Comics I Read in February 2015

I didn’t get as much read this month as last, partly because I was also reading this book. I am a slow reader, especially when it comes to straight text, so that ate into my comics time. But I did get some done.

Ur (Haven, AdHouse) – A collection of oddball and absurd comics by Eric Haven, the standout is the adventures of Bed-Man, a superhero who’s a guy in a bed. Part Michael Kupperberg, part Fletcher Hanks, these are pretty funny stories with appealing art.

Hand-Drying in America (Katchor, Pantheon) – Another reason why my count is low this month is that it includes this. It was in a pile of comics I’d forgotten about and I had only gotten partway through it, so I finished it up. Ben Katchor’s comics are dense and a little overwhelming, and reading through is slow going for me, even though I like his stuff. I’ve gone on at length on how his work appeals to me despite seeming like something I wouldn’t normally like. This one was no exception, and I enjoyed it even as I mentally and physically (it’s a big, heavy book) wrestled with it.

Heroes of the Equinox (Valerian and Laureline book 8) (Mézières/Christin, Cinebook) – Part of my French science-fiction kick I got on was this series, which reprints comics from the late 70s. Valerian and Laureline are typical space opera protagonists, flying about a vast universe and encountering all kinds of weird alien species. Valerian is the cocky, arrogant man and Laureline his smarter, more sensible female partner. Gender politics aren’t really the spotlight here, but it’s a fun ride. This particular issue was kind of lacking, though, as it largely only involves Valerian and the plot isn’t particularly interesting, but I’ve enjoyed the series on the whole.

Study Group Magazine 3D (Various, Study Group)* – This was the first of three kickstarters I backed, got the rewards for, and promptly forgot about. Not a slight on them, just how well organized my brain is. As part of the Study Group KS, I got this magazine with work by Pete Toms, Connor Willumson, Sophie Franz, and others. Also some text pieces I haven’t read yet, including a bunch of articles about Ray Zone’s 3D comics (in 3D). All I previously knew of Study Group was Kazimir Strzepek’s Mourning Star, so I was glad to get the chance to see more from this group, including

Haunter (Alden, Study Group)* – Another book in the Study Group KS, this one was wonderful. A wordless story of a hunter in a ruined future world who comes across a strange building that turns out to be inhabited. It’s quiet and deliberate and as the encounter unfolds the tension mounts on its own without breaking its mood. Gorgeous artwork, too. Haunter will be available in April through Alternative Comics.

Fearless Future, vol 1 (Various, Very GOOD Books)* – This is the second of the forgotten Kickstarters, an anthology of science fiction tales. They weren’t bad, but unfortunately the PDF is not well rendered and a lot of the art and text is low resolution and pixilated, making it hard to read. Not a bad collection, but not really outstanding either.

Strong Female Protagonist, Book One (Mulligan/Ostertag, Top Shelf)* – This is the third of those Kickstarters. Honestly, I’m not sure why I backed it because it’s kind of not my thing. It’s a superhero book of the “but it’s not really about superheroes” variety which nevertheless features a lot of superheroes. I like the initial conceit of it, that the main character was on a superhero team as a kid, but then quit to have a normal life. That’s got interesting possibilities to me, but before too long she’s unwittingly involved in superheroics again and I’ve just lost interest. The artwork is charming, and there’s a lot to like here if you go for stories about people who are preternaturally strong or can shrink or whatever, and the protagonist is a likeable, interesting character, but the action is just not something I’m overly engaged with, sorry.

The Complete Multiple Warheads (Graham, Image)* – I really like Brandon Graham’s artwork and style, and I loved King City, so I went ahead and grabbed this collection. I enjoyed it a lot. It was a lot of fun, the artwork absolutely delighted me (I was glad to be reading it digitally so I could zoom in on the detail), and even the non-stop puns didn’t bug me. There’s not a lot of plot or characterization, so the fact that one of the characters is named “Sexica” isn’t a problem. It’s all about the details, and the book is crammed full of them.

