Archive for January, 2021

Comics for Rockin’ Out!

Okay, let’s get another review done! It’s part comic book, part children’s book, part musical tribute, and 100% fun — it’s The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and Takeshi Miyazawa!

Mayhap you are familiar with Jonathan Coulton, the Internet’s favorite musician, yes? And mayhap you are familiar with his wonderful song, “The Princess Who Saved Herself”? If not, here ’tis:

It’s fun and jaunty! Hit the replay button, memorize the words, sing it all day long!

So writer Greg Pak and illustrator Takeshi Miyazawa decided they wanted to adapt the song as a comic/kids book. But they did something fun with it — rather than being just a straight adaptation of Coulton’s song, we get a bit of an expansion.

Where the original focused on the dragon and the witch, this one gives us a few more complications, including a giant bee, a plague of darkness, and an unexpected fire — as well as a new motivation for the queen, a new resolution for the whole thing, and a truly wonderful name for the princess.

No, y’all, I ain’t offering no further spoilers. This thing is only about 30 pages — the perfect length for a great mid-afternoon read for younger kids — and you should get all the enjoyment you can outta this thing.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s frickin’ delightful, people.

The story gives you a nice jolt of familiarity, especially if you know and love Coulton’s song. And the rewritten and expanded tale also gives you some great surprises, too. Pak has tons of fun with the rhymes here.

Miyazawa’s art is lots of fun, too. It’s wonderfully appealing and charismatic, with metric tons of personality, emotion, and action. And it has lots of cute jokes and details hidden away so you can have fun re-reading it over and over. It really is a perfect combination of writing with art.

Also, props to colorist Jessica Kholinne, who helps make everything pop beautifully.

What else can I say, guys? It’s frickin’ delightful. If you’re a fan of Coulton’s music, if you love fun comics, if you’ve got kids who need this fun and inspiring story, you should go pick it up!

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The Battle Against Evil

It’s January 20, 2021, and I hope it’s going to be a good day.

We’re going to get a new president sworn in, and a new vice president. And we’re getting rid of the worst president we ever had, who will hopefully be marched directly to his new cell on Rikers Island, where he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to avoid just punishment for his many crimes.

But of course, despite the valiant efforts of the Japanese schoolgirls in “Cabin in the Woods,” the evil hasn’t been defeated. The Republican Party has, by this point, made it clear that they approve of Trump’s attempted coup and that they would prefer an iron authoritarian dictatorship to any sort of democracy.

And it’s very likely to get worse from there. We can expect more neo-Nazi terrorist attacks, possibly focused on Washington, D.C., Congress, the White House, and national landmarks, possibly not.

With any luck, this will soon work itself out once the insurrectionists realize how unpopular this kind of stuff is. If y’all remember the OKC Bombing back in 1995, the goons in the militia movement were absolutely delighted for the first couple of days after the bombing, joyfully anticipating their much-desired race war and overthrowing the government. And then they realized that no one else was happy about the bombing, and that 99% of the country was good and mad. And the militias shut the fuck up and disappeared into the woodwork for another few years.

Americans love violence — on TV, in movies, and in fiction. When it happens in real life, they’re not so fond of it. When it’s mass violence, and when it’s terrorism, they really don’t like it a bit. And they don’t like the idea of a bunch of Nazi dumbfucks taking over the country and deciding what our system of government is going to be.

So far, Republicans and their allies storming the Capitol are gambling that this’ll be swept down the memory hole, and that their next attack will be more successful. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are gambling they’ll be able to harness these Nazi goons into a new political power base. In both cases, I suspect that’s a bad gamble.

For now, getting Trump off the stage and getting a new president is a good thing. But it doesn’t mean our problems are over.

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Weird Science

My precious children, I tried all last week to think up something I wanted to blog about and just came up blank. Plenty of books and comics I could review, but just didn’t have the energy to do it. But dang it, I gotta get something up here to keep my legions of readers engaged, so I dug back into my archives to find another GURPS character to post up.

