mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Friday, November 12, 2004

Wow! I'd like to thank everyone for participating in
my "Favorite Comic" poll...it's been very illuminating.

If you haven't added your opinion yet...click on this link and have your say. Maybe after the weekend I'll do a quick tally and post the results.

In other news, since I was complaining about them yesterday morning, I should give credit where credit is due and let you all know that Diamond rush-shipped our missing JSAs to us. I complained about them that morning, drove to work, and took a UPS delivery that had our lost funnybooks. Ah, well.

I have a question for you.... 

What is your favorite currently-published comic book series? You know, the one comic book that you look forward to reading the most each month (or every other month, or whatever). I don't want a list of a half-dozen books you really like but can't decide which one's your top choice...don't be wishy-washy! Narrow it down to ONE, and leave it in the comments section. You can say why you like it if you want, but if you want to mention just the title, that's okay, too.

I promise not to make fun of anyone's choice (and neither will anyone else, he hinted subtly).

Anyway, I am honestly curious, so whether you're one of my comments section regulars, a long-time lurker, or my arch-nemesis, please leave a response. There's no nefarious purpose, no salesman will call...I just wanna know.

In case you're wondering what mine is...well, if you don't know, you haven't been paying attention!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Some new comics for the week (SPOILERS, maybe):

Alas, we were shorted our entire order of the new JSA, which is an Identity Crisis crossover. Gee, thanks, Diamond.

Speaking of Identity Crisis, that came in as well, as I'm sure you're all aware...I haven't really looked around to see if anyone has blown a gasket over the ending, but...geez, I want to discuss it, but I don't really want to spoil it for anyone, SPOILER WARNING or not. Well...I'm sure things aren't exactly as they seem, given that I really doubt DC wants people griping at them for the next ten years, like the last time they did something like this. Look to the Justice League of America adventure flashback, regarding body-switching.

The new issue of Plastic Man is another fill-in by Scott Morse...not as good as the last Morse issue, but don't get me wrong...it's still fantastic. Plastic Man fights a honest-to-goodness super villain (well, sort of), turns into progressively weirder and weirder shapes, and ends the issue with a terrible play on words. Fine work.

The second issue of Ocean by Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse is out, and I don't think the criticisms of "decompressed storytelling" really apply to this series (something
pal Dorian pointed out as well). A lot happens in this issue, as we find out 1) what's so strange in Europa's ocean, and 2) why it was necessary for a U.N. weapons inspector to come out to the station. Great stuff...hard SF is desperately under-represented in modern comics.

Firestorm #7 - this issue crosses over with Bloodhound #5, a series I don't read, so I guess I'll just have to do without half the story. This issue features art by interim artist Liam Sharp, whose artwork doesn't seem as slick as it usually does. The story still intrigues, however, as Jason merges with someone who manages to wrest control of the Firestrom persona from him. Oh, and probably the last person in the series who should know that Jason is Firestorm finds out his secret.

New Thunderbolts #1 - I was a fan of the previous Thunderbolt series, as it felt like old-style Marvel superheroics, where just about anything could happen. The new series picks up more or less where the previous series left off, and includes a guest-appearance of Genis, the current Captain Marvel (who seems strangely depowered, given how easily another character is able to beat him). The art is by the always-dependable Tom Grummett, one of my favorite superhero artists.

Justice League Elite #5 - sheesh, I still can't believe they went with this cover. Okay, they recolored the blood so that it's black, and top of the fella's head is partially obscured by the logo, but geez, c'mon. This is the kind of cover parents of small children immediately gravitate to in our store..."oh, look, all these comics are so dark! No comics for you, Little Billy!"

Other new releases: Men in Hats (the collection of the very funny Keenspot comic strip - we got it late, since our initial order was shorted on us), Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead 2004 (cover-featuring Thor - who do they think they're kidding?), Wild Girl #1 (by Alan Moore's daughter Leah, with great art by Shawn McManus and J.H. Williams III), Alter Ego #42 (contains an interview with Ernie Schroeder, artist on Swamp Thing predecessor The Heap), Challengers of the Unknown #6 (alas, the last issue - Howard Chaykin's the man), Avengers Finale (what should have been the last issue of the series is instead a standalone special - yeah, whatever), Magnus Robot Fighter hardcover (didn't get much of a chance to look through it, but it appears to have nice reproduction of the original Gold Key comics), Smallville #11 (last issue, though apparently there will be future "special editions" released to tie with TV show events - I'll believe it when I see it), Youngblood Genesis #2 (I can't believe Rob Liefeld is still going through with this), Ghost in The Shell 2nd edition paperback (now in a new, smaller size, with the same big $24.95 price), Magdalena/Vampirella #1 (the team-up practically no one demanded!), and She Hulk Vol. 1 (a series that's beginning to acquire a good following - and much deserved as it's really not bad - so of course Marvel is cancelling it in order to "relaunch" it...how remarkably unnecessary).

