Wonder of Wonders

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Sensation Comics #4

Another three stories here — first, we get the continuation of Gilbert Hernandez’s story from last issue. I didn’t enjoy the first part much, but this one is basically Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Mary Marvel knocking each other around for a half-dozen pages, and it’s basically so over-the-top, it’s completely hilarious. Our second story features Diana grown to a several hundred feet tall to fight a giant monster. And in the third, Wonder Woman, Etta Candy, and Deadman team up to battle Ra’s Al-Ghul.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Again, Hernandez’s story has so many ridiculous punches, and it all ends up so funny. Yeah, Wondy’s arms are maybe a bit too massive, but I found myself a lot more accepting of that when the story was so funny. The other stories are pretty good, too, and they all star pre-Reboot versions of all the characters, which I always approve of.

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Revival #25

The bulk of this issue focuses on the facility the feds are using to secretly imprison revivers. The weird reviver cult stages a public protest to publicize its existence, and that leads Sheriff Cypress and his deputies to learn about it, too. Dana learns that Ibrahaim knew about the facility, too, which puts a serious crimp in their developing relationship. Plus the burned assassin reviver attends his daughter’s funeral, and the cult members start nailing themselves to crosses.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Not the greatest issue in the world, but not too shabby either. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that the government’s plans for the revivers has become more public knowledge.

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The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

Welcome to Earth-4, where the heroes from the old Charlton Comics live, like the Question, Blue Beetle, the Peacemaker, Captain Atom, and Nightshade. But what’s got everyone so upset here is that President Harley has just been assassinated — by the Peacemaker. No one seems to know why, and he isn’t talking. Captain Atom is impossibly aloof and more than a little mad because he can see outside of time and space, and the rest of the heroes are useless in the crisis, spending most of their time in pointless squabbles. Why was the president killed? How much of the murder was President Harley’s own idea?

Verdict: Man, I don’t know. It’s a deeply opaque and moderately irritating story — but really, the whole point here is watching Grant Morrison create his own version of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, right down to the intricate panel/page designs, using the very characters that DC wouldn’t let Moore use for his epic. Is it great storytelling? Is it quasi-ironic postmodernism? Is it just one comics genius sniping at another? I wish I could tell you. But I will say that Frank Quitely’s art is, as always, dang fun to look at.

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Friday Night Fights: Free for All!

Well, my children, it’s the end of another thoroughly gruesome week, and one measly weekend just ain’t really gonna settle things down for us. But it’ll help. So let’s celebrate while we can with everyone’s favorite: FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from February 1983’s Marvel Two-in-One #96 by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Mike Esposito. Ben Grimm is stuck in the hospital after a rough battle, and now a whole bunch of supervillains are on the way to finish him off.

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But Marvel’s superheroes aren’t gonna let Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew down, are they?

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That’s a bunch of Marvel’s greatest superheroes beating up on the Rhino, MODOK, and a bunch of Moloids. Not a bad way to kick off the weekend, is it?

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Honor and Adventure!

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Lumberjanes #8

Jo has been turned to stone, and the devious Diane — secretly the goddess Artemis — blackmails the group to discover where she can go to gain ultimate power before she’ll release Jo from the curse. But once Jen solves the clues in the cavern, Diane double-crosses them, leaving them under attack from the demon-possessed boys from the rival camp. Molly’s skills with anagrams let her reveal how to restore Jo — THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP! But only one can wield the power that Artemis and Apollo want — and what happens when that one person is one of the Lumberjanes?

Verdict: Thumbs up. An incredibly fun, exciting story, with fun art and characters and tons of great funny stuff. Who would’ve imagined that a raccoon with a funny hat could be so awesome?

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Loki: Agent of Asgard #8

Loki and the Enchantress have both gone through the Axis flip afflicting Marvel’s heroes and villains. As a result, both of them are now unquestionably heroes, though they’re not very nice or humble heroes. Verity, the mortal who can always tell when someone’s lying, is less than happy with the result, because Loki and Amora are both grade-A jackasses. And Loki is summoned to Las Vegas to corral someone else who’s gone through a flip of the axis — Thor, god of villainy!

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m not sold on all the Axis stuff, but this one has some gloriously funny moments, particularly Oddball, the Man with the Deadly Balls! and Loki turning into an adorable magical unicorn to run through Vegas.

