Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dr. Strange: The Oath

The Oath is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.


With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Dr Strange The OathWriter: Brian K. Vaughan

Artists: Marcos Martin

Issues: Dr. Strange: The Oath #1-5

Ex-surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange is not a hugely popular Marvel hero, yet he crops up nearly everywhere as the resident magic expert. Any time a superhero has to deal with magical foes or spells or summoned creatures, they call Dr. Strange.

Despite his usefulness he hadn’t warranted a solo series since the mid 90s, instead cropping up in a few limited series but mostly as a recurring guest star in Amazing Spider-Man or joining the New Avengers after the Civil War.

My options for exploring Dr. Strange’s modern, solo adventures via Marvel Unlimited are, ironically, quite limited. Thankfully there’s one fairly high regarded series that explores Dr. Strange’s background and origin in five issues called The Oath.

Acting as a bridge between Civil War and Stephen’s stint with New Avengers (though the timing of the series really doesn’t matter), Dr. Strange is carried into the Night Nurse’s secretive, superhero friendly office by his apprentice Wong. Strange has been shot! A mercenary known as the Brigand stole a magical elixir that Strange had procured to heal Wong’s brain tumor, and the foe was armed with the magical mojo of Hitler’s own gun, penetrating Strange’s defenses. All of this is told by the good Doctor himself via his famous Astral Projection even as the Night Nurse operates on him.

The series is written by Brian K. Vaughan, whom I’ve previously had the pleasure of reading in Runaways and Saga. Vaughan’s style is incredibly relateable and down-to-earth. Dr. Strange’s background as a sorcerer is effectively given the broad strokes treatment and we’re allowed to peer into the kind of person that Stephen is and has become, rather than focus on what he can and can’t do with magic.

Stephen Strange’s personality and story closely mirrors that of Tony Stark. He began as an arrogant surgeon that cared only for money and furthering his own career, until a fateful car accident ruined his hands. Seeking to repair them by any means, he traveled to Tibet to learn the mystic arts, tutoring under an old wizard known as The Ancient One.

dr. strange #1And that’s pretty much it. Dr. Strange becomes a powerful sorcerer and vows to help people. The oath that the title refers to is the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors take – Strange is adamant about saving the life of his faithful servant and friend Wong. Since he can no longer operate with his hands, he uses his mystic knowledge to research a cure and goes into a crazy dimensional realm and defeat a giant monstrosity to recover a panacea – all in the span of a few pages.

Turns out this elixir not only would cure Wong’s cancer, but all cancer and illness everywhere on Earth. Dr. Strange first has it analyzed in a lab (though he practices magic, his background as a surgeon makes him amiable to the sciences) and it’s there that his secret is betrayed and he’s robbed. Strange goes on a quest with the dying Wong and the resolute Night Nurse to recover the elixir and discover the one who sent Brigand after him.

After some nifty scenes of spell-flinging and mind-ripping, Strange learns the identity of his true foe, an old colleague of his, Nicodemous West. Dr. West had been tracking down Strange to try and bring him back to the practice, and in doing so learned the same magical arts from The Ancient One. Thus Dr. West becomes the anti-Strange, a former surgeon turned magician, only West is still concerned with himself and money as he takes orders from a shady board of directors at a pharmaceutical company.

West and Strange’s confrontation is fun and satisfying, as they both get to sling guilt-trips and regrets at each other, as well as the interesting moral and scientific ramifications of suddenly introducing a mass cure to society. Ultimately their battle takes them to the rain-soaked rooftops (as all climactic fights should) and West produces an artifact that nullifies their magic. The two go mano y mano, and Strange reveals that Wong is both his apprentice and his master. After sustaining a few blows he proceeds to kick West’s ass with his superior kung fu. West slips and falls off the building, shattering the elixir on the ground below.

dr. strange #5

Predictably there is only a single drop left and our hero is forced to make a choice – take the time to reproduce it and provide a cure for all the world’s sicknesses, or heal his dying friend. Wong’s state had deteriorated over the course of the series lending a sense of immediacy and urgency to Strange’s quest, and by the time West falls he’s completely unconscious.