In other news:

This review of the Teen Titans: Divide and Conquer DVD mentions that it includes interviews with Marv Wolfman and George Perez...maybe worth a rental, unless you're a huge fan of the cartoon, in which case just buy the darn thing.

Gasoline Alley gives us a nice Veterans Day salute.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Well, someone supposedly leaked
the trailer for the forthcoming Fantastic Four movie, and I'm not going to say that you should go take a look at this illicit footage yourself, since that would be wrong and a sin, but, just suppose, theoretically, that I took a look at it. Then, theoretically, I could theoretically tell you that...um, well, it looks more like someone took a bunch of footage from various sources (some in-studio stuff, some stuff from interviews, some work-in-progress computer effects) and spliced it together into something resembling a trailer. I don't want to judge this film on the basis on this alleged trailer, but, well...it does look better than the Roger Corman version, he said, damning with faint praise. (Found via pal Andy)

has some interesting ideas for trade paperback collections. (An Inferior Five collection? I'm all for it!)

Pal Ian has a few words to say on the matter of comic book completists that I don't want any of my customers to read, so look away, look away! It does have one of the greatest-ever title/image combos for a weblog post, however.

Here's a close look at one of my all-time favorite Batman comics. And I need to add this fellow's website to my list of weblogs...I'm ashamed I haven't done so already.

Another one of my favorite comics was the treasury edition of Superman And His Incredible Fortress of Solitude*, and X-Entertainment shows no hesitation in stomping all over my fond childhood memories. Well, okay, maybe it was kinda dopey, but I loved this comic anyway.

Judging from the various reviews of The Incredibles I've seen, it doesn't sound good for the eventual public perception of the Fantastic Four movie. The last couple of lines of Matt's review are especially worth noting and remembering when the FF movie is finally released.

"See, the big thing in comic books these days is fan fiction written by junior-varsity-level celebrities...." Thus spake Milo George. Have I mentioned how much I love his weblog? I love it as much as any comics weblogger can love another man's weblog.

I was going to post a little something about DC's announcement of Identity Crisis #2 going to a second printing, but Tom Spurgeon covers the bases nicely. (Nice URL on that link, by the way!) I will add that I wish Marvel would do more second printings themselves...we could have used more Loki, for example...I'm sure nobody expected it to sell half as well as it did. And maybe if I could get some reprints of Madrox #1, I could move a few of those #2s still sitting on the shelf. That fact that Marvel did reprint the first couple issues of Secret War is somewhat encouraging.

Also via Snappy Tom Spurgeon, I found this article featuring an interview with one of my favorite cartoonists, Don Rosa. (A brief correction to an error in the article - Carl Barks first drew Uncle Scrooge 57 years ago, not 42.) I would also like to draw your attention to the last couple lines, in which Rosa expresses his unusually positive take on the American comics specialty market.

You know, the more I look at that picture of Michael J. Pollard as Myxzptlk in my previous post, the more I think "they'd better have paid that poor bastard a lot of money."

* Technically, it's DC Special Series #26, but only a real no-life nerd would know such a thi...er, um, anyway....

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I just realized I never commented on last week's episode of Smallville, the one with special guest-villain Mxyzptlk. Instead of making him a magical imp from the fifth dimension, as in the comics, he's now a magical imp from the Balkans. I suppose I never got around to commenting on this episode since there's not much about it that really stands out. It was enjoyable enough, and it was nice to see Clark defeat a super-powered villain without killing him, for once, and it looks like Clark and Lex (and Lana and Clark) are on the outs again. I did want to note two things:

1. For anyone who was disappointed that Mxyzptlk wasn't more faithful to the comic book version - remember Michael J. Pollard as Mxyzptlk on the Superboy TV show (pictured to the right). I only ever saw the last couple of minutes of that episode back when it orginally aired, and my impression was that this was the mopiest, most depressing version of Mxyzptlk you could possibly imagine.

2. Smallville seems to be giving us more super-powered characters that don't have their origins in either meteor-rock exposure or Kryptonian tech tampering, what with Mxyzptlk this week, and the Flash from a couple weeks ago. Of course, all it would take to change that is a line of dialogue like "I just translated these Kryptonian symbols, and it says Jor-El shot a beam of energy at Earth in order to give random people super powers!"

That image of Pollard as Mxyzptlk is borrowed from
Kryptonsite, a fan page devoted to the Smallville series, which recently put up a nice article about the various media representations of our favorite fifth dimensional menace. (I totally forgot about Howie Mandel playing the character on Lois and Clark.)

