Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Justice League Dark (DC New 52)

Intro: As many of you know, Wednesday is New Comic Book Day, the day when new comics go on-sale at comics shops around the country, and also the day when most publishers also release the digital versions of their comics to platforms like Comixology or their own internal digital platforms. Each comic featured on Daddy Rolled a 1's New Comic Wednesday posts is one that I personally get at my local shop. 

Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.

As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers.
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I think it's pretty well established on my blog that I'm a big fan of DC Comics - the characters, that is (not necessarily their business practices). I grew up with a steady diet of the Superfriends cartoon, and its various incarnations, and I always liked the episodes that focused on more than just the "big three" of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.

When DC did their re-launch of the New 52, I resisted for quite a long time. I even mentioned in a post here how annoyed I was by it and how much I hate change in comics.

As I noted in my review on Batgirl, I eventually decided to dip my toe into the New 52 with only four titles (Batman, Detective, Flash, and Justice League). The first title I picked up beyond those core four for me was Justice League Dark.

DC, unlike Marvel, isn't a company about "teams" - they focus more on individual heroes. Marvel is the opposite - at Marvel you've got Avengers (and Secret Avengers, New Avengers, Young Avengers, Uncanny Avengers...), the Fantastic Four (and also simply FF), the Defenders, the X-Men (and 800 spin-off teams like X-Force and X-Calibur and X-Factor and X-Ray Specs...), the Invaders...

At DC, you're got Justice League and Teen Titans, and if you want to include them, the Legion of Super Heroes. That's really it for the main stuff. Sure, you've got Suicide Squad (if you want to call them a "team"), and in the past Batman had his Outsiders, and I'm sure there were a couple more short-lived teams in the past. But, really, you've got Justice League and its spin-offs (such as Justice League Europe and Justice League Detroit). So, it wasn't a huge surprise to me that DC would create a Justice League spin-off book for the New 52, but I was a bit surprised that it was Justice League Dark.

Let's get something out of the way quickly - my friends always make fun of the name. They snicker and think that it's stupid and who would ever name their "team" that? Well, without giving too much away, I'll just say that the members of the "team" don't really consider themselves a team, and don't refer to themselves as "Justice League Dark." That label has been slapped on them by others, who wanted a label to be able to refer to them when talking about them. The various members of the "team" were not happy when they found out that people were calling them this.
 
What's It About?
This book covers the "magical" or "darker" characters in the New 52 universe. The initial premise is based around John Constantine of Hellblazer fame, who ends up recruiting some fellow magic-based anti-heroes like Zatanna, Shade the Changing Man, Deadman, Madame Xanadu, and others. Over the course of the comic so far, a few of the characters have left and others have joined the "team" but in the interest of not spoiling things, I won't mention that here.

John gathers this group together to help fend off a mystical attack that the "regular" Justice League finds itself incapable of dealing with. Once that happens, unbeknownst to most of the members of John's team, they come under the surveillance of some government agents, who keep tabs on the group in case the need ever arises for their unique magic skills again.

Along the way, we are exposed to the wider world of magic in the DC Universe, which really isn't dealt with in the other New 52  titles. Important concepts from DC's past, such as the House of Mystery and the Books of Magic feature prominently in these stories. There are some tie-ins, as you can imagine, with other "dark" titles, such as I, Vampire, Amethyst: Sword of Sorcery, and Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (all sadly canceled now), along with Phantom Stranger and of course Justice League.

 Who Are the Creative Team? 
Writing duties were originally handled by British author Peter Milligan, best known for his work on Shade, the Changing Man, post-Morrison Animal Man, and work on Detective Comics that resulted in the creation of the character Azrael during the Knightfall storyline in the 1990s. More recently for DC, he wrote the end-run on Hellblazer (which recently ended), and the New 52 titles of Red Lanterns and Stormwatch in addition to writing Justice League Dark up through Issue #8.

Since issue #9, writing has been handled by Canadian writer and artist Jeff Lemire, of Essex County and Sweet Tooth fame. Lemire also handled the New 52 reboot of Animal Man, one of the most critically acclaimed titles of the company relaunch, as well as Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. More recently, he's taken over writing duties in Green Arrow, making that particular book one of my favorites.

Ray Fawkes, who collaborates with Lemire on the new title Constantine, has also been co-writing Justice League Dark with Lemire recently.

All of the writing in JLD has been very solid, making it, story-wise, one of my favorite New 52 titles. The dynamics between the characters are intriguing, especially considering that you're essentially dealing with a conman, a spirit who can take over other peoples' bodies, and a woman who can see the future (and has, in fact, seen horrible outcomes for herself and her colleagues). How and why this group of characters chooses to work together issue after issue is one of the strongest parts of the book and much of what keeps me coming back each month.