Strange saves the life of his dear friend, gains the respect and love of the Night Nurse (who never reveals her name) and warms his way into my heart. The Oath succeeds in delving into Dr. Strange’s background and personality while still providing a fun, action-packed adventure. New readers worrying about delving into a psychedelic, magic-fueled ride need not fear. Vaughan uses the magic stuff sparingly and keeps it easy to follow, while the focus remains on the strong characters and excellent supporting cast.

The only real bummer is the art style. Martin’s work isn’t bad at all, I just didn’t find it very memorable. I think it tries to evoke an old, Silver Age Jack Kirby style but mostly comes off as a little plain. Still the overall series is the perfect introduction (or further reading) into who Dr. Strange is and why you should care about the Sorcerer Supreme.

Dr. Strange #4

My Favorite Dragon Age Inquisition Companions

As much as I loved its insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Four Months and 75 hours later and I finally saw the credits roll on Dragon Age: Inquisition. I knew it was going to be a long one but releasing in November had the horrible side effect of trying to keep up with a sprawling RPG during the busy holiday season. Dear developers: Please release all 50 hour+ games in the Summer!

I’ve previously written on the problems of super long games but to be fair Dragon Age Inquisition is about as long as you want it to be. Felt like 70% of my time was spent just blissfully exploring the incredible amount of content that was offered, and I loved that I always had an overwhelming amount of areas to explore and quests to try. At some point I had to just force myself to get back on track with the main story (which I quickly outleveled) and ended up beating the game at level 20 with at least two areas barely explored (Hissing Wastes and Emerald Graves) and many more only half-finished.

As much as I loved the insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions. I thought I’d turn my thoughts on the game into a ranked list of all nine Dragon Age: Inquisition companions.

You can read more about my inquisitor and my predictions for the game here.


1) Cassandra

The very first companion you get is also the best, a concept that’s fairly common in RPGs. Your first friend and ally tends to be the most strongly written and the most directly tied into the main events of the story. As a former Seeker of Truth Cassandra embodies everything about a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style Paladin, but her steadfast honesty and confident demeanor made me quickly fall in love with her. She’s also incredibly useful on the battlefield serving as your initial tank and becoming quite adept and handling mages and demons once she unlocks her templar abilities. Despite playing a warrior myself I almost never left Skyhold without her, and she was the first one I’d always go to check with in between outings. At the end of my game she became Divine, and I was proud and confident that she would lead the Chantry and the world into a prosperous era.

2) Varric

Oddly enough I rarely ended up using Varric in Dragon Age II. I enjoyed his personality but my Hawke was a Rogue and I loved using Isabella, so Varric rarely got to come with me. In Inquisition I played a warrior, and archery skills were just as powerful, if not more so than Dragon Age II. Certainly attacking from range afforded him a bit more survivability and I loved his artificer tree and those flashy grenades he threw. Personality wise Varric is the ultimate best bud – friendly, loyal and constantly cracking jokes even in the midst of terror and dread. He was my go-to Rogue for most of the adventure and I was always glad to have his good-natured insight and Bianca’s power.

3) Vivienne

Most RPG companions tend to be various forms of the rogueish archetype, but Vivienne is almost a polar opposite. She’s calm, elegant, and not afraid to flaunt her stature and power. She could be perceived as power-hungry but ultimately she wants what’s best for the world, which typically happens to align with her own desires. I loved the way she talked, layering in ‘darling’ and ‘my dear’ in a deliciously disarming fashion, and her high cheekbones and flawless skin added to her regal look. I could also gush about her usefulness on the battlefield – as an ice mage she’s useful in just about every situation, and her knight enchanter specialization is easily the best in the game, turning her into an off-tank or secondary DPS if you want to run up and whack things with spectral swords. The mages in the Dragon Age world have always had the best abilities and Vivienne gets the best of those.

4) Dorian

Dorian’s story is so analogous to many real people’s it’s almost painful. Running away from his life and responsibilities in his not-quite-evil empire of Tevinter because his father threatened to change his sexuality via blood magic instantly endeared him to me, and he was the first companion I befriended. Dorian was funny, cultured, sassy and a powerful fire mage. Fire can both burn and fear people, making Dorian almost unfair to use against humanoids, and his necromancer skill tree gave him the always fun ability of Walking Bomb. I give Vivienne the slight edge but I ended up trading off between the two for the majority of my adventuring.

