Archive for October 2011
I watched Green Lantern when it came out in June, and started to review it then. Somehow that review bogged down. I was going to spend a lot of time blasting the movie version of Sinestro, but there really wasn’t enough to blast. I remember being angered by the character in the film, but after a few hours the rage went away, and I didn’t have much to say. Thus, the review languished until today when I decided to finish it as my simple reactions to the movie. I don’t really do reviews–there are plenty of other places on the internet for straight reviews. I do reactions–the reactions of a life-long science fiction and comics fan, who would really like to see great superhero movies.
Green Lantern is probably my favorite DC superhero. As a science fiction fan, I always wanted to be able to transport myself all over the galaxy to alien planets–I always wanted to be able to do anything at all through sheer willpower. Green Lantern and Adam Strange were the ones that most appealed to me–both were adventurers whose mind was more important than their bodies. (not that they had bad bodies–I’d like to have either one’s physique). When the news came out that there would be a Green Lantern movie, I was pleased and excited. I went to see it on opening week. For the most part I liked it. I liked the special effects–the gorgeously detailed aliens–the weirdness of Oa, the beauty of Carol Ferris.
But, I have to admit that the story was shit. I attribute this to the fact that Hollywood simply can’t even try to produce a movie from the base material as originally written. My guess is that the people who don’t know beans about the original property nevertheless get to say how the end product should look. So, the script writers–if they are not at fault for warping and placing their own interpretations on things–wind up putting all sorts of crap into the movie because someone thinks the audience expects it. Example: Hal Jordan is a hotshot test pilot. Let’s also make him a clown and a bit of an asshole–the audience can identify with a guy like that. Well, originally Hal Jordan was neither clown nor asshole–though his writers at DC for the last 10 years or so have been working pretty hard on making an ass out of him. We don’t need that, or appreciate it, Hollywood. Give us back the real Hal Jordan–the excellent test pilot who was witouut fear.
Special effects don’t impress movie critics. Costume design, scenery, excellent acting by bit players–none of that means squat to the critics. But it impresses me. Green Lantern is an outer space fantasy, notable for its aliens. And the movie has great aliens taken from the Green Lantern comics. Take a look at Tomar Re, one of Hal Jordan’s best friends in the Green Lantern Corps. However, the one alien who is supposed to impress we movie-goers the most is Sinestro–a crimson-hued Errol Flynn clone. Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern–the one guy whose approval really mattered. He doesn’t have a very high opinion of humans, and so he thinks Hal Jordan will be a washout as a Green Lantern. He’s almost right, but his very antagonism spurs Hal to greater efforts.
There is, of course, a big Bad in the movie. It is a gigantic chaotic cloud creature capable of destroying planets. The original Parallax in the Green Lantern comics was much more than that, but let’s keep things simple for movie-goers. Parallax is the essence of Fear itself. (Heh, sounds like a current Marvel mega-series.) It is more powerful than any Green Lantern, or even any team of Green Lanterns. Sinestro can’t handle it. Guess who does.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet
.And whither then? I cannot say.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a notable poet–probably a better poet than a storyteller. When I actually read Lord of the Rings, I kind of wonder about some of the stuff in there–stuff that modern fantasy writers would not be allowed to get away with. Still, Frodo’s story was the epic journey fantasy of the 20th century. And I come back to it from time to time, thinking why should the hobbits have all the fun? Does it not apply to me as well?
When I go walking in the desert, I see things like this . . .
and the wilderness was mostly empty except for a few explorers like myself. Animals: I saw six dogs, two lizards, one hawk. Still, I did see a hawk riding the morning thermals, and any day when you see a hawk is a good day.
and just when I think I’ve finished my masterblog for the week, WordPress self-destructs on me and won’t let me finish. Well, I can live with imperfections–I do all the time. This next picture is supposed to penultimate, but looks like it is the last I will be able to add. It should have said “until I reach some wider way” and then the last pic would say, “and whither then? I cannot say.”
May all your roads, unlike this photo essay, take you where you want to go, dear Reader! And home again at last.