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Daredevil #10

Daredevil’s contact with the emotional powers of the Purple Man’s children has left him with crushing depression — just in time for the Purple Man himself to come swinging at him with a 2×4. He manages to push past his frazzled emotional state to run Killgrave off, but he’s still stuck with the problem of how to find a bunch of kids with mind-control powers. But even once he tracks them down, he’s going to have to deal with their powers and with the Purple Man’s, too.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great art, excellent story. Decent segment discussing depression, and a nice double-ending with Matt and Kirsten McDuffie.

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Baby, You’re a Star

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Captain Marvel #9

Captain Marvel and Tic are traveling through the galaxy when they unexpectedly meet up with mutant teleporting rock superstar Lila Cheney! She reveals a particularly weird problem she has — she’s supposed to marry a prince on a world where everyone rhymes, and she doesn’t really want to get hitched. So Carol and Tic have to figure out a way to keep Lila away from the altar. Can she handle fighting off a jealous suitor? Can she keep this rhyming gig going all the way through? Will there be a surprise wedding after all?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Fun story, fantastic and charismatic art — David Lopez has a very strong talent for great facial expressions — and perfectly servicible rhymes. It’s a fun and funny break, and the sort of thing that’s always enjoyable in a superhero comic.

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Red Sonja #13

Sonja tracks down and executes a murderous sorcerer, but not before he hits her with a terrible curse, depriving her of the ability to ever forgive anyone of any slight, no matter how small. That means she ends up unleashing on everyone she comes across — and her newly boundless rage even costs her the opportunity to destroy the only marauder who escaped her vengeance after the destruction of her home village.

Verdict: Thumbs up. New storyarc, but same familiar and wonderful artwork and storytelling we’ve come to expect from this title. Looking forward to what looks like a more personal challenge for the She-Devil with a Sword…

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Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #1

The Falcon is the new Captain America, and he’s preparing to lead the Mighty Avengers. This is good news, right? Well, maybe not. The Falcon was among a number of superheroes and villains affected in the “Axis” crossover — a mystical/psionic event has flipped their psyches around on their axes. Luke Cage is now a very hard-edged and ruthless businessman, while the new Captain America is, well, a fascist, much too eager to use brutal, unforgiving methods against criminals or, in fact, anyone who gets in his way. So he’s not so much going to lead the Mighty Avengers as he is going to try to kill them all…

Verdict: Man, I don’t know. The story is fine, the art is wonderful, the interlude with Spider-Man begging forgiveness for Otto Octavius’ time running around in his body is funny — but I really, really question the wisdom of pulling the high-profile stunt of putting an African-American superhero in the Captain America costume and immediately turning him into not only a supervillain but an enthusiastic fascist. There are just a vast number of unfortunate implications going on right there…

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Which Wytch?

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Wytches #2

Sailor Rooks has apparently been attacked in the night by… something. She thinks it was Annie, the bully who vanished while tormenting Sailor, and the bite mark she sustained has now turned into some sort of lump that’s keeping the doctors mystified. The lump leads to a weird emotional trauma during a swim test, and Sailor bugs out of school. She’s seen and followed by her uncle, who’s concerned about her — but there are things in the woods waiting for both of them. Meanwhile, Sailor’s father is attacked by a man in their home, and Sailor’s mother remembers just what caused the car accident that paralyzed her.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Most of the issue is mundane, maybe a little bit creepy. But ye gods, the last five or six pages are one hammer blow of horror after another, most of it rendered mostly obscured so you can’t be entirely sure if what you’re seeing is real or just in the characters’ imaginations. And we’re just into the second issue!

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Ghosted #15

Danny Trick, the son of one of Jackson Winters’ oldest friends, is a disturbed necromancer, using his magical ghost candles to control the spirits of the undead. If Jackson won’t agree to commit suicide so Danny can get control of his ghost, he’s going to let his spectral goon squad tear Jackson and Nina apart — unless Jackson’s own spectral guardian, Anderson, can manage to hold them all off. Luckily, Nina has a few hidden talents to help them out — but even if they survive, many of Jackson’s old enemies are uniting to take him on together.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a good story with a nice denoument and a decent cliffhanger. Danny was a pretty good villain, and I’m sorry to see him go — but the way this series goes, death isn’t a guarantee he won’t make a return.

