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A repository for all the creative works of Scott Casper

Updated: 2017-12-10T21:11:29.934-06:00


Making a Marvel Cinematic Universe -- in the 1980s (part 3)


With Fantastic Four 3 still in production, 1989's line-up would debut two new properties -- a Thor movie and a Spider-Man movie.For the Thor film, it was decided to highlight the Shakespearean nature of the character (not actually present in the earliest stories, but a significant feature later on) by hiring a Shakespearean actor.Kenneth Branagh was directing and starring in Henry V, but Universal was certain that Kenneth was perfect for the role of Thor and convinced him they could accommodate his Henry V schedule by filming in England (instead of on location in Norway), and using Don Blake instead of Thor as much as possible in the film. Kenneth also insisted that, in future films, his friend and frequent collaborator Brian Blessed would get to play Odin. Kenneth could not bulk up for the film, so some modifications were made to Thor's costume, such as giving it armored sleeves (and a long blonde wig, of course).Previous adaptions had been able to stick pretty close to the original source material, only combining two issues at a time and fleshing them out with more detail, character nuance, and interaction. This time, they were making a 117 minute movie which they had promised Kenneth would only feature Thor in 60 minutes of -- and they only had one issue to work with because Thor's second appearance (stopping a new civil war in Spain being instigated by Russians) was garbage.The solution was to bring in Nurse Jane Foster early (she was not featured in Thor's original origin story). To lend gravitas to the story, Don Blake was not on vacation in Norway, but was returning to his ancestors' homeland to die. His nurse had come, then, not on vacation, but to be his caregiver in his final weeks. When what seems to be a meteor strike causes horrific damage in Norway, Don and Jane pitch in to help the injured (this is borrowed from the set-up of Thor's second appearance). Of course, the strike is actually the ship of the Stone Men landing. This time, instead of being an isolated invasion, these are the shock troops of the Skrulls (tying all the Marvel movies together so far).Since the "will they/won't they" relationship between Don and Jane has to carry more of the movie, Meg Ryan was cast as Jane Foster (she was still an unknown, as When Harry Met Sally came out a few months later) based on the strength of her audition. Don Blake was cast as Tim Robbins, who had just made it to the big time last year with Bull Durham. Tim famously lost a lot of weight for the part so he would look sickly and weak, worrying the physicians who were on hand for the filming.Lastly, though animatronics for the previous movies had been handled by smaller companies, it was decided with Thor that Jim Henson Studios had to be brought on board to provide the animatronics from now on. To stretch out the film, the Stone Men were given characters and conflicting agendas, which meant the audience had to be able to be able to empathize with them -- something Jim Henson had pioneered with nonliving characters.The soundtrack was largely orchestral, featuring tracks from Wagner's operas, one of the biggest laughs in the movie is when Peter, Paul, and Mary break into "If I Had a Hammer."Though critics hailed this as the most cerebral superhero movie to date, the studio was concerned that combination of romance, fantasy, and science fiction was a lot for audiences to process. However, Thor raked in $100 million, the best for a Marvel movie so far. This would have been cause for celebration normally, but 1989 was a big year for movies and $100 million did not even break into the top 10. Further, the smash hit Batman made Universal concerned that they might be on the wrong track with fun, heartwarming superhero films, when Warner Brothers won big by going dark...[...]

Beatles: One More Album


A while back, I was thinking of the tribute band American English's great CD 1971 and wondering if they didn't go forward too far.

The Beatles' last LP was released in May 1970, not long after the band officially broke up, but by the end of 1970 the individual members had plenty of material between them to have put out a second album together, had they wanted to. And let's face it, McCartney and Plastic Ono Band were shallow albums from artists who were maybe not quite ready to go it alone yet.

So what if things had turned out differently? What if Paul and John had swallowed their egos and given George more space on the next album -- which they could have done and still George could have produced a two-disc All Things Must Pass! Further, when slick lawyer Allen Klein came between the Beatles, had he been exposed sooner as a hack to John, George, and Ringo sooner, they might have realized that Paul had their best interests at heart when he lawyered up independently from them. And best of all, if John had just put more professional distance between the band and Yoko Ono, there would not have been that tension between them. In such a more pleasant work environment, the Beatles might have felt like producing even more albums together!

