Friday, April 30, 2010

Kung Fu Fridays in May

New month, new poster, this time featuring Japanese movie icon Toshiro Mifune, Kurasawa's muse. I think I've prepared a pretty cool line-up of top Asian cinema stars for anyone who comes to my apartment Fridays this month...

Yojimbo - We really enjoyed Kurosawa's Sanjuro, but hadn't yet seen Mifune's jaded ronin character in this much darker tale. I rarely go to Japan on Kung Fu Fridays (I'm a big Hong Kong man, myself), but I'm always ready to make an exception for Kurosawa.

The Killer - A John Woo classic recently re-released by Dragon Dynasty. No one does Heroic Bloodshed better, and it's been well over a year since our last John Woo/Chow Yun Fat collaboration.

An Empress and the Warriors - I'm a sucker for Donnie Yen, even if he doesn't have the main role. Almost put this one in "Ladies' Month", but here it is as our featured historical epic of the month.

Fist of Fury/Fist of Legend - We close out the month with a double feature. Bruce Lee or Jet Li? Register to vote now!

Batman and the Outsiders #5: Pages 17-18

New York City has been mind controlled into becoming the collective minion of Psimon. What is he going to do with 8 million 1940s clichés?New York: The City that never ages (it's not just the heroes, it's everyone). And now, the narrating genius of Mike Barr:
So which ones are bad and which ones are good? Terra's not pictured, so maybe Barr means "bad" in the other sense. Geo-Force and Halo ARE pictured. A few more things of interest:
1) Confirmed! Batman is being "carried" by Halo.
2) Batman acts like he's the one flying, and she's the one being towed. It's all about image.
3) Robin is being carried by his girlfriend. Image FAIL!

Speaking of failing... Changeling. First, I would question whether it's a good idea to transform into a non-flying form so far from the Empire State Building, but I can't ever tell who is where in relation to what in Aparo's crazy perspectives. No, instead, I'll give him a fail for making a reference to a 1930s movie star to Halo of all people.
Has he not been around her long enough to hear "What is food?" or what? Even his own knowledge of 1930s movies is dubious. In 1983, should he have been referring to Jessica Lange? But that's me forgetting that the DC Universe is stuck in the 1940s again.

And now... a reference to underage drinking:
Bad, bad Changeling. Don't lend him your driver's license, you'll get it back gunked up with green marker. Speaking of identity theft, look how makes like Batman and orders the troops around...
...while Geo-Force makes use of his cotton candy powers and editor Len Wein gets so bored, he forgets to delete the "delete" comment in the margin. Delightful recursive irony!

Oh no! Regular people!
The threats, they keep coming! But they can keep 'til Sunday...

Star Trek 1239: The Boy, The Warrior, and The Veteran

1239. The Boy, The Warrior, and The Veteran

PUBLICATION: Star Trek Unlimited #8, Marvel Comics, March 1998

CREATORS: Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton (writers); Steve Pugh / Ron Randall and Randy Elliot / Tom Morgan and Scott Hanna (artists)

STARDATE: Various (before Sons and Daughters / between The Begotten and For the Uniform / after the TOS part of Generations)

PLOT: In The Boy, Alexander makes friends with Futterman, a nerd from school who consistently pokes fun at him to make himself look cool. Alexander teaches him the Klingon ways and the next time he is bullied, he breaks a few bones. In The Warrior, Worf fights for the life of the late B'Etor's baby against a clan intent on capturing it and making the Duras' holdings their own. He defeats them and gives the child back to the Duras' servants, hoping it will help end the feud between his family and theirs. In The Veteran, Kang and Sulu join forces to follow rumors of Kirk's posthumous presence on the planet where the captain was once pitted against the Gorn. All they find are holograms of Kirk and an automated weapons system set up by the Gorn to give a warrior's death to S'alath, suffering of a wasting disease. The old Gorn captain is killed in a skirmish with Kang and Sulu.

CONTINUITY: All either occur on the Klingon Day of Honor or make use of its "befriend an enemy" concept (Day of Honor). The Boy features Alexander. Futterman is allergic to retinox (a derivative of retinax? The Wrath of Khan). Amusingly, Alexander and Futterman make the Klingon death yell (Heart of Glory). B'Etor's baby had yet to be born in Firstborn. Kang last crossed paths with Sulu in Flashback. Kang cannot believe the reports of Kirk's death in Generations. Kirk fought the Gorn S'alath in Arena. Morgan draws the familiar rock formation seen in that episode (and many others).

