Friday, June 22, 2012

Nevermind?!

Well, actually that whole Avengers Assemble TV show thing seems to have been a hoax.  And apparently, it took a few days for the rumor mill to catch up to that fact.  So... I guess there's still a third season of Avengers coming after all?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Avengers Disassembled

So, I've been watching Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes a fair bit lately.  My younger boys really like it, especially Alex, who's almost 11, and is a real superhero fanatic (although curiously, it's my younger son Logan who appears to be named after Wolverine, and who's first uttered recognizable word was 'Hulk'.  But I think that's mostly because of his older brother talking about it all the time.)  But let's face it; I actually enjoy the show myself, and would probably happily watch it if I didn't have young boys in the house who are big superhero fans.

And frankly, I think this show has been excellent.  The animation quality is quite good, the "fight choreography" is interesting, the writing is reasonably sophisticated and intelligent--heck, it's at least as good as comic books were back in the 80s when I was reading them more regularly.  And it's excellent.  Although I haven't reviewed these episodes yet (because they haven't aired yet in the US) I'm not going to be shy about admitting that I trawled Youtube for grabs of the Secret Invasion storyline episodes (which have aired in Australia already--they're coming up on a dozen episodes ahead of us, for whatever reason now) and they are fantastic.

So, it's with somewhat heavy heart that I discovered this weekend that the show has not been renewed for a third season, and in 2013 will instead be replaced with an all new Avengers cartoon that's going to go for capturing the look and feel of the movie moreso than the comic books.  While that's not at all a bad idea--the movie was fabulous, after all--I'm a little leery of getting rid of one show that's already one of the best superhero animated shows out there and replacing it with a show that may... or may not be.  After all, that's exactly what happened with Spiderman--the Spectacular Spider-man show was excellent, and it was cancelled to make way for Ultimate Spider-man which sounds great on paper, but which in reality nobody in our house has really been able to get into.

Maybe I should just get into Young Justice instead or something.  That's actually a very good show, and my kids like it nearly as much.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beaten to the punch

Based on a comment here on this blog, I went and looked up Totems of the Dead, a Savage Worlds setting supplement that is a sword & sorcery version of vikings in America.  Since that's been a pet project of mine percolating in the background for some time while I did other things, I was naturally very interested in it.

It looks like they completely beat me to the punch, and did everything I was going to do and more.  Argh!

Here's the summary from the RPGnow page on it:


Know, noble reader, that before you lies a savage new world of sword and sorcery like no other. 


A terrible new age has dawned upon the Untamed Lands. The shining age of the ancestors is crumbling beneath a rising tide of blood and slaughter. Here lie the civilizations of the Untamed Lands, warring with their neighbors just to survive as their crops and game dwindle. The Skadians with their dragon-prowed ships, the Shenese with their wealth of silk and steel, the Maztlani with their obsidian edged blades and the Tribal Confederacies with the unbreakable strength of many arrows. Ruskar invaders stain the snow crimson while Atlantean war parties ravage the eastern shores. Meanwhile the serpent folk lie coiled to strike the warring human nations. 


Hither lies a land in need of heroes.


Gird yourself for adventure and harden your heart against nameless things lurking in shadow. Explore the cliff-side ruins of the ancient Stone Shapers and seek treasures in the abandoned monuments of the Mound Raisers. Face off against vile sorcerers, simian sasquatch, the impervious Uktena serpent and ravenous wendigo or beat back elder horrors reawakened from ages long past. Live, love, slay and celebrate each victory as though it may be your last.


In this the Players Guide to the Untamed Lands, you will find a wealth of information including:


• A plethora of human cultures for you to play 
• New weapons and equipment!
• New edges including Legendary edges!
• A magic system fitting for the sword and sorcery genre
• New arcane backgrounds such as the blood mage and rune caster
• New setting rules

Monday, June 11, 2012

Alternate JLAs

Recently I just read Avengers/JLA, and I flipped through a copy of the newish New 52 version of JLA, mostly because of the Jim Lee art.  Granted, I've always been much more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy, but DC has done some things right.  In particular, I think DC has had some great animation over the last few years.  I recently watched season 1 of Young Justice, I watched Crisis on Two Earths, Death of Superman, the Wonder Woman animation, Batman's Red Hood movie, and Batman/Superman Apocalypse--which is really all about Supergirl, despite the odd name.  I also not long ago saw the Superman and Captain Marvel (Shazam) take on Black Adam show, and one of those shows (I can't remember which) even had a Green Arrow story attached to it.