So what would the last 1970 album be called? They had already done The Beatles, but by 1970 they weren't feeling like The Beatles anymore. All splintered in different directions, the Beatles might have decided to embrace this by naming their next album John, Paul, George, and Ringo

The first side would lead off with "Power to the People" -- a nice, upbeat anthem from John. Then they'd switch things up with Paul's "Every Night," followed by George's "My Sweet Lord."  Paul's little songs from McCartney would instead serve as bridges between bigger songs on this album, so next up would be Paul's "That Would Be Something," leading into John's "Love." Then we'd get a medley of Paul's "Junk" combined with "Teddy Boy" -- two songs with lots of potential that never really made it on their own. Then side one would come capped up with another great George song, "Isn't It a Pity."

Side B would lead off with Paul's best song, "Maybe I'm Amazed," followed by John's "Hold On." Then The Beatles would stun their fans with not another, but three more George songs in a row -- "What Is Life," "Let It Down," and -- because it's too good to pass up -- "All Things Must Pass." Lastly, Ringo would get to pursue some of his growing nostalgia with a closing cover of "Night and Day."

Making a Marvel Cinematic Universe -- in the 1980s (part 2)


We left off with Universal making a Hulk reboot for theatrical release with the help of Bill Bixby. The problem is, Bixby would be 53 when this movie came out in 1987, too old to be rebooting the franchise.  Bixby would graciously agree to let someone else take over the role in exchange for being able to direct the movie. Richard Gere would be picked to play Bruce Banner, and they would pick him up cheap because he was still three years from having a hit movie. Lou Ferrigno would keep the Hulk role, saving the movie a fortune on special effects.Jessica Harper would take a break from television movies to return to the silver screen as Betty Ross.The teenager Rick Jones would be played by Jason Bateman, then adored for many television roles as teenagers, while still unsuccessful transitioning to films.General "Thunderbolt" Ross would be played by Burt Reynolds.While lacking the pathos and emotional heft of The Fantastic Four, The Hulk would offer suspense, with a bestial, raging Hulk threatening everyone but Betty and Rick in the origin story/first act, the mystery of who the Gremlin is really working for ("If it's not the Russians, then...?") in the second act, and then the Cold War escalation of Gen. Ross wanting to send forces into Russia to retrieve his daughter when Betty and Rick after they were captured by the Gremlin's agents. It would turn out that the Skrulls are behind escalating the Cold War, tying this movie into the FF movie preceding it.Another historical piece, taking place in 1962, the soundtrack would feature "409" by The Beach Boys" (or "Rick's Theme," as it would become known) and "Crying in the Rain" by the Everly Brothers.The film would run 108 minutes and make $42 million at the box office, twice its budget, and while that would not be enough to push it into the top ten highest-grossing movies of 1987, it would just meet the threshold for Universal to continue a Hulk series, though the original plan of producing a sequel for 1989 would be pushed back to 1991.Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four sequel would already be in production. The breakneck pace of a new FF movie every two years would be possible by filming scenes for the sequels during the earlier filmings (a technique that would not actually be used until the Matrix films). Titled Fantastic Four 2: Return of the Sub-Mariner, the movie would begin with a 15-minute opening extended montage set in 1939-1942 and establishing who Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was. As for who Namor really was, that would be young actor Billy Zane, then best-known for a small part in Back to the Future.  The story would pick up in early 1962, with the FF tracking down the Skrull's leader, claiming to be a human called the Miracle Man. Super-hypnosis would make the FF think they were fighting generic movie monsters, but the Torch would accidentally blind the Miracle Man during the fight. The Miracle Man would flee and find an amnesiac Namor in a slum building and sic him on the FF. The Namor-Reed-Sue love triangle debuts, culminating in Namor summoning Giganto to wreck Manhattan. The Miracle Man is crushed by Giganto, but Namor gets away, setting them up for the next sequel.The soundtrack would feature "Monster Mash", but also "In the Mood" during the opening flashback sequence.Debuting in early 1988, Fantastic Four 2 would do even better than the first movie at the box office, quadrupling its $22 million budget at the box office with $88 million, coming just shy of pushing Die Hard out of the #7 slot for the year. At 118 minutes, this would be the longest Marvel movie to date, giving more time to quieter moments between characters and impressing the critics.[...]

