Graphic Novels and Web Comics I Put on Patrick's Reading List

Some of which he even read.

At Popehat, we  celebrate our core beliefs.  To achieve victory, one must attack.  But one cannot attack without a plan.  A plan cannot be formed without mastering fundamentals.  And nothing is more fundamental than reading.  We even think pictures occasionally enhance the experience.  As such, here's a slice of my standing list of recommendations to Patrick.  With bonus material covering Patrick's thoughts where applicable, or he can just comment in the thread like a big boy.  Waxing poetic is not my strong suit, but here goes anyway!

Planetary – Warren Ellis.  Archaeologists of the Impossible!  Planetary are an organization dedicated to charting the secret history of the twentieth century, in a world with super heroes and many other sorts of insane, fantastic things.  It's both a love letter to 5+ decades of pop culture as well as an interesting treatment of those things.  It's entire premise was based on one of those geeky exercises "if Reed Richards is the smartest person in the universe, why is Earth-616 as bad off as our own", though you'll have to read it to discover the answer (which is satisfying). Patrick started and I believe finished it and loved it.

Morning Glories – Nick Spencer.  A group of seemingly random brilliant and troubled teenagers is "invited" to attend a prestigious prep school.  There are no safe spaces at Morning Glory Academy, and I mean that literally.  You have no idea where this is going, and won't at the end of the first six issues.  Except that it's crazy and if you liked it like I did you'll be dying to know what happens next.  Though I have fallen behind (my disposable income is not unlimited, and it's not the only thing I read, I think I'm 3 or maybe 4 trades behind now), it's high up on my "things to catch up on in 2016" list.  It's a different and interesting comic and the characters are never far from my thoughts.

All Star Superman – Grant Morrison.  Widely hailed as one of the best Superman stories of all time.   If you're the sort of person that doesn't like Superman because a lot of Superman stories come off as badly written fanfic, this is a comic for you.  It's a deep and thoughtful take on a character who needs to be in deft hands but usually hasn't been.

Nextwave: Agents of Hate – Warren Ellis.  As comics matured and moved out of the silver age, a few things became inevitable.  People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis showed us that comics might have started out as male power fantasies, they could be other things to.  Lots of other people tried to copy them.  Or tell "mature", "gritty", "dark", "complicated" stories.  Most people failed, and failed horribly.  What we got was often worse than mere power fantasy.  Nextwave is the polar opposite of these things, I am happy to report.  Nextwave is not, to quote, about Learning and Character Arcs and Morals and Hugs.  It is about things blowing up and people getting kicked.  It is about healing America by beating people up.  It's Stephen Chow meets vintage action Arnie at the drive in.  It features violence against broccoli, robots, sort of "other beings" and the six greatest two-page panels (lain out back to back) in the history of comics.  Did I mention explosions and kicking? It is especially about THINGS BLOWING UP and PEOPLE GETTING KICKED.  All of the delight you might have once felt when rising on Saturday morning to begin the ritual viewing of cartoons but later discovered was fake because it turned out all of those beloved cartoons were bad?1  It's real, and it exists in Nextwave.

Wytches – (Scott Snyder and Jock) – horror series that debuted this year.  What would you trade to the things out in the woods for immunity to cancer, or prolonged life (while looking young and fit)?  Their price is high.  The first trade is out, and proved to be an interesting twist on a this very old formula.

Atomic Robo – Brian Clevenger (writer and co-creator) and Scott Wegener (artist and co-creator). Now available as a free web comic (Volume 1 Chapter 1).   I guess I might try to describe Atomic Robo as a golden age comic done in a 21st century style.   It's not gritty or dark but it's gleefully ridiculous, often thoughtful, sometimes touching.  Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne battle evil in all it's forms throughout the decades (often with nods to the age in the process).  Features one of the greatest comic book villains ever, bar none.   If you had been 15 when finding Atomic Robo you would have immediately moved to set all of your table top gaming in it's universe (unless you were doing it in the Planetary universe instead, which is understandable).