So, in some ways, the JLA concept is growing on me.  But curiously, I find the idea of ersatz JLAs much more interesting than the real one.  The Squadron Supreme, by Marvel--in both their original and their rebooted "MAX Imprint" versions are very interesting takes on the JLA story.  Both of them posit a group of superheroes that's basically an exact copy of the JLA in terms of having characters with corresponding powers and roughly corresponding backgrounds (Hyperion=Superman, Power Princess=Wonder Woman, Nighthawk=Batman, Doctor Spectrum=Green Lantern, Whizzer/Blur=Flash, etc.) but these guys are more interesting as characters.  In addition to having more intriguing flaws, they are also much more serious about what they do.  Especially the MAX Squadron, from the so-called Supremeverse--these guys do not hold back in the interest of the gentlemanly expectations of comic book fights.

Another fascinating ersatz Justice League was put together by DC themselves; the Crime Syndicate of America on pre-Crisis Earth-3 (later rebooted as Earth-2.)  Here, the heroes and villains are reversed; Lex Luthor, the Joker, etc. are all heroes, while counterparts to the JLA (Ultraman=Superman, Owlman=Batman, Superwoman=Wonder Woman, Johnny Quick=Flash, Power Ring=Green Lantern, etc.) are all supervillains. 

I'd love to see these alt.JLAs get more play somehow.  It seems unlikely that they will in a significant way, but the Supremeverse line was at least a major step forward.  I also just reread Ultimate Power, which is the Supremeverse coming into conflict with the Ultimate Universe prior to Ultimatum.  It's a 9-issue miniseries published in trade paperback.  The first three issues are written by Brian Michael Bendis (co-creator of the Ultimate universe, althlough curiously not the part that is most featured here.  Mark Millar would be that person.)  The second three are written by J. Michael Straczynski, the main writer and creator of the Supremeverse version of the Sqaudron Supreme, and the final three are written by Jeph Loeb who's... uh... the guy who blew up the Ultimate universe, mostly.  Yeah, his issues were the weakest, which kinda sucked, because they were the last three.

What would my ideal crossovers of JLA and ersatz Justice Leagues look like?  Probably JLA vs the original Squadron Supreme as a retro-Silver Age style book, and then Supreme Power Squadron vs. the Crime Syndicate as a very dark comic.  And then, the Squadron Supreme (either version) needs to make some kind of apperance in the new Avengers Cartoon.  Maybe, as in what happened with the Supremevese and Ultimate Universe crossover, Power Princess can come be a part of the Avengers for a time.

None of these things will actually happen, of course.

But a guy can dream.

And the final of those actually could happen, in theory.  It all depends on how long the Avengers cartoon gets to run, and how comfortable Marvel Animation is with putting out characters who are very obviously pastiches of a Direct Competitor's own characters.

Not that they haven't already put those characters out there, but this is a whole new medium, and I can imagine the lawyers get cagey.

Juugashi

Most religious characters in Kurushat are worshippers of Yinigu, the god of the state religion of Kurushat. With the exception of possible divine spellcasting classes (depending on which rules in use) and the Juugashi, religious characters get no in-game benefit for being religious, of course, and Yinigu is not a comforting god who provides solace to his flock in any case.

Clerics of Yinigu tend to have domains that focus on hunting and running down of prey, war, and other acts of brutal aggression. They favor carrying flails to whip the faithful if they look like they need it. Many of these clerics are wandering pilgrims, but unlike in other lands, these pilgrims are not peaceful travelers. Many clerics of Yinigu are killed by villagers and townsfolk, because of their habit of brutally beating anyone who appears to not be showing proper deference to Yinigu. Of course, it is illegal to harm a cleric of Yinigu, but in secret, they are often in danger unless they travel in packs, or with Juugashi bodyguards.

Interestingly enough, the cult of Yinigu is not the original religion of the Kurushat people. Early in their expansion, the Kurushati conquered the city-state of Sinjagat, and it was a major cult in that city. Because it was the first major conquest of the growing empire, the Sinjagati are the most integrated "non-native" ethnicity within the empire, and few today make an ethnic distinction between them anymore. The cult has grown rapidly in numbers and prestige, and when the first khagan adopted it, Kajim Tokraas VII, it quickly vaulted itself to state religion.

