Monday, October 31, 2011

Sword of the Atom map!

How to celebrate Halloween at the Absorbascon, I wondered? Then it occurred to me to do something inspired by DC Comic's most terrifying character: Jean Loring.

I was going to make a Heroclix map of Ray Palmer's driveway, with a parked car within which one of my Jean Loring custom figures could suck face with her lawyer/lover Paul. Or a map of Queen Jean's throne room. Or of the brain-sucking lab in the ancient undersea kingdom of Lemuria, from which Jean almost destroyed earth. Or just a giant map of nothing but the inside of Sue Dibny's brain; finally, a reason for me to field the Elongated Man.

But the brain of Sue Dibny got put on hold when I thought of making of the miniature kingdom of Morlaidh featured in the "Sword of the Atom" miniseries, where the horror of Jean Loring made being trapped at minute size in the Amazon surrounded by hostile vermin and aliens seem like a vacation for Ray Palmer by comparison.

You can actually play either half of the map entirely by itself (the adobe settlement features lots of elevated terrain and the jungle lots of hindering terrain). Or you can play the whole map as a run-of-the mill walled village in a jungle. Or...

you can play it as designed, with the jungle being "normal sized" terrain and the village being "miniature terrain" or Morlaidh. If you'll look carefully the center of the jungle, you'll see that (thanks the power of vector graphics) the entire village is right there in the center at its "normal" size". Only when a figure is adjacent to that square can it absorb the white dwarf radiation that allows it to "shrink down" and be placed in the Morlaidh. You can allow any character with shrinking powers (e.g., the Atom, Shrinking Violet, Rita Farr, or the Martian Manhunter, who can have any power he wants) to transition between the two halves of the map at will. There are scores of ways to customize play with such a map, and I leave it to you to experiment.

This isn't by any means the first "miniature scale" map anyone has made, but I think this is the first one designed with a transition become normal-sized and miniature terrain, which is really what you need to have the most fun with shrinking characters.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Things That Made Me Happy... my comics this week.

Aquaman #2. "More food?" cutaway to "Mommy! Mommy!" LMAO! I know some of you aren't fans of Geoff John's willingness to embrace gore in comic books, but you have to admit: he's a great horror writer.

Flash #2. Barry took the time to pay for the apples. Of course he did.

All-Star Western #2. "Oderint dum metuant." Heh heh, not enough jussive subjunctive in comics books nowadays, I say!

Aquaman #2. "Maybe there's more food there." That was the sentence that made me realize that the language the Trench are speaking isn't just chicken scratches; it's an actual "Interlac-style" transliteration alphabet. The artist didn't have to take the trouble to do that, particularly since no one is likely to notice, but it's gets a big slow clap from me!

Flash #2. I love that Flash is dealing with crazy mad Silver Age science. And is kind of rough on treadmills.

Superman #2. Sure, the idea of a opponents that everyone except Superman can see is scientifically ridiculous. But then again... so is Superman. So I loved it; it was exactly the kind of thing you would have seen on the cover of a Bronze Age Superman comic.

Savage Hawkman #2.
"With innocent lives in the balance, are Morphicius' newfound powers too powerful to stop?" Oh; apparently not.

Aquaman #2. If this were the Silver Age, "Aqua-Boy Goes Skiing!" would have been a perfect back-up story. Yeah, now I want a whole "The Adventures of Aquaman as a Boy!" series. "Aquaboy in Vegas!"; "Aquaboy at the Mall of America!"; "Aquaboy, Prince of the Salt Lake!". They practically write themselves!

Superman #2. Oh the comic book irony! "I've often saved the Planet by giving them headlines; but now their headlines are saving me!" Really, I'm highly amused that the "all-new Superman" reads just like it was written in 1974.

JLDark. On the one hand, I completely understand where Dawn is coming from and she's completely right. On the other hand, if my boyfriend could do that, I would make a different choice. In fact, I'd make a different choice every night.

Flash #2. That is a perfect--and perfectly simple--cliffhanger to leave Barry with. Bravo, Manapul et al.!

Aquaman #2. Okay, the Trench are spooky and all, but if they really stop to eat their own, well, they're not going to be a very effective fighting force, are they?

