Monday, May 31, 2010

My RPG DNA, Part I: Early Days

Last week, I was reading Rob Donoghue and Chatty DM's recollections of their role-playing experience through the years, and I was inspired to stroll down memory lane (check for traps, ok, it's safe) and do the same in a four-part series (the SBG is like a long-lasting stick of gum, as you know). It all started 25 years ago, longer than some of my current players' ages, so some memories may be corrupted or entirely missing, but I'll give it my best try.

Even before 25 years ago
Like many hobbies that would later become fairly important in my life, I discovered evidence of role-playing's existence long before I ever knew what role-playing was. Living in a small town (population 10,000) in the Dark Ages before the Internet, there weren't many ways to get exposed to the hobby. When I was 11, my dad moved out of Canada, to Texas, and shared custody being what it was, we were whisked off to Montreal to board a plane and spend the summer in the States. Needing something to read on said plane, I picked up a couple of RPG-related books that would prove important to my initiation into that world. The first was Grimtooth's Traps, Too, a systemless book of dungeon traps, and the next summer's was the original AD&D Monster Manual. In neither case did I understand what these books were for, or what this "game" could be (I thought that perhaps it was some kind of computer thing). But since they were pretty much the only books I had for an entire summer, far from my real home's shelves, I read and reread them, and of course I wanted to learn more.

Back in Canada, I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club, and found two books that could perhaps help me. One was Dicing with Dragons, which described what role-playing was, and the other was Fantasy Wargaming, half manual, half stand-alone RPG. By the time I'd read these, I was in 9th grade, and other kids were bringing their D&D stuff to school. I saw a module or two. I heard a couple stories. I was accumulating friends who, though they'd never played, were interested in trying. Of course, in my small town, there was no way to get at D&D product. An older guy gave me my first polyhedral dice, the numbers already worn off, from one of Basic D&D's original boxes. And that's all we had. That, the Monster Manual and Fantasy Wargaming.

Homebrews
Well, Fantasy Wargaming was nigh incomprehensible to my neophyte brain, and it certainly wasn't compatible with the AD&D book. Perhaps I should have cut my losses and tried to get into someone else's group. I knew they existed, usually run by older guys (and I would later attend one, though I was unimpressed with the rules lawyering and DM versus Players atmosphere), but I didn't know any of them really. So I took what I could understand of FW (mostly the character sheet), created some kind of conversion for AD&D (so that the monsters became compatible), drew up lists of spells from the Monster Manual and gave them effects (just based on the names), stole maps from various sword & sorcery novels for setting, sat down at a friend's ping-pong table and went for it.

It was terribly unbalanced, of course. Wizards rolled for spells every level and got a random one. Could be Powerword Kill as much as Detect Magic. Though bigger XP rewards were handed out as time went along, the amount of XP required to level didn't change. Soon, the characters were multi-class epic level demi-gods and everybody was running at least 3 of them. We didn't care. We were having fun, Monty Hauling our way to the top. At least we were the kids that spoke English amongst ourselves already, so by that point, there wasn't a language barrier. Other than French Canadians trying to say the word "algae" and such.

That campaign would take us through all of our high school years. Along the way, I of course returned to Texas, where bookstores could be counted on to carry product. I bought more monster books (Fiend Folio, Deities and Demigods, etc.), but instead of the Player's Handbook and GM's Guide, I grabbed the much cheaper Arcanum. Though we kept some of our homebrew crazyness (the fun, unbalanced stuff), we converted to the Arcanum system, a D&D clone anyway, but with many more character classes. It appealed to our "more is better/cooler" attitudes. And though I would eventually get all of the AD&D books, I never really converted to that system. It just wasn't necessary. Arcanum was just fine to run Temple of Elemental Evil, a dungeon that ate up our last high school year (and beyond).

There's a whole world out there
Thanks to the few Dragon magazines I'd collected in the States, I knew there was more to role-playing than sword & sorcery, and in those latter days, we did try to homebrew systems meant for other games. Our Arcanum/AD&D combination worked just as well for science-fiction, and stats for DC and Marvel characters in Dragon were used as a template to create a superhero game as well. To take the heat off me, someone else from the group became GameMaster, though he tended towards unfair playing fields which ultimately collapsed those games. And perhaps the homemade systems weren't up to snuff, nor did we have proper experience (or even advice) on how to run those games. I remember being peeved at how NPCs died in our superhero game, for example.

But then, something happened to change everything. A hobby shop opened in our area...

In Part II: The Rise of Genre!

