Sunday, August 31, 2008

VS: The Clone Wars

So, we finally hear what the next hobby league format is, and it's an interesting one, especially with the popularity of legends in today's environment - the official rules of which read...

This marquee event is the first ever VS System Silver Age Clone Saga event. For this event, players may build any deck legal in Silver age. During the game, the uniqueness rule does not apply to characters when recruiting or substituting.

So, Silver-age legal, no deck restrictions, same ban list as always applies. Still, the lack of uniqueness provides for some interesting deck-building options. Yeah, there are plenty of people who are going to play Darkseid's Elite, Spider-Friends Stall, Wolverine Legends, World's Finest - expect to see ALL the old stand-bys.

That said, in the very first BUILD A LEGEND event, my deck of choice was a golden-age Barbara Gordon legends deck. Batman, Superman, and the MVL legends were too expensive to build. A friend already had Darkseid built. Also, I'm a big fan of Barbara Gordon.

So, let's build a Barbara Gordon deck for the Clone Saga!

2x Shadowcat, Phase Shifter
2x Vixen, Tantu Totem
2x Ray Palmer <> The Atom, Tiny Titan
1x Catwoman, Cat 'O Nine Tails
2x The Shade, Ageless Enigma
2x Shadow-Thief, Umbral Burglar
5x Surveillance Pawn, Army
4x Tattooed Man, Art Imitates Life
1x Lady Blackhawk, Zinda Blake

1x Deadpool, Interminable Terminator
1x Captain Boomerang, George Harkness
1x Lieutenant Kona Lor, Lunatic Legion
1x Superwoman, Earth 3
2x Huntress, Vicious Vigilante
1x Krypto, Guard Dog of El
1x Bart Allen <> Kid Flash, Heir to the Mantle

1x Jason Todd <> Red Hood, Revived
1x Owlman, Earth 3
1x Black Manta, Deepwater Denizen
4x Professor Emil Hamilton <> Ruin,
4x Barbara Gordon <> Oracle, Hacker Elite

Plot Twists
4x Secret Files
4x Superhuman Registration Act, Team-Up
4x Savage Beatdown
4x Blinding Rage
4x Big Leagues


Now, this was just tossed off right here. It could use some refinement - a LOT of refinement - still, it's an insane concept that generally works out to being pretty fun. You want to hit Emil Hamilton by turn 3, to throw a Superhuman Registration Act in your row. After that, you want to get rid of him in favor of Barbara. You can keep dropping characters like Owlman, Black Manta, or Jason Todd on turns when they'd be helpful, then subbing them out for Barbara.

Registration Act is great for flooding the field, but you also need card draw. You need to hit your attack pumps if you want to kill - and when Barbara Gordon isn't unique...well, you could be drawing a lot of cards. With Tattooed Man non-unique, you could be playing a lot of those extra 1-drops. Surveillance Pawn, with this much flood, could end up being a pretty huge bump.

It's a simple deck, and I plan on playing around with it a little bit, but even if it was absolutely terrible (okay, it might be bad, but even if it was absolutely unfun, I meant) - it fulfills my goals to make sure that Barbara Gordon is awesome in every format of every game of VS played. Dammit.

Friday, August 29, 2008


So, has there ever been a character you just really didn't like? I know that, for a lot of people, Superman is targeted as a cookie-cutter character, a cardboard cut-out, and numerous other unflattering titles, many of which begin with 'c'. It's a fair commentary - a character that's been around as long as he has, in this day in age, absolutely HAS to be 'safe' in every way possible. There's a certain amount of leeway with him, but he's just not allowed to change beyond a certain degree. Same goes for his cast. So, just how do you give personality to a 70 year old character, the icon of the stagnation of comic books? More importantly, how do you boil down 70 years worth of stories to a readable amount? And there's a lot of garbage in there - how do you know what you can safely skip?

All-Star Superman

A single recommendation. Rare for me, I know. Still, pay attention.

All-Star Superman takes place outside of the standard DC Continuity, meaning it can set its own rules, pick and choose what baggage it wants to deal with - and it doesn't have to leave the toys intact for the next writer. Saving the astronauts aboard a space shuttle attempting to 'map the sun' from a death engineered by Lex Luthor, Superman is fatally wounded. Slowly dying, Superman begins to tie up the loose ends of his life, everything from revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane to trying everything he can to finally save the Kryptonians trapped in the Bottle City of Kandor.

All-Star Superman is a love letter to the Silver Age of comics, a time of rampant insanity and bizarre ideas. It's also a wonderfully imaginative series with just a hint of sadness running throughout. Watching Superman confront his own mortality allows for some interesting facets of his personality to come to the forefront, and the series as a whole gets better and better at building Superman's cast and character. It also just happens to be a good book in general.

There's not much detail here. This isn't meant to be a long post, and it isn't meant to tell you everything about the book. It's to say, if you're interested in comics, if you've always hated Superman and are willing to be proven wrong, if you just want a good sci-fi adventure story, you owe it to yourself to read some All-Star Superman. If you don't enjoy it by "Funeral in Smallville" or even "The Gospel According to Lex Luthor", you probably won't enjoy it at all, but it's a cold-hearted bastard what can't appreciate this book.

Enjoy your weekends!

