Monday, October 26, 2015

Torchwood Magazine # 16 [TORCHWOOD]

I noticed some months back that on my Torchwood page, I had reviewed all of the issues of Torchwood Magazine but one.  It took a bit of digging to find someone with a back issue for sale online, but Issue # 16 has now arrived and I'm only six years behind the cover date!  This issue was published just before Children of Earth was set to come out, and the writers and letter page fans are understandably excited.  There's some good stuff in this one:

* An interview with Cush Jumbo, who plays the far less interestingly-named character Lois Habiba in Children of Earth;

*  A feature on the making of three Torchwood audio plays (Asylum, Golden Age, and The Dead Line).  I listened to and reviewed these a long time ago, and it was surprisingly fun to see behind the scenes.

*  A short story:  "The Man Who Dreamed of Stars".  It has an excellent hook:  a terribly disfigured burn victim turns up at a Cardiff hospital, and Jack realizes he's a former Time Agent.  I won't spoil it, but there's a good twist and it's a dark story that fits the Torchwood feel perfectly.

*  A feature on the episode They Keep Killing Suzie, one of my favourite episodes.  The theme is Gwen's contrast to Suzie as a member of the team.

* An interview with the actress who plays Detective Swanson.

*  Part 2 of the 5 part comic strip "Broken.  It's a Bilis story, but frankly incomprehensible without the first part.  Amateur artwork.

*  A feature on the Rift War! comic strip collection.  The revelation that multiple writers apparently had no idea what each other were doing helps explain why it was so terrible.

*  Part one of a short story called "Closing Time."  The team discovers that food, flowers, etc., are spoiling in Cardiff, but only along a particular path through the city.  Gwen & Ianto follow a suspicious figure to the Passmore Research Institute, and when Jack meets Professor Passmore, the man is clammy, leaky, and smells rotten.  Effectively creepy!  Very good, and definitely worth seeing what happens in part two.

* A "Behind the Hub" feature on immortality.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Mynock Squadron Recap # 4 [RPG]

[4.6.7 ABY]

Tuvolo wakes everyone with the announcement that the planned final exercise has been postponed to allow attendance at the memorial service for Moldva Vanir, the operations chief who died in the recent X-Wing crash.  The recruits are told they have just enough time for a grueling run around the base perimeter carrying rucksacks full of heavy rocks.  Stavros discreetly shifts some of the rocks out of his pack and into others, including poor Slaprat's.
During the run, Stavros and Kero fall back from the others.  Stavros shares his suspicions that perhaps Waric, unbeknownst to himself, is the spy.  Stavros points out the recruit's strange behaviour during the Gauntlet and suggests he might be mentally unhinged.  Kero is unconvinced, but agrees it would make sense to have Waric undergo an evaluation.

 When the two reunite with Waric and Keth, the group discuss the upcoming memorial and agree it could be a time when everyone would be vulnerable.  Each recruit agrees to carefully watch a different aspect of the event for any suspicious behaviour.  However, the service passes uneventfully.  Tuvolo states that later in the day Major Dei wishes to interview all 12 recruits, 4 at a time, in order of ranking on the leaderboard.

 In the meantime, Stavros talks to Waric about the latter's strange behaviour and black-outs.  Waric is quite agreeable to having his cybernetic neural net put through a diagnostic and explains the origin of his injury: during an explosion, a battlefield medic was forced to salvage the processor from a nearby entertainment droid in order to keep him alive.  Kero states that if she brushed up on her cybernetics she could perform the examination, but later states she's not very good with computers and that the base computer technician should do it. The two agree to go together to see Stapos later in the day. Before they split up, Kero mentions that something should be done to improve relations with the two Rodians, Torgo and Torga, as there is a fair chance one or both of them will make Mynock Squadron. Waric tracks the two down and receives a respectful greeting as he was the only one of the final contestants in the Gauntlet challenge to continue fighting.

That afternoon, Stavros, Waric, Kero, and Keth have their "interview" with Major Dei, which is actually a ruse for a planning session. Dei states that he managed to crack the encryption on the code cylinder brought to him by Kero and that it contains a message to the Imperial spy on the base. Apparently, an Imperial strikeforce is on the way and will bombard the base from orbit unless an abort signal is sent; the deadline for the signal is just 18 hours away! Dei tells the recruits he needs them to find the spy soon or he'll have no choice but to order an evacuation; and, without knowing who the spy is, the security clearance of everyone on basis will be suspect and it may mean the end of Mynock Squadron before it truly begins. The recruits receive permission from Dei to enter any base property and interview any base personnel as they urgently hope to find the spy before it's too late. On their way out of his office, they overhear the base quartermaster, Ainsi Noh, reporting to Dei that an inventory of base equipment shows that a field kit and a speeder bike are missing.

Waric and Kero start their investigation by speaking to the base administration droid, C5-B9. They learn that only three individuals on the base have the requisite authority to alter its or the maintenance droid's programming: Major Dei, Stapos, and the deceased Moldva Vanir. Later, when Waric and Kero track down Stapos and ask her to perform a diagnostic on Waric's cybernetic neural-net, a strange feedback loop damages the diagnostic equipment and forces an end to the procedure.