Flash #2. Wow, the kidnappers dumped Iris as fast as they could, didn't they? I mean, who can blame them? And apparently, "mean" is the perfect insulator when you're hurled from a moving vehicle, because her hair doesn't even looked mussed.

All-Star Western #2. Okay, that panel of Jonah saying, "Evenin', boys" is one of the gayest panels I've ever seen (and I've read Anthro). Or maybe it's just me.

Flash #2. Um... Barry? What about the driver of the car? Oh, well, I hope at least your apple tasted good.

All-Star Western #2. Hm; since the first "doctor in psychology" graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1886, it's fair to say that Dr. Arkham is very much on the cutting edge of his profession, isn't it?

Monday, October 24, 2011


I have one of the new iPad touch-screen portable computer-like devices. It's what I'm reading my comics on now.

But I'm also using it for other applications, including watching videos/movies. High on my list of early purchase (right after the Filmation cartoons of Aquaman, Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean) were the Fleischer Superman cartoons. If you've never seen them... well, do; they are still astonishing today, and even more astonishing when you remember when and how they were made.

Entirely aside from being masterpieces of the art of animation, the Fleischer cartoons had an enormous impact in cementing much of the Superman mythos in the public mind (including the idea that Superman could actually fly, not just leap tall buildings in single bound, a transition that he made over the course of Fleischer series itself).

Superman does many amazing thing in the Fleischer cartoon. He fights lions, and robots, and Japanazis, oh my. He lifts heavy objects, he does moves quickly, and he withstands violent attacks by man, machine, and nature. But there is one thing he does not do (or hardly ever does, that I can tell)...


Granted, there's not a lot of talking in these cartoons at all. There's just enough palaver to set up the situations and for some lightly humorous/ironic epilogues with Clark and Lois. But once the fit hits the shan, Superman is all about ACTION. Superman has stuff to do, it's difficult stuff, and he has to do it fast. He has no time for chatter and no one really to chatter with any way. And it is bracing to see.

It makes for an interesting disjunct. Clark Kent is a man of words. He talks; he types. He's not cowardly, by any means, but while he's trying to talk his way around situations, Lois is stealing his press pass, jumping into robot's backs, and slipping onto top secret aeroplanes.

Superman, on the other hand, does not talk. It's nearly definitional: if the situation is dire enough for Superman to go in to action, there is no time or opportunity for talking and talking won't do any good any way.

It's an interesting and refreshingly simple approach. I'd like to see in tried in comic books. I'd like to read at least a year's worth of Superman/Action comics where Superman gives no monologues, be they inner (those are for supporting characters) or outer (those are for villians), engages in no dialog (if you want an interview, talk to Clark Kent), and just... DOES stuff.

I'd buy that for a year. Would you?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Things That Made Me Happy...

in my comics this week.

JLA #2: "I can keep us on point." Oh, I know plenty of organizations other than the Justice League that could use someone with that superpower.

Batman #2: I am fairly sure that's the only POV shot from a cadaver's organs I've ever seen. NICE.

JLA #2: Wow, the Batman/GL/Flash fight against Superman reads like a straight up Heroclix game, doesn't it? Batman attempts to use Outwit against Superman, but misses the Attack roll. GL attacks Superman with a Running Shot, then pushes with Willpower to attempt to Incapacitate him, failing. Superman counter-attacks, with GL protecting himself with Energy Shield/Deflection and protecting Batman with Defend (or you could also perceive it as GL erecting a Barrier to protect them both). Flash shows up with a Hypersonic Speed attack and knocks Superman away from GL and Batman with either Force Blast or Quake. He then Outwits Superman's attack powers, ties him up with Close Combat so that Batman and GL are safe, and uses some combination of Combat Reflexes and Super-Senses to avoid Superman's attack. Flash is probably trying to force Superman to Push and wear himself out. The Indomitable Superman, however, despite Flash's defensive powers (or by Outwitting them) makes the attack roll with doubles, which knocks back Flash quite a few spaces. But then Batman starts talking, which pretty much wins the game automatically.

Batman #2: The Wayne Tower's thirteenth guardian.