Spanish artist Mikel Janin has handled the pencils on Justice League Dark since the first issue, with just a few gaps, giving the title one of the most consistent looks in all of the New 52. A relatively young artist, Janin did some pre-New 52 work on JLA and on the Flashpoint mini-series Deadman and the Flying Graysons, which led to him being offered Justice League Dark. One of the things I like best about Janin's work is his expressive characters and his ability to tell stories through the visuals alone.

Vicente Cifuentes has been providing "finishes" to Janin's work lately, and the pairing works well, as Cifuentes' work helps give a softer, more "human" feel to Janin's computer-generated work.


Who Will Like It?
This is a great book for people who like some "magic" with their capes and cowls. In fact, with the exception of the current "Trinity War" story-arc that's running through all three Justice League titles (Justice League, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark), for the most part, the adventures and characters in Justice League Dark exist pretty separately from the rest of the New 52, so you don't really need to know what's happening in the rest of the DC Universe in order to enjoy this title.

The art is also really strong, so just from a purely visual standpoint, this is a fun book to look at. 

Any Good Fodder in Here for My Role-Playing Games?
There's great stuff in here! The portrayal of magic in a modern setting should give you great ideas if you're playing a modern supernatural type game, similar to some of the old WotC d20 Modern stuff like Urban Arcana or even Shadowrun.

There was a whole story arc a few issues back that actually inspired me enough to start making notes to file off the serial numbers and potentially turn it into a campaign setting (not sure what I'm going to do with that yet, but that's just an example of how you can find ideas from any source).

Lastly, in terms of character development, John Constantine is probably the best example I can think of as a model for a rogue/sorcerer character - a conman who is great at reading people and bluffing (even against supernatural entities like demons and undead necromancers) but also has the magical ability to back up his bluffs if need be. A player or GM could find a lot of character traits to emulate during a tabletop RPG by reading how Constantine deals with the various situations he finds himself in.

Is It Good for Kids? 
No, not so much. It's rated "T" for "Teen" and that's about right. Sometimes I find that comic ratings tend to be a little too conservative, but Justice League Dark has dealt with some pretty, well, dark issues that would definitely be scary for younger kids.


JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
  • Format: Monthly 32-page full-color series
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #22 came out today. Also, there are some collected editions available: Justice League Dark Volume 1: In the Dark contains issue #1-6, and Justice League Dark Volume 2: Books of Magic contains issues #7-13, issue #0, and Annual #1. There's also a Volume 3 to cover issues #14-19, scheduled to release in February 2014. All of those links lead to the book on Amazon.
  • Price: $2.99 per issue
  • Rated: Teen
  • More Information: The official DC site for Justice League Dark
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Alesmith I.P.A.
Listening: "Spirits in the Material World" by the Police

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Design Decision Tuesday: Classes

As often as I can, I've been devoting my Tuesday posts to the design decisions I made when crafting my on-going World of Samoth campaign. As a reminder to those new to the blog, I started work on a proto-Samoth campaign back in my high-school days, and then began developing it in earnest during my Winter Break as a college Freshman at UC Riverside. That means that I effectively started working on my campaign world back around 1986 or so.

I began using it as an actual active game setting starting in May 2001 using D&D 3rd Edition rules, and we're still playing to this day in the same campaign, using a sort of modified 3.5/Pathfinder/Trailblazer rules set.

Today's Design Decision discusses the use of classes in my campaign world. Firstly, we have to get out of the way that there are of course the two basic kinds of role-playing games: "Class-and-Level" systems (like D&D) and skill-based systems (like Traveler). I actually strongly prefer Class-and-Level systems - they're what I grew up with in gaming, and I guess I'm just more comfortable with them.

That doesn't mean that I dislike skill-based systems - I'm a huge fan of Savage Worlds, actually, so this isn't a case of one is better than the other. It's just that I slightly prefer Class-and-Level (hereafter, "C&L") games.

I think the main thing that I like about C&L systems is the inherent world-building that's present in the systems. World-building is second to playing for me in terms of the enjoyment I get out of role-playing games. I like world-building better than the actual process of running a game - I can do world building by myself, I'm never "wrong" (like you can be as a GM if you make a mistake in the game), and it stretches my creativity to try to come up with new ideas that I haven't seen before in other sources. As a GM using a C&L system, the way that you use the game's classes helps to shape the world and opens an instant gateway for a new player to get a feel for a particular area of the world.

Using D&D rules, if I say "This country is led by a paladin", that means something within the context of the rules. A prospective player for the campaign immediately knows that the country led by the paladin adheres to a certain code and it's probably a safe place to rest or buy supplies. Sure, in a skill-based system, I could say "This country is led by a good holy warrior" and that might mean the same thing to people, but I think that some of the substance is lost. On the other hand, I could also say, in a skill-based game, "This country is led by a paladin" (since paladin is a real world with a real-world meaning), but if the rules don't define what  a paladin is, the prospective player is left to wonder what exactly that means.

