Archive for October 2010

Halloween in Arizona   Leave a comment

Halloween has become a marketer’s paradise.  How did something that was supposed to be dark, scary, and spiritual turn into something so light, bubbly, and kitschy?  That’s America for you.

I’ve been taking a few pictures this Halloween season.  I thought I’d share the look of Halloween in my neck of the desert.

I never got inside this store.


Haunted House at Fry's Market. Inside is a large-screen tv playing spooky Scooby-Doo episodes.


The best costume I've seen before Halloween Night is the Keebler Elf. What a nice guy! He gave me cookies, and I wasn't even trick-or-treating.



Haunted Pumpkin. The ghost works for a candy company.


And that’s really all I got.  There are other Halloweeny things to be seen around here, but I didn’t have my camera with me when I saw them.  My plan for tonight is to gather my small family, go visit a friend, leaving my place cold and dark.  Looks like I’ve lost the Halloween spirit.  I’d rather hide from it than participate.


Posted October 31, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Star Wars Poetry Slam   2 comments

AT 8 p.m. on Thursday October 28 I took my teenage minions and myself to an open-mike poetry slam with a Star Wars theme.  It was being held at Samurai Comics–my favorite comic store.

We arrive by night. That's me in the hat. Photography by Corencio.

We went inside and I stopped at the cash register to talk to Mike Banks.  Mike and his wife Moriya own Samurai Comics.  I always make an effort to know the people who work in my favorite stores, at least by first name.  It doesn’t take that much effort to introduce oneself, and it pays off in good will.  I like Mike. He’s the kind of guy who goes out of his way to make his store a fun place for his customers.  Soft-spoken, but very knowledgeable, Mike has been in the Comics business in Phoenix longer than anyone else in Phoenix, almost 30 years now.  He hasn’t owned his own store all that time, but he has been working in comics stores since 1981. 

Mike Banks, store owner, comics pro. I envy this guy so much. All this cool stuff belongs to him, at least it does until he sells it.

In the words of Peter David “But I Digress”.  I must digress for a moment to ask if you’ve ever thought about the immense service that people like Mike Banks provide to the rest of us. Mike has built his life around comics.  He’s been up and down, employee and owner.  I know it wasn’t easy to get Samurai Comics going.  I was there when it happened.  Mike has made thousands of people happy in his lifetime, and he isn’t even close to finished.  He brings in the comics for our convenience–not just the ones that we buy, but also the ones we browse for casual pleasure.  He stocks games and toys and costumes and videos.  He has anime, manga, and American comics.  He makes space available for gamers to sit down and play–it could be Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, Shadowfist, or Dungeons and Dragons.  He has new and used material for sale.  He’s having a $1 sale on Halloween Day that offers an incredible chance to pick up relatively new comics at bargaain prices.  In my book, Mike Banks is a hero, and I’m very pleased to know him.

But enough about him, let’s get on to the poetry slam.  That’s the reason I came.  It turned out to be not quiet what I expected.  I was expecting this:

"If I don't get at least one ode in my honor at this thing, I'm going to be so pissed."


and what I got was this:

I guess I'm on film somewhere. I wonder if it will show up on Youtube.


The slam wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, but then I’ve only gone to one other, and it was held at a library by a high school club 15 years ago.  There were only about 5 poets, including me, and the other four all knew each other.  No one knew me.  The favored style was pretty much white guys rap with a scifi theme, and most of it was clever in the extreme.  Their stuff made me laugh. Alas, there was no way for me to get any of it down, but one guy had written a couple of poems as recruiting pitches for the Dark Side.  As he put it, the Jedi way was all about following orders and restricitions.  The Dark Side of the Force was all about Freedom and the Good Life.  I must admit, I was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.

Our Master of Ceremonies.


Our first poet. Note the Jedi robe and Master Yoda backpack at his feet.


Simply because of where I chose to sit down, I became the second speaker.


Our third poet, and passionate advocate for the Dark Side.


Our final speaker.


Their poems were all brilliant, insightful, and funny, but I can’t share them with you because I don’t have the text of what they recited.  The best I can do is share one of my own.  It’s a limerick.  I was the only one who chose to do limericks and short forms instead of 3-minute raps.  Even so, I got some applause and chuckles from the audience.

Master Yoda helped me with my limericks.


A slaver named Jabba the Hutt

Filled his fortress with crime, drugs, and smut.

     A slave girl named Lea

     Said she wouldn’t be a

Just a half naked eye-candy slut.

The whole thing lasted a bit less than an hour.  I heard a lot of funny, witty stuff, and learned I really wasn’t in these guys’ league as a local poet.  They mentioned other cafes downtown where they had regular poetry slams open to any theme, but I doubt if I’ll be going there.  I had a good time, and really, when you try a new experience, what more can you ask for?


Posted October 29, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

FunKaty and the 100th Blog   1 comment

I’ve been thinking about what I would do for Atroll’s 100th posting here.  I thought about a retrospective where I went back and looked at some the best blogs I’ve done over the last year.  I thought about featuring the Star Wars Poetry Slam that I’m going to attend tonight.  But then something came up that blew both of those ideas away.

As I drove my son to college this morning and listened to the Doug and Wolf Show on KTAR radio 620 A.M., I heard them say they were broadcasting from the Fry’s Store at 44th Street and Thomas Road.  That’s not far from where I live.  It occurred to me that it would be fun to see what these guys look like in the real world.  After dropping my son at his school, I went home and grabbed my camera and headed over to the store.

As I approached, I saw they had a display up at the store’s front door telling people they were there.

The first sign that I was in the right place.


Walking in, I stopped to admire the haunted house that Fry’s had set up.  They built it completely out of a bit of fabric and a lot of 12 packs of Coca-Cola products.  Yay, it’s Halloween!

