Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "Hey, Good Lookin', Part 1"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 9

Dark Horse (Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Rick Ketcham (inker)

Setting: Season Three

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Angel, Giles, Joyce, Xander, Cordelia, Oz, Willow,

Major Original Characters: Selke (vampire), Dr. Flitter (plastic surgeon), Lana (modelling scout)

Summary: While macking in the cemetery, Angel and Buffy realize that someone or something has been eating corpses. With Giles' help, Buffy tracks down the beast and slays it. She also gets approached by a modelling scout in a subplot that will probably develop next issue. Meanwhile, Joyce is starting to feel old and concerned about her dating prospects--she makes arrangements to see a plastic surgeon named Dr. Flitter, but then has second thoughts. Good thing too, for Dr. Flitter has been coerced by the vampire Selke (last seen being dumped into a fire pit in ish # 3) into helping restore her appearance and health.


I always thought Buffy worked best when it adroitly mixed real-life concerns with supernatural slayage, so I'm happy to see the Joyce subplot here--everyone goes through phases in life where they feel ugly or alone, and middle-aged, recently-divorced single parents are no exception. As this is the first issue in a multi-part storyline, it's not clear to me where the "Buffy is invited to be a model" scene is going. And as for the main villain, Selke is okay so far, but nothing special. Nor is it clear to me how she survived apparently being burned into dust in issue # 3 (or why it seems to take her so long to recover from wounds, at least compared to other vampires we've seen). But if anyone steals the show, it's the resourceful Dr. Flitter. In the scene here, he has a wonderful moment where he improvises mayonnaise as a "revolutionary healing salve."


* According to editor Scott Allie, this issue officially moves the comic into Season Three. I can't say I've noticed a lot of difference between the Season Two comics and this one, continuity wise, so we'll have to wait and see whether it matters.

* On the letters page, the winners of a contest are revealed. The contest required readers to show that their real e-mail addresses involved Buffy character names. Since most names went very quickly, people had to improvise, including this e-mail from "AOL cannot have an 'Oz' winner, since they require more than two characters for a screen name. So if you can simply change Oz's name on the show to Forbeus, I think it may work out better for us all. ('Us all' refers strictly to me)."

* As I said, I'm glad to see Joyce getting some "screen" time. Now they just need to give Giles something substantive to do . . .

Next Issue

Clone Wars Campaign: Lt. Jaarza

Lt. Jaarza was a character who appeared in the very first Clone Wars Campaign story arc. A security officer in the Mongui Royal Palace Guard, Jaarza had a tendency to switch allegiances quickly. Originally loyal to Regent Alphon D'avilos (Arresta's father), he helped smuggle Separatist droids and arms inside the city-state. During the later civil war between Alphon and his daughter Corinne, however, Jaarza played the role of double-agent: ostensibly working for Alphon but secretly reporting to Corinne. He was quite good at it, and even managed to sabotage Alphon's last-ditch attempt to get Arresta to come to Mongui to help him (mainly by coming on way too strong, so she would have little sympathy for her father). Once Corinne won the war and took control, he became her security chief and lover. After she was deposed by Purity First, he aided her in organizing the resistance that eventually put her back in power. And most notably, he was one of just a handful of warriors who managed to sneak aboard the sphere of the Accelerated in the final session of the campaign to set off the thought-spores and help save the planet. Not too shabby for an NPC who never progressed beyond level 5!

Lt. Jaarza

Soldier 5
Size: Medium
Initiative: +4
Force Points: 3

Strength +2
Constitution +2
Dextery +2
Wisdom + 1
Intelligence +0
Charisma +0

Reflex Defense: + 12
Fortitude Defense: + 11
Will Defense: + 6

Hold-out Blaster + 7, d. 3d4+2
Unarmed +7, d. 1d4+5

Hit Points: 52
Threshold: 21

Feats Include: Point blank shot, precise shot, stunning strike

Skills Include: Knowledge (Tactics) +7, Mechanics +7, Perception +8

Equipment: Hold-out blaster, battle armor, comlink, binder cuffs, medpac, glowrod

Original Description: "Lt. Jaarza is commander of Alphon D'avilos security forces on Mongui. He is in his thirties."

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Northwest of Earth (Planet Stories # 6)

Northwest of Earth is a collection of short stories that loses by repetition. C.L. Moore published several stories in the 1930s featuring Northwest Smith and taken individually, they are quite good. The stories are infused with an unearthly, almost Lovecraftian sense of danger and decay, with writing that is evocative and atmospheric. Set in a future where other planets in the solar system have long been colonized, Northwest Smith is a grim, almost monosyllabic gun-for-hire. Although ostensibly science fiction, very little time or attention is given to the traditional trappings of the genre such as advanced technology, spacecraft, alien cultures, etc. Instead, myth, folklore, and old gods are the theme of most of these stories, which (with a couple of details changed) could easily be published as sword-and-sorcery. Moore's not even particularly interested in the type of gun Northwest carries--it's referred to variously as a "heat-gun", a "ray-gun", a "flame-gun", a "force-gun", and a "power-gun". Nor are the stories plot- or action- heavy. Exposition and imagery are the name of the game here, but Moore is a skilled enough writer that the stories hold the reader's interest: for the first time or two. Then, unfortunately, a pattern appears: Northwest Smith stumbles upon a strange, captivating woman who is alluring but dangerous; he almost falls preys to some sort of hypnotic alien threat, but his sheer force of will allows him to escape; he destroys the threat with his heat-gun and wistfully walks away. Not every story is like that in the collection, but the vast majority do follow the pattern. As originally published, months apart in magazines, this defect of repetition wouldn't be as noticeable. But collected all in one place, the stories quickly become tiresome.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Comics Crossover Classics: "The Terminus Factor"

Not every comic book cross-over has to be a multiverse-shaking mega-event that lasts a year and winds its way through every single comic book the company puts out, plus multiple mini-series and one-shots. When big tie-ins get you down, you need . . . Comics Crossover Classics.

The Terminus Factor

Year: Circa 1990

Issues: Captain America Annual # 9, Iron Man Annual # 11, Thor Annual # 15, Avengers West Coast Annual # 5, Avengers Annual # 19

Reprinted? No

Crucial Backstory Terminus is a giant malevolent space alien/robot with a power lance. When last seen, he was hauled deep into outer space and separated from the lance by Quasar.