DIVERGENCES: Retinox may be misspelled retinax. Bat'leth is definitely misspelled batleth. Again, the Day of Honor's traditions do not really match the ones from the Voyager episode.

PANEL OF THE DAY - No, Alexander. The line is "He TASKS me."
REVIEW: There's a nice theme unifying these three short stories, and I have to admit that the idea of joining forces with an enemy on the Day of Honor is a lot more compelling than Voyager's more reflective activities. The Alexander story is a piece of fluff, but as opening acts go, it's fun. Where else am I going to see Steve Pugh draw Star Trek? The second story is one big excuse to see Worf tear it up against a whole squad of Klingons, which is as worthy a subject as any. Very dynamic and a nice coda to the larger Duras storyline. The Sulu/Kang story ends a lot of exposition, but it was good to see both these characters working together at the end of their respective (TOS) careers. Gorn are always cool and Morgan and Hanna draw a good one.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vote Dalek!

Or don't. (You-Tube already removed by user.)

You'd have thought Terry Nation's dustbins would have been a much stronger symbol for the UK Green Party... I guess nobody likes the new color scheme.

The news story here.

Batman and the Outsiders #5: Pages 14-16

Meanwhile, on the top floor of the Empire State Building...Which is apparently where they have the big fuse box for the city.
The Fearsome Five are engaging in some of the least necessary crimes of their careers. They've obviously been fighting over who gets to knock out the two bored guards. Seems like a waste of their talents. Maybe they don't need to be Five. Even at Four, there's little for each to do.
See? Mammoth rips a door off its hinges, after which Shimmer unnecessarily evaporates the other. As if access wasn't already assured! And it gets worse:
Really, Psimon is already in there. So why are there Five of them again? Besides alliteration, I mean. I think Psimon just wants an audience. He's a frickin' exhibitionist if we go by his head gear. So here we are, Psimon, your audience, reminding you that you're making the same mistake over and over again. Dr. Light's no more dead than the Outsiders or Titans. CHECK FOR A BODY! I can't stress that too many times.
How long do you think he's been waiting to plug that line?

Meanwhile (again), at Titans Tower, Cyborg is questioning Batman's line of reasoning. Cuz you know, he trusts Dr. Jace, who he just met, a lot more. Good instincts (cough-Manhunter-cough, cough).
What you DON'T see because of the long shot is Dr. Jace feeling up Cyborg's, uhm, crank shaft. Consequently, he's real happy to see Starfire.
So apparently she was hit with a "weakening beam" from Dr. Light. Yeah, totally one of light's properties. Two things I just noticed about Cyborg in the next two panels: 1) He wears garters. 2) He's the one who pays the electric bill and he's a cheap bastard.
Now let's just shine more light at Starfire. Who KNOWS what effect it could have! Photons be free!
Granted, I'm no Batman (or even a Dr. KILL ALL HUMANS Jace), so I can't quite jump to the same conclusions they do. I'm like Cyborg that way. Psimon has been using mud monsters as minions, but why do they fear the teams could be mind-controlled the same way? Apples and mud pies. It was Dr. Light who somehow bent Halo to his will, and light could counter light (in some kooky komik booc logik), but how does it have anything to do with Psimon's plans? If I were going up against the Fearsome Five, I'd "irradiate" myself against Shimmer powers instead. Just sayin'.

Someone who's NOT saying is Dr. Light.
"...or I'll look at you even more sternly."
BATMAN FAIL! The most intimidating thing in the room should always be Batman. You shouldn't need to invoke the Fearsome Five to intimidate a perp. Not when you, the Batman, are right there in the room looking at that perp very sternly with your fists on your hips. And will someone please put out that fire raging in New York City?
Psimon's new historical novel: "The Switch: Pulling on it since 1930."
Please finish that sentence, or use one of mine:
" use a giant centrifuge machine to capture the JLA." (You mean they never did this even once in the Silver Age?)
"...make a milkshake on top of the Empire State Building?"
"...turn the Daleks into Cthulhu's kid brother?"

Actually, the answer is:
So NYC has never before been taken over by supervillains? This sure ain't the Marvel Universe!

Next: Psimon channels the irate grumpiness of every single human being in New York!