Meanwhile, Stavros visits the Chief of Security Wapos Du, and examines holo-footage from the interior and perimeter of the base. Stavros notices some strange discrepancies, and realizes that the base's east gate was opened just prior to the time when the maintenance droid must have been tampered with to sabotage the sims. At about the same time, across the base, Keth conducts a thorough inspection of the A-Wings that will be used for the recruits' final training mission and discovers that the harmless targeting systems on one of the craft have been bypassed and that real ordinance would be armed on the craft.

The four recruits reunite, and after discarding Stavros' suggestion that Waric should be detained for observation, quickly share the information they've gained. Keth is sent to examine the electronic access terminal on the east gate and determines that the credentials used to gain access at multiple suspicious times, including when everyone was at the morning's memorial service, were that of Moldva Vanir. Even more impressively, Waric manages to isolate a reflected image from a transparisteel pane that shows Moldva Vanir himself sneaking onto base! The four conclude that Vanir is not dead after all and must be hiding somewhere in the rugged terrain outside the base. Rushing to find Major Dei and Lt. Tuvolo to share the news, they learn that speeder bikes have hidden homing beacons on them, and that the stolen bike's beacon is active.

While Keth and Waric jump in A-Wings to patrol the airspace above the base, Kero and Stavros persuaded Torgo and Torga to help them in the hunt for the saboteur. With the Rodians' tracking skill and coordinates from the stolen bike's homing beacon, the recruits quickly reach the entrance to a deep, narrow ravine. They find the stolen bike hidden nearby and disable it before proceeding the rest of the way on foot.

As they traverse the rugged terrain into the narrow, shadowy ravine, Kero notices a formation of boulders high up on rock face that do not look like they can have been put there naturally. Careful searching of the area in front of them reveals a small motion sensor placed at ankle height. The recruits decide to try to jump over the area scanned by the sensor, but a running leap by Stavros goes awry as he stumbles at the last minute and sets off the beam! Explosive charges hidden amongst the boulders detonate, causing several of them to fall in the ravine and start rolling towards the recruits! Stavros had just enough warning to run forward and out of the danger zone, but Kero, Torgo, and Torga are hurt, with Torgo knocked unconscious trying to shield Torga.

After making sure that Torgo is safe and stabilized, the three recruits press on, but not before deciding to call in Waric and Keth for air cover. Waric spots an E-web gun emplacement pointed down at the ravine and destroys it, giving his friends below a clear path to the where the ravine ends in a small grotto. There, Moldva Vanir has made himself a small campsite. His holotransceiver, with the attached Imperial code scrambler, has been rigged with an explosive charge and Moldva boasts that in seconds, it will too late for the recruits to do anything to stop the Imperial fleet's arrival. It becomes apparent that Moldva faked his death in the X-Wing crash and has been working as an Imperial spy out of anger that he washed out in his attempt to join Mynock Squadron. 

Stavros tries to jump Moldva, but the spy reacts quickly and blasts the area all around the recruit, knocking him to the ground and raining debris all over. Likewise, Torga is shot as she leaps for Moldva and hits the ground hard, unconscious. With Kero hurt as well and time before detonation rapidly winding down, salvation surprisingly comes from above. Waric and Keth, unknown to the others, had landed their A-Wings nearby and now enter the fray. Waric grabs Moldva's head and slams it hard into the holo-transceiver, miraculously knocking the explosive charge loose. Instants before it explodes, Kero picks it up, tosses it to Keth, and the Zabrak hurls it into the sky where it explodes harmlessly. Moldva, stunned, tries to escape but the implacable Waric and Keth keep on his trail until the spy finally surrenders. 

Returning with their prisoner to the base, the four recruits (along with the injured Torga and Torgo) are greeted by Lt. Tuvolo. "Ya mooks done good," he says. "Now we can get back ta business--the final exercise is tomorrah, an' don't think I'm lettin' ya off easy!"
Director's Commentary (October 10, 2015)

This was a fun session that was a step forward for the campaign.  The PCs got to do much more than training, as they're explicitly tasked with uncovering the spy/saboteur before the entire base is compromised.  The PCs did some really good investigative work, with Keth's natural 20 on his check through the holocams responsible for him catching a recorded glimpse of the malefactor.  (I had gone with the classic "the first murder victim is actually the murderer" trick, which I thought worked out pretty well--at least no one guessed it before the clues were assembled).  The PCs took a surprising tack by splitting into two groups (one on the ground, one in the air) when they went to the bad guys' hideout, but I was glad everyone was able to get into the action in the end.  The sequence where they lobbed the thermal detonator to each other to finally hurl it out of the grotto was cool, as one misstep would have meant massive damage to low-level characters. 

This combination of training regimen, competition, and real intrigue/action was what I had in mind when I designed the campaign.  This first story arc ends with the next session, and then things got tougher for me!