The original religion in Jekara, however, was a form of ancestor worship. Really old noble houses from Jekara, and extremely traditionalist native Kurushati still practice this religion. In a D&D environment, I prefer to represent these worshippers with the Mortitheurge and Extoller classes (from Privateer Press' Monsternomicon vol. 2) but they could also be represented via clerics in a pinch.

The Juugashi are the special elite shock troops of the Khaganate of Kurushat.  The Juugashi are the Elect of Yinigu, special shock troops that have been selected via a painful and potentially fatal initiation ceremony to undergo a magical transformation to better resemble the god of their religion. Juugashi spend some of their time cloistered in special monasteries, but they also serve as elite troops on campaign, and as bodyguards for wandering clerics and nobles within the empire themselves.

It is illegal for all but a khan or other extremely highly placed noble to interfere with the Juugashi, so many of the common citizens of the Empire see them as little more than state-sponsored bandits, and want nothing to do with them if they can help it. Soldiers are more forgiving, as the Juugashi have a proven track record of "getting it done" when things get difficult.

In keeping with the nature of Yinigu, and the hyenas that they resemble, the Juugashi are brutal, aggressive and domineering.   As it looks, Juugashi are humans who have been magically cursed (or blessed, depending on your perspective) to be transformed into gnolls.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Random note on usage

Since blogger provides handy stats about views and usage, I've naturally been curious enough for several months to see who's viewing my site and what they're looking at.  In general, Google image searches which are (presumably) completely unrelated to the content of my blog make up by a huge margin what brings people here.  For a long time, an older picture related to Star Wars had such a lead that it was well in front of all over posts in terms of views.

For the last couple of months, a post I made about megafauna in DARK•HERITAGE has been slowly creeping its way forward through the ranks.  It had a picture of a black lion in it, and GIS for "black lion" was driving traffic towards the blog.  I figured that on the trajectory that it was, I would eventually have it move into first place probably by the end of the summer.

And then, suddenly, this last weekend there was a massive spike in searches.  Literally thousands of hits on that post, so that not only did it jump to first place, it's already at nearly double what second place--the former first place--post has.

Why is there suddenly this massive surge in searches for images of black lions?  And why did I put gratuitous images of more black lions in this post?

Well, that latter question is easy enough to answer...

Vikings in America

I just finished reading Graeme Davis' Vikings in America.  Coming on the heels of Lies My Teacher Told Me, this is an interesting study in contrasts and similarities.

Some fifteen odd years ago, I read another book about vikings in America that posited a much more thorough presence than they are generally given credit for, as well as dissemination of knowledge of the vikings' journey being really integral to Columbus' own sailing west from Spain.  I can't remember the title or the author anymore, but it certainly introduced me to some of the controversies of viking archeology in America, including the Newport tower, the Vinland map, and the Kensington runestone.  Because of this, I've always been very interested in the subject, and suspected privately that our scholarship was too conservative and pessimistic about what exactly the vikings were up to on our continent.

Davis takes a similar approach.  He's obviously very enthusiastic about the vikings in general, and really wants their contribution to North America to be bigger, and to be recognized.  So he takes a kind of "I want to believe" approach.  This is where it's similar to Lies, in that Loewen also really wanted to believe things that had only flimsy (or in some cases even less) evidence.  The biggest difference between them is that Davis rather openly admits the state of current evidence.  Whereas Loewen assigns a confidence rating of "moderate" that a ship from Mali discovered America prior to Columbus (despite there being absolutely no evidence to support that that hasn't been thoroughly discredited or rightly ignored as spurious by the academic community), Davis is perfectly fine saying that current consensus today would say that the Vinland map, the Kensington runestone and the Newport Tower are not viking related, and the first two are in fact hoaxes.  However, he also goes on to say that they weren't always viewed as such, and explains why it is that accepting them as hoaxes is in many ways at least as problematic as accepting them as genuine, in terms of what it means as a tear-up of our current beliefs.  It's his view that at some point scholarship will turn yet again, and they will come back into favor as accepted sometime in the future.  In fact, he points out that in today's climate, he's not sure what it would take for them to be accepted as genuine.

His view also is that there is almost certainly a treasure trove of archeological evidence yet to be uncovered.  Given that L'ans aux Meadows wasn't even "discovered" until the 1960s, despite being right there on the surface and a point of local curiousity for years, and that the recently discovered High Arctic sites are merely the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended) on a thoroughly uninhabited and unsurveyed land today.