Star Trek 1238: An Infinite Jest

1238. An Infinite Jest

PUBLICATION: Star Trek Unlimited #7, Marvel Comics, January 1998

CREATORS: Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton (writers), Ron Randall, Tom Morgan, Art Nichols, and Scott Hanna (artists)

STARDATE: 49827.5 (follows issue #5)

PLOT: Q and Trelaine want to play a game of "who's captain is better?" and switch Kirk and Picard's place in space and time and throw some cross-time Klingon threats at them. Their crews see nothing amiss, but the captains do confide in each other's telepaths/empaths. The omnipotent tricksters accuse the heroes of cheating because Picard uses boldness and Kirk uses diplomacy, as per the era they are in. Q and Trelaine reset everything and decide to fight it out mano a mano instead.

CONTINUITY: The Enterprise-E (First Contact) is launched. Both Trelaine (The Squire of Gothos) and Q (Encounter at Farpoint through All Good Things...) both appear, as do Gowron and TOS Kang (Day of the Dove). Worf is on loan from DS9 again. Spock verifies the mindmeld he will one day have with Picard (Unification).

DIVERGENCES: The events surrounding the launch of the Enterprise-E may contradict the novel Ship of the Line. The link between Trelaine and Q revealed in Q-Squared isn't acknowledged.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Unflattering?
REVIEW: Before the Telepathy War, Star Trek Unlimited produced a TOS and a TNG story. In this issue, Abnett and Edginton merge the two crews into a fun romp that I wish could have gone on longer. It's great to see the crews react to the other captain's style, Kirk putting the moves on Troi, and Picard calling on the intimate link he shared with Spock. Great expressions throughout from each "side"'s artists as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cat of the Geek #59: Mr. Bigglesworth

Name: Mr. Bigglesworth
Stomping Grounds: Austin Powers movies
Side: Evil
Breed: Sphinx, though started out life as a Persian. Cryogenic freeze will do that to a kitty.
Cat Powers: Gets upset when people make Dr. Evil angry. And when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset... PEOPLE DIE!
Skills: Eat 3, Sleep 7, Mischief 6, Wit 2, Simmering hate 8
Cat Weaknesses: "Like holding somebody's ass."

Star Trek 1237: Between Love and Hate

1237. Between Love and Hate

PUBLICATION: Starfleet Academy #19, Marvel Comics, June 1998

CREATORS: Chris Cooper (writer), Chris Renaud and Andy Lanning (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Pava fights her former lover Kovold and the distorted monster that First Cadre leader Murg has become. Every time she's about to avenge Kamilah's death, however, the locket with Kamilah's holographic picture gets in the way of the blade. Pava accepts this as a sign, and Kovold comes to his senses long enough to warn her about a Viator artifact that has turned them into monsters and heralds the Viators' return. She is beamed off the ship just before Kovold destroys it, and First Cadre swears revenge. And so goes the story telepathically told to a young cadet named after Kamilah by her uncle, Captain Edam Astrun, some time in the future.

CONTINUITY: See previous issue (First Cadre).

DIVERGENCES: The uniforms, especially the Starfleet combadge hasn't changed in the future (not necessarily a problem, except the convention has been to do so when presenting alternate futures).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Wonderland wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
REVIEW: Marvel lets go of the Star Trek license and I fear this series was its greatest casualty. While the issue itself resolved the story of Kovold, it also sows the seeds for a Viator invasion (whoever they might be), and leaves many unanswered questions - was the mean old Academy Commandant a shapeshifter or just a jerk? Will First Cadre make good on their blood oath? Did Yoshi and Halakith learn to live with the differences? And how was graduation day? Cooper at least gives us an epilogue in which he pays off the cadets' promise. Edam has made captain and a new generation is about to embark on the journey. Bittersweet to say the least. The main story is pretty much one big fight, lots of angst and a couple of coincidences that might make the reader grit his or her teeth - all in all not Cooper's strongest issue - but still has fun moments, such as the Cadre using the metal jaw's trauma to distract the telepathic Edam. A very fun series, and I wish these characters' adventures had continued somewhere else.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gaming with Tiny or Low-Level Parties

Sarah Darkmagic's recent article on GMing a two-man party may have been useful on the technical side of things if you're playing D&D 4e, but also expressed why I don't have any interest in that particular game. To me, the key to playing with small parties (or solo adventurers) and/or low-powered characters isn't to be found in the numbers. In fact, quite the opposite. It's about looking at where the numbers don't matter. The characters are few, their complement of abilities is limited and their power level, hit points, etc. are dismal. Why would I treat them in the same way I would Grant Morrison's JLA? To compare two "parties" working in the same universe, Sarah Jane Smith's kids don't go up against the same threats as Torchwood, do they?
So the first lesson is to tailor the adventures to those characters. And the best way of doing that is to place the focus on where the numbers really don't matter.

