Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Comic Collecting - Marvel Team Up #54 (1977)

Last night was supposed to be our normally scheduled Five by Five game. Our Five by Five game has turned into an interesting hodge-podge of mixed genre television adventures. The group was in Smallville where they had a run in with General Zod, Lex Luthor and Ra's al Ghul (who is revealed to be a PC's uncle - LOL), then they go to Sunnydale, CA to rescue another PC who was kidnapped by the Initiative and they meet not only Buffy and the gang, but Scooby Doo! Currently they are en route to Raccoon City to investigate a potential disturbance there!!

It's been a lot of fun and Five by Five is loose and easy enough to handle not only the leaps in genre conventions, but also the rotating of GM that we've been playing with. But, last night I was down 2 players and we pulled out Munchkin to play rather than advance the Raccoon City story line with players missing. I had considered briefly running a Super-Five one-shot. For those just joining, Super-Five is a superhero themed variation of Five by Five and it has enough new things built into its design when compared to the original Five by Five that game play should feel quite a bit different.

Which brings me to why I am talking about Super-Five as a lead in to my comic book review. I wanted to run a Super-Five playtest, but I didn't because I didn't have any pre-made characters ready. As this was to be a last minute substitute game, spending the whole time making characters didn't make sense. Yes, I have made creating superheroes with Super-Five as quick and easy as I can ... but, making superheroes of any kind requires a bit of forethought, as the superhero genre is perhaps the most varied and versatile in all of adventure fiction. So, I needed pre-made characters ... and I didn't have any. Which brings us up to this comic book review.

As I have decided to share my comic collecting project with my blog community anyway, and said community is likely here more because of my RPG design projects than anything else ... I am going to add write-ups of key characters appearing in the comics that I review as Super-Five characters. I think this will be especially cool as I am reviewing Marvel Team-Up right now and that promises to offer a range of different and interesting characters. And the next time an opportunity for an impromptu play test presents itself, I will have characters all ready to go!

Now ... about Marvel Team Up #54. More great Byrne art! This one was another quick read. As you might remember from last issue, Spider-Man had just jumped right into the middle of a fight between the Hulk and Woodgod ... who I might have neglected to mention had red glowing eyes and appeared to have been possessed! But if you take a quick look back at the final picture in my review, Spidey didn't forget to mention it! He noticed the red glowing eyes right off!

As we start this issue all reference to the red glowing eyes is forgotten. Now it's just Hulk and Woodgod and Spidey all toe-to-toe, but the animosity from last issue has dissipated and Hulk and Woodgod don't seem particularly hostile towards Spider-Man. Spidey is told by the government agents that now surround the trio to clear out of the way, which he does, and the agents proceed to shoot some kind of super-shocker cable netting at Hulk and Woodgod to capture them.

The nets seem particularly dangerous to Spidey who surmises that the agents are actually trying to kill the Hulk (which we find out in a few pages isn't true) and Spidey breaks the Hulk and Woodgod free of the nets as he quickly switches sides!

This team-up is short lived as the government agents blast the whole group with knockout gas that they were saving for just such an emergency! The three heroes are captured by the "government" agents and had Spider-Man been correct about their intentions this would have been the end of his comic book! But he was obviously incorrect, because he awakens to find himself (and the other two heroes) captured as the agents claimed that they were trying to do in the first place.

See! They told Spidey that they weren't trying to kill anyone! Hey, does Tremens' uniform kind of remind anyone else of Captain Kirk? Because that's sure the impression that I got. And perhaps that was intentional foreshadowing ... because these "government agents" must be working for some top secret branch of NASA. It seems that their entire plan is to launch Woodgod into space!

Not so long story, even shorter ... Spidey breaks himself free followed by Woodgod and the Hulk. The government agency thugs attempt to stop the escape and fail, but manage to accidentally launch Spidey into space ... which as far as I can tell is okay with them. Sure, they really wanted to launch Woodgod into space, but any hapless superhero will do in a pinch!

Tears welled in my eyes as the Hulk called Spider-Man, "Friend!" for the first and perhaps the last time... what will next issue hold? Is Spider-Man doomed to become some government space experiment?! We find out next issue!!

