Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mutants & Masterminds

When I was in high school, some friends of mine and I played a role-playing game called 3001. They had come up with the setting themselves a couple years before I met them. 3001 was a sort of post-apocalyptic, almost William Gibson-esque superhero world populated with resistance fighters and draconic super-powered overlords. My buddies had populated the world with many different characters but not a lot of thought went into the background of the world itself. Well, high school ended and slowly we went our separate ways, but 3001 stuck around my head for a while. I always tried to figure out why the world became what it was, how it got there, what events led them to that place and time. Over the years I constructed a solid timeline for the setting and even toyed with the idea of pitching it as a comic someday. Over the years my interest in it waned, but I never forgot about that world.

I'm older now, with an all new group of nerd buddies. Of late they've all been clamoring to do some table top roleplaying and, given that I occasionally masquerade as a writer, they've pushed me to come up with something for them to play. On a recent trip to a local used bookstore I found a copy of the original sourcebook for Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds. Remembering that I had owned the book once before during my heavy RPG days, I decided to pick it up and re-familiarize myself with the system. To my surprise, M & M is the best-selling superhero RPG ever and they're still publishing material for it today. So I picked up some of the supplemental stuff for a good price and have decided to run a game.

The campaign setting? Well, that's obvious, right?

Do any of my readers still RP? If so, do you have any Mutants & Masterminds tips and pointers? Anybody out there playing a game right now?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Welcome back How I Became the Bomb frontman and weekly Surfing the Bleed contributor Jon Burr as he reviews some of last week's comics.

Amazing Spider-Man #637
I pity the creative team for this now-concluded Spidey arc. It’s not that it was bad. It’s not that it was mediocre. It just wasn’t the mind-bending, savage, and haunting arc that was Zeb Wells’ and Chris Bachalo’s “Shed.” Stop reading this review. Go get those issues. I’ll wait. Don’t dawdle. There. I’ll carry on now. This arc, The Grim Hunt, by Joe Casey and mostly Michael Lark, was good comics, though, pulling together, not unlike its eponymous arachnid, different strands from eras recent and bygone to tell a compelling tale. I know most people will bemoan the usage of characters and themes from Joe Straczynski’s subtotemic storyline, but I found it rather ballsy. I also loved that they gave J.M. DeMatteis the back-up, seeing as they played on his and Mike Zeck’s iconic Kraven’s Last Hunt so well. The only blight on the run has been Stan Lee’s bewildering two-pager backup tales but, hey, it’s Swingin’ Stan. So, all in all, ASM continues bringing the quality, thrice monthly, which you can’t really beat.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #2
Boy howdy, can Jason Aaron write the Marvel Universe?! As loathe as I am to use the term “world-building,” Aaron has done just that in just two issues. Now many will point to Aaron hijacking plots from other works, mostly genre films, and just inserting Marvel characters into them but, hey, it makes for good comics. We’ve seen elements of First Blood and Terminator in his Weapon X series, but now we’ve got some full-on Charlton Heston end o’ the world sci-fi on our hands. And I couldn’t enjoy it more. I’d love to divulge more detail, but he packs so many easter eggs and surprises on each even-numbered page, that I wouldn’t dare risk spoiling it for you, dear reader. Oh, and Adam Kubert’s no slouch either.

Superman #701
J. Michael Strazcynski has the skills. The man can tell a story. I know this. I’ve read his work. He’s also not afraid to be daring. He’ll tell the story he wants to tell, and keep telling, regardless of reception. I know these things about JMS. Now what I want to know is if he is half the sanctimonious ass he makes Supes out to be. This is rough reading, folks. Superman basically walks around, staring down would-be jaywalkers, street toughs, and the like, pontificating like some sort of awful amalgamation of Tony Robbins and Thoreau, the latter of whom is quoted extensively unfortunately, as opposed to an alien in long-johns. The art doesn’t help as, skilled as Eddy Barrows might be, the poses and facial expressions given to Supes don’t help reduce the burning desire to stop, put down the comic, and pick up my copy of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? I swear, if Superman had thoughtfully clutched his chin once more, as he sat in judgment over some poor normal human sap, I would have done just that.

