I will not start at the beginning. I can’t possibly, or I’d never start writing these blogs. And I promised my pal, SolomonLox, that we’d channel some pent-up musings, reflections, or, in his case, recipes, that have been on our mind since the first incendiary sparks of a fiery 2020 rose up in mid-March, into new posts.
If I did try to start at the beginning, tracing my rejuvenated obsession with gaming and tabletop RPG’s in particular, I might never get around to reflecting on my current state of mind, my pandemic reading list, or recent Roll20 exploits. Plus, that would require too much organization on my part (so as to not upset the chronology). Another pal, HolyBeeOfEphesus, employs a workhorse mentality to his note-taking, sequencing, and thoughtful composition of blogs, evidenced most notably in his Used To Be My Playground series.I’ve seen the preparatory legal pads, ladies and gentlemen, and that guy works. Me, I’m just going to start rambling.
Let me instead start with a recent fantasy read and its connection to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. WFRP (“whuff-rupp”) for short. To borrow terminology from my favorite podcast, The Grognard Files, WFRP wasn’t my first RPG, nor was it my last, but it certainly is my everything. Future installments of this blog series will delve deeper into my adolescent explorations of TSR’s classic games and then draw a line from the Talisman boardgame through Games Workshop and into that first edition WFRP tome that I so cherished as a teenager. It may even feature game recaps from my currently underway 4th edition Enemy Within campaign.*
*It will most certainly feature those game recaps because I’m already in the habit of writing them for my players and, something else I’ve learned from The Holy Bee is that no amount of writing should go to waste. Why publish those solely for the benefit of my four friends when I could perhaps double that number by posting publicly?
In the spirit of self-mythology, I can trace the trajectory of my life back to the moment I got my first mixtape. I didn’t ask for it, it appeared because someone had something they wanted to share. The only thing that beats someone giving you a mixtape is someone else asking you to make one for them. I used to love doing this in high school, but somehow between then and now, I lost the spirit. One of the fortunate byproducts of this quarantine was a friend reaching out and asking me for some music. Like I said, it’s a great feeling.
The mixtape feels like an ancient, lost nerdy art. It’s one of the many fads that saw its prime before the digital age,and lost something in translation. I treasured my $49.99 Discman and the terrible headband earbuds that came with them, and every 80 minutes I didn’t really mind the effort it took to find the next disc. A finite amount of time on a CD-R meant you had to get down to business.
What separates a playlist from a mixtape is intention. The classic homemade mixtapes are well-planned procedures, like surgery. Think of the cliche of making a mixtape to confess your feelings to someone. You got to strategize and really plan that biz out! I feel like the whole point of mixtapes are to use songs as shortcuts to the feelings and deep thoughts seeded in our mind-hearts, and summarize them in four minutes or less, preferably with a Sam Cooke-type, or maybe Brittany Howard (exceptions notwithstanding).
A playlist is like a collection. I am one of many people I know that uses a playlist to just collect new songs that I like. This is a great feature, and one of the many boons to come from the digital age. I love my Spotify! But, having a bucket of songs to shuffle through is not the same as hearing a mixtape organized with intention, a crafted message from one person to whoever is listening. So, in the wake of the coronavirus and the potential onslaught of monster killer wasps threatening Washington, I’m searching for shortcuts to mind-hearts. Make me a fuckin’ mixtape!
You know what? Absolute Carnage #1 by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman is, actually, really pretty good. Why the qualifiers? Because I’ve never been a big fan of the character, and what little interest I did have in Spider-Man’s stable of symbiotic super-villains dropped off considerably as the ultra-violent aesthetic swallowed up the 80’s anti-hero boom and suddenly, painfully, took precedence over any kind of decent comic book storytelling or artistry. Subconsciously I think I’ve somehow equated the Punisher/Deadpool/Venom-Carnage fanbase with the same people who can’t stand seeing a Black Captain America or a Jane Foster swinging Mjolnir. I don’t have time to waste on that nonsense. So, coupled with my disinterest in the characters, I also assume any new books featuring those guys would therefore target that audience. Pass.
Despite developing an appreciation for the work of Donny Cates, if it hadn’t been for our “Fresh Start” focus group project, I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading the first issue of the new Venom series (see above). And then I would have missed out on arguably the hottest team in comics right now. Ryan Stegman’s work is a revelation, and the storyline involving new, unexpected layers to the symbiote lore has been everything you want from comic book fantasy. Primordial cosmic chaos, terrifying cultish machinations, and millennia-spanning mystery. And, again, totally unexpected (particularly given how terrible the most recent attempt at de-mystifying the symbiotes had been during Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy run).
