Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Buffy Comic Project: "The Death of Buffy, Part 2"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 44

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Tom Fassbender & Jim Pascoe (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Joe Pimentel & Will Conrad (inks)

Setting: After Season Five

T.V. Character Appearances:  Xander, Spike, Dawn, Giles, Willow, Tara, Anya, Buffybot, Clem

Major Original Characters:  Trio of Demon Brothers

Summary:  Having obtained the scroll they were seeking, the mysterious trio of demons dither before deciding to read it.  Whatever is written inside is bad, and the demons decide they need to find a witch to help them.  Meanwhile, Xander attacks Spike and nearly dusts him before he's stopped by Willow, Tara, and Anya.  They tell Xander that they need Spike to help patrol now that Buffy is dead.  Anya suggests fixing the Buffybot to help convince the world that Buffy is still alive, and Spike reluctantly shows where he's hidden its pieces.  They manage to get it working, though it still has several problems.  Weeks pass while the demons look for a witch and the Buffybot helps patrol Sunnydale.  Dawn takes a moonlight walk alone in a cemetery, upset over the activation of the Buffybot as a replacement for her sister.  When she's attacked by vampires, Spike saves her.  Later that night, in Willy's Bar, Spike is entranced by the demons and forced to reveal that he knows a powerful witch (Willow).  Afterwards, Spike finds Willow first and tells her what he was forced to tell the demons.  She decides not to wait, and instead seeks them out.  When she finds them, she says she's willing to listen to what they want, but first she has some questions about resurrection spells!


The issue starts in an intriguing way, and I'm genuinely curious what's on this mysterious scroll.  And even though the human-looking demons haven't been given names yet, watching them bicker is pretty funny.  This story-arc is a really nice continuity implant to fill in the details of what happened during the summer between Season Five and Season Six; we see who came up with the Buffybot idea, and I assume we're about to see how Willow gets the info on how to bring Buffy back.  Very entertaining and interesting overall, and definitely much better than

normal for the series.


*  There's a lot of talk about why they have to keep Buffy's death a secret or demons will overrun Sunnydale because it has a Hellmouth; but the Hellmouth has been around for a long, long time, and the Slayer's presence in Sunnydale is only a few years old.  Who protected the city then?  Perhaps the Mayor?

* The trio of demons apparently once had a fourth brother: the very creepy Doc.

* In good foreshadowing (if it wasn't retroactively written!), we see Giles call and inquire about how much a plane ticket back to England would cost.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Shadowrun Returns [GAMES]

For one of the planned breaks from our on-going Forgotten Realms campaigns, one of our players offered to run a Shadowrun one-shot.  The game setting sounded reasonably interesting (a mash-up of cyberpunk and fantasy), but otherwise I didn't really have a good feel for what the world was like.  As a happy coincidence, I was fishing around for a new computer game to download and saw Shadowrun Returns offered for $ 15 on Good Old Games.  A turn-based RPG is right up my alley, so I went for it.

There's a lot I liked about the game and a little I didn't, but I think what stands out for me the most is the gorgeous backgrounds.  Admittedly, I don't play a lot of modern games, but I was blown away by the quality of the artwork and how it perfectly established the feel of a gritty, slightly futuristic urban landscape for noir storytelling.  It instantly gave me an understanding of what stories in the Shadowrun universe could be like.  Speaking of stories, the one in Shadowrun Returns is pretty solid.  It starts with a classic hook, as an old runner ally is found dead and your character gets the Dead Man's Call: a pre-recorded video offering 100,000 Nuyen (currency) if you find his killer.  The trail leads to a serial killer and interdimensional invasions in an organic way, and the writing supports the gritty cyberpunk world well.

In terms of mechanics, the turn-based combat system works quite well.  I like how many options there are for customizing a character, as you can be sorta good at a lot of things or really good at one or two things.  The character I created, Big-C, was a troll who only fought hand-to-hand but (against type) was a pretty good decker.  A bruiser with a deep, deep, heart of gold, he was fond of terse replies and sticking to business.