The Gist Tiny Terminii nanobyte bacteria evolve their way up the food chain until eventually super-duper huge space robot Terminus tries to destroy the Earth by sucking its juice with his power lance. Don't worry though: the Avengers stop him, and Terminus shrinks into a black hole. Boo-yah!

Back-Up Features A jokey "Media Watch" strip that shows news anchors reporting on Terminii/Terminus' destruction.

Part 1: Captain America Annual # 9 Captain America has some free time, apparently, and decides to accompany a certain Dr. Napier aboard a special subterranean capsule designed to sink through volcanic magma deep into Earth's crust. Somehow, however, the capsule sets off a massive explosion and only a quick rescue by a nearby Iron Man keeps the vessel from being destroyed. Unfortunately, the explosion vents long-buried particles into a nearby stream, and they quickly infect fish and the people who eat fish at a celebratory fish-fry (GO VEGAN!). Although Captain America is too tired from his near-death experience to eat, Tony Stark/Iron Man chows down and becomes an infected zombie like the rest of the townsfolk. Iron Man and Captain America have an exciting fight (honest), until C.A. realizes that exposing infected people to intense cold cures them.

Part 2: Iron Man Annual # 11 In a nearby workshop, Machine Man tries to repair the fem-droid Jocasta after her decapitation in the previous big crossover (I'll get to it someday). Unfortunately for him, the continually-evolving Terminii nanos have infected a bear, turning its flesh into metal and giving it a taste for titanium. The infected bear attacks, killing Machine Man's friend, psychiatrist Peter Spaulding. Machine Man is forced to flee to a nearby factory, which just so happens to be that of Sunset Bain (secretly "Madame Menace"). But even more just so happening is the fact that one Tony Stark is touring that factory. While Madame Menace captures and duplicates Machine Man, Tony Stark suits up and manages to stop the infected bear--though this time, it's heat that stops it instead of cold.

Part 3: Thor Annual # 15 Thor and Hercules fly to San Franciso, alerted by Tony Stark that the Terminni are attacking a nuclear power plant. There, the individual Terminii feed on the plant's energy or something (my notes are sketchy here), merge together, and evolve into a 150-foot sized Terminii robot. Hercules tries to hold it off while Thor flies into outer space to see what happened to the Terminus that Quasar left there. Thor gets gobsmacked, and outer-space Terminus steals his hammer and returns to Earth. An origin story for Terminus is presented here, but once again--sketchy notes. Try Wikipedia or something.

Part 4: Avengers West Coast Annual # 5 The original, 1940s android Human Torch gets his powers back. Meanwhile, and far more interestingly, space-Terminus and recently-evolved Terminii clash and the two 150-foot tall robots leave havoc in their wake. The Avengers West Coast (new school) or West Coast Avengers (old school) try to keep the two separated--Hank Pym even has a goofy plan involving giant mirrors that temporarily tricks them into fighting mirages. But eventually, the two merge into a single 300-foot tall new-and-improved Terminus. A.K.A., it is on!

Part 5: Avengers Annual # 19 Super-sized McTerminus heads to St. Louis, which is the center of North America and the best spot for his plan to drain the continent of its energy. Now, however, he has to face not only the West Coast and East Coast Avengers, but also the rarely-seen Great Lakes Avengers! (this is actually one of the few times I can remember Steve Rogers Captain America fighting side-by-side with John Walker U.S.Agent) Even the Avengers Assembled, however, have little luck stopping Terminus until Thor wakes up in outer space and summons his hammer back to him--since it's currently inside Terminus' body, the entire monster suddenly flies up into space. Quasar flies along to help Thor out, and manages to separate Terminus from his power lance again, which causes the Big-T to start feeding on his own body's energy until he collapses into nothingness.

The Bottom Line: Is This Worth Tracking Down? I kid because I love, but yeah, there's not really a lot here to justify the effort. It's true that these issues are cheap and easy to find online, but this is pretty standard heroes vs. giant robot stuff for the most part. The idea of the Terminni evolving each issue is kind of interesting, and I liked seeing all three Avengers groups together in the same fight. Also, the death of Machine Man supporting character Peter Spauling was a nice suprise. Otherwise though, the crossover didn't have any lasting ramifications or important character development.

Alice in Wonderland [Worth Press]

Lewis Carroll's two Alice stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There are probably the most read and most-frequently adapted stories in the Worth Literary Classics line, so I won't spend a lot of time on the stories themselves. They're nonsense, but a charming sort of nonsense, and have inspired countless works because of their "surreal" or "psychedelic" imagery.

The Worth editions are notable for the inclusion of both the original black-and-white and later full-colour illustrations drawn by John Tenniel--these are gorgeous and add a lot to the story. Four essays are included. "Lewis Caroll: A Paradox" by Morton N. Cohen is a brief biography of Carroll and the history behind the Alice stories. Will Brooker, a well-known pop culture historian, writes "The Further Adventuers of Alice" which is an interesting overview of how Carroll's characters and settings have been portrayed in various media, such as movies, Batman comics, video games, and more. Hugues Lebailly's "The Child-Friends Controversy" was a smart essay to include in the collection, and it forthrightly addresses the question of whether C.L. Dodgson (who wrote under the "Lewis Carroll" pseudonym) was a pedophile. The essay concludes that Dodgson's friendship with, and photographing of, young girls was not remarkable at the time, nor does an analysis of Dodgson's letters or the testimony of the girls themselves betray any sort of inappropriate contact. Finally, there's Rose Lovell-Smith's "Introducing the Animal Characters of Wonderland" which is a quite boring discussion of Victorian naturalism's influence on Tenniel's illustrations.

Next: Jane Austen's Persuasion

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "The Final Cut"

Buffy The Vampire Slayer # 8

(Dark Horse) (Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Jason Pearson & Cliff Richards (pencillers); Joe Pimentel (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz
Major Original Characters: Marty Glass (aspiring filmmaker), Fair Quinn (B-movie star)

Summary: Sunndale High geek and aspiring filmmaker Marty Glass stumbles upon a film canister containing an old black-and-white vampire movie. When he watches the film, Glass learns it contains the soul of a B-movie actor named Fair Quinn who made a deal with demonic powers that didn't quite work out. However, Quinn promises Glass that if the wannabe-director can sacrifice five souls for him, Quinn will ensure he gets to be a feature-film maker. To that end, Glass convinces Willow to "write the script", Cordelia to "star", Xander to be her "agent", Oz to do "music", and Buffy to do "fight choreography" for the amateur film. When they all get sucked "inside" the world of the film, however, Quinn kills Glass and starts to attack the Scoobies--only Buffy beats the holy bejesus out of him, making several movie-related puns along the way.

