Archive for April, 2020

Space Ace

Derek Moreland, a longtime friend — and semi-official Friend o’ the Blog — has written a comic, illustrated by his friend Derrick Fleece, and by george, I’m gonna review it!

Space Is Awful: The Saga of John Dennis #1

The story gets going right out of the gate as Dennis Olbeter, an overnight janitor, gets abducted by octopoid aliens to battle as a gladiator in outer space. Why a janitor? The aliens watch a lot of Earth action movies, so they just assume all humans are action superstars. (They also insist on calling Dennis “John,” because they think that’s the only name available for humans — if it works for John Wick, John McClane, John Rambo, and John Shaft, it oughtta work for anyone.)

The aliens inject John with a chemical that’s supposed to help him survive his fights with alien monsters, but instead, it has the surprising effect of causing him to gain random superpowers during matches — the first time, battling a giant alien gorilla, he finds himself able to become super-dense and impervious to damage.

But John’s unexpected wins are making powerful people unhappy, and there’s no telling what they’ll do to stop him.

Verdict: Thumbs up. We’re not talking about high art here. It’s a humor comic that features a killer robot making extremely cheerful knife puns.

But the knife puns are entirely excellent, the plot moves quick, and the characters are interesting and funny.

We don’t really get much of a grasp on John’s personality — he’s mostly getting abducted, injected, chased, and punted around in this issue — but I do expect we’ll get to see more of what makes him tick in future issues.

So if you’re looking for a light, funny sci-fi comic, go pick this one up. First issue is just 99 cents on Comixology!

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Read More Comics!

If you’re a comics fan, you’ve probably already noticed that the comics biz is not doing so hot right now. Diamond is not shipping anything and may go out of business completely. Comics publishers are printing fewer comics, and smaller publishers are in serious trouble. And local comics shops are in dire straits, with many in danger of closing permanently.

The same holds true with traditional book publishing, RPG book publishing, boad game publishing, and local independent bookstores and game stores. The Coronavirus pandemic is serious trouble for everyone, obviously, and local retail stores rarely have the profit margins to let them stay closed for months.

So if you love comics, if you love books or games, and if you’re able to spare the money, it’s important to try to support the hobbies you love — now more than ever.

Many comics shops and bookstores are working to get books to readers even if the doors are locked. Lots of them offer curbside service, others deliver to local addresses and will mail packages outside the area. Some are selling mystery bags of books or comics — tell ’em what kinds of books you like, and the staff will box up a surprise selection of books or comics for you.

And don’t forget you can order directly from smaller comics publishers and game publishers, too. They need the help as much as local retail does.

And let’s not neglect creators — comics writers and artists, authors, game designers. If you have a favorite creator, check their websites and social media to see if they have Patreons or another way to support them directly.

And dang, let’s remember the Post Office needs help, too! You know what happens if the Republicans kill the Post Office? Good-bye to cheap mail order, good-bye to almost any mail service to rural areas. Go order some stamps, please.

If you need suggestions of some retail outlets, check my sidebar — I recently added a new section devoted to retail comics, book, and game stores that I’m acquainted with and that could use a helping hand. But a lot of you have your own favorite shops to support, too.

If you can afford it, let’s try to save the worlds of our imaginations.

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Save the Earth

Okay, I’ll grant you it’s really difficult to think of any crisis at all other than the COVID-19 crisis right now — but I noticed that today is Earth Day. And the current state of the planet is really not great.

Oceans are heating up, air and water quality are getting worse, weather is getting more chaotic as climate change runs wild, and our current kleptocracy is rolling back every common sense regulation preventing megacorps from burying us in toxic waste.

And there ain’t no simple solutions, especially when the country’s being run by a nihilist death cult that wants most of the earth dead for the sake of profit and a few braying giggles.

And now, in a vain attempt to lighten the mood: a small collection of Earth- and environment-themed comics covers:

So enjoy your Earth Day. Make the simple changes you can now — but don’t forget that politicians and corporate polluters are the people truly responsible for all this.