The Bulletproof Coffin #2
There aren’t many comics out there that can make a lowly reviewer traipse through his mind searching for the apt adjectives quite like this one. Shaky Kane’s art is creepy, yet undeniably beautiful; static, yet alive; homage, yet wonderfully new. These seemingly contradictory descriptions are not limited to just the art. Coffin is a book of comics within comics. Kane, along with co-writer and scripter David Hine, have created a series that looks at Silver Age comics with nostalgia, but does not turn a blind eye to the strangeness and somewhat emotionally stunted nature of the era. The story is able to harken back to a bygone era, while existing in its own unique not-so-distant future or perhaps even a twisted, satirical present. Despite the book-within-book nature of the work, it’s not too metatextual that it can’t be enjoyed by someone just looking for kicks and vibrant art. This comic is able to interpret and possess so many aspects of the genre, serving as a book that can really serve the reader however he chooses. For fans of Alan Moore, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby. Yea, it’s that good.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

CCI: Oh, how I wish I were there.

I'm going to try and recap the news that jumps out at me from this weekend's mildly interesting Comic-Con International. You may have heard of it? Anyway, here's a list of newsworthy items that I deemed, well, newsworthy. This will be a linkfest, so apologies there for the lack of originality. When it comes to SDCC/CCI, you just let CBR and Bleeding Cool do the work for you.

Paul Tobin discusses Dark Horse's new Savage Sword anthology, a sort of homage to famous pulp writer (and DH cash cow) Robert E. Howard

Marvel to publish CrossGen.
I wasn't much of a CrossGen reader but this has to be exciting to those of you who were. I wonder if they'll bring back original books and creative teams (Way of the Rat, anyone?) or if they'll use the CrossGen brand as a place to launch newer talent?

Marvel Movie Panel. I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon and I love that Marvel is ambitious enough to attempt this merging of all their films into one big Avengers franchise, but I have misgivings. Much as I love Joss, the guy has pretty much worked with the same actors (and second-tier actors at that) his whole career. I hope he can handle the egos of people like Jackson and Downey, Jr. well enough to get a good, coherent picture and not just an ensemble mess.

"He'll be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, due to the stabbing in the eye..." Of all the things to stab somebody over, the Resident Evil panel? Seriously dude? Where the hell is Shade when we need him? It seems like the American Scream was in the house at Comic-Con this year.

The collapse of all nerd marriages and the abject neglect of all children produced by these relationships has caused a massive disruption in the nation's economy.

IDW announces a new Rocketeer anthology to include talent such as Darwyn Cooke, John Cassaday and Mike Allred. As a bonus, partial proceeds from the book go to benefit the Hairy Cell Leukemia foundation.

A fan at the DCU panel reminds us all that stories can help save lives, even if we're not all fans of those stories. "The first fan said that he began reading comics with 'Blackest Night,' around the time he was diagnosed with HIV. He thanked DC for publishing a story about literally fighting death, which inspired him. In the midst of applause, Sattler walked down to hug the fan."

DC's Vertigo-bound chickens finally coming home to roost.

Morrison and Stewart on Thunderworld, Grant's take on the Marvel Family. Also, Absolute WE3 in the works.

It just gets wackier in Gotham City and I, for one, couldn't be happier.
Eventually Grant Morrison is just going to write Batman for me and only me. It's almost happening already. I think at some point I'm just going to get a copy of Morrison's Batman on my doorstep each
month and it will be my job to just explain it to everyone else in the world. Ah, dreams.

DnA to do a Rocket Raccoon/Groot mini-series!

Stan's Back!
The Boom Studios Stan Lee Panel.