Before we get to this guy’s stats, let’s do a quick summary of GURPS for those of you unfamiliar with the system. It’s a point-based character system — stats over 10, advantages, and skills cost you points; stats under 10 and disadvantages get you some points back. Quirks are worth a negative point each (and limited to five) and must be roleplayed. Numbers in the square brackets are how many character points were allocated to each item. This is all done in GURPS 3rd Edition, ’cause 4th Edition was garbage.

In GURPS, 100 points is considered a good starting point for beginner-level, unpowered characters, being significantly above the average person, but not strong enough to power through every obstacle. Some campaigns, particularly those dealing with high-level fantasy or superhero games, can be much stronger, up to 500 points, 1,000 points, or even more.

This is Dr. Edwin Ezekiel, a scientist in the 1950s.

Name: Dr. Edwin Ezekiel
Total Points: 150 Points
Appearance: White male; Age 26; 5’10”, 155 lbs.; short blond hair; brown eyes; wears slightly out-of-fashion eyeglasses; usually wears comfortable, casual clothing, with the addition of a white lab coat when working in a laboratory.

Statistics:
ST: 11 [10]
DX: 12 [20]
IQ: 14 [45]
HT: 11 [10]
Speed: 5.75
Move: 5
Dodge: 6

Advantages:
Combat Reflexes [15] (Fright Check: 16)
Comfortable Wealth [10] (Starting Wealth: $2,000)
Intuition [15]
Mathematical Ability [10]

Disadvantages:
Bad Sight (Correctable) [-10]
Curious [-5] (Roll: IQ)
Honesty [-10]
Shyness [-5]

Quirks: Always polite to women; Collects old pulp mystery magazines; Dislikes wearing suits; Never eats sweets; Travels to Chicago every year to visit jazz clubs. [-5]

Skills: Accounting-17* [1]; Biochemistry/TL7-13 [4]; Chemistry/TL7-15 [6]; Chess-15 [2]; Climbing-11 [1]; Detect Lies-12 [1]; Driving/TL7 (Automobile)-11 [1]; Electronics/TL7 (Computers)-15* [2]; Engineer/TL7-15* [2]; First Aid/TL7-14 [1]; Guns/TL7-14 [1]; Judo-11 [2] (Parry: 8); Mathematics-17* [4]; Musical Instrument (Saxophone)-12 [1]; Physics/TL7-14 [4]; Psychology-12 [1]; Research-15 [4]; Science!/TL7-12 [2]; Stealth-11 [1]; Teaching-15 [4].
*Cost modifiers: Mathematical Ability

Languages: Arabic-12 [½]; Chinese (Mandarin)-12 [½]; English (native)-14 [0]; German-14 [2]; Greek-13 [1]; Russian-13 [1].

Biography: Edwin was born and spent most of his youth in Los Angeles. His natural curiosity and about the world and keen intellect got him interested in the sciences, though he also developed a passion for jazz music. He served briefly in the Army, and picked up a few degrees in the sciences afterwards. Since then, he’s been keeping busy solving Big Science Problems and getting into Big Science Trouble…

Design Notes: Dr. Ezekiel is playable as either a scientist or a college professor, in either the present-day or the 1950s, though he may be adapted to other settings and genres with little effort.

He’s also a 150-point character. That’s a bit more than the usual for a GURPS character — I decided I wanted him to be a bit more capable — and a bit more cinematic — than a normal character, especially since, if you’re playing a GURPS Atomic Horror campaign, he’ll be dealing with Big Science Trouble pretty much all the time.

Still no superheroes? Honestly, the problem I’ve got when it comes to posting any of my superhero characters on the blog is that I like to have some sort of illustration at the top of all my posts, and while I’m okay with having a generic cowboy or generic scientist for some characters, I’d rather have some sort of unique picture for super-characters. We’ll see if I can devise a way to make that work, though…

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Damn Everything But the Circus

Hey, y’all know I’m always up to screaming about Nazis and how much we really ought to be shooting the hell out of all of ’em, right? But listen, I’m tired. This week has been a lot, and I’m tired. So instead, let’s do a review. Let’s look at The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen.

