Friday, March 09, 2012

Heroclix Map: The Egyptian Desert

The Egyptian desert is a great locale for Heroclix battles. Many characters--such as Captain Marvel (oops, sorry, I mean, "Shazam"), Black Adam, Isis, Dr Fate, Metamorpho--have Egyptian origins or connections. And many heroes with no organic links to the Children of the Nile still have had aegyptian advenures, such as Wonder Woman versus the violent Bana-Mighdall, Batman versus mad King Tut, and Josh Bernstein versus megalomaniacal Zahi Hawass.

So here's a Heroclix map of the Egyptian desert! There's a dig site, a campsite, a quonset hut, some desert vehicles, and a little pyramid. They provide hindering terrain, some elevated (well, "negatively elevated") terrain, some interior terrain, and some blocking terrain. Just a little bit of everything.

This isn't the most elaborate or beautiful Heroclix map, but it does have one usual characteristic that I've been experimenting with: it's modular.

As you can see above, you can split the map into six equal segments without intersecting any objects or terrain features. As a result you can cut the map into those segments, then rotate and rearrange them in any way you wish to form a valid Heroclix map. So, instead of ONE map, you get...let's see, um.... 134,596? Something like that. I think. A lot, anyway. Much more than one.

There are certainly flaws with the concept. Even though the segments are as different from one another as I could make them given the setting, I'm not sure how much rotating or swapping the segments would actually change the gameplay. Also, while none of the objects are split by the segment cuts, the underlying sand pattern IS, and that's going to be noticeable when you shuffle the segments.

Still it seemed like enough of a novelty to want to share and to see whether any other such modular maps would be of interest to other players.

Read "Night Force"

It must be "Earth-3 Week" here at the Absorbascon, where everyone's behavior is the opposite of normal. First, I joined forces with Archie Andrews. Now, I'm telling you to read something by Marv Wolfman, of whom, it is fair to say, I am not generally a fan.

But as you may have noticed, DC has pulled out a surprise in the Second Wave: the return of Night Force.

Night Force was a horror series in the 1980s, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan (of swimmin' with the Sea Devils fame). Make no mistake; I despise all of Wolfman's superhero work. But I'm a sucker for some Night Force, I'm afraid... .

When Night Force came out in 1982-83, I was out of contact and unaware of it until re-emerging into this place of existence in the late '80s. I stumbled on it at some small local comic book convention, probably hooked by the fact that the action centered here in Washington DC (where night Force's main character, Baron Winter, lives).

Baron Winters is, frankly, a hokey collocation of occult tropes. Past shrouded in mystery. No first name. Undeterminable age. Anachronistic clothing and habits. Can't leave his house under any circumstance for some unknown reason. Amoral manipulator. Talks to his pet leopard, Merlin, a LOT, and seems to think that Merlin talks back. Mysterious mansion that serves as some sort of null point in space-time (and where Zatanna's father died, very dramatically). Handpicked task of force of unwitting pawns, one or more of whom will die.

Trite? Sure. But, curse Wolfman, it works and I fall for it completely. It might become insufferably formulaic in the long run (like, say, the Pretender, whose every plot evolution could be timed with a stopwatch)... but, of course, it won't have a long run. It's a seven-issue miniseries, and you probably don't want to miss it.

Even though there was much in the original run one could disparage, it had impact and stuck with you. Despite being a bit hackneyed, Night Force was a pivot point in the transition from DC's '70s-style horror to the birth of the "Vertigo-verse". If you are liking "Justice League Dark" to any degree, you'll want to read the new Night Force, because, while Baron Winters hasn't been and never will be a big player on the psychic scene, he's a fixture, a sort of neutral Switzerland in the occult landscape. If you want to be an aficionado of the DCU's non-super-side, you need to be able to find your way to, and around, Wintersgate Manor. Although not, perhaps, the way out ... .

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

Politics –and similar exigencies--make strange bedfellows. Like the time Bronze Age Batman and the Joker and teamed up to solve the Penguin’s “murder” in Brave & the Bold. Or the time Lex and Superman worked together to fight famine in Africa in Heroes Against Hunger. Or when Captain America joined with Hitler to fight worldwide currency inflation. I forget which story that was.

Anyway, thanks to I find myself similarly wedded to the unlikeliest of bedfellows: Archie Andrews.

Thanks, Slay Monstrobot, for exposing this.

As longtime readers of the Absorbascon will know, Archie Andrew is my bĂȘte noir. His slow banishment of the heroic Shield from the pages of Pep, his mental enthrallment of the youth of America, his apostlehood of surrealism in comics—the depth and breadth of his evil are unfathomable and illimitable, unbounded as they are by either space/time or the Fourth Wall.

Yet, politics find me arm-in-arm with my Arch-nemesis in solidarity against… One Million Moms, who are boycotting Archie Comics and Toys-R-Us, which is carrying a comic in which Riverdaler Kevin Keller marries his boyfriend. First, a new editor’s notes. I do not know that there are actually one million moms in One Million Moms; I rather doubt it, the same way I’m not really concerned about any threat from Insane Clown Posse or The Butthole Surfers. Also, in the “present day” continuity of Riverdale, Kevin (like the rest of the Archie gang) is a highschooler, with limited dating experienced due to having moved around a lot with his military family. “Kevin’s Wedding” is an “imaginary story” of the future, just like the “Archie Marries Betty” and “Archie Marries Veronica” comics. I will also add that I am opposed to Kevin’s marriage because the story depicted him as a wounded veteran marrying his physical therapist, which is all kinds of professional wrong and which, as we have learned previously here at the Absorbascon, is the road to perdition.