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Coffin Hill #13

Doyle, the cop heading up the task force looking for the Ice Fisher serial killer, is himself the Ice Fisher, and he’s captured Eve Coffin, with the intent of either killing her or convincing her to join the serial killer business with him. Can Eve stop him? Can he ever be revealed as the murderer?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This one has just gotten too convoluted, especially with the current storyarc’s flips from the past to the present. I’ve had trouble keeping all the characters defined for the past several issues — and the character who shows up at the cliffhanger is even someone I can’t remember ever being discussed before. So I think I’ll be bidding this series farewell, even though I’m already missing Eve’s creepy-awesome scarred-black eye…

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Friday Night Fights: Chondu Chastisement!

Citizens! Gather ye ’round! We have arrived at another weekend in the bleak November, bundled in stresses of upcoming holidays, media-driven panic attacks, and deranged politicians who hate both health insurance and the Internet! Is there nothing to give us some slight distraction from all this dire bulldada? Yes, citizens! There is, as always… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from May 1976’s The Defenders #35 by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, Klaus Janson, and Petra Goldberg. Chondu the Mystic has acquired the body of a monster with bat wings, lamprey arms, chicken feet, and a unicorn horn, and Valkyrie just about to introduce his face to her knee.

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Kids, that’ll do it for me. Y’all head for home and get yerselves some relaxation. See you mugs back here on Monday!

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Anime Action

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Batgirl #36

Barbara is meeting more of her supporting cast, but runs into unexpected trouble — someone has stolen a couple of experimental motorcycles from the university, so it’s not long before Batgirl has to take on a two girls dressed in weird anime-style costumes who are terrorizing the campus on the bikes. They get away, but Babs realizes they were made up to look like the villains on an old anime she watched when she was a kid. Can Batgirl stop the villains? And why do they think Batgirl herself hired them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Really fun art, full of cool fashions and kinetic action, plus the occasional awesome slow moment — in this issue, Barbara’s memory of watching cartoons with her father is a real standout.

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She-Hulk #10

Steve Rogers finally takes the stand in his own defense in the wrongful death suit against him, explaining some information that the jury wasn’t aware of before — namely, that the gang they ran into on that night back in the late 1930s wasn’t any run-of-the-mill mob — it was run by a gas-masked Nazi. But is that going to make any difference to the jury?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a great issue with lots of great speeches, both in and out of the courtroom, and relatively little face-punching. Fantastic art, fantastic writing, multiple fun guest stars. And I’m still deeply disappointed that this one is getting cancelled in just two more issues.

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Silver Surfer #7

The Surfer and Dawn explore an utterly starless area of space. They’re lured in by a mysterious beacon, and then Dawn is unexpectedly kidnapped by a hidden monster. The Surfer and his board (Toomie, remember? Best possible name for a cosmic surfboard) are unable to find her. This leads to several flashbacks to their previous unrecorded adventures, including an attack by space hillbillies in which the Surfer foils them by turning their Hostess fruit pies into golden rings. Can the Surfer find Dawn again, or will he have to make a sacrifice he swore he’d never attempt?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’d love this one just for the bit with the space hillbillies and the fruit pies. But the art and storytelling throughout are fantastic, which makes it even better.

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The Best Sound Effect Ever

I’ve never been able to figure out which comic this panel came from (which is why I’ve never used it for Friday Night Fights), but it never fails to make me happy.

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I bet if you were ever around during a fight where Thor and the Hulk were smashing cars around, you’d need to go to the bathroom, too.

((ADDENDUM: In the comments, Habbakuk identifies the issue as “The Incredible Hulk #300 – mindless Hulk post-Secret Wars rampaging and being fought by all the different heroes before being banished by Doctor Strange to The Crossroads.” Many thanks, Habakkuk!))

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The Slow End of GURPS

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So a few months back, the folks at Steve Jackson Games started posting a few short essays from their creators and designers celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Fourth Edition of GURPS, their long-running RPG rules designed to be used with virtually any genre of roleplaying. They had essays from folks like Sean Punch, Phil Masters, Kenneth Hite, Bill Stoddard, Steven Marsh, and more. I won’t link all of them, but you can find a listing of all ten of them right over here.

I thought the whole thing was just a little depressing, partly because there were so dang few contributors to the series — they couldn’t even get Steve Jackson, the designer of GURPS and founder of the company, to write up an essay — and partly because the glory days of GURPS are so far in the past.