It's a simplistic example, but to finish the analogy, part of my world-building way back in those days with 1st Edition AD&D rules, especially when using Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures, was to figure out if certain classes from the rules were "allowed" in certain cultures, both political cultures as well as racial cultures. Noting in the World of Samoth that the countries of Esoría and Zhivod were political enemies and warred against each other, and yet both countries had paladins in their armies told me something not only about those two countries specifically, but also about the world as a whole. Paladins in my world could be on opposite sides of a political conflict. That's an important thing to note within the rules, given how paladins are defined and how they use their powers.

The same thing goes for all of the "alignment-based" classes - rangers and assassins in particular.

The "core four" classes are of course more generic in this regard and their usefulness in terms of "world-building" isn't quite as strong unless you get into situations where you forbid characters from certain cultures from taking magic-using classes, or on the other hand, mandate that all soldiers from a particular region have to be multi-classed fighter/wizards. Those types of "world-building" exercises can, again, somewhat be handled in skill-bases systems, but they're just a bit easier to do with C&L systems.

Then you get to classes like those in Oriental Adventures. That book caused me to create a whole new part of my world just so I could fit those classes in. I've never heard the terms "wu-jen," "shukenja," or "sohei" before I bought that particular book, and in a skill-based games, those terms most like would not have been defined, so their usefulness in terms of world-building would be lost. They would just be another run-of-the-mill wizard, priest, and holy warrior.

This starts to get into the discussion of whether the game needs so many classes, but that's really another discussion entirely. In a C&L system, I actually like having a lot of different classes for the variety and also for the world-building potential that they create, as long as the classes are actually different and not just something along the lines of "the samurai is a fighter but uses different weapons."

So, the way I look at it, classes are a great way for creating an instant "hook" into an unfamiliar world, and also can be used by a GM to help shape a particular political or racial culture in his game world.

Next time, I'll look at incorporating skills in a C&L system, creating custom classes for the World of Samoth, the d20 era and its proliferation of classes and how they impacted my world-building, and my current view on using classes in my game.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Alesmith I.P.A.
Listening: "Fascination Street" by the Cure

Friday, July 19, 2013

Adventure Recap: World of Samoth July 14, 2013 Session

Once again I'm going to postpone today's regularly scheduled "Game World Inspirations" post to recap the last session of my ongoing World of Samoth campaign. For more information on my campaign, you can visit my campaign website, which unfortunately hasn't been updated in quite a while, and you can also read the World of Samoth posts here on my blog, including the most recent recap which covers the sessions from May and June 2013.

The 22nd of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile, Esoría

Having dispatched two more of the Radillar family, and with no solid leads on where the third went to after he stepped through a deep shadow and disappeared, the Company gathered many of the more portable items from Roberto Radillar's office and then discussed their plans. 

They seemed to have a variety of options they wanted to follow, yet were having trouble coming to agreement. The main ideas seemed to be:

  • There are many prophecies regarding six powerful beings, and the Company has begun to suspect that they have have encountered some these beings at various points in their adventuring career, most recently in the Goblin Lugalate of Nur
  •  The war between Esoría and Courrisseux continues to spread, but there is little rhyme or reason to how the conflict is being maintained. A careful balance has been maintained, and any time it looks like a sure victory for one side, something happens (such as new allies joining the forces of beleaguered Courrisseux). Most recently, new military leadership has taken charge on both sides. Could these new leaders in fact be some of the six "powerful beings" referred to above? If so, should the Company attempt to infiltrate the military to find out? 
  • Somehow, some of the ancient evil artifacts which the Company assumed they had sealed inside the dreaded Banevault forever, have ended up in the possession of Cristobal Arino, the recently deceased (murdered) Pontifex Rex of all Universal Ætonism. The Company, who were responsible for murdering the Pontifex, fled the scene before they were discovered and arrested (or worse), which leaves the question of whether the artifacts were Arino's personal items and what he used to propel himself to power, or whether they are the property of the Church itself. The Company are also left to wonder how the items got to the Holy City of Arile in Esoría, and where they are now.   
  • With the death of the Pontifex Rex, the Universal Ætonist Church is currently leaderless, and there are four main candidates under consideration, three of which are on the very conservative side of the fence in terms of Church doctrine. The fourth, the current Prelate of the City of Barrid, Flín Polás, is known to the Company - they saved him from certain death at the hands of one of the "six powerful evil beings" many months ago. Should the Company consider trying to install him, or another more progressive leader, as the new head of the Church with the hope of weeding our corruption?
  • Through their research, the Comnpany has learned of a prophecy of seven items that need to be brought together in order to defeat what Universal Ætonist doctrine refers to as "the evil of evils." Usoruhihn, a former companion of the Company before he succumbed to the evil forces of magic, believed that at least two of these seven items might already be in the possession of the Company without their knowledge.
  • The same Ætonist prophecy speaks of "the evil of evils" being vanquished in the "Forsaken City" and there is some thought that this city may be somewhere in "the North."   
  • The man responsible for Sombra's current plight, and why he is considered an outlaw, Vilius Radillar, is still at large and presumable carrying out the will of the Radillar family with no consequences to his former actions. Should the Company assist their comrade in tracking Vilius down and bringing him to justice?
  • The issue of the Radillar family being one of the more infamous slave-trading families was discussed, and with that, the greater issue of slavery in Samoth, particularly in the Western Buchlayne continent, as a whole. Should the Company intervene in the economics and politics of the sovereign nations of the Buchlayne to help the plight of those who can't currently help themselves?

