Saturday, September 17, 2011

DCnU REVIEWS: Justice League, Justice League International, Stormwatch, Batgirl, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE

The DCnU launched this month (well, technically, it launched at the end of LAST month, but with only 1 book - the Justice League flagship title; the balance of the books come out THIS month), and several of them made it onto my pull list. I had also wanted to add a few more titles to my pull list (Animal Man, Detective Comics, Swamp Thing, Demon Knights, Green Lantern), but they were unfortunately sold out by the time I made it to my FLCS. I may try and pick up the ones that I missed on digital, but I REALLY prefer print versions for my comics.

Without further ado, here are my quick-take reviews on the titles that I've read thus far:

Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

DC leads off the new 52 with the release of the latest, greatest version of their premier superteam - the Justice League. Replacing Martian Manhunter in the Big 7 line up is Cyborg, a change I'm not too thrilled about, but will give it an opportunity to grow on me. While the cover features all 7 characters, we're only treated to 3 of them in the story, and really, just two, with the third joining in at the very end. Still, you can't go wrong with kicking off the title with Batman and Green lantern meeting each other for the first time. The contrasting tropes of darkness and fear on the one hand, and bright light and courage on the other make for an interesting interplay between the two heroes. Distinct voices and keen characterizations make for a rich reading experience that hopefully sets the tone for the eventual introductions of the rest of the cast. Superman's arrival on the scene at the end certainly makes an impression on our two protagonists and the reader, literally and figuratively, and leaves us with the promise of a Bats vs. Supes throwdown next issue. The story felt a smidge decompressed, but not overly so, so I'll definitely be coming back for more next month!

REVIEW: 4 out of 5

Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

I picked up JLI due to my fond memories of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold BWA-HA-HA-ing it up, Batman one shot-ing Guy Gardner with a single punch, and the Martian Manhunter indulging his love of Oreo cookies. This is NOT that JLI. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Taking a tone more traditionally superheroic than the original JLI run, Jurgens crafts an undecompressed debut that in contrast to Justice League, introduces the reader to all of the ensemble cast in the very first issue. The characterizations are for the most part, spot on, and Jurgens does a great job of establishing interesting conflicting dynamics among the various team members that will generate no end of drama and entertainment as the title progresses - of particular note to watch will be the friction between Russia's Rocket Red and China's August General in Iron and the tension between Booster Gold and Guy Gardner. The fact that Batman is an unofficial member of the team is icing on the cake for me, and I enjoy his less grim-and-gritty mien in this outing which casts him in an interesting team role - not of the leader, but that of mentor/support. if this issue is any indication of things to come, JLI will be on my pull list for the duration.

REVIEW: 5 out of 5

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons: Living Forgotten Realms

This past Saturday was Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) play at my friendly local gaming store (FLGS).

Up until now, I've only been playing D&D Encounters, and while I have found those sessions to be a good welcome back introduction to the world of D&D, I've been looking for something with a bit more narrative meat to sink my RPG chops into. Thus, when I saw the post for LFR play up on the notice board at the FLGS, I promptly did a little research on the internet to see what LFR was all about.

Players across the country and world create Forgotten Realms characters per instructions on the D&D LFR webpage, and then bring their characters together to play LFR adventure modules at RPG convention events, FLGS open play sessions, or even home game play sessions, tracking and documenting their play and character advancement via D&D's RPGA/DCI system. The LFR adventure modules are designed for both new and veteran players to enjoy, and even within the module adjustments can be made for playing "low" or "high" - adjusting the difficulty down or up based on the experience and composition of the player group at hand to provide the most satisfying experience possible.

