Archive for Dungeons & Dragons

Dark Dungeons


Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds by Joseph P. Laycock

Long, long ago, back in the ancient junior-high days, I played Dungeons & Dragons. This was back in the old boxed set era — what I still think of as the glory days of D&D — and I’ll freely admit it was a weird game. Most game sessions involved exploring underground dungeons populated by nothing by seemingly random collections of monsters living in squalor but surrounded by treasure. Wizards weren’t allowed to wear armor or carry weapons more significant than a dagger, and their spells disappeared from their minds as soon as they were cast — unless they’d memorized the same spell more than once. And there was some sort of armadillo that had somehow evolved the ability to cause metal to rust.

But the weirdest thing of all was how many people believed that playing a game of pretend could cause you to worship the devil.

I was lucky, because while my parents surely thought D&D was weird, they never believed it was evil, and they never told me I wasn’t allowed to play. But there were lots of people who bought into that ridiculous story. But why did people believe it? Why did people push it? What were they getting out of pushing something so utterly deranged?

That’s what this book is about — why was there a huge moral panic about D&D (and roleplaying games in general), why were people so eager to believe that bookish teenagers were devil worshipers, who were the people helping to fan the flames, and what benefits did they gain from inventing conspiracy theories that made no rational sense?

Laycock’s book is exhaustively detailed, detailing the history of the game and the panic from the beginning, setting down the names of a vast number of conspiracy theorists, and analyzing not just the motives of the theorists, but the many ways they were actually very similar to the teenagers they were targeting.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Let’s start out with this, though — this isn’t an easy, two-nights-to-finish pop-psych skimmer. This is a pretty serious academic work. There are hefty chunks of the book devoted to professorial discussions of play, religion, and the imagination. Those may sound easy and fun, but when you’re analyzing the research into these academic areas, they can be a bit of a slog to get through. There are pages of this book you may have to force yourself to get through, particularly if you’re not well-versed in these academic areas.

This may sound like a bad thing, but it ain’t really. You learn stuff going through these sections, and learning this stuff helps you appreciate Laycock’s analysis later in the book. This is the nature of academic works, and it don’t make it bad just ’cause it ain’t easy.

What are some of the things we learn in Laycock’s analysis? One of the key discussions is about play and imagination — particularly when it’s healthy and when it’s unhealthy, and what happens when people can’t tell the difference between their imaginations and reality. I don’t think it’ll come as a great surprise to anyone who’s followed this phenomenon before, but there are some serious similarities between D&D players and the conspiracy theorists who persecuted them. D&D players played at being brave heroes battling against monstrous horrors to save the innocent. And the conspiracy theorists like Patricia Pulling, William Dear, and Jack Chick also played at being brave heroes battling against monstrous horrors to save the innocent. Now which ones do you think knew they were playing a game, and which ones do you think had mistaken their game for reality?

Even then, there are some items in here that still surprised me. I never really imagined there were people who were actually opposed to anyone using their imagination — because imagining things means thinking of things that God didn’t create. And this distrust of the imagination actually extends back centuries — some Greek philosophers didn’t trust fiction or the arts at all, and even Thomas Jefferson hated novels because he thought books should only convey things that were true, not falsities and fictions.

There’s so much more I could go through — because there’s a lot of excellent stuff to learn in this book. If you’re an old-school gamer with a taste for the hobby’s history, if you’ve got an interest in moral panics, if you love learning new things about how humans use and abuse play and religion, you’ll probably really enjoy this book. Go pick it up.

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Critical Hit


Near as I can figure, Sunday was the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons.

The articles I’ve seen about the anniversary focus either on the game’s history or the plans for the upcoming new edition of D&D, usually with a side order of “OMG, look at the nerds!” But this is what we’ve come to expect from the mainstream media when it comes to coverage of anything out of the mainstream, right?

I’m not in the best position to talk much about D&D. I haven’t played a D&D game since junior high, and I haven’t played any sort of roleplaying game since college. I know a few folks at work who play Pathfinder, which was based on D&D 3.5 — but I’ve never been very tempted to join in, because it’s been a long, long time since I had any serious interest in playing a fantasy RPG. Modern day games, horror, superhero, lots of other genres are appealing, but I can’t get very interested in playing a wizard or fighter or cleric.