For more than two years now I’ve been reviewing movies and comics and conventions. I told you about my cancer, and my dancing, and lord knows what all. But I haven’t really spent much time on the most important thing of all to me–my writing. So, one of the things that amuses and entertains me a great deal is simply making things up–whether it’s world creation, or story creation, or game creation, the process of letting my imagination go and making something new is the most satisfying thing that I can do. And I’d like to share some of it with you.
For years people have asked me questions about the world of Tunnels and Trolls. The T & T rules can be used in any setting, but of course I made up my own fantasy world to go with it. My world is, inevitably, a hodge podge of other fantasy worlds that came before it, not all that original, but at least combined in a way that is unique to me. So, if Trollworld looks a bit like Middle Earth and the Hyborean Kingdoms and Nehwon and Melnibone’ and and several other places, that is because those are all very important and inspiring places for me. And I’d like to think that I have added some lore that was never before known in any of those places so that Trollworld has its own life. Let me share one such piece of lore with you readers, and perhaps in the future, I will share more.
Peoples of Trollworld
STR X2 IQ X 1 LK X 4/5 CON X2 DEX X 1 CHR X 3/4 POW X 1 SPD X 1. (To create a character in Tunnels and Trolls, roll 3D6. To specify the Kindred (we say Kindred not Race–T & T is not Racist), you multiply the numbers rolled by certain multipliers–humans are all ones. You can see the Dwarf multipliers above.) And by the way, it isn’t Dungeons and Dragons. Triples add and roll again. Attributes can easily go far above 18. They also start with Gold Pieces X 2. (I went over all the arguments about Dwarves being unlucky and uncharismatic, and I think they may have some slight deficiencies in these areas, but nothing overwhelming.–Ken)
The Dwarves of Trollworld are the people of Gristlegrim. (Actually there are several different races of Dwarves on Trollworld, and only one kind are the people of Gristlegrim, but I didn’t know that when I first wrote this essay.–Ken in 2011) They are a sturdy race–larger than Hobbs and Goblins, smaller than Men and Elves. They are generally not considered to be beautiful–being too broad and somewhat asymmetrical–but their faces have great character and integrity, and their bodies and minds are strong.
Gristlegrim made them–literally carved them out of stone, then used a more powerful version of the Pygmalion spell to bring them to life. He did it because he noticed that all the other great wizards of Trollworld had subject races to use in their wars against each other.
People freshly carved out of stone have but little in the way of mind or memory. After verifying that he could indeed bring stony statues to life, but then finding that they simply sat around and watched him unless he magically seized their minds and used them as living puppets, the Dwarf God saw that it takes more than bodies to make a people. He set his first few dozen Dwarves to simple tasks, carving a tunnel into a mountain, and went off by himself to study the situation. From time to time he sent them food. Because they were living creatures they needed living food, but he wasn’t too interested in feeding them, so he only sent a kind of moss and lichen stew–rich in vitamins and minerals. To this day, Dwarves still love to chomp on scummy mossy things that other races wouldn’t even consider as food. It explains why moss is so often seen in their beards–they are messy eaters.
Scrying the multiverse, Gristlegrim found another race of Dwarves somewhat like his own on the world of Midgard (sometimes known as Earth). These ancient creatures (the maggots of Ymir) were accomplished stoneworkers, mages, fighters, and traders. Gristlegrim admired their industry and decided to mold his new minions in their likeness, but how to do so? He came up with a simple plan–he abducted a few dozen Dwarves from Midgard, brought them to Trollworld, and told them he wouldn’t send them back until they had taught his Dwarves all they needed to know to survive on their own. Imagine being abducted from your own world by some sort of mad deity, and told to perform a hopeless task before you would be allowed to return. Those kidnapped Dwarves didn’t like the idea much, but when one of them tried to physically attack Gristlegrim, he was exploded like a blood sausage, and when a mage tried a magical attack, Gristlegrim turned his head inside out while leaving him still alive. Sickened and terrified, the remaining captives agreed to teach Gristlegrim’s Dwarves how to live. Laughing hugely, Gris then reversed his spells, restoring both Dwarves to life and health, and set them free.