Selling out: you can support us by purchasing any of the above through Amazon using our affiliate link over on the right.  If for some reason one of these is not available through the store let me know and we'll add it.  Or just order it on your own, that's cool too. Even better if you have a fun local place you can go through.  Tell them we said hello.


Kaiju Dreaming

The road that lead to the next Godzilla movie (release: imminent) was an unlikely one, but not altogether unexpected. 1998’s debacle notwithstanding, Toho is not inherently against being offered what I assume is large amounts of money for licensing. Director Gareth Edwards has never helmed a project whose budget surpassed 500k. But the work he did on that project, Monsters, was extremely promising. He wrote a character drama with a giant monster backdrop. Most importantly, Monsters suggests that Gareth Edwards gets Kaiju. That’s important. It’s tremendously important. To 8 year old me, staring across a summer in a new place hundreds of miles from where I was born and had grown up, it was one of the few things that mattered. I had two passions: video games and monster movies. I had an Atari 2600 and I loved it, but there was nothing quite like an arcade. Arcades sent me into a sort of trance. The world just faded away as I moved from one cabinet to the next, mesmerized. Monster movies were one of the few things that came close.

I don’t know how I developed a taste for either horror or monster movies. I was pretty afraid of the dark as a kid. But I did love dinosaurs, and movie monsters are a natural transition for a kid who is obsessed with dinosaurs. Movies like The Land that Time Forgot, The Last Dinosaur, and Dinosaurus! provided easy transitions into the broader realm of monster movies, and monster movies themselves are just an offshoot (or are offshoots, really) of horror. I can clearly remember my first: The Giant Gila Monster. I was in complete awe after ignoring significant portions of the build up. Effects didn’t matter back then. Here was something like a dinosaur, something impossible, but something that could have been menacing my block. I was impossibly hooked. At that age – 7 or possibly even 6 – I think what I really craved was stimulus for my imagination. Looking back, I think my father had an acute understanding of that. He had found me watching it and sat down to watch with me.  We talked through parts of the movie (I being absolutely terrified, watching parts through my hands).  After it ended, I remember asking him if such things could be real.  I mean, I knew there were no more dinosaurs, I had seen fossils and read many books.  But this was something else.   I can see his expression, sober and somber “It’s a big planet, and I don’t think we know everything there is to about it”. The perfect answer.   Like Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (and later, Dr Who), Monster movies became something we shared.  A secret language we had that nobody else understood.   How could I not have given over my heart, mind, and soul at this point?  I was hooked.

I was an active kid who loved to play outside, with friends. Monster movies became a drug for me, though, even if they didn't quite rival Arcades. We were fortunate to have a nearby metropolitan area (such as it was) which had a station dedicated to this stuff. I had a couple of summers of monster movie heaven. Viewings snatched and stolen on Saturday mornings and late Saturday afternoons, and occasionally on week days, in between play time spent outside doing whatever (roaming, exploring, playing Star Wars, going hours and hours without every seeing an adult). I watched every one I could get my eyes on. Them!, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Tarantula, Beginning of the End, The Monolith Monsters, Creature from the Black Lagoon. . . no monster movie was above viewing. But few of them managed to get under my skin like the king of all of them: Godzilla. I watched all of the Showa series but one movie, as many times as I could. Even my friends – friends who loved video games, arcades, Star Wars, Tron, Indiana Jones, and Superfriends – thought me odd for this.

And then it was all gone. My father was transferred, and I found myself staring down a summer in a strange, new, location with no means to get a fix in sight. I was shattered. I would get each week’s new cable guide frantically scanning for signs of. . . well life. Civilization. Surely some person in this godforsaken place understood what I needed? VCRs appeared not long after this and there was once a time (the authors of this blog understand it well) where families would rent a VCR for the weekend, and a handful of movies to go with it. I couldn't ever get anyone interested in renting monster movies, though. Eventually proper monster movies and even Godzilla himself, found their way to my TV in this strange land. But there were lean years, before they did. I don't remember when the dreams started. I had been in my new home for longer than a season, though, possibly two. Long enough to make new friends, but recognize that I was very decidedly on the outside of most of the social groups I was around. I don't know what kicked it all off. I had always been prone to vivid dreams and nightmares. But these dreams. . . I wonder if they were inevitable. I wonder if that dry spell did something deep inside the recesses of my mind.  Pulled something loose, as it were.