Instinctively turning right, I quickly found my way to the broadcast area.  I recognized Doug Franz right away.  He looks younger in person than in his publicity photo on the KTAR website.  He was certainly at the center of the whole performance, and a lively job it was, too.  I had feared there would be an enormous crowd there, and I wouldn’t be able to get near them, but there were only half a dozen people including me, and some of those were Fry’s store personnel.  That’s great for me.  It meant I would actually get a chance to talk to them.

Doug Franz, in red, at the micorphone.


One question to a young woman in KTAR clothing quickly directed me to FunKaty and Ron Wolfley who were over to the side. (By the way, Katy got a profile shot into my picture of Doug.)  Wolf was eating a donut as I approached.  That was great.  The Doug and Wolf show has been doing a running gag about Wolf’s love for donuts for years that I’ve been listening to them.  I asked him if I could have a picture of him with the current donut in his life and Wolf graciously agreed.

That's Wolf in the background. The donut is almost gone.


After he finished the donut I stepped up and shook hands with Wolf. He comes across as a very friendly guy.  I told him how much I enjoyed his show every day, and appreciated his comments on the air.  What more does a fan have to say to a star?  We like their work. They make us happy.  Tell them and then get out of the way.  Much is made on the show of what a big guy Wolf is–after all he was a fullback in the NFL for ten years.  The truth is, he isn’t really that big.  He’s a little bigger than me–maybe 3 inches and 30 pounds.  That’s not huge.  Don’t let Doug rag on you about your size, Wolf.  You look like you’re really in pretty good shape for a donut-loving man.

And then came the best moment of the morning.  I asked if I could get a picture of FunKaty.  Sweetheart that she is, she suggested that we  take a picture together.  Here it is friends, proof positive that the Trollgodfather really does get to meet and hang out (at least briefly) with beautiful women.  The lovely Brittany, a KTAR employee who you will see just down the screen, took this picture for me.  It was certainly the high point of my morning, and probably my month.  Thank you, Katy, for your graciousness.

Trollgodfather (aka Atroll) meets FunKaty. She is a ray of sunshine and a marketing director for KTAR.


I got there just at the end of the show.  I got to see Wolf do his famous “ARE YOU TALKING TO MEEEEEEEEE?” schtick.  It is a much anticipated moment on the show every morning where he calls out some famous person, place, or thing.  I was kinda still talking to Katy when he did it, so I missed who he called out this morning.  A bit later I heard another fan there tell Wolf about the time his 11-year old son imitated him by doing a “ARE YOU TALKING TO MEEEEEE, PEPPERONI?” while pizza was being cooked at home.  Very funny.


The radio show came to its conclusion.  Wolf did a banjo picker imitation, and the Word of the Day proved to be ‘BANJO”.  I ought to go login at and get my all-star rewards points. Yes, I’m a KTAR all-star. 🙂  I’ll do that when I finish this blog.

There were a few other KTAR notables present who helped make the radio show work.  I took their pictures also.

Brittany answered questions, and sold donuts (sadly, I didn't get any) and took my picture with Katy. She was a credit to the whole operation, and I enjoyed meeting her.


Farmer Rod Lincoln is the show's producer. He's the handsome guy in the gray shirt in the center of the photo.


I think this is a good picture. Wolf has his back to me; Farmer Rod is doing stuff on his computer to make the show work, Doug is looking at the camera, and the guy in the background is the sound man. I think Katy told me his name was Bob.  As a crew they worked together smoothly, and they put on a fine show this morning.  It’s 3 hours later now, and I’m still kind of jazzed that I could be there to watch them and talk to Katy and Wolf.  This is the most fun I’ve had all week.


Posted October 28, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Morpheus Road: The Light   1 comment

Do you ever read books simply because someone else you know read it and liked it?  That would be reading a book not because you wanted to read it, but because you wanted to understand how someone else thinks.  If you read a book that another person likes, that gives you insight into that person’s mental processes.  At least, I think it does.

Last night I finished reading Morpheus Road: Light.  It is the first book in a new fantasy series aimed at teens by D. J. McHale, who finished his best-selling Pendragon series last year.  This looks like a new series.  I only hope it doesn’t go on for 10 books like Pendragon did.  (In fact, Pendragon really isn’t finished.  The publisher is busy turning all the books into graphic novels–that could take another five years.)

While I was looking for a graphic of the book’s dust jacket , I found this insightful review of the book here: .   I intend to give a brief review of the title also, but let’s first look at the cover.

Gravedigger wants you to walk Morpheus Road with him.


Marshall Seaver is a geeky 15-year old kid who’s a little behind when it comes to growing up and turning into your typical nasty teenager.  I’d probably like him a lot.  In a fit of temper he breaks a mysterious globe full of phantom blood that his mother, a world-traveling archaeologist left to protect him.  From that moment on he is haunted by a phantom from his own imagination–a ghoulish monster named Gravedigger.  Gravedigger doesn’t want much–just for Marshall to die and walk the Morpheus Road with him. 

Marshall is not all that keen on dying.  Somehow or other he escapes every phantasmal trap that Gravedigger sets for him.  Others aren’t so lucky, including Marshall’s best friend, Cooper Foley.  Marshall seeks help, and finds it in the form of Sydney Foley, Cooper’s bitchy older sister.  Reluctant companions at first, they turn into a teenage version of  Mulder and Scully, coping with some very imaginative deathtraps along the way.

Marshall spends too much time wondering if he’s going crazy.  For a sci-fi geek, he spends way too much time resisting the fantastic when it happens to him.  But as the attempts to kill him continue, and people start dying around him, he grows up, and turns into James Bond, Jr.  I guess I have to buy it, or there’s no story, and the action sequences are terrific–would make a fine scary movie, but it’s a book I didn’t really like very much.  I doubt if I’ll read the sequel, but I bet plenty of young teens will.  And that will be good for Mr. McHale.

