellow Peril at times. I'm not naïve enough to expect a balanced portrayal of "the enemy", but I would have expected something a bit more nuanced by 1991. Not that the "goodies" come across any better; if the other characters didn't refer to him by name, you wouldn't have any idea that the Punisher was even in this comic, as he is as generic as the rest. Which is not to say that I want this comic to be a full-blooded appearance by 90's Punisher, because that would be, to say the least, a significant clash of tone, but it seems a bit pointless to stick a specific character in and then write them in such a way that they could be literally anyone.

Would I Read More of This?

In fairness, I do feel a slight urge to find out how the cliffhanger is resolved, but I am confident that it will be a cheat to some extent, and I am not confident at all that the second half of the story will be any better than the first. So, no, I would not read more of this.

I would read an issue drawn by Jorge Zaffino though.

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Based on the main story I would The 'Nam #52 a score of one Cable, because while it's not awful, it is naff and uninspired. I did promise to give it one Cable for the cover art, so it gets a slightly undeserved two Cables out of five.


I am pleased to say that the next comic does not, as far as I know, feature the Punisher. I hope I like it, because I like what I've read of the writer's other work, and I know his run on this particular comic is considered definitive.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Video Nasty

 I don't think I've posted this one yet.

Everyone thinks this is the cover to an upcoming project because, to be fair, it looks like one! What in fact happened was, we had some space to fill in Huguenauts and Other Distractions, and I went a bit over the top.

The actual cover can be seen here.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Marvel 1991: Punisher: Return to Big Nothing

Well this is a good start.

The first two of my random picks were unavailable in digital form, and it turns out that the third was in fact published in 1989, and only re-published in 1991, but I've got to start somewhere or this project will never get going.

Punisher: Return to Big Nothing is, in terms of plot, the comics equivalent of a straight-to-VHS 80's thriller. The Punisher is for some reason wandering about the desert somewhere in the south west US and breaks up an FBI drugs sting, gets everyone killed, then finds out -- by the sort of staggering coincidence that only happens in comics -- that he's got a historical connection to the case, so this time it is quite literally personal. Perhaps in 1989/1991 it was a bit more impressive in terms of plotting, but I somehow doubt it. The drugs ring is Cambodian rather than full of generic Central Americans, which is something different, I suppose.

On the plus side, Steven Grant writes a great Punisher, where "great" means completely bananas. One panel might show the Punisher shooting some dude through the throat, and in the same panel you get some very wordy captions in which he waffles on about what criminals really want is death, and he is death, and so on. There are also a couple of fun moments when the Punisher ponders a merciful response but then decides that no, that's what "Castle" would do, as if he's the Hulk or something. It all makes the character come across as utterly deranged, which I hope was the point.

Mike Zeck has this way of drawing characters with a shadowy, haunted look in their eyes, which helps convey the sense that the Punisher has lost it. He also draws the character as huge, filling every panel he's in, while almost everyone else is drawn in a more mundane and realistic way, creating an odd contrast, like a murderous Roger Rabbit.

(The weird contrast is made all the more vivid by this being first published by Marvel's Epic imprint, so there are overt references to sex and drugs, and the book is full of graphic violence, but the Punisher is still striding about in his Marvel costume. Moreover, the twist at the end depends on the costume!)

Would I Read More of This?

Ah, well this is a bit of a cheat because Return to Big Nothing was published as a standalone graphic novel, so there isn't any more to read. That said, I'm not sure Grant's crazed Punisher is enough to keep me reading if the stories would be as generic as this, and I could see it becoming a bit tiring if he -- the character, not the writer -- was this mental all the time.

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I give Punisher: Return to Big Nothing a score of two Cables out of five.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

I'm Gonna Party Like It's 1991

I thought it might be fun to do some writing about comics again, and so I decided I would review every comic Marvel published in 1991. I chose 1991 because the 90's have a bad reputation among comics fans, but I was out of the loop as far as superhero comics go -- with a few exceptions -- at the time, so it would be new to me. Maybe it wasn't all as bad as popular wisdom says it was, and even if it was all terrible, at least I would be seeing for myself.

A little bit of fun to break up all the gaming and drawing posts. That's what I thought.

Then, when I started researching for my first post, I found out that Marvel published over 70 comics in January 1991 alone! Oh dear.

So having underestimated the size of the project to an absurd extent, I'm going to limit it to one comic a week. I will either pick one that jumps out as interesting, or I will let a random number generator decide what I read. If any of you have a favourite Marvel comic from 1991 that you want me to look at, let me know and I will add it to the list.

Oh, and wish me luck, because this may be the stupidest idea I've had in 18 years of the blog.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Freezing Cold in Eighty Nine Two So

A few weeks ago this was going around the interwebs like an STI during freshers' week:



The lyrics in "Prisencolinensinainciusol" are gibberish, but the idea is that they are supposed to sound like English -- specifically English as sung by performers like Bob Dylan -- to non-English speakers. I would argue that they also sound like English to native English speakers too, just an unintelligble form of English.

It occurred to me this morning that they also sound a bit like something else:

Y'AI 'NG'NGAH, YOG-SOTHOTH H'EE-L'GEB F'AI THRODOG UAAAH
OGTHROD AI'F GEB'L-EE'H YOG-SOTHOTH 'NGAH'NG AI'Y ZHRO

That's from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward* by HP Lovecraft.

Imagine then some crazed wizard sets an incantation to a bostin beat and puts it on the internet, where it goes viral. People start sharing it on social media, celebrities pick it up and share it, and now it's being played hundreds of times a day and the original video has millions of views.