The first sort was in some ways the worst; I dreamt about scanning the cable guide for monster movies; typically fruitlessly. The banality of these dreams hung in the air even after waking, casting a pall over the day. Sometimes in these dreams I found something, something that was coming on that I would be able to watch. The disappointment on waking up and realizing not merely that there was no new Godzilla fair to watch is surely trumped by the fleeting promise that there was. But these dreams occasionally took strange turns, where I not only found monster movies, but the titles were unrecognizable. What coded Lovecraftian things did I witness back then? Would that the titles had stayed with me on waking, just once (or perhaps it's for the best that they did not). I always *knew* this was some as yet unseen monster movie. And I always knew when they were Godzilla movies (in my dreams, they were never titled “Godzilla vs X”). In truth it was after that sort of dream started that the feeling they left me with turned. Disappointment at these things not existing (and my not even having poor substitutes to turn to) gave way to wonder. The dream of these movies was powerful. The dreams eventually (and only very occasionally, at that) changed. I started to catch glimpses of movies that did not exist, showing Godzilla battling familiar foes in unfamiliar settings, or sometimes even strange new creatures. Years later when I finally discovered Lovecraft, I wondered if perhaps he could have explained all of this to me. I did not have many of these dreams, but they were good dreams.

The dreams again grew stranger and more vivid still, often intense to the point of forcing me awake. There was no middle man this time; I was *there*. Some of them were absurd (twice as a famous actor shooting a monster movie, the monster in question threw a tantrum on set and I suddenly found myself living a part I was supposed to be playing, scrambling to escape impossible doom). Some of them were the genuine article – I can recall frantically trying to convince a general not to go ahead with some absurd plan to try to kill Godzilla. No one else could perceive some threat that I could, and only Godzilla would be able to deal with it. I remember manning another where I manned a sort of watch station on Monster Island, carefully studying the activities of creatures less they become active again. The last dreams, though. . . these I think Lovecraft would have understood all too well I found myself in hilly (if I was lucky, such as it was) or flat but otherwise featureless terrain, in the middle of who-knows-where. *Something* lurked nearby (as much as nearby counts for creatures hundreds of feet tall). I would scramble about looking for any place to shelter but never find it. Tension would mount as the feeling of being exposed would begin to smother me. Sometimes, *something* would shake me to the core (a roar? A thunderous footstep? Glimpses of a monstrous form off in the distance as the moon appears between clouds?) and I would wake with a start. Alone and irrelevant, entirely unsure of my place in any world. These were terrifying dreams. But I sometimes welcomed them.

The dreams stopped coming after a couple of years; after I had finally found monster movies again (if less frequently than I used to). I've never stopped having nightmares, though I don't have them as much as I used to. Some of them have travelled down stranger tides than monster movies. None of them has quite captured that feeling of wandering on a plain, alone, waiting for a titan to come and render me entirely irrelevant and lost, not even knowing myself. I think Lovecraft understood that. I think Guillermo Del Toro understands it. Monsters suggests to me that maybe Gareth Edwards does too. Sometimes I wonder if the dreams stopped because I lost something important. Sometimes I wondered if they stopped because my brain figured out a way to provide me a little cover. I miss them, terribly.

I'll see Godzilla in the next few days. Will the king return to reclaim his throne? I'll go because I have to know. I'll go because I hope to catch a glimpse of that feeling those most terrifying dreams left me with, writ impossibly large. I've been waiting to see Godzilla for months. For true, years. Since almost as far back as I can remember.

Get to Know Your Authors: Arch-Nemesese Edition

The Power Puff Girl Blossom, or possibly Sun Tzu, said "know thine enemy".  It turns out that you can also get to know someone by knowing their enemy.  Or enemies, as the case may be.  Here is a rare peek inside the secret world of Popehat.