There was more news than you can shake Big Barda's cosmic rod at coming out of Comic-Con this weekend, but those were the bits I found most interesting. What did you see at CCI this weekend that you are excited about? Did you go to the show or were you just watching from the sidelines like myself? What other cons do you plan to hit up this year?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How I Became the Bomb's Jon Burr Reviews Last Week's Hits (and MIsses) [we really need a title for this segment]

Jon Burr is the lead singer of geek rock champions How I Became the Bomb. He is also my friend and a rather obsessive comic book nerd. When he approached me about doing a series of reviews each week for Surfing the Bleed I gladly said yes. Partially because the man really knows his stuff, partially because, well, I hate writing reviews. Before we go on, I want to state that in an editorial capacity I stand behind Jon and his right to express his opinions one hundred percent. That isn't to say that he and I will always agree, but the man is informed, intelligent and honest and I want that kind of material here on the site. So if anybody has a problem with his opinions I want to remind you that there is an open comment forum just underneath the post. Let's be constructive and stay on point, shall we? Without further ado, I give you...

The Segment Which Has No Name!

Greek Street #13

Well, I’ve given it a year. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Peter Milligan is amongst my favorite comics writers. I’ve followed him for over a decade. My favorite comics artist - Darwyn Cooke - described him as the only collaborator whose words he wouldn’t touch or change. Human Target is one of the four or five long runs I’d pass along to a non-comics reader as proof that the medium isn’t simply fun genre trash. Skreemer and Rogan Gosh are titanic works in comics, unlike any others I’ve read. Hell, I sought out and purchased the B-movie he penned (It’s not bad, actually. Ray Liotta is in the lead, which insures victory). And, yet, here I am, giving up on his latest Vertigo piece. I’d like to think I don’t understand The Classics upon which this series is based or that maybe Greek Street is “written for the trade” as so many are prone to say these days. Perhaps it’s just too British; too Soho. Alas, I’m afraid I’m dropping this book because it’s just not good. I’m not even going to blame the artist. David Gianfelice and this week’s fill-in, Werther Dell’Edera, have been more than adequate. My old standby has finally let me down. I don’t condemn him. After such fine form for so many years, he’s earned a free pass. At least, as long as his Hellblazer stays up to par.

Scalped #39

I’ll admit it. Scalped isn’t always the best read. I know it gets almost universal praise. I know it is THE latest critical darling in comics, next to Scott Pilgrim. But it really hasn’t been the spiritual successor to 100 Bullets everyone claims it is. Sure, it has a Pulido-esque talent in R.M. Guera and it has the grit and the slow burning storyline of its Vertigo forebearer, but it has lacked the consistency. Lately, though, it has given me some hope. This is a book that just won’t quit. For every rough edge or clunky device, there’s a character like Shunka, the conflicted right-hand man. For every reveal that doesn’t quite work, there’s a hook at the end of an issue that keeps you on the reel. This issue keeps the fire stoked. The main thread of the story, which is Claudine’s rocky upbringing, didn’t really reveal anything to me, but the further unraveling of Bad Horse’s cover and life has me clamoring for more. And isn’t that Jason Aaron’s job? Simply put, he just needs us to keep coming back. Simple economics, really.

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #10

This little surprise came to me thanks to Surfing the Bleed’s own Brett Williams hoodwinking me into thinking that this was a
Secret Avengers crossover. Now, mind you, The Secret Avengers were, indeed, in this issue, but that was inconsequential. Writer Gregg Hurwitz, on holiday, I imagine, from his farcical V television series remake, is either simply not up to snuff or is rebuking some sort of editorial mandate. Ah, I can see it now! Sweaty, cigar-chomping editor Axel Alonso cajoling Hurwitz: “Sales are in the tank, kid. I pushed for Deadpool, but we’ll have to make due with the Secret Avengers. Now they’re gonna be on the cover, so we’re gonna need a story here, kid.” Cut to Hurwitz hastily pecking away this hackneyed script, which of course employs a laconic monologue not unlike the purposefully putrid voiceover turned in by Harrison Ford when the studio started interfering with Blade Runner. I choose to believe this outlandish scenario and will give this book another chance as I am strangely in love with Juan Jose Ryp’s art, which is, to your humble narrator only, surely, reminiscent of Crumb and Richard Corben. Only he draws men in their underpants fighting sea monsters.