Social Interaction
Interaction is one place where your hit points, number of spells or sword skills don't necessarily matter, so having long interaction scenes helps. Characters can get involved in epic politics, and still be 1st level schmoes. "Fights" or other adventuring activities will be at once fewer and faster for small parties, leaving plenty of room for talking. Yes, I know, revolutionary talk. TALKING. I'll even let (nay, encourage) the few characters talk amongst themselves so that they build up their own relationships. This makes the game more immersive and satisfying, regardless of how many Orcs you kill. It's also why I like to pump the setting up with strong recurring NPCs, and why I have problems with picaresque adventure structures. If the characters are always on the move, how can they build relationships with NPCs? Strong NPC presences give the PCs a reason to talk. They'll visit the same old contacts, love to hate rival adventurers who poke at them, and want to defeat that villain you've been building up for many sessions. Mentors, family members, familiar merchants... If the players have interesting characters to talk to (and who can act as doorways to mystery and adventure), they can get involved in the world, set their own goals, and feel that their story is moving forward, even if their hit points aren't going down.

The One Opponent
I also like to take the focus away from group encounters and attrition strategies and instead build up a single opponent (or equal number of opponents). Not so much monsters then, but the one rival/enemy that the PC wants to stop, defeat or annoy. He or she can be of equal power, or could remain unattainable until the right moment, driving the PCs to better themselves. A small or weak party will have trouble with large and repeated encounters, so instead emphasize problem solving until the time comes for a climactic fight. They can follow clues, defeat the villain's traps, perhaps have a small fight along the way (do whatever you need to keep your players interested according to their styles of play, of course), until they are ready for a final confrontation. Even when dealing with monsters, necessarily weak because of one's level, a single monster or monster species will be more effective than a dungeon zoo.
For example, giant rats are probably not your idea of a fearsome monster, but fighting tons of them will eventually kill off the 1st-level PCs. If the adventure is seen as one big puzzle, you can avoid that. Say they find a stash of cheese and use to drive the rats away from the castle keep. Or think up a scheme using rat poison and the water supply. Sure, they could do that even if the adventure also contained gelatinous cubes, goblins and rust monsters, but without the focus on the one monster type, would it ever occur to the players? A single enemy makes the story about THOSE MONSTERS, giving them a cachet they wouldn't have as part of a bestiary. Demi-humans, like Orcs and Goblins, can be reasoned with, conned, etc., so interaction once again becomes an alternative to fighting to the last man. Low power should be the mother of cleverness.

Tighter Focus
Whether your game depends on a balanced mix of classes or not, characters will have a certain range of abilities which excludes others. In a smaller team, you may not have access to healing, long-range blasting, stealth or even combat. Embrace that. Tailoring adventures to the small skill set not only makes sense but makes the players feel their characters are valuable. Thieves get involved in heists, warriors in battles, priests in exorcisms, and so on. Even in a Supers game, where power levels tend to be higher, Nightwing solves crimes on the street level, while Superman fights would-be world conquerors and Dr. Fate is expected to repel supernatural threats. A tighter skill focus can also be used to justify multiple characters evolving in the same class. Two warriors who are part of an army unit will share adventures. Two thieves working for the same guild infiltrate a rich merchant's home. Even when there are two classes represented, have the thief get help from his warrior mercenary friend, or the wizard be called in to investigate magical goings on at his cleric friend's temple. Again, why would you fill an adventure with traps if no one can disarm them? Or with battle encounters if there is no fighter on hand?

In short, small or weak parties aren't an obstacle, they're an opportunity to tell a different story.

Batman and the Outsiders #5: Pages 13

Now, if Dr. Light's left-hander made Starfire crash, his right-hander has a completely different effect on Halo. Suggestive effect...Of course - and not that I can be bothered to check out Dr. Light's actual powers - I have a theory about this moment. It's not that Dr. Light has hypnotic power (or else imagine what he would do with it), but that Halo is so immensely stupid that his suggestion just placed itself inside her empty head and became her own idea. In fact, no one is more surprised than Dr. Light himself!
Oooh, should have watched out for that curveball!