D4VE (Ferrier/Ramon, Monkeybrain)* – I wanted to try this out since the idea behind it — a world populated by robots acting like humans — appeals to me. Unfortunately it just didn’t do anything for me. It was a lot of “here’s what’s going on” and “here’s what the deal is with what you just saw” as though the book doesn’t trust me to get it. On page 2 a robot comes into D4VE’s office and yells at him for recharging on the job and tells him “nothing you’re doing is good”. The narration tells me: “That’s FR4NK, my boss. Real hard-ass.” Thanks, comic book! I was having trouble sussing that out! Then six pages telling you the story behind the world and D4VE himself. After that, I just didn’t know what more there was to have happen except watch everything I was just told unspool into more panels. Bleah.

So hey, that’s not a whole lot fewer this month. I really thought I’d read much less.

* – I read this digitally, either as purchased PDFs or through Comixology.

Posted in Comics | Tagged

Happy New Shriekback Album Day!

Almost 10 years ago to the day I wrote on this site about one of my most best beloved bands, Shriekback. Their 13th album, Without Real String or Fish, is out today, and normally I’d be telling you all about it as if you cared, except that I don’t have it yet. Oh, it’s winging its way to me, but I don’t have it in hand at the moment. You can buy it here if you are thatways inclined, and here are three tracks off it:

I’ll speak at length once I have it.

Posted in Music | Tagged

Basically the History of the Ultima Franchise

Coming soon…

Posted in Videogames | Tagged ,

Doctor Who Season Eight, Part Two

In the first half of this season, there was a good, fun episode (“Robot of Sherwood”), a bunch of okay ones, and a couple of stinkers (sorry, I still think “Listen” was a load of junk.) So how did the second half turn out?

Mummy on the Orient Express — One thing Doctor Who usually excels at is “Base Under Siege” stories, and this one stuck to the formula well. The monster was sufficiently creepy, its motivation was interesting and poignant, and Capaldi got to really get going. While nothing amazing, I think this episode is more of what I’d like to see. Not surprisingly, it was also one with not-so-much Clara in it, though what we did get of her was more of this tedious, “my boyfriend doesn’t want me doing this what should I do” wankery that I don’t in the slightest care about.

Flatline — Without a doubt, the best episode of the season. The monsters are especially creepy, even before you see them. The nervous system on the wall was chilling. And despite liking the resolution to the previous episode, I also like that sometimes the alien invaders are just plain bad and need to be smacked. The size shenanigans were fun as well. A solid episode that shows what we could be getting in this series.

In the Forest of the Night — Wow, this season is really picking up! I can’t wait for the next episode, it’s gonna be…oh, dear. Especially on the heels of “Flatline”, this one was just plain dire. There’s invisible pixies, there are sentient trees looking to save humanity, the solar flare that’s brushed away because trees oxygen something something, there’s Danny Pink not wanting to even look at the Earth from orbit because he’s seen the amazing beauty of Afghanistan, there’s Danny an Clara showing that under no circumstances should either of them have been put in charge of children. We have the child who doesn’t need her brain medicine, she needs to be open to the magical language of the trees! And then the trees return her lost sister who’s been…I dunno. Living in a shrub? This dumpster carnival was everything that people who don’t remember “The Doctor’s Daughter” think “Fear Her” was.

Dark Water/Death in Heaven — And then it got worse. Not only can I point to the exact line where I groaned in disgust, I can apparently buy it on a t-shirt. But we’ll get to that.

I cannot find the words to really express how much I hated this thing, how much of a waste of time it was. I knew going in who Missy really was. I also knew there were Cybermen involved, which should have been a giant red flag because when we last saw the Cybermen, they could suddenly move SUPER FAST, which they never could before and which they stopped doing about 15 minutes into THAT SAME EPISODE because everyone on the show forgot they’d just said they could do that. Oh wait, no, that wasn’t the last time we saw the Cybermen. THAT was when the Cybermen, in order to infiltrate the village of Christmas, decided that making a Cyberman out of WOOD was a viable strategy. Heavens me, I got my idiotic Cybermen moments all mixed up.

This time the Cybermen are involved in a plot that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Cybermen now have “cyber-pollen” (their term, not mine) that turns organic material into fully fledged metal-encased Cybermen. Like, sprinkle this on you and bam, Cyberman.