Now armed with a basic understanding of the goals and mechanics behind LFR, I decided to brave the LFGS on a Saturday morning and devote a few hours of play to adventure in the Forgotten Realms, one of my favorite sword-and-sorcery fantasy world settings of all time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

REVIEWS: Captain America #2 and Daredevil #2

Captain America #2, written by Ed Brubaker and pencilled by Steve McNiven, picks up where last issue left off - with Cap and company hot on the trail of the mysterious conspiracy of villains introduced last issue. We're treated to some exposition by Nick Fury (the classic James Bond version, not the more recent Samuel L. Jackson inspired one), as he fills Agent 13 (Sharon Carter - Cap's current love interest and the niece of Cap's former love interest from WWII)  in on the origins of their current predicament. Turns out that Nazi spies and saboteurs were the de riguer plot element back in the days of WWII, not only impacting Cap's origins, but also his further adventures, incuding the one that spawned the current conspiracy plot that our star spangled hero and his pals finds themselves embroiled in.

I'll be honest - this issue feels like a fill-in or bridge issue for the story that's being told. I didn't feel like the action in the book was particularly exceptional, and found the exposition to be a little heavy handed and leaning towards the cardinal sin of tell rather than show. Still, the art by McNiven is fairly gorgeous and fits the overall story's bold tone well. I just wish that I didn't feel like this issue was just a long set-up for the next issue's fireworks. And the cliffhanger ending at the en dof this issue definitely promises fireworks, with the return of another blast from-the-past antagonist for Cap and Agent 13 to face down as they inch closer to the truth behind the conspiracy they're facing.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars-n-Stripes

Daredevil #2, written by Mark Waid and pencilled by Paolo Rivera, on the other hand, felt like a solid chapter in a mystery story arc similar to the one that's going on over in Captain America, but with way more show-me and much less tell-me in the narrative. Ironically, the issue guest stars none other than good ol' Captain America himself, in a hero versus hero tête-à-tête that connects the dots between hornhead's current status quo with his recent actions in the Shadowland storyline that ended the last volume of his eponymous series. For those of us that have been following DD's story for some time, it was both an appreciated nod to the fact that continuity matters, and a reinforcement of Daredevil's essential quality as lawyer by day, and outlaw by night.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter, Episode 2

When last we saw my heroic alter ego for this season of D&D Encounters, Quendalon the Eladrin Bladesinger, he and his companions were catching their breath after having survived an attack of spellplagued drakes and zombies in a Neverwinter market square. Just as they managed to regroup and get their bearings, what should appear flying down from the sky but a spellplagued white dragon, come to angrily avenge the death of the drakes!

Thus picks up this week's episode of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

REVIEW: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by author/illustrator David Petersen, is a soft cover graphic novel collecting the first six bi-monthly issues of the Eisner-award winning Mouse Guard comic book series published by Archaia Press.

The story centers around a society of anthropomorphic mice living in a medieval England-like period and setting. Specifically, the protagonists of the story are the titular Mouse Guard - a sworn brotherhood of mice who originally served as soldiers in a war against weasels, but now fulfill a variety of other roles - scouts, pathfinders, weather watchers, bodyguards, etc - for the civilians in mouse society. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #522

When last we saw our hero, series writer David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla had the Black Panther's alter ego of Mr. Okonkwo arrested by Homeland Security for falsifying immigration papers. Also arrested was Foggy Nelson, Daredevil's sidekick, confidant, and law partner, who also happened to be the attorney that helped the Black Panther obtain immigration papers for his assumed identity. This issue picks up with the pair in jail while the city of New York goes to pieces outside as a result of the "Fear Itself" storyline ripping through the Marvel Universe. Taking advantage of said chaos is an entity known as the Hate-Monger, and his jackbooted henchman, the American Panther. 

After Foggy cashes in some favors from a colleague in the legal world, he and BP's alter ego are released from police custody. BP tries to alleviate Foggy's concerns about the legal consequences they are facing, but to no avail, as Foggy is unaware that the man he helped is really the Black Panther - former king of Wakanda, Avenger, and all around bad ass.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter, Episode 1

So tonight was the premiere of D&D Encounters Season 6, "The Lost Crown of Neverwinter".