There were a few drawbacks.  The backgrounds, although beautiful, are not particularly interactive, and a lot of cool-looking things really are just scenery.  The gameplay is very linear--apart from an occasional side-encounter, the story is on rails and there's no skipping from point A to point C without stopping at B first.  Despite that, I had a great time with the game and I'm looking forward to downloading the other official campaign created for it, set in Berlin named Dragonfall.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Screamer [GAMES]

One of the games I downloaded from Good Old Games several months back was Screamer, a realism-light auto racing game released in 1995.  The controls were simple to learn: left arrow (left), right arrow (right), up arrow (accelerate), and down arrow (brake)--that's it!  So, easy to play and pretty fun at first.  The game has both individual practice races and a bare-bones "league" mode, which requires you to get at least third place in a series of tracks.  The leagues go from pretty easy ("Rookie") to harder and harder.  The first couple presented a good but fair challenge and I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that, for whatever reason, the game would crash rather frequently.  The Pro league amped up the difficulty considerably, and I couldn't even do better than 8th place on the first track despite repeated tries.  Since it kept crashing, I felt like I had a good enough excuse to delete the whole thing and move on with my life.  I will say, in the game's defence, that my son loved watching me play and he often pretended he was controlling the cars by pulling on a USB cable . . .

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 48 [RPG]

[24 Kythorn 1372 continued]

In the mysterious complex on the far side of Terrigo Multivar's mirror-portal, the adventurers remain stymied by a door guarded by a magical trap. Daisy volunteers to try opening it, and suggests that if every other door in the corridor opened by pressing four panels, then the four corners of this panel should be pressed. The others seem dubious, but when she tries it, the door opens! 

Before she can explore what lays beyond it, however, the strange purplish haze observed by Myst coalesces into a four-armed, insect-like humanoid creature. With clicking mandibles, it appears it is trying to communicate, but only Dolcetto and Myst understand. The creature names itself T'Klack, and says that the adventurers have pleased it by entering into its home and passing the initial tests it has placed in their path. It promises to meet those who survive the next test in an arena for the honour of battling to the death. The creature then begins to fade into mist before disappearing completely.

The adventurers decide to explore what lays beyond the door opened by Daisy. They see a wide room with high ceilings that is a museum or trophy-collection of some sort: massive skeletons, preserved animal heads, and grotesque stitched-together bodies are all displayed with obvious care. Daisy is extremely upset to see that several animal corpses are on display, and begins slamming her axe into the wall. Dolcetto tries to calm her down, but has little luck, and decides to venture into the room to explore it further. She reaches a far corner of the room and notices an open space in the floor and the mechanism for a rope & gear-operated lift. Before she can investigate further, however, three of the giant patchwork corpses begin to twitch and groan before taking herky-jerky steps towards her!

Dolcetto reacts quickly and dashes out of the room, while Daisy, enraged, dashes into the room and begins hacking at one of the creatures with her greataxe. Fargrim initially takes the defensive, but is drawn into the fight as one of the creatures heads for the corridor. Markus finds himself briefly trapped, only to find his rapier won't pierce the abominations' thick, fleshy hide! Fortunately, Gelkar bravely pulls him temporarily out of harm's way; his own attacks on the creatures with his shovel, however, seem to have no effect. Dolcetto summons creatures to help distract and delay the attackers, which she identifies as flesh golems. Myst stays on the far side of the corridor, unable or unwilling to assist in the battle.

Daisy's axe repeatedly cuts into her opponent, but Fargrim's axe (made out of a strange, red metal) seems to have more effect. The vigor of the flesh golems' onslaught catches both of the adventurers by surprise, and each is knocked into unconscious during the battle. Gelkar manages to revive Daisy, and Markus throws a vial of acid at one of the golems to destroy it! Another one focusses on him, however, and he risks staying within its reach in order to ready another attack. The decision proves fatal, as a stone-hard fist catches Markus in the face and smashes his skull against the wall, killing the swordsman instantly. Dolcetto grabs Markus' rapier and then casts a spell to make the area underneath the golems slippery. One of the them falls, and Daisy quickly moves in to decapitate it. 

The remaining golem continues fighting, undeterred. Gelkar is knocked to the ground during the fighting, with a jagged wound from a collision with a glass display case. As he bleeds, the adventurers manage to destroy the golem and then rush to his aid. Myst, Dolcetto, and Daisy scramble to try to stop the bleeding, but their frantic efforts are in vain: the heroic Gelkar expires.