Just add water.

Okay so let me explain the plot. Missy (the Master, back as a woman) has been somehow grabbing the minds of the recently deceased (including hit-by-a-car Danny Pink, which gave me some hope) and storing them in a Nethersphere, a sort of Time Lord mental hard drive. The Cybermen all fly (they fly now) into the atmosphere and explode, releasing this cyber-pollen over graveyards. The dead bodies (including an apparently well-preserved one from the 18th century) all then turn into Cybermen, which crawl out of the ground.

Meanwhile, Danny Pink — now a Cyberman, but still with his emotions — takes Clara to one of these graveyards, but I don’t know why. The Doctor turns up and says he needs Danny to go full Cyberman so he can know what the plan is. Note that at this point there are literally dozen of Cybermen stumbling around at arm’s reach who are not hostile yet because they’re essentially cyber-toddlers. Yet only Danny going cyber can reveal the plan. So Clara does that and they find out the plan which is: make it rain cyber-pollen on the alive people and turn them into Cybermen too. Thanks, Danny, we never would have otherwise figured that one out. So why the dead people? So you can have minds in the dead bodies to run the Cybermen, except we only want no-emotion minds. Why we didn’t just skip all this nonsense and cyber-up the living people in the first place is a question never asked, along with the question of, if the Cybermen can do this pollen jazz, why did they need Missy’s help for this plan? Why hide any of it? The only thing that gets the Doctor to them is Danny getting hit by a car, and there’s no mention of that being part of Missy’s weird scheme. So what’s the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed point to all of this?

Missy then comes in and gives the Doctor a bracelet to control the Cybermen. Now he has an army he can use to right all the wrongs and then he’ll be like her. She says she’ll make the army go against live humans unless he uses the army to go after baddies and prove he’s really just a bad guy or something. He refuses and it turns out Danny still resists the controller. Danny leads the Cybermen into the air and they all explode, which gets rid of the clouds of cyber-pollen, saving the day.

Along the way UNIT showed up, led by Kate, the Brigadier’s daughter. Apparently every nation on Earth has decided that in case of a full-scale alien invasion The Doctor will be declared “President of Earth” and this happens. Just roll that around in your mind for a bit, I’ll wait. So they’re on Earth Force One or whatever and Missy blows out the door, which sucks out Kate, the TARDIS, and the Doctor. The Doctor skydives into the falling TARDIS, and Missy’s lackey does this:

That’s the actual line. Someone wrote that and someone approved that. This was seen as a thing that needed to be included in a Doctor Who episode about, essentially, cyber-zombies. I grabbed that image off Tumblr, you won’t be surprised to know. That was the line. This is one of the many shirts.

At the end of the episode, Kate shows up alive and it turns out a Cyberman saved her, which is implied to be the cyber-animated dead Brigadier. Cyber-Lethbridge-Stewart shoots Missy, who I’m sure is really most sincerely gone.

Oh and Danny could somehow come back from being cyber dead with the bracelet but only one person can do so and instead he sends back some Afghani kid he killed when he was a soldier, telling Clara to find his parents.

Clara and the Doctor break up, each lying to the other, and go their separate ways.

Then Santa Claus shows up. I’m not kidding. That’s the lead-in to the Christmas special, which I haven’t felt inclined to watch.

Why so serious?

So The Master is back as Missy, except he hasn’t regenerated into The Mistress, he’s regenerated into The Joker. “Bananas!” is her catchphrase, referring to her mental state. She’s full of cockamamie ludicrously intricate plans that only come about due to blind chance and has no motivation except to screw with the Doctor and show him he’s just like her. The Master was always the Doctor’s Moriarty. Given what Moffat did with Moriarty in Sherlock, I shouldn’t be surprised here.

