Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Comics Review: Ultimate Marvel Team-Up by Brian Michael Bendis and various artists

I always a huge fan of Marvel Team-Up in the 70's and 80's (my formative Geek years, sort of like the Wonder Years except no cute girls in go-go boots kissing me).

For those of you who are NOT experienced, as Mr. Hindrix would say, Marvel Team-Up was a monthly, continuity free book where every month Spider Man had an adventure with a different guest star.

It's one of those books that geeks, especially hard core comics geeks love. Chris Claremont wrote for it and gave it up VERY reluctantly to focus on more X-books, and it was one of the first things Brian Michael Bendis wanted to revive, and doing it in the Ultimate universe as a "world tour" type concept seemed like a great way to try out a lot of different concepts.

It didn't last long, only 16 issues, but you'll see some great updates and reimaginings on a ton of classic heroes and the hardback collects all 16 issues in a gorgeous, durable, slick paper binding. It's just a book I had to have when I saw it at Barnes and Noble.

In these 16 issues Spider Man teams up with (see? see? get it? concept right there!) Blade, Elektra, Daredevil, Captain America, Human Torch, Fantastic Four, Shang Chi, Iron Man, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Punisher, Man Thing (!!), Lizard and more.

The list of artists is also a who's who of comics' hottest pencilers, including: Mike Allred, Alex Maleev, John Romita Sr., Al Milgrom, Mark Bagley and Bill Sienkiewicz.

This hardcover's real stars though are Brian Michael Bendis and his fantastic take on Ultimate Spider Man. And Spider Man as written by Bendis is just hilarious, like this exchange between Spider Man and Black Widow:
Spider Man "You're a little older and uh- uh-
Black Widow "A little more mature?"
Spider Man "I was thinking: slutty."

In short, if you'd like to see the most influential comic writer since Stan Lee and a host of great artists do some classic updates of a cross-section of Marvel's coolest heroes, pick this up.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Site Stuff

Just wanted to let folks know that there's a new way to keep track of the blog. There's an RSS feed and an Atom feed, so if you have one, it's an easier way to keep track of my sporadic musings.

If you'd like more information about an RSS feed, I recommend the Mozilla browser, which has a really nice RSS feed you can set up and monitor from a simple toolbar. It will also search for feeds on a site if you're not clear whether or not the site has a syndication feed.

We now return you to your normal musings about comics, games and movies, the important things in life.


Comics Review: Batman, Officer Down by various

Officer Down is a Batman tradeback collecting a crossover in the "Bat-verse". Like the X-men of the Marvel Universe, Batman occupies his own little corner of the DC Universe with a unique and interesting cast of characters, most of whom appear in this crossover.

The Bat-verse is one of my favorite things about DC. First of course, Batman is an amazing character, one of the three most iconic in all of comics (the other two are Superman and Spiderman for the interested).

But his comics are also inhabited by a wide range of interesting characters, including Oracle, the former Batgirl, crippled by the Joker, now a hacker. She knows everything.

Nightwing, the former Robin, no longer a sidekick, he prowls the streets on his own, having come into his own as the leader of the Teen Titans.

The new Robin, Batman's current partner and student.

The new Batgirl, a very strange character who almost never talks and is Oracle's protege.

The Gotham PD, a Homicide-esque unit of cops, all interesting characters in their own right. Ever wonder what it would be like to be a normal cop in Gotham? Me neither, but these guys make you want to find out, to the point that they currently have their own comic.

This tradeback concerns the shooting of Comissioner Gordon, a long time ally of Batman. And it looks like Catwoman is responsible. What follows is a great mystery (at the heart of the best Batman stories) with a lot of action and of course, since it's Gotham, some twisted tales along the way.

This is one of my favorite tradebacks and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good Batman tale by the many talented writers and artists who work on his books over at DC.


Casting Captain America: the movie

Since I've had Cap on the brain lately, and I know Marvel is working on the script for bringing him to the big screen, I thought I'd help them out on casting.

Captain America

This is a toughie, but I have to go with Marc Blucas. An unknown to a lot of folks (a good thing), Marc Blucas was pretty impressive as marine Riley Finn for a season or so of Buffy. At 6'4" and fairly big, he brings the right physical presence, radiates pure midwest Americana and at 34, he's now grizzled enough to convey the living legend.

Red Skull

What's a movie without a villain? And for a Cap movie, the search for the right villain starts and ends with the Skull. Plus, as anyone who's seen Unbreakable knows, the foil for the hero should be his opposite and no one better fits that bill than the Red Skull. For the role I went with an actor who genuinely creeps me out (that's a compliment in case you weren't sure): Crispin Glover. If you'd like to see him in a very comic book-ish movie as a creepy villain, check out his turn as the "Thin Man" in Charlie's Angels (a movie that's worth watching anyway).

Nick Fury

Like the Skull, Nick Fury is a must for any Captain America movie. Fury represents the other side of the American military, the side with a harder edge, willing to justify the means by the ends. To cast Fury I think you need two things: American and Bad Ass. He simply has to have attitude in bunches, the kind that says "don't mess with me son" without a word. This is harder to come by than you might think. Twenty years ago you'd go with Charlton Heston but today there's really only one choice: Bruce Willis.