Further reading about this era :
How we kicked a guy out of our group WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!
That one time I went to play in someone else's game
Props I made for those games
Grimtooth's Traps recollections
Fantasy Wargaming recollections
Arcanum recollections
Dragon Magazine recollections

Star Trek 1270: Fragile Glass

1270. Fragile Glass

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror #1, Marvel Comics, February 1997

CREATORS: Tom DeFalco (writer), Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (immediately after Mirror, Mirror)

PLOT: When Mirror Kirk returns to his Enterprise, he is immediately arrested by Spock and thrown in the brig. Spock takes command of the ship, forging alliances with Chekov as well as Miranda and her Tantalus field. While Kirk, Sulu and Uhura plot his downfall from the brig, Spock offers the Halkans a compromise, convincing them that the Empire will take their dilithium whether they resist or not, so they might as well just do their pacifist thing and let them. At the same time, a Klingon fleet is detected on long-range sensors. Spock asks Scotty to widen the range of the Tantalus field for when they arrive, which happens just as Kirk and his motley gang break out of jail and attempt to retake the ship. Spock makes all but one Klingon ship disappear and the surviving Klingons fly off to warn the galaxy of this shift in the balance of power. Kirk's gang tehn arrives on the bridge and fisticuffs ensue, resulting in Kirk's death. Spock becomes captain of the Enterprise, bringing a radical new mercy (Starfleet thinks it's ok because it's cheaper) to bear.

CONTINUITY: This occurs right on the heels of Mirror, Mirror, with the Mirror Enterprise still in the Halkan system and Mirror Kirk's party just arriving back to their timeline. Miranda, Mirror Kyle and the Tantalus Field all appear. The story provides impetus for the Klingon/Cardassian alliance seen in Crossover. We meet the Mirror Universe's Admiral Decker (he must have survived The Doomsday Machine).

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Spock steals Kirk's girl.
REVIEW: Another really fun Special that takes everything we learned in Mirror, Mirror and provides a logical extension. Tom DeFalco writes a cracking action story and a young Mark Bagley provides dynamic art for it. Sulu and Uhura are especially nasty, with Kirk coming off as more of a brute, but it's Spock that really shines (as he did in the episode). He's really smart, spinning a lot of plates (the Halkans, Kirk's mutiny and the Klingon attack) and succeeds at everything he does, bringing both logic and passion to the fore. A tight script with real energy, and bridges the gap between Mirror, Mirror and Crossover rather well.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

This Week in Geek (24-30/05/10)

Buys'n'Gifts

This week, I bought Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, just for completism's sake. I'm not expecting major revelations from it. I also got David Tennant's Casanova mini-series. Man, that's going to play havoc with my Amazon suggestions. Fellow gamers Etienne & Julie (the Time Lords) went to Montreal's Chinatown last week, and brought back Ip Man, the Donnie Yen picture about Bruce Lee's master. I was going to buy it for myself at some point, but it's so much better as a gift! Thanks guys!

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: My flipping of Battlestar Galactica proceeds apace, this week with Season 2.5. The second half of the second season takes us from the appearance of the Pegasus to a WTF?!? season finale on New Caprica. The show was pretty fearless, I must say. There a few weaker stand-alone episodes in this set, which is fully acknowledged in the podcast commentaries (which aren't without humor, especially when Ron Moore's wife shows up). Commentaries are featured on each episode, and almost all have deleted scenes. The box is supplemented by some fun video blogs and a showcase for the R&D logos of the first two seasons. And here I was waiting to the very end of the credits for them all this time.


A first for Kung Fridays this week: The double feature. Yep, we watched Fist of Fury and Fist of Legend. So who's better? Bruce Lee or Jet Li? Well, Bruce Lee's version has pacing issues (nothing a good editor couldn't fix), but it stands as Bruce's best film. Nay, his only good film. Basically, his master is killed and he turns into the Punisher (with fists). It's hugely entertaining and intense, and unlike his other movies, doesn't jerk you around on the action. There's plenty. The DVD has an interview with one of his stuntmen, but is otherwise pretty bare (photo gallery, trailers).




Jet Li's Fist of Legend is a much slicker piece, though the 90s are as dated today as the 70s are, in their way. Jet is a much showier fighter, here paired up with action choreographer Yuen Woo Ping, but he doesn't have the same charisma. In fact, he gets one scene stolen from him completely by veteran Japanese actor Yasuaki Kurata (and it's one that makes the film worth watching all by itself). Of course, it's not the same story aside from the set-up, with a much more balanced view of the Japanese, and our hero Chen Zhen a patsy instead of a psycho. Definitely one of Jet's better films, and overall better than Fist of Fury, but I'll give the edge to Bruce for sheer entertainment. The DVD has an excellent commentary track from expert Bey Logan and more than 2 hours of interviews with the director, stars and fans, as well as a martial arts seminar with Kurata, and deleted scenes. Good stuff.

My plunge into Doctor Who last week continued as I flipped a couple more classic stories on DVD. First was Delta and the Bannermen, starring Mel and the 7th Doctor. It's a piece of outright whimsy set in the 1950s, with some fun musical choices (rare for that era of Doctor Who) and a crazy tour bus filled with aliens. Fun and imaginative, though I can't recommend everything about it, especially the bizarre romance between Billy and Delta. The DVD is a "cheapie", which means it lets the commentary tracks (voice and text) tell the story of the making of without an attached documentary. Interviews made for a program at the time are included. There's also a sketch in which Sylvester McCoy is put on trial for his outtakes, and a piece on the 7th Doctor's comic strip (I love this series).