Other courses of action were discussed, but with no resolution coming, the Company chose to return to their lodgings at the Itchy Rakshasa [GM note: This name was created from one of my players using a random Tavern Name Generator on the Net when we needed a quick name. We actually went through a variety of other names before this one popped up and it made us all laugh, so it stuck. It does kind of work in a way because the Company did fight a Rakshasa before, back in Verundhi]. 

Return of an Old Friend, Part I

In the tavern, Jeremi spies someone out of the corner of his eye who looks familiar, but thinks nothing of it. A while later, after the image kept gnawing at him, he spoke of it to the group, and Sameer the desert warrior from Akkatomia went downstairs to investigate. A while later, none other than Cirend, Holy Paladin of Ætonism, walks into their room. After indicating the Sameer has left immediately to return to his homeland due to the current circumstances there, Cirend indicated that he left Verundhi quite battered and bruised after having been fighting against demon incursions in the South of Verundhi basically ever since the Company left him there to return to the West. The Devi of Verundhi had mentioned that she'd heard reports of demons and their demonic cultist allies taking over key government positions in the South and massacring entire villages, so Cirend stayed to investigate the situation. The South, he reported, was now completely overrun and it wouldn't be long before the entire country would be lost. Cirend's battle experience told him that the war was lost unless he could somehow get more troops or some other kind of aid to help stem the tide, so he returned to the West to see what he could do. Having learned what the Company had been up to in his absence, he agreed to join them, at least temporarily, on their quests. 

[This was an opportunity for my friend Cal to switch back to his character, Cirend, the original character he created for my game. A few years ago in real time, Cal chose to "retire" Cirend based on in-game circumstances (he couldn't find a reason why Cirend would leave the Verundhi to be overrun by demons while the rest of the Company headed to the West, plus he was also a little tired of my constant complaining that Cirend was too effective in combat as a 'trip monkey'), so he created a new character, Sameer, as a replacement to travel with the Company. In the weeks between the recent June and July sessions, Cal chose to bring Cirend back for in-game story reasons, which was totally cool with me. This was surprise #1 of the game, as none of the players knew that Cirend was returning, and of the current group, the only character left who knew Cirend was Jeremi the Ætonist Priest, played by my friend Brian.]

Return of an Old Friend, Part II
While the spoke, the Company noticed that somehow a little black cat had entered the room, even though they thought the door was closed, and looked at them in a manner that suggested she wanted them to follow her, and she moved toward the door. Shao, the mysterious monk from the East, attempted to speak to the cat with an ability to speak to any living creature that he had learned from his masters in the monastery where he was trained. Oddly, the cat did not seem to notice that Shao was trying to talk to her. 

The Company followed the cat out of the room back downstairs to the main room of the inn and discovered yet another surprised - their long-lost comrade, Sebastian, had returned! Sebastian, a well-dressed scoundrel raised in the Ætonist church but with a mysterious, and dark, background had once been a member of the Company but had left to pursue his own personal goals. Those goals accomplished, and with news to share, he sought out and returned to the Company here in Esoría.