Black Widow

Like Fury, the Widow represents the ruthless side of the spy game. She also brings a whole lot of sex appeal to the movie (never a bad thing). She also needs to be smart, tough and charismatic. A tough casting assignment, except for the fact that there's a lady in Hollywood right now who is every one of those things: Angelina Jolie.

The Story

Fury sends the Black Widow undercover toinvestigate the current activities of ex-KGB agent Alexander Lukin. Unfortunately Lukin, owner of the multinational Kronas Corporation, has had a monster living inside him for some time: the Red Skull. The creature inside has won the battle and gained full control of Lukin's body. The Widow is missing and is presumed captured. Fury contacts Cap and asks for his help in finding her.

After the two make their way into the heart of Kronas Corp's HQ, they find that the Skull has brainwashed Widow using Lukin's knowledge of her past as a Soviet operative. While Cap takes down the Skull, Fury has to find a way to take out one of his deadliest operatives without killing her.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Podcast Corner: The Hotspot by Gamespot

I'm a huge podcast fan and I've already covered a few of my favorites for RPGs in a previous post.

This time around, since man does not live by pen and paper RPGs alone, I'd like to talk about a video game podcast: Gamespot's The Hot Spot.

This is not only my favorite video game podcast by a wide margin, it's also a SERIOUS contender for my favorite podcast, period (with Does My Geek and Have Games Will Travel being the other contenders).

Not only do you get some serious info about console gaming of all types (PS, X-Box, Nintendo plus all the portables) but this podcast is EASILY the funniest podcast I have ever listened to. If you can listen to the guys go on a total rant about Bill Gates' favorite game in the August 1st episode without laughing you're a better man than I.

You can listen to the podcast here or on Itunes (my preferred method for listening to podcasts).


D&D is directly threatened by MMOs (World of Warcraft)

I think D&D is the RPG most directly threatened by MMOs and will eventually be replaced by them.

Think about what D&D does better than any game: deliver an action RPG experience where you explore the unknown, delve into dungeons, kill things, take their stuff, get more powerful then repeat.

While you *can* do lots of other things in D&D, the experience above is (imo obviously) the aspect of the game that it does better than any other game.

It's also the aspect of the game that can be emulated by MMOs more successfully than almost any other RPG.

In other words, while the dungeon crashing experience can be done very successfully on a computer, other RPGs based on narrative control, or personal interaction (storytelling games) won't be nearly as enjoyable on a computer. This means that D&D is threatened by MMOs more than other RPGs.

To a lesser extent I think any game focused on combat is vulnerable to this. Look at City of Heroes, a game which captures many of the charms of Hero/Champions and other superhero games.

This leaves D&D as a social gathering, which I think can sustain it for awhile, but I think technology will eventually allow MMOs to capture even this social aspect of the game.

None of this is groundbreaking or original, just me compiling a bunch of thoughts I've had, inspired by various sources.


Acting Up

Stan Lee has famously said that comics is all one long second act. If you think about it, using his signature creation Spider Man as an example, his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 tells the origin story with all its power and responsibility.

Nerd gets bitten by radioactive spider, nerd fails to stop criminal, nerd's uncle is killed by said criminal, nerd get religion on the whole responsibility and power thing, nerd becomes superhero.

The next time we see Spider Man, he's in high school, dealing with his issues, taking care of Aunt May and trying to find time to fight crime on the side. That's Act II of the story, for those playing the home game, and we've been there for the last 30 years.

This is why comics need (to the chagrine of hardcore fans) the occasional reboot or reimagining. You can only juggle so long before you drop a ball, or decide that adding a new ball would be great.

Some comic movies look at Act I just the way Stan tended to: make it memorable and make it felt for the entire series, but get it the frack out of the way as soon as possible. X-men is a good example of this. Despite taking the entire movie to show the team coming together, it still manages to feel like one long trailer for X-2.

Some comic movies dispense with the first act entirely. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We never see her first mission or her meeting with her first Watcher until a Season 2 flashback. In Episode 1 she is already in Act 2.

Some of the best comic movies though, take delight in that other act, the one Stan says we should ditch as soon as possible. Unbreakable is possibly my favorite superhero movie and it is all Act I, painstakingly setting up the hero's powers, his motivation, his weakness and even his arch-nemesis.

The Incredibles is the same way. While the adult heroes had their powers and were experienced heroes, as Mr. Incredible was fond of saying, "they worked alone". Over the course of the movie we see the four heroes come together as a family but also as a true superhero team.

And of course Smallville is 5 years and counting of Act I. I actually am afraid they will end the show without a single shot of Clark in the costume, which would be a huge cop-out imo.

Now there's also a few comics that have shown us a third act, such as Claremont and Byrne's classic "dark future" X-men tale that shows the death of the X-men in a future controlled by the Sentinels.