JLA #2: Superman's local 'fortress of solitude'. That's genius, and very much in tune with his portrayal in his own books.

Batman #2: Okay, Batman is officially so good that I think I can drop the inaccurately named Detective Comics from my weekly pulls. Not one but essentially TWO "Batman Cold Opens". More clever applications of super-modern technology as begun in last month's issue, that very much "keeps it simple" for the sake of story-telling. Pitch-perfect interaction between Batman and Nightwing. Cart-loads of actual detecting, by both Bruce and Jim. Oh, and Batman running his motorcycle off the rooftop of an elevated train into a low-flying helicopter... while chatting with Alfred. If this book doesn't make you happy, then you probably just don't like Batman.

JLA #2: Black and blue? I have never heard that one before. Perfect. Hilarious. Instant classic. I'll be using that phrase now, much more often than the old fashioned "WF"...

Wonder Woman #2: Strife (and the Gods generally) defeating mortals indirectly through their application of their own natures. Strife doesn't hit her foes in the face; she has her foes do that to one another.

JLA #2: "The Guardians tell me everything." Ladies and gentlemen, let's put our hands together for Hal Jordan, one of DC's greatest natural comedians.

Batman #2: The great work on building Gotham's history continues, incorporating elements from the recent Batman film franchise, from Anton Furst's Gotham, from the current All-Star Western storyline, and tip-of-the-hat homages toward Owlman.

JLA #2. Barry doesn't even bother to pretend he could keep his secret identity from Superman and Batman.

Wonder Woman #2: Hippolyta. You just know she plays rugby.

JLA #2: In a very logical turn of events and one consistent with the character of Central City, the Flash is preventing Barry from fighting crime. OH, the comic book irony!

Batman #2: Why Lincoln March -- and Bruce Wayne -- love Gotham City so much. Now that makes sense.

Wonder Woman #2: Well, there's the traditional mythical origin of Wonder Woman, with its weirdness duly noted. But is it a clever lie, with Diana's real origin being that one that's been leaked on the internet? If so, it would explain why some god doesn't just zap her back into the Pygmalion dust she came from. Because, gosh, she's mighty lippy toward the gods, isn't she?

JLA #2: "I never break the law." Suddenly, I looked at those four characters, and their different personalities and perspectives all snapped into place. Barry the cop; Hal the marshal; Bruce the detective; Superman the vigilante. Nice done, Geoff.

Batman #2: Gotham City has its own nursery rhymes (and apparently in free verse). Well, of course it does!

Wonder Woman #2: "Cockless coop" is not a phrase I ever expected to read in my comics. Or is it 'co-op'? Because that would be even funnier.

JLA #2: The personality pairings. You may not like Geoff Johns' plotting (or as some wags would have it ,"plodding"), but his talent for characterization shines here. He knows that the key to writing the JL as an Ensemble Cast won't be simply defining each character, but defining each character pairing. Batman and GL are the odd couple crime-fighting duo. Flash and GL, the best friends in a road comedy. Batman and Flash are instantly the Detective and the Forensics Expert. Superman and GL are the Action-oriented Powerhouses. And, after only a brief conversation, Batman and Superman become the Vigilantes as well as the Adults and the Big Picture Guys.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green Arrow Rant

I am about to rant. I am probably going to get flamed for it.

Perhaps those flames will counter my wave of indignation and we'll all wind up letting off a little steam.

But I cannot sit silently after reading this article, which reveals that filmmaker and journalist Ann Nocenti will be taking over writing duties on Green Arrow.

Now, Ms Nocenti's got more than enough pedigree (certainly enough to write Green Arrow, snort!); she wrote a passel of comics for Marvel in the '80s. In addition to some strong 'socially relevant' stories for Daredevil, she wrote a miniseries starring, Dazzler, which immediately gives her credit for gumption in my book.

Plus, I am delighted to see that she recognizes at least two of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Comic Books (Self-Referentialism and Decompression).