I have to admit, when I read these comics half the fun for me is the nonsense ... but this story right now ... makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! And now with Spider-Man blasting off into space and leaving the mysteries of Liberty New Mexico behind him, I wonder if things will ever be explained, or if this is all we get. I suppose I will find out next time. It's funny, in issue 53 there's a explanation in the letters column about Woodgod's use of the word "Scream" which Jim Shooter was apparently worried that readers wouldn't understand. The use of "Scream" within the context of the story was super obvious and no problem at all, and it makes me wonder ... did Shooter read the rest of the story?? Because there was plenty here that didn't make sense! Maybe he was reluctant to bother Mantlo any further after giving him such a hard time over the "Scream" thing and so decided to let the rest of the story slide. See ... this is why it's important to pick your battles!

Below are write ups for Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Woodgod designed for Super-Five (as the game rules exist of this writing.) Those familiar with Five by Five should have no problem playing with these characters in a standard Five by Five game if you want to!

Spider-Man (Millstones: 0 / Milestones: 3)
I have spider-like reflexes that enable me to react quickly to avoid injury! (D8)
I also have the proportionate strength of a spider, that allows me to lift a car over my head or throw a pretty devastating spider-strong punch! (A6)
I can also use my patented web-shooters to entangle bad-guys, or as makeshift projectile weapons! (A6) 
I can cling to any surface just like a spider, this allows me to crawl along walls and ceilings (M6)
My web-shooters allow me to swing thorough the city attaching my web-lines to the tallest skyscrapers or anything else overhead! (M6)
I have an amazing sixth sense that I call my spider-sense that alerts me to danger! (N4)
I work for J.J. Jameson at the Daily Bugle snapping pictures! Unfortunately, it barely pays the bills! (P2)
My real passion is science ... specifically chemistry! I designed my web-shooters and the amazing web-fluid that they project! Even Reed Richards was impressed! (H4)
My Aunt May has cared for me all on her own since my Uncle Ben was killed. She is the bravest person that I know and a real inspiration to me! (E4)
J.J. Jameson has it in for me. His campaign against Spider-Man has half the world convinced that I'm the bad guy! (W0)

The Hulk (Millstones: 0 / Milestones: 3)
I got low ... I put a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger ... the other guy spat out the bullet. ~Nothing can hurt the Hulk!~ (D8)
Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. ~Hulk is strongest one there is!~ (A8)
I wander from place to place with nothing but the clothes on my back. ~Hulk jump higher than puny Banner!~ (M4)
I've learned to be very aware of my environment and to keep things under my control. This allows me to live in relative piece without "incidents." ~Hulk will find Banner and smash!!~ (N4)
I am the foremost authority on Gamma Radiation in the world. ~Banner stupid! Hulk no have puny job!~ (P6)
I've become very computer savy over the years. ~Hulk smash Face Book!~ (H4)
I love General Ross's daughter Betty. ~Shut up, Banner! Hulk loves Betty more!~ (E3)
I can't lose control. I can't let the other guy out. ~Hulk hates Banner! Banner makes Hulk go away!~ (W0)

Woodgod (Millstones: 0 / Milestones: 3)
Scream hurts Woodgod, but Woodgod is tough and he will not be stopped by the Scream! (D10)
Woodgod is strong. Woodgod will beat those that bring the Scream to Woodgod. (A6)
Woodgod has the legs of a goat and hooves for feet. Woodgod can run and climb and jump better than the man who brings the Scream! (M6)
Woodgod is of the forest and can track and follow the odors others have left behind them. (N5)
Woodgod is an experiment. Why did the man make Woodgod? (P2)
Woodgod wants to return to the forest where he can live at piece with nature. Animals understand Woodgod. (H4)
The Scream took Woodgod's father. Woodgod remembers his father. Woodgod will avenge his father's memory. (E4)
Woodgod doesn't understand much of the world. Woodgod's mind is like a child's. (W0)

A quick note about the "powers" the number at the end is the Five by Five target for using that power/resource to do something. The letter following shows the general type of power to which the tagline refers.