Getting a couple of stone-masons from Midgard to help him, Gristlegrim went back to carving Dwarven statues. But, they were all male–as Gristlegrim was male, and hadn’t associated with females for millenia. However, one of the Midgardian masons liked women, and he began carving some female, beardless, and quite voluptuous statues, and thus the khzd race came to include both sexes. To aid in bringing multitudes of statues to life at once, each new Dwarf was carved with a G rune hidden somewhere on its body. A favorite spot was the bottom of the chin, another was the soles of the feet. All of Gristlegrim’s Dwarves have a G rune that looks like a tattoo somewhere on their person–without it they could not live.
The Dwarves from Midgard found that they did not age and die on Trollworld as swiftly as they had on Midgard. It took centuries, but they trained and educated Gristlegrim’s Dwarves into fair replicas of themselves. They learned stone-carving and metal-smithing, and architecture, and combat, and wizardry. Not many of the carven Dwarves seemed to have any natural talent for magic, but a few, perhaps one percent, those whose raw ore had contained some silver, became powerful magicians. Something about the silver seemed to allow the natural magical power of the planet to infuse them to a greater degree than their fellows.
It took about 2000 years, but finally Gristlegrim had what he wanted; namely, a race of tens of thousands of strong, sturdy, and fearless fighters with some magical talent. They thrived in great subterranean fortresses, meeting and beating Uruks and Trolls on their own ground. They were manlike enough to pass among humans without arousing much alarm or suspicion. He scattered them around the world on all continents, and they have been ubiquitous ever since. And he returned his teaching cadre to Midgard, where time seemed to pass slower than it did on Trollworld. 2000 years in the other world was a mere 400 years on Earth. They came back with riches and magical power beyond belief, and many of them became legendary Dwarven kings and rulers.
There are some definite oddities about the Dwarves of Trollworld. Standing from one-half to two-thirds average human stature, they have no children among them. That is because new Dwarves are still made by carving a figure from stone, complete with a G rune which is the last thing to be added, and then magically brought to life. It takes from twenty to fifty years to infuse the blank Dwarf with knowledge and personality, and during that “growing period”, it is kept as a laborer in the deepest Dwarven caverns.
Dwarves generally speak three languages: the Root Tongue which is Gristlegrim’s native language brought from a vanished world. It is notable because it has no vowels in it at all. The original Dwarven people were called “khzd”, now pronounced as Kah-zahd in Dwarvish which is the root tongue with vowels added. All Dwarves also learn the Common Tongue of Men, as it is the most widely spoken language on the planet.
Because of their origin as statues, Dwarves rarely change size or weight. Dwarves can eat as much as they want and never get fat; conversely, if they were carved fat to begin with, they can starve themselves and never get thin. Dwarves have neither fingernails nor toenails, but both fingers and toes are broad, spatulate, and strong. They have only one kind of tooth, squarish molars good for grinding away the roughest plants. A Dwarvish smile is a frigtening thing. If a Dwarf was carved hairy, then it is exceedingly hairy when it comes to life. If carved bald, then it never grows hair at all.
Because they all started as stone, and retain a certain implicit rockiness (although they are not the true living stone of Trolls), Dwarves have exceptional strength and constitutions. Gristlegrim wanted them to be strong and hard to kill in order to fight the Uruks and Trolls who share their environment. Their essentially rocky nature makes them immune to certain spells and magics. Seeing a Medusa does not turn a Dwarf to stone. Medusas are also powerless against Rock Trolls.
Dwarven senses are generally keen. They can see well in conditions with very little light; their hearing is acute; and it is said that they can smell gold or other metals. This is actually only true for those Dwarves that were trained as miners. They are quite sensitive to vibrations, especially vibrations in rock. They do not seem to feel pain and pleasure in the same way that humans do, experiencing both as just varieties of pressure which rarely bothers them. Because of this immunity to pain, they can fight on with terrible wounds that would leave other life-forms gasping in agony. Dwarves seldom mention how things taste, except to comment on various mineral flavors. They love alcoholic beverages, but it takes a great deal to intoxicate them.
The great majority of Dwarves never leave their cavern strongholds. Only a relative few go forth to live and adventure in the outer world, and this they do as a form of service to their people. Dwarves need traders to bring foods and cloth and other luxuries to their underground cities. Those who venture above ground generally fall into three classes–warriors, traders, and craftsmen. They can also be wizards, thieves, artists, politicians, farmers. But, warriors, traders, and craftsmen such as blacksmiths are the most common.