In the aftermath of the tragic battle, Dolcetto takes command. She says the party needs to retreat, heal, and then return to finish their mission. Once the magick that has brought them here expires, they'll be returned to Silverymoon and can attempt to have Markus and Gelkar raised from the dead. Myst and a badly hurt Fargrim and Daisy agree, and carry the bodies of their fallen comrades to a secure room where everyone can rest.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Diary of Jizana M'rell: Entry # 2 [RPG]


RUN TIME: 38584937


I don't have much time to talk, or I'll be late for the oh so important "Barracks Inspection."  I swear we're treated like orphaned toddlers at a run-down boarding school.  I won't go into all of it, but there's a lot about this place that I just can't stand!

First of all is the sheer gall of these Jedi--they act like they know everything in the world, and they refuse to share any of it!  They even have several floors of the library sealed off with secret books there--but I found a way to find out what's inside.  Most intriguing is this place south of the Academy grounds called Sorama--none of the books talk about it, but now that I know where it is I can find out what it is.

I actually don't mind the initiates (my roommate turned out better than first impression led me to believe) and even most of the Jedi masters, but there's a few who are insufferably arrogant--particularly Maisa Trinity (our barracks instructor) and Makomonus, the Peckwa-riding instructor.  This last bastard gets off on not telling initiates how to do something, and then laughing when they don't do it right!  I could learn more watching a decade-old vid than learning from him--I'll learn to ride the damn peckwas myself!

I've started to figure out which classes I'm going to take.  I talked to Anatis who's going to teach me how to use the library and also agreed to be my advisor.  Alek Fury is going to show me more about The Way, and I'm going to attend the head Jedi (Xandriana Bes') class on Jedi history with some of the others in my barracks.  I still need to find two more advisors, and maybe another class--though most of this stuff I can learn on my own--though I haven't decided about lightsabers yet--I keep getting the run-around when I ask about them.  (and that reminds me of another thing!--these Jedi always talk about tradition, tradition, tradition, but they can never explain why the traditions got started--I think I'm going to build a lightshield of some kind, and show them all that there are different ways to do it).

I'm rambling now, but I can hear that bitch downstairs lining everyone up and I have to hurry--I saw Donita, one of the Shadow Jedi, come on a secret mission from somewhere else wanting to talk to the council--I know something's up, and pretty soon I'll figure out what it is.

You'd think the Jedi would know by now that secrets don't lead to trust, and hiding information simply keeps people ignorant, not safe.


RUN TIME: 1837483721


Monday, June 30, 2014

Realms Toowoomba Session # 47 [RPG]

[24 Kythorn 1372 continued]

In a mysterious underground complex on the far side of Terrigo Multivar's mirror-portal, the adventurers continue their explorations. Dolcetto enlists Daisy's help in manipulating one of the panels in the secret room, and hooks descend from the ceiling to draw up the razor wire trap. Dolcetto says she has done as much as she can to render the area safe, and that the party should proceed onward. She says that if the party finds any treasure, it should be split evenly. Gelkar looks somewhat suspicious at Dolcetto taking the lead.

The adventurers move to the door that caused Dolcetto's summoned monkey to fall to its death. With the pit trap disabled, some trial and error is all it takes to figure out that the four handles of the door have to be rotated in a specific way to open it. From the doorway, the adventurers see a room willed with numerous display cases along the back wall. Intricate shelves and padded pillows hold a variety of equipment that gleam with polish. Daisy notices a quartet of wooden animal carvings and dashes forward, only to realize she's rushed into yet another trap!

The display cases somehow merge into a single monstrous creature, whose flesh seems to be made out of the wood, glass, and fabric of the cases! A long tendril uncoils from the creature and wraps itself around Daisy, and she finds herself completely unable to free herself. Fargrim charges into help Daisy, and finds himself stuck as well, as the creature's flesh is covered with some type of gluey adhesive. Gelkar tries to help out, but his shovel sticks to the creature. As Fargrim and Daisy are slowly crushed by the creature's tendrils, Dolcetto summons a monstrous centipede to aid in the fight and covers the area with a shadowy gloom. Working together, Daisy and Fargrim smash the creature into the back wall repeatedly to weaken it. Gelkar suddenly grows enraged as every muscle in his body seems to bulge, and he frees his shovel with a powerful pull and then slams it into the creature twice until it stops moving! Fargrim finishes it off with his greataxe. Afterwards, Myst says she thinks the creature was some type of aberration known as a mimic. The adventurers quickly divide the numerous items that were thrown off the fake display cases, including several high-quality sets of tools, musical instruments, jewellery, and more.