Jane Yolen’s long writing career has seen her creating classic works of fantasy, science fiction, children’s fiction, poetry, and more. Here she combines many of these interests and styles into a new collection of tales taking inspiration from the well-loved stories we read as kids, then spins them off in new, exciting directions.

Some of Yolen’s stories in this book include:

  • Andersen’s Witch – A boy from an impoverished family makes a deal to improve his future and the world around him — but what happens when it’s time to pay the witch?
  • Lost Girls – A girl is kidnapped from her world and forced to toil as a kitchen slave for an immortal swashbucking brat. Can she lead her fellow servants to freedom through the power of a union?
  • Blown Away – A girl is whisked away to new adventures during a tornado — but what happens to the family she’s left behind, and how will they react when she returns?
  • The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown – The strange and magical friendship between Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli is explored.
  • The Confession of Brother Blaise – A dying monk reveals the genesis of an Arthurian legend.
  • Rabbit Hole – An elderly Alice plans one final trip to Wonderland.
  • Sister Emily’s Lightship – An isolated poet discovers truth and art from beyond the stars.

On top of that, there’s a lengthy and glorious appendix on “Story Notes and Poems,” which includes some extra details about how each tale was created and a poem to go with each story. Extra value!

Verdict: Thumbs up. There are very few perfect anthologies, even by master writers, but this book seems notable by how few outright clunkers there are. And the less-great stories are certainly drowned out by the colossal volume of amazing ones, including the wonderfully funny (and character-stuffed) “Lost Girls,” the lyrical “Sister Emily’s Lightship,” the sumptuous “Evian Steel,” and the heart-stoppingly glorious “Blown Away.”

If you enjoy clever, humorous, and often beautiful stories, this one’s for you. Go pick it up.

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Blood of Dracula!

Dang, it is long past time for me to do some more reviews. Let’s take a look at one of the few comics I was able to buy last year: Dracula, Motherf**ker! by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson.

We start out with a quick three-page preview from 1889 Vienna as Dracula’s brides turn on him, stake him into a coffin, and bury him.

And then we jump forward to 1974 Los Angeles, as a Hollywood starlet worrying about aging decides she may as well let the Lord of Darkness roam free.

After that, we meet Quincy Harker, an African-American photographer working to take pictures of gruesome murder scenes for the tabloids. And when he realizes somethings weird about some of the photos he’s taken, he ends up on the radar of Dracula and his new brides. And his only hope for survival is… Dracula’s old brides?

Does one schmuck with a camera have a hope in hell when matched up against the most powerful vampires on Earth?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, I didn’t put a lot of plot description up there. It’s not a long book — only about 70 pages long — and the plot is pretty straightforward. It don’t need a complex, convoluted plot to deserve a thumbs-up.

This one started out not being a big favorite — Quincy mostly served as a helpless nobody who had stuff happen to him, or who got helplessly dragged along by others. But that was because I was assuming he was the protagonist, expecting him to be Jim Kelly in “Black Belt Jones.”

But Quincy Harker isn’t the protagonist. The brides are. Quincy is there as a witness, and he has his part to play in the story as our viewpoint character. But Dracula and the brides are the ones who move the story.

And jeezum wow, can we do some screamin’ about the art on this book? So many of us are most familiar with Erica Henderson through her work on the very friendly “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” and this looks like she stored up every dark, bloody thought she’s had for the past decade just so she could unleash it on the page here.

It’s amazing, lush, absolutely glorious. The nighttime scenes of ’70s L.A. are lusciously decadent, the costume design is beautiful, and the design of Dracula himself is like nothing you’ve ever seen before in any medium. Ain’t very much human form for this guy — just eyes, mouths, and a couple of skinny, elongated arms. His design is the type of thing you’ll probably see in a movie someday, from a design studio that’ll probably have to pay Erica Henderson a decent chunk of change.

My lone quibble about this is the title. Dammit, I just want us to be able to say “Motherfucker” in the title of a book or comic and not have to resort to asterisks.

Anyway, this is a great book, and you should definitely go pick it up.

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