Whatever can be made from rock or metal, the subsurface Dwarves can make for themselves, but organic goods are harder for them to obtain. They also need knowledge. They are excellent craftsmen and tireless workers and searchers, but there are few Dwarven inventors or innovators. Luckily, for the reputation of the Dwarves as master technologists, they have strong alliances with the Gnomes, and Gnomes are full of wacky ideas. Sometimes the Dwarves can actually make some Gnomish flight of fancy work, and when that happens there is a technological advance.
Although the Dwarves who venture to the surface appear to be a bluff, good-hearted, friendly people, their rulers and masters in the caverns are secretive, suspicious, and greedy. They never allow outsiders to penetrate into the true Dwarven fortresses–going so far as to construct whole mock-cities on upper levels where surface dwellers can be suitably entertained and impressed. A showpiece city can be extensive and beautiful, but it always seems to be sparsely populated, leading outsiders to believe that Dwarves are not a numerous race. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Half a mile deeper in the Earth lies the true Dwarf metropolis with untold thousands of inhabitants performing their countless jobs: mining, smelting, building, tunneling, creating weapons, tending the vast fungi farms that provide their basic food. New Dwarves are carved at the very deepest levels–miles below the surface, and they wait in uncounted millions to be released into life. Meanwhile, the Dwarven population increases slowly but steadily, and the outside world never knows.
Dwarves have only one truly natural enemy–the great stone Trolls of Trollworld. Only those Trolls can penetrate into the deepest Dwarven cities, and Dwarves, being of rocky origin to begin with, are considered a great delicacy by the Trolls. To them, Dwarves taste better than anything. The Trolls also resent the fact that the Dwarves are carving ever bigger and deeper caverns, turning living rock into unliving metal, and driving them from their ancient haunts and homes. Deep under the earth there is a never-ending war between Dwarves and Trolls, with raw power and savagery going to the Trolls, but numbers, organization, and planning going to the Dwarves. Ever so slowly, the Trolls are losing this war also.
Dwarves encountered on the surface of Trollworld are generally good fellows–stout, axe-swinging maniacs, and the best dungeon-delving bodies you could ever ask for.
There is a great deal more to be said about Gristlegrim’s Dwarves, and about Gristlegrim himself and his great floating fortress of stone, but this is enough for now. The first portrait of a Dwarf warrior was done by the talented David Ullery who has illustrated several of my T & T solo adventures this year. The second was done by master renderer Robin Stacey. I appreciate their ability and willingness to work with me very much.
If you would like to say something about Dwarves, or any of the other Kindreds of Trollworld, please feel free to leave a short comment below. (heh! short comment, get it?)
Alas! (heh, I just love that word), Alack! and Woe is me!
I’ve reached the end of the deal on the comics deal of the century–all 52 of DC’s new 52 for just $100 at Samurai Comics.
You have to give DC credit for trying to provide variety. This week’s comics include an eastern Western, two horror titles, and an occult superhero spinoff of the Justice League. There are teen titles and old geezer titles. Frankly I prefer the old geezer titles, but then I’m not an angst-ridden teenager any more.
Taking them in alphabetical order again, we start with All-Star Western #1–a title that may have the ugliest comic cover of the year–not necessarily the worst, but definitely the ugliest.
I don’t know why DC keeps trying to do western comics. There hasn’t been a real market for westerns since 1960. So, if ordinary westerns don’t work, let’s have a supernatural western with elements of horror and brutality–i.e. Jonah Hex. To start this series bounty hunter Jonah Hex comes east to help the cops find a Jack-the-Ripper type murderer who only kills prostitutes. Jonah’s reaction to Gotham City is the best part of the book–he’d like to burn the place down. Jonah Hex and Amadeus Arkham team up to track down a sex killer. It’s not a bad story with the juxtoposition of two totally opposite types of men. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray turn in a decent story, and they have fun playing with Batman’s home town 100 years or so before Batman is born. The artist is someone or something named Moritat, and I hate his work–not because the art is really bad, although it tends to be rather flat most of the time, but because he’s one of those sophisticates who love to work in monochromatic shades. Here everything in the book is a shade of brown, except the stuff that is shades of gray. I really dislike monochromatic art. I consider it very dull. A good story, but I won’t be buying number 2.