But at the same time, I’ve also maintained serious interest in D&D, even while not playing it. I’ve got sourcebooks from almost every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, including the much-maligned fourth edition, which I think is mostly pretty good. Why do I keep picking them up when I know I’m probably never going to play them? I suspect it’s nostalgia more than anything else. Rust monsters, displacer beasts, beholders, owlbears, and green slimes — you just never get tired of some things.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about D&D a lot over the past week or so. I’ve seen a lot of articles that mentioned the fiction that influenced Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson — Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Lovecraft, and many others — but I’ve seen fewer that talked about how Dungeons & Dragons has influenced the world.

Gaming is the most obvious segment of the world that’s been changed by D&D. There’s no way the modern hobby game market would exist without Dungeons & Dragons — Gygax and Arneson invented and popularized the concept of the roleplaying game, paving the way for everything from Earthdawn, Runequest, and Pathfinder to Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Champions, GURPS, and Vampire: The Masquerade. And you can extend that influence over almost all modern tabletop games — the popularity of D&D revitalized wargaming, inspired card games like Magic: The Gathering and Munchkin, and can claim at least partial influence over most geek-friendly board games out there.

And we’re not talking just tabletop games either. D&D’s game mechanics are used in one form or another in hundreds of video games. Pretty much every fantasy-themed video game, including World of Warcraft, Everquest, and Skyrim, has to claim D&D as a direct influence. And you just couldn’t have the cacodemon from DOOM without the beholder from D&D.

The game’s influence on general pop culture has been fairly strong, especially in recent years, as the nerd stigma has started to reduce — enough geeks have gone into show business that they can now talk openly about how much they loved the game, and even include it in TV shows, movies, songs, and books. And heck, look at that list of celebs who play D&D — it doesn’t even include Dame Judi Dench, who learned the game from Vin Diesel!

Influence on science, academics, journalism, politics, and most other “real world” topics? Probably incidental — but lots of smart kids learned math, storytelling, acting, and social skills by sitting around a table, rolling dice, and fighting imaginary wererats, mindflayers, and Acererak the Demi-Lich. Won’t be long before we have a president who started out as a paladin.

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Dice Dice, Baby


Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt

It’s a nice time to be a fan of pen-and-paper roleplaying games.

Granted, there aren’t quite as many games out there as I’d prefer. Too many great games are basically out-of-print, sustained only by online PDF sales. I can find more RPGs at the local used bookstore than I can at any other store selling games. There are a lot of my favorite games that I haven’t bought any new material for in years — either they aren’t selling, they aren’t producing anything particularly good, or they’re selling stuff on the down-low. The comic shops I go to sell some games, but not as many as the great game stores of the past used to. They have D&D and Pathfinder and Munchkin and board games — but no GURPS, no Call of Cthulhu, no Mutants and Masterminds, none of the greats. Heck, you gotta go a far piece just to find a store specializing in roleplaying games.

But it’s still a good time to be a gamer, because RPGs are having a minor renaissance, thanks to a combination of gamer nostalgia and more people realizing it’s fun to get together and play games.

So here’s David Ewalt (billed on the cover as a Level 15 cleric) and this cool book he wrote, essentially a bit of pop-sociology, examining the history of Dungeons & Dragons, and the culture of D&D players. Most of this information is not new — many hardcore gamers have known and memorized the history of how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created D&D, but it is very nice to have the story recorded in a nice mass-marketed book designed to appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.

So we start in the ’70s wargaming scene, with Gygax and Arneson both adding interesting elements that moved gaming away from mass combats to a focus on individual characters — something that either freaked the grognards out or completely thrilled them. Gygax and Arneson had conflicting philosophies and styles that nevertheless merged neatly — if only temporarily — to create roleplaying’s greatest success. And for many years, times were very, very good — but good times never last forever, even if D&D might.

Scattered throughout the historical narrative are short profiles of regular gamers — some of them friends of the author, some of them just people he met while researching the book. We also visit a unique LARPing weekend event, watch the initial stages of the development of the new edition of D&D, get a short pilgrimage around the holy sites of the game’s creation, and much more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There is so very much here that I never knew. Not just how Gygax and Arneson created the game, but how it was funded, how it was often not funded, how TSR came about, all the lawsuits that flew all around during the early years, how GenCon slowly grew.

