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Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. You can dress as whatever character, etc you want; people give you candy just for knocking on their door, and there are some really good specials on TV. But beyond all that, it is a holiday about having fun! It's fun to do all these things. It's fun to get scared or to scare people. It's fun to go to or throw costume parties. It's one of the few times where an adult can act like a kid and not get slammed for it. So, in honor of all that, I present what I consider to be the end-all, be-all of Halloween Visual and Audio:


Also, for my wife, we have to include Witch Hazel:


That's kind of both ends of the spectrum there. Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

To Miniature or Not To Miniature, That is the Question

Well … not really. You see, I'm one of those people that has never had a problem with picturing what's going on during an RPG session. It could be my over active imagination, or just that I grew up playing games that required you to see what was going on in your head. I mean, the most we ever did, and the most I still do, is to draw a quick sketch if it's obvious that the point is not coming across. That is not to say that I look down on those that use miniature to enhance their gaming experience; it's just that I never saw the need for it.

Something that I DO have a problem with is game producers trying to convince players that they NEED to use the miniatures in order to play the game. That is not only greedy, but insulting to the players. They're basically saying, "Hey, dummy. We know that you're not bright enough to use our products without some type of visual aid, so here is our line of reasonably priced <snicker> products to make sure that you don't have to use any brain power." That might be a little over the top, but that's the impression I get when seeing this kind of thing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Which is your favorite Batman?

Not an easy question to answer, really. There are so many to choose from, much more than Superman, if truth be told, but here is a list of the ones that pop into my head when I think of the character:

  1. Original Bat-Man, by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, et al. This Bat-Man smoked a pipe and only went out when there was a crime broadcast on the radio, or his fiancĂ© was in danger. Even after the introduction of Robin a year later, this character remained virtually unchanged for decades. This version of the character was more lighthearted than what people think. In fact, way back in the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, Superman and Batman we very different from the way they are today. It was almost as if they swapped personalities somewhere in the 70's. This is also the version of Batman that I link to Adam West, Super Friends and the Brave & the Bold cartoon. Kind of campy at times & definitely not the brooding avenger he became. 
  2. 1970's Batman, the Dark Knight. The 1970's is when Batman started to brood more and the stories got grittier. I hesitate to use the term "more realistic" since it's comic books, but this was when Rupert Thorn, a Gotham Crime Boss that didn't put on tights, was introduced. Batman was also more involved in the down-to-earth storylines rather than the Save the Planet from the Menace of the Week kinds of JLA/Superman/Green Lantern stories. I would argue that this Batman, in general, is what we still had in comics up until the past few years. 
  3. Azrael Batman, pretender to the throne. Following the success of the Death of Superman, DC decided to knock off Batman by having Bane break his spine and paralyze him. Rather than having Dick Grayson aka Robin I aka Nightwing takeover (because it might just last and they wouldn't be able to get Bruce Wayne back), Bruce decided to pick the psycho, brainwashed assassin from the holier than thou Order of St. Dumas. Obviously, he went way around the bend and forced the miraculously recovered Bruce to come out of retirement and reclaim the job. Not my favorite storyline, as you might suspect. I liked the Death, Funeral, and Return stories over in the Superman titles, even though I knew it was a gimmick, but this just struck me as way too forced a set of circumstances in Batman. But, as I have stated before, I LIKE the idea of an original hero retiring/dying and having a replacement take over permanently. This could have been a great time to have Dick become Batman with Bruce as an advisor, but it didn't happen. 
  4. Dick Grayson, Son of the Bat. When Batman got on the wrong end of Darkseid's Omega Beams, several people tried to fill the role. The one that came out on top was, of course, Batman's original partner. Dick changed the costume slightly and moved out of the Cave to downtown Gotham (as Bruce did briefly in the '70's). After fighting to have people accept him as Batman, which didn't take long, Dick became an integral part of both Gotham crime fighting and the Justice League, which seemed to feature many possible successors such as Donna Troy, Supergirl and Jessie Quick. Of course, this couldn't last and Bruce was returned to the land of the living and immediately formed Batman, Inc. (so as to allow Dick to remain as Batman). Obviously, with the New 52, this is now a defunct history, but it was nice to see the Squire become the Knight. (As an aside, some people knew that this was someone different inside the costume from 2 clues. First, this Batman did a lot more acrobatics, a tribute to the circus in Dick's blood. Secondly, this Batman smiled.) 
  5. Animated Batman, Icon of the Small Screen. Batman: The Animated Series is the be all and end all of cartoon treatments of Batman. Not only is Bruce Wayne shown as merely a role that Batman plays (with different voices even), but is introduced us to a very successful revamping of many of the characters. While Batman was the main character, it was presented as more of an ensemble show. Alfred was integral to many of the plots, sometimes even verbally smacking Bruce upside the head when he needed it. Commissioner Gordon's Police, with Detective Bullock and Patrolwoman Montoya, were presented as being much more effective than you might come away with in, say, the Adam West show. Not to mention that the voice actors are now THE people that are associated with the characters, so much so that they were tapped for the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City video games. It's just not Batman if Kevin Conroy isn't doing the voice, IMHO. As you can probably tell, this is my favorite version of the character, since it's all encompassing without getting depressing, not to mention that I can watch it with my daughter and we both enjoy it. I would also include the Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited shows in with this as well.
    1. Batman Beyond. Although a distinct person, I have to include Terry McGinnis as part of the TAS universe and, thus, as a sub-entry. This is what I was talking about above, with Bruce becoming the mentor and having another Batman out throwing the punches. It was quite well done, with Mr. Conroy returning as Bruce, and the writing really held up. It's a shame that most animated series don't last very long, because I would really have liked to see more of this one. But, if you've got to go, you can't go out better than bringing back the original Joker and then killing him off.
  6. Live Action Batmen, most of them anyway. There have been many men who have put on the tights of Batman, and only some that got it right. I will be skipping the movie serials, which I do have on DVD, due to most people being unfamiliar with them.

