Wednesday, June 8, 2016

New Comics Wednesday - A Universe Rebirth, A Girl and Her Cat, and A Fun Female Spy

Today is Wednesday, which means of course that it's New Comic Book Day, when this week's new comics will be on-shelf at your local shops and newsstands. For today's post, I'll talk about three relatively recent comics that I started reading, why I chose them, and as always, if there are any ideas you can steal for your role-playing games.

Note that I keep my reviews spoiler-free. 

DC Universe Rebirth #1 (one-shot)
This comic came out about two weeks ago, but you should still be able to find it quite easily at your local shop considering that it had quite a huge print-run. I'm sure a lot of you out there are groaning about, well, typical comic fan-boy stuff like "DC doesn't know what they're doing" or "I stopped reading DC with the New 52" or whatever.

What Is It?: This is a comic book for people who, frankly, just enjoy comics - superhero comics in particular. The story is driven by the lore and the legacies of DC characters that were unfortunately lost when DC did their last reboot in September 2011 following the Flashpoint maxi-series. In the intervening five years, DC initially experience huge sales growth but recently has seen quite a decline, and a variety of factors have led them to reconsider the wholesale destruction of the nearly 70 years of pre-New 52 continuity. A small "test" of sorts from last year, an event called "Convergence," brought back some old characters thought long-gone. While the story line of the event itself was a bit muddled and the titles were very hit-and-miss in terms of quality, it was clear that fans wanted to see the return of some of their favorite characters.

Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, writes the DC Universe Rebirth special, which is a massive-sized 80+ page giant for only $2.99.

Why You'll Like It: Johns brings back a character that's been missing from the New 52 as the "narrator" of a tale that discusses "what happened" to the DC Universe and why nobody remembers what changed. The narrator choice is quite inspired and relates back to some of Johns earlier and celebrated work in comics writing. Throughout the tale, the narrator, attempts to interact with other characters as an "anchor" to pull him back into "real time." We therefore see both New 52 characters as well as older characters that we haven't seen since the New 52 reboot. All throughout, the narrator discusses that "something is missing" as a way to inform that reader that things we used to enjoy about comics, like the relationships of the characters, the sense of fun, and the legacy of characters (via new people taking on the mantle of a hero once the previous character retired or died) were unceremoniously wiped away for a more grim, dark universe.

If you've missed certain elements about DC Comics over the past few years, I can almost guarantee that this story line, combined with beautiful art by Gary Frank, Ethan Van Scivber, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jimenez, will have you feeling the excitement and the fun that you used to have reading DC stories.

Whatever you do, please don't read any online reviews that contain spoilers, as there is a huge moment at the end of the story that has huge revelations for DC comics stories moving forward, and I was lucky enough to have been completely surprised by it.

Why I Chose It: This is pretty much covered above, but I know a lot of people who simply stopped reading DC Comics in the New 52, or maybe only read Batman just because he's Batman. There was quite a bit of bad stuff in the New 52, but honestly there was some good story-telling (I was particularly fond of Jeff Lemire's run on Green Arrow and Gail Simone's run on Batgirl, among others), but something just felt like it was "missing." These weren't the characters I grew up with. With Rebirth, we're getting a return to those characters I read back in High School and College, but without negating the good parts of the New 52.

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: Even if you're not playing a supers-themed game, there's a lot in here about multi-universes, time/space-shifting and that kind of crazy theoretical science-fiction stuff that can find a place in any type of game that involves those themes. Most fantasy-themed and some science-fiction games include the idea of other planes, etc. and the DC Universe Rebirth special explores the idea of what happens when certain parallel universes are able to exert an influence on other ones, perhaps combining them together without the other universes even realizing that they are changing. I can't say too much more about that without getting into spoiler territory.

Also, Geoff Johns is a master of characterization, and any GM can benefit from seeing how Johns creates characters, both heroes and villains, that are interesting, believable, and unique.

MAE
The first issue of this new fantasy comic by Dark Horse also came out a few weeks ago, and since Dark Horse is a bit of a smaller publisher it might be more difficult to find, but it's very much well worth it. If you can't find a print copy, just drop by the Dark Horse website and snag a digital copy.

Gene Ha does both writing and art-duties in this story, which was originally designed as a graphic novel but being adapted to a monthly series.
 
What Is It?: This is, for a short explanation, a twisted young adult fairy-tale, in kind of a like a weird interpretation of something like Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. As in those stories, a young female character (Abbie) is whisked off to another fantasy realm. Unlike those stories, however, the main focus of this book is on what happens in "the real world" while that character is gone, particularly focusing on the character's sister, Mae.

