Sunday, June 26, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 27 -- The Books of Magic

by Neil Gaiman

Started: June 25
Finished: June 26

Notes: This graphic novel originally came out in 1990 as a four-part limited series though later it became a regular series, though Gaiman did not pen those tales. This one is a favorite, done during Gaiman's fantastic run on Sandman, and it briefly alludes to those characters. The story surrounds a young, be-speckled Timothy Hunter who is apparently supposed to be the modern age's most powerful wizard (and though there are some similarities, especially physically, this was about a decade before Harry Potter). Four modern mages (of sorts) take it upon themselves to show Timothy the worlds of magic, taking him into the past, the present, the future, and into worlds beyond our own. The hope is to guide Timothy along his path, for he has the potential for great good or great evil. This is Gaiman at some of his best writing, and I look forward to dipping into these pages once more. For those unfamiliar with magic within the DC comics universe, this is a good place to start as much is explained or at least mentioned.

Mini review: Just about as perfect as a story can be. It follows the hero's journey perfectly, almost beat per beat, but without feeling stale while keeping a freshness that still feels true more than 25 years later and after multiple reads.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 26 -- Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Hero's Handbook

by Steve Kenson and Green Ronin Publishing

Started: June 14
Finished: June 25

Notes: I've been reading both super hero comics and role-playing game books of late, so why not combine them? Here I've got the main rulebook for one of today's most popular super hero role playing games. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get a chance to play, or I could run some games myself.

Mini review: I don't think I'll be playing this one. Oh, if somebody offered, I might give it a shot, but my feeling is that this game is more complex than I want. It's not the most complicated tabletop RPG I've ever run across, but it is more complicated than where my current interests lie. Some of the complexity is simply due to this being a super hero game, which means it has to cover pretty much every genre, but still there are far more little details than I care to have to worry about at a gaming table. Also, while the overall graphics and design of this book was top quality, I did feel the general layout suffered quite a bit; there were too many rules and powers, etc., brought up before any explanation, and most times the explanations were way in the back of the book somewhere. I almost felt as if I'd started reading from the end of the book then I would have understood things more. Still, I can see how many would be drawn to this game because it is at heart a D20 game, but I think I'm past my D20 days and seek something more streamlined. I'm interested in playing a super hero RPG, but I'll have to keep looking or fall back on an old standard like the Marvel FASERIP RPG from back in the 1980s.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

At Disagreements at the gaming table

When you're playing a tabletop role-playing game, when is it okay to voice a disagreement, or even argue, with the game master? Find out in my weekly article at

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

At Gaming at the library

This week my article suggests tabletop rpg gamers check with their local libraries for D&D sessions. More and more libraries are offering games of Dungeons & Dragons.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 25 -- Red Sonja #0

art by Mel Rubi

writing by Michael Avon Oeming and Mike Carey

Started: June 14
Finished: June 14

Notes: As I'm on a bit of a comic books binge of late, I thought I'd try something new. Boy, was I glad to see Dynamite Entertainment has brought back the Red Sonja character! I figure the best place to start is with Issue 0.

Mini review: A fairly straight-forward short story here, not bad but not great, but the artwork impressed me quite a bit. Old-school Sword & Sorcery fans will find something here to like. Those with a more modern bent might scoff at the slinky scales that are supposed to pass for armor, but at least there's a fair amount of action to be found.

Books read in 2016: No. 24 -- Kingdom Come

by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Started: June 13
Finished: June 14

Notes: Like many a graphic novel, this one was originally a limited-run series back in the mid-90s. The old school DC heroes have been sort of retired for a while, but a new crop of super beings have cropped up to take their place. These new folks aren't so nice, though most of them are not out-and-out villains. Still, these newer "heroes" often walk a fine line between good and bad, and eventually the older heroes decide they need to step in to set things right. Only chaos can ensue. One of the better comics stories ever written, in my opinion, and the artwork of Alex Ross is always some of the best around. I've read Kingdom Come a few times over the years, but it has been a while and I thought it was time again.

Mini review: Glad I got back to this one. I've always felt a little iffy about the ending, but to be fair, I'm not sure what other ending could have been used which would have made the story better. Superman fans should definitely check this one out as it's about as definitive a portrayal as one can get, though Supes is a bit old here. Wonder Woman really shines as a character, as does Batman, though in his old age he's quite a bit different from the Batman most of us are used to. Other familiar heroes abound, and plenty of newer names and faces.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 23 -- Astro City #1/2

by Kurt Busiek

art by Brent Anderson and Alex Ross

Started: June 13
Finished: June 13

Notes: I read much of the original run of Astro City back in the mid-90s and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but only now am I getting around to reading the prequel issue, issue #1/2. Should have read this years ago.