This is my frustration with Doctor Who. I don’t know what’s worse, when the rest of the season before Moffat comes in and Moffats all over the show is dull and unremarkable, as in season five, or when you have moments like “Robot of Sherwood” and “Flatline” taunting you with glimpses of a better show before it all comes crashing down. I’d heard things were better this season, and in general I suppose they were, but it’s all relative when you have garbage like seasons 6 and most of season 7 to compare it to. I’d really like to get someone at the helm who didn’t have the power to put trash nonsense like “Dark Water/Death in Heaven” on the screen without anyone being able to tell him it’s not very good. For season nine, will there be enough good episodes to make it worth enduring the onslaught of bad ones?

PS: look at that, I didn’t even mention how Gallifrey is still “lost” even though they went there at the end of “Listen”.

Posted in TV | Tagged

My Second-Favorite EC Comics Character

I’ve been reading Spawn of Mars, another volume in Fantagraphics’ series of EC reprints, this one focusing on one of my favorite comics artists, Wally Wood. This collection has a recurring character that has stolen my heart. Let me introduce you to:


They’re millions of miles from Earth, stuck in a fragile tin can surrounded by unforgiving vacuum, a delicate bubble of safety amid the vast universe, but Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship doesn’t care! He is comfortable in this environment, and comfort includes his favorite pipe!

It’s a long journey! He’s going to need his boardgames, his dog (Dog Inexplicably Brought Along on Space Mission is another character I’ve been seeing often), and the fresh smell of pipe tobacco!

What does the Captain have to say about this? Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship is the Captain!

Sometimes Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship is busy, so our attention turns to his slightly lower class, slightly more blue-collar companion, Guy Smoking a Cigarette in a Rocketship.


Who’s my first-favorite EC Comics character? Why, The Secretary of Defense, of course, who makes a cameo appearance in this volume!

Time to start a new sketchbook of Guy Smoking a Pipe in a Rocketship commissions!

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10 Years of Boardgames

Every so often someone at Board Game Geek gets his meeples in a twist because he’s worried that some people out there are rating games after only one play. Some games, the argument goes, only reveal their hidden magic after a number of plays. What if these conclusion-jumpers are skewing the ratings??? I responded the way I always respond to these things: if you want to pay me to play a lousy game I didn’t like to make sure it’s lousy, fine, but otherwise I’ll just rate what I feel like. (These people are always worried about the low ratings, never about the people who declare everything new as a triumph because it’s another game they can buy.) I also pointed out that I’ve been playing these games regularly for about a decade now and have a pretty good idea what I like, what I don’t like, and how a new thing is going to go for me.

But that got me wondering about those exact numbers. Well, I track boardgame plays at BGG (it’s super simple: the day after I play some games, I go over there, look up the game, and hit “record a play”), and it turns out the very first one I recorded was nearly 10 years ago. On February 28. 2005, I played Australia, Caribbean, and Gloom.

In fact, thanks to this play tracking, I can give you all kinds of information, but here’s the biggie:

In the past 10 years I’ve recorded 2549 plays of 816 different games.

More or less. The numbers aren’t accurate. I show only one play of Russian Railroads and I know I’ve endured that at least twice, so I haven’t been 100% diligent.

For Sale is the game I’ve recorded the most plays of, at 52. That makes sense, as it’s known as a “rain dance” game, one we often play on Sundays while waiting for others to show up. It’s quick and easy, so it doesn’t surprise me it’s number one.

The rest of my most-played games, the ones I’ve played more than 20 times, are:

Liar’s Dice (43)
7 Wonders (31)
Pandemic (31)
Power Grid (31)
Jambo (30)
Small World (25)
Dominion (24)
No Thanks! (24)
Lords of Waterdeep (22)
Crokinole (21)
Rummikub (21)
San Juan (21)
That’s Life! (21)

Looking at just that list, 7 Wonders and Dominion are the only ones there that I used to own but don’t anymore. And Crokinole I’ve never owned. Otherwise, I still have all of those.

Of the 816 different games I’ve logged, 402 of them (49%) I’ve only played once. This is not to say that they’re all junk, but hoo-boy, there’s a lot of junk in there. 671 of them (82%), I’ve played fewer than 5 times. In fact, in ten years, out of all the games I’ve played, I’ve only played 53 of them (6%) more than 10 times.