5) Cole

Cole is definitely the most interesting and different of the companions. As a spirit inhabiting a dead mage he’s similar in concept to what BioWare did with Anders and Justice in Dragon Age II but the execution is far more fascinating here. Battling the red templars means I got a full blown mission that introduced him and his creepy and poetic way of talking, and his skills as a shadowy assassin fills his personality quite well. I also quite enjoyed his character mission when you find the templar responsible for his death. Unfortunately in creating the guard system for warriors BioWare really left rogues behind – especially those that eschew archery to get up and hurt people. Cole had lots of fun abilities but required a high level of micro management. Still, I used him when I could (he’s especially fun in the story mission where you enter the fade).

6) Iron Bull

Bull! Gotta love the big fun-loving brute character, which BioWare seems to love as well. I never used Vega in Mass Effect 3, a dumb meat-head that got in the way of the much more interesting aliens, but Iron Bull is all kinds of awesome. Every team needs an Iron Bull – heavy cursing, heavy drinking but incredibly loyal, fun and powerful. Unfortunately as a 2handed warrior myself I rarely had room in my party for Iron Bull. When he eventually gains enough skill points to max out his ravager tree he becomes a huge DPS asset with more survivability thanks to the guard system. He was my go-to for dragon fights and I loved talking to him in Skyhold, I just rarely used him in the field. His rapport with his own company of badasses was really fun, too.

7) Blackwall

Blackwall went through an odd rollercoaster for me. Initially I hated him; he was the stoic, boring warrior and skills-wise he was almost exactly like Cassandra, whom I loved. Thus Blackwall was almost never used until he got his champion specialization. Of course then I chose champion for my 2handed warrior and I’d rather take Cassandra for her personality and differing abilities. His character mission was fascinating, however, and my female warrior was trying to romance him as he was surprisingly sweet and reverent toward the Inquisitor. By the end his story fell flat for me, however. I freed him from prison fairly late in the game and barely had any special conversations or scenes with him afterward. Annoyingly it wouldn’t let me continue my romance with him despite doing all his quests. Blackwall is the perfect example of an interesting concept but a poor execution.

8) Solas

The above seven companions I generally enjoyed, but now we get to the ones that just fell flat for me. As a mage that specializes in the fade Solas is very useful on the battlefield, so my main beef with him is simply that I loved the other two mages much more. Solas is aloof, haughty and dare I say a bit boring. It’s irksome that he apparently is way more tied into the main plot than I realized (the end scene caught me completely off guard) as I rarely ever talked to him and never did his character quest. Sorry Solas but haughty elf that looks like The Mummy just isn’t going to do it for me.

9) Sera

I could easily describe Sera as the Borderlands character. She’s zany, irreverent, chaotic and rude. Now, I like Borderlands and the characters in that universe, but she just didn’t fit in my Inquisition at all. I appreciate that there’s a prankster style character but I enjoyed Cole’s enigmatic gags and scenes much more than Sera’s annoying hatred of everything noble or privileged. I role-played my Inquisitor as a fairly serious warrior and leader, and Sera rubbed her in all the wrong ways. I nearly parted ways with her after a particularly heated argument. Don’t get me wrong, I love that her kind of character was included, and it would be boring if the particular kind of character I role-played got along swimmingly with everyone. Power wise she was worse than Varric in every way, and I much preferred Varric’s specialization.


All of the pictures here I captured myself from my game, save Cole whom I forgot to take a picture of. How appropriate!

And there it is! Another BioWare game completed. I loved my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition but due to the length don’t see myself replaying it anytime soon. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the game and companions in the comments below.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: The Death of Captain America

The Death of Captain America is a massive twenty issue collected volume that tells the epic and satisfying arc of Steve’s void in an increasingly panicked country on the brink of anarchy.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

death of captain americaWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Roberto De La Torre, Jackson Guice

Issues: Captain America (2004) #22-42, Winter Soldier: Winter Kills #1

Steve Rogers is dead. Long live Captain America!

You’d think that when your title character is murdered it would bring an end to that series. Steve Rogers’ Captain America is a legacy that will not be so easily snuffed. In the hands of skilled writer Ed Brubaker and one of my favorite comic artists Steve Epting, The Death of Captain America is a massive twenty issue collected volume that tells the epic and satisfying arc of Steve’s void in an increasingly panicked country on the brink of anarchy.