Under the Sea

Theme decks. I love theme decks. I like the idea of the World's Finest deck. I like watching Magneto blow up his own resources in his insane quest to destroy us all. I enjoy the thematic aspects of VS almost as much as I enjoy the system of rules, the ideas behind the game. Hence...UNDER THE SEA, the fearsome team-up of two old-school comic characters: Aquaman and Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

10 Atlantean Warriors, Army
10 Sea Creatures, Army
4 Aquaman, Founding Member
2 Aquaman, Lord of Atlantis
4 Sub-Mariner, Protector of the Time Gem
2 Sub-Mariner, The Avenging Son

3x Poseidonis
3x Atlantis
3x Birthing Chamber
3x Alias Investigations

4x Super-Hero Registration Act, Team-Up
4x Savage Beatdown
4x Origin Story
4x Carrying the Torch
4x Mobilize

Thanks to the good people on VSRealms for helping me clean the deck up a bit - army decks aren't normally my thing. Still, I enjoy this deck. The Marvel and DC kings of the seas, their armies in tow, swarm the field to take the game.

The way it works. Well, Carrying the Torch means that you only have to hit one of the two characters in order to get access to BOTH their legend suites. Sea Creatures can be swarmed out on turn 4, rather than 5, and you can keep Sub-Mariner hidden with the Aquaman name. Origin Story might be the best search card of all time for an army deck, letting you return a stunned character to search for another army character for the next turn. SHRA helps with the swarm, and the team-up, and is an all-around great card. If you can, you want to pitch an Aquaman to Mobilize on 3 to find you a Sub-Mariner if you have Atlantean Soldiers out, or just to find more Atlantean Soldiers if you already have Sub-Mariner, just to get Aquaman in your KO'd pile for CtT.

The deck isn't particularly brutal, especially for a Modern Age army deck, but it is fun, and it is reliable. Play around with it on MWS.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Have you ever watched a movie and absolutely hated it - but when you looked at it again a few months or years later, thought it was an absolute blast. That's Idiocracy for me, the most recent movie from Office Space creator Mike Judge.

Released in 2006 in barely more than 100 theaters, Idiocracy was a film that 20th Century Fox tried as hard as humanly possible to cover up. They released no commercials or trailers, made up posters only for the hundred theaters the movie was screened it, and they didn't screen it for critics. When it came time for the inevitable DVD release, it was released with little to no fanfare, and then promptly forgotten.

Despite all that, though, Idiocracy was probably the funniest movie released that year, and as it gains a cult following on DVD, I suspect it will be quite fondly remembered in the future. It was sad, yes, and it's gotten sadder - less because of the plot of the film and more because of how eerily true the Britney and Kevin-inspired world it creates is. As a satire, it doesn't distance itself from the instant-gratification culture of dumbed-down entertainment that's thrown in your face every day - and because of that, there are times when you could be unsure about how much the film has fallen victim to the culture it's making fun of.

In it, Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph play a pair of ordinary Americans of average intelligence placed in suspended animation. While it's only supposed to last a year, it instead lasts 500, and when they wake up, they wake up to a much-changed America in which they are the smartest people alive - by quite a lot. Carl's Jr.'s slogan has changed to "F--k you, I'm eating!" The Violence Channel is extremely popular, with the hit show "Ow, My Balls!", and Starbucks now comes with complimentary sexual service. That barely scratches the surface of the number of satirical gags in the film, and Judge seems to have a blast creating this tragically stupid future. It's up to Luke and Maya to save the world from the problems its gotten itself into over the past five centuries, and to try and figure out just where things went wrong.

The movie is ceaselessly fun, and the amount of detail that went into many of the film's gags should put to rest accusations of stupidity of half-heartedness. Still, it's understandable why 20th Century Fox wouldn't want to release the film too widely - the movie is carefully crafted to offend a sensationalist media that believes that you the people who watch TV are idiots and so panders to them. If you're ever in need of a ridiculous comedy to watch with a few friends, I'd highly recommend Idiocracy.

Besides...can you really dislike a movie in which the President of the United States is named Dwayne Elizando Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho (five time ultimate smackdown wrestling champion and porn superstar)?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

You're On The Global Frequency...

Warren Ellis is one of comics most popular writers, one of the VERY few known more for his creator-owned work than for his mainstream projects. His creator-owned projects range from the famous political satire Transmetropolitan to low-selling, darkly comedic fantasy Gravel. And while projects like Transmet have gotten a lot of publicity and mainstream recognition, Ellis has had two brief comics that I think deserve special mention: the currently-ongoing Fell, and the 2002-2003 series Global Frequency. If you can't tell from the title of the post, this'll mostly be about GF, but I'll get to Fell sooner or later.

Global Frequency ticks many of Ellis's strongest boxes. While he does just fine on mainstream, continuity-heavy, company-owned titles, his heart never seems to be in it. Instead, he seems to be at his strongest bucking the comics trend with small-press books that he owns, that don't have coherent 'arcs', but instead focus on telling the entire story in a single issue.

Global Frequency features with a global civilian organization of 1,001 agents working under Miranda Zero and a young woman known as Aleph to deal with the bizarre threats that have begun to crop up in the world, or simply with things governments can't, or won't, deal with. Ellis mines a number of sci-fi tropes to find a his plots, but he does a lot with them, given that he only has 22 pages to tell each story.

Each of the twelve issues of Global Frequency has a wildly different tone. Heaven's One Hundred is an old-school shoot-'em-up action comic. Superviolence is a brutal 20-page fight between two cannibal martial artists. Invasive deals with a memetic alien virus taking people over, while Big Sky is about a mass hallucination in Norway where every person in a village is driven insane after claiming to see an angel. The comics range from exciting to horrifying, but they're never bad.