Raven has been smitten with Halo since she saw the girl's room and wondered what it would be like if Trigon has put the Barbie Camper she so wanted under the Christmas tree, so it's no wonder she's the first to want to save her.
Why don't I have a single other memory of her astral projection acting like that? It's never been more gooey.
The new mystery about Halo is that she can turn on you like THAT! Still want her in the team? Ok, suit yourself. The other mysteries, if you're keeping score, are that she is dumb as a post and that she has unreliable powers. Batman sure knows how to pick 'em. 12-year-olds and THIS.

Good thing the Outsiders also have Black Lightning, takin' care of bidness.
And apparently, Dr. Light smells too. BL really is the go-to guy.

How many teams do you need to take down a B-list villain? Two. This IS page 13.

Star Trek 1236: mangHom qaD!

1236. mangHom qaD!

PUBLICATION: Starfleet Academy #18, Marvel Comics, May 1998

CREATORS: Chris Cooper (writer), Chris Renaud and Andy Lanning (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The Klingon equivalent of Omega Squadron, First Cadre, decides to hunt for the Sword of Kahless which they heard had been found in space by Jem'Hadar who then crashed on a planet in Federation space. They fly there only to find it to be a trap set by Omega Squadron in retalliation for Goldstein's death. The Starfleet cadets are winning when the last remaining members of First Cadre, including Pava' ex-boyfriend, arrive from another mission. She beams aboard and finds them turning into monsters somehow...

CONTINUITY: First Cadre first appeared in issue #5. The Sword of Kahless was found and re-lost by Worf and Kor in The Sword of Kahless. There is a Klingon variant of this issue, completely authentic thanks to the Klingon Language Institute (the title means "Cadet Challenge!").


PANEL OF THE DAY - Bonus advertisement
REVIEW: The Klingon language issue is just a bit of fun, but it's doubtful readers will have picked up that one without also getting the English edition. And that one's pretty good, continuing the series tradition of fun action and completely natural continuity plug-ins. Omega's ploy using a rumor concerning the Sword of Kahless is a great twist, just when you're enjoying First Cadre on their own. Their new member, Warg, has metal jaws and a googly eye, and is a really fun addition. Designed to be a sort of Jonah Hex figure? As usual, Cooper plays his heroes as smart and gutsy, though still capable of mistakes. Pava's in for a weird fight, with her ex turning into some kind of inside-out creature as we head for the last issue of the series (snif).

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Four Folded Faces of Kid-Flash

When I was a little kid, I found this "foldee" that belonged to my babysitter's brother. Almost 35 years later, the memory hasn't gone away, even if I'm older and said babysitter has had the chance to marry and then divorce my dad. And now the Internet has hurled it back up at me.I wouldn't even KNOW who Kid-Flash was for another 10 years. But I did love that Kid-Flash pooch with his tongue hanging out!
Vote for your favorite!

Batman and the Outsiders #5: Pages 11-12

Robin just saved everyone a trip to New York to listen to the police band, but accessing it from his utility belt. And what thanks does he get?None. Today, Batman is known as a master strategist, and here we find out why. Because those who can't fly carrying those that can't would be the WRONG thing to do. And even then, Robin rebels. He's not gonna have his ass carried by his girlfriend. He will, however, swing on on a line off her charm bracelet.
And Robin, I think Batman's image is already spoiled by his being carried in the arms of Halo or Geo-Force.

Meanwhile, in Central Park... The villains of the piece are fighting amongst themselves. Instead of waiting to pick off the loser, Metamorpho picks a side.
Soft spot for the underdog, eh? That's the Outsiders for you. Psimon is mighty surprised!
Psimon - Did you check for bodies? No. Did you mentally scan for brainwaves? No. Did you read comics as a kid? No. And now you're gonna get a headful of sonic.
How does that work exactly? Psimon isn't really there. It's just a mental projection. Does it have "sensitive ears"? Not that it disables him for long...
Cyborg, my friend, you can only use that word if he actually murdered Dr. Light. Could we be that lucky?
No. Not dead. But he did get stared at pretty sternly by Batman and co. That's gotta be hard on the ego. Only one thing to do...
Back into the frying pan? Ok, your funeral (again, we're not that lucky - that time he died in the Suicide Squad didn't stick either). That diversion is two-fold. Step 1: Make Starfire break her neck. Step 2: That would be telling...