Why I Chose It: The artwork in this is superb - Gene Ha's style is typically a bit more "realistic" but for this story he wisely chooses a slightly more exaggerated, almost cartoon-like look that's more appropriate to the story and the characters, but without sacrificing the level of detail for which he's known. The coloring is fantastic (trust me, it makes a huge difference having an excellent colorist) and the odd lettering style all match to make for, visually, a great looking book.

I also like that the main characters are both younger girls (teens) because, as the father of a young girl, I feel like there aren't enough stories featuring strong female characters. We're getting there - there are certainly more than there were when I was a kid, but more can be done.

Lastly, the story is just tons of fun, and I'm curious to see where it goes next. Ha injects a level of mystery and intrigue that's grabbed my attention, and it certainly will for you when you read it.

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: There are tons of great fantasy creature designs in here, and the idea of twisting the familiar fantasy trope of a character who gets whisked to another world is turned-around here and that's a really interesting concept for a fantasy game - exploring the real world once that character returns (and maybe is followed by a few denizens of the fantasy world...). The characters are drawn in somewhat broad archetypes, but that makes them great patterns for PCs or NPCs for a role-playing game. Even after only one issue, I could easily see this being used as the source for a fun, younger-adult role-playing game scenario where characters move back-and-forth between the real world and a fantasy land, but play the same characters in each.

MOCKINGBIRD
This relatively recent comic from Marvel is currently on issue #3. It's intended to be a somewhat limited series (it won't be going on for 20+ issues), so depending on your style, you may want to wait until it's trade paperback format. In any event, it's a great story and shows off some fun things you can do in comics that you can't do in other media.

What Is It?: This is the story of Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird, a somewhat "street-level" type hero of the Marvel Universe who typically doesn't have any "powers" and fights just using her brain, her totally awesome martial-arts fighting skills, and sometimes with her staff.

If you're not familiar with the name Mockingbird, but Bobbi Morse sounds familiar, that's because her character is prominently featured in the TV Show "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." They never call her Mockingbird on the show, and she doesn't wear her familiar comics costume, but it's the same character.

The story in Mockingbird is built in a very interesting premise - in the comics, Bobbi has been exposed to a few different reactive "agents" including the Super Soldier Serum (what turned Steve Rogers into Captain America) and "The Infinity Formula," so she is required to visit the SHIELD medical labs once a week for testing and monitoring. The opening page of each issue is treated like a medical form, wherein a patient has to fill out a form for why they are at the SHIELD medical facility and includes little humorous, tongue-in-cheek notes from doctors, psychiatrists, friends, etc., which are all part of Bobbi's file. There is also a running gag about Bobbi having to get a "replacement medical beeper" which she is required to carry on her person, and Bobbi has to check-off boxes indicating why she needs a replacement beeper (she typically checks the "Other" box and then writes something snarky like "Hulk sat on it."). Mockingbird clearly shows her contempt for the medical tests and is at the SHIELD labs under duress. She'd rather be out kicking bad-guy butt.

Why I Chose It: This comic shows how comics can still be lots of fun and have a sense of humor but still have plenty of great action. In the very first issue, as an example, there's a splash-page spread of Bobbi sitting in the waiting room at the SHIELD medical labs, reading something while she waits to be called into the doctor. The scene looks pretty mundane until you really start to look at the characters. In the background is a nicely-dressed guy with dark here and a neatly trimmed mustache and beard.  He's reading a small pamphlet, and if you pay close attention to the title, you'll see it's about "Gonorrhea and you." Poor Tony Stark.

Once you notice that, you'll realize that the entire issue is pretty much full of little visual gags and easter eggs like that, and it makes it a blast to read, and re-read.

Also, this is one of the few comics that's written by a women author. I wrote about under Mae about why I sometimes go out of my way to find strong female characters as role-models for my daughter. But finding "real world" role-models is just as important, and I like being able to tell her, "This was written by a girl!"

Is There Anything In Here You Can Use In Your Role-Playing Games?: Absolutely - there's clearly something weird going on with Bobbi and the action drops you in media res - there's no explanation of why scenes move from one-to-another but not in chronologically linear fashion, and that style makes a great example for running a non-linear scenario. I wouldn't recommend it every time in a game, but once in a while dropping the players into an unfamiliar scenario and then having them play out "scenes" at various points in the past (or future) non-consecutively, can be a fun way to do a one-shot type game. Mockingbird is written very much in this style and follows a "show don't tell" type of mentality, so if that kind of thing bothers you and you want everything explained to you, this might not be the book for you.


Please drop me a comment below, or find me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook (links to the right) and let me know your thoughts on any of the comics above, as well as what other comics you'd currently recommend. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap Water (but don't forget that it's Negroni Week!)
Listening: "Back in the Dayz" by the DJ Cam Quartet

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