Next Recap

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Buffy Comic Project: "Note From the Underground, Part 1"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 47

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad & Joe Pimentel (inks)

Setting:  After Season Six

T.V. Character Appearances:  Angel, Cordelia, Faith, Gunn, Groo, Fred, Buffy

Major Original Characters:  Steglar (demon drug dealer), Marget Brown (judge)

Summary:  Angel and Cordelia go undercover as drug dealers to infiltrate a demon nightclub named Dante’s Inferno.  There, they discover that a demon named Steglar, who carries his head on a pole, has been trafficking in a new drug called Soul Drops, harvested from the souls of the unborn!  Steglar reveals that the source of his supply is Sunnydale, leading Cordelia to have a vision of terrible events happening in the city.  With their cover blown, Angel and Cordelia are forced to fight and kill the demons.  Angel then calls in a favour with a judge he’s helped in  the past, Marget Brown, to get Faith temporarily sprung from prison.  Over the objections of his employees in Angel Investigations, Angel takes Faith with him to Sunnydale.  Meanwhile, Buffy lies unconscious somewhere in Sunnydale, while a mysterious figure putting on clothing from Riley Finn’s locker vows to help.


What a fantastic debut for Scott Lobdell as writer.  I enjoyed this issue as much or more than any other so far in the series, and it feels like the series is finally getting the right (darker, edgier) tone.  Buffy hardly makes an appearance (one page where she’s unconscious), but I honestly didn’t mind: Angel, Cordelia, and Faith steal the show, with the combat against the unique head-on-a-stick demon a highlight for me (some panache on display for once in a Buffy comic!).  I’m quite legitimately looking forward to reading the next issue.


·         *  Angel and Cordelia undercover as mobsters is bound to be fun!

·         The headless Steglar.  Things don’t end well for him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up (1975) [COMICS]

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up (Marvel) (1975)

Always wanted to read a comic with three hyphens in the title?  Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up is the book for you!  Although it only lasted two issues, GSSVTU (as those in the know refer to it) featured Doctor Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner in a sometimes uneasy alliance to gain dominion over the lands and seas of this fine planet of ours.  The issues really were giant-size, coming in at 68 pages (though with some cheats, such as reprints).

In Issue # 1, we find out how the monarch of Latveria survived the explosion in space at the end of Fantastic Four # 144: Doom fell to Earth and was found by Namor’s submarine (his “long weeks of constant vigil rewarded”).  Namor asks Doom to join with him to conquer the surface world, which has long menaced both Atlantis and Latveria.  This leads Doom to think back to the last time the two discussed an alliance, which takes the form of a reprint of Sub-Mariner # 20 (Namor wouldn’t go for it then, and the two fought when Doom tried to keep him prisoner).  Then, Doom thinks about the last time he was in alliance with someone else (Diablo, the Master of Alchemy) which takes the form of a reprint of Marvel Super Heroes # 20 (an interesting issue, as Diablo holds Doom’s childhood love, Valeria, captive; Doom pretends to ally with Diablo and then betrays him to rescue Valeria, but she rejects him, knowing he really values power more than he values her).  So after some deep thought, Doom decides that allying with Namor makes no sense, as they would betray one another at the first moment it would be advantageous to do so.  A fight breaks out, but Doom escapes.  Essentially, the original material is a framing sequence for the two reprints.  Still, as far as framing sequences and reprints go, it’s done well.  Roy Thomas is a master at continuity and I’ve always liked his stories; he captures the majesty and arrogance of the two monarchs quite well.

Issue # 2 begins with Namor sinking a massive oil supertanker as a warning to the surface world that he won’t abide the environmental devastation on the oceans.  Namor then returns to Atlantis, where (apparently established in other, previous comics) the population is comatose.  Doom sends a force to attack Atlantis, but his real goal is to draw Namor to the surface world so he can offer an alliance this time: he’ll split the world with Namor, with Doom controlling the surface and Namor controlling the water.  As a bargaining chip, Doom says he’ll reveal to the surface world how vulnerable Atlantis is unless Namor agrees to join him.  Doom takes Namor on a tour of Latveria to show off his legion of recently-constructed androids, nuclear capability, and (apparently most exciting and dramatically) his solar batteries.  But there’s a problem with those new androids: they’ve gotten religion from “Andro, Lord of the Androids” (who’s really a former foe named the Doomsman) and decide to mutiny.  Namor and Doom fight side by side to defeat the androids, forcing the Doomsman to flee.  The issue ends with Namor and Doom planning their team-up.  (and a completely unrelated, not unenjoyable, reprint of Amazing Spider-Man # 8).  Although this issue had more original content, the battle against the androids was pretty rote stuff and I think I actually liked the previous issue better.

In any event, Namor and Doom’s team-up wouldn’t take place in giant-size format, as these two issues were the only ones published.  Marvel would go on to publish a regular-sized Super-Villain Team-Up to continue the story, and I think I might have to invest some cash to find out what happens next!