Morpheus Road: The Light is a book that won’t bear much critical thinking.  MacHale is a fine writer–his prose can carry you along.  The plot isn’t very deep–there are really only three characters in the book (Marshall, Sydney, and Cooper).  I asked my son, who was eager to buy the book, who he liked in the novel–turns out to be Sydney.  Actually, she is the most mature, the bravest, and the smartest in the bunch. But she’s not the heroine–she’s just a sidekick.  Marsh Seaver is Destiny’s Child.  If you like teen horror, then read this book.  In the end you know that the real story hasn’t even started yet–you just read 341 pages of preface. 



Posted October 28, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Cloudy Skies Over Phoenix   3 comments

As I headed out to the post office this morning, I noticed that the air was cool and the skies were cloudy.  That doesn’t happen around here very often, and since stormy skies always make dramatic photos, I went home, got my camera, and went out to see what pictures I could get.  This blog is called Atroll’s Entertainment, and yes, I did entertain myself this morning by driving around, admiring the mountain scenery to the northeastern corner of the city, and taking pictures of cloudy skies.  Once again, here are a series of pictures that show the beauty of Arizona, along with a few comments on anything unusual.

The sky above my house about 11 a.m.


The morning was well advanced before I started my trip. The sun, nearing midheaven, was trying to break through and dissipate the clouds.  i was afraid it might succeed and spoil everything, but decided to go out and get some photos anyway.

View to the north.


I still had to go to the post office before the expedition could really get under way.  I had two books going to England, and two that were going to Texas.  I wrote them all, and I say unto you, it is good to watch your creations go out into the world to people who will be glad to get them. It’s an aside to this blog, but I think that motivates me more than anything else these days.

The clouds make their comeback and the sun is hidden.


The richest people in Phoenix live on Camelback Mountain and its surrounding hills. I'm heading into their territory.


If you look carefully just to the right and slightly above the bright white mansion on the mountainside, you can see a castle–an honest to God castle with crennelated walls.  As I understand the story, a rich but crazy dentist built this edifice on the mountain side because he wanted to live in a castle.   I’ll show you closer views of the castle down below, although this is a place for the very rich, and I have no access.

Approaching Camelback Mountain.


Looking across the city at the South Mountains.


There is a narrow, winding road that climbs about one fourth of the way up Camelback Mountain, and the general public is allowed to drive on this road.  The ordinary multi-millionaires have houses lining this road, while the billionaires all have private drives leading to their residences. From this road you can get a spectacular view of the city of Phoenix.  I like to come up here every once in a while and dream about being rich. 

About thirty miles away you can see the other mountain range that guards the southern approach to the Valley of the Sun–the South Mountains.  That whole range is part of a city park–I believe it is the largest city park in the world, and it is one of the Wonders of Phoenix.  Some time this winter, I will take my camera into the South Mountains and show you what they are like.

This is the view to the southeast towards Tempe. You can see the Papago Buttes where I showed you Hole-in-the-Rock in an earlier blog.


There are hills and mountains on all sides of Phoenix, some larger, some smaller, some nearer, some farther.  But get up where you can see above the houses and the trees, and you will see mountains.  I love mountains.

Rough terrain.


Camelback from another angle. Here we're looking almost due east.


The butte to the left is called the Camel's Head. There is a long neck of hills between it and the Camel's Hump to the right.


This is a slightly closer view of the Castle. You really have to look close to see it, because it was built from the same stone as the mountain.


I consider the Castle on Camelback to be one of the Wonders of Phoenix.  I’d really like to tour the place some day, but I don’t suppose it will ever happen.

Car window view of downtown Phoenix and the South Mountains.


Phoenix has a relatively small downtown area.  All of the tallest buildings in the state are clustered in an area about 2 miles long and half a mile wide.

Another view of the Camel's head. If you look closely you can see that it is pocked with dozens of erosion caves.


Although my captions are all about the mountains and landmarks here, the pictures are really all about the sky.

A truly magnificent saguaro cactus. I've been all over the desert and have seen thousands of saguaros. I think this is the best one ever.


There is a hiking trail that leads to the summit of Camelback Mountain on the north side.


I drove around the mountain and approached it from the north.  There is a small park on the north side, good for hiking and climbing.  In the center of the picture you can see a strange rock formation that is visible only from the north and the west sides of the mountain.  I think of it as The Gorilla, but it is called The Praying Monk.  The trail to the summit goes right by this erosion-carved monolith.  I was hoping to take some pictures of the park and the trail, but I couldn’t even get inside–too many people there in the middle of the day.

There are several hills north of Camelback, and they are also filled with the houses of the rich.


Someone owns a house perched exactly on top of that hill in the center.


Piastewa Peak as seen from the west.


To the west of the Camelback region is another set of hills and small mountains called the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.  The tallest eminence in the area is called Piastewa Peak–named after a native American Navajo woman who was killed during the Iraq War–she was a corporal, I think, in the U.S. Army.  Before that the mountain was called Squaw Peak.  There is a hiking trail that runs to the top.  It is rigorous, although hundreds of citizens climb it every day.  I’ve been up there exactly once.

View of my favorite hiking trail at the eastern end of the mountain preserve.


The trail at the eastern end of the park is not particularly steep, and mountain bikers climb up to the pass between the hills all the time.  The trail ends in a region of spectacular quartz boulders weighing tons and scattered all over the mountain side in this area only.  Ten years ago when I still went hiking once a week, I used to rest my weary legs by sitting on those sharp and shiny rocks.