And the whole thing never gets dry or boring or weighted down by historical facts. There’s tons of humor, winking nods to gamers’ obsessions and to the minutiae of D&D’s rules. We get to meet a ton of interesting people, watch them create their characters, play their games, and tell their stories, both in-game and in real life.

It has a few failings. Some of the darker periods of the game’s history, particularly the reign of RPG-hating Lorraine Williams at TSR, are given short shrift. And almost the entire focus of the book is on Dungeons & Dragons. Very few other RPGs are even mentioned. Magic: The Gathering is discussed a little, mostly because Wizards of the Coast ended up buying D&D.

For the most part, that’s okay — it’s a book about Dungeons & Dragons, not about every other RPG out there. But there were some points where other RPGs should’ve been mentioned — when the discussion is about how much people liked D&D version 3.5 and how many disliked version 4, it might be worth mentioning that Pathfinder was basically created as a way for gamers to keep playing 3.5, and that it ended up dethroning D&D as the most popular RPG as a result.

Still, those are mere quibbles. On the whole, it’s an outstanding book, well worth reading for anyone who grew up playing D&D and wishes they could return to the hobby. Go pick it up, read it, pass it along to your friends and family, if you think you can trust ’em to give it back. Hopefully, you’ll be able to expand your gaming group to a few more people.

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Skin of my Tiefling

Dungeons & Dragons #15

As seems to be the standard state of affairs, things are not going well for Adric Fell and his band of adventurers. Adric and Bree the halfling rogue are getting chased by a beholder, Tisha the tiefling warlock has fallen down a chasm and found herself surrounded by hordes of monstrous kruthiks, and Khal the dwarven paladin and Varis the elven ranger are fighting off Danni (Khal’s girlfriend) and her shapeshifting homunculi. No spoilers for how they get out of these predicaments — but the solutions include teaming up with the kruthiks, kissing a dwarf, and opening a portal to a realm of Elemental Evil. All in a day’s work for Fell’s Five!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Nothing but awesomeness all the way through. Tons of wonderful moments — Bree offering to stab Adric to help him run faster, Khal and Varis bantering in the midst of battle, the beholder saying “Pardon?” The sole disappointment I have with this issue was realizing that it’s one of the few series that IDW doesn’t promote. I mean, come on, it’s the best fantasy comic on the shelves, and you don’t wave signs about it? That’s crazy, man.

The Unwritten #34

Tom Taylor is done for — the Cabal has captured him and taken away his magic powers by enlisting a roomful of storytellers to read conflicting stories about him. But Lizzie Hexam and Richie Savoy have been listening in, and as soon as they realize he’s in trouble, they use the magic doorknob to take them to the storytellers, where they sow a ton of chaos and disrupt their ability to block his powers. With his powers back, Tom takes care of the Cabal’s inner circle, then summons the spirit of one of its dead members to interrogate it about what the Cabal is. And he learns the answers to everything can be found in the Cabal’s deepest basement by communing with something called the Sibyl. Will he learn the answers he needs?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story, great action, good dialogue. This all feels like it’s leading up to something big. This series isn’t about to end, is it? It feels like it’s all working up to a conclusion…

Severed #7

Jack Garron has been captured by the salesman, who has engineered his entire journey to this point. He’s killed Jack’s best friend, he’s hidden him from the world, he’s taken one of his arms off, and he plans to eat Jack alive. And then Jack’s adoptive mother shows up on the doorstep, and the salesman decides to take care of her, too. With one arm lopped off, strung up in the basement, does Jack have a chance in hell of stopping an immortal cannibal?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good dialogue, excellent action, some outstanding plot twists. And in the end, perfectly, gloriously bleak horror. If you haven’t read any of this yet, I think you’ll certainly want to pick up the trade paperback when it’s released.

Demon Knights #6

With the army of the Questing Queen and Mordru laying siege to the village of Little Spring, our heroes have their work cut out for them. Exoristos the Amazon takes out some of the enemy’s siege-monsters, the Horsewoman mentally communicates with all the wild horses in the countryside, and Al Jabr’s crossbow-engines slaughter multitudes. But Exoristos is eventually cut down, the Horsewoman gets gravely injured, and the Horde finally breaks through the village’s defenses. Is there any hope to save the village?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yeah, this story is obviously being stretched out to fill a trade paperback, just like all of DC’s other comics, but at least this one feels appropriately epic in scope. Still, they’re going to have to make it worth sticking around for the eight issues it’s apparently going to take to complete this first storyarc.