Review: Actors stepping outside of old films to lure in unwilling viewers is a plot I've seen before in genre fiction, including (most memorably to my mind, for some unknown reason) two episodes of Big Wolf on Campus. The Scoobies also agree to work on the film a little too easily and conveniently, but comics don't have a lot of room to waste on build-up. Still, the idea works well as a Buffy story and continues this series' penchant for light-hearted stories. For those fans out there who felt the series became too dark in later seasons, these comics very much recreate the feel of Season One (even if they're officially set in Season Two).


* A little bit of a twist here, as it's Buffy who does the research to figure out what Marty Glass is up to, instead of Giles (who doesn't appear).

* The art cover is probably my favorite of the early issues, even if it always makes me think Dracula is going to appear.

* The Scoobies are extra silly this time around, with each of them making movie-related wisecracks. Xander gets a post-fight "I was glad to see the lights go down on that performance" (after Buffy uses stage-lights to hit her opponent), Oz goes with "it was almost the last act for us" and even Willow gets in on the fun with "there goes my screen credit." Buffy, as you can see, goes with the classic "OW!" inducing "Take Two."

* A pattern with the Buffy merchandise advertisements has appeared, with two competing companies dueling: "Creation Entertainment" and "Power Star Collectibles." This time around, Creation Entertainment tries to corner the market on "Glassware" by featuring three different Buffy shot classes and four different coffee mugs. I bet beverages would taste better in Buffy-themed glassware.

Next Issue

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Recap # 38

Now that the campaign is officially over, from this point all recaps will appear with "secret" stuff appearing, and I'll eventually go back and "unredact" earlier recaps.

This session began one of the campaign's longest story-arcs. I gave it a title, "The Altered State" that could work for either of the two main adventure hooks I dangled in front of the PCs (starting a revolution on Mongui or travelling to find Tarn in the colony of genetically-modified Arkanians). However, I was 85% sure that they would choose the latter, and only had the vaguest idea what would happen if they chose the former. Of course, PCs never do what the GM expects, so Mongui it was--I was just lucky that the session ended before they actually reached the planet, since I had to scramble to get things ready between sessions.

Here we see the re-introduction of Arresta after her absence in the previous story-arc. I went with a classic moral conundrum: obey the wishes of her present husband and liberate Mongui (because that was the arrangement Jocasta and Stefan had made) or go rescue Tarn from whatever nightmarish dangers he was facing. Some excellent role-playing and high-quality angst in this episode!

Since he did such a good job playing the character in occasional guest spots, the person who ran A'tel took over the role of Bel Sekand as a permanent PC in this session. As we'll see in a couple of sessions, Bel quite literally went out in a blaze of glory :)

One of the things I somewhat regret is that, apart from A'tel in the Corporate Sector and Arresta with the love triangle, I wasn't able to give the other PCs story arcs that really shone the spotlight on them. Sometimes I would lay the seeds, but for one reason or another they just didn't bear fruit--Daal's unimpressed reaction to the apparent return of his father, after years of being thought dead or enslaved, provided another classic element of the Daal-personality: laid-back to the extreme!

Often players/PCs are forgetful about stuff that happened in the campaign, and that is sometimes annoying to a GM. On the other hand, players who are really on the ball are hard to trap! In this session, the PCs wisely remembered everything that had gone on with Poparra the Hutt in the City of Sand story-arc and crushed (literally) the adventure hook that would have drawn them into the second part of the Tempest Feud published adventure. I can't really blame them for being paranoid, though: after all, everyone really is out to get them!



In a strategic sector of space between the neutral Hutts and the neutral Bothans lies the tiny, nominally Republic-aligned, Mongui. In the early days of the Clone War, both the Separatists and the Republic fought over Mongui, and the resulting clash left the planet’s only city in ruins. After the destruction of the Mongui spaceport by retreating Clone troopers, both sides lost interest and, into the vacuum, a civil war began between the Acting Regent of House D’avilos and his eldest daughter over control of the throne. Corinne D’avilos enlisted the aid of the xenophobic Purity First and vanquished her father; yet allies soon became enemies and Corinne herself was forced to flee Mongui with just seconds to spare. Now Mongui exists at the centre of a quickly growing movement to expel all non-humans from Republic space.

And thousands of light years away, humanity itself has been changed. A lost planet, whose existence has been intentionally forgotten, purged from all memory and record. And in this altered state, lies the secret to understanding – and controlling- the enormous power of the anomaly.

On board the Cassadine yacht, the Knife’s Edge, Arresta tosses in a restless sleep. Prior to going to bed she received covert intelligence from her private spy network which informed her that Tarn Tamarand, last seen on board the Republic Medstar frigate Oasis, has apparently gone AWOL. He is being sought by Republic Intelligence and is considered armed and dangerous, with “violent tendencies”. Arresta tosses and turns, but gets up in the middle of the night when she hears a noise and finds a figure in the nursery holding Allegra – it is Tarn, although he has his back to her. He tells her that he’s confused and alone and cannot put all the pieces back together – some of them he doesn’t recognize, like the baby. “This is ours – and you never told me.” He tells her that he has to leave before he’s ready because someone is coming after him and that he must “return what was taken before the rest of the Forgotten escape—two are free already, and they’ll try to stop me. At the altered state. I have to confront the one who’s been behind everything since the beginning—the Empress Uncanny. Go with her, we’ll be together again and we can defeat hear before it’s too late. Please.”

Arresta awakens from what she now believes was just a dream of Tarn to find Stefan sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to wake her from her “nightmare”. He came home early because he missed her, but tells her he can’t stay – he’ll leave the next evening to wrap up a “loose end that has gone on too long”. He gives her a present (a necklace) and she notices he is injured – but he brushes it off. She tells him she is afraid. He promises that when the debt to Jocasta is paid that they can go somewhere and just be a family for a while. “After this, I will never let you go again.” She asks if they can just go now, but he tells her that he owes Jocasta and she reluctantly agrees, before they turn their attention to celebrating Stefan’s return.