The Legacy of Captain America may have been a better title for the trade, as the eponymous death happens early on in issue #25. The first three issues (#22-24) are direct Civil War tie-ins, offering some side plots starring Agent 13, SHIELD and Cap. Most tie-ins are not great but Brubaker does a masterful job making these interesting while not derailing his own lengthy main plot that he’s been carefully constructing since the first issue.

There’s a several month gap between #24 and #25, and Cap’s series is briefly replaced with a single one-off issue called Winter Soldier: Winter Kills. It’s our first real glimpse into the mind of James “Bucky” Barnes and nicely foreshadows his future role as the new protagonist of the series. James is an amazing hero to root for; he’s got the tragic past in spades, he’s already lived a lifetime’s worth of memories and his moral fiber is deliciously sinewy. It’s revealed in an earlier Civil War tie-in that he’s directly working for Nick Fury (who’s been off the grid for years now) as a spy and adjusting to a somewhat normal life. Mostly we get a lot of flashbacks to World War II from Bucky’s point of view, and it’s a fascinating look at someone who idolized Steve and what he stood for more than anyone.

Captain America #25The death issue has become one of the more infamous comics in history. Hats off to Marvel for managing to create a huge media blitz and keep everything under wraps until it released. Steve’s on his way to trial after surrendering at the end of the Civil War, finally seeing that the cost was too high to keep fighting. He’s initially shot by Crossbones armed with a sniper rifle in a nearby building (very Kennedy), and then a brainwashed Agent 13/Sharon Carter (that would be Peggy’s niece) finishes the job with multiple gunshot wounds to the gut.

It’s a very stark and shockingly realistic event, made all the more powerful by Epting’s fantastic art. Every character looks real without dipping into crazy Uncanny Valley territory, and the heavy use of shading creates a wonderfully bleak and serious tone that has endured throughout the entire series up to this point.

Steve’s death created a mini-event in of itself, as the death of such a major character created shock waves in the Marvel Universe. Most of it is handily contained in the limited series Fallen Son, when various heroes mourn Steve’s death and go through the five stages of depression.

captain america #30“The Death of the Dream,” covers the first six issues following his death. Brubaker takes his time exploring his supporting cast and continuing to set up the intriguing plot. Every couple pages in each issue is given its own title and jumps around to different characters and events, creating a sporadic and scattered tone that fits well with everyone feeling lost after Steve’s death. Winter Soldier wants revenge on Iron Man. Falcon and Agent 13 hunt down Red Skull. Tony Stark finds Steve’s last will and testament and brings Black Widow on board. Sharon reels from her murderous act and continued brainwashed programming and we see the further machinations of Red Skull, Arnim Zola and Dr. Faustus’ evil alliance in bringing about this whole sequence of events.

It’s an interesting way to write what amounts to Act 1 of the lengthy story, and things are a bit slow until the next six issue arc. In “The Burden of Dreams,” Winter Soldier is freed from Dr. Faustus’ grasp (where he was being unsuccessfully tortured and programmed) by Sharon only to be swiftly captured by Iron Man and SHIELD. He breaks free and much of issue #33 is the two having a knock-down drag-out fight in the helicarrier. It ends with Bucky ripping off Iron Man’s helmet and pressing a gun to his head, as Stark holds his hands on either side of Bucky’s head, repulsor’s ready to liquefy his brain.

The two come to an understanding once Tony shows him the Steve’s letter, which beseeches Tony that someone needs to continue on his legacy. It doesn’t take much for the Winter Soldier to agree, mostly as he doesn’t want anyone else to do it, and in issue #34 we get our first glimpse at the new Captain America suit, worn by Cap’s old sidekick.

Bucky, former Winter Soldier now reluctant new Captain America takes center stage as the new protagonist of the series, with Black Widow as his primary partner and love interest. At this point the main plot really starts rocketing ahead as Sharon is firmly in the clutches of evil, Falcon supports Bucky/Widow, and the entire country goes through a rocky phase of near anarchy in the wake of the Civil War and Steve’s death, as well as the savvy political maneuverings of Red Skull. The Skull has been sharing a body with evil CEO Aleksander Lukin since the first trade volume, and he flexes his powers of influence in some startlingly realistic ways, subtly drawing the American people into a frenzy before unleashing his master plan – a presidential candidate in his backpocket.

captain america #34Brubaker’s style and overall tone of the series is very grounded in reality. Despite obviously taking place in a world of hundreds of super-powered people, alien invasions, dimensions, time travel, etc, Brubaker’s Captain America series has always focused on very relatable politics, people and situations. All of the supporting cast are just normal people with high amounts of training and badassness; no energy spewing death-dealers like in the Avengers, and it’s incredibly refreshing. Brubaker touches on this several times whenever Bucky engages someone in a fight – he’s not a super-soldier and a particularly tough battle will leave him exhausted and with broken ribs, making his struggles and battles all the more exhilarating.