The 3rd Doctor and Jo are in The Curse of Peladon, which I decided to watch because I also wanted to get back into the old New Adventures books, and I'm up to the Peladon sequel, Legacy. Curse of Peladon is one of those stories you sit on the fence for. It's perfectly pleasant without being particularly engaging. It's got neat aliens, but terrible designs. It's got a deep political story, but it's riddled with plot holes. But I suppose the regulars are very good in it and the Ice Warriors put in an appearance. The making of stuff is split between this DVD and The Monster of Peladon (which I suppose I'll watch next), but there are also featurettes on the Ice Warriors and the Pertwee/Manning duo.



RPGs: Just finished playing a session of Doctor Who RPG, and the secret archenemy stands revealed as another surviving Time Lord. Some very nice comedy bits with the guest military, a little action, a little jeopardy, and a few crazy reveals along the way. I expect the season to come to its finale in only a couple of sessions now. And since from here to there is all one continuous "story", I've put a lockdown on Story Points. They won't be regenerating anymore (though I will hand them out for good role-playing, etc.). This is a measure I've taken because of the Story Point bloat we feel has overtaken our game as the group grew. A Time Lord + Companion combo has 20 SPs to burn in any given session. But we have 2 Time Lords and 3 Companions besides. That's 52 SPs, not counting those of gadgets. Expenditure was much more conservative this around, and dare I say, less gratuitous. Let them go crazy with points in small insular stories, but put the pinch on them come "arc" time. And may I say, the Once Upon a Time in China theme does wonders for our Chinese Companion's action scenes.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 39, including cards from The Eleventh Hour and pick-ups from various sources. This completes my Dreams of Gallifrey set, which is about two months late from my originally announced schedule. But I seem to be back with a vengeance, so there is that.

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
Act I Scene 1 - Tennant (2009)

Star Trek 1269: Second Contact

1269. Second Contact

PUBLICATION: Star Trek - X-Men II #1, Marvel Comics, May 1998

CREATORS: Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton (writers), Cary Nord and Scott Koblish (artists)

STARDATE: 50893.5 (immediately after First Contact)

PLOT: As the Enterprise-E attempts to return to its own time after fighting the Borg in First Contact, it is instead sent sideways and into the past to the Marvel Universe. Looking for parts to repair the ship, the crew follows a Shi'ar energy signature to the X-Mansion where the X-Men are holding a reunion. Kang appears to both teams and reveals that time is broken and that two anomalies, one in each world, must be excised. Two combined Starfleet/X-Men teams split off while a third completes repairs on the Enterprise. Wesley and the Traveler appear to the latter and further reveal that Kang is exploiting them all. The anomalies are a way for space-time to fix itself and removing them will allow Kang to control both realities. They fly off to the team fighting Borg at Wolf 359 and warn them not to interfere with John Proudstar, the anomaly (he was the X-Man Thunderbird who sacrificed his life early after joining). Proudstar sacrifices his life again to save Sisko, who would one day become the Emissary of the Prophets, time dwelling entities who apparently keep Kang at bay. Wesley and co. don't warn the team fighting Sentinels in "Days of Future Past" in time however, and their anomaly, a mutant Tasha Yar, is prevented from providing the psychic bridge for the older Kate Pryde to send a message back to the X-Men. Troi provides that bridge and X-Men history is restored. Meanwhile, the Enterprise defeats Kang's timeship. The Starfleet crew initiates a return home and the X-Men beam down, but another anomaly seems to await them...

CONTINUITY: It is very much "one minute after" First Contact, with Data's metal face still uncovered and the Enterprise-E full of Borg bits. The X-Men remember Kirk's crew from Star TreX. One of the crisis points in time is the Battle of Wolf 359 (The Best of Both Worlds). The team lands on the Saratoga where we see Sisko (Emissary). The new-and-improved Sam Lavelle (Lower Decks, Star Trek Unlimited series) is back at the conn of the Enterprise-E. Wesley and the Traveler were last seen in Journey's End. Tasha Yar originally died in Skin of Evil. The story is continued in the novel Planet X.