Let’s see how that compares to just last year. Last year I played 154 different games. Of those, 101 (66%) were only played once. Yikes! That 6% above I’d played more than 10 times? That same percentage in 2014 covers the 9 games I played more than 4 times.

What do these numbers say? They put me squarely in the “Cult of the New” camp, the group of gamers who are always looking for the next release, the new hotness to move on to. But that doesn’t really describe me as I am an certainly doesn’t describe where I want to be. It does, however, describe the groups I game with, which do have people who are constantly grabbing new stuff, and since I’m at the table too, I end up playing it. If you recall, out of those 154 unique games I played in 2014, 100 of them were new to me.

I don’t mind playing new stuff from time to time but honestly, I’d really rather skip some of the things I’ve been spending time on. And I’m not just talking about the obvious junk, but even some of the “good” stuff. As I said back when some of you were still paying attention, I’ve been doing this for a decade and I’ve built up a pretty nice library of games. There are a lot of them I think are great, and I’d rather spend more time with them than with something that’s even just good, much less something mediocre or worse. I’d like to start adding more depth to that “games played” list and less width.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged

Cappy’s February Frustration

You may have heard that New England has gotten some snow lately. We here in the hinterlands haven’t gotten as much as Boston, but there’s still a good three to four feet in most places with huge drifts as well. We’ve had to rake the roof several times, have the dreaded ice dams wreaking havoc and have been pretty miserable. In addition to the snow and ice it’s also been just plain bitterly cold, with sub-zero temperatures and crazy winds all the time. It’s been pretty miserable for us.

But we have it pretty good because we’re not little dogs who are used to getting walks and running around the yard and getting our ya-yas out. For us, staying indoors and taking it easy is not too much of a problem, but Cappy has energy he needs to burn off.

He hasn’t been able to go for too many walks because even with his coat on it’s very cold. He’s got very little fur to keep him warm and the ice hurts his feet. Plus the snow in the back is past his belly. It’s just miserable for him. What he can do to help use up some energy is tear up boxes, which he loves doing.

The other day Becky got some flowers in a big cardboard box. This weekend Cappy set to work on that box. Here’s the beginning.

He likes to methodically tear bits off and then spit them out. He doesn’t actually swallow any of the cardboard. If he gets off a big piece he’ll sometimes focus on that one until it’s torn up enough. Paws are involved too. He will hold a piece down with his paw and worry it with his teeth. Sometimes he’ll try to do this with a teeny tiny piece that is pretty much completely under the paw.

Here’s the box status as the weekend went on.

He had some help. He likes when someone holds a piece and he has to pull on it to rip it. I usually hold it and he tears bits off (he’s very careful about my fingers!). When the piece gets too small I often toss it in the air for him to jump and catch, which is also fun.

After the box was thoroughly shredded, we picked up the pieces and he proudly posed next to his handwork.

It’s no substitute for a good walk and yard romp, but he enjoys it.

Posted in Misc | Tagged ,

Space Cabby by Adam Prosser

When it rains, it pours, and it’s been raining Space Cabbies over here! While showing off my Space Cabby Gallery on Twitter, Adam (Prankster) Prosser said, “Hey, I’d like to get in on that!” And this is what he drew for me!

(click to make megalopolis-sized)

“I’m kind of amazed more people haven’t gone to town on the Space Cab itself,” Adam told me and whoo, he wasn’t kidding. Space Cabby’s trusty vehicle is all tricked out with more jet pods, a sweet engine upgrade under the hood, and stylish chrome. Also fangs! You probably want to let him go in front of you when you get to that asteroid tunnel, lest your space-muffler gets chomped. But Space Cabby! Don’t let your sweet ride distract you from the lady needing a lift!

Adam Prosser is Phantasmic Tales, and his book, Lemuria, can be purchased through Comixology. It’s a fine compendium of swords, sorcery, and sass, and not the usual fantasy stuff. Check it out!

Thanks so much, Adam! I and Space Cabby appreciate his hella sweet-ass new whip!

Are YOU an artist who would like to draw Space Cabby for me? Please let me know!

Posted in Comics | Tagged ,