If a series of interconnected sci-fi done-in-one stories sounds like something you might find in television, you'd be interested to learn that Global Frequency was, at one point, scheduled for adaptation to TV. A pilot was shot, though when the show was not ultimately picked up, it was leaked on to the internet. If you look search around, you should still be able to find it. It's a loose adaptation of the first GF issue, titled 'Bombhead', and while there were a number of changes made in the general tone of the series, including the introduction of two 'regulars' that weren't Aleph and Miranda, the pilot was still remarkably true to the comic. And while Global Frequency was declared by one UK newspaper as 'the most popular TV show never screened' for its cult following and frequent downloads, network execs were so frustrated by the leak (ah, 2005 - more innocent times) that they declared that the show would never be released in any official way. Ever. Forever.

Check out the comic if you want to enjoy one of the best sci-fi comics around. And if you want a little taste of what might have been, head out online to try and find the Global Frequency pilot episode. As we get further and further from 2005, it seems more and more likely that we really never will get a Global Frequency release, so I think that, even for the most squeamish of conscience, you can download this without worry that you're taking money from the good people who nixed the show.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I don't really know how many people check this out, and I believe that almost everyone who does is a VSRealms member, but just in case you hadn't been reading the best comic review blog on the 'net, I thought I'd link here to a group review blog done by myself and a few other VS mainstays...


I've been loving the ads that Marvel and DC have been running lately, to promote their current and upcoming events. Well, some of them - while Final Crisis has been great, Secret Invasion has been bland as hell. I was a little disappointed with Marvel, until I saw...

I honestly haven't loved Brubaker's X-Men (Carey's been gold, though), but I'm really hoping this is a What If...? mini imagining the X-Men mythology in the style of noir.

That said, even if it isn't, even if whatever this is advertising isn't that great, these images are gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Secret Six Victorious!

I love alternate win conditions. I love them - but I'm bad at them. It's exceedingly rare for me to successfully win by anything other than beating the crap out of my noble opponent, but I will never stop trying. And while alternate wins have become less popular (the last two I remember are Darkside (8) and Captain Marvel (8)), one of the coolest alternate wins of all time is still, for a very short time, silver age legal: Secret Six Victorious.

Now, I've been thoroughly enjoying playing around with the MUN cards that I have. Unfortunately, having a Mac makes it difficult to play a deck if I don't own all the pieces of it, since neither MWS or OCTGN are Mac-compatible, and so there are decks I might want to build (Any MUN Legend deck?) that are sadly beyond my ability.

That said, it's never stopped me from goofing around with decks. So here's my attempt to win a Secret Six Victorious victory, on turn 6. My ridiculous jank attempt.

4x Mad Hatter

4x Deadshot, Dead Aim
4x Professor X, Idealistic Dreamer
4x Namorita, Atlantean Princess

3x Catman, Thomas Blake
4x Parademon, Apokaliptian Ally
4x Hal Jordan, Founding Member

4x Ragdoll, Resilient Rogue

3x Lex Luthor <> Mockingbird

Plot Twists
4x Enemy of my Enemy
4x Recharge!
4x Realm of the Mind
4x My Name Is Peter Parker...
2x Secret Six Victorious
4x Carrying the Torch
4x Origin Story

Okay. You may notice one or two...oddities. Hal Jordan? Namorita? Professor X? What're all y'all doin' here? Well, Hal is actually your 3-drop of choice if you have any Recharges in your row. Chances are, as you play this deck, that you will never attack. Hal only attacks if it's turn 3 AND you have no Recharges.

Ideal game?

Turn 1

Turn 2
Professor X

Turn 3
Hal Jordan, exhaust to Recharge. If you have a Realm of the Mind, exhaust Prof X to that. Chances are, you're keeping both characters due to large DEF values. If you absolutely can't keep Prof X, don't be afraid to KO him or return him to hand with Origin Story to thin your deck and get some discard bait.

Turn 4
Ragdoll. You should be drawing 3-cards a turn at this point. If you have another Recharge, feel free to lay it, but you can also lay a My Name Is Peter Parker.... When Ragdoll becomes stunned, you probably want to pitch a Deadshot to recover him, and play the Parademon for free. Then, exhaust Parademon to bring Deadshot in. You went from 1 S6 character to 3 - like magic! With Parademon now on the field, Ragdoll recovering, chances are good that you're going into next turn with some good board position - and they HAVE to stun Professor X if they want to be able to hurt you at all. Thankfully, by now, you should have some My Name Is down. Save who you need to.

Turn 5
Catman + Namorita. Use Hal to fetch Secret Six Victorious and lay it as your resource. If you have a Realm of the Mind, use it. When Ragdoll becomes stunned, pitch Mad Hatter to recover him, putting Hatter in play, then, at the end of the turn, Mockingbird your last character into play and flip SSV for the Turn 6 win. If you're worried about Parademon, put him in front of Ragdoll, so they stun him first, Origin Story him back to hand to search for another one of him, then, when Ragdoll becomes stunned, you can put Parademon back into play, unstunned and with an extra Parademon for discard bait to My Name Is Peter Parker. You should be able to keep all your characters around unless you're playing MKKO or Secret Society, but this was never meant to be a competitive deck, just a fun one.

Carrying the Torch is in there for when you really want to be able to use Realm of the Mind or Recharge, but they've gotten rid of your Hal/Prof X. Remember, Realm can be recurred thanks to Namorita, so you can get some decent mileage out of it.

I hope you've enjoyed. I know there are a lot of interesting ways to pull a Secret Six Victorious win now, though they can't really catch up to the extreme rush that's become so common. Still, if you're looking for a kitchen table deck, give this one a shot and let me know how quickly it falls apart.