If you'll recall from my post of 8.7.11, the prologue adventure to this season that was run on D&D gameday, "The Gates of Neverdeath", didn't go too well for me. Would tonight be another wipe for my PC and party, or would I and they have a chance at redemption?

Well, it turns out that tonight's adventure was an entirely different story (figuratively speaking). People showed up early to prep their PCs, and there were enough players for two tables, necessitating the drafting of another DM.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Gameday: Gates of Neverdeath

I was really looking forward to playing the Gates of Neverdeath adventure on D&D's Neverwinter Gameday this past Saturday and returning to the Forgotten Realms after a long, long, long absence from the richly detailed and supremely engrossing campaign setting (hadn't played there since my AD&D days waaaaay back, basically).

But...instead of a fun and entertaining session, all I got after nearly 5 hours of frustrating play was a Wipe/TPK.  

Well that doesn't sound so bad, you might say. Or you might ask, what IS a Wipe/TPK anyway?

So, without further adieu (and courtesy of the folks over at Wikipedia): 
Wipe/TPK - Total Party Kill (TPK) or Wipe is the colloquial term for the demise of the entire party of player characters in a single encounter during the course of a role-playing game adventure. While many games permit other player characters to resurrect deceased comrades in some fashion, a TPK often results in all of the players making new characters (or the end of the campaign if the group is less cohesive).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Gameday Tomorrow! Neverwinter!

A new season of D&D Encounters starts tomorrow with the Nevwerwinter Gameday set in the Forgotten Realms Neverwinter campaign setting. I'm really looking forward to starting a season from scratch since I came in at the penultimate episode of the previous season,  Dark Legacy of Evard.

I'm hoping to play at a more experienced table tomorrow rather than at the newbies table that I had been playing at this past season. I think that I've picked up the mechanics of D&D 4e enough to not slow things down at the "regulars" table, and I've been getting a little short on patience for some of the folks at the newbies table - we barely managed to slog through and finish the season finale last Wednesday due to the slowness of some of the newbies as they fumbled with systems and mechanics pertaining to their characters.

I went a little overboard and pregenerated a dozen or so characters for the new season tomorrow, but better to be prepared with options than get stuck with one of the prepackaged PCs that every season has available for the Johnny-come-lately types. I'm hoping to play a Drow Bard, Human Mage or Half-Elf Sorcerer this time, or maybe even a Shadar-kai Monk, though I also have a Revenant Blackguard, a Human Knight, and a Minotaur Warden ready to go if I feel more Martial than Arcane. I'm also looking forward to the promise of an Eladrin Bladesinger class, so I whipped up an Eladrin Swordmage to use as a rough template should the new class indeed become available at tomorrow's session. Decisions, decisions!

I'll be back here with a play-by-play report of the gameday kick-off for the new season after tomorrow. I'm excited to be playing in the Forgotten Realms world, even if it has drastically changed since I last visited it many years ago back when it was still AD&D.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

REVIEW: Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader

"Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader" published by MIT Press and edited by Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg, is a collection of works by various authors regarding the World of Warcraft phenomenon and how it informs contemporary notions of culture, play and identity.

I stumbled onto this book at Half Price Books in the role playing game section, of all places. After reading it, I'm not entirely convinced that was the best place for it to be shelved. The majority of the contributors to the essays contained in the book are Norwegian and all of the contributors are based out of universities in Europe, where they serve as social science and cultural theory academics. They all play(ed) World of Warcraft on the European servers, all served as part of the same guild, and used their experiences while logged in as the basis for their research, even going to the extent of holding guild meetings in the game world to review and share findings.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Returns to the Legendary City of Neverwinter; Fans Vie for Glory in the City of a Thousand Fates