No movie I'm aware of has done an Act III supers movie yet. I think the perpetual second act is one reason why movies have fallen in love with comics a little. Movie franchises work that way to begin with and comics are as good at juggling the second act as soaps (though not quite as good as Jason movies).

I'd love to see an Act III comic movie. I think M. Night could do one about "Security" from Unbreakable.

As a writer these kinds of constructions and genre conventions fascinate me. Hope this was equally interesting for everyone else.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Comics Corner: New Avengers #1-6 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch

Along with Captain America and Iron Man, the Avengers was another past Marvel hit that was targeted for a reinvigoration by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada.

Since Captain America and Iron Man are key members of the Avengers and since both of *them* had gotten a makeover (discussed in previous reviews) I guess you might see a trend, both in lines Marvel thought needed a touch-up and in my personal tastes.

In the case of the Avengers though, the story actually starts before New Avengers #1. See, Marvel scribe extraordinare Brian Michael Bendis didn't just want to relaunch the book. Before he created the New Avengers, he wanted to kill to old Avengers.

The last arc of the venerable Avengers comic was known as "Avengers Disassembled", a play on the old Avengers war cry "Avengers Assemble". In this highly controversial story arc, Scarlet Witch goes crazy and several long-time Avengers stalwarts, including Hawkeye and Vision. Avengers Mansion also goes up in flames.

With three of their core members dead or in an asylum (Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye joined in Avengers #16, Vision made his first appearance in the Marvel Universe in Avengers #57) and the mansion destroyed, the last issue of the Avengers sees the team disbanding and going their seperate ways.

This is where New Avengers picks up. The first arc, "Breakout" sees an Electro-caused power failure that allows the entire population of "The Raft", the supervillain prison of the Marvel Universeto escape. During the ensuing chaos, SHIELD boss Nick Fury taps many of the heroes that helped him fight the recent "Secret War" arc to help him round up some of the prisoners.

These heroes form the core of the New Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Spider Man, Wolverine, Spider Woman and Luke Cage.

I have to say, although many have criticized this line-up, I like it on a lot of levels. First you have Captain America and Iron Man, probably the two heroes most closely identified with the long and storied history of the Avengers.

Second you have Spider Man and Wolverine. I know many people feel they are over-exposed, but let's face it, the Avengers began as an all-star team of Marvel heroes. Hulk and Thor were two of Marvel's biggest stars at the time the Avengers were founded.

Since Spider Man and Wolverine are the rock stars of the current Marvel Universe, I like having them here.

Then you have Spider Woman and Luke Cage. Team comics have always been a place for interesting heroes who were still not popular enough to carry their own book. Vision in the Avengers and Martian Manhunter in the JLA leap to mind here.

In Spider Woman and Luke Cage you have interesting, sexy characters who add a lot of humor to the team dynamic. A couple of heroes who deserve to be featured more often.

Now onto the actual reason for the formation of the team (the supervillain prison break): I really like this. It gives the team a reason to be that is ongoing, something many of the most popular team books like the X-men have.

While a team banding together to fight a common threat and then just staying together to battle monthly menaces might have worked in the 70's (this is exactly what happens in Avengers #1) I think these days readers need a hook, a reason for heroes as different as Captain America, Wolverine and Spidey to be together on a regular basis.

The fact that this team has a strong SHIELD hook and a commitment to slowly rounding up all the escaped supervillains, gives them reason to come together on a wide variety of missions.

Before I conclude I'd also like to take a second to mention the art. This book is freaking gorgeous. David Finch is a fantastic artist and this book is just stunning.

In short, I think Marvel has scored yet again in their ongoing attempts to revitalize some of their lines that went neglected for awhile. In each case the formula they used has been simple but very effective: relaunch the book at #1 (which always attracts attention from collectors), update the concept of the hero and/or his mission when necessary and put top notch creators, the best comic writers and artists in the industry together on the book.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

MMORPG Market Share

To say that I'm not in tune with the MMORPG market would be something of an understatement. I think I played the original EQ for 6 weeks to 2 months. Since then I've had people invite me to play various MMOs but frankly, the main expense of an MMO is time and believe it or not, I don't have a lot.

OK, we all know that's a BIG lie. So suffice to say that the MMO experience doesn't appeal to me.

Still, I heard about a site that had some accurate data on MMO subscriber bases and was very surprised at the results. EQ is kind of a small player and I had no idea HOW dominate World of Warcraft was.

Here are the totals, but go visit the site, because he has a lot of cool info if you are curious:

World of Warcraft 52.9%
Lineage 12.o%
Lineage II 10.4%
Runescape 6.3%
Final Fantasy XI 4.0%
EQ 1.6%
EQ II 1.4%
Star Wars 1.4%
City of Heroes 1.3%
Ultima Online 1.1%
Eve Online 1.0%
Dark Age of Camelot 1.0%
Toontown Online 0.9%
D&D Online 0.7%
Doofus 0.6%
All Others 3.3%

Modern Dispatch Issue #100

Well the 100th issue of the Dispatch has arrived and it's HUGE! 100 adventure hooks by all four publishers, it clocks in at an AWESOME 20 pages.