"Over the years I'd run into a comic here and there, and I would try and read it. It was like multiple characters, lots of characters squashed onto a page. A story you couldn't really get into. You had no idea of what was going on, and I thought, ‘They kinda lost their way, they're not telling single stories anymore.' "
This is very encouraging; if Nocenti can bring the 'done-in-one' to Green Arrow (and perhaps bring the practice back into fashion), she will have my admiration and thanks.

But I'm much less encouraged that she apparently knows zero about Green Arrow.

"Green Arrow," aka Oliver Green, is a rich billionaire based in Star City, which is apparently based on Seattle. "He's modeled after Robin Hood, so I guess his origin story is ‘steal from the rich and give to the poor,' " she says.

Nocenti didn't know anything about the character until she read Wikipedia. "The thing that struck me the most was the phrase that kept coming up over and over — ‘thrill-seeking activist.' Which I can get behind because I'm kinda a thrill-seeking activist."

I get it, DC; you're doing whatever you can to try to find more female writers. Ordinarily I might not favor that kind of 'reverse-sexism', but given the atrocious portrayals of Starfire and Catwoman since the reboot, it's pretty clear that something needs to be done to ameliorate the Slavering Fanboy Writer Syndrome that's smothering comic books.

But really... even I think Ollie deserves a writer -- male or female -- who doesn't have to look him up on Wikipedia to find out who he is. Is this one of the "1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow"? Give him a writer who admittedly knows nothing about him? Have we forgotten Jodi Picoult already?

Green Arrow has a Golden Age pedigree, with a longer and more consistent publishing history than anyone other than the other original JLAers. And you pick someone to write him who managed to be a comic book writer for, oh, 15 years, without ever having heard of Green Arrow?

I can't believe I'm saying this, but: GREEN ARROW DESERVES BETTER. DC, don't give you characters short-shrift in the rush to diversify your writing staff.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Heads up, DC!

Hello, everyone! The Rolling Head of Pantha here! As longtime readers know, I embody the Spirit of Bloody Corporal and Capital Violence in the DCU… to the degree I can be said to ‘embody’ anything, that is. You may also know me from several Halloween carols, or my custom Heroclix figure.

I’ve been doing a tour of the state capitals, winding up here in the nation’s capital, visiting Scipio, who invited me to do a guest-post, which I composed primarily by falling nose-first repeatedly onto his iPad; thanks, auto-correct!

I know many of you were concerned that ‘the new DCU’ would be alienatingly different for you. But I’m here to report that under Geoff Johns’ steady, labrys-wielding hands, characters are still being decapitated on a regular basis in the new DCU. It’s true what the French say, “the more things change, the more they splay the same.”

Last month, I was afraid DC has gone soft on us, when the best Detective Comics, its flagship title, could offer us was a de-face-ification. Granted, it was a very high profile de-face-ification of comic’s most famous face. And it did make me miss Jean Loring…

I think the “Dollmaker” is just the neo-DCU’s new, less scary version of Jean Loring.

But (if you’ll pardon the pun) face it: Batman’s earliest recurring foe, Dr Death, already did the “oops I lost my face” routine seventy-some years ago. Heck, Harvey Dent became famous for losing half his face over fifty years ago. To say nothing of Dr No-Face!

Remarkable diction, considering.

De-face-ification isn’t cutting edge; it’s a poor man’s decapitation, if you ask me. So I took heart (um, metaphorically) to see that Detective #2 featured a prominent decapitation and the headless corpse of a GCPD member. With flies. Now, I’d have happily traded the swarm of flies for some actual in-panel violence, particularly an in-panel rolling-head scene. But a girl in my position – nose-first on a iPad – can’t be too picky.

But it was the first issue of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice that really brought a lump to the remains of my throat! There we got to witness, first-hand, a mugging that culminated with decapitation! Now that’s what I call getting capped! For extra points, it was a sweet, philanthropic old lady who got the ax; plus, they didn’t kill her first then cut off her head. No, it was proper death-by-decapitation; thanks, DC! William Gaines would be proud.

Really, in retrospect, I wonder why more muggings in the DCU aren’t decapitation. Guns are so… cold, so impersonal. How much more dramatic Batman’s origin would have been had we seen Martha Wayne’s severed head bouncing off the Fourth Wall in glorious 3D, bloodied pearls EVERYWHERE! Well, I can still hope; perhaps DC will take the opportunity the reboot affords to, um… ‘re-cap’ that scene.