That said, I am obviously not against gay marriage generally or against the general concept of Kevin getting married. Even if I were, I hope wouldn’t take the same stance as this pressure group/rock band One Million Moms ™. Because, even if ‘gay marriage’ is a thing you don’t like, it is still a thing that is happening in the real world—quite a lot—and as such is fair game for inclusion in comics. Of course, rape and murder happened quite a lot in the real world, but I wouldn’t want those in Archie Comics. But if you want to put gay marriage in the same box as rape and murder, One Million Moms, then further discourse on the matter would probably be fruitless. Meanwhile, good luck influencing Toys’R’Us, who I can only assume don’t give a darn what mothers thinks, or their brand name wouldn’t be a grammatical and orthographic horror-show.

By the way, if you get the chance, buy Kevin Keller #1; not only was it kind of touching it was freakin’ hilarious, particularly the Kevin’s Almost First Date and Reggie Gives Kevin a Makeover parts.

What I am really interested in talking about is NOT Kevin Keller, but about the fact that Archie—friggin’ ARCHIE—is leading the mainstream comic book pack on social issues. It’s great, and we should applaud the Archie Comics folks for their efforts to be modern, relevant, but still wholesome. What bothers me is that my preferred comics genre—DC’s ‘super’ titles—are so far BEHIND the curve in representing the realities of gay people being part of modern society.

Don’t get me wrong; I have been very happy to see that the Legion folks stepped right up to the plate and unabashedly portrayed Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet as a couple (a tradition from the Giffen Five Years Later Era). And, of course, Kate Kane has her own title as Batwoman, where her personal and romantic life is very much integral to the story.

However, I cannot help feel that in the New52—so far—it feels like we have taken a step backwards in the portrayal of gay people from what preceded. In the Old52, we could at least point to a handful of gay men in the DCU; admittedly, no one as high profile as Batwoman, but still there were some. There is, to my knowledge, no one to point to in the New52. Naturally, the whole new DC universe is still unfolding and new characters (and old characters newly recast) are being revealed every week, so my observation may simply be premature. But, even if there are no main characters who are gay men, I’m still looking for some sign that gay marriage—a growing modern reality that even Archie Comics has acknowledged and incorporated into its universe—exists in the DCU. I’m not looking for a “Very Special Issue” about it; I don’t think it merits it. But as one occasionally sees straight married couples in the DCU during the course of a plot, one might expect also, at some point, to see a gay married couple as well.

I am aware that the issue is not without controversy in ‘the real world’. I am also aware that superhero comics, on average, do not court social and political controversy. However, I am also aware that DC didn’t wait until integration and ‘miscegenation’ were no longer issues before showing black Americans with white ones in their stories; or am I wrong in that?

I remember looking at the DCU when I was a kid as a more advanced placed, both scientifically and sociologically. Is that no longer the case? Am I now living in a world that’s ten years ahead of the DCU, instead of the other way around?

Archie Comics has always been about preparing young kids for the world they were going to grow into as teenagers. Is DC Comics now just about preserving for adults the world we grew up in as kids?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Haikuesday with Gene Colan and the Sea Devils!

Ah, the Sea Devils, the Homines Superiores of the Sea, the Demigods of the Deep, the Untersee Ubermenschen. I've always marveled at the Sea Devils, who, as repeatedly mentioned here at the Absorbascon, are paragons of humanity, as capable and impressive as the Challengers of the Unknown are incompetent and stumble-footed. Yet they get so little respect; why, they don't even have a page of TV Tropes (where even
Small Wonder has a page).

While excited for the new directions that the creative team is taking with Aquaman, I was sad to see that Aquaman's hinted "former team" will turn out
not to be the Sea Devils.

It's a pity. The Sea Devils are your classic four-man band (The Leader, The Girl, The Muscle, The Kid), a sort of underwater Fantastic Four without superpowers (other than super-awesomeness). They'd have been perfect "back-up singers" for Aquaman's adventures that preceded his discovery of Atlantis, and I would have loved to see the New52 Aquaman become the tentpole for the reintroduction of all DC's oceanic heroes. Alas.

The Sea Devils were so incredible, that, like Mr. Mxyzptlk or The Phantom Stranger, they pretty much do whatever they want, including violating the Fourth Wall...

and otherwise ignoring the barrier between their world and ours. Why, here's their own comic book artist-- Gene Colan -- joining them on one of their underwater adventures.

Wow. That's... wow. Could Namor or Dracula have dragged Gene Colan in their world? I don't think so.

Let alone induct Gene Colan into the joys of sweet, sweet octopus love?

I think not.

Speaking of "Wow", that's the name of the haiku that the amazing Gene Colan spouts as he and the Sea Devils escape one of their hourly close-calls.

We got away just
before that ancient ship was
swallowed up again!

Such is the ennobling effect of the Sea Devils on all who surround them, elevating them to the heights of human achievement, including casual haiku in the face of near destruction. What haiku can you compose in honor of the Sea Devils or Gene Colan?