View to the east down my street as I get home around 12:30 p.m.


I started this blog with clouds, and I’ll end it with clouds.  The purpose of my whole trip this morning was simply to admire the clouds from many different angles and perspectives.  Here we are, back at my house. The sun has lost its struggle with the mighty mountains of water vapor.  As an Arizonan I can only hope that it will actually rain before the day is over, but not too hard.  I don’t want to contend with a howling storm the next time I have to leave the house.

Singing (with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel): Cloudy! The sky is gray and it is cloudy. Sometimes I think it's coming down on me.



Posted October 25, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Warrior, Rogue, and Mage–a Critical Review   4 comments

Open mouth, insert foot–that’s a capsule history of my life.  I made an offer on Twitter to review any game that came back to me from the Essen international Game and Toy show, and Michael Wolf, who is European in spite of his incredibly American-sounding name, took me up on it, rightly pointing out that he made his game, Warrior, Rogue & Mage, free right from the beginning and that I could have it by simply wanting it.  In fact, I did download it when it first came out, and had simply never done anything with it, but now I’m reviewing it.

We need to get a few things out in the open right from the beginning including such things as designer’s bias.  It is my considered belief that any game can be an excellent game if the game master is skillful and the players have fun. Heck, I’ve even had fun playing Dungeons and Dragons once or twice.  (And I have been bored out of my skull a few times with it–I lay it all on the GM.) I am biased against games that are overly complicated, and I consider every form of Dungeons and Dragons to be prime examples of overly complicated games.  For those of you who have long experience with D & D, those of you who don’t consider it to be complicated at all, I will seem like a simple-minded buffoon.  Well, perhaps I am.  Remember, that what I say is my opinion, and it’s colored by my own experience as a game designer and player.

I warn you right now, that though I like Warrior, Rogue & Mage, I intend to criticize this game.

Before I go any further, let me say that Michael Wolf set out to design an epic fantasy role-playing game that would be simpler and lighter than other games in the field.  He did an excellent job, and his basic concept for a classless rpg is brilliant and innovative.  He got rid of the bell curve model of character design, and he  made a game where the player truly creates the character he wants to play.  Every character is defined by three components: a warrior component, a rogue component, and a wizard component.  The player has 10 points to spread among the three areas.  One could put all 10 points in warrior and have a peerless fighter, but be totally helpless in the other two aspects of life.  Or one could put it all into Mage.  Or, a wiser player who wants to be able to cope with all situations might choose a 4, 3, 3 spread for balance with the 4 points determining the character’s overall tendencies.  Be as balanced or unbalanced as you wish.  That is a brilliant conception for character creation.

Except that Michael didn’t do that.  He waffled and stated that no attribute could start with more than 6 points assigned to it.  Damn!  There goes the idea of pure warriors or pure wizards.  He came up with a brilliant system based on three archtypes of fantasy, and then immediately shot it down by putting his own ideas of play balance on it as restrictions. While it could be argued that there aren’t many pure archtypes in fantasy fiction, i have to say why not?

After stating that he was going to keep the game simple, he can’t keep from creating unnecessary complications.  All characters have Hit Points, Fate, and Mana.  From three numerical attributes, he’s gone to six.  Six isn’t a lot, but he makes some arbitrary decisions that introduce complexity.  Hit points are equal to 6 plus the Warrior attribute. Fate points are equal to the Rogue attribute.  Mana points equals the Mage attribute times 2.  If Fate points would be zero, the character still gets 1, but if mana points would be zero, it gets zero.  Three different systems and as unbalanced as possible, giving maximum advantage to warriors and wizards.  Why, Michael?  You have the same mechanic in play for assigning the three basic components of character–why not have the same mechanic in play for the three secondary characterisitics ?  Hit points could be Warrior plus 1D6; Fate points could be Rogue plus 1D6; Mana could be Mage plus 1D6.  No exceptions needed. I guess that’s my first house rule. Simple, elegant, consistent, but not what he did.

There are also Skills and Talents.  Each player starts with 3 Skills and 1 Talent.  There are fairly short lists of both Skills and Talents in the rules, but Michael did say that players and G.M.s could make up new ones if they wanted to.  Skills and Talents aren’t quantified by level.  Either the player has the knowledge/ability or she doesn’t.  Those Skills and Talents add modifiers to the Conflict resolution rolls, usually a straight plus 2.  Turn to the Appendix to see what the possible Skills and Talents could be.  I have a feeling that the game might bog down with the Skills and Talents with desperate players arguing that their Basket-weaving skill really pertains to their ability to catch fish in the wild. Etc.  Maybe not.

Character advancement is not a mechanical thing in W, R & M.  The Game Master gives surviving characters a point or two of advancement at the end of an adventure or campaign. (There are other options, and the skillful GM can make the reward process very sweet if he/she decides to do so.) In a way that’s brilliant. No one has to keep track of experience points.  In another way it doesn’t seem fair.  A mechanical system of character advancement bases progress on the player’s actions during the game. Merit is proportionate to reward.  Letting the GM hand out advancement at will is wide open to bias.

There’s one thing in the rules that rubs me the wrong way.  At chapter six Wolf tells the reader to stop reading unless he is going to be the Game Judge.  The remainder of the rules and understanding of how the game works is reserved for the Game Master.  That’s futile and naive, and smacks of the kind of one-sided publishing that WotC and TSR have been practicing for years. Players manuals, Game Master Manuals, other books to be read only by certain gamers!  Phooey!  What gamer worth his salt is going to stop reading the rules just because the designer said to?  This kind of dichotomy between GM and Player is foreign to my nature. Everyone should be able to do both.