Wizards of the Coast today announced that its iconic roleplaying game of fantasy and imagination, Dungeons & Dragons®, will return to one of the most well-known and fascinating cities within D&D lore and the Forgotten Realms novels – the city of Neverwinter. Along with the new D&D Neverwinter Campaign Setting comes an extensive suite of products and in-store play offerings, including a new comic mini-series, a board game, organized play sessions, and a new novel from New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore. Wizards of the Coast will showcase new Neverwinter product offerings at Gen Con Indy 2011 on August 4-7 at Booth #2031, and fans can also get in on the adventure at

"The Neverwinter suite of products and programs offer something for all players and fans, both new and seasoned," said Liz Schuh, Dungeons & Dragons Brand Director, Wizards of the Coast. "With so many different ways to engage with the city, players will be immersed in the storyline and find themselves vying for glory alongside their fellow adventurers no matter how they choose to play."

Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter offerings include:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Technology Fail

MMORPG REVIEW: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

Well, I had wanted to pen a review of the free D&D MMORPG, but after downloading it onto my netbook, it looks like my little device don't quite have the juice necessary to load and run the game. That or there's some other technical difficulty that makes the game's load screen hang and freeze after I open up the app.

Ah well, nothing beats in-person pencil-and-paper gaming, anyway. But maybe if I upgrade my tech, I'll be able to post a review at some later date. We'll see, I guess...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons Encounters - Dark Legacy of Evard, Episode 12

Dungeons and Dragons Encounters is a "season" based weekly 4th edition mass game campaign produced by Wizards of the Coast that's played in comic book and gaming shops across the nation on the same day every week from season's start to season's end.

This season's campaign is "Dark Legacy of Evard", and runs 13 episodes. I'm only recently back into D&D after a very long absence away from the game, having subscribed to the D&D Insider earlier this week. This week's penultimate 12th episode was my first chance to put my subscription in action and see if I got my money's worth from it.

So far, the verdict is a big YES.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

REVIEW: Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #521

Marvel Comics' Black Panther stalked back onto the monthly issue scene at the end of last year (in December, I think), taking Daredevil's title (both literally and figuratively) as the new Man Without Fear in Hell's Kitchen, NYC, as written by David Liss and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.

I've always had a soft spot on my heart for the Black Panther in his various incarnations, though the incarnation that had me buying his adventures on a regular basis was not T'Challa but rather that of Christopher Priest's American, urban and working class Kevin "Kasper" Cole, a NYC narcotics cop who took over the mantle for a brief time on the streets of Harlem.

Maybe it makes sense then that I'm now adding the current series back onto my pull list given that the original Black Panther, T'Challa, has been placed into a similar setting (NYC) and role (urban vigilante facing modern problems and real world challenges beyond just the supervillain du jour) of my most favorite incarnation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

REVIEW: Dungeons and Dragons Insider

So as a birthday gift to myself, I took the plunge and decided to subscribe to the Dungeons and Dragons Insider on the D&D website for a year at a rate of $5.95 a month.

I'm hoping that it will help facilitate my entry back into the world of tabletop role playing games after a long absence from the hobby, seeing as the last time I played tabletop pencil-and-paper D&D it was AD&D 2nd ed.(published in 1989).

Is the investment in the online subscription worth it? Well, the subscription gains one access to the Dungeons & Dragons Insider Toolbox which includes the following components:

  • A browser based Character Builder, which saves me from having to buy or hand write character sheets for my Player Characters
  • An online  D&D Compendium, which is basically an indexed collection of all the rules from all of the published 4e D&D books, including both Dragon and Dungeon magazine content
  • An online Adventure Tools service, which assists in dungeon mastering adventures should I ever care to take up that little bit of insanity
  • Online subscriptions to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines, which I haven't read in ages but am really looking forward to catching up on

Time will tell how useful it all is when I actually start attending the weekly D&D Encounters session at my local comic book/game shop, but if nothing else the two magazine subscriptions alone seem to make it worth my while for now. I'll post an update after attending a D&D Encounters session this week with a review of how useful the service actually is in facilitating my participation and return to the game.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

REVIEW: True Blood Episode 41, "Me and the Devil" (with spoilers)

True Blood Season 4, Episode 5, entitled "Me and the Devil," in which various things of great consequence and import happen to our beloved cast of characters, imperiling their bodies and/or souls.