I didn’t really discover GURPS until after I got out of college and learned they’d put out a sourcebook for George R.R. Martin’s shared-world Wild Cards series, which was, at the time, my favorite book series. As it turned out, the local B. Dalton store didn’t have GURPS Wild Cards, but they did have GURPS Horror, so I picked that up and soon started buying as many of their sourcebooks as I could. In my first post-college job, I’d get home in the evenings, bored out of my skull, and create new GURPS characters — filled up multiple legal pads, just because I loved the detail of their character-design system. I never got to play it — I’ve never lived anywhere where anyone else was interested in the game — but holy zamboni, did I love making new GURPS characters and reading GURPS books.

Around 2004, they announced they were creating the Fourth Edition of the game, I picked up the Basic Set eagerly — and found that I really didn’t enjoy it. I felt like the new version was a lot more complicated — the 3rd-edition GURPS Vehicles supplement had allowed for insane levels of micro-detail, giving RPG gearheads tons of numbers they could crunch all day. And the Fourth Edition rules moved some of that number-crunching detail into character generation, where I’d always enjoyed the more plug-and-play aspects of the 3rd-edition rules. In addition, most of the new rulebooks were hardcovers and a lot more expensive, and I got more and more indifferent to the game as time went by.

But more depressing than one guy losing interest in a roleplaying game has been the decline in GURPS’ status as one of the powerhouse RPG systems and the steep drop in the number of GURPS books published. I’d expected the Fourth Edition books to start out with the core sourcebooks — the Basic Set, Fantasy, Magic, Space — and ramp up to include more far-ranging and esoteric titles. But the Fourth Edition books never got much beyond the core books. A few more unusual sourcebooks were produced, but most of those were only available as digital PDFs. Still, there were a lot of 3rd-edition sourcebooks that I thought were surely going to be republished in Fourth Edition — Cyberpunk, Illuminati, Steampunk, Warehouse 23 — that remain orphaned in 3rd. Sure, you could use the info in the old sourcebooks to play in Fourth Edition, but it still felt like GURPS’s legendary genre diversity had fallen by the wayside.

There were a couple different reasons for the reduction in GURPS titles — first, traditional RPGs had crashed and crashed hard. Magic: The Gathering had more gamers focusing on collectible card games, D&D’s Open Gaming License had tons of companies building new games that operated under D&D’s rules, and computer games, including MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, were a massive and growing entertainment industry that traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games just couldn’t compete against.

And within Steve Jackson Games, Munchkin happened. Munchkin was and remains massively popular. And SJG isn’t a gigantic company — it’s a moderately popular and successful publisher, and as long as Munchkin was making money hand over fist, it just made good sense to put more of the company’s resources into publicizing Munchkin and creating new Munchkin sets. That meant that attention and support for GURPS and most other games had to drop.

The company is still publishing GURPS books digitally, but last year, they released only one GURPS book in hardcover — GURPS Zombies. As far as I can tell, they haven’t released any books in print in 2014. I’m sure they can keep releasing mini-rulebooks on PDF from now ’til doomsday, but no print products at all in over a year? That’s not a sign of a healthy system. That’s a sign of a dead RPG.

It’s not just a problem for Steve Jackson Games. I think it’s a symptom of a weak market for nearly all pen-and-paper RPGs. I know, we (and I’m including myself in this) talk a lot about the resurgence of interest in roleplaying games. They get talked about a lot in the mass media — it’s not at all uncommon to read an article in a major newspaper or magazine that focuses on people playing RPGs. But what worries me is that most of those articles focus on Dungeons & Dragons, maybe Pathfinder — and that most of them focus on RPG fans returning to games after years away from the hobby. The other games we hear folks talk about are things like Paranoia or Chill or another game that’s getting a Kickstarter designed to appeal to fans of the old game. In other words, the gaming resurgence we keep talking about is more about nostalgia, and I worry that people will end up abandoning the hobby again once they hit on something else to feel nostalgic about.

Still, I do wish that SJG had chosen to commemorate the 10th year anniversary by announcing some neat new print products. As it was, it seemed less like a celebration and more like a eulogy.

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Friday Night Fights: Punisher Punishment!

Gotta get this finished in a hurry today, so here’s our weekly dose of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from December 2012’s Punisher: War Zone #1 by Greg Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico. There’s a reason why people without superpowers should not get into a fistfight with Spider-Man.

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That’s it — you guys have a great weekend!

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