The next day, she gives him his birthday presents (an expensive silk tie and a high-end walking stick that converts into a hidden vibro-rapier). He gives her a mystery object to deliver to Jocasta on Etti IV and lets her know that he has arranged for a cottage there for Allegra (guarded by Xam and the Nanny) while they are away. He also warns her that according to his sources, the Purity First they will encounter on Mongui is not like the disorganized rabble she met on Coruscant years ago – this group is disciplined, zealous, and well-funded with high-tech weaponry. They share a loving good-bye as Stefan departs on the shuttle to conclude his business trip.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, on the asteroid which houses the Joriander Beacon, the battle is over. A’tel Por’ten is unconscious and Doxen is in charge. They start the post-battle clean up and find a POW who refuses to talk. They are then notified that there is a small vessel coming in, broadcasting on Separatist channels. They allow it to land on the far side of the asteroid. A scouting mission reveals a small group of Bothans preparing a ceremonial tent. When A’tel wakes up, they investigate but the angry Bothans refuse to talk until A’tel disables their ship and threatens them. Ms. Prentiss reminds A’tel that the Joriander Beacon belongs to the Corporate Sector and is neutral territory, so therefore he does not have grounds to hold the Bothans. A’tel intimidates the Bothans with a show of Force, and in the face of his anger, they reveal they were there to negotiate with the Separatists and are then allowed to go.

Meanwhile, Doxen and Daal have received mysterious messages (from Jocasta) instructing them to return to base. Ms. Prentiss remains on the Beacon to secure it for the CSA and A’tel decides, after consultation with Admiral Vau, to accept a commission and remain on the Majestic as the leader of a G.A.R. strike team. After an angry confrontation with a “short” sighted Quartermaster, Doxen secures transport with A’tel’s help and he and Daal head back to Etti IV.

[A.G. 979]

At the ARC, Doxen and Daal are shown their quarters. They encounter Greesh Leedo and he and Doxen engage in some friendly banter. Later that evening, Arresta arrives on Etti IV on the Knife’s Edge and is greeted by Jocasta, who is surprised to see Stefan’s wife instead of the man himself. Arresta offers her condolences on the death of Kronos and obtains tacit approval from Jocasta to provide a lesson to Sunset Cassandra (who Stefan revealed as the partial cause of his injuries) if she leaves the girl’s fingers intact.

Arresta first decides to visit with Daal. She introduces him to Allegra and he privately makes note of Allegra’s resemblance to Tarn. She then sends Xam, the Nanny and the baby off so she can speak to her friend in private. Observing that Daal looks pale and coughs frequently, she asks about his health and is told of the injuries he suffered at the Beacon. She breaks the news to him that (if her dreams are true) Tarn is in trouble again. She tells Daal that she is at a loss of what to do – she cannot find Tarn and even if she could, chasing after him would cause irreparable harm to her marriage. She cautions her friend that even mentioning her ex-lover in front of her husband can be dangerous. Daal is sympathetic and tells Arresta that he will look out for Tarn. Daal also tells Arresta that her daughter deserves to know her real father.

Arresta then visits Sunset Cassandra, a teenage computer slicer who makes a poor impression with her opening words to Arresta: “You have a very handsome husband.” Arresta’s temper gets the better of her and she breaks the girl’s nose – informing her that she reacts very badly to those who get her family hurt. Threats are exchanged on both sides before the Princess withdraws. Later, chatting with Jocasta, Arresta shares that she will likely be visiting Nal Hutta as part of the Mongui plan and gets Jocasta’s advice that people may be looking for Doxen after he killed the hunter Harno there during his last visit.

Doxen and Daal, returning from a trip into the city, encounter the man claiming to be Daal’s long-lost father. Doxen is confused when the man refers to his friend as “Balan”. Daal brushes off the older man, offering vague promises to speak with him some time later. Doxen also pays the Princess a visit and meets her daughter. He and Arresta exchange news. She updates him on the plans to recapture Mongui and warns him that his assassination of Harno was less secret than he had hoped. He agrees to help on this mission in exchange for Arresta putting in a good word for him with her husband – Doxen is hoping Stefan will tutor him in Malkite ways.
Disturbed by her dreams, Arresta contacts the only other Jedi that she knows – A’tel Por’ten – and, after asking after his health, asks him whether “someone” could contact someone else via a dream state. A’tel confirms that “if we’re talking about who I think you are, yes it is possible.” Later, Arresta leaves a message for her sister Corinne, apologizing for their fight and offering to “go shopping for that item Father never wanted you to have”.

[A.G. 980]

During the briefing the next morning, Jocasta explains that the team will be split in two. She herself will lead one group (including Daal, Sunset Cassandra & Greesh Leedo) while the Cassadines lead the other (including Korkoth, Korg and Doxen). Arresta’s team will focus on re-taking Mongui.

Jocasta briefs her squad that they will be attempting to locate an ancient Arkanian colony using a star-chart obtained from the vaults of Aargau. “Most of what I know comes from Kronos, supplanted by rumor. Several thousand years ago, the Arkanians reached new heights in genetic and bio-physical manipulation—their goal, to create a race of near-humans who lacked the need for sleep and had lifespans several times longer—to create, in other words, a race of near-eternals whose productivity would be virtually unlimited. Their work took place at a research colony on a planet far from Arkania, and appeared to be successful. Their creations had not only the intended benefits, but showed a natural intelligence and grasp of logic and mathematics several magnitudes above that of a normal human. And then something happened—exactly what is unknown, but the Arkanians withdrew from the colony planet and systematically destroyed all records relating to their research. Except one, which they placed in what was thought the galaxy’s most secure location: the vaults of Aargau.”

Arresta briefs both Korg and Korkoth and discusses strategy with Doxen. They decide to recruit Krevlax, who they contact on the Majestic and arrange to pick up on Nar Shadda. Planning to leave the next morning, Arresta retires for the night, but her sleep is disturbed by another dream – this time one that showed a strange planet where the sun is blacked out and where she witnessed Tarn’s death, over and over again – at the hands of Jocasta and her team of Sun Runners.

[A.G. 981]

Disturbed, Arresta breaks down and, when Korkoth arrives to tell “Boss Lady” that the ship is ready, she tells the confused Gammorean that she can’t leave.

