Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dark Avengers, Vol. 1

Norman Osborn leads his own team of ex-villain Avengers as part of his Dark Reign takeover of Marvel.

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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!

marvelWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Issues: Dark Avengers #1-6

 

“My name is Norman Osborn, and I approve these Dark Avengers.”

The time period around 2009, Dark Reign, was Marvel’s not so subtle attempt at The Empire Strikes Back – a dark middle chapter where the villains seemingly win and the good guys go into hiding.

The political and social waves hit a crescendo during the skrull Secret Invasion. As then Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark was blamed for much of the disaster, while Norman Osborn and his team of Thunderbolts saved the day in the end. Thanks to some savvy manipulations, the former Green Goblin is given Stark’s job, dissolves SHIELD and creates HAMMER (“We’ll come up with what it stands for later”).

As part of his newly expanded role, Osborn creates his own Avengers squad. He has the keys to Avengers tower and brings in most of his Thunderbolts and a few new faces to create a villainous squad masquerading as heroes – which is exactly what the Thunderbolts were minus the literal donning of hero costumes. (Interestingly the Thunderbolts series would continue with a different team full of D-listers).

Most of the original Mighty Avengers squad get the hell out of dodge, with the exception of the easily manipulated, mentally disabled Sentry and aggressive God of War Ares. They’re joined by former Thunderbolts Venom (with drugs that allow him to look like black-suited Spider-Man), Bullseye (wearing Hawkeye’s costume), and Moonstone (dressed as Ms. Marvel’s Binary costume). Osborn brings in Daken (dressed as his father, Wolverine) and Noh-Var (Marvel Boy, pretending to me Captain Marvel). Finally Osborn himself suits up in one of Iron Man’s armors, calling himself Iron Patriot.

Dark Avengers #1

Whew, confused yet? That’s quite the roster, and pretty awful when it comes to diversity. Like Thunderbolts this is a team of not-quite reformed villains. The in-fighting and drama is high in every issue, though with so many members it’s often a montage of one-liners and quick scenes.

The first Volume highlights one major story arc in the first four issues. Dr. Doom returns to Latveria only to be attacked by a pissed off Morgana Le Fay. The two engage in a heated magical battle that leaves Doom disabled, and the Dark Avengers are flown in to help him.

Mike Deodato’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. I’m pretty sure he’s my favorite Marvel artist of everything I’ve seen thus far. The colors are deep and vibrant, characters look amazing while avoiding the glossy look (cough Greg Land cough) and action sequences are just incredible. Deodato loves the two-page spreads – even with scenes that are little more than extended dialogue sequences. Scenes are given dynamic poses and interesting panel construction that make everything that much more exciting to read. It’s a visual feast in every issue, and Deodato’s art absolutely elevates the otherwise so-so storytelling.

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Eventually Osborn works with Doom to defeat Morgana. The whole story boils down to one big action sequence with Morgana’s magic demons, and because the art is so great it’s fun as hell.

Afterward the Dark Avengers are given a whole issue to lick their wounds and explore the team’s volatile dynamic – Venom is fed victims of each battle, Bullseye is still a barely hinged psychopath, Moonstone has her own agenda, and Noh-Var has disappeared. The most interesting is Osborn’s interaction with the Sentry. He goes full on psychotherapist and uses his own very real inner demon to help Sentry cope with his. It actually paints Osborn in a favorable, sympathetic light, even though he’s using the Sentry as a powerful weapon.

Osborn soon has need for his ultimate weapon when a random Atlantean terrorist cell attacks. Namor is brought in as a brief but delicious cameo as someone that doesn’t take any of Osborn’s shit. Instead of seguing into another action-packed battle with the team, they send Sentry to basically kill them all.

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Osborn only barely holds the team together and his grasp is constantly paper thin. I enjoy the way Bendis writes Osborn and focuses on his political savvy when it comes to public relations, like in a scene where the real Hawkeye denounces Osborn publicly on air, and Osborn is forced to make a statement. His interaction as babysitter and general for the team remains enjoyable throughout the volume, and ends with his own inner demon – the Green Goblin, calling to him.