Red Skull’s master plan is revealed in the final six-issue arc, “The Man Who Bought America.” Sharon Carter, former Agent 13 and Steve’s love interest is our window into our evil trinity, and Brubaker spends plenty of time letting us into the inner workings of this evil cabal hellbent on overthrowing the American government. A big part of Red Skull’s plan is to activate a former character in Cap’s past – the Captain America of the 1950s, later retconned to be an insane Cap-wannabe also known as The Grand Director.

Since the familiar story of Cap being frozen and flung forward in time creates a paradox with Cap running around briefly in the 50s fighting communists, it was retconned as an impostor who worshiped the original Captain America, even surgically altering his face and voice to mimic Steve Rogers. I had to look it up on Wikipedia but credit to Brubaker for smoothly explaining this odd character within the comics. He becomes a fairly major villain for Bucky and company though he’s definitely portrayed as a tragic, manipulated figure.

Speaking of tragic figures, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how Sharon’s arc is treated. First, she’s directly responsible for Steve’s death, though she was brainwashed by Dr. Faustus and acting on his orders. The events understandably haunts her, and we get uncomfortable shots of her crying in the shower and revisiting the scene over and over in her mind. She soon joins up with Dr. Faustus and with a shred of herself intact she frees the Winter Soldier. From there she’s psychologically tortured and rendered a slave to Dr. Faustus. Eventually she mounts an escape and fights with Sin, who had previously battled and been injured in a fight with Bucky but she’s quickly subdued again. Oh and she was also pregnant with Steve’s child but loses the baby in the knife fight with Sin when she plunges the knife into her own belly to stop the Red Skull from getting it. That is…pretty messed up.

captain america #38Thankfully she finally gets to do something during the climax. As Falcon and Widow mount an attack on the AIM base she escapes and shoots and kills Lukin/Red Skull (while an also escaped 1950s Cap kills Zola). It’s a violent but triumphant moment, but her whole storyline made me fairly uncomfortable for the most part, and I feel like her victimization as played up for dramatic effect is a tiresome trope. It’s also painfully obvious that Black Widow replaces her as Protagonist’s Love Interest as the only other woman of note in the entire series (besides Sin, Red Skull’s one-dimensional daughter). Credit to Epiting, however, for drawing the women just as shadowy and powerful as their male counterparts.

A major part of the climax is Bucky coming to terms with being the new Captain America. While everyone else attacks the AIM base, he goes to the presidential debates to foil an assassination attempt by Sin, becoming a hero in the process. Bucky, like Steve, cares more about doing the right thing than being a hero, though he begins to grasp the gravitas and power that the uniform wields.

Ultimately the country needs Captain America, especially a country teetering on the edge of economic collapse and anarchy. Brubaker really plays up the chaotic aspect of people in the streets, angry at the government, and peaks when Faustus’s other brainwashed SHIELD agents open fire on a group of protesters. Stark himself is used sparingly in the second half of the book, and the only time he’s actually in his suit fighting is during the one on one match with Winter Soldier before he recruits him.

The good guys win at the end and things wrap up nicely – almost too nicely. Skull and Zola are downloaded into another of Zola’s endless robots while Faustus betrays them in the end (activating Sharon’s GPS tracker which leads to the final assault) and escapes. Bucky is the new knife and gun-wielding Captain America (with a slightly different uniform that nicely shows off the old triangular shield of the 40s) and presumably continues to work for Stark and SHIELD without ever having to officially register (Bucky’s terms).

captain america #41

The Death of Captain America is one of the best trade paperbacks I’ve ever read. Right now I’d put it just under Planet Hulk on my personal list of favorites. Both gave their writers well over a dozen issues to tell massive and satisfying stories – in the case of Cap, 18 total issues jumping out of Steve’s death.