Doxen comes to see what the trouble is and she explains that she is at a loss as to what to do. If she goes to Mongui, she feels she will be abandoning Tarn to his fate but if she chases after him again, she will be betraying her husband a second time. Doxen, clearly of the opinion that Tarn is not worthy of her support, reminds her that the Jedi’s actions have never put the Princess or their daughter first – whereas Stefan has made them a clear priority. He suggests she consider asking Jocasta to capture Tarn and prevent his death.

Arresta visits Jocasta and, after revealing that she has knowledge of Jocasta’s former life, negotiates an opportunity to join her on the mission in the hopes that she can protect Tarn. Jocasta agrees – after extracting a promise from that neither Arresta, her associates, or her heirs will oppose her plans in the future. With the condition that Jocasta’s plans must not in any way harm any of them, Arresta agrees. Jocasta offers to wait (briefly) for Arresta to visit Nal Hutta to secure the release of the slave Miklos (former lover of her sister) to provide the influence Stefan will need in order to convince Corinne to draw up on her intelligence agents on Mongui. If Arresta returns quickly, she can join the mission to the Arkanian colony.

Arresta goes to say good-bye to her daughter and is suddenly struck by what she is doing. She is distraught, but comes to realize that she cannot keep chasing after Tarn – abandoning her daughter and her obligations in the process. She reluctantly sends a message to Jocasta that she will take the team to Mongui and that, if Jocasta keeps Tarn alive, she will honour their deal. Arresta advises the others that she is nervous about facing retaliation from Poparra the Hutt (whose freighter and son they abandoned on Endregaad). To that end, she will travel under a false ID (under the name Tava Morgan) and will dye her hair black. Doxen purchases black costumes to disguise his and Korkoth’s identities (which the Gammorean receives with great pleasure, announcing that Doxen is his new “blood brother”).

[A.G. 998]

Arresta is withdrawn during the surprisingly long trip to Nar Shadda, the “Smuggler’s Moon,” where they obtain equipment (including a thermal detonator) and pick up Krevlax, who is eager for revenge on Purity First. Arriving at Nal Hutta’s capital city, Bilbousa, Arresta, Doxen, Korg and Korkoth make their way through the toxic marsh to the “Sapient Zoo” of Kordo Deshillich where they confirm that Miklos is alive and well. Bel Sekand, accompanied by a new blonde female bodyguard makes an appearance. He sneers at Arresta’s disguise, assuming it was for his sake, and introduces his new bodyguard – who just “happens” to be Tarn Tamarand’s sister. Doxen engages her in conversation and she reveals that Bel paid her debt to other Hutts and she finds him to be a good employer. Arresta protests that it was in fact, Tarn who arranged for her debt to be paid and Bel was just the messenger. The auction commences and the bidding quickly escalates into the tens of thousands. Arresta and Doxen determine that rather than outbid Sekand, they will try other tactics, leaving the crimelord to win the auction for Miklos.

When they arrive back at the Knife’s Edge, they find a jade green protocol droid waiting with an invitation to dine with Poparra the Hutt. Seige Commander Korg is instructed to “quietly” destroy the droid, which he does by stomping it flat with one of his massive legs.
With a bribe to Kordo’s majordomo, Arresta’s team learns that the package is en route. They enact a dual strategy – they will send Doxen to negotiate a truce, while the rest lie in wait, prepared to take Miklos by force. They decide to protect Tarn’s sister as well – although Miklos will receive priority. Doxen visits with Sekand and his uniquely overwhelming negotiation style appears to work. Bel agrees to use his influence to convince Corinne to provide access to her rebellion contacts and, in exchange, after the planet is regained and a “third party” unknown to him completes their task, he and the elder D’Avilos sister will remain in charge of the planet.

Both ships then lift off from Nal Hutta and, despite her broken heart, Princess Arresta begins the journey that will bring her back to the planet where her adventures began . . .

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Friday, July 16, 2010

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species [COMICS]

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species is the first collection of the new Black Panther on-going series that started a year or two back. T'Challa, Marvel's Black Panther since the character was created in the 1960s, is presently married to former X-Man Storm, and the two function as King and Queen of Wakanda. The TPB depicts T'Challa being seriously hurt in a surprise attack by Doctor Doom, and Storm faced with keeping the country together during an oncoming assault by Morlun, "Devourer of Totems". While T'Challa's out of the picture, a new Black Panther has to be called into duty.

I picked this up for $ 2, so I can't really compain--it's standard, decent enough super-heroics. It's also a perfect example of how much comics have changed since the Black Panther originally appeared. All six issues of this TPB are devoted to the same storyline, which is really quite basic plot-wise. Few panels, little dialogue, lots of splash pages means that simple stories are stretched out for quite some time, but in comics that are very fast to read. I imagine that in the 1960s this whole thing would have been wrapped in maybe two dense issues that would take longer to read but also have room for subplots.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Torchwood Online Game: Mission # 5

Now we know that not only did Natalie Blake fake her own death by murdering her twin sister, but she killed geneticist Conrad Fischer and stole his laptop full of New Eden's secrets. The goal for mission # 5 is to find out Natalie's current location. Along with the standard background profiles of some of the characters involved, are the following:

* A useless clip from Dark Talk. One caller claims to have seen a pterodactyl flying about Roald Dahl Plass, while another mentions events that I think involve the beginning of the episode Sleeper.

* A short video from Tosh, suggesting that hacking into Natalie's e-mail address could be helpful, and a reminder that people often use passwords of familiar things or places.

* A classified ad for Singles SOS, the dating service that Natalie used to get closed to Fischer.

* A clipping from the Cardiff Examiner, explaining that Natalie is a former cop and presently a Private Investigator. One of her clients is the Cardiff Century Hotel. Both this article and the Singles SOS website talk about her love of her cat, Ardal.

* An invoice from the Standard Mail company, which gives Natalie's address as "Blake Enquiries, 3rd Floor, 48 Stradling Street, Cardiff". The invoice lists a website and Natalie's log-in name.

Here, for the first time, I met one of the downsides of playing the game a couple of years after it was brought out: the fake website for Standard Mail has been discontinued. I later learned that, on the site, you put in Natalie's log-in name and her password ("Ardal", the name of her cat) to discover she's planning a trip to the Cardiff Century Hotel (the solution to this mission's puzzle). Fortunately, even without the site, one could still get lucky and put in the right answer since the hotel is mentioned in the newspaper article--it would just be more of a guess then a clear solution.