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Nobody Tosses a Dwarf!

Dungeons & Dragons #14

Khal the dwarven paladin has been accidentally struck down by his girlfriend Danni’s crossbow in the midst of an attack by the monstrously creepy foulspawn. But never fear — once the foulspawn are repelled, it’s revealed that a few crossbow bolts are no match for good dwarven armor. Danni has been stuck down here with a small group of dwarf explorers, thanks to the foulspawn, the kruthiks, and other monsters. Adric Fell and the rest of the adventurers check out the temple and find a clock — a very, very large clock, counting down to some sort of probably awful cosmic event. Further exploration reveals some Escher stairs and a possible way out. Unfortunately, they also discover that most of the dwarves are actually already dead, and Danni’s companions are… something else. And when they reveal to Danni that they know this, Danni goes a leeeetle bit berserk. Could things get worse? Yeah, once the foulspawns’ master finally shows up, things can get worse.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Outstanding stuff — amazing suspense, revelations, and cliffhangers, great dialogue, and a few really hilarious situations. This is really good stuff — I hope more of you are reading this.

Avengers Academy #24

Reptil has been mindswapped with his future self, who’s working against the best interests of the Academy because he’s trying to preserve his version of the future. And he’s willing to help Hybrid, an alien monster who’s part mutant, part Dire Wraith, and all evil. Reptil’s future can only happen if Hybrid kills half the students, and Reptil gets busy sending students and teachers into Hybrid’s room at the Academy. Will White Tiger be able to resist Hybrid’s mental powers, or are all the students doomed?

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’d never heard of Hybrid before, which seems a bit strange ’cause he seems like a really excellent villain. What I really like about this issue is that, even as the main storyline is going on, we still get some character details on White Tiger and even a couple of the background characters.

iZombie #21

Gwen has been captured — if captured is really the right word — by the Dead Presidents, a bunch of monsters who work for the government. Agent Kennedy — a zombie like Gwen — gives Gwen a brain smoothie ’cause it’d been a while since she had gotten to eat any brains. Galatea — half Dr. Frankenstein, half Frankenstein’s monster — conspires with Kovsky, a disembodied brain in a coffee maker, and his zombie servant. Spot finds himself captured by a leopard woman — who is actually Amon’s shapeshifted leopard — and he discovers that they have some really bad plans for him. As the Dead Presidents prepare to move against Galatea, they get an offer of assistance from the normally hostile Fossor Corporation. Can they be trusted?

Verdict: Thumbs up. What did I love the most about this? J. Bone takes over art chores for one issue and produces something that looks like a more cartoonish Darwyn Cooke. It’s an amazing change of pace for this comic, even if it’s just temporary, and it makes me wish Bone got more comics work.

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The Hero Sandwich List of Favorite Comics for 2011

Well, everyone else is doing end-of-year best-of lists, so I reckon I will, too. What’s Newsweek magazine got that I ain’t got, right? I mean, the way magazine readership has been falling, there’s a decent chance that I’ve got more readers now. ZING! Oh, Newsweek, you know I kid ’cause I love.

Anyway, this is not a list of the very best of all comics. I haven’t read all comics. I haven’t even gotten close. This is my list of the comics I read that I enjoyed the most.

Also, I don’t think I could manage to say which of these is the best — so I’d rather just arrange them in alphabetical order.

So here we go: The 16 comics I enjoyed reading the most in 2011.

American Vampire

This series by Scott Snyder is still carrying the torch for serious vampiric horror with great characterization, boundless imagination, and really awesome bloodsuckers.

Atomic Robo

One of the best comics out there — this one packs in action, humor, and mindblowing science into something that is always fun. Fun cameos by the famous and infamous, and an incredibly cool lead character.

Avengers Academy

Thank goodness someone still remembers how to do a good teen comic. You can do teen angst without it turning into a bloodbath. This series combines a great concept with outstanding characterization.

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth

The most audaciously imaginative comic of the year, thanks to its seven-year-old writer. Loved the drama, loved the action, and laughed out loud at the humor.