Dark Avengers is a neat idea, though this first volume mostly plays it safe and retreads much of the same road walked by Thunderbolts (who’s Ultimate Collection was also drawn by Deodato). As the Dark Avengers their profiles are much higher, but the implication that they’re pretending to be the heroes they’re not is sadly not fully explored. I definitely hope Bendis gives these cool concepts a chance to grow. As it is this first volume is still a fun romp, made extra awesome with Deodato’s fantastic art.

 

Early Access Preview – ARK: Survival Evolved

With an island full of dinosaurs to tame and ride, ARK: Survival Evolved is the most compelling survival game I’ve ever played

Read the full preview at Pixelkin

ark survival evolved

I spotted the peaceful parasaurolophus drinking by the river. I sent a rock flying from my crude slingshot, and my tamed pair of dilophosaurus shot out from beside me, chasing the fleeing herbivore across the water.

Dangerous things lurk in the water, like megapiranhas. I was nearly killed just making the brief swim. I lacked a Chris Pratt-style motorcycle and quickly lost sight of both my quarry and my dinosaurs.

On the far side of the river, I watched in stunned silence as a Spinosaurus attacked a herd of brontosaurus. I was snapped back to reality as a pair of giant killer wasps suddenly bore down on me. I fled right into a pack of wild dilophosaurus. My screen turned black as their spit hit my face, and I died to a frenzy of claws and teeth.

Welcome to the world of ARK: Survival Evolved, a prehistoric island where humans are the lowest on the food chain.

ARK: Survival Evolved contains the usual checklist for the popular survival genre that can trace its roots back to Minecraft: constant food and water needs, building and crafting increasingly complex buildings and items, and a big world to explore.

ARK also happens to be one of the best-selling games of the year, though it’s still in Early Access. Originally launched on Steam in June, ARK had the distinct advantage of featuring a gorgeous premise with an island full of dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters right when Jurassic World was taking over the cinema. Since then ARK has gone on to sell over a million copies, becoming a huge hit on Twitch.tv and YouTube.

Read the full preview at Pixelkin

Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 4

Saga Volume Four focuses a bit too much on predictable family drama, but remains one of the best stories in modern comics.

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.

Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Saga volume 4Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

Issues: Saga #19-24

 

The following phrases were exclaimed during my time with Saga‘s fourth volume:

“Whoa.”
“Ha!”
“Awww.”
“Oh no…”
“Wow!”
“Hehe.”
“Holy shit!”
“Crap crap crap”
“Holy hell.”
“Oh shit.”
“Oh snap – hell yeah!”

I devoured Saga Volume Four in a single day. The incredible (yet incredibly relatable) adventures and drama of new parents Alana and Marko continue to be one of the most impressive stories in modern comics.

Vaughan effortlessly builds an intriguing cast of wacky guest-stars and returning favorites, and isn’t afraid to kill or main them (or have sexy time) in a maturity level that would make Game of Thrones blush. Fiona Staples continues to be one of my favorite artists working in comics. While Saga Volume Four may be the weakest volume I’ve read thanks to some predictable family drama, that’s mostly due to how amazing the first three volumes were. Continue reading “Image Comics Final Thoughts – Saga, Vol. 4”

D&D 5E – “Lost Mine of Phandelver” Session 3 Recap

We reach level 2 and the frontier town of Phandalin, where our heroes learn of a threatening mercenary guild called the Redbrands.

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Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!

Note: Session 3 was held on Saturday, October 3rd, as one of our players would be out of town on Sunday.

 

If last week’s session was a combat-heavy dungeon crawl, this week’s was almost entirely made up of role-playing, socializing, and info dumping. We did end on a brief combat encounter at the end, but mostly it was a chance to the PCs to let their hair (or scales) down a bit in the town of Phandalin. It also gave me a chance to flex my voice acting capabilities, which are hopefully improving with every week (doing various voices when reading to my daughter does wonders).

The heroes had cleared out the goblins from their cavernous hideout, rescuing Sildar from his captive fate. Sildar Hallwinter was a hired bodyguard for dwarven explorer Gundren Rockseeker – the same dwarf who tasked our heroes with bringing the supply wagon to Phandalin. Their escort mission has now turned into a rescue mission, though their only lead is a place called Cragmaw Castle. Sildar mentioned he’d overheard the name several times as the goblin tribe’s base of operations in the area.