The party then proceeds to the other side corridor and attempts to open the door at the far end. The means to unlock it are quickly discovered. Inside, the adventurers see a room lined with luxurious dark wood and filled with elaborate displays of gleaming metal weapons. Many are quite exquisite and some are strange and exotic, but all look impeccably maintained. Gelkar attempts to step into the room, but is suddenly attacked by a bastard sword which levitates into the air and swings at him! The half-orc retreats and slams the door shut. While the other adventurers discuss what to do next, Daisy slips one of her chalk drawings under the door in a bid to communicate with whatever is on the other side. Much to everyone's surprise, she hears whispers in a foreign tongue in response. Seconds later, the drawing is slid back with a strange runic symbol carved into it. With the aid of a spell, Gelkar is able to read the symbol and says that it means "Danger--Must Protect." Myst casts another powerful spell so that he can converse with the creature directly and relate what it says to the others. Whatever is on the other side of the door says it was trapped there by the "master" and that it cannot leave. Instead, it is compelled to defend the room from all intruders. It says it has never heard of the amulet the adventurers are seeking.

Daisy continues trying to befriend the being from the other side of the door, talking and drawing pictures for the being she calls "I". Dolcetto says the group should enter and break whatever enchantment compels the creature to stay by defeating it in combat, but Daisy is far from convinced. The decision is made to leave it where it is, at least for now.

The adventurers turn their attention to the last remaining closed doorway. Here, a large set of metal doors is divided with a diagonal slash. On a panel nearby are a grid of strange symbols that can obviously be pressed inwards. The adventurers examine the panel closely and, reasoning that almost everything else in this complex has involved a pattern of four, decide to press the only type of symbol that appears four times. The door slides open without incident, only to reveal, a little further on, another door and panel. The new panel has different symbols. Dolcetto, acting on a hunch, presses a combination of symbols only to be weakened by a ray of mystical energy that lances out from the wall. Myst, however, studying the panel carefully, realizes that if the two matched pair of symbols are pressed at the same time, the door will open. A third door and panel beckons. The adventurers notice that four of the symbols do not follow the pattern of the others, and press them to open the door. A fourth, and final door remains. Dolcetto tries a combination that fails, and suddenly the area in front of the doorway is filled with dozens of writhing black tentacles! The scholar barely escapes with her life. After the tentacles have faded from existence, Gelkar decides to try another combination--but this fails as well, and Gelkar finds himself being crushed by the tentacles! In desperation, he activates a magical spool of rope from his belt which flies out and wraps itself around a nearby handle in the wall. Pulling with all their strength, the other adventurers manage to tug Gelkar out of harm's way--alive, but badly hurt.

The adventurers seem to have met their match in the fourth and final door. Meanwhile, Myst carefully watches as a purple cloud of smoke seems to grow in a particular area of the hub chamber. The wizard knows that this represents an area where the walls between dimensions are thin, and that something is watching them from the other side . . .

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dakota North (Marvel 1986) [COMICS]

Dakota North was an interesting attempt by Marvel Comics, in its 25th anniversary year (1986), to move beyond spandex-heavy superhero stories.  The bimonthly title only lasted 5 issues, which is evidence itself of how well that approach worked.  Anyway, the character who lent the title her name is a tough but fashionable head of a private security company with offices all over the world.  Supporting characters who occasionally assist her, but more often get in her way, include her little brother Ricky (a too cool to care type), a cop named Amos (who has a big crush on Dakota but won't tell her), an assistant named Mad Dog, and her father (a former secret agent who still has connections).  Dakota's main antagonist throughout the series is Cleo Vanderslip, a big-wig at a corporation named Rycom.