Batgirl (pre-Reboot)

Stephanie Brown’s tenure as Batgirl was marked by great writing, excellent action, and a very strong sense of humor. Stephanie is still MIA in the new DC, unfortunately.

Batman comics by Scott Snyder

Whether it was on Detective Comics prior to the Reboot or on Batman afterwards, Snyder wrote some of the most engrossing tales of the Dark Knight.

Batman Inc.

Reading Grant Morrison’s Batman has been a treat for years, and it was fun to watch him create the new Batman megacorp.


J.H. Williams III’s writing has been fine, but his art is simply breathtaking. This was absolutely the most beautiful comic book on the stands in 2011.


Daredevil? I’ve never cared for Daredevil in my life. But this one is a blast. Writing and art are incredible. Humor, action, characterization — and again, fun. You can make a pretty good comic if you make it fun, ya know?

Dungeons & Dragons

Did anyone ever expect a D&D comic to be this good? Excellent dialogue, humor, action, drama, suspense — all while doing a pretty good job spotlighting the RPG it’s based on. Best fantasy comic of the year, right here.

Hellboy: The Fury

Mike Mignola has enjoyed another excellent year of comics, and I could’ve put almost any of his B.P.R.D. comics in here, but this one — Hellboy’s last hurrah — was really something special.

Knight and Squire

Paul Cornell’s miniseries focusing on London’s version of Batman and Robin was fun storytelling, along with a quick course in British pop culture. Excellent characters and adventures, and a wonderfully created setting.

Secret Six

Gail Simone’s awesomely epic series of supervillains occasionally doing the right thing had some of the funniest, saddest, most dramatic, most astounding moments in the comics world. Absolutely grand characters, too. Losing this series was one of DC’s biggest mistakes of the Reboot.

Supergirl (pre-Reboot)

After years of being the DC Universe’s version of the useless mallrat in a belly shirt, several creators finally realized they could make the character awesome by treating her more like a real person instead of an MTV stereotype. Yes, DC, character is everything!

Tiny Titans

The best all-ages comic on the market. Still can’t believe they’re going to let something this awesome go.


One of the weirdest comics to come out this year. There was usually at least one really mind-blowingly weird thing in every single issue. Beautiful art, too, along with great writing and dialogue. It was a joy to read.

And one more little category? How ’bout Publisher of the Year? DC and Marvel are out — they’ve spent the past 12 months pandering to the worst in comics, cancelling great series, and randomly insulting their readers. IDW, Dark Horse, Red 5, Image, all the other independents came close, because they’re doing more of what good comics publishers should be doing — gunning for new readers, pushing the artistic and storytelling envelopes, making excellent comics.

But I think the Publisher of the Year is Archie Comics. What? But I don’t read any Archies! But Archie is doing even more than the other independents to push the creative and social envelope. They’ve gotten lots of publicity with their Archie marries Betty/Veronica comics, but they also had a great crossover with the Tiny Titans. And who would have ever imagined that staid, conservative Archie Comics would end up being the most progressive comics publisher — whitebread Archie Andrews has recently dated Valerie Brown, the African-American bass player from Josie and the Pussycats, and Kevin Keller, Archie’s first openly gay character, has become more popular and more prominent in the comics. Archie Comics is outpacing all the other independent publishers and rocketing past the Big Two in terms of how much they’re moving the comics industry forward.

So there we go — 16 grand, fun comics series. And I think I’d still have to declare 2011 one of the worst years for comics we’ve seen in a long time. Almost half my list is made up of comics that were cancelled, will be cancelled in the next few months, or are in continual danger of being cancelled. DC enjoyed a nice sales surge in the first few months of the Reboot, but the numbers on many of their series are already dropping back to more normal levels. And they spent months alienating and angering long-time fans in one public relations disaster after another. Not that Marvel has fared much better — they’ve been cancelling comics hand over fist. The independents have a better track record for producing good comics — but of course, they’ve also had more trouble getting those comics sold.

2011 has been an awful, terrifying, depressing year for comics fans. I’d like to tell you that I think 2012 is going to be better. But I don’t think I’d get my hopes up very high. No one’s learned any lessons from this year’s catastrophes, and I’m not even sure the Big Two are even capable of doing anything other than shooting themselves in the foot.