Edit #1: Man, is it just me, or does Clash of Worlds make Secret Six Victorious REALLY easy to pull off?
Edit #2: There IS another alternate win available - Xorn's Takeover - , and I'll give it a shot, too, because I love me some alternate win conditions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Olympics - a minor rant

This is the first time I've ever really gotten into the Olympics at all, especially gymnastics. Between Nastia, Shawn, and Michael Phelps, it's been a pretty exciting year to get into the Olympics. And while things have been solid gold for Phelps, watching gymnastics has been an exercise in frustration as I see, time and time again, the judges completely screw the American gymnasts in favor of the fairly obviously underage Chinese athletes.

The most recent came in the finals of the uneven bars. Kexin He, one of the Chinese stars, performed an amazing routine - but with a number of notable flaws, including an ENORMOUS step at the end of her routine. She was followed by Nastia Liuken, America's superstar gymnast, who performed a similar routine (difficulty-wise) with fewer visible mistakes - and was given the same score, which due to the way gymnastics deals with ties, gave the gold to Kexin He. It took almost ten minutes for the announcers to figure out what had happened, even longer for the coaches to understand why it was scored this way, and was criticized by a number of commentators.

If it were only this event, it would be one thing, but this is only a single example of many available throughout the variety of events. From the all-arounds to the individual events, the judges have repeatedly ignored balance checks, steps, or flat-out falls on the part of the Chinese, while giving the American, Russian, and other nation's athletes extremely low start values and deductions for flaws that no one else could see. The Americans have still pulled off a few wins, but when a number of experienced judges are as critical as they've been about the scoring this year, you have to ask just how legit things are over there.

We have seen a number of spectacular routines from a variety of countries, while the Chinese - using obviously illegal athletes in a shameful flouting of the Olympic rules - have been consistently given the medals. It is performances like this that turns the general public off gymnastics so often, as we see scores we don't understand, seeming favoritism, and other things that make it seem less like a game of skill and more like a game of 'Who do the judges like better?'

Still, as un-manly as it may seem, if you haven't been watching the gymnastics this year, for all my complaining, just ignore the scores and enjoy some spectacular high-flying, falling, and feats of agility and strength. It's a really fun sport to watch when it comes down to sheer physical insanity, it turns out. And who would have thought that the two biggest events this Olympics would be swimming and gymnastics? Seriously - I was at a bar, and the guys turned off the Indians because they heard Phelps would race in a few hours, and when the gymnasts came on afterwards, they were too into that to change back. Is anyone even watching Olympic basketball?

*speaking of awesome, how about the Russian, Isinbaeyeva, who just won women's pole-vaulting? She already had the gold medal, and she vaulted just a little higher JUST to see if she could, setting the world record for the 24th time. yes - she's beaten herself the world record for highest women's pole vault 23 times.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Table-Top Heroes: The Top Five Best Games You May Not Have Played

Everyone's heard of D&D. Love it or hate it, everyone knows it's there. And then there's the World of Darkness, spear-headed by Vampire, Mage, and Werewolf. White Wolf, their creators, do a few other games you may or may not have heard of, and I'll be naming at least one of those here for you. This is a list for people who are getting tired of playing the same game every time, or for people who are looking to get into gaming, but haven't been interested in the traditional mainstays. Some are hard to find, but they're all entertaining games with interesting back-stories and a lot of potential.

Little Fears
When it comes to horror games, everyone's heard of Call of Cthulhu. What everyone has NOT heard of, but definitely should have, is Little Fears, The Role-Playing Game of Childhood Terror. Little Fears crafted a potent mythology combining the simple fears of children with the very grown-up fears for children. It's very mechanics-lite, but under the hand of a creative story-teller, Little Fears provides the background for some of the scariest games you've ever played.

Nobilis is hard to find. Nigh-impossible to find for an affordable price, in fact. But, if you can download a copy of it, or find one at a used bookstore, Nobilis is one of the most unique fantasy role-playing games you will ever see. In it, you play the fundamental force of...something. You choose what. Some are taken by NPCs already, but you can be anything from the Power of Pointless Betrayals to the Power of War to the Power of Automatic Weapons. I played the Power of Small Cracks in Things, and I had a blast. It's well-suited for stories that range from obscenely epic to as intimate as can be, and it offers the players more customizability than you can shake a stick at. Even though you could, technically, shake a stick at the book. I don't know if it works that way.


Scion is one of the best games I've ever seen for experiencing the transition between the mortal heroes of legends to the gods they represent. You begin the game a Hero, the living child of some ancient god. Your powers work because of your divine lineage, and as you grow in power, you move up to Demigod, and then, finally, to God. Your enemies can be other gods, but often, it's the Titan-spawn, the agents of the Titans of myth. The game does an excellent job of keeping to White Wolf's traditional d10 system while still making you feel like the most epic thing that ever lived. And you can be that epic at anything - politics, language, gunfights, whatever fits your character best. As action games go, it's hard to beat Scion...


...but X-Crawl does. X-Crawl just might be the best thing ever to come out of D&D. Imagine D&D set today. Imagine all of history re-written to fit these standards. Ben Franklin, the First Archmage of America. Dungeon Crawling is the most popular extreme sport in the world. DJs make their career running these death-traps, and the heroes are the dungeon-crawlers themselves. Do well in the crawl, establish a catch-phrase, a signature look, and you could become a millionaire. Groupies flocking to you, movie deals come your way. If you fail in the Crawls, though, disgrace awaits on the outside. The combat is great, and with the right DM, you'll soon find yourself living and dying over the ratings you get each 'episode', and how it effects your life outside the Crawl.