And there’s one thing that I totally agree with.  I’ll quote it directly, as I believe it is Mr. Wolf’s finest moment in this set of rules:  “MAKE IT YOUR OWN. Ican’t stress this enough: make WR&M your own.  GMs and Players are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table. Add new lands. Create new monsters. Change the rules. Whatever suits your fancy, do it. A lot of creativity went into the creation of this game, but it definitely shouldn’t end there!  This book contains several optional rules, but you can add your own house rules as well. If you think there’s something critical or very cool missing from the game, let us know!”  Bravo, Michael!  Empower the players! Well done!

I have two technical quibbles.  I believe that Michael chose the wrong font for the text of his rules.  While the booklet is attractively laid out and illustrated, the font is angular and crowded.  It shows very poorly with contractions like “can’t”.  The apostrophe appears above the n, and the t can barely be seen.  This is true for all contractions and wherever the letter t follows the letter n. I found myself guessing instead of reading in places.  I also don’t like having the game available only as a pdf.  That makes it impossible to copy and paste from the document.  I would have included more art and more quotes from the text if I had been able to grab them and paste them into this review.

Warrior, Rogue, and Mage already has 5 supplements, all of which are available for free at Drive-Thru RPG.  This is an act of philanthropy unprecedented in gaming history.  Get Warrior, Rogue, and Mage!  Read it!  If you like it, by all means follow up with his other publications. 

There are many aspects of the WR&M rules that I didn’t discuss.  I haven’t actually had a chance to play the game, so I don’t know if Michael’s task resolution system really works.  It looks like it should.  Parts of the game feel rather Dungeons and Dragons to me with plus modifiers for weapons and spells and ability checks. I never liked that system, but that’s just me.  D & D players may love it.

Finally, since I intend to post this review at Drive-Thru, let me give WR&M a star rating.  I give it 3.5 out of 5.  Download a copy and read it.  Play it if you get a chance, or can make one.  You have nothing to lose by doing so, and some interesting new perspectives to gain.


Posted October 23, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Magnus Robot Fighter & Victoria’s Secret   3 comments

When it comes to fighting monster robots, there simply is no substitute for super strength.

When the new Magnus comic appeared in August 2010, I barely gave it a glance.  I’ll admit that I read more than my share of science fiction, but what I really like is jungles, dinosaurs, swordfights–not aircars and marauding robots. However, when I saw Magnus #2 on Wednesday at Samurai Comics, I decided to go back and buy it after all.  I have mixed emotions about this title, and don’t know if I’ll stay with it or not.

But now that I’m getting well into my dotage, I must admit a certain fondness for the things I liked in my youth.  One of those things was Magnus Robot Fighter.  Magnus first appeared in 1963, the creation of Russ Manning, imho, one of comics’ all-time best artists.  I believe it was the clean, dynamic, sexy Manning art that first attracted me to the series.  Russ Manning had been doing the Brothers of the Spear backup comics in Dell’s Tarzan during the fifties, and even then when I was just a teenager I thought he was about the best comics artist in the business.  When I saw his work on Magnus, of course I picked it up and started buying it.


This tale of Men vs. Robots came out long before the Terminator movies.

In the year 4000 C.E. the planet earth will be covered with continent-spanning cities consisting of towers that are at least a mile high.  Everyone will have a flying car, and a huge staff of robots that will do all the work.  And all the women will be young, lovely, and quite stupid.  They will spend all their time parading around in lingerie. Victoria’s Secret will rule the world.  In fact, the very first woman we see in the new Magnus series is named Cinnette Victoria, and she sleeps in her underwear–lovely blue underwear it is, too.

Magnus comes in through the window. Ms. Victoria says "oh!" Evil froglike thug robots appear in the next panel--they used the door.

I’m not complaining, but the character’s name and apparel come straight out of a Victoria’s Secret calalog.  Jim Shooter, you are a naughty boy.  For that matter, look at Magnus.  All he is really wearing is a kind of skintight tunic with a belt around it.  The 1963 version of Magnus was clearly wearing shorts.  The 2010 version of Magnus is clearly wearing a skirt.  I’m kind of wondering if you could see his privates if you looked up at him from below.  This outfit is Victoria’s Secret lingerie for men.

Part of the attraction of the Magnus comics was the lovely Leeja Clane, the fiery redhead who served as the love interest and robot-fighting partner for Magnus.  She was fabulous in the sixties . . .

Leeja started out as a speeder resisting arrest. For a senator's daughter she proved to be quite a scofflaw. Magnus himself started as an outlaw.

And just look at her outfit in the latest incarnation.

Leeja's dress looks like daytime lingerie. She is barely covered.

By page 4 of the second issue of Magnus, Leeja is completely naked.  As one bad guy says in the last panel on the page, “she ain’t hiding nothing.”.  The truth is that you have to use your imagination if you want to dream on lovely Leeja–the art is fairly discrete for nudity, but we never got anything like this back in the 60s and 70s.

Jim Shooter tells a good story.  Magnus is pretty much the same character he was back in the 60s–it’s just the women who are racier.  The first story wraps up at the end of issue 2.  I don’t know if I’ll buy issue 3 or not. 

One thing worth mentioning is that the first issue of the new Magnus Robot Fighter, like the first issue of Turok Son of Stone included a complete reprint of the original issue #1 of Magnus.  That’s a pretty sweet deal, and kudos to Dark Horse for including the root stories of both series in their books.  I kinda wish they’d maintain the parallelism and continue reprinting the old Magnus stories in the back of the new ones.

I’m enthusiastic about the new Turok–I don’t know about the new Magnus, but I do know that adventure comics fans really ought to pick up the number 1 issues of both titles.  They are a treat for the eyes and the old nostalgia gland.