DIVERGENCES: Obviously, the Marvel Universe doesn't really exist in the Star Trek multiverse (even if it's a parallel world, Picard shouldn't know about the Shi'ar).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Your Sentinels will be assimilated.
REVIEW: When I saw Abnett and Edginton credited on this comic, I started to hope it wouldn't fall into the same pitfalls the first Star Trek/X-Men crossover did. I really shouldn't have worried. Though there are still a lot splash pages, Cary Nord's art minimizes the anatomical gap between the two franchise, and only Colossus seems to tower over the other characters (as it should be). I don't know if these are the X-Men of the day (I'd long quit the title), but I don't think so. The writers have provided a "reunion" to get all the best ones together, and even made it important for some of them (Kitty seeing herself die in the future, for example). Worf and Data seem particularly well suited to rubbing elbows with superheroes, as does the space-time traveling Wesley. Kang makes for a cool time-traveling villain who, despite his clothes, could fit into the Star Trek universe (but the name is taken). The writers make great use of both franchises' continuities (where Star TreX failed), taking us to iconic moments for each. The inclusion of Sisko and his importance to the timeline was much appreciated by this DS9 fan, and Days of Future Past is THE classic X-Men time travel story. Somehow, Picard fighting Sentinels doesn't seem jarring, perhaps because it's so science fiction based. Whoever thought of the thematic link between Thunderbird and Tasha Yar, both killed before their time, should be applauded. The Borg and the Sentinels are also a great match. But you know what's missing, don't you? Professor X and Patrick Stewart in a dual role! As for the cliffhanger ending, it links into a crossover novel by Michael Jan Friedman I had completely forgotten about. One day, I'll have to read it...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What If... Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?

Due to the character's popularity, Wolverine would eventually become an ubiquitous regular character in What If? (volume 2), but this is his first. And it's absolute bollocks. So the trend begins here, eh? Not much of a turning point. Big fight scenes that could have happened in any X-Men comic. An unconvincing ending. Oh, and a complete misunderstanding of what Canada is (always a favorite for me). Those responsible: Rich Margopoulos, Bob Budiansky and Mike Esposito. What does it say when only the inker's name rings any bells?

What If Vol.1 #31 (February 1982)
Based on: Incredible Hulk #181
The true history: Canadian agent Wolverine is sent to stop a fight between the Hulk and Wendigo in Southern Quebec. After Wendigo is defeated, the Hulk and Wolverine knock each other out.
Turning point: What if Wolverine killed the Hulk?
Story type: Slayer
Watcher's mood: DC Universe imp entity
Altered history: In this other reality, Wolverine disobeys his orders to capture the Hulk and deliberately tries to kill him. Being the best at what he does, he successfully manages it. If you wonder what impact that has on the Marvel Universe, this issue won't help you much. This is the extent of what we see:
Everybody's shocked, and that's about it. Betty Grant cries a lot too. No really, we're not interested in the Hulk's people. Wolverine celebrates his big victory by going on a bender near Dept. H's base "on the outskirts of Quebec".
You mean, like, Ontario? THOSE outskirts? Because they can't mean Quebec City's suburbs. For one thing, there wouldn't be a Canadian flag flying, much less a tavern with an English name (or that much wilderness). The obligatory bar fight features one Quebecker at least, Jean-Paul, who doesn't like Wolvie touching his women. The banter is colloquial English, but the attitude is all Quebec. Then again, Wolverine follows that up with the manslaughter of a guy called McKenzie. So this is Cliché Canada, then. I shouldn't worry about it not being anything like the real place. Anyway, that puts Wolverine on the run from the law, and on Magneto's radar. He recruits Logan for his Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants.
He puts a telepathic scrambler on him, and thanks to the Canadian government sweeping the murders under the carpet (always protect your black ops guys), Wolverine goes undercover at the X-Men school. But it's the usual story. He bonds with them, and falls in love with Jean. And eventually, he'll be ready to betray Magneto. The only real difference is that these aren't the All-New, All-Different X-Men. Wolverine has actually joined much earlier (1974, looks like). As Magneto lay dying in a pool of his own blood, he lashes back at the redeemed Wolverine:
And both mutants DIE. Yeah right. Like the next issue wouldn't start with Wolverine getting out of his coffin, all healed up. From what we know of his powers, there is NO WAY he would be rendered dead-dead from sticking his own claws through his throat. I bet Magneto survives too. It's the X-Men, after all.
Books canceled as a result: Incredible Hulk is goners. Marvel's many Wolverine titles are pretty safe, however. I guarantee it!
These things happen: Since the Hulk is still around, I have to conclude that they do not. I don't even believe them HERE.

Next week: What If There Was No Fantastic Four?
My guess: Simple... Mole Man's New York.

Star Trek 1268: Star TreX

1268. Star TreX

PUBLICATION: Star Trek - X-Men #1, Marvel Comics, December 1996

CREATORS: Scott Lobdell (writer), Marc Silvestri and studio (artists)

STARDATE: 4740.5 (after Metamorphosis)

PLOT: The X-Men pursue the Shi'ar Deathbird through a psionic rift and come out at planet Delta Vega, which the USS Enterprise is investigating. Their ship destroyed. the mutants board the Enterprise and are soon discovered. They join forces with the Enterprise crew to defeat the Shi'ar and Proteus, a powerful mutant that has bonded with Gary Mitchell's corpse and plans to rule and destroy both teams' universes. While Spock and Bishop attempt to close the psionic rift, down on the planet, the two sides clash. Eventually, Kirk convinces Gary to give up the ghost, and Spock starts to close the rift, robbing Proteus of his power. The landing party and the X-Men fire on Proteus together and destroy him. Deathbird surrenders and the Shi'ar and X-Men leave through the collapsing rift.