Patrick's arch-nemesis is Emperor Grog.  Emperor Grog is a hyper-intelligent male silver back gorilla.  Possesses exceptional strength for a male of the species.  The list of horrors he has perpetrated over the years is too long to detail here, but can be read further at [REDACTED].  Emperor Grog was most recently active in New England.  Intel suggests he was actually there to bring forth [REDACTED]; it is not known how this was prevented.  Grog was not captured and his  current whereabouts are unknown.

Ken is currently lacking a "heavy weight" arch-nemesis.  David suspects the endless string of Gomers who try to take up the mantle are in fact the results of an elaborate prank being played by one of the other authors, likely [REDACTED].

David's arch-nemesis is the idea that Art can only be understood by the few, or is cheapened when accessible by more.   There is some evidence, however, that in fact Time is really pulling the strings.

Grandy – my arch-nemesis is, as ever, physics.  Gravity in particular.

Wednesday Night is Popehat's Semi-Annual Weekly Diablo 3 Night

And it will be, from last Wednesday night until forever.  Or until Patrick and I tire of the lot of you.  Or of Diablo 3.

We'll be in the Popehat Steam group chat lobby at 9pm EST sharp and we'll just arrange games based on how many people show up.  Last week we had enough for two games until the servers wet the bed.  Things should go more smoothly this week.  Everyone rolled a level 1 and some progress was made and we'll just keep trucking that way.

You can become a member of the Popehat steam group by sending me a PM on our forums or an email (our names at popehat dot com)  with your SteamID.

You are free to bring a friend as long as the following conditions are met:

1. Patrick and I do not actively dislike this person.  Sorry, you'll just have to roll the dice here if you are unsure.  But there will be consequences if you bring the wrong person.  Oh yes.

2. This person does not annoy the shit out of Patrick or me.  See above concerning consequences.

3. Conditions 1 and 2 are null if and only if our sometime co-blogger Derrick shows up, in which case Derrick will create funny cartoons about the annoying person using Microsoft Paint. Additionally, you will be awarded bonus points, redeemable for fabulous merchandise, in Hell.

This has the potential to be at least as much fun as a weekend in Ottawa, which I learned today is the capital of Canada. But only if you help us to make it so. Won't you join us?

Addendum: If you are a member of the popehat group, in steam you can go community -> groups and then in the list "Popehat" should appear.  Further, there should be a tiny little link saying something like "0 in group chat".  Click that and voila, you are in the popehat chat lobby!  You actually don't need to give me your SteamID (I forgot about this, and that's understandable) though it should appear in the upper right under "JoBubba's Account".  You can click on your profile and select edit profile (right side) and see your profile name.  Just remember if you choose something rather generic there, say "Chris" (pulling an example out of my ass), when I search for you to add you to the group I'm going to come up with 100 people and I'll have to determine which one is you.  This will annoy me, and it will annoy Patrick by proxy.  So don't be affraid to let your inner script kiddie/goth-overlord/juggalo loose and give your profile an awesome name like "Lord Doomspike Souldrinker".

Friday Will Tug at your Imagination, One Square at a Time

At least, it will if you are playing around with Dave's Mapper.  I'm not sure how he did this.  It appears Dave (and friends!) sat down and drew himself some dungeon levels, old school style.  But he drew lots.  Lots and lots.  And then he drew some more.  And he divided everything into sections, which he scanned and uploaded.  The tool randomly takes sections and splices them together, ensuring that there is a proper path through the dungeon (some areas can be blocked off, but that's good; it leaves room for  good DM to add detail).  Fans of tabletop gaming that tended towards pen-and-paper RPGs will immediately love it.  Anyone else who is curious about why we love some of the things we love is encouraged to take a look.  The maps spring off the page and tug at the imagination.

Today in CRPGs

Some guy once said "may you live in interesting times".  We're not sure how we feel about this; not because it's a double edged sword kind of thing to say but because we imagine it was ironically uttered by a smug hipster type to some old guy who was just struggling to make sense of an ever changing world (who among us doesn't do that, really?).  We'd like to buy the old dude a beer and explain that technology is not going to ruin everything and the Hipster just secretly wants a hug and not to worry about him.  We would then follow this gesture up with a crotch punch sandwich for the Hipster.  Violence doesn't solve anything, but sometimes these things have to happen.  All of that said, these are interesting times for fans of indie CRPGs, for values of "interesting" that actually mean it non ironically.