In other news:

Pal JP (who I might as well just give access to this site, for all the content he provides me) points out that some of those commissioned drawings Gary Panter was doing (where you'd give him 3 words and a $100 or so, and he'd cook up an illustration for you) are being collected into a book. Called 100 Drawings by Gary Panter, you can see the cover and a sample page here.

Pete Von Sholly has a new fumetti superhero comic in the offing, entitled The Flying F -- er, well, you know. You can see his official press release regarding the item right here on his own site, in its full uncensored glory. You gotta give him points just for having the guts to actually release it under that title.

Another fumetti comic you need to know about is Dorothy, the first issue of which should be available to order through the current Previews, but you can get issues one and two right now at the official website. You can read pal Dorian's review (he liked it, and you all know how hard he is to impress), and Laura's review.

Monday, November 08, 2004

My brush with role playing games was brief, and several years ago...during my junior high school days in the early 80s. Dungeons & Dragons was the game of choice among my friends in the neighborhood, at least until one of the busybody neighbors whipped out a tape from a radio show with testimonials from RPG "victims." The one example I remember from this show was someone claiming that his copy of the
Dark Tower game would talk to him from his closet at night, which should tell you the level of prevailing discourse in this program. Anyway, my friends, God love 'em, were a little on the "gullible" side of the scale and fully bought into this bullshwa, and thus ended our role playing escapades.

Even though I never really played role playing games after that (beyond the occasional computer game, but that's hardly the same), I still maintained an interest in gaming, but mostly on a technical level - game design, gameplay balance, et al. It wasn't an obsession or anything, but I'd enjoy reading instruction manuals for games, interviews with game designers, and so on, much more than actually playing the games themselves. Yeah, that may be a little weird, but there you go.

As a result of this particular interest in gaming, I would occasionally buy gaming books and supplements that tie in to other things I enjoy. For example, I have the GURPS Callahan's Crosstime Saloon supplement, based on the books by Spider Robinson, and somewhere around here I have the DC Heroes Role Playing Game supplements based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen.

Another DC Heroes supplement I own, and the one I plan on discussing here, is (it should come as no surprise) the Swamp Thing Sourcebook/Adventure published by Mayfair Games in 1991. The book comes in two parts...the main 32-page booklet details the characters and places prevalent in the Swamp Thing comics, both from the Len Wein/Berni(e) Wrightson era and from the later Alan Moore era. It opens (after reprinting, uncredited, Alan Moore's "this is the place" passage used to advertise Swamp Thing during his run) with a fairly detailed summary of events beginning with the very first issue in 1972, and running all the way up to the aborted end of Rick Veitch's tenure.

The first actual gaming information you see in the book are for Swamp Thing, of course, with a chart of numbered stats that may have meant something to me at one point, but don't mean a lot now, beyond "higher is better." The first character detailed is Swamp Thing's human..."alter ego" isn't exactly right, but you know what I mean. In addition to the stats, there are notes on the character's Skills (Alec's is Gadgetry and Scientist), Advantages (Alec has low connections to the U.S. Secret Service, but high connections to the Scientific Community), Drawbacks (being Married is a drawback, apparently...it sounds funny, but in superhero/adventure stories, I suppose that would make sense), and Motivation ("Upholding the Good").

You also get stats for Swamp Thing as he first appeared in the 1970s, and a second set of stats for Moore's Earth Elemental Swamp Thing (shown to the right). Listed under Equipment for the Moore version is "Psychogenic Tubers," which gets its own sidebar description. A whole section of the book is devoted to Swamp Thing's mindset, with section headings such as "Why Doesn't Swamp Thing Chase Supercriminals?" (because he's more concerned with the condition of humanity and the world as a whole, rather than individual wrongdoers). Additional stats and role-play information are provided for several other characters, including Alec's wife Linda Holland (so you can role-play, um, the whole half-issue she appears in, I guess), John Constantine, and, of course, the various permutations of arch-nemesis Arcane.

The main book wraps up with a map of Houma, Louisiana, along with a brief description of the climate and special events (apparently the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet occurs in April, so adjust your Swamp Thing role playing game accordingly).

So, after reading up on Swamp Thing, and all his powers, abilities, and "equipment," you should be ready for a little adventuring. Luckily, this package includes a second 32-page booklet, featuring a solo adventure. Solo adventures are a little unusual in the role-playing field, as most RPGs require at minimum two people to play: one to actually run the game as the "game master" (or the more familiar "dungeon master"), and one (ideally, more) to run characters through the game. A solo RPG has more in common with the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, and this Swamp Thing adventure is no exception: it's divided up into 134 numbered sections, and as you read through the adventure, each section ends with a series of choices which direct you to another numbered section...and so on and so on until you reach one of the endings. For example:

If you want to look around the office to get your bearings, go to Passage 52. If you want to have Miss Tremayne call the repair people to look at the copier, go to Passage 27. If you want to try and fix the copier yourself, go to Passage 33. If you want to go see Mr. Green, go to Passage 8. If you want to play your answering machine message, go to Passage 71.