Even more impressive is that the plot threads had been layered in since the first issue back in the Winter Soldier volume. Brubaker not only had to craft a story without his title character, but created an all new one to take the mantle, and dare I say I loved everything about how James “Bucky” Barnes is portrayed. The supporting cast is fantastic, the villains are evil without being too cheesy, the world and story are grounded in political upheaval and government control and the action is always exciting and satisfying. Though you’ll definitely want to read the first volume, Captain America: Winter Soldier (and possibly Red Menace) first, The Death of Captain America comes as one of the most easily recommendable comic book stories and collected volumes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Introducing Our New Weekly Shadowrun Tabletop Role-Playing Adventures!

Last year my friends and I gathered together with the power of Skype, Roll20, Google Sheets and .PDFs to fulfill a longstanding desire to play tabletop role-playing adventures over the internet.

We’re all in our 30s and my closest friend lives 200 miles away, with the farthest living several states over. We see each other about once a year during a glorious New Year’s Eve get together where we mostly play board games.

Shadowrun 5eDespite our love of everything nerdy and game-y we missed out on playing traditional pen and paper role-playing games growing up. I was the only one with any experience with Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) and even I’d only played a handful of sessions.

We started up an official weekly, live streamed role-playing group playing Pathfinder last year, and it was an absolute blast. Unfortunately over the course of a few months we only got through one complete dungeon crawl and were halfway through a second adventure before our GM dropped out due to personal reasons.

Fast-forward several months and we’re back ready to tackle the awesome virtual role-playing utility that is Roll20 and go on more adventures, with two major changes. First, I’ll be the Gamemaster! Our old GM is still MIA and I’ve always fancied myself the creative story-teller type. Also as a stay at home dad and part time writer I generally have the most time among my friends to devote to this venture.

The second big difference is we’ll be playing Shadowrun Fifth Edition. Even while we were in the midst of playing Pathfinder (which is basically just DnD) I talked about how If I tried my hand at being GM, I’d definitely do Shadowrun.

Shadowrun anniversary cover

Though it has existed since the 80s I’d only tangentially heard of Shadowrun growing up. I had seen the box art of the old Genesis and SNES games but never played them. I thought the cyberpunk motif was cool but at the time was balls-deep into the fantasy worlds of Dragonlance, Discworld and the Forgotten Realms.

It wasn’t until Harebrained Schemes ran their successful Kickstarter project to create a new tactical Shadowrun game that I began to take interest. While I didn’t back it at the time, I bought and played it right when it came out in the Summer of 2013 – sneaking it onto my backlog gaming schedule.

I loved that game, but even more I loved that universe and the concept of urban fantasy + cyberpunk. Dystopian mega-corporations ruling the world, whole sections of cities run by gangs, easy access to drugs and weapons – it was all very much 80s sci-fi and I adored it.

We read through the Quick Start Rules and got together to choose from the pre-generated characters and learn about the game. I crafted the one-module beginner adventure (Food Fight) in Roll20 and we had our first session last week. I didn’t live stream it as it was still very much a learning experience for everyone involved and didn’t want the added distraction. But I did record and upload it to my YouTube channel in case anyone wants to go back and see Where It All Began.

Next everyone will be creating their own characters and we’ll spend our next session going over character creation for the first time. Since one of our runners will be taking a lengthy vacation at the end of March, we won’t be officially starting our weekly live streams until April.

The plan is to live stream every Sunday evening starting at about 9:30pm Central and running for 2-3 hours on my twitch channel. I also plan on uploading each session to YouTube (broken up into easier size chunks if I have time) as well as recapping them here on my blog.

I really look forward to this fun new way to hang out with friends and family every week, and I’d like to keep it up for as long as we have fun with it. See you in the shadows, chummer.


Terry Pratchett

On March 12, 2015, Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett passed away after a years-long battle with Alzheimers.

terry pratchett

If I had to single out an author as my all-time favorite, it would be Terry Pratchett.

It’s fitting that my first exposure to Pratchett’s work was through a video game. In 1995 the now-defunct publisher Psygnosis released a beautiful point and click adventure game called Discworld, based on Pratchett’s incredibly successful and already long-running series of fantasy novels.

discworld gameThe game had some bright visuals, lovely animations, fantastic voice acting (Eric Idle as Rincewind!) and was completely hard as balls – like many adventure games of the era. Still, I absolutely fell in love with the uniquely satirical world full of that lovingly dry British wit that Pratchett exuded.