Let’s just hope the non-comics portions of 2012 will be better for all of us. Y’all stay safe, buckle up, call a cab if you need to.

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The Brawl for it All

Daredevil #6

Daredevil just got beat like a drum and thrown into the ocean by a metahuman enforcer called Bruiser. DD is still able to get himself out of that situation, but he’s got to save his client, Austin and his boss, Mr. Randall, from a consortium of the Marvel Universe’s biggest criminal cartels, including A.I.M., Hydra, the Secret Empire, Agence Byzantine, and Black Spectre. Can Daredevil survive his rematch against Bruiser, get Austin and Mr. Randall to safety, and find a way to let the five biggest superterrorist organizations in the world let him walk out the door unharmed?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Another grand issue, with action and smarts, great writing and great art, all wrapped up in a nice little package. You’re reading this, aren’t you? You should be reading this.

Tiny Titans #46

Robin is going off on a secret mission with Batman, but he’s got a replacement on the way — not good news for Robin’s evil mirror-universe counterpart, Talon, who wants to be allowed to take over in Robin’s stead. Instead, the guy taking over for now is a guy called the Protector — a guy who showed up really briefly as a replacement Robin in a “Teen Titans” anti-drug commercial in 1983! And appropriately, in an issue dedicated to way-out continuity trivia, we get this character:

It’s the weird purple cloaked lady who’s been showing up in all the rebooted DC Comics! Or is it…?

The Protector seems popular with everyone, but Talon isn’t going to let that get in his way as he organizes the Batcave’s bats and penguins to serve him. Will he triumph over Robin’s replacement? And who the heck is that lady in purple?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Spectacularly funny and clever stuff. Not the best issue of this title ever, but it’s close to the top, and it’s a great example of what makes this series so much fun.

Dungeons & Dragons #13

Adric Fell and his frequently-not-very-merry band of adventurers are stuck in the dwarven stronghold where Khal, the group’s paladin, hails from. He suspects something bad has happened to his girlfriend Danni, and they all soon find themselves trapped between the insectoid Kruthik monsters and Khal’s fellow dwarves, who have been ordered by Danni’s mother to kill them! They make a narrow and altogether amazing escape, but find themselves in another underground structure, one filled with hundreds of slaughtered Kruthiks, tiled in bone, dominated by an obviously evil temple, and infested by the deranged and monstrously creepy Foulspawn. Is there any way out of this for Fell’s Five?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Vastly fun. Great atmosphere, wonderful dialogue, great characterization, outstanding action. The group’s desperate flight from the Kruthiks is fantastic, and the slow, ominous buildup inside the foulspawn tunnels is amazingly well-done. John Rogers and Andrea De Vito are putting out the very best fantasy comic book you’re ever gonna read, right here.

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More than One Way to Skin a Bat

Batman #2

After nabbing some art thieves in a tense game of chicken between the Batmobile and a helicopter, Batman assists with the autopsy of the John Doe who’d been found tortured to death last issue. He seems to have some sort of connection to an organization called the Court of Owls, which Batman insists is just a legend. Nightwing reveals how his skin got under the dead man’s fingernails — the man had accosted Dick Grayson a week before with some sort of garbled warning, and the man had scratched him before security guards pulled him away. Later, Bruce meets with Lincoln March, a wealthy politician, and they’re both attacked by a man in an owl suit who stabs both men and kicks Bruce out of Wayne Tower? What chance does Bruce have to survive?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Crazy good writing, crazy good art, and a really fun, complex story. This might not be the best of the new rebooted comics, but it’s definitely in the top three.

Dungeons & Dragons #12

Adric Fell and his band of adventurers help fight off an attack of insect-like kruthiks on a wagon convoy, and dwarven paladin Khal discovers a letter from his girlfriend Danni. But Khal suspects that the letters have been forged, and he leads the group to his old dwarven home in the mountains. Turns out the stead is also under attack from kruthiks — in fact, they’ve got a infestation of the monsters. And most interestingly, Khal’s love poetry has made him a rock star among the dwarves. Unfortunately, Danni’s mother rules the place, and she hates Khal’s guts — the only thing that keeps her from having Khal killed is another attack from the kruthiks. Can everyone avoid getting killed somehow?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good grief, this series is fun. Great writing, dialogue, and plotting. Extremely fun art. Great characters, great action — this comic is just awesome.