Avadon: The Black Fortress from Spiderweb Software was just released on the Macintosh.  We expect the Windows beta to start soon.  This is a new series for Vogel, so we are pretty excited to see what he unveils.

Work progresses on a sequel to Knights of the Chalice, now titled Fantasy World Engine.  The title reflects the author's desire to make it a scenario driven game, and I believe plans include the release of editing tools for players to create such scenarios.  Also this time around there will be a more "full flavored" version of the D20 rules.  9 races (up from 3), 14 classes (up from 3), and more feats than you can shake a vorpal shovel at.  KotC was a fun title, and the sequel is one to watch.

Steady progress continues on Frayed Knights.  We're extra excited about this one because (1) the last hecatomb actually included 112 sactifices, giving us a little extra power and (2) this one is a first person party based game in the style of Wizardry or Might & Magic.  Something of a lost art these days.  Frayed Knights is looking to score high on the character quotient if the Preview chapter is any indication.  It's not often you get to field a party prone to bickering with each other.  Humor and Gaming seem like natural fits but the truth is you don't see genuine humor, or sarcasm, in games very much.  Here's hoping Frayed Knights is worthy blending of the two.

They're not Indy in one sense, but Runic games'  Torchlight II is something we are looking fortward too.  Travis got his start as a one man show when he released the much beloved Fate.  It's been a bumpy ride for him; a MMORPG/Diablo hybrid follow up called Mythos was swallowed up when Hellgate's failure caused Flagship Studios to fold (they were funding the project, you see).  Not to be deterred, Travis shifted fears and released Torchlight, a proper followup to Fate.  Torchlight II will be a more robust game, however, allowing Co-op play online.


Josh's Helherron Guide

Our favorite guide to one of our favorite games has recently resurfaced.  Unfortunately the maps section doesn't appear to be working (despite the files being there), and I haven't had time to determine why.  For now, you can download the guide below.


At a later date we will probably do proper hosting (the guide is in HTML).  I'll post an update once the maps are working.


Update: maps should be working now.

Happy Birthday Ultima IV

Sort of. . . I'm informed that today is the 25th anniversary of the Apple II release of Ultima IV. I can't recall if it came out on the Apple IIc/e before any other system and don't particularly care.  There is never a reason needed to celebrate this milestone, but a release anniversary for one of the major computer systems is a fine reason to rub some funk on the celebration.  We don't like to pass up a chance to discuss Ultima IV here at Popehat, because it remains one of the most amazing examples of a hobby we hold dear, even as we get older and have less time to devote to it.

The story – in Shay Addams'  book is that Richard Garriot was going through a period of depression post Ultima III, something Popehatians can relate to.  Ultima III was an exceptional game, one of the first if not the first computer role playing game to feature tactical combat.  Combat took place in a separate screen from the world/dungeon maps, in an overhead perspective on a grid.  Players moved their little guys (and gals!  And, uh, larks.  Ultima III had some really weird races and classes) around on a grid trying to smash monsters before being smashed in kind.  It was a radical and wonderful departure at the time, one that would spawn an entire new line of CRPGs, from Wizard's Crown and Pool of Radiance through Fallout.  The combat would serve as a major inspiration for  indie developers like Tom Proudfoot (Nahlakh and Natuk) and Jeff Vogel (Exiles, Avernums, Generforges. . . oh my).