    1. Adam West – Probably the best known Batman, and certainly the one who held the title the longest, is also the one most people despise. I don't, and it's probably because of 2 reasons. First, when the show was made, Batman had been written pretty much this way for about a decade, so it's not like this was any great departure. Secondly, this is the Batman that I was introduced to as a kid, so I guess it will always hold a special place for me. In fact, West has become so inseparable from Batman that he went on to voice the character in later Super Friends episodes and has even done a cameo on "Batman: The Animated Series" as The Grey Ghost, a TV character that Bruce Wayne watched as a boy. Even so, "Bat Shark Repellent"? Who thought THAT was a good idea? Even as a kid I didn't buy it.
    2. Michael Keaton – I actually liked Keaton's Wayne better than his Batman, not that his Batman was bad, just he was a little too … off. In any case, this is the only Batman that dealt with the Joker in the appropriate manner. Did he kill him? Not directly, but he didn't save his life either. I'm sorry, I love the character of the Joker, but there are just so many bodies that a hero should allow. Why the duel identity had to be revealed to Vale or Kyle is still a mystery to me.  
    3. Val Kilmer – This situation is the reverse of Keaton, since I like Kilmer's Batman better than his Bruce Wayne. Yet again we see the "secret" getting out to everyone and their sister, which does nothing to add to the story at all, IMHO. Still, Kilmer makes Batman as believable as possible in this movie, and I have to give him credit for that, since there wasn't much to work with there.
    4. George Clooney – Really? The less said about this debacle the better. 
    5. Christian Bale – The most recent actor to wear the cowl is probably my favorite of the five. He definitely got the "grim avenger" thing down and is easily the most violent batman on screen. I really liked how they had Alfred and Luscious Fox helping Wayne, and how they were both able to stand up to him. Again, I'm not thrilled that he had to let his girlfriend in on the secret and what the heck is with that voice? He couldn't do anything else to make Batman and Bruce Wayne sound different? He probably couldn't keep that up for more than a few minutes before needing a Bat-lozenge.  Oh, and one more thing.  Ra's, as in Ra's Al Ghul is pronounced "Ray-Sh" NOT "Raz".  They did that bit in Batman Beyond.  Sorry, but that irks the hell out of me every time I hear it.
That's my list. I'm sure I have forgotten some, not being the Bat-Expert that others are, but I think it's pretty comprehensive. Just remember to "Tune in next week. Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Digital Comics

OK, let me risk the wrath of the "Comics Purists" out there, but I happen to like the idea of being able to purchase my comics digitally. I've seen some of the free content out there and I think the quality is definitely up to snuff. Add that to the fact that I don't have to store the physical copies, along with the cheaper price, and I think we have a winning concept. I recently got rid of a few long boxes of comics, and I still have too many to keep in the house. If I could have all of that content on my laptop or an external drive, I would be ecstatic. 

Of course, I'm not one of those people (any more) that collects comics for their monetary value. I read them for the story and the art, so the lack of resale value doesn't bother me that much. Of course I'm also the guy who waits for collections of comics to come out so that I can save money versus buying each issue individually, so I might not be the most mainstream comics buyer out there.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The New 52

So DC Comics has decided to reboot everything for the second time. The first time, for those not in the know, was after the 1986 Maxi Series "Crisis on Infinite Earths", a move which I have always liked. However, it must be said, that I was only getting into comics at the time, and I was more of a Marvel guy (Hail Thor!). Now they've done gone and did it again. I haven't read any of the new comics, not because I'm not interested but because the disposable income just ain't there. From talking to an expert in the field (Ilan of Fat Moose Comics & Games in Whippany, NJ), I think it was another good move. Yeah, it sucks for the FLCS owner, as now they have fewer titles to sell, but as far as story, characters & continuity it seems to make sense, just like the '86 reboot.