Exalted: The Fair Folk

Exalted is a great game, filled with cool ideas and epic heroes. A lot of the time, though, it becomes a fairly standard hack 'n slash game. The players often degenerate into douche-bags, playing Solars or Abyssals and playing them as stupidly as possible. When run well, though, the intrigue, excitement, and mythology of the setting can be a huge asset. But there's a subset of Exalted that deserves a special shout out: the Fair Folk. In the Fair Folk, you really can't just play it as a hack 'n slash. The mechanics of the game are confusing, but when you do them right, it turns each player into the story-teller, and turns combat, be it social, physical, mental, or something else all-together, can be laugh-out-loud hilarious or relatively heartbreaking. The Fair Folk is a great game for a creative group of players.

So, there you have it. Five table-top RPGs that deserve some notice. If you and your group are getting sick of D&D or the World of Darkness, these are a few entertaining alternatives. There's something for everyone in this list, so I hope you and your gaming group enjoy trying some of 'em out!

Monday, August 11, 2008

DCU Preview: Wonder Woman, Agent Diana Prince and Lasso of Truth, Gift from the Gods

So, as you've probably heard, this week we'll be seeing the last team of the set - Themyscira! Now, Geoff Johns had nothing to do with this team, and this team almost exclusively. No, you have Trinity, Wonder Woman, and (shudder) Amazons Attack! to thank for the long-overdue inclusion of Wonder Woman and her Amazons into the VS System.

Now, the Amazons of Themyscira in the comics have a few things they focus on more than anything else. Equipment and Locations. I mean, their forges, libraries, embassies are all vital to Themysciran culture. They've created spectacular armor and weapons. The Amazons are a force to be reckoned with, as we saw when they invaded America rather out of the blue in Amazons Attack. Equipment. Locations. Armies. Does this sound at all like a team from the past?

Maybe this'll jog your memory...

Now, Wonder Woman has a few obvious downsides on Ahmed. She isn't going to fix up your row to perfection in the middle of the combat phase. She requires a discard. And she'll only find locations with terraform. However, simply reprinting such a genre-defining card as Ahmed seemed like a bad ideas, and her downsides are negligible when compared to her upsides. First, she doesn't share the King downfall, and that's a pretty big one. Second, and perhaps most importantly - Wonder Woman is a legend, and as such, has a suite of legend cards that simply aren't available to Ahmed.

An example? Fine.

The Lasso of Truth is one of the Signature pieces of the Wonder Woman mythos. Not all of the pieces are in this set, but we felt that this one was the most important, and so we've got it here, and it's a doozy.

Now, first things first. It costs 1 to recruit - unless you're putting it where it belongs, on Wonder Woman. Anyone can use the Lasso, but no one can use it quite like her. So, on most people, it's a sacrifice. It's powerful, but is it worth a resource point? On Wonder Woman, however, it costs 0, but it's also harder to blow up, as much equipment hate only hits cost 0. This card makes Wonder Woman a BIG target, as an opponent must stun Wonder Woman if they want to have any hope of getting their effects into play, and we'll see that Wonder Woman becomes increasingly harder to stun as the game goes on. Cards like Carrying the Torch make it so much more potent, giving access to effects that allow you to recover Wonder Woman with ease, slowing your opponent's game down drastically.

So, that's the introduction to Themyscira. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rant: The Age of Fan Fiction

In the past, the very recent past, fan fiction has been considered a 'lower' form of writing than legitimately published fiction, be it comics, television, manga - whatever. Even today, it is widely considered to be beneath those other writings. But, as I read more and more comics, it seems as though we've moved from the Modern Age of Comics to the Fan Fiction Age of Comics. This is the first big generation of creators who grew up enormous fans in the industry.

However, instead of being enormous fans of the medium of comics, of the storytelling potential of these massive shared universes, they became enamored of certain characters. They didn't grow up saying, "I want to write comics," but, instead, "I want to write Hal Jordan." For a little while, this wasn't really a problem, but as time progressed, I began to see a trend, People refusing to read comics because it wasn't the 'right' Green Lantern, it wasn't the 'right' Flash, it wasn't the 'right' Batgirl.

Worse yet, I saw creators begin to follow the same trend. This was recently epitomized in a series titled Green Lantern: Rebirth, by Geoff Johns. In it, he found a way to resurrect Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of his youth. By itself, this is nothing sinister, but it was the manner in which he did so, the content of the series, that I found worrying as I saw it becoming a trend in comicdom.

Within Rebirth, we see Hal Jordan brought back to life after his demise more than a decade ago, in which Hal turned evil, called himself Parallax, and nearly destroyed the universe. This occurred after a few years of excellent stories, most notably 'Hard Traveling Heroes', in which Hal Jordan and Ollie Queen travelled across America. In it, we saw a more human version of Hal. He was confident, but willing to admit when he was wrong. He was introspective.

This, however, was not the Hal Jordan Johns wanted. He wanted to cocky, confidant Golden Child. He didn't want the aging Hal, with a little grey at his temples. He didn't want to deal with the fall-out of Hal killing people. He didn't want any other Green Lantern to be respected above Hal. And so, when Hal comes back, we learn that he didn't actually kill those people - he was forced to by a yellow fear bug. He was fighting it. He grayed a little, not because he was getting older, no - instead, it's because he got possessed by said yellow fear bug, and what happens when you get scared? And that shit about Hal traveling the country, learning that he wasn't always right, that race-relations are important, drugs are a problem, all that - that was the fear bug, too. And in the Sinestro Corps War, Kyle Rayner, Hal's replacement, is possessed by the aforementioned bug and he kills someone. The Guardians strip Kyle of his honors, all the while, everyone learns an important lesson that Hal didn't actually hurt anyone. Oh, and did I mention that a super-villain who was slapping Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman around all at once was taken out in mere seconds by Hal? And Hal's hair turned back to pure brown. Magically. Because he was unscared.