The "role playing" aspect in this sort of solitaire game is generally reduced to having some decisions made for you by your stats and random dice rolls:

Make an Action Check using your WILL/WILL as the AV/EV against an OV/RV of 12/12. If you succeed, go to Passage 54. If you fail, go to Passage 121.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what all that business was about copiers and answering machines in that preceding example...yes, that's actually out of the Swamp Thing adventure. You know all that cool stuff you learned about Swamp Thing's abilities in the first 32-page booklet? Well, forget it, because you don't use any of that stuff in the adventure, which has you trapped in the delusion that you are once again in the human form of Alec Holland. You go to work, you wander around town, you work out an advertising budget(!)...I mean, don't get me wrong, it's fine as an adventure, but I think the game may have been better served with an example adventure that demonstrates just how to use the Swamp Thing's abilities in a role playing game.

I should also mention that the book features several black and white illustrations, mostly taken from Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala's work on the comics, though some Steve Bissette/John Totleben work is present as well (most notably a sequence with Swampy facing off against a werewolf from Swamp Thing #40).

I was going to wrap up my look at Swamp Thing gaming with a discussion of the Heroclix figures, but I really don't know a whole lot about the game beyond that some of the figures are pretty neat:

Heroclix images borrowed from this well-done site.

I just got 'em on top of my desk, staring back at me even as I write this.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Things I shouldn't have to say at work: "Please don't practice your guitar playing in the middle of our store."

I don't have anything against guitar playing, mind you, but it's kind of hard to concentrate on my Diamond reorders when someone is repeatedly playing a riff from "Smoke on The Water" - at least, I think it was "Smoke on The Water," it was kind of hard to tell.

Anyway, another of my store projects yesterday was to once again rearrange some of the back issues. Now, with three tables on the floor that hold a total of 72 26-inch long boxes, two other smaller floor tables that hold about a dozen boxes of new-arrival back issues, two glass showcases, and 11 metal shelving units behind the showcases, each unit holding 30 16-inch short boxes, one would think that I'd have plenty of room for old funnybooks. That's not the case, unfortunately. It's like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle..."okay, if I take Ranma 1/2 and Spectre off the table, I'll be able to take Firestorm out from behind the counter." Plus, since everything is in alphabetical order, it's not as if I can just shove a title in where there happens to be room...if I have space in the "T"s, and I want to put Jonah Hex on the table, I gotta shift everything around until that "T" space becomes a space in the "J"s.

One thing I did to create more space was to pull most of the manga titles off the tables. Nobody is buying back issues of manga comics that are currently available in trade paperback format. Even comics like Preacher and Sandman, which are primarily purchased as trades, still sell the occasional back issue. Manga fans, however, want books, not monthly comics, so away go the No Need for Tenchi, Ranma 1/2, New Vampire Miyu, and other series. My plan was initially just to put them in boxes and store them in the back room (within easy reach, just in case anyone did need to see them), rather than taking up space on our metal shelves. But, as it turns out, my rearranging left me with space for another short box of comics on those shelves, so some of the manga comics got a reprieve.

That said, not all manga monthly comics are dying on the vine. Blade of the Immortal still sells a handful of issues as it comes out, as does Super Manga Blast...but no one buys back issues of these, either. And
Dorian noted to me the other day that No Need for Tenchi doesn't seem to sell even in trade paperback format anymore. That used to be one of our top sellers, and I used to have to reorder copies of the books every week...I guess the local market is saturated, or people are just tired of Tenchi, or, maybe, there's a whole new audience out there that just hasn't discovered it yet!

Another thing that came to mind as I was working on the back issues...what happened to Robotech? It seems like this property has a big relaunch every few years, and then it vanishes completely.

One odd thing about Robotech...back when it was published by Comico, and even when Malibu was putting it out, it was one of those series that only seemed to sell as a back issue. Maybe a couple would sell on the shelf, but after the month was up, and the issues were put in the back issue bin, then they'd sell like gangbusters. There were a couple other comics like that, but Robotech seems to be the most prominent example of this particular phenomenon.

So, anyway, if I could talk all of you into buying at least one short box worth of comics apiece, that would free up a little space for me in the shop. I mean, someone out there needs a full run of Marc Spector Moon Knight, right?

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