Check it out... lot's of goodness.


Current Stuff

So, Im working on the second part of my Prometheus Rising adventure, Powderkeg as well as two (two!!) True 20 ports of d20 settings I had done.

Should anyone actually, correctly guess both (both!!) settings, I'll give you... I dunno... some free swag.

In other news, my commitment to my blog continues to grow, as well as my commitment to using parenthetical interjections of excitement (excitement!!).


Friday, August 18, 2006

Comics review: Iron Man, Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov

Last time I reviewed the relaunch of Captain America by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. This time around we're going to look at another relaunch of an iconic marvel hero: Iron Man.

I'm reviewing the tradeback collecting Iron Man #s 1-6, the first of the relaunched line, all written by Warren Ellis.

Like the Cap relaunch, this is an attempt to update a classic marvel character that seemed to have been showing some age of late. In a way I think this problem affects Iron Man more than Cap. Sure, some writers seem to have a hard time making Cap compelling, focusing more on his rogues gallery because they see him as a stiff, but Cap's time period of WWII is still one that resonates strongly with Americans.

Iron Man, on the other hand, was always a creature of the cold war. A defense contractor of the type made rich, powerful and vital to national security by the arms race, an early target of Soviet spy Black Widow, Iron Man's most memorable rogues are all drawn from that period's bipolar tension: Titanium Man, Mandarin (one Russian, one Chinese).

So while Captain America's war still resonates, Iron Man's us vs. them world seems almost quaint in today's world of a giant superpower surrounded by a gnat-like swarm of rogue states, non-state groups seeking weapons of mass destruction and crazed loners that might fell the superpower by a thousand tiny stings.

Worse, Iron Man's problems ran deeper than his roots in the cold war. His armor hadn't been seriously upgraded since the 70's and technology had actually caught up with him. While his armor had been computerized, it seemed this had happened as an afterthought.

The technology seemed current when it used to feel ahead of the curve.

In other words, on top of telling a compelling story, Warren Ellis' task was to update the man and the armor.

I feel like he scored on both counts. Not only does this tale reboot Iron Man's origin, moving it from Viet Nam to the Gulf War 1, but it also takes the man in the iron mask wireless in a big way.

This is a spoiler-free zone but let me say that you should watch for the phrase "I can see through satellites". Not a big story moment, but one that shows what Warren Ellis, known for crafting good stories with a sci-fi edge in books like Global Frequency has in mind for making the new Iron Man's tech next generation.

While this book didn't grab me as much as the Captain America relaunch, I still felt the series was back to the level of quality it had in the 80's during David Micheline's seminal run and had all the same hallmarks that I think are essential for Iron Man: the man in the suit was compelling, the book was funny and the book was loaded with cool toys.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Blood and Vigilance: NPCs

Now we come to the title character of the Winter Soldier arc himself, Cap's ex-sidekick, Bucky, now the Winter Soldier.

James Buchanan Barnes aka Bucky aka The Winter Soldier (Fast Hero 10/Recon Training 10): CR 20; Medium-size humanoid; HD 10d8+30 plus 10d8+30; HP 150; Mas 19; Init +13; Spd 45 ft; Defense 35, touch 28, flatfooted 30 (+0 size, +5 Dex, +13 class, +3 equipment, +4 Natural); BAB +14; Grap +16; Atk +16 melee (1d12+8, Combat Martial Arts), or +28 ranged (2d12+0, Barrett Light 50); FS 5 ft by 5 ft; Reach 5 ft; SQ ; AL Alexander Lukin (under duress); SV Fort +11, Ref +23, Will +7; AP 10; Rep +5; Str 16, Dex 36, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 8.
Occupation: Military (Hide, Move Silently)
Skills: Balance +19, Climb +22, Drive +23, Escape Artist +29, Hide +43, Jump +4, Knowledge (Streetwise) +3, Knowledge (Tactics) +11, Listen +11, Move Silently +43, Navigate +6, Pilot +23, Spot +21, Survival +16, Swim +13, Tumble +31
Feats: Acrobatic, Armor Proficiency (light), Combat Martial Arts, Commando Training, Dead Aim, Defensive Martial Arts, Dodge, Elusive Target, Far Shot, Jump School, MOS Rifleman (Knowledge [Tactics], Spot, Survival), Mobility, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Simple Weapons Proficiency, Sniper School, Spring Attack, Weapon Focus
Talents (Fast Hero): Evasion, Uncanny Dodge 1, Uncanny Dodge 2, Defensive Roll, Increased Speed
Talents (Recon Training): Camouflage, Long Range Reconnaissance, Fast Mover +5, Ghost, Fast Mover +10, Marksmanship 1, Marksmanship 2, Sharpshooter 1, Sharpshooter 2, Sniper 1