Think about all that. Johns undid two decades of story-telling, removed every single flaw of the character, made him more powerful than any of the other established, popular DC heroes, and blanket forgave him of every sin he ever committed, all while removing his replacement (Kyle) from Earth, and removing all trust the other heroes had for Kyle. Oh, and Kyle's mom died.

Now, credit where credit's due. The 'yellow fear bug' idea was well-executed here, becoming an integral part of the Green Lantern mythology and opening up a number of really interesting paths for comics to take. Johns is creating a massive mythology for the Green Lanterns, and he's doing it in such a way that he's greatly expanding the story-telling potential of the once-faded franchise.

Still, was it worth it? Johns not only felt the need to bring a long-dead hero back to life, but he felt the need to discredit anyone who doesn't like him, flat-out taunt fans who don't like him by turning Batman into a ridiculous straw-man for anti-Hal arguments - and then have Hal one-punch him to the jaw. He reversed every wrong Hal ever did, put him in charge of thousands of Green Lanterns, and gave him back his city.

This is a common trend in comics, now. When Hal was brought back, respected artist Alex Ross famously declared 'We won!', leaving me to ask, "What did you win? Who did you beat, and do you care that that you had to 'beat' someone?" Of course not. That would require too much emotional maturity. Recently, Barry Allen, dead for over two decades, famed for dying one of the most heroic deaths in comicdom, was brought back. Of course, his replacement for over twenty years, Wally West, will be force to change his name and his costume. I would also be worried for Wally's family, were I you. Now, there's a movement to un-paralyze Barbara Gordon, the heroine now known as Oracle, so that she can return to action as Batgirl - and Jason Todd, the second Robin, has come back to life. In an upcoming mini-series titled Legion of 3 Worlds, we will see the original Legion of Superheroes, the second Legion of Superheroes, and the current Legion of Superheroes. Also being written by Geoff Johns, who has stated repeatedly his dislike of the 'new Legion', he has promised that there will only be one Legion when the book is over. Who wants to take money that it'll be the one he grew up with?

And we can't forget Marvel, can we? Marvel, with one of the worst offenses of FanBoyishness in history? Marvel decided that Spider-Man wasn't relatable enough. He was too old. His job as a high school teacher was too mundane - who likes a high school teacher, anyway? He had a hot wife. Maybe even kids, one day? Nope! Instead, Peter Parker made a deal with the devil (literally) to save his aunt - who is, by the way, over 100 years old - that resulted in him magically being divorced. No explanations given. Just...he forgot that he was ever married. Everyone did. No one on Earth recalled this. All evidence was wiped. It was a bad plot device that was so obviously an editorial mandate that the editor actually came out and said 'We don't have to explain it - it's magic." Oh, and somehow, one of Spider-Man's dead friends/enemies Norman Osborn came back to life. Because everyone forgot he was dead?

Meanwhile, what has come of the new characters or ideas? Manhunter is barely chugging along. Blue Beetle is surviving pretty much only on mercy. Checkmate is cancelled. Shadowpact is cancelled. Cassandra Cain, the new Batgirl, turned evil. Kon El, Superboy, died. Bart Allen, the newest Flash, died. The Sentry occasionally shows up and cries, having become one of fandom's biggest jokes.

As trends go, there've been worse. It's just sad, is all. People are more attached to characters than they are to stories. An average story featuring Batman will outsell a spectacular story featuring a character created in the last decade. Comic fans have become terrified to step out of their comfort zones. Comic creators just want things to go back to the way they were when they were kids. People sometimes forget that if you're too busy making the character you love look cool, you'll forget to make them look human. And what is this insatiable urge to make your favorite character the coolest person ever if not a part of the Dark Side of Fan Fiction?

Because DC Won't...

Well, Final Crisis is officially underway, and it's been interesting so far. It's been a little more polarizing than Secret Invasion - while many people find SI 'boring' and 'slow', most are content to ride it out, as it's a traditional summer action blockbuster comic - with many people unsure of exactly what to think. Some are still confused - ignore them. They want to be confused. Some are bored. That's fine, that's their business. Some, however, are intrigued, and want to know more.

DC, however, does not want you to know more. They want you to read Countdown and Death of the New Gods, two widely reviled books that were meant to be set-up for Final Crisis but ended up just confusing the matter. So, as always, I'm here to step into the breach and do what Marvel did for Secret Invasion - offer a coherent road-map of compelling stories that lead up to Final Crisis.

To start...

Jack Kirby's Fourth World
Like everything on this list, this is wholly optional. These stories are old, a collection of materials from Jack Kirby that began to Fourth World as we know it. Since the Fourth World is so vital to Final Crisis, this makes excellent reading if you want to dig a little deeper into the mythos Morrison is dealing with in Final Crisis.

JLA: Rock of Ages
JLA: World War III
The Justice League of America is a group of perhaps the most recognizable characters in comics history. In his run awhile back, Morrison added significantly to their roster, and gave them the biggest threats they'd ever dealt with. Rock of Ages deals with Darkseid conquering Earth in the far future - the similarities between this and Final Crisis are obvious, so if you want to see another take on the story, check it out. And World War III, one of the most ridiculously epic stories ever put to print, provides a few hints as to where Final Crisis got it's beginning - why Earth is Darkseid's first target, and what we may become if he lets us thrive....