CONTINUITY: The ship has returned to Delta Vega where Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner are buried (Where No Man Has Gone Before). Beast misidentifies the Enterprise as Constellation class.

DIVERGENCES: Obviously, the X-Men, Proteus, the Shi'ar, Gladiator and Imperial Guard belong to an entirely different fictional universe. Spock seems to know what Homo Superior are, but it's then revealed they come from a different universe.

PANEL OF THE DAY - More alike than they are different
REVIEW: Crossing over Star Trek and the X-Men is a pretty crazy idea, and it suffers from everything the X-Men suffered from in the mid-90s. First of all, and this may be a matter of taste, but the line-up is terrible. Gambit (who does nothing by the way), Bishop, Wolverine's bone claws... Marc Silvestri is a good artist, but he has a dozen assistants completing the issue for him, with a corresponding lack of coherence to the art, and even narrative flow problems. The issue is filled with gratuitous splash pages and has too much plot for its own good, with Deathbird and the Imperial Guard showing up and then giving up with no apparent motivation. Oh, and it's called "Star TreX". Yes, there's an interesting notion in that Gary Mitchell was a "mutant", and writer Scott Lobdell adds fun comedic touches throughout, but the two universes just don't mesh very well. It's not so much the Enterprise crew reacting to a superhuman punching the ship. That's the kind of genre friction that's actually fun. The problem is the art, quite frankly. There is no attempt to humanize the superheroes' anatomies to bring them more in line with the human proportions of the Enterprise crew, and so they never seem to occupy the same space. Either the X-Men are parodies of the human form, or the Enterprise crew are terribly out of shape. It looks ridiculous. But of course, the plot is rubbish as well. We're left with a few cute set pieces, like Kirk hitting on Jean Gray or the teams sharing a moment of inspiration, but that's the extent of it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie Marquee Friday: Ghosts and Monsters

The scales are tipped...They translate as...

Ancient wisdoms come to ghetto shores...

On television, sideways worlds we would rather live in...

Stars may be less involved than they appear...

Neon nights, a train flashes by...

To Western eyes, the sound of the great beast...
It came from the wet...

We look to the clouds for the next threat...
While below the atomic fires burn in an inferno of stock footage...

Star Trek 1267: Nemesis

1267. Nemesis

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Early Voyages #17, Marvel Comics, June 1998

CREATORS: Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett (writers), Javier Pulido and Steve Moncuse (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Discovered by the Temazi, Pike, Kaaj and their respecting landing parties fight/run for their lives. The Temazi unleash their alien Thanatos weapons, large killer robots that attack both them and their ships. Up in orbit, the confrontation between the Enterprise and the Klingons takes a nasty turn as Admiral April undermines Number One's authority and tactics. Down below, Kaaj gives his life to destroy pursuing Thanatos machines, dying knowing Pike will be haunted by his death. The landing parties get to a shuttle and fly off the planet, but it may or may not be lost when April orders torpedoes that create a shockwave that hits the Enterprise and knocks out Number One...

CONTINUITY: See previous issue (Robert April, Kaaj).

DIVERGENCES: There is Voyager episode and a feature film that share that title.

PANEL OF THE DAY - The maddening finish
REVIEW: Down on the planet, we have Kaaj's epic death, worthy of a Klingon. Up above, there's human drama as April turns out to be something of a baddie, consistently undermining Number One's tactics. Sita shows herself to be an ambitious ladder climber, following April's lead rather than Number One's. The outer space action is a bit cartoony in places, but it ends in a strong cliffhanger. And despite all its strengths, I don't recommend you read the last two issues of Early Voyagers. See, it ends here, in the middle of that cliffhanger. What will April do with his returned command? Is Number One alright? Is Pike dead? And will he get the girl? What about Grace's troubles below decks? And does Sita get a better job after this? All unknowns. You can really tell here that Marvel's Star Trek line collapsed without warning. There wasn't even time to to turn some pages into a quick epilogue. Extremely frustrating and it stinks of wasted potential. All it needed was one more issue to wrap things off satisfyingly, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

10 and 1 Items About Amy's Choice

(Spoilers about Doctor Who 5x07, Amy's Choice.)Item 1! The Moffat fairy tale continues to beat its drum, as the impish Dream Lord puts our heroes to sleep and puts them to the test. Can they tell which is dream and which is reality? If Series 5 has sometimes felt like the 7th Doctor's whimsical era, here we find something of the black and white days of Hartnell and Troughton when such entities would sometimes pick on the TARDIS crew (in The Celestial Toymaker and The Mind Robber, most famously). I guess the point is that Moffat's take, although updated for the New Millennium, still has its roots firmly in the show's history. Doctor Who as Fairy Tale is not "new". It's always had that facet to it.