Posted October 16, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Turok, Son of Stone   4 comments

Way back in the day, there were only two comic companies worth following: D.C. Comics with its superheroes, and Dell Comics that did everything else.  Dell had its own hero books, but they were a more naturalistic bunch–Tarzan of the Apes, Turok Son of Stone and a few others.

This second week in October is a heck of a good week for comics. Not only has Warlord of Mars appeared from Dynamite, but Turok Son of Stone has appeared in a magnificent 48 page spectacular from Dark Horse Comics.  I had no intention of buying Turok when I went by Samurai Comics on Wednesday, but one look at it, and I was hooked.  I also wound up getting Magnus Robot Fighter #1 and #2.  I loved these comics when I was a kid, although  I didn’t collect them the way I did with Tarzan.  Turok certainly had the same appeal as Tarzan–savage men in even more savage worlds.  Heh.  I guess we love our opposites. I’m about as savage as a kleenex in the real world.

Excedrin headache number two--two as in Turok!

The story begins with Turok rescuing Andar from a far-flung company of Aztec warriors.  These exiles from Azcapotzalco and their leader Maxtla are a thousand miles from their home in the Valley of Mexico, and they can’t find anything better to do than slaughter the Native Americans of Texas to their bloodthirsty gods.  Well, the story certainly starts with a bang, then moves to a thrilling chase, and continues with a timestorm that hurls them all into either an alternate universe or a prehistoric era when dinosaurs walked the earth. Nonstop action, magnificent art, breathless storytelling from Jim Shooter–what is not to like?  The art by Eduardo Francisco and color by Jose Villarrubia is incredible–clean, crisp, dynamic in every panel. 

Dark Horse comics has been bringing out new versions of old heroes.  Turok and Magnus and Dr. Solar are three of them.  I never cared for Dr. Solar, so I will probably give his new incarnation a pass, but I’ve signed on for the other two.

As a special bonus, Dark Horse uses the second half of the 48 page book to reprint the very first Turok adventure from 1954.  The art and the story for the original look almost as good as this 2010 reincarnation.  Turok and Andar start out together in the original tale and descend through a sinkhole and a cavern with an underground river into a strange underground world where dinosaurs still exist.  That place is huge.  Either they’ve gone to Pellucidar the easy way, or they’ve slipped into some kind of alternate world also.  I had never seen the first Turok story before–what I remember was that they were trapped in a canyon with unclimbable sides.  I don’t think Turok and Andar ever did get out of there.

Searching the internet for images of Turok Son of Stone is a delightful quest.  Those old Dell comics from the fifties have the best comic book catalog of hungry dinosaurs ever.  Behold!

The very first Turok comic. He is wisely avoiding the large predators.

For a real treat, take yourself to and browse through all those old covers from the fifties.  For a continuing treat, start reading the new Turok series as soon as you can get a copy.


Posted October 15, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

Warlord of Mars   2 comments

Isn’t it wonderful how the old adventure classics come back again and again in new and even better forms than before?  One of my favorite novels ever is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Burroughs first penned this fantasy escape novel back in 1912, and here, almost a century later, it is still going strong.  When I first heard, about three months ago, that it was coming out in comic book form from Dynamite Comics, I immediately had Samurai Comics put it on my hold list.  Well, today it hit the stands, and as a bonus, the first issue only costs one dollar.  I bought 4 of them, getting 3 of the variant covers in the process, and I consider it to be $4 well spent.  That’s about what we pay for a single issue of the superhero comics that rule the comic shops.

I never thought of John Carter as left-handed.

 The story of John Carter on Barsoom–we may call it Mars, but the real Mars was never so vibrantly alive–is a remarkable tale for 1912.  Our hero gets to another world by simply wishing himself there.  Once there he finds a world that is even more bleak and barren than the Arizona desert he leaves behind.  On Barsoom the giant green cacti of the desert have become a race of 6-limbed savage warriors.  There are red men in both places–in Arizona they are called Apaches, and on Barsoom they are simply the dominant civilized people.  You would think on a world with a thin atmosphere that the people would wear lots of clothing, but instead nudidty is the rule.  You probably already know the story. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read A Princess of Mars.  On the surface it is pure escapist fantasy, but if you really think about it, Burroughs was laying a lot of revolutionary messages between the lines.

My favorite variant cover. Joe Jusko is a simply incredible Burroughs artist.

Perhaps the best thing about the John Carter books by Burroughs is that they give artists incredible inspiration for some of their most gorgeous work.  The contrast of beauty with barbaric savagery, the yin and yang of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, the lure of the exotic, and the brutal reality of monsters in the world.  My soul floats away in dreaming when I see a cover like the one above.

Dejah Thoris, the most beautiful woman/alien in all of science fiction.

The images that artists come up with for the Barsoomian illustrations seem to leap straight out of tarot imagery.  Tell me–isn’t this Strength personified?

Swords aand naked women--Warlord of Mars is all about sex.

And there are four other promotional covers  that only dealers get.  They are bound to be expensive, although they really can’t be better than the ones shown above.

The interior art is also amazing.  Take a look!  Stephen Sadowski is an amazing artist.

Barren but beautiful.

Warlord of Mars would seem to be a misnomer for this comic.  According to Burroughs’ framing device, included in issue 1, the tale should only cover the events in A PRINCESS OF MARS which ends with Carter returning to Earth after 10 years on Mars.  He doesn’t really acquire the title of Warlord until he fights his way from pole to pole in THE GODS OF MARS AND THE WARLORD OF MARS.  Oh well, it will be interesting to see what Arvid Nelson does with the story.