Where he wanders into more specious territory is where he talks about the Narragansett peoples as probable descendents of Vinland vikings gone native, and passing on their genetic resistance to diseases to that tribe.  He also disbelieves the notion that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci (for which there is some evidence, actually) and proposes a Viking etymology for the name, based on the viking word merki which after undergoing metathesis and having an a added at the begining and end due to adoption into Spanish, we get Amerika.  Since Spanish uses the letter c to represent the k sound, well, there we go.  This etymology seems almost too easy, and it's completely speculative, although interesting.  The viking word merki is cognate to the Old English word mearc which gave us the kingdom of Mercia (land on the borders), phrases such as the Welsh Marches (Welsh frontier, or border) and the mark in landmark, which meant border marker, originally.  This should also be familiar to anyone who's a Lord of the Rings fan--the Mark of Rohan meant, of course, the Rohan border country.  This meant that originally, the meaning of America, in viking (if one accepts his etymology) is merely border lands or frontier.

Anyway, fascinating book, and relatively short (less than 200 pages) written for a general audience, and a particular favorite subject of mine; it's no surprise that I found Davis' book excellent.

As an illustration, I've attached a small thumbnail of an Angus McBride illustration that originally came with the Osprey book on vikings.

The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill

We've had a couple of Sundays now with no new Avengers cartoon (it's not until nearly the end of the month that we're supposed to pick up again with new episodes, starting with "Nightmare in Red" which introduces the Red Hulk to the cartoon world.  As far as I know, for the first time.)  But I forgot that I never made an update/review for "The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill" which aired a few weeks ago!  So--fashionably late--I thought I'd add one.  Since my DVR isn't recording new episodes for a while (but is recording older ones) maybe I'll get carried away and start reviewing the rest of season 2 older episodes while I'm at it, but don't hold your breath on that one.

Beta Ray Bill is an interesting character.  He's kind of a fan favorite of sorts; an anthropomorphic alien with a very horse-like face who's inherent nobility meant he could wield Thor's hammer.  Bill--which is quite a silly name for an alien, but I think that was kinda the point when he was first created--is the only member of his entire race, the Korbanites, who isn't in suspended animation.  The rest of the surviving population of his planet slumbers in the bowels of his talking spaceship, Scuttlebutt (another banal name) looking for a new home after their planet is destroyed.  In this cartoon version of the story, they are destroyed by Surtur's fire demons, who are set loose by the Masters of Evil (and others) using the Norn stones to break the seals that keep Muspelheim separated from the rest of the Nine Realms.  Along with the ongoing Skrull invasion, the imminent arrival of Surtur is being played up as one of the major challenges for this season, clearly.

Thor, who continues to be stuck in Asgard this season (if I remember correctly, this is the first time he's appeared yet) goes to investigate Scuttlebutt because it's reading that Surtur's demons are on board (actually, they were attacking.)  In the time-honored superhero tradition, Beta Ray Bill and Thor mistake each other for enemies, have a big fight, realize that they're both on the same side, and reconcile.  In this case it's a little bit more complicated; Bill is dragged back to Asgard, and about to be set upon by Odin and the rest of the Asgardians before Thor steps in.  They get Bill his own hammer made by the dwarves (who are especially surly this episode, although not without reason) and they go back and fight some more fire demons.  The Enchantress is with them, possessed by Surtur.  On the few occasions she can break free and speak as herself, she begs Bill and Thor to kill her--which of course they don't--but which further sets up the notion that Surtur is really bad, kinda disturbing, and that when he finally makes his appearance it's gonna be really tough to get rid of him.

Sif also goes along with Bill and Thor to fight the fire demons, and at the end, she is very impressed with Bill's heroism, as well as having an understanding of why Thor finds so much satisfaction in "hanging" with the mortals, and being their protector, which touches on another long-running plot-thread with regards to Thor specifically.

Thor continues to play a very small role this season so far, though--which is unfortunate.  I've always been a fan of the character, and back when I was still buying comic books, Thor was one of the few that I bought regularly--along with a brief run of Iron Man, the Avengers themselves, The Uncanny X-men, X-Factor and the New Mutants.  Despite being seen as a b-level character in terms of popularity until recently, the success of the Thor movie last summer, and his subsequent major rise in status at Marvel means I thought he would show up more.  It is, however, nice to see him have an episode dedicated just to him, at least.  In fact, in the opening splash where it shows the silhouettes of the characters, he's actually all alone.