Powers: Cybernetic Arm +18 (see possessions below for details), Cybernetic Chest +18, Superhuman Dexterity +20, Regeneration +12 (heal 8x as fast or 160 HP for 8 hours of rest), Superhuman Strength +2 (cross-class power)

Power Stunts: Slow Aging (Regeneration), Swinging (Superhuman Dexterity), Increased HTH damage x4 (Superhuman Strength), +4 to Strength-based skills

Possessions: PL 8 Cybernetic Left Arm: Dermal Arm Armor +2, Power Arm 5 (+10 Climb, Escape Artist, Swim; +10 Grapple checks; +5 melee damage), Hydraulic Lifter 2 (+4 Str. checks, +20 lbs. carrying capacity), PL 8 Cybernetic Chest: Subdermal Chest Armor +2, Enhanced Heart 1 (+3 MDT, immune to Dazed, Shaken and Stunned), Adrenaline Boost 3 (+4 Reflex saves or +2 Dodge bonus to Defense for 1d4+1 rounds, usable twice per day, user Fatigued for one hour after use), Undercover Vest, Barrett Light .50

As before, I make no claims on IP I dont own, this is strictly a fan thing.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Red Skull for Blood and Vigilance

Red Skull (Charismatic Hero 10/Smart Hero 5/Mastermind 10): CR 25; Medium-size humanoid; HD 10d6+60 plus 5d6+30 plus 10d6+60; HP 238; Mas 23; Init +6; Spd 30 ft; Defense 32, touch 26, flatfooted 26 (+0 size, +6 Dex, +10 class, +6 equipment); BAB +12; Grap +20; Atk +18 melee (1d4+6, Combat Martial Arts), or +18 ranged (2d6+0, Beretta 93R); FS 5 ft by 5 ft; Reach 5 ft; SQ ; AL World Domination; SV Fort +19, Ref +17, Will +16; AP 12; Rep +14; Str 23, Dex 23, Con 23, Int 14, Wis 13, Cha 23.
Occupation: Military (Demolitions, Knowledge [Tactics])
Skills: Bluff +35, Computer Use +10, Craft (chemical) +15, Craft (electronic) +10, Craft (mechanical) +20, Craft (pharmaceutical) +10, Craft (structural) +12, Demolitions +26, Diplomacy +23, Disable Device +9, Disguise +35, Forgery +10, Gather Information +23, Intimidate +33, Knowledge (Arcane Lore) +15, Knowledge (Behavioral Sciences) +9, Knowledge (Business) +7, Knowledge (Streetwise) +5, Knowledge (Tactics) +18, Profession +2, Read/Write Language +5 (English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese), Sense Motive +11, Speak Language +5 (English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese)
Feats: Advanced Firearms Proficiency, Antithesis (bonus from Cap’s Nemesis disadvantage), Armor Proficiency (light), Armor Proficiency (medium), Burst Fire, Combat Expertise, Combat Martial Arts, Combat Throw, Deceptive, Defensive Martial Arts, Educated (Knowledge [Behavioral Sciences], Knowledge [Tactics]), Frightful Presence, Henchmen, Information Network, Iron Will, Lair, Lightning Reflexes, Personal Firearms Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Renown, Sidekick, Simple Weapons Proficiency, Tactician, Teamwork (Specific Group), Windfall
Talents (Charismatic Hero): Coordinate, Inspiration, Greater Inspiration, Fast-Talk, Dazzle
Talents (Smart Hero): Savant (Craft [chemical]), Plan, Exploit Weakness
Talents (Mastermind): Dark Magnetism, Right Hand Man (Mother Night), Master Plan, Escape Plan, Cult of Personality

Powers: Superhuman Strength +12, Superhuman Dexterity +11, Superhuman Constitution +10, Superhuman Charisma +8, Magic Item +23 (Cosmic Cube), Super Feat +18: Commando Training, Hook, Choke Hold, Frenzy, Fury, Berserker Rage, Super Skill +5 (Disguise)

Power Stunts: +4 to all Charisma-based skill, +4 Fortitude saves
Possessions: Cosmic Cube (this device is capable of warping reality but things tend not to go as planned for the person using it), Tactical Vest (Advanced design), Combat Martial Arts, Beretta 93R, various other devices by Wealth (+16)

As before, this is strictly a non-profit fanboy-type activity. No challenge to anyone's IP is intended, in fact the opposite. This is a celebration of that IP (plus a chance to show off what my nifty game can do).

Continuity nit-speak: This is after Red Skull came to inhabit a cloned body of Steve Rogers, hence the stats.

Rules nit-speak: Since he came to occupy that body through a warping of reality, the fact that the three physical superhuman ability powers he took are not class powers for him has been hand-waved. They are trated as class powers.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Comics review: Winter Soldier tradeback parts 1 and 2 by Ed Brubaker

As I mentioned in my NPC posting below, I recently read Winter Soldier 1 and 2, the tradebacks collecting Captain America #1-12 (these are recent comics, Marvel relaunched Captain America recently to hilight the beginning of Ed Brubaker's run).