There have been comics about John Carter before.  Dell did a 3 issue series back in the 50s and Gold Key reprinted it with the books out of order during the 60s.  Between 1977 and 1979 Marvel did this amazing series about John Carter Warlord of Mars.  It ran for 28 issues and had 3 annuals. When D.C. took over Marvel’s Tarzan line of comics, they also took John Carter, and continued his adventures briefly in Weird Worlds. It’s a shame the series didn’t last.  I would have bought those comics forever.  As it is, I have them all hidden away in the back room somewhere.  (How time flies!  I didn’t think it was that long ago. Just goes to show, I’m older than dirt.)

Marvel did an incredible series about John Carter--less symbolism, more action, great original stories.

The new Dynamite series by Arvid Nelson is off to a marvelous start–parallel narratives on Earth and Mars.  I hope enough fans buy this comic to make it a success, because if they do, we’ll get an even better portrayal of the John Carter saga than we did from D.C.  And that will be a treasure to read and watch.


Posted October 15, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized

RinCon Ramblings   1 comment

On Friday, October 8, Rick Loomis and I left Phoenix behind and rolled on down to Tucson for RinCon 10. Even though we got a late start, we were there before two p.m. and half set up by the time the Con people opened the doors to the great basement hall of the Tucson Convention Center.  I had my little digital camera with me, and I took a lot of pictures. I don’t intend to torture you readers with all of them, but I will post a bunch of them, and put some comments beneath each picture.  I had fun at the convention doing what I always do, wandering around, seeing my friends and talking to strangers.  I got to do a little bit of gaming, too.  That’s always a good thing at a gaming convention.


Free breakfast in the Green Cafe of the Hotel Arizona on Saturday.

I didn’t get any pictures at all on Friday afternoon.  The most notable thing that happened was that Rick and I had supper with Liz Danforth, Steve Ellis, and Brian Gross at the El Charro Restaurant in downtown Tucson.  El Charro is the oldest continuously open Mexican restaurant in the United States–it has been open in the same location since 1922.  That being said, I wasn’t very impressed with it–mediocre food served in a cramped little space by the front window–the food being neither better nor worse than that served by Taco Bell, for example.  At least I got a glass of my favorite beer, Dos Equis (Two Xs). 

The Father of Play-by-mail Gaming eats breakfast.

I think the eggs were artificial, they tasted like plastic, but the bacon and orange juice was really good.

Wicked John Wick (in the white shirt), his ladies Rowe and Jessica, and a good view of Jesse Foster's bald spot.

Virtually everybody who didn’t live in Tucson stayed at the Hotel Arizona and availed themselves of the free breakfast that came with convention membership. Here are John Wick, his ladies, and MIB Jesse Foster, getting ready, fueling up for a strenuous Saturday.


This is the Flying Buffalo dealer table. My T & T stuff is down in the lower left corner.

Rick and I had a wide variety of things to sell.  My  T & T stuff is in the lower left corner of the table. If you look closely you can find OgreOcre, Monsters! Monsters!, T & T 5.5  along with T & T 7.5 and just above that a big stack of solo adventures.  We didn’t actually sell very much of it.  RinCon was great for networking, lousy for sales.

Twin brothers with different mothers.

The tall guy talking to Rick is named Seth–I didn’t get his last name.  He has a gaming store in Los Angeles and brought a ton of stuff over to sell.  He had a lot of really fine games on his table.  In the end, he was the only one I bought anything from–an Order of the Stick graphic novel.  Seth was a pleasant companiion, a family man, and an all-around good guy.  I wish him well in his gaming career.


Knitted Cthulhu babies–more popular than games.

Not everything was games.  There were also a few dolls and toys.

The computer gaming area was guarded by a piratical teddy bear of considerable size.

For the first time that I can remember, there were more available computers than computer gamers to play on them.  I got into this area on Sunday for a few minutes and got my video butt kicked by a 12 year old kid in some streetfighting action.  Fun enough, but nothing I’d care to spend more than 5 minutes on. 

Rich Shaffstall, Felicia Peters, James "Bear" Peters--Bear was my best friend back in the 70s when T & T started.

A lot of people that I hardly ever see made it to RinCon this year.  I was lucky enough to get in about an hour of T & T gaming with the legendary Bear Peters.  My character fought a flock of pigeon-sized wyverns atop a humongous dirigible while flying across the bronzed sands of the great desert south of Khosht (meaningless gabble to most of you readers, but the inner circle of T & T players will have some idea of what I’m talking about.) Bear is very pleased to actually be running a continuing T & T campaign, altho the playing episodes are about 3 months apart, and the gamers are separated by over 100 miles.

John Wick offered his books for sale at a table inside the main gaming area.

There wasn’t anything to keep me busy at the Buffalo table, so I spent a lot of time wandering around the gaming area.  I was jealous of John’s primo location within the gaming area–of course, it cost him $100 more for his table than it cost Rick out on the periphery.

Jesse Foster examines the Laughing Moon FRP gamebook.

Todd Van Hooser spent the whole weekend playing his own Laughing Moon frpg. He likes miniatures and scantily clad women. (Heh! Who doesn't?)

I first saw Todd running his Laughing Moon game at RinCon a year ago in 2009.  Since then we’ve been at about 6 conventions at the same time.  But, we’ve never spoken.  He’s a miniatures guy, and I’m not.  I always take a few pictures of his scantily-clad companions however.  Todd has finally published the sourcebook and rules for his game. I wish him well, but I’ll never be one of his followers.

The creators of were demonstrating their product. is an upcoming social network for fantasy role-playing gamers.  It is a pretty slick product, and offera a lot of useful services.  I signed up for it, and have actually established a profile.  If Iwere ever to succeed in transferring my gaming life into the computer, this is the service I’d use to do it.

Who you gonna call?

These guys get a lot of mileage out of some great Ghostbuster costumes.  However, no phantoms made appearances during the show.