Item 2! Of course, there was no Dream Lord, it was ALL a dream. Normally that would be a big no-no, wouldn't it? Except the point of the story isn't the destruction of either threat, or even the choice between realities. It's really about Amy resolving her feelings for Rory. And while the former is "undone" (all a dream), the latter is not and creates a foundation for the stories to come and the Doctor/companion relationships around which they will be told. So while some might say the story is complete filler, I rather think it's a turning point in the series.

Item 3! And the choice is... Rory! Well, thank God for that. The last thing we need is another companion love-sick for the Doctor, especially one who was in a perfectly good relationship to start with (if we go by the wedding, anyway). I'm not saying she didn't "settle" (she's never told him she loves him), but at the ultimate moment, she did choose the person she'd forged a life with for the last couple years over the understandably attractive mystery man with the time machine. When faced with a choice between excitement and stability, she chose stability. Whether you agree with that choice or not, it does give a second life to Rory as a companion. Again, the natural comparison is to Mickey, who never got out of the Doctor's shadow and consequently spent half his time whining, and the other half trying to prove something. Rory's insecurities are (mostly) dispelled here (though comedy can still be had from Amy consistently pairing off with the Doctor rather than him), and in the next story, will have a frank "mates" relationship with the Doctor. Amy's Choice flattens that triangle.

Item 4! If the entire scenario was created by the Doctor's subconscious (tapping into Amy and Rory's dreams as well), could we not say then that the Doctor was subconsciously trying to drive Amy away to prevent another Rose/Martha problem? After all, The Vampires of Venice was something of a FAIL in that regard (or at least a "we'll see"). The Doctor's mind being as complex as it is would have seen the collective dream as an opportunity to straighten out the Amy/Rory relationship. The ambiguous moment at the end, with the Dream Lord appearing in a reflective surface in lieu of the Doctor's own face, might indicate that it wasn't so subconscious after all. Was it all a huge put-on? Was the Doctor guiding the dream after all? Did he put the psychic pollen in the TARDIS works himself? I don't really believe that, but the idea's there if you want it.
Item 5! When the Doctor says the Dream Lord could only be one person "I don't know how you can be here, but there's only one person in the universe that hates me as much as you do." Who is that? For New Who fans, it sounds like he's talking about the Master. And maybe he is. There's no reason the person he fingers at first is the same one (himself/pollen) he blames later. Older fans, of which I am one, will have to point out (as much as I hate to do so) that the Doctor's "dark side" has appeared before, as the Valeyard in Trial of a Time Lord back in the 80s. If that continuity is respected (and there's really no reason to), then this dark shard of the Doctor will split from him somehow in between his 12th and 13th incarnations. Could he prove to be a problem to the Doctor in psychic form 'til then?

Item 6! Is there dream symbolism in Amy's Choice? I'm no expert. I'm better with literary symbolism. If I go that route, I suppose I could look at Rory's domestic dream and see "growing old together" turned into a nightmare of monstrous old age and loss of control. Plus, Amy's pregnant and kids get turned to dust? There's a parental fear there. As for the dream aboard the TARDIS, what's a cold star supposed to represent? Is it the Doctor's manifestation of his non-passion for Amy, or simply a representation of his character's contradictions?
Item 7! Simon Nye wrote this episode, a comedy writer (best known for creating Men Behaving Badly) brought in by Steven Moffat, himself a sitcom writer of old. Strangely, though there's the usual patter, it's not a particularly funny episode. But then Moffat's first episode of New Who was a creepy horror story (The Empty Child). Just goes to show these guys are writers, first and foremost. I'm generally impressed with Moffat's new blood.

Item 8! If there IS comedy in the episode, it's dark comedy. Here's a story with pensioners turning children into dust, a joke about committing "self-harm" and Amy aborting her baby when she opts out of one possible reality. Then again, when said pensioners are attacking with chainsaws and getting whacked upside the head, it has to be considered comedy.

Item 9! Though it cheats the location, so to speak, Amy's Choice is only the second to take place entirely inside the TARDIS. The other was the Doctor's third adventure, The Edge of Destruction, way back in 1964!

Item 10! So the special effects are back up to snuff, right? After my comments in the previous review, I guess somebody listened. ;-)

Item 11! What's written on the emergency tool box in the TARDIS anyway? Let's take a closer look:
That's a lot of ridiculous nonsense, actually. Build date 1963? At the Gallifrey Blackhole Shipyards? Only qualified Time Lords may use this TARDIS by order of the Shadow Proclamation? Theft will result in extreme penalties and possible exile? Great nods to the show, but of course, that can't be right. Of wait, it's all in the DREAM!

Next time: The Silurians are back!