It was probably a good year or two before I realized this quirky game was based on a successful series of novels – one quick glance at a bookshelf revealed whole shelves of Discworld novels just waiting to be devoured.

And devour them I did.

By the time I started reading there were about twenty Discworld novels. To my great shame I did not go through and read them all, but picked and chose based on the main characters. I read everything starring Rincewind the bumbling wizard, and eventually enjoyed the books starring Death, the City Watch and the random one-offs that eschewed various parts of our culture and society. To my fellow Discworld fans this means I read everything except the Witches novels, up until The Wee Free Men, making my total Discworld collection about 2/3 complete.

Rincewind, Death, Lord Vetinari and Cohen the Barbarian drew me into Discworld but it was Samuel Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork City Watch that kept me enthralled. By the time I entered High School in the late 90s I was buying Discworld novels as they released fairly regularly, and the novels starring the hilarious City Watch had become my favorites. Since most of the novels took place in the London stand-in of Ankh-Morpork, many of the Watch’s characters showed up in novels even when they weren’t the stars, a brilliant concept that would continue throughout the series.

I continued to keep up with the Discworld novels in my college years, as Pratchett’s world entered the Industrial Revolution. Many novels took on specific aspects of modern industry such as film, journalism, shipping and banking and eventually tied together with new protagonist Moist Von Lipwig. Thankfully my beloved City Watch continued to star in just about every other release, and Sam Vimes went through an especially satisfying and rewarding arc.

The Discworld has inspired many artists, though when it comes to actual maps Terry Pratchett famously said, “You can’t map a sense of humor.”

Sadly it was at this time that Pratchett was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzeheimer’s. Ever the cheery optimist he continued to write and published several more novels over the following years. I regret to say I haven’t read them yet. Chronologically, the last official Discworld book I read was Making Money, released in 2007. You can bet I plan on rectifying this soon.

The most recent Prachett novel I read was The Wee Free Men, a Young Adult novel that I randomly found while working in a warehouse for Scholastic. At that point I never knew he’d written a YA series of novels that took place in Discworld, let alone that there were three of them (I guess they were always stocked in a YA section rather than with the Discworld books).

I absolutely adored the character of Tiffany Aching and felt incredibly vindicated that my favorite author could not only write one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read, but also create one of the very best young heroines. As soon as I finished it I vowed that it would be one of the first real novels I would read to my then-infant, now-toddler daughter when she is a bit older. I also still need to read the rest of them!

To date I own over twenty Terry Pratchett novels, as well as a gigantic hardcover of The Wit & Wisdom of Discworld. This pride and joy is an elegant collection (compiled by frequent collaborator Stephen Briggs) of over two decades worth of Pratchett-isms, organized by novel. It’s a great reminder of his immensely clever, thoughtful, and always humorous writing.

A glimpse at my Discworld collection
A glimpse at my Discworld collection

Sir Terry Pratchett was honestly the first author I ever really got into, and possibly the last. I’ve enjoyed and subsequently fallen off of many great authors, but Pratchett’s work was astonishingly consistent and always amazing. His novels were the ultimate comfort food; I can’t recall a single one that I was disappointed with. He will be sorely missed but never forgotten. Thank you for bringing me and countless others so much joy and thoughtfulness over an incredibly prolific career.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 6

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

New Avengers Vol. 6Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Alex Maleev (#26)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #26-31

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War. During the time period known as The Initiative (most of 2007) many Marvel books had tie-ins that followed the fallout from the Superhero Civil War and how the registration act affected other heroes.

The Initiative affected the New Avengers more than anyone. Though Steve Rogers surrendered, many of his allies went underground and continued to oppose the Registration Act. Previous New Avengers members Spider-man, Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-woman are joined by Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and a different Ronin ninja who’s eventually revealed to be Hawkeye in a nifty bit of flashbacking.

Issue #26 drops in with the newly resurrected Hawkeye – last seen sacrificing himself at the end of Avengers “Disassembled” in 2004 and brought back by Scarlet Witch during the House of M event in 2005. Hawkeye goes to Dr. Strange looking for answers, then hunts down Wanda Maximoff – whom at the end of House of M we saw had magically lobotomized herself to forget her powers and who she was. Clint ends up in a romantic fling with her, and decides revenge for House of M is no longer an appropriate course of action.