Torchwood New Cast (SPOILERS)

Unofficial details on three new cast members for the upcoming American-themed Torchwood have been released. Joining Captain Jack and Gwen will be:

"Rex Matheson, a wickedly funny (operative word: wicked) CIA agent born to make waves. Almost as key to the new season are recurring characters Esther Katusi, a CIA grunt in her early 20s who learns what she’s really made of only when she’s forced to, and Oswald Jones, a convicted murderer and pedophile who will be as shocked as anyone to learn how easily infamy and fame can be exchanged for one another."

Source: EW's Ausiello Files via Dark Horizons

Not sure if I like the CIA angle, spies seem a little pedestrian compared to Torchwood and it probably means more government conspiracy stuff. Oswald Jones sounds like the most interesting and original character, though it's weird they gave him the same last name as Ianto. Of course, this is all very early and plenty of stuff may change--I'll probably stop avoiding spoilers now, even though we're a year out from the show airing.

Last Issue Special # 18: Journey Into Mystery [Comics]

SERIES: Journey Into Mystery

DATE: 1998


Journey Into Mystery has an interesting history. It started in 1952 as a weird/horror anthology series, and early issues had primitive prototypes of concepts that would eventually become Marvel mainstay characters like the Hulk (# 62), Spider-Man (# 73), and Dr. Strange (# 78). In 1962, the series introduced a certain Norse thunder god and its course was set for decades. After issue 125, the series was renamed simply Thor, and continued that way for another 378 issues until finally falling prey to the Marvel sales slump and near bankruptcy of the mid- to -late 1990s. The people upstairs took drastic action, however, and with # 503 Thor once more became Journey Into Mystery, and this time a variety of new features appeared: Shang-Chi, the Lost Gods, and, near the end, Hannibal King ("Vampire Detective"). The sudden change of course lasted less than two years, however.

In the "Fear-Filled Final Issue" (# 521), King is tortured by an evil vampire named Navarro and forced to drink the blood of a homeless man in order to survive. King escapes Navarro's clutches, and teams up with a CIA agent in order to stop Navarro's plans to unleash a deadly biological agent--but the CIA agent is almost killed, and King decides to turn her into a vampire in order to save her life.

The letters page acknowledges the cancellation, but states "we went out with a bang!" It concludes with a note that Journey Into Mystery subscribers would shortly receive copies of the new Thor book instead. "That's right! The thunder god triumphantly returns to his very own title next month, and you'll be there from the very beginning. Face it, True Believer--you've definitely hit the jackpot!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Write Like . . .

This little writing analysis widget is going around the blogosphere, and it purports to compare a sample of your writing to see which famous writer you are most similar to. I think it must be crap. I put in a sample and was told I write like Margaret Atwood. I did like The Handmaid's Tale, so I'm okay with that. To test it's validity, however, I put in another randomly-chosen sample and was told I write like Chuck Palahniuk. To break the tie, I put in yet a third different sample and was told I write like Dan Brown. Talk about blasphemy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "New Kid on the Block, Part 2"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 7

(Dark Horse) (Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson & Dan Brereton (writers); Hector Gomez (penciller); Sandu Florea (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Angel

Major Original Characters: Cynthia (new girl/demon)

Summary: Buffy manages to fend off the "pizza-delivery" vampires with the help of Xander, who explains that he decided to crash the pajama-party because he "had a vision." Angel arrives and explains to Buffy that Cynthia is the mortal daughter of the head vampire, and that she often plays the "new girl" in order to set up a feast for her dad and his friends. However, when they confront Cynthia, it turns out she's not quite so mortal after all: instead, she's a massive demon, straight from the Hellmouth. Buffy and the Scoobies manage to fend off the Cynthia-Demon until suddenly the ground cracks and erupts in flames, pulling the monster below the ground. Angel explains that "The Hellmouth reclaimed its own" and Willow starts thinking up excuses for why there's a pit where the family swimming pool used to be.

Review: Cynthia being in league with the vampires was expected, though the reveal that she's a strange, heretofore unseen type of demon was an odd twist. The ending was also unusual, as it implies a certain method or sentience to the Hellmouth that I don't think has been seen before or since on the show. Still, I think two-part or longer stories are probably a good idea, as the comic needs more space to establish its villains before Buffy sends them to the great beyond.


* I think in my post about Part 1, I said the slumber party was at the Summers' house; in fact it's at the Rosenberg residence, sans parents.

* If I had the money and could travel back in time, the advertisements would allow me to walk down the street wearing a Buffy t-shirt and Buffy hat, while checking the time on a Buffy watch and carrying a Buffy journal. When I got home, I would see my Buffy doorknob hanger on the front door and pull out my Buffy keychain to get inside. After doing a couple of quick shots in my Buffy shotglass, I would sit down and read ten different Buffy novels. I would then be the ultimate Buffy nerd in the galaxy.

* I like the design on the Cynthia-demon, especially the head tendrils.

Next Issue

Monday, July 12, 2010

Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions [Comics]

Everything has a beginning, and apparently the idea of intentionally publishing a series of comics that had a fixed end point didn't come around until 1982! The Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions was billed as "mighty Marvel's very first Limited Series--a special, all-new kind of comic book series designed to run a finite number of issues. . . . [A]s a very special treat to kick off this new format, we have chosen a project that encompasses all of Marvel's stalwart super-stars in a single senses-staggering epic."

It's true, as claimed, that every super-hero in the Marvel Universe circa 1982 makes an appearance in Contest of Champions, but the limited series was only three issues long so most get only a brief cameo in a crowd shot. (if you can identify every single hero in the picture below, you have earned my deep praise and mild pity).
What crisis of epic proportions could bring all of Marvel's heroes together in one place? Well, an enormously powerful cosmic being known as the Grandmaster has made a bet with another enormously powerful cosmic being named The Unknown (Twenty-Eight Year Old SPOILER! It's Death): if the heroes chosen by the Grandmaster can recover more shards of the "Golden Globe of Life" before the heroes chosen by Death, Death will restore to life the Grandmaster's brother, the Collector. On the autre main, if Death's team wins, she gets to slay the Grandmaster. And if Earth's heroes don't participate, the planet's inhabitants will remain in stasis forever.