The Writer

I'm a big fan of Ed Brubaker who predominately did crime fiction when he was at DC, including runs on Catwoman and Gotham Central (the tremendous series that follows what it's like to be a regular human cop on Batman's turf- and it sucks).

As part of the ongoing war between Marvel and DC over creative talent, which first saw writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns signed to exclusive contracts by DC, Marvel reciprocated by signing creators to long term exclusive contracts, one of whom was Ed Brubaker. The first task they gave him was the revitalization of one of Marvel's oldest and most important heroes.

To someone like me, who was already a fan of Brubaker's work at DC, it did not seem like a match made in heaven.

Ed Brubaker is certainly one of the most talented and original comics writers out there. But his works were always fraught with ambiguous heroes. Heroes who second-guessed themselves, who walked in the gray between good and evil.

I wasn't sure Brubaker's style would fit a character who has usually been portrayed to represent the best in us but he came through in spades.

The Story

Using the haunting memory of Cap's worst failure, the death of his sidekick Bucky at the end of WWII, Brubaker is able to instill loss, regret, second guessing and anger into the leader of the Avengers. And speaking of the Avengers, Brubaker uses another loss, the death of Hawkeye and the disbanding of the Avengers from the "Dissassembled" arc to further make Cap doubt that what he's doing is right.

Adding to the haunting quality of these losses are flashbacks, done in a black and white film noir style. As the story progresses, these flashbacks become more frequent, more vivid and more disturbing. Some of the things Cap remembers he isn't sure happened. And some of the things that are revealed are things we, the reader had never been told before.

Brubaker paints the Golden Age Captain America stories, where he is the bold hero and symbol of America, fighting the "good war" with his teenage sidekick at his side in a more realistic, much harsher light.

Brubaker represents these established comic book stories as the newsreel version of events. Through his flashbacks, we see campaigns filled with death and a "sidekick" who is a stealth and recon expert trained to do the things Captain America, a living symbol, cannot be allowed to, like slitting the throats of guards.

Brubaker takes a lot of chances in these portrayals and kills some sacred cows along the way, especially in the retcon of Bucky into an assassin but the way the story is told makes it work.

As if this weren't bad enough, it is revealed that Bucky isn't really dead. Like Cap, he was thrown into suspended animation but retrieved by the Soviets not the Americans. While Cap slept in the frozen arctic waters, Bucky was brainwashed, given cybernetic enhancements and turned into a Cold War assassin known as the Winter Soldier.

Now he's back and taking shots directly at Cap, attacking the graves of fallen WWII heroes, killing friends of the living legend. Nick Fury and SHIELD want Cap to kill his former partner while Cap is determined to save him, convinced there must be some humanity left in him.

The supporting cast

And speaking of Nick Fury and SHIELD, Winter Soldier brings in a host of the most interesting (and underused) supporting cast members from Captain America's long history. Besides Fury himself, WWII heroes Spirit of 76, the Patriot, the Submariner, the original Human Torch and Toro all make appearances in the flashbacks to the war.

In the present, other more recent friends of the living legend are present, including the Falcon, Union Jack, Iron Man and Nomad.

Each of these characters appears just enough to make their presence felt, with only the more important, Nick Fury and the Falcon getting much "screen time". This is excellent writing, weaving in interesting characters from the past and present without diverting too much of the story spotlight away from the main characters: Cap and the Winter Soldier.

The Villains

And speaking of the Winter Soldier, Brubaker brings in three antagonists to challenge our hero: Red Skull and two new faces, the Winter Soldier and Alexander Lukin. The two new villains both have the potential to become staple Cap villains for decades.

Lukin, a Russian "cold warrior" is the puppeteer pulling the Winter Soldier's strings, using him to kill the Red Skull, retrieve the Cosmic Cube (a mystical device capable of warping reality) and then unleashing him on Cap, who Lukin hates for reasons extending back to the Cold War and beyond.

While I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say that the Skull, Lukin and the Winter Soldier all end the story in a position to cause Cap further pain.

The Winter Soldier especially should prove to be an interesting villain for Cap, since he is a definite danger to him (having been given the same WWII training Cap was) and with cybernetics and advanced weaponry (like sniper rifles) to help give him an edge.

But at the same time, he fits with the themes of loss and redemption that have always been a part of Cap's story, since the Avenger wants to redeem his former partner, help him regain the sanity and heroism stolen from him. He's not just someone to be pummeled, he's someone to be saved.

All in all, one of the best comic stories you're ever going to read. Period.


Captain America for Blood and Vigilance

Inspired by my reading of Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker, the best Captain America story ever written, I present the living legend.