The major problem I have with it, though, is the numbering. Taking Action Comics, for example, a title that has been around since the FIRST APPEARANCE of Superman and starting it over at #1 just seems too gimmicky to me. It's almost like saying that the last ~80 years of DC Comics aren't worth remembering, which I highly disagree with. But, if that is the only criticism, and it seems like it is from the things I have read, then I can deal with it. I might pick up a couple of issues eventually, even if it's just in collection form, but I think that, again, DC has made a bold decision to streamline things and I really hope it works as well as it did 25 years ago.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why do we play Tabletop RPG’s?

By "we" I mean gamers in general, not just those of my age demographic. Obviously, there isn't any one answer, so I will just break my reasons down for you.
  1. To spend time with Friends – This is the penultimate answer for me. There is no other reason to play a tabletop game, IMHO, than to have a good time with others. Even if you play in a pick-up game at a convention, or your FLGS, the goal is to have fun. As we like to say on the USS Justice, "If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong." There have been many time when an entire 4-5 hour gaming session consisted of nothing but telling stories/jokes, ribbing people or their characters (yes, S.M.U.R.F.E.T.T.E, I'm looking at you), or just generally laughing ourselves silly. (Just check out some of the Greyhawk Campaign Logs over a Greyhawk Grognard to see what I'm talking about.) So what if we got nothing done in game, everyone was able to have fun and that's a successful night in my mind.
  2. To try out something new – For example, I was involved in the playtesting for Adventures Dark and Deep up until recently (scheduling issues) and it was a great time. We purposefully tried out wacky things just to see what the rules could do, and that was fun in and of itself. And it's always amusing when your Half Orc Fighter (with 18/63 Strength) rolls a 1 for damage in unarmed combat and nearly rips a guy's arm off. Mongo, you will be missed.
  3. It's CHEAP! – Yeah, I know it seems trite, but once you buy the rules, you can play for an unlimited amount of time and you're using the most advanced processor on the planet to run the game (that's your brain, people). I don't know how many hours I played RPG's with my friends growing up, and usually only one person had to lay out the cash for the game for all of us to play. Much better than $40-60 per game that only lasts 20-40 hours of game time, not to mention the system to play them on. Pen and paper games are a bargain at twice price.
  4. You just can't do it anywhere else – I run a monthly (usually) game of King Arthur Pendragon for my wife and a few friends, which we always have a good time at. We're using The Great Pendragon Campaign, which takes the players from 10 years before Arthur is born until after his death, which spans 80+ years. How many games, other than a tabletop RPG, will have that scope? Not only do the characters get married, have families and die, but they are succeeded by their offspring to carry on in the game. It's not just that it doesn't happen anywhere else, it CAN'T! Try to get a PS3 or Xbox game with that many facets to it and it would be cost prohibitive. You get close with MMORPG's, but even then the world events and expansions cost a pretty penny. This is an expensive book to buy (luckily, one of my friends, who is a player in the game, owned it already), but you can't beat the experience.
That's my list. Anyone out there on the interwebs have any other reasons?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Luke Skywalker is 60!

Wow! When I read the post over at Grognardia about Mark Hamill turning 60 on September 25th, I was floored. Now, I am in my mid-thirties, and even though I'm still older than Star Wars (which in itself is a depressing thought), I grew up with Luke Skywalker being a young man, a hero farm boy, and someone Harrison Ford called kid. I guess being a father myself (of a 3 year old girl), celebrating my baby sister's 33rd and my father's 61st birthdays this past week, news like this really makes you take stock of where you are in your life. I've been at my job for 10 years (that's a decade folks!) and while I still play games (PS3 and Tabletop RPG being the preferred ways), I know that I'm getting older. I've owned, and had to sell, my own home. I've outlived my first pet (not one my parents took care of, a dog who was really wholly mine & my wife's responsibility). I've got more grey in my hair and more weight than I'd like. Not to mention the migraines and knee/hip problems that seem to pop up at the worst times.

All that being said, I believe there's more good in my life than bad. I've got a great family and set of friends that I get to see often. I may not be able to go out and buy everything I want, but I'm not behind on any bills. My wife just got a job after over a year of unemployment, and my daughter started Pre-School this past month. I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge, so all in all, I'm doing fine. It just takes me a little time to realize that every now and again, just ask my wife when I lose my temper.

Oh, and as for Mark Hamill (who will always be the best Joker; sorry Caesar, Jack and Heath), I'd say he's doing pretty well, too.