[This was surprise #2 for the game, as my wife Jody decided to return to playing in this very same session - and I didn't tell her that Cal was also planning on bring Cirend back in the very same game and I also didn't tell Cal about Jody, so each character probably got a little less time in the spotlight than they may otherwise have. Jody retired her character, Sebastian, shortly after our daughter was born four years ago because it was too difficult to try to play while attending to our daughter, and one of us needed to quit the game temporarily. Since I'm actually running the game, my wife took a hit for Team Thomas and bowed out to watch our daughter on game days, but always with the thought of returning. She announced to me that she was returning to the group about three days before game day, which was interested for me as I tried to figure out the logistics of both her and Cal's characters returning to the group. Jody's character, Sebastian, is interesting - it's a half-elf Rogue/Fighter/Shadow-Dancer who is a female who cross-dresses as a male at the bequest of her father who has told her to remain in hiding so that "they" can't find her. Whoever the mysterious "they" is has been somewhat vague, but probably refers to the Black School, a cadre of evil sorcerers in Esoría who somehow corrupted Sebastian's mother. Interestingly, although both Jeremi and Cirend know that Sebastian is male, the two "new" Company members, Shao and Sombra, do not, and Sebastian didn't tell them, so their characters think she's a man. Interesting times ahead.]


The 22nd - 25th of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile and Marlona, Esoría


After more discussion, the Company decided (some of them reluctantly) to travel to Marlona to try to secure a meeting with the Prelate, Flín Polás, at the Temple of Hallowed Saelenna, to determine if there was a way that he could somehow be elected as the new Pontifex Rex. Along the way, they met up with a former cohort of Jeremi, Estacio, and three other followers of Jeremi who mentioned that they were part of a "splinter" group of Ætonism that was now following some of Jeremi's more tolerant views. 


The 25th of Saarh  - The First Day of the Summer Festivals, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Marlona, Esoría

For the meeting with Flín Polás, Estacio, Cirend and Sombra chose to represent the Company, and due to the Prelate's schedule they had to wait for him for five days. Sebastian, despite his/her upbringing in the Church, has traditionally kept a wide distance between herself and any temples.  Jeremi rightly assumed that his presence, as the leader of the "movement" that murdered Cristobal Arino, could be disuptive at best or get him arrested or assassinated at worse, also chose to remain behind. Shao also did not attend the meeting, as his foreign appearance has often caused him problems since he doesn't really "blend in" while traveling through the West. For their part, the other members of the Comapny didn't seem to exactly have a plan as to how to figure out of the Prelate would be amenable to their suggestions, nor did they have a plan for how to manipulate events to place the Prelate in charge of the entire church. For his part, Flín Polás was very careful and reserved in his answers, but indicated that he would be open to trying to reform some aspects of Church policy if the Company could come up with a viable plan, but asked them not to speak of it again for fear of reprisals. 

Meanwhile, Jeremi sought out the assistance of a sage to try, once again, to determine the properties of his staff that he'd carried with him since his very early adventures with the Company. Sebastian set up meetings with her network of spies, in the role as the head of the Thieves' Guild in Eglantine, the capital city of Courriseux, to determine what had happened to the evil artifacts in the possession of Cristobal Arino. Shao did some research at the famous Library of Marlona, known to be the biggest library in the West. 

Later, much of the rest of the Company availed themselves of the information contained in Marlona's library, and in the course of their research learned the following:

  • The number "seven" plays an important part in nearly every major world society, from the "modern" religions of Ætonism, Bhuwanism, and Holism, to ancient pre-human cultures such as the dwarves, orcs, and kobolds. Only the goblins differed in their culture, in that for them, the number "six" was more important
  • A so-called "list" of seven items or ideas or heavenly bodies, etc., was found in much of the writings, depending on the cultural context - the Company began to suspect that the "list" was actually all the same items, just perceived differently depending on the culture of the society making the list
  • They also discovered a list of six names: Crawler (sometimes called Shade), Depraved, Chaos, Queen, Consort, and Scorned. Cirend mentioned that he'd heard a similar list (although his list didn't have all the names) and that beside the name "Scorned" was the word "late." The Company began to suspect that this list of names corresponded to a list that Channing, the duplicitous wraith elf Ætonist priest was keeping, and that they also corresponded to the powerful evil beings that the Company had encountered in the past. 

With all of this information to ruminate on, as well as figuring out a plan to help the Prelate of Marlona potentially ascend to the head of the Universal Ætonist Church, the Company chose to rest and figure out their next moves the following day.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water today
Listening: "Beatles and Stones" by The House of Love 


 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Half Past Danger

Last week I put up a short post about some independent comics I'm currently reading. One of the ones I didn't mention is Half Past Danger, a relatively new comic by publisher IDW.

This comic is right in my wheelhouse, as it involves World War II, a mysterious island in the Pacific, a semi pulp-noir setting, evil Nazis, some crazy 1940s-era super science, and of course, dinosaurs.

So, after reading that, if I have to tell you what I love about this comic, chances are that you may have stumbled across the wrong blog.

Read below, and remember that I will avoid any major spoilers. Knowing that there are dinosaurs in this book isn't a spoiler because I believe they were on the cover of the first issue. 

What's It About?
Um... it's about World War II, and a mysterious island...