Seven Soldiers of Victory
That's only volume 1 of Morrison's four-volume story, and it's not the most important. If you want the most important to Final Crisis, you're looking for volumes 3 and 4, the two volumes in which Morrison's 7 Soldiers: Mr. Miracle series was published. Here, we see the first meeting between Boss Dark Side and Shilo Norman, and we learn how Shilo seems to be so in the know about the Crisis that's about to strike.

Again, this is only volume 1, but Final Crisis leads fairly directly from 52. An epiphany from villain Veronica Cale near the end is the perfect mood-setter, and the series as a whole offers some set-up on a few other things - who Renee Montoya is and how she became the Question, for one thing.

The Question: The Five Books of Blood
Speaking of Renee - how does she know all that she knows? She seems to know an awful lot about the Crime Bible, about the Dark Side, but how? This book will answer some of those questions as Renee goes in-depth in her investigation into the Religion of Crime from 52.

And that's it. Again, none of those are vital to enjoying Final Crisis. And there are a lot of books that I could add to the list for the tie-ins, things like Checkmate, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Flash, the Fastest Man Alive, and more. But, if all you want is the beef with the main story, those books'll give you some great, entertaining background.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Carrying the Torch

These are more brief thoughts that precede an avalanche of bizarre ideas. Just sayin'.

The Legend concept in VS is one we've been familiar with since the beginning of the game, when Dr. Doom subjected his first victims to his Reign of Terror. It wasn't until Marvel Legends, however, that the mechanic became commonplace, as we began to see anyone who'd ever been in a movie achieve legendary status (Ghost Rider? Really?) and get the support suite of kings.

It was a great idea for making some interesting decks to be built, but it was still an extraordinarily limited idea. In general, if you wanted to pull off the effect, you had to have the proper character in play. If you wanted to use Full Throttle, you needed a Flash. If you wanted to make your defender Indestructible, you'd better hope they were attacking Superman. While it's a fascinating mechanic, it's a limited one.

Or, it was. In Marvel Universe, we saw Carrying the Torch, a card that could give the name of any character in the game to another character. At first, it was being sold cheap - until people realized what they had. What if you could give Barry Allen some Adamantium Claws? What would happen if Captain America Smashed, instead of Hulk - and what it Cap just kept on smashing thanks to help from the residents of Poseidonis? Deck-building opened up.

Of course, there's the downside. Legend cards are so much easier to break, now. But let's ignore that and focus on the bizarre ideas that are available to us now, because CtT has my juices moving like few recent cards have.

What if you took Natasha Irons <> Steel, Unlikely Alloy, gave her the name Captain America on top of it, and plopped her as your only visible character? Then you flipped Stars and Stripes? A single Burn Rubber means you're taking three damage with each attack and nothing else, and all you need is Poseidonis or Atlantis to recur it. Meanwhile, you could ship Punisher, Captain America to your hidden area and, at then your opponent can't even make that simple attack into Natasha, knowing that Punisher's a single activation away from stunning everyone who tried. That's a Modern-Age legal, half-assed stall deck, right there. Every other card in your deck could be dedicated to gaining life, whatever you want.

What if you gave the name Punisher to two hidden 3-drops, and had Punisher, Suicide Run out already? You could Sniper Shot every turn, essentially destroying your opponent's curve. What if one of those hidden Punisher's was James Barnes <> Winter Soldier, Out in the Cold - that's even more character-destruction your opponent has to work around. That's absolutely brutal.

What if Wolverine, Secret Avenger had access to Final Justice, making him unstunnable? He already has a plot twist that he can use to ready himself - he could wipe your board AND attack you directly for 2 cards! And don't get me started on Wolverine, Agent of SHIELD once you start throwing Hulk Smash into the mix, with the Atlantis to free-recur it that turn.

These are just a few ideas, but I'd love to hear some of yours. How would you use Carrying the Torch to make a Secret Six Victorious deck work? Would you add in Force Field Projection, Atlantis, and Poseidonis, giving you the means to blow out all the attacks you want?

So, question, if any VS players actually read the blog: what's your favorite Carrying the Torch deck, and why?

Review: The Dark Knight

By now, most people have seen The Dark Knight. You've formed your own opinions, and nothing I say can change your mind about it. But I write things like this anyway because I know how ceaselessly clever I am, and I figure I should get my opinion out there.

The first thing you should do, if you haven't seen the Dark Knight already, is to go into it knowing this: this isn't a super-hero movie. There are elements of super-hero fiction to it, a number of them, but there are also the best elements of crime dramas like The Departed, or The Untouchables. There are elements of older westerns, as other, brighter people have pointed out. Ultimately, you just have to go into it with an open mind. It's darker than most comic book movies - hell, it's darker than most movies on the market today.

I suppose I'll start with the biggest downside of the movie. A common negative is the film's length, and I can't lie - you have to set aside some time to see this. The movie is just over two-and-a-half hours, so it's going to take up a big chunk of your time. And while the film does an admirable job of keeping things tense for much of that time, there are some scenes where the action runs too long. All that said, though, The Dark Knight makes good use of its time. While there are scenes that could be cut, none of them are wasted. Each one builds an important characters, sets up a crucial event.