Could that be any more boring? They could easily just be napping. Or moonbathing, which is a thing in Gotham.

Honestly, it’s something that could be worked into almost all the major original stories. We know now that Barry Allen’s mother was murdered; that might as well be a decapitation, mightn’t it? Abin Sur died in a freaking space-ship crash, which could easily have severed off his head, leaving his chatty power ring to do any necessary exposition. Crazy J’onn J’onnz’s reaction to Dr. Erdel’s experiment could easily have turned neck-severingly ugly. We still don’t know how Tom Curry died; cue the shark! During the explosion of Krypton, the sight of Jor-El’s flying noggin, headband and all, sliced off by some shard of sunstone would be the most natural thing in the world. And as for the Kents, well, two words:

wheat thresher.

DC; don’t waste this opportunity!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Amnesty Bay

I have created a new custom Heroclix Map (above) to celebrate "The New Aquaman" in the rebooted DCU (and his wonderful new Heroclix figure, the most powerful one yet at 156 points, which represents his militaristic version from the Flashpoint crossover, but which, thankfully, looks and acts perfectly "normal" for Aquaman).

This is Amnesty Bay, where Aquaman grew up with his human father (as depicted in Aquaman #1). Geoff Johns has wisely returned Aquaman to his roots as the product of land and sea and the protector of their interface; as the animated Brave and the Bold might say: "HUZZAH!"

The Amnesty Bay Heroclix map features a lighthouse overlooking a shallow beach. Rocky outcroppings and jutting docks create hindering terrain within the water. This is sure to upset Heroclix rules-purists, but to me it's pretty obvious how those squares should work. Aquatic figures treat them as water terrain that has the same effect on them as hindering terrain has on land; land figures treat those squares as regular hindering terrain that they can "stand on" to keep themselves "out of the water".

The beach wraps around the cliff and is almost all clear terrain (except for one square with a lifeguard tower and one with water-side encampments).

The elevated cliff terrain is dominated by the lighthouse itself. The very top of the lighthouse is blocking terrain, by the catwalk surrounding it is second level elevation, accessible by the little staircase leading "into" the lighthouse tower. I conceive the cupola of the lighthouse as a space any figure on the platform can "walk into" and go down and out the stairs. So a figure on any point of the platform can go "down and out" the stairs; conversely, a figure entering the lighthouse by the stairs can "emerge" at any point on the platform. I like fun stuff like that that drives the purists crazy :-).
Oh, and I figure moving from the stairs to platform 'costs' of total of five squares of movement (easy to remember if you use the four square of blocking as a mnemonic device).

The other principle feature on the elevated cliff is the Keeper's Cottage, of course, all clean and beachy-like. Off to one side is a small white gazebo overlooking the ocean, and on the other side, a pool, cabana tent for changing, and a family picnic area. I'm sure most Keeper's Cottages don't have swimming pools, but, hey... this is Aquaman's house, after all. Besides, there's a tactical reason: just as the water terrain has some "land terrain" within it as a staging area for land-based characters, so too the land terrain has some water terrain as a redoubt for aquatic characters.

There are just two points of access via staircase from the cliff to the beach, at the viewing decks on the opposite ends of the map, so some characters with Leap/Climb or Flight will be a huge help here. Add in the scattered spots of hindering terrain, and this map provides plenty of positioning puzzles for any team (except, of course, for Superman Ally teams, which will probably clean your clock anyhow).

I haven't marked some things that I feel are obvious (such as the "levels" of elevation), nor the starting areas. I imagine playing this map with either of two configurations: Land vs. Sea (with one team starting in the Cottage and one at opposite edge in the water) or Amphibious (with a mixed team starting at each of the far ends of the map, staging either on land, at sea, or both).

I wanted this map to be tactically interesting, fair to both aquatic and non-aquatic figures, and, frankly, really pretty. You may notice a preponderance of orange and green on the map; odd coincidence, that!

I hope you enjoy the Amnesty Bay map. I plan on ordering my copy from PosterBrain soon!