Outside the Convention Hall, the City of Tucson held a 3-day food festival with booths of exotic goodies from all over the world.

A long view of part of the festival. There were crowds of happy people all around. 

Mike Stackpole and I wandered around the festival to get lunch on Saturday.  I found a kebab from Persia that filled up the inner Ken.  He ate paella.  How handy is that!  RinCon is the only con I know that has dozens of food vendors right outside the Con with prices that are very affordable.

The creators of Time Renegades were showing off their new game.

I talked with Dennis (the guy with the mustache), who created the game, several times during the Con.  He explained the ten stages of time to me, and his ambitious plan for a game that not only spans all of time and space, but also goes forward into future stages of the universe. He gave me free dice, and a donut, and even played a hand of OgreOcre with me.  He has a beautiful game, a sweeping vision, and a terrific web site here at .

Bear Peters, Brian Gross

Tracey, her husband (I'd know his name if I heard it), and Felicia Peters.

Felicia and Dave (the brother of Tracy's husband) and a view out into the gaming area.

I finished Saturday afternoon playing Tunnels and Trolls with my friends.  Bear ran a continuation of a game that he started back at TrollCon 3 in July, and I wiggled my way into their adventure towards the end of it.

Live music at the food festival Saturday night.

Saturday night was the busiest part of the convention.  I had 3 things to do: participate in John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded larp, play poker in the Texas Hold-Em tournament, and attend the Dark Ones party for Dark Con 2012.  I also needed to stash my gaming bag at the hotel and get some food.  On the trip to the hotel I stopped to listen to the music for a few minutes.  The crowd was enjoying it a lot, and the musicians seemed to be grooving.  I never got any food–the waits were too long, but I muched a couple of granola bars that I brought to the con with me.  Rick went to our hotel room and watched Arizona State University beat Washington State in college football.  A.S.U. is the primary alma mater school for both of us.

Larping with John Wick and the Houses of the Blooded.

I came into the larp a few minutes late, but was able to find both a sword and a modest costume to wear to indicate my membership in House Falcon.  John always takes the part of the servant who makes the larp run.  He announces the events, distributes favor tokens to the players, answers questions, and is generally the engine that drives the whole thing.  His ladies Rowe and Jessica also help.  The three of them manage to keep things moving.  Houses of the Blooded has an interesting game mechanism that I like a lot.  Every player starts with favor (represented by raffle tickets), and you can spend favor to get concessions from other players.  For example, I might go up to a lady in the crowd, and say something like, “Is it not true that we were once lovers?” and then I”d give her a handful of raffle tickets and she would reply, “Yes, my lord, tis true, but that was long ago and far away.”  With a little effort one can start many delicious rumors in this fashion.  In a more serious note, favor is also used to influence juries who decide whether events such as duels and executions should take place.  At one point during the evening, I spent all the favor I had in a vain attempt to stop a duel and start an execution.  It gave me a chance to make a speech, and win a laugh from the assembled lords and ladies.  My new goal at these larps is to use up all my favor as rapidly and outrageously as I can.

The lord Xander has passed out on the floor. Two other lords, best friends tragically brought into combat, are busy killing each other, while a lady watches. Servant John seems well pleased.

No Houses of the Blooded larp is complete without at least 3 deaths.  Duels generally happen during the lst half of the event, and it seems to be a great honor to die nobly in the defense of honor.  I haven’t gotten myself killed in either of the two events I’ve attended–my character is a traveller, who but seldom attends these soirees, and is hardly worthy of being killed. Heh!

High tide for Ken the Gambler.

After the orgy (I mean larp) the poker game started at 10 p.m.  It was a charity event, although I did not realize that when I sat down at it, and one could buy extra chips for cash.  I have only played Texas Hold-Em once before in my life–that was when I was a Guest at the Dark Ones Dark Con in 2008.  This time I had the distinction of being a marked man with a bounty on my head.  I flatter myself that I was not as easy a mark as those poker sharks expected.  The picture shows the high point of my fortunes: black chips are worth 1000, blue are 500, white are 100, green are 50 and red are 25.  I placed 15th in a field of about 30 and lasted until the second break. 

I could do a whole rant about what I hate about Texas Hold-em, but in truth I had some fun, and learned something about the game that may help me next time I play.  I had fun with it.

The party of the Dark Ones was both dark and very noisy. I truly felt like a wallflower there.

I was knocked out of the poker game just before midnight, so I rushed off to room 907 in the Hotel Arizona for the party of the Dark Ones.  It was going strong when I got there, but I found a place to sit and talk with Jesse Foster.  I had two bowls of spicy meatballs–they proved to be my midnight supper for the evening as I was really hungry by the time I arrived, and a glass of orange juice sans booze. 

Poster for Dark Con 2012.

After about 20 minutes I slipped away from the party, got back to my roon, and slept.  I am so sensible at these Cons, insisting on at least 6 hours of sleep each night. Bwa ha ha!

Sunday was something of an anti-climax.  No one showed up for my demo game of Monsters! Monsters!  I spent time talking to Amanda Abelove, creator of a new card game called Corporate Espionage, and time in the MIB area playing Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice while waiting to see if I would win the great Games Basket of goodies that Steve Jackson Games was giving away.  Here’s a picture of it along with my MIB friend Joey.

The big prize of the Con can be seen over Joey's right shoulder. I didn't win it.

Goodbye!  Goodbye to all my fine friends and acquaintances.  Maybe I’ll see you again at the next Con–maybe not.  I enjoyed shmoozing with you all–you are true gamers and the salt of the earth.  Home again by 6 p.m. on Sunday afternoon–a successful convention as far as I’m concerned.


Posted October 13, 2010 by atroll in Uncategorized