Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More X-men space opera

After seeing X-Men:First Class and reading the trade paperback of "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire" I've been inspired to look into more of the same. Dan Abnett and Andy Lannett (DnA, as their otherwise known. By the way, did you know that's the same Dan Abnett who wrote a bunch of Warhammer fiction a few years ago?) have done a lot of X-stuff that's pure space opera follow-ups to the shocking Vulcan storyline of Ed Brubaker, which "retcons" the story of Giant-sized all new X-men #1 in incredibly dramatic ways. So what have I got, and what have I read already?

I had to "ILL" (Interlibrary Loan) a number of the titles in trade paperback or even trade hardback. "Rise and Fall" is in our library, but I had to get "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (which is unfortunate, since I own reprints of 60-70% of it from Classic X-men already), "Deadly Genesis", "Emperor Vulcan" and "War of Kings". I couldn't get "Kingbreaker" and I'm not yet able to get "Realm of Kings" because of a weird quirk with our ILL website--someone else has it checked out, so instead of putting me in a queue, it just tells me it's unavailable and I can't check it out!

Anyway, I'm enjoying the superhero space opera enough that I might actually go and buy some of these trade paperbacks anyway. Maybe while I'm at it, I'll throw "Planet Hulk" and "Annihilation" and "Annihiliation: Conquest" in while I'm at it, just for fun.

Although frankly, although I really like some of the space-based Marvel characters, I could do without the Guardians of the Galaxy. Especially Rocket Raccoon. Who in the world came up with that character and thought he could be taken seriously?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another alternate history proposal...

Lately, another alternate history concept has been percolating in my mind. So, the concept of aliens bringing civilization and technology to Earth is an old one, right? Erich von Däniken, ancient astronauts, the Pyramids built by mysterious technology... all of that is kind of old hat to science fiction fans nowadays, who have encountered many variations on that theme over the years. But what if they came back and gave people more technology in the semi-modern age? Specifically, around 1700 or so, the five great powers of Earth's history at the time have had fifty years to adapt to alien technology, and even biotech, with eugenics and supersoldier programs and more. This creates an interesting dynamic where Great Britain, France, Prussia, Russia, and Austria all have essentially futuristic societies, at least in some regards, with superpowered soldiers and more, all hurtling head-long towards the Seven Years' War.

But before it can happen, interstellar empires take notice. See, it turns out that the alien technology didn't come to earth because aliens were benevolent and wanted to give humanity a leg up. It came to earth because aliens were secretly priming earthlings to be bush fighters, guerillas, and conscripts in a struggle against other conquering alien races. Although not unique, Earth is a world with a lot of potential, and various alien powers make alliances with Earth nations, and they in turn are drawn into interstellar politics, which are undergoing a Cold War of sorts. Earthlings are the latest soldiers, spies, and sometimes reluctant ambassadors in this war, and they suddenly find that even with their new technology, they are woefully undermanned and underequipped.

A new generation of superheroes, genetically engineered with alien help to have superpowers, based on the highly flexible and adaptable matrix of human DNA, is seen as the new frontier in intersteller resources. Some intersteller nations want to simply enslave humanity and harvest humans to be raised as jannissary-like slave-soldiers. Others want to prop humanity up to use against their rivals. And humans themselves, from various nations around the world, either want to be left alone to chart their destiny on their own... or explore the vast new frontiers of space and carve out all new niches for themselves across the galaxy.

I could do most of this without the alternate history angle. Why do I want the nations and polities of the Seven Years' War, anyway? No good reason other than that I like them, and I think five powerful rivals that already existed in history makes for a more interesting dynamic than the world today. I also think it's easier than trying to build up someone else to have that multipoint "great powers" matrix across the globe. And it's interesting to not yet have a United States of America. In the real world, the American Revolution started shortly after the Seven Years' War (which is known in our country as the French and Indian War, due to it being the only theater that we were involved in at all, really). But with intersteller enemies, and the safety valve of colonizing other worlds completely out of Britain's control, the American colonists may not have had a sufficient spark to revolt... yet. Although backed up by intersteller allies, the off-world "Americans" probably have no patience for the high-tech Redcoats who follow them, trying to take resources that they've claimed for King George.

Anyway, etc. etc. There's lots of different things I can do with this. I'm interested in reprising the American Revolution and what led up to it with high tech superheroes, space travel and aliens, though. Could make for a fun ride. What do I do with this concept? No idea. I won't be running it as a game anytime soon, that's for sure. I'm unlikely to write anything in this setting. Maybe I just need to write it down here and see what else comes to me on it over time, to see if it's something I can do anything with or not.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


While this might possibly feel a bit out of scope for this blog, I'm going to talk about a long-running, yet fringe hobby of mine. I call it a fringe hobby not because the hobby itself is a "fringe" activity, somewhat outside of society's mainstream (although you could perhaps argue that that is true) but because I've only really dabbled on the fringe of the hobby. I'm talking about comic books.

I've always loved superheroes. Almost as long as I can remember. When I was a very young kid, there were re-runs of the old Spiderman animated cartoon, as well as some of the other Marvel properties. I watched them religiously. In the earlier 80s, I clearly recall that my favorite hour of TV every Saturday was Spiderman and his Amazing Friends partnered up with the Hulk. Honestly, I got a lot more of my superhero action from these cartoon shows than I did from reading comic books. Not that I didn't read comic books from time to time. My dad brought a bunch of them home from work once or twice (I'm not sure how he got them, but they were clearly unusual collections of odds and ends that were often poorly matched, and I only rarely had contigous issues to read in order. This included titles like Indiana Jones, the Micronauts, Star Wars, The Shield, and more mainstream superhero characters like the Teen Titans, the Justice League, Batman, Superman, etc.)