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Oracle’s Return

It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve been able to buy a brand-new graphic novel, but with the way the pandemic is affecting comics shops all over the country, it seemed like a good time to get some via mail order. The first one I got was this new young adult comic, so let’s take a closer look at The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano.

Let’s meet Barbara Gordon, a normal teenage girl in Gotham City. She’s got a passion for computer coding and puzzles, and she loves taking on hacking challenges with her friend Benjamin. But one night, she gets a little too close to a robbery, and she gets shot and paralyzed.

A few weeks later, she’s learning how to get around in a wheelchair, and she’s been enrolled at the Arkham Center for Independence, a school and rehab facility for handicapped children. And she’s not at all happy about it. She doesn’t like the headmaster or the teachers or the therapists. She doesn’t like feeling like she’s been dumped here by her father. She doesn’t like the way her friend Benjamin won’t text her anymore.

She doesn’t like the weird noises she hears about the building either.

But she makes some new friends like Yeong and Issy, who want to help Babs adjust to the facility, and Jena, who tells her weird, creepy stories, and who has a brother at Arkham named Michael.

But the faculty say Michael doesn’t exist.

And then Jena disappears, too.

Can Barbara unravel the mysteries in Arkham? Can she learn to adjust to her new situation? Can she let go of her anger? Or is she going to end up as another mysterious disappearance?

Verdict: Thumbs up. What’s kinda amazing about this is this is a DC Comics graphic novel with minimal DC Comics content. Yeah, it’s got Babs Gordon and her dad, Commissioner Jim Gordon. It’s set in Gotham City, and in an old, creepy mansion called Arkham. But Batman doesn’t show up. Neither does Robin, Nightwing, Alfred, Batwoman, the Joker, or anyone else. And it’s really fantastic. You’ve got a detective tracking down a mystery — who says you need people in spandex, too?

And also, this definitely isn’t an all-ages book. It’s probably going to be too intense for a lot of younger readers. There’s a lot of tension and suspense and a number of downright scary moments to go along with the constant undercurrent of weirdness inside Arkham.

And Barbara’s rage at being in her wheelchair is intense, too. It’s not cartoonish anger — it’s subtle, but clear. She’s a very controlled person, but you can see her fury on almost every page. You can even see it on the cover. Look at that fist. That’s a fist that wants to punch the hell out of someone. And that tension, that quivering, teeth-gritting, white-hot, infuriated tension blazes through most of the book. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring to feel that blistering anger in the words and artwork of this comic.

Absolute kudos to Nijkamp for crafting this excellent story and the remarkable characters and to Preitano for the great art, sometimes realistic, and sometimes nightmarish and jagged and cartoony. This is a powerful and frightening and glorious book. Go pick it up.

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Wearing the Mask

Dang, I haven’t written anything for the blog yet? I’m irretrievably lazy.

I’ve got no reviews ready to go, no interesting comics news I’ve heard of, so I’ll drop back on current events.

Y’all as dang sick of this COVID-19 crap as I am? ‘Cause I’m dang sick of it.

My parents are in the high risk group. My siblings and I are all closer than we want to be to the high risk group. Most of my friends are in the high risk group. And even among folks who aren’t in the high risk group? It’s not like we haven’t seen plenty of young, healthy people getting sick and dying from this damned disease.

And the jackholes who rule us are champing at the bit to sacrifice us all for a few billionaires’ short-term economic gains.

And aside from that, I’ve got nothing particularly important to say — aside from wash your hands, keep up your social distancing, yell at your congressthings.

Okay, I’ll say this: Masks suck. Especially if you wear glasses. Because your breath fogs up your glasses almost immediately. It’s extremely irritating.

Here’s the only way I’ve found to make your glasses fog up less while you’re wearing a mask. Try breathing downward.

How do you breathe downwards? If you were ever in marching band in school, it’s how you play a flute. Angle your lips downwards and blow. Your glasses will still fog up a bit, but much less than they would if you were breathing normally.

So there’s my tiny bit of advice.

Everyone be careful out there. Please stay healthy.