To cut to the chase: Absolute Carnage #1 is a fantastic horror comic. Coupled with Ewing and Bennett’s Immortal Hulk, these are the kind of books that, I’d argue, we’ve never seen dressed up in cape n’ tights veneer and haven’t been worth a damn since the EC heyday.
I’m not lazy by any means. I’m swamped. “Idle time” isn’t what it once was and finding shit to write about every week has its challenges. That said, my experimental effort at a blog entry title that, much like a spontaneous tweet accompanied by an image or two, can communicate everything I need should, also, force me to blather on introspectively in the most blog-like of fashions. Which is what I just did.
But maybe I should expand a bit while we’re here? Last week’s House of X was everything the Marvel hype machine made it out to be: big, beautiful, and portentous of exciting things for our long-maligned mutant friends. Ever since news broke that he was returning to Marvel, I have felt strongly that the company really needed Jonathan Hickman. Reading the first two issues of these interconnected titles, and I’m reminded how much the X-Men in particular needed him.
X-Men continuity is some nonsense.
There are no rules here. There is no order. Just random unconnected gibberish.
I just wrote 5000 words on when someone can, and cannot, utter the phrase “Omega Level”
This is a job I have in the United States of America.
The first issue of Powers of X (read as Powers of Ten) works in tandem with House of X by painting a broader picture of mutant history and legacy. The “tens” in question are a “zero” year, ten years ahead (the present continuity), one hundred years into the future and, of course, one thousand years into the future.
For some time now I’d been trying to transition from straightforward weekly new release bulletins to something a little more bloggy (read: pathetically self-indulgent), but related to comics all the same. That War of the Realms rundown really burned me out. Not just with writing brief four-color reviews either — I was worried that I needed a real break from superhero books. I’ve been reading and collecting comics pretty much nonstop for over thirty years and, for whatever reason, these last few months had seen my unread stacks pile up to unprecedented heights (save for the stupid WotR tie-ins, given my stubborn insistence that I read every damn page in order and on time) and my enthusiasm for reading the latest installments of some of my favorite capes n’ tights books had stalled considerably.
Then Comic Con happened.
It was another joyful blitz of pop culture enthusiasm, this time accompanied by more friends and family than any prior year. It was particularly fun to finally be able to share this experience with my kids, knowing full well that they’d find something to gravitate towards and get excited about. JDG spent a lot of time nerding out in gamer panels and demo-ing upcoming releases, and LDG drank a lot of margaritas and joined SS for a marathon of high-profile animation spectaculars.
We had our share of celebrity run-ins too. Aisha Tyler served us beer; RF and Chip Zdarsky are basically dating now; MMJ spent the weekend thinking she posed with Mark Hamill (before the Fluke Skywalker news broke). Speaking of my dear MMJ, without whom I don’t know that I would have ever been talked into this craziness in the first place, all she talked about for days leading up to Con was all that Peanuts swag. And we nailed it. She got it ALL. And, thanks to Preview Night, we got into that Star Trek transporter experience without spending half a day in line.
And I did all the fantastic things that I love about Con. I sat through all four hours of the Eisners (dominating the pool; it’s like the other four people I was with weren’t even trying) and several more hours of scholarly Comics Art Conference discussions. I met Tom King & Mitch Gerads. Bill Sienkiewicz and I reminisced on a mid-80’s convention in San Francisco (he held up the signature line that I accidentally cut by regaling me with stories of a drunken James Doohan and foul-mouthed Mel Blanc). I got books signed by Seth and Gilbert Hernandez. Two new commissions for our coffee gallery came home courtesy of Andrew MacLean and Nooligan. And I roamed the exhibit floor for days buying so. much. stuff.
Once again, I’m foregoing the weekly new release column to focus on a different kind of release: the 2019 San Diego Comic Con variant. With the convention officially kicking off tomorrow, here’s a list of five special releases that are on my radar. These aren’t necessarily the most rare exclusives or even overly valuable variants. These just happen to be five that have piqued my interest.
Avengers #21 – Mondo Variant (Marvel)
I’m running out of wall space, which is why I’m probably going to pass on Rich Kelly’s “Golden Age of Marvel Comics” print from Mondo. Luckily, however, Marvel has taken that fantastic design and used it as a variant cover for the latest issue of Avengers. This particular issue of Aaron and McGuinness’s series has some War of the Realms fallout and features the latest iteration of Phil Coulson’s Squadron Supreme.
Blade Runner 2019 #1 – Artgerm Exclusive Virgin Variant (Titan Entertainment)
Stanley “Artgerm” Lau pretty much does one thing, and he does it really well. His half-body digital paintings are regularly featured as variants for the big two publishers, but I’m excited to see this cover exclusive being offered for Titan’s new Blade Runner series. The book is co-scripted by Mike Johnson, who has done a nice job on another licensed sci-fi property, IDW’s Star Trek, and, along with Michael Green, he’ll be telling new stories in neo-noir Los Angeles.