D = Defend - what you roll to avoid damage.
A = Attack - what you roll to bring the "scream!"
M = Move - what you roll when in hot pursuit!
N = Notice - make a perception check!
P = Profession - what you do!
H = Hobby - what you'd rather be doing!
E = Excelsior - who inspires you to greater heights?
W = Weakness - what gives you trouble!

I had done write-ups for Spidey and the Hulk before, but Super-Five has evolved a bit since then, so these new examples are a little different. Also, Milestones are advancement points used to improve your Hero. I couldn't create Spider-Man's very wide range of powers using just the "new character" creation rules, so I gave him a few Milestones to finish him up. I went ahead and gave Woodgod and the Hulk a like amount and their character write-ups reflect this.

The only thing I know about Woodgod is what I've read in these two issues of MTU. So, I created a Super-Five character for him the best that I could extrapolating from that information. Hope you like what you see. You should be able to use these characters in your standard Five by Five game if you want. (Just ignore "Millstones" they're a new concept that is unique to Super-Five and I'll reveal more about them later!



Friday, August 01, 2014

Comic Collecting - Marvel Team-Up #53 (1976)

Memories of this one are faint ... I liked the Hulk. I liked Spider-Man ... and this new guy ... Woodgod ... he was cool. I was 11 years old when this comic was on the stands. And although I don't have strong connections with this issue specifically, it is part of a set of comics that I'd really love to have for my personal collection. I am speaking of the John Byrne illustrated issues of Marvel Team-Up. There aren't a lot of them, but they are all really beautiful to look at.

This issue has the distinction of being the first time that John Byrne ever drew the X-men. They appear briefly at the start of the story in what is a really overly contrived set-up to get Spider-Man into the story. It's painful enough that I wonder if this story wasn't originally penned to appear in the Hulk comics and somehow got pushed to Marvel Team-Up.

John Byrne draws the X-men for the first time, and they do look beautiful. But basically, the entire group including Spider-man are coming back from another adventure and are in the vicinity of New Mexico when some weird stuff happens, the group gets attacked, and the X-Men just dump Spidey in New Mexico to take care of the trouble alone while they continue on their way to New York. Maybe they figure Spider-man won't mind since both New York and New Mexico have "New" in their name?

The bulk of the story centers on the Hulk (who finds an abandoned town and so immediately adopts it as his own. "Hulk is all alone in town! Hulk is all there is -- so town must be Hulk's town!" And so declaring he begins to beat up the only other "person" he finds in the town. Not a person at all, but a goat legged monster creature basically a satyr ... but much bigger than I ever imagined a satyr to be (almost Hulk's size) ... a satyr on steroids. Woodgod is clearly trespassing and needs a beat down.

This exchange comprises the majority of the action of the issue. That and the "mystery of the town of Liberty" which is covered in a unidentified purple mist, an odd smell (or was that Woodgod ... I am unclear), and toxic levels of radiation. Men in radiation suits are amazed to find Spider-man alive, who thinks, "Lord save that old Russian - Doc Mishkin! It must be the anti-radiation mist he sprayed on me and the X-Men that's somehow keeping the gas from affecting yours truly!" and ... not, "Oh, my God! I've got to get out of here, that anti-radiation mist that the crazy Russian scientist sprayed on me could wear off at any minute!" Good old Spider-Man.

I actually enjoyed rereading this comic book quite a lot, despite the silliness. Byrne's art is nice. It's consistent and clean. It's the type of Byrne art that I really fell in love with. And the story was a quick read. I miss that. I don't feel like a comic has to occupy me for an hour or more to be enjoyed. A nice ten minute read is awesome. I'll go back and read it again, and spend more time enjoying the art. I miss the pacing of older comics like this one.

Sure the story this time had a lot that left me scratching (or shaking) my head especially where Spider-man's involvement was concerned ... But, as I said, Spidey doesn't really have a whole lot to do this issue, so if making sense would get in the way of his page count ... then I am all for the nonsensical. However it does look like Spidey will get to make up for things next issue as the final page cliff hanger dumps him right in the middle of the action.