Star Trek 1266: Thanatos

1266. Thanatos

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Early Voyages #16, Marvel Comics, May 1998

CREATORS: Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett (writers), Javier Pulido and Steve Moncuse (artists)

STARDATE: 2390.5 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: The Temazi are a pre-industrial people who built their religion around the aliens who once visited their world and, it is rumored, left a cache of weapons there. Pike, Spock and Boyce have infiltrated the Temazi to find this cache before the equally disguised Klingons do the same. Pike hopes to get inducted into the temple's mysteries, and a young Klingon woman boards his as a temple official, hoping this inductee will lead her to the temple's sanctum. When the plan is about to be pulled off, her leader, Kaaj, recognizes Pike and attacks him. This alerts the temple guards...

CONTINUITY: Robert April is in command of the Enterprise (as per issue #12). Kaaj last appeared in issue #7.

DIVERGENCES: See previous issues (stardates).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Robert April, not the nice guy I was execting
REVIEW: Kaaj returns and Pike almost falls for the wrong girl in this tale drawn in a pleasant Parobek style by Pulido and Moncuse. It's a fun enough plot and looks good, can't ask for much more. The meat of the issue takes place on the Enterprise, however, with April showing unexpected colors. He gives a very strict assessment of the crew, finding them lacking, and the implication is that he doesn't trust women in high ranking positions. Is Pike unusual then, and the sexism as prevalent in the TOS era as Turnabout Intruder said it was? Or is this a way to make April old-fashioned? I can't very well go and say the writers are sexist because they've been having the female characters kick ass since issue #1. Engineer Grace finally gets a subplot (a grating Australian second engineer), but with the end of the series looming, I'm not sure it can really be resolved (nor will that Aussie's romantic triangle with Colt and José). It's really too bad.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cat of the Geek #63: M.A.D. Cat

Name: Unrevealed (if any)
Stomping Grounds: Inspector Gadget (cartoon); dies in Robot Chicken
Side: Evil
Breed: Maine Coon
Cat Powers: His own metal cat scratcher (Dr. Claw). Some jet fighter piloting skill.
Skills: Eat 6, Sleep 8, Mischief 3, Wit 4, Sympathetic moods 9
Cat Weaknesses: Victim of Dr. Claw's mercurial moods.

Star Trek 1265: Now and Then

1265. Now and Then

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Early Voyages #15, Marvel Comics, April 1998

CREATORS: Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett (writers), Patrick Zircher and Steve Moncuse (artists)

STARDATE: 9522.0 (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Sulu is killed in the Klingon attack before Number One and the Excelsior arrive to save the day. The latter captain is convinced to help them get to Algol once she sees Yeoman Colt. The planet is being used as a Klingon outpost by Chang and more battle ensues. A landing party brings Colt to the surface where a Guardian of Forever-type entity entreats her to throw herself in and repair the timeline. As she falls through, much of the combined crew give their lives fighting the Klingons. She falls into the arms of José and her experiences are classified. History is back on track.

CONTINUITY: See previous issues (alternate timeline TOS crew, Algol, General Chang, Excelsior). The "you're breaking up" "bless you" scene from The Undiscovered Country is replayed with Number One and Pike. Many other lines are ripped off the various films (including Generations). Number One's last name is again given as "Robbins" (issue #1). Falling into the well, Colt sees Mirror Spock (Mirror, Mirror), the TNG crew, the Enterprise-E, Deep Space Nine and the Borg. In the glass bauble, Pike sees his terrible accident (The Menagerie).

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - How bat'leths actually work
REVIEW: This alternate timeline story goes where many alternate timeline stories have gone before. The death toll gets so high that it removes any remaining dilemma from the characters' hands. The new timeline can't possibly be any worse, right? The issue doesn't quite hit its character marks either, with many moments recycled from the Star Trek films, stale homages to what's gone before, not made better by replacing the principals by Early Voyages'. It kind of loses its way and fails to surprise. I've seen it all before. Many characters don't get a significant scene, and those that do, often end up dying like chumps. Perhaps a story like this could only ever disappoint, but it's not what this creative team prepared me for.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ironic Brightest Day Versus Ironic Heroic Age

As both of the "Big Two" comic book companies apparently enter a brighter, more positive era, we look at just how well each of their "show runners" are handling it...

From Brightest Day #2
Firestorm's face getting shredded!
A mom pulling her face off after killing her entire family!

Hawkman vowing murder!
From Avengers #1 (Heroic Age banner)
Some future teen Avengers committing murder most noir!

Wolverine on the team!
I can't believe Steve Rogers actually put him on the team for his "ruthlessness". Real "Heroic".

And I can't really find any other moments, but that's because Bendis just has them talk for most of the issue. So it's business as usual. The "Heroic" hits keep on coming.