Without further ado, here are what I thought to be the highlights:

  • Tommy whacks both his parents as dear old mom tries to bring him back into the world of dog fighting for not so dear old dad
  • Lafayette and Jesus go on the lam to Mexico in search of Jesus's brujo father so that they can gain some way to protect themselves from big, bad, Eric Northman after their wicca group banished the vampire's memories and set Northman's child Pam to rotting
  • Sam helps Tommy get rid of the evidence of his parricide, where we learn that 1. Alligators LOVE marshmallows and 2. Sam's killed before and done just fine afterwards
  • Jason is rescued from panther hillbillie enslavement by best-friend Hoyt and redhead hottie vampire Jessica, only to have a dream of stealing said redhead hottie vampire away from Hoyt
And the biggest bomb of the evening
  • Bill learns that Eric has been hiding out at Sookie's place, even after Sookie told him she had no idea regarding Eric's whereabouts (oh, Tara also find s out Eric is hanging at Sookie's, and storms out in typical Tara fashion)
This season of True Blood has been one of expanding mythology with the introduction of faeries and witches, and this episode's drama arises from the mischief wrought by the latter. Its also been a season of secrets kept and secrets revealed, of which there were plenty of this episode. I was a little unsure of how the expanding mythology would play on the show, and feared that it would weigh down the story rather than enhance and carry it along, but so far my fears have been (happily) allayed.

Here's to next week's episode, in which Bill Compton (angrily) goes to see about a girl and her Viking vampire! Will we see that Hell hath no fury like a vampire scorned?

Its my birthday!

Happy birthday, to me.

Hope that everyone else with a birthday on this day has as whimsical a day as I'm going to try and have!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

REVIEW: Howard the Duck (with spoilers)

Howard the Duck (released in the Summer of 1986, directed by Willard Huyck and produced by George Lucas, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Steve Gerber) has been considered by many to be one the worst films ever made. So how is it that I decided to review it in the Summer of 2011?

Well, I was shopping at Target for this and that, and I saw this on their shelf of $5 DVDs. Seeing as it's my birthday tomorrow, and I wanted to kick it off with some whimsy, I said what the heck and tossed it into my shopping basket. Unable to wait for the clock to hit midnight, I opened up the package after dinner, pulled out the DVD and popped it into the machine to give it a spin.

A little over two hours later, and here I am penning my review. Was it truly as bad as some people have said? Or did it somehow improve over time, like a bottle of fine aged wine? Well, I for one think that time has been good to this little flick - leaving it rolling around on my palate maybe not like a bottle of aged wine, but at least like a tasty Chinese century egg.

Friday, July 22, 2011

REVIEW: Captain America: The First Avenger

 Captain America: The First Avenger is the best Marvel Comics film adaptation yet since their release of the first Iron Man film (which I also tremendously enjoyed, in no small part to Robert Downey, Jr. nailing the essence of that flick's protagonist). If you enjoy period romps like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc, The Rocketeer, and the Mummy, then this is the superhero flick for you. 

With a story set in the 1940s during WWII and book-ended by two scenes that take place in the present day, director Joe Johnston provides a fun, straightforward superhero film that delivers the goods like a champ (not surprising, considering his hand in the Rocketeer film and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series). 

Chris Evans does an excellent job portraying the earnestness and moral strength of character possessed by Captain America's alter ego Steve Rogers

RPG BLOG CARNIVAL - What Makes a Roleplaying Game Bad Ass?

What's this thing called the RPG blog carnival, you might ask?