Aquaman #1. I have always liked Aquaman. His undersea world is just far enough outside of the normal DC universe to be continually interesting. Writer Geoff Johns sets him up to be in the same class as Superman in terms of pure power. Artist Ivan Reis does beautiful evocative work. It’s a nice reintroduction to Aquaman, and I hope it works for them. In a world full of superheroes, I can’t afford to buy Aquaman, even if I do like him.
Batman the Dark Knight. It is probably fair to say that the Batman books area always well-written. DC takes good care of the oldest superhero–remember Batman was invented before Superman. The trouble with Batman is that he always seems to have about six different continuities going at the same time. You sometimes wonder if the Batman in Detective Comics is really in the same universe as the one in the Dark Knight. Spoiler coming here: Harvey Two-Face Dent turns into the Hulk on the last page.
Black Hawks #1. Back in the day the Blackhawks were an international team of hotshot jet pilots left over from World War II who did Mission Impossible stunts against an international cast of crazies and bad guys who weren’t tough enough to warrant superhero intervention. The coolest things about them was their battlecry of Hawk-aaaaaaa! They seldom crossed over into the world of super heroes. In this reboot the Black Hawks are a U.N. sanctioned group of international trouble shooters–a kind of airborne U.N.C.L.E. with an international cast of characters and an emphasis on high-tech gadgetry. Every one of them is young and kewl-looking. Retch. Puke. The art is ok, the story is average. Lady Blackhawk in her incarnation as one of the Birds of Prey was more interesting than this whole group of murderous mercenaries. I will not buy issue #2.
Firestorm #1 or to give the book its whole title: The Fury of Firestorm the Nuclear Man. Here is the one of the teenage angst books I was talking about. Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch are about as opposite as two teenage boys can be. Ronnie is a white jock; Jason is a black brainiac. See how writer Ethan Van Sciver has cleverly reversed the stereotypes. And they don’t like each other. Then in a crisis caused by a black ops team out to retrieve a magnetic bottle with magical scientific powers they both become Firestorm the Nuclear Man. Imho, the art is decent–the story is heartless and too much a rewrite of earlier versions of Firestorm. I will not buy issue #2. I won’t even look at it on the racks.
The Flash #1. I am really getting pissed off by all of DCs symbolic character portraits on the first issues of this new set. Give me a real scene from the story any time. Sigh. I used to like the Flash. If this Flash, or this universe has any tie-in to the Flashpoint series of the last few months, I can’t see it. His name is Barry Allen. He’s a blonde police detective. He knows a woman named Iris West. He’s real fast, but not all that good at using his powers yet. He has the magic flash ring that carries the super compressed version of his costume, and when he wears it, he looks just like the old silver age Flash except that speed lightning flickers around him as he runs. And he has a bizarre mystery to solve in his first new issue. Nope. Uh-uh. Nothing here in this issue to make me follow the Flash in future issues. I will not buy #2.
Green Lantern New Guardians #1. Why is Kyle Raynor in the new DC universe? Why haven’t the Green Lanterns changed at all? This issue recaps his origin story and sets up an intriguing mystery. Good art. Good story. Kyle has a rougher look than he has had in the past. If I could get over my objection to the fact that nothing has really changed for the Green Lanterns, I’d be fairly happy with this issue. I will look into #2.
I, Vampire #1. DC is trying something new with this venture into horror comics. I’ll grant that the effort is pretty horrible. It’s a love story between vampires–a good vampire and an evil vampire. The evil one, Mary Queen of Blood, considers humans to be livestock. The tragic love story leaves me projectile vomiting on the story and the monochromatic art only intensifies my repulsion. Maybe this comic will work for horror fans. I’m not their target audience and it doesn’t work at all for me. I will not buy issue #2.
Justice League Dark #1. In a world where magic is obviously real–a world that has to deal with multiple pantheons interfering with everyday life, it only makes sense to have wizards and magical folks on the side of the good guys. Thus, I’m happy to know that the Justice League has people they can call on when black magic comes a’calling. Zatanna has been a member of the Justice League in the past. The rest of the losers in this cast have staggered on and off stage in the old DC universe for decades–it seems that whenver a writer comes up with an interesting story for one of them, back they come. None are popular enough to sustain a long-running series on their own, though I think they’ve all had mini-series. I think this Justice League Dark is a doomed premise–just like every prior Justice League spinoff has been a doomed premise, but I think we might get a few good stories out of it, and I will follow it for an issue or two just to see where they go with it.