Demo #6

Hauntingly rendered tortured figures somehow finding serenity. And so ends the second run of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s
Demo. It’s fitting, really, as the series was comprised of fantastic imagery that was sometimes hamstrung by some plodding metaphors, yet always seemed to find a way to be compelling and heartfelt by story’s end. Cloonan’s work was daring and excellent throughout the series, from her wildly effective experimentation to her always resonant use of body language. The story struggled here and there, particularly on this issue and the first, with some truly transparent concepts, but they always managed to bring some truth to the comic by the last page. And this week, it was literally a last page save. The entire issue struggled with the clunky metaphor of a superpower that kept a couple ever together yet slightly apart. Oh, like a long-term relationship? Ugh. Obvious choices were mounting and this one was really growing tiresome until that last image, wonderfully conceived and drawn: The weary couple, reading together. They aren’t touching, of course, but they finally seemed at ease with each other. A masterful panel.

As an addendum, I can’t stress enough how much the extras at the end of the books - which I think the kids are calling “backmatter” - add to the series. I know it’s mostly an indie thing, but Vertigo should take note. Hell, I’d take some of this newfangled “backmatter” in my capes n’ underpants comics! It really makes for an immersive, insightful experience.

Thor The Mighty Avenger #1

I am finished with origin stories retold. A relentless horde, a insurmountable tide. These are the things I told myself, as I dropped books by good creators (Joe Casey’s Avengers: The Origin, anyone?) for the sole reason that I just didn’t think I could handle the same tales any longer. I was out. Or so I thought. Roger Landridge and Chris Samnee’s simple, evocative take was compelling and thrilling. It provided the quick, vibrant rush that is unique to the comics medium. I put the book down, stunned smile on my face, and wondered, “What’s next?”

Jonah Hex #57

I’ve snagged a few Jonah Hex issues this year. The odd Darwyn Cooke contribution here and there have certainly helped, but I had never read an issue of Jonah Hex with series regular artist Jordi Benet. I assumed he was another member of the Brazilian talent agency that has slowly developed the DC House Style I’ve come to loathe in the last couple of years. I was sorely mistaken. Not only will I pick up anything else with Bernet’s name on the credits, but I am now on a mission from god to familiarize myself with the rest of the man’s oeuvre. This includes any previous Hex issues, as Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti’s script had me pining for days of comics past. Between Bernet’s Caniff-meets-Kubert draughtsmanship and the pure-comics-ness of the writing, this issue left me devastatedly nostalgic. This is what comics should be. This is what comics can be. This is what comics were.

Brightest Day: The Atom Special #1

Sweet Tooth has been a good ride, thus far, with this week’s issue being another quality effort. Essex County was solid and I’ve heard nothing but good about The Nobody. Jeff Lemire is becoming a creator one must follow. Be that as it may, it was still difficult to pick any book bearing the Brightest Day banner. As it turns out, I probably could have skipped it, because this book, at least in the beginning, had all that I feared. Needless origin retelling? Check. Tenuous link to crossover? Check. In the latter half of the book, Lemire finally breaks free and plants the seed for what I’m hoping will be a fun tale, but it remains to be seen if his capes n’ tights debut will bear fruit, as we readers weren’t given much to work with here. Quick aside: Ray Palmer’s life is hysterically terrible! Is the domain name “www.RayPalmer’sLifeInARefridgerator.com” taken? Someone get Gail Simone on the horn.