Well, according to the fellows over at Nevermet Press:

"Blogger carnivals are a way for a group of bloggers to all simultaneously write about the same topic. They are a great way to build community and dialogue across many different blogs at once. This benefits fans/readers of those blogs because they have the opportunity to explore lots of different viewpoints in a short period of time. It also benefits the bloggers because they get new readers to stop by and (from a technical point of view) it helps with SEO. Everyone wins."

This month's carnival topic is What Makes a Roleplaying Game Bad Ass?

Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

REVIEW: A New Day (the online Burn Notice graphic novel)

"A New Day" is the serialized online graphic novel (GN) featuring the characters from the "Burn Notice" series on cable television's USA network. Both  feature Jefferey Donavan as Michael Westen, the spy in question who received the show's titular 'burn notice' - a notice issued by intelligence agencies that discredits or announces the dismissal of agents or sources who are considered to have become unreliable.

Michael's attempts to get his old life back with the help of his pals, along with acts of kidness to those in need that only a burned spy can provide,  make up the story.

The GN's release coincided with the premier of the show's 5th season. Its story arc takes place between seasons 4 and 5, filling in some of the blanks and touching on new content. It also provides some interactive games and activities between the e-pages for the reader to engage in as they make their way through each chapter. Some of the interactive content falls flat from being overly simple, but some of it is interesting enough that I felt it didn't take away from the story's overall narrative.

As a fan of the Burn Notice series, the online GN works well enough for me.  I've come to look forward to reading the latest chapter each week right before the newest episode premiers. If you're not already a fan of the Burn Notice show, I'm not sure that this online GN will pull you into watching it, as you'll lack context, but its not so continuity heavy that a Burn Notice newbie couldn't use it as an entry portal into the bigger Burn Notice universe.

RATING: 3 Yogurt Cups out of 4

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 2)

Yes, I watched it.

No, I haven't seen all of the previous films in the series, nor have I read all of the books.

Did I still enjoy it? You bet I did! I am normally not a fan of films with a running time of way over 90 minutes, but with this one, time flew by way too fast.

I've read reviews that have been overly harsh, and reviews that have been overly gushing. As a casual fan of the Harry Potter mythos, I can say that I found the film entirely satisfying. I laughed, I cried, I found myself wanting to watch all of the previous films in the series and read all of the books. If that's not some measure of success, I donno what is. Of course, it also made $169.2 million or so in initial box office take, so there is that too.

RATING: 10 out 10 points for Gryffindor!

REVIEW: Daredevil #1 (with spoilers)

 Daredevil is back with an all new #1 issue written by Mark Waid and penciled by Paolo Rivera. 

Will the latest relaunch by Marvel Comics of the Man Without Fear prove true the old adage of "Better the devil you know..."?

The answer might well depend on when you were first introduced to Daredevil. 

He's alternately been portrayed as a footloose and fancy free swashbuckler as well as a brooding, tortured soul depending on who's writing him at the time. In recent history though, Marvel has demonstrated a fondness for putting DD through the wringer, again and again, with the final "Shadowland" story arc of his previous series having had DD possessed by a literal devil, building a fortress of murder and torture in Hell's Kitchen and taking on friends and foes alike, culminating in his "death". His title was then given to the Black Panther, both literally and figuratively before Daredevil was "reborn" while on walkabout in New Mexico (don't ask), and now we're here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

REVIEW: Captain America #1 (with spoilers)

Captain America is back!

Marvel Comics has returned Steve Rogers to the red, white and blue in a brand new #1 issue by writer Ed Brubaker and penciler Steve McNiven.

Is it just a cheap, commercial ploy timed to coincide with the release of Cap's feature film this weekend? Or does the first issue mark a bold new direction and newbie friendly jumping on point for one of Marvel's oldest superheroes? Well, its a little bit of both, I suppose.

Yes, Cap is hitting the silver screen this weekend in the USA, and is thus accompanied by all manner of merchandising roll out, including comic books, etc. But this issue also marks the return of Steve Rogers to the star spangled uniform he made famous after time away while his former sidekick Bucky took up the mantle in his absence.