Mini review: There's no super hero action here, but it is a touching tale of a man who dreams about a wife he never had. Sort of. Kind of. As a widower, yes, I found this one moving. The writing is solid and the artwork is impeccable, as was always the case with Astro City, but this is a stand-alone tale and not necessary for the enjoyment of the overall series.

Books read in 2016: No. 22 -- Marvels

by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross

Started: June 12
Finished: June 13

Notes: 20 years or older now, this graphic novel (originally a four-part limited comic books series) has been one of my favorites. With some of the best artwork to ever grace the illustrated story format, it also includes a fantastic tale of nostalgia covering the early days of Marvel super heroes from the point of view of an aging photojournalist. I've been meaning to read this one again for some time, and now I'm glad to do so.

Mini review: Yes, this is still some of the best artwork to grace comics pages. Art alone isn't enough for me, however, as I want a quality story, too, and that also is to be found here. The first issue takes place in the late 1930s when the photojournalist sees his first super being, the original Human Torch, and the rest of the stories take place in what I can only assume are the 1960s and the 1970s because of the styles and the events that occur, events surrounding Marvel heroes from comic books that came out in the 1960s and 1970s. There are tons upon tons of easter eggs here, just about in every frame that includes more than a close-up or a single person, and these can be fun to look for, though I doubt I'd ever catch many of them. Really, this is mainly a trip down nostalgia lane for long-time Marvel fans, and it introduces to younger fans some of the early events and feelings concerning Marvel heroes and villains. Comics have changed a lot since then, maybe for the better but maybe not, but it's also nice to look back from time to time.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 21 -- Plague Zone

by David Wellington

Started: June 7
Finished: June 12

Notes: About 15 or so years ago, this author was one of a handful who kicked off the zombie craze. Since then he has gone on to other monsters and other stories, but a few years back he penned another zombie tale, this one, so I thought I'd check him out again as it had been a while.

Mini review: A librarian watches on TV as his wife and child are killed by a zombie, then he decides to seek revenge by entering Seattle, an area that has been closed off by the military due to the zombie infestation there, and to hunt down and kill the one zombie out of thousands, maybe millions. It's not a bad plot, but the characters didn't do much for me, often seeming quite unbelievable in their actions and responses. However, I kept thinking while I was reading this that it could make a decent movie, just that it would take good acting to pull it through. Not bad, not great. This author has done better, and this wasn't awful, so I'll likely give him another shot at some point.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

At Mighty Marvel

My article this week at takes a look back at 10 Pocket Books from Marvel Comics that were released from 1975 to 1980.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 20 -- Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth

by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean

Started: June 6
Finished: June 7

Notes: I've been in the mood for some comic-bookishness of late, so I thought I'd turn to an old favorite. Unfortunately, I could not find my old paperback for this graphic novel, so I picked up a new one at a comics shop. This particular one is a 15th Anniversary edition, which means it's still 10 years old, and it includes a script, extra notes and extra artwork, which is all fine with me. At the time of the publication of Arkham Asylum, it was the only graphic novel (at least known to me) which really delved into the dark psychology of Batman and his foes, though admittedly from a horror point of view. At the time, much of the psychology and pseudo-psychology and arcane references were not commonly known to the average reader, but nowadays this material is a bit more accessible through the power of the Internet, so it will be interesting to see how well this book has aged.

Mini review: Full of Jungian, occult and mythological imagery, as well as more than a touch of Freud, I'd have to say this one stands up to the test of time pretty well. Dave McKean's artwork still has a more-than-modern flair to it, but then no one is quite like McKean. The inmates of Arkham Asylum take over and Batman has to go in to confront them. At first glance, a simple story, but it's so much more.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Books read in 2016: No. 19 -- The Rainbow Trail

by Zane Grey

Started: May 26
Finished: June 6

Notes: This is a sequel to Grey's famous Riders of the Purple Sage, which I read some years back and since have seen a TV movie based upon it. I liked the first novel enough that I thought I'd take a peek at the next one.

Mini review: Much like the earlier novel, there is a lot of time here spent describing the scenery of the West, to the point I'm thinking this must have been one of the reasons these books were relatively popular in the early 20th Century, probably because it allowed a less-traveled crowd a new experience. For the average modern reader, all that description is probably a bit too much. The characters here are interesting, and it was nice to revisit some old favorites, but there's not a lot of action. Besides the scenery, practically a character in itself, most of this book is about inner worries, a little bit of intrigue, and a rather long chase by horseback. There's next to no fighting here at all, which might be a drawback to those who expect such from their Westerns. Not a bad book, easy to read, but it didn't overly excite me. Still, of the two books of his I've read, Grey interests me enough that I would give him another chance at some point.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

At Free, free, free

This week my articles lists short stories from me and e-books that are available online for free. That's right, I said, "free."