In Issue # 1, Dakota is hired to provide personal security for Luke Jacobson, a fashion designer whose showroom was recently vandalised.  Dakota arrives at Jacobson's showroom and is mistaken for a model, put in a (hideous!) dress, and given a make-up case to take to Jacobson--only, the make-up case is actually a bomb!  The crisis gets averted, but soon after Jacobson gets kidnapped.  Dakota gives chase to the kidnappers on her motorcycle, which leads to both pursued and pursuer crashing into a department store for a shootout.  After another encounter at the docks, it turns out that the kidnapper is one Otto Shanks, an old enemy of Dakota's father who was hired by Cleo Vanderslip.  Otto is killed and Jacobson rescued.  The plot's a bit murky, but overall it's a charming debut with some wit and interesting characters.  The interior art is not particularly good, but it does provide a style different than most of Marvel's superhero comics at the time.

In Issue # 2, Dakota's little brother has up and decided to move in with his big sister.  He tags along with Dakota on a meeting arranged by Dakota's dad with his old spy friend, George Cooper.  Cooper, realizing that gunmen are closing in, arranges to lose his "gold pen" to Ricky gambling.  The pen is actually filled with an experimental nerve gas, but only Cooper's aware of the fact.  Lots of assassination attempts on Cooper's life are foiled by Dakota, but, unbeknownst to her, Cleo Vanderslip wants the pen and arranges for a model (Daisy) to try to seduce Ricky.  The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as Ricky and the model arrive in Paris.  The plot of the nerve-gas pen and Ricky's peril actually continues through the rest of the series, even if it seems rather slight in essence.

Issue # 3 features Dakota realizing that Ricky is gone and, after yelling a lot, heading off to Paris to find him (leaving Amos behind to secretly pine for her).  Cleo Vanderslip sends a goon to intercept Dakota, and he attacks her in an airplane bathroom!  But she stabs the poor bastard with a plastic boot knife she managed to smuggle through security, proof that you don't need adamantium claws to be bad-ass.  Dakota eventually tracks Ricky and Daisy down at an art museum, but before she can explain another assassin attacks.  She deals with the problem, but by the time she's finished, Ricky and Daisy have set off on the Orient Express . . .
Things get a bit weird in Issue # 4.  Daisy takes Ricky to a private car at the very end of the Orient Express, and it turns out that this train car is also an automobile: once decoupled near Venice, the pair (and Daisy's "butler") drive off the track and head towards Switzerland!  Dakota flies ahead to Venice and waits for the train to arrive, and Amos meets her there as well; but of course, no Ricky.  Then, an evil Sheik Ibn Bheik (Cleo Vanderslip's boyfriend), who has a very mean bird and a chateau in Switzerland, lures Dakota and Amos there, and everyone, including Ricky, is captured and tied up--but after a thorough search, the golden pen with nerve gas is nowhere to be found.  This issue reminded me most of Jonny Quest in spirit.  The letters' page, the first one published in  the series, contains several quite enthusiastic missives about the debut issue.

There's a fun sequence in Issue # 5 where Dakota escapes the bird of prey while tied to a chair.  As she, Ricky, and Amos flee the chateau, Ricky reveals that he slipped the pen into one of the thugs just before he was searched.  The trio make it to the motor pool, but Sheik Ibn Bheik's goons arrive and a fight ensues.  In the melee, the pen gets broken and the escaping nerve gas kills all of the bad guys (and none of the good guys)--convenient!  The trio return to New York.  The series ends on a bit of an unresolved note, with Dakota's father confronting Cleo.  I never really figured out what Cleo's motivation behind everything was, or what was so special about the experimental nerve gas.  At the bottom of the final page, there's a funny note: "This is where we usually put the blurb for the next issue, if there was a next issue, but there isn't." Ironically, the editor's comments in the letters page are clearly unaware of the cancellation, as they talk about future issues.

I think it's fair to say that Dakota North was published at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Fast forward several years, hand the title to an independent publisher, clarify the tone, and I could imagine the title being a minor success.  As it was, though, it's hard to imagine the title ever having much hope of success for a publisher like Marvel during the 1980s.  Still, don't feel about about Dakota.  Although her debut series failed, she ended up making dozens of appearances in mainstream Marvel titles such as Black Panther and Daredevil.