Everyone traveled to Phandlin in the hopes to find Cragmaw Castle (and also to rest off some grievous wounds). They turned in the supply wagon to Barthen’s Provisions and heard about the town’s woes with a group of mercenaries called the Redbrands. The PCs received some general goings-on in the town, then agreed to make their way to the Inn for more information and a hot meal. Continue reading “D&D 5E – “Lost Mine of Phandelver” Session 3 Recap”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – This War of Mine

Effectively combines the physical danger and emotional toll of war with a strategy layer of managing survivors and resources.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: 11 bit Studios

Publisher: Deep Silver

Release Date: November 14, 2014

rogues adventure

This War of Mine presents an immediately intriguing concept – tell the story of a heart-breakingly realistic war, from the civilians caught in the middle. The setting has a decidedly Eastern European flavor, and uses real photos for all the characters. The realistic dialogue and attitudes of everyone effectively ratchets up the empathy and emotional resonance throughout the rather lengthy experience. The board game-like cadence of crafting by day and scavenging by night gets a little repetitive at the end, but the overall experience has a perfect difficulty ramp. It’s a constant battle for emotional and physical survival, creating a very memorable experience. Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – This War of Mine”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Nova (2007) Vol. 3-4

Nova battles Galactus and the Silver Surfer before defending Earth during the Secret Invasion.

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!

marvelWriters: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artist: Wellington Alves

Issues: Nova (2007) #13-22

 

Note: For my Final Thoughts on Nova Vol. 1-2, see Annihilation: Conquest

Marvel’s cosmic stories hit a renaissance of high-stakes plots, epic galactic-spanning conquests, and larger-than-life heroes and villains in the mid 2000s. Nova, aka Richard Rider, aka the Human Rocket received a massive power upgrade as the sole survivor of the Nova Force after Annihilus’ army wiped out Xandar. His love/hate relationship with his Jarvis-like omnipresent collective AI known as the Worldmind became a fun and intriguing plot tool, and Nova was well utilized throughout the Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest mega-events.

There’s only the briefest of breaks in the action before Secret Invasion pulls Nova to Earth, and from there the plot quickly paves the way for the next big cosmic clash of War of Kings. While I enjoyed the Silver Age heroics of our space-faring hero, I wish he had more time to plant some roots and thrive as a solo hero rather than being whisked away from one big crossover event to the other. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Nova (2007) Vol. 3-4”

D&D 5E – “Lost Mine of Phandelver” Session 2 Recap

The adventurers successfully clear out the goblin-infested caves of the Cragmaw tribe, and reach level 2.

d&d

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!

Session 1 Recap

 

 

Our sophomore session resumed our first dungeon crawl in the goblin-infested caves, the Cragmaw Hideout. We spent the entire session inside the dungeon, so this recap will be far more tactical and combat-related and less plot/role-playing than others.

The players were given multiple paths and options, though scouting ahead would prove tricky as only one of them (Kethra, a half-elf) actually had darkvision. Thanks to some hilariously horrendous rolls on Initiative on my part – and a well-timed and powerful dragonbreath attack from Kalinaar, they were able to handle all the goblin foes quite handily.

The caves have a few nifty traps and elements in play – namely a stream that can turn into a raging river if one of the goblins spots the adventurers. Kethra the rogue spotted the goblin standing watch on the bridge, and with a single sneak attack was able to snipe it in one hit. She then scrambled up the walls and scouted around every angle, while the others continued on the Northern path.

Since they were already in the cavern by the time the goblins in the Twin Pools Cave area spotted them, it was pointless to spring the river trap. One of the goblins is scripted to leave and warn Klarg, their bugbear leader, but I had all of them stick around for a single round to fight off the sudden threat of the players. It was prove fatal, as a combination of Miri’s two monk attacks, Kalinaar’s sword and Kethra’s bow made short work of them (poor Talus still can’t hit anything with his cantrips – except for illusions).

Kethra stealthed her way into the Southern chamber – the boss chamber containing the hulking bugbear, his pet wolf, and a pair of goblins. Kethra’s stealth check beat out everyone except the wolf, who’s enhanced senses sniffed her out. Instead of trying to get off a surprise attack, she retreated to the previous room with the others, and Klarg sent everyone out to attack.