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Keep on Truckin’

Secret Avengers #17

Steve Rogers and the Secret Avengers learn about a strange semi truck roaming Serbia and using some mysterious energy to kidnap entire villages for unknown but likely evil purposes. There’s no time to make lots of preparations — so Steve gets Sharon Carter, War Machine, and Valkyrie onto a Quincarrier and rushes them to Eastern Europe to find the strange semi. And what they find is… weird technology in the hands of weird cyber-zombies with bad attitudes. And their truck is resistant to almost everything they do to it. Can the team stop the truck, save the civilians, and track down the bad guys?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good dialogue and outstanding action — and it’s not mindless action, either — this stuff is plotted out carefully, almost choreographed. But I’ve certainly come to expect that from anything Warren Ellis writes.

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #1

A flashback to an earlier episode in amphibious B.P.R.D. agent Abe Sapien’s life. In the mid-1980s, Abe meets up with Peter Van Laer, a man whose grandfather was a noted scholar and expert in demonology. The grandfather went missing decades ago — nothing mysterious, he just ran off with a co-ed and deserted the family. But Van Laer has just learned that his grandfather had another son, so he and Abe travel to Maine to visit the uncle and learn what they can about the grandfather’s studies. Things don’t go well — Uncle Turner chops Peter up with an axe, and Abe shoots him dead. The local sheriff investigates, but gets led off by strange noises, and when Abe goes to help, he gets attacked by lizardy insect-monsters. And there are several horrifying things waiting in the basement of the house.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent action — seems like half the comic is skinny, bookish Abe beating the snot out of monsters — and the other half of the comic is amazingly creepy stuff. This is a nice little horror-pulp comic to start October off with.

Dungeons & Dragons #11

Adric Fell and his band of adventurers have worked their way into an ancient citadel in the Feywild, looking for an artifact called the Guide of Gates. The bad news is there’s a wizard working for the bad guys who Adric actually abandoned in the Feywild years ago. The good news is that the wizard is blind and can only identify them by the sound of their voices. They’re able to disguise and bluff their way out of that problem, and Tisha the tiefling warlock gets the wizard off their trail, but the rest of them still have to find the Guide of Gates and battle a gigantic golem. Will they be able to stop the golem, find the Guide, and smuggle the treasure and themselves out past an army of guards?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very good action, dialogue, intrigue — just an amazingly clever and well-done story.

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21st Century Digital Bat

Batman, Inc. #8

Bruce Wayne is hosting a bunch of business execs inside his newest creation: Internet 3.0, a virtual reality Internet that is super-duper awesome. But they all get attacked by cyber-robot-zombies. Luckily, Oracle, in her digital Batgirl avatar, along with a digital Batman avatar who Bruce Wayne is secretly controlling, show up to save the day. Can the heroes stop the bad guys, unmask the mastermind, and keep Internet 3.0 running properly?

Verdict: Thumbs down. This is really not a very good comic. The computer art by Scott Clark and Dave Beatty is astonishingly bad, and Grant Morrison’s story is about as random and half-assed as I’ve ever seen him do. People get randomly changed into dogs and babies, the backgrounds change constantly and distract terribly from any other characters, and a major story beat involves two of the execs falling in love with each other. I mean, hey, that’s nice, but why should anyone else care? This was lousy work, and it’s too bad that Oracle’s final appearance in the DCU is in this shoulda-been-aborted story.

Dungeons & Dragons #10

Adric Fell’s band of heroes are still trapped in the Feywild, and their only way home is to sneak into a forbidden city teeming with monsters and enemies to steal a book called the Guide of Gates. And their strategy is… to march up to the front gate and have Tisha the tiefling warlock announce that they’re here to steal the book? And lo and behold, it works, or at least it works better than anyone actually expected.

Meanwhile, Bree, the seriously ethics-free halfling rogue, is sneaking around the city causing worlds of havoc and making everyone think they’re being invaded by super-efficient assassins. But will her attempts to keep everyone distracted be enough to save the rest of her friends?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Art, dialogue, plot, and action are all plenty of fun. It’s nice to see Tisha and Bree get a good dose of spotlight time, too.

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