After a first issue that basically shows the heroes being teleported away from their normal business to hear the rules, issue two picks up with the contest proper. Each of these contests work in exactly the same way: the Grandmaster's team of three and Death's team of three are teleported to the same remote location and charged with finding a shard of the Golden Globe of Life. For some reason, I'm not sure why, each member of the teams decides to go off on their own until they eventually stumble upon a member of an opposing team.* They fight, and sooner or later somebody happens across the shard and that team wins. Then another pair of teams are dispatched, until a total of four rounds are played. It's all very repetitive, but I was only five years old in 1982 and would have appreciated that if I read comics back then.

* It's a little like old Justice League comics, where the heroes would separate and, no matter who the villain was, there would be an underwater threat so Aquaman could get in on the action.

ROUND 1: Team Grandmaster (Daredevil, Russian hero Darkstar, new Australian hero Talisman) beats Team Death (Iron Fist, Invisible "Girl", and Sunfire) when Daredevil manages to swim through icy waters for the shard. A mild upset here, in my mind: Daredevil and Iron Fist basically cancel each other out, but Sunfire should simply outpower Darkstar and Invisible Girl-Woman has the edge in experience over Talisman.

ROUND 2: Team Death (Iron Man, Arabian Knight, new Israeli hero Sabra) manages to even things up by beating Team Grandmaster (She-Hulk, Captain Britain, and new Argentinian hero Defensor). A fair contest, in my humble opinion. Iron Man once punched out the Hulk-Hulk, so I give him the edge over the She-Hulk. However, Captain Britain has been depicted as pretty powerful in recent decades, and I'd definitely favor him over either or both of Iron Man's allies.

ROUND 3: Team Grandmaster (Wolverine, the Thing, and new French hero Le Peregrine) triumph over Team Death (Angel, Black Panther, and Russian hero Vanguard). I know Vanguard is supposed to be the Russkie equivalent of Thor, but Wolverine and the Thing are such heavyweights that Team Death would have to hope Black Panther could come up with some sort of ingenious plan. As for Angel, never really liked the character--flying is cool, but are you really just going to punch bad guys the jaw?

ROUND 4: Team Grandmaster (Captain America, Sasquatch, and new German hero Blitzkrieg) loses, but still wins against Team Death (Storm, new Irish hero Shamrock, new Chinese hero The Collective Man*)! Okay, the results of this match are confusing. Before this round, Team Grandmaster held a 2-1 lead over Team Death. In this round, Shamrock uses her incredible luck powers to snag the shard for Team Death, which should tie things up at 2-2. However, the comic reports the score as 3-1 in favor of Team Grandmaster and that's the assumption the ending proceeds on. Were there World Cup referees involved in the Contest of Champions?

* At this point, you may be saying "Dude, what's up with all the brand-new, and never or hardly ever seen again super-heroes from outside the U.S.?" Well, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions was originally supposed to be a big tie-in to the 1980 Olympics. Since the U.S. withdrew from the Games, however, Marvel creatively repurposed the book. However, the internationally-themed heroes stuck.

Death tells Grandmaster she'll hold up her end of the bargain, but she slips in a heretofore unknown catch: the assembled Golden Globe of Life can restore his brother, but another life has to be sacrificed to power it. In other words, Grandmaster has to commit suicide to bring his bro' back. And he does! The heroes are promptly returned to Earth, and everyone except the Grandmaster presumably live happily ever after until Contest of Champions II in 1999.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Red Pyramid [Book Review]

The Red Pyramid is a new series of YA novels written by Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson novels. Whereas the latter incorporates Greek gods into a modern-day adventure, this one is very much the same idea but using Egyptian mythology instead. There's nothing wrong, per se, with The Red Pyramid--it hits all the right notes for a YA adventure story: cinematic actions scenes, young protagonists who discover they have secret powers, an epic quest to save the world, etc. It's also very well researched, incorporating a lot of real-world Egyptian mythology into a story about the return of the old gods to a modern world. I think what it's missing, however, is that subtle spark of wit or insight that really makes a story crackle. It just feels kinda . . . okay, but never really good. On the other hand, I'm clearly outside the intended audience and a lot of teens on Amazon seem to love it--so it might work better as a gift instead of a book that both adults and YAs will want to read.

Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire [Book Review]

I was given a copy of Baltimore a few years ago for my birthday, and there it sat on the shelf until it finally reached the front of my book queue. It's really an extraordinary work, written and illustrated by Hellboy's creator Mike Mignola along with Christopher Golden. The story creates great atmosphere, as the protagonists travel in an age of general decay, despair, and lethargy as a terrible plague sweeps Europe. Only, the "plague" may have a more sinister origin than a mere virus. I don't want to talk much more about the plot without giving stuff away, so I'll simply say it works great for a couple of nights' bedtime reading if one's in the mood for something spooky.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My New Blog: "Legal Heresy"

I've decided to adopt the mullet approach to blogging: "business in the front, party in the back." Jhaeman's Detritus will remain exactly as it is, but I'll be moving the Random Law Review feature, updates on blasphemy and my dissertation, and any other legal or political posts to my new blog, Legal Heresy. If you are one of those rare people interested in both super-hero costume faux-pas and obscure criminal laws, then I invite you to read both!

Serenity: Float Out [Comics]

Serenity: Float Out is the first comic set in the Firefly universe sense the movie came out a few years ago. I had high hopes, but unfortunately it's a bit of a let-down. The one-shot sees three of Wash's old friends (new characters) assembling to honor him by telling stories of his exploits before becoming pilot for Serenity. The flashbacks are okay, if a bit confusing at times, but as much as I liked Wash, I was expecting something very different. Except for a cameo at the end, none of the other characters from the t.v. show make it into the comic. If we hadn't been so starved for Firefly/Serenity material over the past few years, I might be more forgiving.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "New Kid on the Block, Part 1"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 6

(Dark Horse) (Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson & Dan Brereton (writers); Hector Gomez (penciller); Sandu Florea (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, Giles, Angel

Major Original Characters: Cynthia (new girl)

Summary: It's been a couple of weeks since a new girl, Cynthia, arrived at Sunnydale High and she's become fast friends with the Scoobies. After a trip to the mall, Cynthia suggests an old-fashioned slumber party (girls-only, much to Xander's dismay). That night, Buffy and Angel save Cynthia from several vampires in a local cemetary. After the slumber party begins, the girls play "spooky truth or dare" until the doorbell rings. Buffy thinks it's the pizza guy, but instead it's a pack of vampires. To be continued, next issue.