Captain America (Strong Hero 5/Charismatic Hero 5/Fast Hero 5/Brick 10): CR 25; Medium-size humanoid; HD 5d8+30 plus 5d6+30 plus 5d8+30 plus 10d10+60 plus 13; HP 282; Mas 23; Init +6; Spd 30 ft; Defense 39, touch 31, flatfooted 33 (+0 size, +6 Dex, +15 class, +8 equipment); BAB +17; Grap +25; Atk +24 melee (2d12+9, Cap’s Shield), or +23 melee (1d6+9 Hook), or +24 ranged (2d12+6, Cap’s Shield); FS 5 ft by 5 ft; Reach 5 ft; SQ ; AL United States, SHIELD, Avengers; SV Fort +26, Ref +16, Will +9; AP 12; Rep +15; Str 23, Dex 23, Con 23, Int 16, Wis 17, Cha 23.
Occupation: Military (Knowledge [Tactics], Pilot)
Skills: Balance +15, Bluff +11, Climb +24, Craft (visual art) +8, Diplomacy +14, Drive +18, Escape Artist +15, Hide +21, Intimidate +24, Jump +24, Knowledge (Current Events) +7, Knowledge (Tactics) +32, Move Silently +21, Pilot +29, Read/Write Language +5 (French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish), Repair +11, Speak Language +5 (French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish), Survival +13, Swim +19, Tumble +17
Feats: Armor Proficiency (light), Body Slam, Combat Driving, Combat Martial Arts, Combat Throw, Commando Training, Defensive Martial Arts, Enemy (Red Skull), Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Cap’s Shield), Great Fortitude, Heroic Surge, Half Nelson, Hook, Improved Combat Martial Arts, Jump School, Renown (x2), Simple Weapons Proficiency, Tactician, Teamwork (Avengers), Teamwork (SHIELD), Teamwork (US Army), Toughness
Talents (Strong Hero): Melee Smash, Improved Melee Smash, Advanced Melee Smash
Talents (Charismatic Hero): Coordinate, Inspiration, Greater Inspiration
Talents (Fast Hero): Evasion, Uncanny Dodge 1, Defensive Roll
Talents (Brick): Diesel, Improved Second Wind, Never Give In, Never Surrender, Never Say Die

Power Points: Superhuman Strength +15, Superhuman Dexterity +10, Superhuman Constitution +13, Superhuman Charisma +7, Unique Item +18: Cap’s Shield (2d12 damage, Aerodynamic, Exotic, 45 ft. Range Inc, PL8 Material: Adamantium, +6 Armor, +6 Max Dex, -0 Armor Penalty), Super Feat +18: Armor Proficiency (medium), Coordinated Attack, Improved Ricochet, Ricochet, Sharpshooter, Weapon Focus (Cap’s Shield), Super Skill +3: Hide, Super Skill +3: Move Silently

Power Stunts: Superhuman Constitution: +4 Fortitude Saves, Superhuman Dexterity: Swinging, +4 to all Dexterity-based skills
Possessions: Cap’s Shield, Light Undercover Vest, Harley Davidson street bike (attachment for shield on front)

PS This is a "fan" thing, no challenge to any IP that isn't mine is implied. If you think any IS implied, cut it out.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

First extended playtest

Just played through about half a dozen dungeons last night in the non-d20 game.

Ladies and gentlemen... it's a game.

Nothing obviously broken. I'm psyched.


20 and counting

Non-d20 game is up to 20 pages. This thing is getting bigger than I planned lol.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gaming Podcasts

I love to listen to the radio while I write. Since most of the time live radio is *ahem* fucking awful, I listen to a lot of music on napster (which I've plugged before), the Tony Bruno sportstalk show, currently on Sporting News Radio (it isn't broadcast locally but Tony is so freaking funny I pay 5 bucks a month for the ability to stream the show) and lately podcasts.

I like podcasts because there are some great ones out there by gamers and for gamers.

My three favorites (in no particular order- every one of these is consistently worth a listen):

Does my geek look big in this: A British couple who talk about beer (!), games and movies. They are huge Firefly/Serenity fans as well. A big plus. This one has to be my favorite of the lot.

Have games will travel: A really nice low-key podcast by freelancer Paul Tevis. He interviews freelancers, talks with great knowledge about game design and the industry (a huge, refreshing plus for me since by visiting message boards I am confronted by thousands of folks who know nothing about either one- though expound with great authority- daily).

Dragon's Landing: The longest running podcast of geekdom that I know of. Chuck and Lonnie have really good insights into gaming.

Geek debauchery

So, the boss is away at Gencon and I have a 12 pack of Corona and a Babylon 5 DVD from netflix.



Saturday, August 05, 2006

Another taste of Feeding Grounds

The "big event" at Gen Con this year (for me anyway) will be the Feeding Grounds Darwin's World adventure, which will be run by Chris Davis, owner of RPGobjects and writer of DW 2nd edition.

In honor of the upcoming debut of the adventure, here's another taste of flavor text:

Seconds ago you were laying down in the cryo-capsules at the heart of the Chicago Special Research center, a military force tasked with testing new weapons and tactics. In the armies formed in the days leading up to the war, robots and androids took over more and more of the dangerous field operations, while units like the 3rd Special Research, nicknamed “the Specter” worked out tactics under controlled conditions that the robot units would perform in the field. Even more secret than its usual activities was the Cryo-Preservation Research (CPR) program that would put soldiers and citizens to sleep in case of a war or natural disaster that threatened humanity.