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Easter Egg-cellence

So it’s almost time for the strangest Easter any of us have experienced in years, probably decades. Most of the churches — the sensible ones, the ones that value their parishioners and want them to survive to summer, you know, not the megachurches and prosperity gospel scammers — aren’t going to be meeting at all, even though Easter Sunday is normally the very busiest day of the church year. Most people are making do with watching church services online, or maybe attending a drive-in service where you don’t even get out of your car.

And there aren’t a lot of large-scale Easter egg hunts either. No civic group is willing to risk getting who-knows how many kids, parents, and grandparents exposed to the virus just for the sake of a little chocolate.

But we’ll celebrate our own nerdy way instead. Who wants to see the best Easter eggs in comicsdom? (And gamedom and TVdom and well, just geekery-dom in general)

Well, I think we can all agree on the worst Easter Egg — Egg Fu! When they brought him back in the Modern Era, he was an ugly, creepy, cracked-face monster, but he was definitely even worse back in the ’70s, when he was an incredibly racist stereotype stuck on an egg. I decided to use the modern crackly one, ’cause to hell with the racist one, right?

There’s this guy — Digitamamon from the old Digimon cartoon and game in the ’90s. I know almost nothing about him, but he was apparently one of the most powerful creatures on the program. Not too bad for an adorable little egg baby, is he?

The alien eggs and yolk-monsters that appeared in Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #5 back in the ’80s were pretty good, but they were just the warm-up villains for the nigh-omnipotent Bunny from Beyond.

But then there was Togepi from the Pokemon cartoons and games in the ’90s. I didn’t know much about Pokemon at all — aside from the clearly obvious fact that the best characters were Jigglypuff, Psyduck, and Team Rocket. But I always thought Togepi was the cutest character, waffling around in his decorated eggshell in Misty’s arms, waving his little baby arms in the air, burbling happily. Surely that means Togepi is geekery’s very best egg, right?

But wait, wait, what’s this?

Okay, any egg portrayed by Vincent Price himself — and providing plenty of theatrical ham to go along with the eggs — must take the prize. Congratulations to Egghead, and Happy Easter to the rest of us!

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The Return of City of Heroes

Of all the weird things that’ve happened in the last four years, few have been more unexpected and more welcome than the return of City of Heroes.

Y’all remember City of Heroes, right? My great video game obsession, the best dang superhero MMO ever, shut down too early back in 2012. I mourned the end of that game plenty, and I figured there would never be any computer game that’d catch my attention the way CoH did. But the years passed, and all of us superhero fans had to move on.

And then, all of a sudden, about a year back, City of Heroes returned. Some guys had cobbled together their own secret game server with all the old code, all working perfectly, and they’d been playing with a few friends for years. When word got out, everyone panicked, expecting NCSoft to hit the game with a lawsuit — but NCSoft has weirdly turned cool about the whole thing. No cease-and-desist notices, at least not yet. And so lots of people, including me, showed back up to the game and started playing new superheroes in Paragon City and supervillains in the Rogue Isles.

It’s been really, really great.

I still haven’t advanced very far — I’m a dedicated alt-oholic, making up new characters every time I come up with a half-decent character concept. Some of them are re-creations of characters I played in the old CoH, some of them are brand new. But it’s been fantastic to get to play this wonderful game again.

It’s especially exciting that the people behind this new server have put a number of new powersets and missions onto the live servers so everyone can play, as well as adding a few new graphical elements. During the early fall, all the trees in Atlas Park started changing to autumn colors, and during the Christmas event, all of Atlas Park was covered in snow and ice.

They’ve even got a whole new archetype — the Sentinel, which has some of the Blaster’s offensive power and some of the Scrapper’s defenses. In other words, it’s a ranged combat specialist that doesn’t die as often as Blasters usually do. That’s a big thing!

And because I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t showing off some of my new characters — and trust me, I could very easily make this a full-time City of Heroes characters blog — here are a small number of my favorites:

Blue Viper

I’ve never managed to gain any skill with any of the Archery powersets, but I was really happy with the costume design I came up with for this character. There ain’t many things more fun than just playing around in the costume creator.