Speaking of the action, it's improved greatly from Batman Begins. Some people would claim that, in Batman Begins, the brawls were harried and unclear to represent how brawls really would be, on top of Batman's inexperience, which is fine, but still made for uninteresting actions scenes. It's cleared up here by having fewer hand-to-hand fight scenes, but most of them are much cleaner. The notable exception comes late in the film, using a complicated sonar-system to 'see' - this seems more designed to appease fans of 'Batman the Inventor', and serves no sensible purpose, while bogging down the action of these scenes significantly.

Despite all that, though, The Dark Knight just might be the best movie to come out this year. Bale is believable, though morose, as Batman, and as ridiculous as his voice may sound at times as he snarls his way through Gotham's underworld, it is most certainly different from his Bruce Wayne voice, and it'd certainly intimidate me. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth are both given little to work with, but they nail what they have as Batman's droll assistants in his crime-fighting career. Finally, Katie Holmes is out, and replaced by the far-superior Maggie Gyllenhal as Bruce's childhood friend Rachel Dawes.

It's not they who shine, however. The two new additions to the cast are perfect. First, Aaron Eckhardt, probably known to most of you from Thank You For Smoking, as Harvey Dent, the crusading new District Attorney, Gotham's white knight. He's slick, and he's quick to anger, but he's always in control, up until a sudden tragedy shakes him up and we see a villain born.

The real performance, as everyone under the sun has heard, is the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. The Joker is one of the most over-hyped villains of all time, and one of the hardest to get right, but Ledger plays him perfectly. He's mostly only funny to himself. His motives are hard to read. He's a scary guy. And throughout the whole movie, Ledger keeps licking his lips, keeps moving his eyes, keeps talking in this weird, unsettling voice. If Ledger doesn't get an Oscar nod for his performance, then the category is meaningless. This is the kind of performance that you rarely get to see, where someone breaks type so completely that you just can't recognize them, that they become completely consumed in the character they're playing.

The Dark Knight is long. It's morbid. It's depressing. But is also challenges the boundaries we've set up for super-hero films, and more than that, it's just a damn good movie.

Go see it.


- And you wondered why I have no future in reviewing? Hah!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Best Books You Aren't Reading: NewUniversal

"One live superhuman, and we commence surveillance and defense preparations. Two superhumans, and we put troubleshooters in the field. Three superhumans and the mathematical model predicts an intolerable probability they will meet. Then we have to kill them."

Marvel Comics is rather famous for the grim 'n gritty take on things, a world where everyone hates the hero and you can't trust anyone. Unfortunately, Marvel's 'mission statement' here is hampered by the fact that, when it comes right down to it, the heroes have been serving the public for decades, now, and have saved the entire world countless times. Furthermore, it there are metahumans of every stripe all over the place - not that it matters, because mundane scientists are more than a match for them when it comes to creating bizarre super-tech.

Last year, Warren Ellis decided to launch NewUniversal, a retake on a failed 80's project to start a new universe of heroes and villains. Ellis' launch, NewUniversal: Everything Went White, was an excellent recreation. The ideas are novel, and the advent of superhumanity is done in such a creative way that I can't help but fanboy over it a little bit.

However great NewUniversal's launch was, though, it ended after six issues. I wasn't sure how it did, financially, so I wasn't sure if we'd ever see it again. However, a few months back, I noticed that Marvel's solicits page had NewUniversal: Shockfront, a new mini by Ellis, scheduled. Soon after that, I saw NewUniversal: 1959, a one-shot, also up. It seems that NewUniversal did well enough to warrant another series - and a few supporting one-shots.

Comparisons to Marvel's other new Universe, the Ultimate Universe, is inevitable. But where the Ultimate line exists solely to cash in on the Big Names of the Marvel Universe (but, of course, far more EXTREME!!!), NewUniversal is building it's universe slowly. It has no big names - though 1959 gives us the first recognizable character from the Marvel Universe in a brief, sad cameo. It just has great setting-building and story-telling.

NewUniversal shares some big similarities with the Marvel Universe. Super-humanity is treated with fear and loathing - and super-humanity is far from perfect. But so far, it has a purpose. They're here for a reason, but humanity doesn't know that. All they know is that there's something bigger and better, and no longer entirely human. What happens if they start to breed? Do they experience the same emotions as us? Do they think the same? How does this happen?

NewUniversal: Everything Went White introduces you to Project Spitfire, as well as the current batch of superhumans that emerged during the White Event. You meet Philip Voight, the man in charge of Project Spitfire. You find out why the super-humans are being created, who has been chosen, and what obstacles stand in their way.

NewUniversal: Shockfront deals with the emergence of other superhumans. Scarily enough, the emergence of superhumans that aren't part of any Plan, that seem to have no explanation. Meanwhile, we see the story of the original four superhumans (Justice, Cipher, Nightmask, and Starbrand) continue as Project Spitfire finally moves against them.

NewUniversal: 1959 shows you the origins of Project Spitfire, and Philip Voight's first terrible task as it's agent and champion. This single-issue is a great starting point and an examination of the mythology of the NewUniversal setting. It's a little sad, but it's an excellent first issue by relatively unknown writer Kieron Gillen.

NewUniversal: Conqueror delves further into the past of the NewUniversal setting, going back thousands of years to perhaps the first super-humans ever to exist. They built and defended a mythic city in the far past, the technological capital of the world for centuries yet to come, defended by Starr. I don't know how this one will turn out, but it's set to release on August 20th, and based on the quality of the rest of the series, I'll be looking forward to it.

"This is a paradigm shift. The universe sends a Justice, to maintain order. A Cipher, for the technological leap. A Nightmask, for the consciousness shift. And a Starbrand, for defense."