The first issue involves an Allied Forces strike team in the Pacific during the middle years of World War II who are investigating what they believe is a secret Japanese base on the island. It turns out that things aren't quite what they seem when the team observes the German military machine creating an air strip on the island and also laying down train tracks. Realizing that they are completely out-numbered,Staff Sergeant Thomas Michael Flynn opts to retreat and call for reinforcements. On their way back to base camp, his squad is attacked by what can only be described as dinosaurs. Flynn is the only survivor.

Months later, Flynn is back in the U.S. and clearly has a severe drinking problem as he tries to deal with what happened to his squad. He's approached by a big, somewhat lumbering good-looking cat who bears a strong resemblance to a certain World War II-era U.S. hero that carries a shield. This new guy, along with a British femme fatale spy type character and a Japanese defector ninja guy try to recruit Flynn to go back to the island and figure out what exactly the Nazis are up to and what kind of strange events could have brought about the discovery of dinosaurs living in the modern age.

A lot of this may sound familiar - we've certainly seen lost islands of dinosaurs before, and my summary above shows the extremely broad stereotypes on which the characters are based - I've read a few issues now and aside from Flynn, the "drunken Irish soldier," I can't remember remember their names. Mysterious Japanese guy. Big hulking corn-fed American. Sneaky and sexy English spy.

Character development is not the point here. As one review I read noted, "Sometimes you just want to tune out and punch some dinosaurs." I don't agree with the rest of his review that the book is only mediocre at best - this is a fun ride and a world that I'm interested in learning more about.

Who's On the Creative Team?
The "Team" in this case is one man - Stephen Mooney, who writes, pencils, and inks the comic himself.

Mooney hails from Ireland, and started out providing art for some small Irish press publications in the very early 2000s before jumping over to publisher IDW in 2006 to draw a variety of licensed comics like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Angel, Spike, The A-Team, and The Mummy.

On the writing side, Mooney's story so far is really a fun, adventure, action comic and the writing style supports this wholeheartedly. He incorporates all the tropes of the genre, like the Nazis and fantastical "super science" but does it in a way that almost seems possible, ala the "Indiana Jones" trilogy (yes, it's a trilogy. There was no fourth movie). Flynn is definitely in the Indiana Jones role, and the other characters in Half Past Danger, so far, do what all of Jones' sidekicks do - portray a somewhat broad stereotype of a particular type of character. That's not meant to be a negative - in this particular genre of comic, it works quite well. I don't need a detailed story telling me the history and backstory of the ninja guy. He's a ninja. Just let him do that and move on, and so far, that's what Mooney is doing.

Mooney's art also works well in this setting. Detailed when it needs to be, it's fluid and his character work is top notch. So many artists can get into a rut where all of their faces look the same. Not so with Mooney - even among the few pages in the first issue that deal with Flynn's squad of soldiers, it's very easy to tell them apart even though they're all essentially men with short cropped hair wearing the same uniform. The action sequences, particularly the fights (whether between humans or involving dinosaurs) are also very well done - character movements are realistic, and their reactions are spot-on.

Who Will Like It?
I guess this is a particular kind of book for a particular audience, but if you heard "Nazis," "Mysterious Island," "Ninjas," "Dinosaurs," "Femme Fatale," and "Super Science" and you don't think that this is one of the most awesome ideas ever, then I don't know how to help you.

If you like pulp era action adventures, World War II stories, or dinosaurs, then pick this up. You won't be disappointed.

Any Good Fodder for my Role-Playing Games?
You bet there is. This probably isn't the place to look for deep character development ideas, but as a GM you'll get plenty of ideas for world-building and genre-mixing. Personally I'm a huge fan of alternate World War II type settings that involve weird stuff like horror or science fiction or even a touch of magic, and I'm also a big fan of the well-worn trope of a hidden island of dinosaurs that have somehow survived into the modern world ("modern" in this case meaning the 1930s for me), but I've honestly never thought of mixing those two ideas together.

Half Past Danger is a six-issue limited series, so as a GM you could wait until the series is over to get some more ideas and then run this as a limited campaign and surprise your players by telling them that you're playing a "World War II" era game, then totally surprise them with the addition of dinosaurs and the other fantastical stuff from this comic. I think it could be a lot of fun.

You could even use Peter Schweighofer's excellent Heroes of Rura-Tonga to help flesh out the mysterious Pacific island on which the action takes place - check out my review of the product on my blog.

You could easily run a game in this setting using a variety of different system, but "Savage Worlds" jumps to mind for me. They even have a World War II era sourcebook called Weird War II which would be helpful in running some of the encounters in a campaign based on this comic, I would think.