Summoned by your superior in the 3rd Special Research, “Top”, the unit’s top sergeant, you immediately see on the secure news how grave the crisis is, much worse than what the bubbleminds are being fed on the vids outside. As you head for the nearest weapons locker to join the fight, Top orders you to stand down, “Nice idea but wrong play. Eve is ordering us to stand down. This is what we’ve been preparing for. We’re going to save the world. Save it by being the ones who live.”

As you lay down you heard the voice of Eve, the AI computer that coordinated the CPR program. She would also assume control of all robots in the city in the result of an emergency and use them to defend the sleeping soldiers, scientists and workers who would rebuild. As the mindless animal hordes of the enemy closed in on the city and missiles began being fired in earnest, you lay down and watched the tub slide closed above you, listening to the end of the world on news broadcasts drowned out by Eve’s soft, lilting voice “All members of 3rd Special Research to your tubes for commencement of CPR procedures. This is not a drill. Assuming control of robot defense forces in Chicago Dome immediately per Project: Brave New World protocol. I repeat: All members of 3rd Special Research to your tubes for commencement of CPR procedures. This is not a drill. This is not a drill”

Now seconds later by your reckoning, the tube is opening again, “Up! Up! Up! Move soldiers! Haven’t you slept long enough? Need another little 500 year nap?!? Let’s move! Let’s move! Let’s move!”

Everything light seems bright. Too bright. Every sound seems loud. Too loud. A part of your mind whispers that this is what being born must feel like. You wish you could cry as shamelessly as that child. But you are too well trained. Pulling yourself free of the sticky amniotic fluids in the tanks you walk, naked to the nearest shower, one thought sticking in your mind as you slowly return to full consciousness: “500 years”.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sneak Peek: The Feeding Grounds

Welcome to a world gone insane.

Once brave soldiers ready to fight and die for America, you and your unit have awoke from cryosleep to find centuries have passed and the devastation of the Great War irreversible.

Intended as a cradle of humanity in case of a natural disaster, the facility where you have slumbered for centuries, where thousands others sleep and await to awaken and rebuild the world is being preyed upon by hideous cannibals. They’re farming the future of humanity, men women and children like corn. Only one thing stands in their way: you and your unit. Outnumbered a thousand to one.

They call it the Feeding Grounds. You are the food.

Monte is hanging up his spurs

From his site:

When I left Wizards of the Coast in 2001, I did so primarily to write fiction. I had some ideas for novels and other work, but I wanted to keep my foot in the gaming door as well. (Lots of you have read this story before, so I'll try to be succinct.) I lined up some freelance work to tide me over and started doing some of my own stuff as well. "My own stuff" quickly turned into Malhavoc Press, which blossomed suddenly and dramatically with a life all its own. Very quickly, it became clear that Malhavoc was something that I should focus all my efforts on, and that Sue should as well. Although not without a few bumps, it went wonderfully and it's still going wonderfully. Malhavoc has afforded me the freedom to do every game book I've wanted to do. Ptolus, in my mind, rivals 3rd Edition itself as the coolest thing I've ever produced.

But over the last five years, there's been a little nagging voice in my head. "Hey. Hey? This is great and all, but it's not why you went out on your own. What about all that other stuff you were going to do?" And that voice has only gotten louder as the years have passed. You see, I've worked on game material professionally since 1988 (in fact, it's all I've ever done). And it's been a great 18 years. But there are other areas I'd like to explore creatively. And in the last year or so, various doors have begun to open that have made some of my other goals suddenly a lot more attainable.

I have to say I greet this news with mixed emotions. Monte is one of my heroes, one of the only two game writers I go fanboy over. The other is Aaron Allston, who has also left the industry. I've had the chance to talk to both and they're exactly like you hope a professional role model would be when dealing with a fan: cool.

However, when I spoke with Aaron Allston via email, when I first started out and asked him for any advice as I was getting my writing career off the ground, he said "explore other possibilities, I don't think the RPG industry can sustain a career".

And now that Monte is leaving, I find myself wondering how long I *can* in fact continue in this industry. It's gotten me thinking. There's a lot (and I mean a lot) of things I could do and make more money. I love the creative outlet, but even that has diminished over time.

I dunno. Maybe it's time to "take steps" as Michael Beihn's crazed SEAL would say while cutting himself under the table in "The Abyss".


Thursday, August 03, 2006

I... might have spoken... too soon

Remember when I blogged about my non-d20 game saying it WOULD happen this time?

Man hubris sucks. Just ask Oedipus.

So after a chat with the boss, in which he actually confronted me with some design goals (as opposed to stream of consciously looping kewl mechanics together until it coagulates into a goopy game), the heart got ripped right out of my beautiful, innocent little non-d20 game.

That said, it seems to be rising from the grave as a lean mean vampire, so stay tuned.

Night Ride Part 1

Night Ride Part 1 “Look, Pa, it’s my turn. Also, Nana is having one of her spells again and she has no idea who I am when she gets this w...