I always gravitated to the Marvel characters, probably because they had better TV shows when I was a kid (not that I didn't religiously watch the Superfriends at one point too, of course.) By the time I was a teenager, I had a bit of spare cash from time to time, and hey, comic books were hip-deep in the transition from the "Bronze Age" to the "Modern Age." I started buying some Marvel titles with a fair bit of regularity. Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the West Coast Avengers, Alpha Flight, and occasional forays into Spiderman or the Hulk. But mostly, I got really pretty big into the X-books. This was near the end of Chris Claremont's run, with Marc Silvestri on pencils (switching to Jim Lee at some point there too) and when the X-books had a number of titles. For some time, I regularly collected The Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants, as well as Classic X-men, which as you'd expect were reprints of the Claremont/Byrne collaboration.

It's to these that I now turn, briefly. This last weekend, my wife and I went out to see X-Men: First Class, and because it promised to deliver on some really classic X-men action, I was quite excited to see it. I first started getting pretty big into the X-books about the time that Fall of the Mutants was running. That crossover event, which I just recently re-read, is really not all that good compared to most of the rest to which if can be compared. Certainly it's nothing classic. But at about that same time, Classic X-men had everyone's favorite mutants flying through space to defeat the Shi'ar mad emperor D'ken who threatened to use the M'Kraan crystal to destroy all of reality. I kept buying Classic X-men for another year or two (the sum total of my more intensive comic book collecting phase) and sadly, looking at it now I'd got the first half of the Dark Phoenix saga, but not the second half. Blegh.

Some X-men fans will tell you that the X-men doing space opera is not the X-men, but to me, that was always a big part of their modus operandi. Heck, the Shi'ar are a classic X-villainous (usually) entity, and are hugely important to the continuity. Corsair, a Han Solo like space pirate and rebel against the empire is freakin' Cyclops' father fer cryin' out loud. And what is probably the most iconic and famous X-story ever told, reprinted no less than 11 times (so far) is the Dark Phoenix saga in which an interstellar court of Kree, Shi'ar and Skrulls bring the X-men to the Blue Area of the Moon and duke it out.

Of course, a number of other real oddities are "classically" X-men too--the Savage Land being a prime example. But I really enjoy the space opera stuff, when it's done well.

So, while feeling a post-First Class X-men buzz, I went to the library and browsed what we had in trade paperback collections. Marvel (and DC, for that matter) have spent all kinds of time reprinting their comics in trade paperback format, and if the sheer number of them for sale at basic bookstores is any guide, it's a profitable and successful business for them. I applaud it, because it's the only way I'd ever consider buying comic books these days, and I do find myself moved to pick up some tpb collections from time to time. I stumbled across "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'Ar Empire" and read it last night and today. Great story. A bit on the dark side. Quite a bit, actually. Serious. Sophisticated. Extremely well illustrated, mostly by Brian Tan, who has a real Silvestri or Lee like "Top Cow" art style, which because of Silvestri, Lee (and later Kubert--I always forget which of the two, though) drew the X-men during most of my collection of them, this much more detailed, "Top Cow" style art is what I always associated with the X-books.

Not sure if I have a point to all this. I also have the Dark Phoenix Saga in tpb coming via Interlibrary Loan. I've read it before, but not in a long time; it's time to read it again, and it looks like my own collection doesn't have the whole thing after all. Although you'd think the movie I just saw (and Thor before that) got me into this, and I'm sure they played a role, what I'm really most calling the proximal cause for me rediscovering comic books after not thinking about them much for a long time, is me playing my "karate supers" video games--stuff like Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, etc. Of course, the Street Fighter characters famously teamed up directly with Marvel characters in the Vs. series (including a fight scene actually on the Blue Area of the Moon, curiously. In Marvel Superheroes vs. Street Fighter, if I remember correctly.) But the main characters are superheroish enough. Ryu, Ken, Terry Bogard, Guile--they clearly have superpowers. And although they don't wear spandex and have secret identities, they also fight against characters that are very recognizable as comic book style villains. M. Bison and Dr. Doom have an awful lot in common in terms of characterization. Although martial arts and "chi" play a role in explaining a lot of these superpowers (which, actually, they mostly don't bother to explain at all) there's an awful of instances of superscience, cloning, DNA manipulation, and whatnot in all these games too.


I haven't disappeared! At least not entirely. I've actually had two sessions since my last post. I've also gone much of May unavailable and extremely busy, and June looks like it's going to be a no-show for gaming, at least for me. I simply don't have any weekend evenings available to game.

Frankly, my enthusiasm for the game has dimmed tremendously. It did so before I even started. I'm burned out on a lot of really stressful things that are going on at work, my family life has been extremely busy, and devoting time and energy to things that require a lot of thought was just too difficult for me. My last session, I basically had to punt and adopt a Dungeon Magazine site-based location type map just to have something to run. About the only thing I have time and mental energy to do is watch a few episodes of TV shows, play a few very brainless video-games, and catch up on comic book trade paperbacks from the library. I'm not even picking up the novels I was reading anymore.

So, I think my campaign may wither untimely due to "real world" circumstances. Rise of the Runelords will probably start up again as a substitute, and once it's started, well... it's on and probably will be for at least a few months.

That was really unfortunate; after pining to run for months, when I get my chance, circumstances just don't align favorably and it all comes apart. I'll see what I can do at some point in the future to get DARK•HERITAGE going again sometime, though, in some format or other.

In other news, I just got an email update from the Star Wars Old Republic team that a third cinematic trailer has just been released. Although it's a bit derivative, it's... as expected... also pretty dang sweet.