Is It Good for Kids?
This book isn't actually rated by the comic book code, but on the back cover is says it's suggested for "Mature Readers." It does involve scientific experiments on people, dinosaurs eating people, soldiers shooting each other, and other violence. However, listing that all out, it sounds worse than it is. Of course as a parent, you have to make your own decision and should look through this (and hopefully actually read it) before you decide whether your kids should read it, but I'd think that a 10 year-old could probably handle this just fine.

HALF PAST DANGER

  • Format: Monthly 28-page full-color limited series (planned for 6 issues)
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. That link leads you to the Comic Book Store locator where you type in your ZIP Code and it'll find your closest shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology. That link leads to the page on the series; issue #3 came out yesterday. 
  • Price: $3.99 per issue
  • Rated: "Mature Readers"
  • More Information: The official Half Past Danger website

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: A 2013 Yulesmith Summer Ale (last night while I wrote most of this post)
Listening: "Rock (Unplugged)" by
DJ Spinna

Thursday, July 11, 2013

More Changes for Daddy Rolled a 1

Hey there Cool Cats and Ring-a-Ding Dames!

I've been making some changes here lately, starting with the new logo and slightly redesigned page layout.

In addition to that, the Daddy now has a separate Twitter account and Facebook page. My tweets about comics and gaming are now mainly going to come from the new Twitter feed, which is also linked over in the side-bar there on the right.

On the Daddy Rolled a 1 Facebook page, I'll be posting stuff that's a bit long for a 140 character Tweet, but not quite long enough to make a compelling blog post, so expect to see updates on the games I'm playing, movie and TV I'm watching, and of course fun activities with my daughter, such as shooting her new Disney "Merida" bow-and-arrow outside in our front yard for her birthday. Lots of pictures and other stuff will be there as well.  You can also click over to the Facebook page to "Like" it over there in the sidebar underneath the Twitter feed.

Of course, if you're still interested in my personal Twitter account, Tartinm, please continue to follow me there. On that account I mainly tweet about craft beers, wines, sometimes cocktails, and also some advertising/marketing stuff (my job) and just random things.

All right - I'm Scramsville!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New Comic Wednesday: Independent Comics

Today in lieu of doing a review about one specific title that's come out, I wanted to chat briefly about a few different independent comics I'm currently reading (some of which came out today), why I think you might like them, and some things you can borrow from them for your role-playing games.

As I've mentioned before, I'm really more of a DC guy. I love the characters that I grew up with on Saturday morning cartoons, specifically the Superfriends. But, as I've gotten to know the guys at my favorite local comic book shop, they've gotten to know me and my preferences and have started to recommend things to me based on my likes. They've noticed that I tend to like World War II stories (particularly with a "weird" or supernatural bent to them), I like the Pulp Noir and Post Apocalyptic genres, and I'm just a sucker for a good, well-written story no matter the setting.

All of the books below were recommended to me by the guys at my shop, and they're actually among my favorites right now, even above some DC titles with more familiar characters. Let that be an example of why it's good to chat up people who are very involved and passionate about the same things you are, and also to keep an open mind. A year ago, I never would've dreamed of reading a book like Ten Grand or Lazarus because they don't feature capes and cowls.

Quickly before getting into the titles, unfortunately none of these are good for kids. So, moms and dads out there, pull these books out to read after your little ones have gone to bed.

Now onto the list...


ÜBER
This is a World War II comic that takes place in the waning days of the war in Europe. It's mid-April 1945, and the European part of the war is almost over. The Allies know it. The Nazis know it. There's nothing that can save the Third Reich. Well, except for a secret Nazi government program that's being rushed to the battlefield - augmented human soldiers, known as an ubermensch. There are two types - the low-level panzermensch (the rank-and-file troops) and three really powerful soldiers called Battleships.

This is really a straight-up war book. It's not an alternate history "What if Nazi Germany won World War II?" story. The way is still going on, Germany is in shambles, and having three supremely powerful soldiers who are strong enough to defeat masses of enemy troops but aren't designed to "hold" areas after they've been captured, aren't really enough (yet) to change the inevitable outcome of the war. But they do change the dynamics of how the Reich is falling and it's interesting to see where the story is going.

Why You Should Read It: This is one of the few "war comics" I've read that really captures the idea of being at war. It's not fun. It's not all "guts and glory." It's brutal. People die, including the "good guys." It's great wartime storytelling that doesn't treat the super-powered soldiers as frivolous additions, essentially turning into just another "superheroes in World War II" type of book.

Any Ideas for RPGs? Yes, of course. This book is ripe with ideas for people playing a "Weird Wars II" style game, using a system like Savage Worlds (or of course the system of your choice). I also remember there was a d20 WW2 Supers campaign setting called "Godlike" that I never picked up but from what I read about it, somethings like Über seems perfect for integrating into that setting and exploring the possibilities of how super-powered soldiers really would affect the war back then. 