I can't wait to read the next issue!!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Comic Collecting - Space Ghost #1 (1987)

I used to have a pretty nice little comic book collection. Unfortunately, over the passing years and one failed marriage and many moves from place to place the majority of that collection was lost or abandoned. I've decided to rebuild some of the gems of my lost collection one book at a time. I have this post over at Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues to thank for my new ambition.
I remember fondly the Comico Space Ghost #1 written by Mark Evanier and Steve Rude, and illustrated by Steve Rude and Willie Blyberg with stunning color work by Ken Steacy from 1987. But, sadly I no longer owned a copy and had not set eyes on the book in years. Before today.

So, here it begins my personal mission to recapture some of my most memorable comic book treasures from years past. These won't necessarily be comics that are famous and fabulous collectors items to anyone other than me. These are comics that I remember. That have retained a fondness in my memory strong enough for me to seek them out again. Space Ghost #1 (1987) is one such comic.

This comic would make an awesome addition to anyone's collection. It's a premium format kind of book and a self-contained salute to the classic Hannah Barbera cartoon character of the 60's. This isn't a reimagining it is an homage. And as such, speaking as a fan of classic Space Ghost. This comic is perfect.

Evanier and Rude script a wonderfully complete story that brings together a rogues gallery of classic Space Ghost villains to battle the hero. Jan and Jace and Blip all have parts to play as well. And the art ... wow ... the art! Rude and Blyberg capture the likenesses of the characters to perfection and Steacy's colors elevate everything to 11. It's more like looking at animation cells than a comic book page. It's all just beautiful.

This was a really nice trip for me down memory lane, and a great place to start rebuilding my collection. My thanks to Ross over at for setting me on this path. I plan to go slow. Pick up maybe one book per month, or one book per payday. I'll share my new treasure with you as I get it.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spellcraft & Swordplay and Eldritch Witchery

Among the blogs that populate my reading list is Tim Brannan's - The Other Side Blog which has been nominated for an Ennie this year by the way, so be sure to stop by and share your enthusiasm for your favorite RPG blogs, products, and what-not. Voting is open now.

Anyway, I believe in supporting my fellow RPG designers whenever I can and I had long been eyeing Tim's Eldritch Witchery (the cover is quite vexing) source book for Spellcraft & Swordplay. But, alas ... I was not familiar with Spellcraft & Swordplay. I was pretty sure it was some kind of OSR retro product, but beyond that I had no idea. So, I decided to check it out.

Upon logging in at DriveThru RPG I found that I had already downloaded the free Basic version of Spellcraft and Swordplay. It must not have made a great first impression, because I had no recollection of it. I decided to take another look. First, I have got to say that upon cursory glance S&S does not make a great first impression. It is easily mistaken for just another retro-clone, and its manifestation as a publication isn't the most attractive. As someone who owns more attractive offerings like Labyrinth Lord, and Castles & Crusades, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess it's easy to see how I had shrugged this one off. But, I was determined to give this book a serious second look, so I settled in for a read. I am really glad that I did.

S&S has been around for awhile and there have been other reviews written about this product. But, despite my interest in retro OSR products, I had never read it, so I am going to share my impressions here, because if I hadn't read it, there are very likely a handful of others out there like me, and maybe I can reach one of them. First, S&S isn't your typical retro-clone. It's a "what if" kind of product. Like Dave Bezio's X-plorers which imagines what the game would have looked like if Gygax and Arneson had been inspired by science fiction instead of fantasy.

S&S imagines what AD&D might have looked like if its core mechanic had been based on the rules for Chainmail (miniature wargame rules that OD&D was originally meant to use) instead of the system that is now the d20 system, (and originally offered as an alternative for new players without access to Chainmail.)

Go back and read that paragraph again. Are you rushing over to DriveThru RPG right now to buy your copy? Hmmm ....

I'm sorry, but on the face of it, S&S seems like such a ... grognardy ... only the most hardcore of old school geeks would even care ... kind of premise, that I can't wonder if it wouldn't leave a large portion of its RPG gaming audience cold. The thing is ... S&S is kind of ... amazing.

By jumping all the way back to square one and then rebuilding OD&D from a "if we knew then what we know now" kind of perspective S&S manages to pull together a solid working old school D&Desque RPG that is better than it should be. The rules for S&S are clean, easy, familiar and yet new. The system uses a d6 (and my prediliction for d6 games is well known) and still manages to feel like D&D.