Ultima III was an excellent game.  It was shining example of the genre at the time, and that was part of the problem.  Something was eating at Garriot.  CRPGS up to and including Ultima III were nominally about players assembling a band of heroes (or sometimes, a lone hero, as was the case with Ultima I & II) and then saving the town/kingdom/world from some evil thing or another.  This was generally done by killing monsters by the thousands.  It's an entirely consistent position with the genre, going back to its table top roots.  What Garriot was recognizing (I'm going from memory as I haven't read Shay Addams' book in ages.  But I ordered a fresh copy) was that something had been lost in the transition from table top gaming.  Computer games couldn't – at the time – really replicate the interaction between players.  And only this decade has software arisen that allowed interaction with a human Game Master.  But it was more than that.  While table top RPGing often involved slaughtering monsters by the horde, it often involved other things.  You know, actual role playing.  Whether it was teasing some important clue out of a local magistrate, or trying to prevent the assassination of a regent in a complicated political setting, or trying to fool some dark god and prevent his rise, tabletop role-playing games provided a very rich canvas on which  players could imprint their adventures.  The monsters and the loot were always there and always fun, but the greatest adventures always revolved around more.  They were the deeds of Frodo, Conan, and Elric brought forth from the pages of books and acted out by people who had grown up loving those books, adding new twists and ideas.

CRPGs had none of that.  The stories – the saving of the worlds from the great evils – were always the thinnest of things, but it wasn't just about story either.  Killing monsters and getting loot was really all they offered.  Even Ultima III – whose plot was excellent for the genre at the time – still revolved around these things.  Worse, games often rewarded players for decidedly un-heroic behavior like stealing.  Ironically, perhaps, the Ultima games were famous examples.  The player got ahead (no small feat; the Ultima games were not easy ) by robbing merchants blind, even if the merchants were scurvy dogs on the Isle of Buccaneers in Ultima III.  A disconnect existed between the player and the game world, even in worlds as awesome as Origins (and they were noted for this, well before Ultima IV).  NPCs, at their best, were vending machines for the players.  There was richness in tabletop RPGs that simply didn't exist.  And it couldn't all be explained away by the limitations of the medium.

The front of the Ultima III box pictured a rather nasty looking daemon.  As such, the game came under fire from some right leaning, parental type groups.  It came under fire for all the wrong reasons.  Computer games are not vicious seeds of Satan that corrupt our children or anything like that (like anything else, as a parent you wouldn't want your kid spending all their time with them, nor would you necessarily want your kid to play certain games at certain ages or even at all).  Garriott wasn't condoning Satanism or any other kind of ism by putting a big mean daemon on the box.  But Garriott was at a peculiar time in his life, and the criticism none the less struck home.  There were problems with CRPGs as he saw it, and the criticism was close to those problems if inadvertently so.

And what we got was Ultima IV.  A game with more than its fair share of monster smashing and loot grabbing (particularly in the final dungeon, The Abyss).  But also a game where being a paragon of what it is to be heroic and noble was not just encouraged, but required to win.  The game moved beyond monsters and loot even as they remained a big part of it.  Players found themselves in pursuit of enlightenment, practicing the eight virtues (Compassion, Honor, Humility, Honesty, Justice, Sacrifice, Valor, and Spirituality).  Suddenly players had to stop and think about what they were doing.  Helping people who needed it – whether by donating blood at the local house of healing or giving a beggar a few coins – was an important part of the game.  So was allowing certain, "non evil" types of monsters to flee battle if they so chose.  Lying was verboten, and the almost unfathomably deep conversation system provided more than a few chances for players to do that.  Ultima IV's world was a sandbox and many of your actions affected your standing in each of the eight virtues, for good or for bad.  Garriot made Ultima IV's Britannia a land of darkness and strife, in need of a shining beacon.  And you, the player, were it.   Literally; the game began with you creating a character and taking a quiz filled with wonderful moral quandaries of the "do you honorably report a poor farmer for stealing bread to feed his family, or compassionately let him off?" variety.  The character was one from our world who had wandered into the games'.  The game practically begged you to enter your name in when you created a character, and it's clear this journey was considered *your* journey.  Decisions in the game revolved less around "well, what will net me the most gain so I can go kill the bad guy" to "what would *I* do if I had been sucked into this fantastic world?".

Ultima IV was a revolution.  Anyway, if you are curious don't listen to me.  Try the flash version, which we have mentioned previously (I'll link to that post as soon as I find it).