Issue #3 hit the stands today.

TEN GRAND
This is... I'm not really sure how to describe it. Part hard-boiled detective story, part supernatural thriller, part redemption story, all thrown together in an unpredictable ride that keeps you guessing as you read it, trying to figure out exactly just what kind of story you're reading, and then marveling that where you end up is nothing at all like where you thought you'd be. 

But What's It About Really? [Minor Spoilers] Joe Fitzgerald is a former hit-man who was killed while trying to finish "one last job" and now works for "the powers above" to do jobs for them when they ask. In return, every time he dies while committing a righteous act, he is allowed to spend a few minutes in Heaven with his beloved wife, who was killed at the same time Joe was. In order to make money to pay the rent, Joe takes on jobs for hard-luck cases, charging ten thousand dollars, an amount that he thinks will weed out the crazies, but isn't so much that someone who really needs his help couldn't somehow scrape it up. The first case we witness is finding a missing girl, who it turns out was kidnapped by a cult. Then things start to get weird...

Why You Should Read It: This book has two of the industry greats as the creative team - writer J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Spider-Man) and artist Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell) have created such a cool concept, and a great character in the form of the "protagonist" Joe, that I was instantly grabbed by the first issue. The writing on this is just top-notch, but that's not to discount the art, which fits the story perfectly.

Any Ideas for RPGs? Yes, again. There's lots of great adventure stuff in here for GMs running a supernatural type modern game, and the strength of Straczynski's writing provides plenty of character studies that can be copied or serve as inspiration for players as well as for GMs designing NPCs.

Issue #3 hit the stands today.

LAZARUS
This is a brand new title by fan-favorite author Greg Rucka (Queen & Country, Gotham Central) and artist Michael Lark (Batman, Gotham Central) that my comic shop guys added to my list because "You like good comics." I believe that was the rationale they used. People have been looking forward to this one for a long time apparently.

This is a semi-post apocalyptic book where the world's wealth and power is essentially held in the hands of about 0.0000001% of powerful families. Besides the main family members, each family has "serfs" who are people like guards and servants and stuff. Everyone else is called "Waste." And each family also has one specially selected family member who is given special education, training, combat skills, technology, and other assets, and becomes their family's sword, shield, and protector. They are renamed "Lazarus." As the title implies, there's some abilities for a Lazarus to come back from the dead via some advanced medical science they're been imbued with.

Lazarus the comic is about the Lazarus of Family Carlyle, a woman known as Forever, and what it means to be expected to be an emotionless enforcer and killer for her family.

Why You Should Read It: The world-building in this book is simply amazing. There is so much detail and thought that went into creating the world and how things work. As a bonus in the first issue, there's an interview with Rucka where he talks about where the idea sprang from and the resources he used to help craft the world in which the story takes place. The science, economics, and everything have been well thought-out.

Any Ideas for RPGs? See above on "why you should read it." This is a great example of how one simple idea can spawn the creation of a whole setting and world, and it's something that every role-player can learn from.

Issue #1 came out last week.

THE WAKE
This is a bit of a cheat because The Wake is published by Vertigo, which is an imprint of DC Comics, so it's not technically independent. But, it's not part of their New 52 superhero line, and the Vertigo comics have a whole different sensibility that's much closer to an independent mentality, so I'm going to go ahead and include it here.

The best way to describe this book is "underwater horror story." But there's some time-travel involved, government conspiracies, crazy scientists, and some vaguely Cthulhu-esque underwater guys that are pretty darn creepy. And it's set in an underwater research station in which all of the main characters are, for all intents and purposes, trapped.

Why You Should Read It: This is horror storytelling at its best. It's not gory, although there is blood and stuff like that, but it's horror in the sense of creepy and downright scary. It almost reads like a movie script - the visuals combined with the writing really help you to fill in the gaps and see what's happening. It's written by current Batman writer Scott Snyder, and he's just superb here. The art is by Sean Murphy, best known for his work on Teen Titans, Hellblazer, and Sean of the Dead. His work here is extremely evocative and moody, with a level of detail that's perfect for this type of book.

Any Ideas for RGPs? Running an underwater session - or do you want to run one? Or do you just need ideas on how to incorporate the feeling of claustrophobia into your game? Perhaps you need some ideas on what it might feel like for a character to see something that really isn't there, and moreover, they know that it shouldn't be there, but they see it anyway. What might that do to a person who is trapped in a confined space with people he doesn't really trust...?

Issue #2 came out last week.

This isn't the full list of my favorite independent comics, but I'll definitely be writing more reviews on those in the future.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: Iced tea with a splash of lemonade
Listening: "Django" by the Modern Jazz Quartet


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