Doom Patrol #12

If you don’t like the notion of Keith Giffen somehow finding a way to meld the tone of his Legion: 5 Years Later story with the humor of his JLI and THEN finding a way to incorporate the characters and spirit of Grant Morrison’s exceedingly brilliant DP run, then you should do one thing and one thing only: Stop reading comics. Now. Thank you.

Casanova #1

I can’t get a read on Matt Fraction. His X-Men books have entertained me. I absolutely loved the Iron Man covers he spearheaded, as I really think comics and modern design need to become friends again. However, I read last week’s Iron Man Annual and it was one of the most putrid, long-winded, and dull stories I’ve read in recent months. Thus, I’ve waited for Casanova for some time, as I had hoped that it would be my Matt Fraction Rosetta Stone. I’ll have to wait a little longer, seemingly. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to love here. Ba and his brother are always fun, and watching how they’ve developed was certainly interesting, but there was so much Morrison and Ellis influence that it was hard for me to fully enjoy. I’m certainly not writing this title off, but I’m going to need a little more before I give Fraction credit for his talents as a comics writer and not just a guy with some great ideas about design and a genuine love for good comics.

Things I also read that weren’t bad:

Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #2 (Pulp-y goodness!)

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #1
(Bold prediction: Penciler Jim Cheung will rule the comics roost someday. Or quit comics and make a real living as a storyboard artist or in advertising.)

Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1
(Brubaker’s Bucky-Cap’n has been pretty aimless. This had purpose. That SuperPro costume is still hard to look at, though.)

X-Force #28
(Don’t listen to them. Second Coming was great. Sure, Nightcrawler died, but look on the bright side: they finally killed Cable.)

King City #10
(Imagine your wittiest, most stoned friend could draw like the bastard child of Moebius, Otomo, and Toriyama. I ran out of room, but you can bet that I’ll review this soon.)

Sweet Tooth #11
(I want Lemire to pick up the pace, but it’s still a quality issue.)

Batman and Robin #13
(A line from my shop owner, Mark Angell: “There are two Grant Morrisons. Good Trip Grant and Bad Trip Grant.” I THINK Grant’s on the good stuff here.)

X-Men #1
(Everyone is so sick and tired of vampires, thanks to True Blood, Twilight, etc. Here’s the thing: I don’t watch or read that stuff. So get fucked, all of you, and let me read my X-Men.)

Things I also read that weren’t good:

Fantastic Four Annual #32
(Ah, Bryan Hitch. There you are. Sorry, chum.)

Scarlet #1
(Cute, Bendis, but a little late to the party on so many levels. I commend him for his return to creator-owned stuff and will definitely give this a few more issues, though.)

Shadowland #1
(Look, I read most of the books associated with this. I should be the guy who gets this. I don’t get this. Daredevil did what now? Punisher is human again? Beg pardon?)

Monday, July 12, 2010

R.I.P. Harvey

Rest in peace, Harv. You had a lot to do with me believing that this comic book thing wasn't just a pipe dream and I'll always thank you for that. I hope the afterlife's nicer than Cleveland.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Being Constructive

I've recently entered into a collaborative relationship with a young artist from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). We haven't begun working on anything together yet, but we've bounced some of our various pitches and scripting samples off of one another. Yesterday, I sent him some feedback on a scripting sample he'd sent me. I was constructive, highlighting things I thought were structurally very sound about his scripting process while pointing out some issues I had with the overall originality of the subject matter. He responded very well to the criticism and went so far as to flesh out some of his ideas so that I had a deeper understanding of the story he was trying to tell. All in all, a very constructive and positive e-mail exchange.

I'd like to hear how all of you cope with the business of bouncing ideas off of possible collaborators and dealing out criticism or suggestion when necessary. When does constructive criticism or just polite suggestion become too harsh? For those of you who have collaborative experience already, how have you approached the problem of communicating clearly the pros and cons you see in your partner's work?