Review: These early issues are half-goofy, but there's something just kind of fun and innocent and charming about them. Cynthia, the new girl, is obviously up to no good so we'll have to wait until Part II to find out exactly how. Xander provides some real comedy for the first time in the series, as he gears up to sneak into the slumber party to see just what it is girls get up to at those things (according to the cover of next issue, pillow fighting in their underwear). I find these comics work at lot better being read one at a time instead of in large bunches like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus; like Archie comics or 80s t.v. shows, the standard story beats can be repetitive and annoying in large doses but can be a lot of fun if properly spaced out.


* Only six issues into the on-going series, and already the letters page announces six new Buffy-related one-shots and limited series. The Buffy license must have proved quite lucrative to Dark Horse!

* Speaking of money, how much would it have cost to buy one of each kind of Buffy-related merchandise advertised in the comic (excluding shipping and handling)? $ 545.95

* Here we see the new girl, Cynthia, propose "spooky truth or dare". Who are all these extra girls in the Summers' living room? Shouldn't they pull the curtains? Isn't this exactly what Xander was hoping would happen (except for the "spooky" part)?

Next Issue

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Pride!

It's almost midnight, and I can still hear the block parties outside even though I'm 17 floors up--it must be Pride! All-night dance parties have never really been my thing (surprised, aren't you?), but I still love being around it. I can't think of anything insightful to say, so I'll simply praise Canada for being as cool as it is; most of
the rest of the world has some catching up to do!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "Happy New Year"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 5

(Volume 1) (Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer); Hector Gomez (penciller); Sandu Florea (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Xander, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, Giles

Major Original Characters: Nathaniel Filmer (cursed Puritan); Mariana and Ben Johnson (witches)

Summary: After werewolf Oz escapes lockdown, Buffy has to get rough in order to get him back in the cage. Willow thinks Buffy overreacted and gives her the silent treatment, but the grudge has to wait when Giles reports that the school library has been broken into--it seems someone is searching for something in his collection of occult books. After a gigantic hound attacks and is narrowly driven off by Cordelia's well-placed crossbow bolt, investigation reveals that the hound has been hunting a man named Nathaniel Filmer for centuries, because back in the colonial era, Filmer (accurately) accused two his friends of involvement in witchcraft--and as revenge, the two cursed Filmer's dog. Realizing that Filmer had broken into Giles' library to find a way to lift the curse, the Scoobies track him to the top of a high clock tower. When the hound arrives, it launches itself at Filmer and the two plummet to their deaths. Buffy, however, saves Willow's life and the two friends make up (or out; see below). Everyone celebrates the New Year's countdown.

Review: The stuff with Filmer doesn't make a whole lot of sense--why would the witches curse him with more or less eternal life and then send his dog off to kill him? Otherwise a decent issue, and I liked the idea of showcasing some friction between the Scoobies, even if it gets resolved at the end. Speaking of the end, we have an unusual one for a Buffy story--Buffy doesn't kill the monster, nor do the Scoobies really have much of a role to play in what happens.


* An ironic bit of dialogue between Xander and Cordelia in light of the Season Four episode Earshot, which wouldn't premiere until almost a year after this comic came out. "No one deserves to be ripped apart by a vicious monster." "No one except the sadist who cooks the school lunches."

* A funny letter from John Hefner, arguing for vampire rights, that would fit in well with True Blood.

* A note from editor Scott Allie, acknowledging the reader complaints about the quick resolution of stories and announcing a two-part story starting next issue.

* The scene that launched a thousand Buffy/Willow slash stories.

Next Issue

Torchwood Magazine Yearbook (2008)

Titan, the company that publishes Torchwood Magazine, is pretty smart. The magazine market is pretty crowded, so I don't imagine a lot of places carry the actual magazine; by reprinting several articles into a hardover Torchwood Magazine Yearbook, however, the company is able to reach bookstores all over the world and have it available for gift-giving around the holidays. Finally, throw in several new short stories to lure in the people who do regularly read the magazine, and who wouldn't buy the Yearbook?!?! (in theory there could be people who neither like Torchwood nor know anyone who does, buy why concern ourselves with such extravagant hypotheticals?)

The Yearbook consists of six reprinted articles and five new (very) short stories. Everything is centered around the season two incarnation of the team. The articles reprinted are: "Meet the Team", "Inside the Hub", "O Captain, My Captain" (interviews with Barrowman and Marsters), "Series Two Episode Guide", "Aging Agyeman" (aging make-up), and "Forever Hold Your Rhys" (behind the scenes at the big wedding episode). The episode guide is probably the best of the lot, as there's a lot of fun little trivia. The interview with James Marsters, about playing Captain John, is also interesting--I get the sense from it and others I've read with the actor that he's one of the few Buffy alums who isn't a fan of Joss Whedon like everyone else seems to be; that he feels Joss really watered down Spike and maybe that the director plays favorites with the cast.

As I said, the short stories are pretty short--five or six pages each.

"Black Water" by Steven Savile has an intriguing plot, as a mysterious ship covered in a strange black oil sails into Cardiff Bay. It ends much too quickly, however, though it does give Tosh a chance to shine.

David Llewellyn's "Mrs. Acres" works really well as an example of the sort of sadder, darker story that Torchwood is able to tell (the mood here is similar to the episode Adrift). There's no happy endings when Gwen goes to question old Mrs. Acres about missing animals.

"The Beauty of Our Weapons" by Andy Lane is another one I wish would have been longer--it has a set-up that could easily have driven one of the Torchwood novels. During an inventory of the Hub's archives, Ianto realizes that a piece is missing from storage--and has been for over fifty years. Although thought to be a piece of alien artwork, the massive translucent sphere has a much more malign purpose. Good stuff, and an interesting hint that there's an underground tunnel that runs from the Hub all the way to Glasgow and (presumably) Torchwood Two.

"Plant Life" by Trevor Baxendale is Ianto-focussed and pretty predictable. Note to self: do not adopt strange alien plants, as they could be hazardous to one's health.

Last up is Joseph Lidster's "Monster", set during the period when Owen was among the walking undead. The story is told from the point of view of a guy named Paul Talbot, who wakes up one day to realize he's pretty much craving human flesh--and the only person he has no interest in eating is Owen.

The whole package weighs in at just 94 pages, which is actually shorter than the 100-page issues that Torchwood Magazine sometimes comes out with. I love the art design, as each page has some cool backgrounds that fit with the subject matter in the text. On the whole, though, I'd say this was a nice addition to a collection but not really essential.