This book shouldn’t be this good. It also shouldn’t only be three issues. Every year Marvel does one of these anthology tie-ins for its summer event and they’re usually a hodgepodge of tangential short stories by aspiring writers and artists that add very little to the overall storyline… and are largely forgettable to boot.
But War of the Realms: War Scrolls #3 is the last issue of this excellent mini-series, anchored by Jason Aaron and Andrea Sorrentino’s “The God Without Fear.” Now, Mr. Zdarsky is doing a bang-up job with the new Daredevil series, and I don’t want that wrapping up any time soon… But if Aaron is looking for a solo book to tackle once his Thor opus is done, I really would love to see him take the reins for a lengthy exploration of ol’ Hornhead.
Marvel calls this a must-read companion to War of the Realms, and I tend to agree. Not only do you get more of the Heimdall-Daredevil story, but every story has been very well executed. An essential addition for sure.
What I probably should be doing is talking about the incredible Silver Surfer: Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore. Or at the very least, my initial impressions of DC’s Event Leviathan by Bendis and Maleev. But instead I’m rolling ahead with more quick hits on everything remotely related to Marvel’s War of the Realms. After perusing this list of crossovers and tie-ins, however, my hope is that the casual fan will forego all this tangential crap and read one of the two aforementioned books instead. I’m getting ready to bury the hammer, Marvel. Let’s wrap this shit up, yeah?
There are six different books bearing the WotR trade dress this week, and, to be honest, the only one I really think anyone should read is Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #45 by Ryan North & Derek Charm. And that’s not even based on my prior screeds regarding the comprehensibility of superhero event books being dependent on chasing down all the key tie-ins and crossovers either. I’m labeling Squirrel Girl #45 recommended because it’s just funny as hell.
But I’ve got a feeling about Champions, as well. Not that this particular WotR crossover arc is all that compelling, mind you, but I’m recommending issue #6 of this series because I’m pretty impressed with what Jim Zub has been building since taking over the title.
When I started this earnest effort at charting Marvel’s big summer event, my goal was to tackle, first and foremost, the readability of War of the Realms and all of its associated crossovers, tie-ins, and supplements. The idea was to see whether or not I could recapture the wonderful anticipation I used to feel with these types of stories (Civil War comes to mind most immediately), or if disjointed and confusing narratives were going to be the new norm. I haven’t always read all the tangential crap, but I’ve felt like, in most cases, I’ve consumed the majority. Despite that, gaps in storytelling from forced compression or publishing delays have really affected that experience (Civil War II, by contrast, stands out in this regard).
So then, this week, I’m reading the latest installment in the main book, War of Realms #5, the penultimate chapter in Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s epic fantasy/superhero explosion. And I’m thinking… when the hell did we get to South America and what the fuck is the Enchantress doing with an army of the dead… But instead of complaining about linearity, I am treated to Doctor Strange leaning out the window of Ghost Rider’s Hell Charger, piloted by Balder the Brave, while the Sorcerer Supreme plays mailbox baseball with Asgardian zombies. Cool. I’ll buckle in. I don’t know where we’re going, but this is definitely all about the ride.
Originally, my thinking regarding these weekly War of the Realms updates was to focus in on the crossovers and tie-ins that were important to properly enjoying the overall event. I (almost) always enjoy a good Marvel summer shebang, but in recent years I’ve been frustrated with the confusing continuity of some of these mini-series. Despite reading — or trying to read — every comic remotely related to a given story, I invariably feel that I’ve missed something, resulting in an event experience that feels fragmented and unsatisfying. But given how invested I’ve been in Jason Aaron’s fantastic Thor saga, and how much I love his partnership with Russell Dauterman, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I was going to properly enjoy this g-d event, even if it meant buying and reading every one-shot (e.g., Strikeforce), amusing albeit tangential diversion (like Squirrel-Girl), or half-assed shitrag of a limited series (the gawdawful Journey into Mystery).
Hence the nine weeks of labeling all the comics with the WotR trade dress as either essential, recommended, or skippable.
On this particular off-week, however, despite two “essential” reads (see below), I feel like highlighting a book that is fairly inconsequential to the main storyline: Fantastic Four #10 by Dan Slott, Paco Medina, and Kevin Libranda. It’s a one-shot story detailing the early stage of the invasion when Malekith’s forces find their way to Yancy Street. And for those of you who haven’t been reading Slott’s recent FF series, Ben Grimm’s hood is the new operating base for Marvel’s first family.