New Avengers #26I really dug Alex Maleev’s art style in this one-off issue. The whole comic is drawn as if carefully constructed by water color painting, and the panels are frequently light on dialogue and heavy on intense human emotion. It works quite well given there’s very little action in the issue, and the style really carries the brief but interesting story along.

The full story of “Revolution” begins in #27, though it almost feels like a one-off as well. The previous mysterious ninja known as Ronin, Maya Lopez, was given the mission to stay in Japan and monitor the Hand while everyone else was fighting the Civil War. She gets herself captured and tortured by current Hand-leader Elektra, and it’s up to the rest of the team to save her. Eventually.

First the New Avengers have to deal directly with their underground status as rebels, and the newly christened, officially government-sanctioned team the Mighty Avengers (Final Thoughts coming soon) actively hunt them throughout the volume. The New Avengers hide out thanks to Dr. Strange’s magic, and there’s some tense moments as his magic masks them even while Iron Man and company are exploring the house they’re hiding in.

At one point the Mighty Avengers manage to draw them out using Steve’s fake body as bait (“That was dirty pool, man” – Spider-Man), and they’re able to escape thanks again to Dr. Strange’s incredibly useful and always ill-defined magic powers. The big battle they tease between the two super-teams never does happen, though to be fair we kind of got our fill of that during the whole Civil War event. The rebels quickly realize they’re no longer safe in the US, and flee to Japan where they rescue Maya and battle lots of Hand ninjas – essentially rehashing the battles of New Avengers Volume 3.

new avengers #29

While I respect that writer Brian Michael Bendis weaves the backstory of the New Avengers struggling against the Mighty Avengers with their ninja battles, it does get quite muddled and confusing to read from panel to panel. Yu’s art style is also quite unique and somewhat distracting. It’s extremely heavy on the pencils and shading. Normally I’d dig it but the characters themselves are drawn with a somewhat cartoonish and exaggerated look that I don’t quite mesh with. I like that the art is different enough to make the title really stand out from the rest (especially the bright and very traditional Mighty Avengers) but I still haven’t quite decided if I actually enjoy it or not.

Although the art is dark and the stories somewhat bleak, the dialogue is still snappy – almost jarringly so. Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage compete for biggest wise-ass as they constantly fire off comments and one-liners during every scene. It fits their personality and nicely balances the series and the team members – though I wonder what the hell Spider-Man and Wolverine are still doing on this hunted team.

At the end of the bland ninja fighting story, Maya rebels against her brainwashing and stabs Elektra. As she dies she suddenly reverts to her true form of a skrull! Dun Dun Dunnnn! Knowing what I know of Marvel continuity this must be an early and nifty tease of the next big crossover event Secret Invasion in 2008, and it’s definitely shocking and satisfying.

Even more enjoyable was the neat little twist about Hawkeye joining the team as the new Ronin. I guess training with a bow carries over to sword skills? Either way it’s cool for Clint Barton to have a nifty new role, and be an Avenger again. Even more poignant that he would choose to join the rebels after he was directly offered the role of being the new Captain America by Iron Man himself.

new avengers #30

I find it fascinating that Marvel kept the New Avengers team together and the series ongoing during The Initiative time period and beyond, even as multiple Avengers-focused series were being launched. New Avengers succeeds with its own distinct art style and fun team dynamic that is far, far more like-able and interesting than the Mighty Avengers’ ensemble. And who doesn’t love rooting for the rebels?

New Article – Starbound Preview

Starbound is one of the most famous of these upcoming sandbox games. It’s available on Steam in an Early Access version. However, recent updates to the game have made it a title that families should definitely keep their eyes on.

Eric_Watson-Starbound_dreadwingMinecraft‘s runaway indie success has nearly single-handedly spawned an entire genre of games—commonly called “sandbox.” They’re all light on structure and story, instead emphasizing open-ended gameplay such as exploration, crafting, surviving, and building with friends.

Starbound is one of the most famous of these upcoming sandbox games. It’s available on Steam in an Early Access version. However, recent updates to the game have made it a title that families should definitely keep their eyes on.

Real the full article at Pixelkin >>