Detective Imhotep

Sometimes, you come up with a bio for a character that’s too good not to share, so here’s Detective Imhotep’s:

I’ll never forget the day that leggy dame walked into my burial chamber.

“Arise, Imhotep!” she says, “Arise and serve me as my undead slave!”

So that’s what I did, ’cause sometimes a guy has to do what a guy has to do. Or at least he has to do what a dame tells him to do because she’s put runes on him and is controlling him with the Ankh of Nephren-ka.

But then one day, she got killed by the Circle of Thorns, and I knew I’d have to do what I could to find her killers. So I hung out my shingle as a private eye. You got the cash to hire me? Great, pal, I charge $25 a day, plus expenses. And bring me a few tana leaves, too. It’s been a long millennium.

Sir Loyne of Bieffe

It’s a swordsman with a cow’s head, created solely for that punny name. But his bio is pretty good, too.

And there arose in our time of most dire need… a CHAMPION! A titan who took no bull from anyone! A hero so rare — so medium rare! — that none could mooove him from the path of righteousness! Let thy hearts be comforted, innocent citizens of Paragon City! For among you walks… A COW.

(And that’s just three of ’em. You want me to post more of them? You have no idea how much I’d love to post more of them. If y’all beg me hard enough to post more video game characters, I’ll do it, and you should probably consider that a threat.)

Wanna get online and play City of Heroes again? There’s a pretty thorough guide right here on how to get on one of the larger servers/game clients, though there are several others out there. Hope to see you in-game!

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Summer Camp Is Terrible

I think it’s about time I reviewed an actual comic book, don’t you? Let’s take a look at Be Prepared.

This middle-grade graphic novel by Vera Brosgol was published a couple years ago, but I only discovered it after finding it in our local library a couple months back. I remembered reading and enjoying another Brosgol comic — the thoroughly creepy “Anya’s Ghost” — so I was definitely interested in this one.

Our story opens with a young Vera Brosgol, almost ten years old, and a bit of an outcast with her classmates. She’s a Russian immigrant, fairly poor, she doesn’t have the cool toys everyone else has, and she never gets to go to summer camp. But that changes when Vera learns of a camp just for Russian Orthodox kids. Her mother agrees to send Vera and her little brother Phil to the camp, and the grand adventures get underway!

But nope, turns out camp is absolutely awful in every possible way. Vera’s tentmates are a couple of older girls who treat her like crap. There are no proper toilets, just bug-filled latrines. There’s no candy allowed — but her mean-girl roommates have some and won’t share. Vera doesn’t know Russian as fluently as the other campers, which is a problem in a camp where everyone is required to speak Russian.

She even manages to bribe a few people into being her friends with gifts of her art and some candy she gets from her mother’s visit — but even that falls to pieces and makes her more unpopular than ever. And because kids can be cruel, she even helps humiliate other campers, and feels worse about it than anyone else.

She does have some triumphs. She makes a friend or two. She has a few great encounters with nature. She ends up enjoying at least some of her camping trip.

But for the most part — ugh, camping is terrible.

Verdict: Thumbs up, believe it or not! Sure, Vera spends most of the story miserable, but it’s still a wonderfully told story.

Brosgol’s artwork, cartooning skills, and storytelling are first-rate, and the way she blends comedy with drama really helps pull the narrative along. Yes, you occasionally have to go put the book down and think about flowers because OH GOD, VERA STEPPED IN IT AGAIN, SHE’S GONNA BE MISERABLE but you also come back over and over, partly because she does get great moments where she’s having fun, and partly because Brosgol manages to make it funny even when Vera is hating life.

And somewhat off-topic, but in both of the graphic novels I’ve read of Brosgol’s, the lead character is a Russian-born preteen or teenager who is lonely and kinda sad, and she makes friends, but the friends are actually awful people who cause her more suffering. So Ms. Brosgol, I really do hope your life is happier now, ’cause I love reading your books.

Anyway — “Be Prepared” by Vera Brosgol. Go pick it up. Because summer camp is legitimately terrible, but this comic is legitimately great.

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