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Unfortunately for me I rolled absolutely terribly for initiative for the goblins, wolf, and bugbear (all under 5). It was a trend that would continue throughout the night, giving my players a huge advantage in every fight even without stealth and surprise. It was probably for the best as level 1 characters are notoriously weak, and the bugbear alone can easily drop a low level player character in a single hit from his morningstar – which he did!

First, however, Kalinaar used his fire breath attack at the entrance to Klarg’s chamber, perfectly bathing all four enemies in fire. Only the bugbear made his saving throw, leaving both goblins dead and the wolf about half-injured – from a single attack! Stupid dragonborn. After that it was cleanup duty on the wolf, and soon I only had Klarg left.

Klarg is scripted in the adventure to retreat if his wolf dies, which totally happened before he even had a chance to act. I had him run toward the chimney/fissure/escape hatch on the West end (which the players were debating on trying to go up earlier in the session). Miri was in his way and she had just killed the wolf, so he lashed out with his mace, connecting with a solid 12 damage and dropping her instantly.

Kalinaar bellowed a challenge and followed Klarg down the fissure, both successfully making their Athletics checks to avoid falling – though it would take him until the following round to actually take the fleeing Klarg down. It might not seem heroic but dealing justice to every evil creature is definitely in line with Kalinaar’s philosophy. Too bad the player already had a point of inspiration from the beginning of our last session!

The players were able to stabilize Miri, and with Klarg’s stash of treasure they found some potions of healing they could use to get her on her feet. At this point they’d already had 2 Short Rests, both after the first two battles at the end of our previous session, so it was surprising that those much more difficult combat encounters didn’t require a rest at all. Stupid dragonbreath + my awful initiative rolls!

They’d defeated the boss but still hadn’t located their employer Gundren Rockseeker. A final path remained in the Western half of the caves, which Kethra explored ahead (darkvision plus a great stealth bonus is a very useful combo).

d&dA horde of goblins surrounded a campfire in the final room, where a boss goblin stood on a ledge along with a human captive – Sildar Hallwinter, Gundren’s bodyguard. Finally we had a chance for a bit of role-playing and dialogue – though two goblins would die before I’d get a chance given my awful initiative rolls. There was also a funny moment when Talus used his Minor Illusion cantrip to conjure a “sexy goblin” among the pack, distracting half of them for the first round of combat.

The goblin leader, Yeemik, wanted to depose Klarg as leader of this band of Cragmaws. The players had already dispatched of Klarg, though Yeemik wasn’t yet aware of that, and demanded to see the head. Kalinaar had dramatically cut off the head and thrown it into the fire back in Klarg’s chamber, so Talus offered to go retrieve it.

Kalinaar kept Yeemik talking, so I had Sildar slowly worm his way closer to his goblin captor, and attempt to communicate to the others through meaningful glances at grunts. When Talus returned with the head, he used Mage Hand to float it toward him. I timed it that when Yeemik grabbed the head, Sildar tackled his legs, forcing a Dex saving throw from Yeemik. He failed, and fell into the cavern below, taking damage and re-initiating combat for everyone.

Yeemik was focused-fired and went down quick. though the remaining two goblins got in some deep wounds, including bringing down Kalinaar with a particularly deadly strike. Talus pulled off a sleep spell to give everyone some breathing room, and everyone performed some decidedly un-heroic murder of the remaining sleeping goblins.

By the end of this third combat encounter we’d gone a little over our allotted time and had to end it there. The heroes had earned enough experience to get to level 2, and a now rescued Sildar can hopefully give them some answers.

We didn’t make it quite as far as I expected, but the players’ slow and cautious approach definitely paid off as they scouted each encounter and planned accordingly (mostly). I was pleased that we completed all of Cragmaw Hideout, and the level up gives everyone a chance to look over their characters’ new abilities and be prepared to raise them to level 2 at the beginning of our next session. Yay no more super squishy level 1 characters!

Next time: Answers (and possibly more questions) from Sildar, and onward to Phandalin!

Watch our sessions live on my YouTube channel every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Subscribe and catch up on previous episodes!