Is that enough power to make something happen? What does it do? How do you stop it? Not even Delta Green has the clout to shut down Twitter...

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*I should also at this point recommend BBC Radio 4's adaptation of Lovecraft's story. It's very clever and manages to surprise, even if you're familiar with the original stories. I've rattled through 50+ episodes in the past few days and I am disappointed there aren't more.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Good Knight Sweetheart

Just before Chrimble I was sent a review copy of Gabriel Ciprés' role-playing game Space Knights:

Space Knights is a science fiction roleplaying game about alien invasions, mighty warriors and desperate battles in the dark future. The player characters in Space Knights are no individuals but the companies of an Order of Elite Warriors in a time when humankind has spread through the galaxy and fights for survival. Space Knights uses a PbtA-based system and contains everything you need to play.


Space Knights is a pastiche of Warhammer 40,000, in particular the fascist warrior monks of the Space Marines. The game is short, consisting of 10 pages, which includes a cover and a credits/introduction page. It can be purchased at the very reasonable price of Pay What You Want from Drive Thru RPG.

I haven't had a chance to play it, so these impressions are based on reading the pdf. Don't hate me.

The Good

  • There are a number of rpgs out there that put you in the power armour of a Marine of Space, but in my experience they tend to focus on individuals. Space Knights instead puts players in the roles of entire companies, which is an interesting approach. (Of course, the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game has the same sort of perspective, but that's not an rpg.)
  • The system -- which is derived from Apocalypse World -- is simple and leans towards storytelling rather than crunchy detail. It seems like it would be quick and elegant to play, and again it is an interesting approach to a game that is about blokes with guns shooting each other. Roll 2d6, with partial success at 7 or total success at 10, applying modifiers or rerolls based on a company's unique traits. Bosh! That's it!
  • Despite its length, Space Knights is full of flavour, and the writing captures the theme well. There is not much in the way of fluff or background, but all of the little mechanical bits and pieces capture the feel of doomed heroes -- or perhaps they are religious extremists, or perhaps they are both -- on vast crusades, risking not only their lives but their souls. I suspect that in part the game is relying on evoking my own experiences of the 40K setting, but even if that is the case, there is some skill in that.

The Bad
  • The game gives examples of Space Marine chapters Space Knight orders and some sample missions, and there is a section of random table to generate mission details, but the game is a bit fuzzy about what happens in a session and what the players are supposed to do. In other words, how the game works is described well, but how it plays is not. Is it designed for one-shots? Can it be used to run a campaign? You can work this stuff out by reading between the lines but a bit of guidance would be handy.

The Ugly
  • There is almost no art in the game, but I can't criticise it too much for that. Space Knights is a Pay What You Want indie rpg based on a well-known setting that already has four decades of art behind it, so it's a very minor issue. You don't need Ciprés to draw a Space Marine, because everyone knows what a Space Marine is and if not it's only a Google away. To be honest, I'm only mentioning it so I have something to put in this section.

All in all, I recommend Space Knights as a fun little game that would fill an evening of play, and brings a new perspective to the experience of playing a power-armoured religious warrior. I have some questions over whether there's anything more to it than a couple of hours of play, but those couple of hours should be fun enough. Assuming the Emperor hasn't banned fun, obviously.

If I get a chance to play Space Knights, I'll update this post -- or write a new one -- about how it went.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Gnoming Me, Gnoming You

TLDR; all the little beardy dudes are the same species, but everyone thinks they are not.

Gnomes live in the woods, talk to badgers, carve houses into giant mushrooms, and despite being a little eccentric are otherwise okay. Ish. If you can have a normal conversation with a little man or woman and they are not ignoring you while they dig a hole or trying cut your head off, it's probably a gnome.

Dwarves are the incel brodude dickholes. They go off into the mountains, spend all their time drinking beer and bulking up by mining and fighting and working out. They grow enormous beards as a sign of overcompensation masculine power and women are not allowed, which is why everyone else thinks there are no female dwarves. They recruit disgruntled young gnomes by distributing their androcentric philosophies via their "cool" runic language that no one else uses. Magic is for girls, obvs.

Kobolds are gnomes that went to live deep underground where there are no badgers to talk to, and have gone a little mad as a result. Some paint themselves blue, some wear the skins of lizards or dogs. All are mischievous to some extent. They often run around on all fours, and have developed a weird yelping language that sounds like those irritating yapping dogs your great aunt keeps. What no one realises is that this is a dialect of the language of ghouls.

Redcaps are gnomes that have gone beyond "eccentric" into "completely unhinged". The serial killers of gnomish society, these nutters think that if they murder everything they will live forever, or become all-powerful, or some such nonsense. Tiny Ted Bundy in a fancy hat.

Gnomes will, at a push, acknowledge that dwarves and kobolds are their -- misguided -- kin, but prefer not to talk about redcaps and fob off any claims of similarity. They would say it's a case of convergent evolution if they knew those words. Dwarves, for their part, deny any relation to the -- clearly inferior -- others and often try to eliminate kobold communities. Kobolds don't talk sense long enough to answer the question in any useful way, but do seem friendly enough to the others, if encountered. Good luck getting an answer from a redcap.

All of the varieties of gnome-kind -- even kobolds and redcaps! -- get quite, um, bashful at the mention of leprechauns.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Obvious Plant

I don't think I've shared this one. I drew over 250 new pictures for Adventure Anthology: Blood, which you can still buy if you want. (EU) (US) (PDF)

You won't see this picture in the book, as it got cut during layout, but I quite liked it.