S&S also uses a magic system that while similar to OD&D is just different enough to be brilliant. The familiar spell tables are present, but skill rolls are used to cast spells. Roll high enough and the spell is cast in the next round. Roll really well and the spell is cast instantly. Roll poorly and the spell isn't cast at all. Only when a spell casting roll is failed like this is a spell forgotten. So, familiar spells can be cast frequently as long as you make the casting skill roll.

It's a genius spell system, and I see why Tim Brannan wanted to write a magic supplement for the game. If you are going to write a magic supplement, might as well start with the OSR game that has the best base magic system I've ever seen.

S&S is a solid retro-style offering. It may become my old-school game of choice. I fear that its grognardy sounding premise and painfully archaic presentation may limit it's audience to only the most hardcore OSR geek. And, as the game incorporates many modern ideas, I fear that audience might interpret S&S as something of a mixed bag.

I feel S&S could use a facelift to raise its visibility in the OSR marketplace. It's an awesome game deserving of a place on your bookshelf. It has print versions available which is a must for me, and I have purchased the core book, Tim's Eldritch Witchery, and the Monstrous Mayhem supplement (all print plus PDF for me.) And anxiously await their arrival.

The core book contains lots of cool options that you don't get to see in the free version and I fear the free version might do the game a bit of a disservice. As I said, I skimmed it and then kind of passed it on when I first got it. I urge people to take another look at this game, and read it. Then read it again. S&S is a diamond in the rough. A first class OSR masterpiece hiding in coach. It shouldn't be over looked.

Eldritch Witchery looks to be even more awesome and to escalate the game even further, especially if you are a fan of pagan witchcraft and wish that someone would take a serious look at that art and apply it to D&D. There is a lot to Eldritch Witchery and I have barely scratched its surface, but I plan to write a follow up later so stay tuned.


Friday, July 18, 2014

She Kills Monsters

Today is my birthday and so I went out and saw a play. It was a local production of a show called, "She Kills Monsters." This production by Tulsa's American Theater Company was one of the best I have seen here in years. The production was solid and blessed with a few truly inspired moments.

ATC's new small theater space was comfortable and suited the production well. The fight choreography (yes, I said fight choreography) was brilliant and provided for some very entertaining (and amusing) scenes. The puppets (yep, puppets!) were absolutely beautiful, especially the bugbears. It makes me want to give up on miniatures for my D&D games and incorporate puppets instead. They were awesome. 

All of the acting was solid, the characters fun, and although the production might have felt a bit amateurish in spots it was a kind of comfortable and familiar amateurishness like a favorite home movie, that one could watch over and over again. It only served to make the characters more human and the production stronger for it. 

This is a story about finding safety in fantasy, and about hiding from yourself. It's about selfishness, and self loathing, and self discovery. There are some adult themes here about sexuality, and sexual identity, and some strong language. I would caution parents to be aware, but my 10 year old daughter saw the play with me, and I am very glad that she did.

Sloopy McCoy and Ashley Morecraft standout as the leads. McCoy plays Agnes, a young teacher whose sister Tilly (Morecraft) a 15 year old student, and 6 years Agnes's junior recently died in a car accident. Digging through some of Tilly's things, Agnes finds a D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) adventure module that Tilly had written. Agnes recruits one of Tilly's high school friends to DM (Dungeon Master, a sort of Referee/Theatrical Director-if you direct theater like Charlie Chaplin did.) the adventure and play the game with her so that she might understand the girl that her sister was a little better and maybe connect with her one last time. 

Yes, this is a play about a woman playing D&D. And if I am honest some of the revelations in the script are a bit clunky, but for the most part the script is so casual and genuinely funny, that its harsher deeper content hits like a sledge hammer. It may feel out of place, but no more so than our protagonist, Tilly was in her life, and so perhaps this too is fitting. 

I commend everyone involved with this production and am overjoyed to hear that their run has been extended to August 2nd. As an avid D&D gamer, I could not have spent my birthday in a more perfect way. And as this year is the 40th Anniversary of D&D, this production seems quite timely too. If you live in or around the Tulsa area, go to to find out more. 

You won't be sorry.