The Savage Hawkman #1. How could one ever grow tired of being a superhero? I don’t know, but apparently it happened to Carter Hall, the human shell of Hawkman. No sign of Hawkwoman or Hawkgirl in the new universe, so maybe he’s just lonely. Anyway, his deranged attempt to destroy his Hawkman gear unlocks a new property of Nth metel. It bonds with him and sinks into his very body, so it can conveniently come right out of him when the Hawkman armor is needed. So, I guess it’s just another case of fine feathers make fine birds, or the suit makes the man. The story, with yet another alien incursion on Earth, isn’t bad, but it’s not good enough to make me want to follow Hawkman. I will not buy #2.
Superman #1. This is one of the few titles that everything else has been building up to. I’m pleased that it got one of the best covers in the entire new 52 lineup. At least it is a scene from the story, and it shows off the new uniform very well, and it’s a classic Superman as Atlas pose. Things are changing in Metropolis. Lois Lane is no longer a plucky girl reporter serving under Perry White–she gets to be head of the media section of Morgan Edge’s new media empire. Morgan is no longer a slimy white executive. Now he’s a cross between Rupert Murdoch and Morgan Freeman–kinda looks like black superstar Freeman. Jimmy Olson is no longer a photographer, but a computer hacker par excellence. Perry White has lost the cigar and looks more like a football coach than a newspaper editor. Clark Kent has lost the blue suit and looks like a lost yuppie. But Superman still looks great. The story is some forgettable thing about an alien fire creature who’s apparently mad at Superman. The story is ok; the art is good; the Daily Planet globe goes out with a bang. I can’t say it did much for me. Action Comics #1 was, imho, much better. I won’t buy #2.
Teen Titans #1. Robin (Dick Grayson) formed the original Teen Titans. Red Robin (Tim Drake) forms the new Teen Titans. He does it in response to a perceived threat and an apparent need to guide a new clump of teenage superheroes. Judging from what I’ve seen in the last month, there will be plenty of teen superheroes who will need the guidance. Cyborg is a grown up now–a member of the Justice League. The best thing about the new version of Teen Titans is that it ties in directly with Superboy #1. There is a Kid Flash who is apparently not Wally West or related to Barry Allen. Wonder Girl doesn’t like to be called Wonder Girl. I suggest we call her SuperBitch–that’s clearly her role in the new team. Not bad, but I won’t buy #2.
Voodoo #1. With the last title in the new 52, DC has reached a new low for sleaze from a major comics publisher. I might be wrong, but I doubt if DC has ever spent this much time inside a strip bar, even going so far as to chronicle a private session with the exotic dancer of the title. But, it’s not really a sex comic–it’s horror. Our beautiful heroine isn’t so beautiful when you see her true form, and our handsome secret agent was actually the sleazy one, so by the unwritten rule of comic books, deserves the horrible fate that comes his way. Oh, and the art by Sami Basri is fucking gorgeous. And I use that adjective by design, because that’s what a good part of the art is going to make you think about. I don’t know about buying this comic on a continuing basis, but I will look to see what they do with it for the second issue. This is no ordinary superhero or horrible monster story.
There you have it–not so much reviews of DC’s new 52 comics, but reactions to them all. 52 has been kind of a magic number for DC the last few years–two year-long 52 series–a multiverse consisting of 52 universes. Maybe some other connections I haven’t noticed. Are they all monthlies? I don’t know, but I suppose they are. On average I only liked 2 or 3 titles each week enough to care about the second issue. Still, that’s about $9 a week more that I might wind up spending. I don’t know if that’s enough money for DC to succeed or not.
I’m an old comics fan–been reading them for more than 50 years, but I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge. I don’t follow everything, and I realize that my likes and dislikes probably don’t reflect those of most comics readers. I can tell you what I like and don’t like, and why, but that’s about it. For really good comics reviews every week you should check out http://newsarama.com.
I’d be happy to see your comments on these comics. Am I right, or am I wrong about which of these new comics are any good?