Star Trek 1264: Futures

1264. Futures

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Early Voyages #14, Marvel Comics, March 1998

CREATORS: Ian Edginton and Dan Abnett (writers), Patrick Zircher and Steve Moncuse (artists)

STARDATE: 9521.9 (follows the last issue; the stardate is in the alternate future, placing the events during The Undiscovered Country in our own timeline)

PLOT: At first Pike wants nothing to do with Kirk's reckless ass, but when he sees a time displaced Colt, he sits down and listens. After it's been ascertained that the timeline is rejecting Colt and that she will die within four days, Pike decides to follow Kirk's original plan to return her to Algol deep inside Klingon space. Number One, captain of the Excelsior, is called in to prevent the Enterprise from causing an interstellar incident... which is already under way. Chang has returned with a few more birds-of-prey...

CONTINUITY: See previous issues (alternate timeline TOS crew, Algol, General Chang). The character I tentatively identified as Mr. Kyle is actually an older José Tyler. Carlotti is now CMO, Grace is still chief engineer, Boyce is retired, Number One got her own command (Excelsior, which we see) and under her, we find Nano and Chekov.

DIVERGENCES: None.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Hey, that's Sulu's cup!
REVIEW: This great alternate timeline story continues to rock, with the revelation of where Pike's crew has wound up over the years (makes me wonder what happened to them proper). Really neat to see Number One on Excelsior, highlighting the fact that Sulu never got his own command. Maybe it's because he's weapons officer, never landing in the pilot/command seat because Pike kept José in that chair. Sita is the only who doesn't rate a mention (sadly). The combination of the Pike/Kirk crews provides a couple nice moments, such as Pike knocking Kirk's block off and Scotty visiting Grace's engines. The romance subplot between José and Colt is well used here to create pathos, and again makes Colt the stronger character. It's going to be rock'n'roll until they get to Algol, but I hope to see more character moments along the way in the next issue.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fiend Folio: 10 Best and Most Enduring Monsters

Last week, I had some fun with the original Fiend Folio and its many silly monsters. But I've got to admit there are some strong, classic creatures in there as well. FF's major contributions were to extra-planar monsters, and these had their longevity ensured by high-level summoners and later, the Planescape setting. Here then, to balance things out, a grab bag of Fiend Folio favorites (fill in your own) and the book's contributions that have had the longest-lasting impact on the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. We'll start with a couple of my personal favorite horrors, to then plunge into the real winners.

10. Penanggalan
Strictly a persona favorite (replace with one of the Daemons if you like), but the Penanggalan is one of the creepiest, most horrifying new undead to come out of the Fiend Folio (and there were a LOT). It's a flying vampire head with its guts hanging out of its neck! Aerodynamic hairdo aside, you gotta admit, that's pretty freaky.

9. Son of Kyuss
Speaking of freaky, here's my other favorite FF undead, and it's all down to the graphic maggots animating it. Though not particularly powerful, they made a nice medium-level alternative to the usual skeletons, zombies and ghouls, and were much more memorable.

8. Giant Two-Headed Troll
I'll freely admit that I'm something of a comedian when it comes to playing NPCs. This Troll variant is a natural double act, so how could I not want to put him in my games? I think the possibility of two-headed trolls as PCs is the only reason I bought the Hahlmabrea RPG too...

7. Death Knight
You say Death Knight, I say Nazgûl, let's call the whole thing off. These guys ride Nightmares into the PCs' camp and try to get the One Ring from you. Or something else you hold dear.

6. Mephit
I don't know how much I thought of Mephit before Planescape, but these hot elemental pixies became my favored wizard's familiar after. Choose from Fire, Smoke, Steam and Lava to suit your outfit!

5. Slaad
When looking to populate the Outer Planes, Limbo was handed over to the Slaadi of various colors. I'll question their "hierarchy" (they're Chaotic Neutral after all), but not their place in the Planescape universe. It's lovely to be sitting in an inn across from a giant frog.

4. Githyanki
On the one hand, they got the cover. On the other, while Planescape didn't make these Astral Plane nomads into a player character race, that's exactly what happened to their mortal enemies, the Githzerai. Since one implies the other, and the Githzerai look like humans and are pretty boring, all told, I've only included the cool side of that combo. But feel free to think of the Githzerai as #4.5.

3. Kuo-Toa
It helps when you put in an appearance BEFORE the Fiend Folio came out (in Gary Gygax's Shrine of the Kuo-Toa). Basically Lovecraftian Deep Ones, the Kuo-Toa have a Polynesian vibe going as well, which makes them perfect for that vacation your players wanted to take down south.

2. Oriental Dragons
Though they were bound to show up eventually thanks to Oriental Adventures, this is where they first did (along with a few other oriental monsters). Their longevity is undeniable, but then, they were around long before the role-playing revolution.

1. Drow
The obvious winner. Not only did Dark Elves appear in adventure modules before Fiend Folio came out, but it's almost a crime that the Monster Manual didn't think to mention them. They've since become the ninja of the D&D racial set, thanks to the Forgotten Realms character of Drizzt. And just look at that pic. Cool as hell. No wonder players all want to play a reformed Drow.

But perhaps you have other favorites? The comments section is yours!