Making a Marvel Cinematic Universe -- in the 1980s (part 1)


This idea has been mulling around in my head since last June. We all know the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a huge commercial success since the Iron Man movie of 2008 -- but could this have been possible two decades earlier? Could it have begun in 1986? Were the movies not ready for Marvel Comics, or was Marvel Comics just not ready for the movies?But it makes no sense to begin with Iron Man; the Fantastic Four is the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe and the movies should have started with the FF. But the FF also shows us that Constantin Film -- the company that produced the 1994 Roger Corman film -- was either not able or interested in launching a blockbuster series of movies. Someone with deeper pockets would have had to buy the license from them.Let's say Universal, flush from the success of Back to the Future, felt what few movie companies have ever felt -- both confidence in the superhero genre and respect for the original source material. So they bought the license to the Fantastic Four from Constantin, budgeted $20 million for the movie, and green-lighting their movie immediately.  A script would be written combining the first two issues of The Fantastic Four, giving them an origin story, keeping it a period story set in 1961, and having them discover the Mole Man and Monster Isle, a place where alien Skrulls have been creating monsters. The period detail would be exact, duplicating the hairstyles, clothes, cars, and buildings of the 1960s. The soundtrack would be largely orchestral, but also break into pop hits of the day like Del Shannon's "Runaway" and "Blue Moon" by The Marcels.Because Universal would need a big special effect budget, they would try to cut costs on casting by staying away from big names. For Mr. Fantastic, they would go to television and cast Robert Urich. Although a critical failure in movies to date, Urich was on fire on television in Spenser.The casting of The Thing would seem an unusual one, but bear in mind that the actor would be wearing a full-body costume for much of the movie (and animatronics would handle The Thing's face in close-ups), so this actor would have to be able to act mainly through his voice. That's why they would choose veteran voice actor Frank Welker to voice Ben Grimm (and Frank kind of looked like Ben Grimm too, for the origin scenes!).This is a bit hypocritical of me -- I have faulted the 2005 Fantastic Four film for over-sexualizing the matronly Invisible Girl -- but I cannot resist the chance to cast Rebecca De Mornay as Sue Storm. Rebecca may have been sexy, but I think she had the acting chops to balance that with being a mother figure -- for family is key and must be at the heart of any Fantastic Four film.As for the Human is no secret that Johnny Storm is not a deep character, and for half of the movie he would be covered by animated flame (traditional cell animation, of course), so it is least important that Johnny be played by a big name actor.I'm really going to go out on a limb here and cast then-unknown teenager and skateboarder Matthew Lillard as Johnny. Many years later, Matthew would show incredible talent by turning himself into a living cartoon character, as Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movies.  And having two connections to Scooby Doo (Frank Welker voiced both Fred and Scooby Doo) in the movie amuses me.The Mole Man would be played by Tim Conway, getting to play a heavy for the first time on his career.  His monsters would be a combination of men in rubber suits, stop-motion animation, and animatronics (based on what the scene required).  The Skrulls behind all these monsters would be actors wearing rubber suits, ala Star Wars. When the FF steal a Skrull ship and go up into orbit to confront the advance ships of what might be an invasion fleet, the FX would also be reminiscent of the model work in Star Wars.This movie would be about 109 minutes long, average for a top-grossing movie in 1986, and a huge success -- if it was as successfu[...]

GaryCon IX - part 3


I had to miss day 3 of GaryCon entirely this year, as I had a prior commitment to the Schaumburg Library ComicCon that day.Sunday, the Mrs. wanted to come back with me to GaryCon and give it another try. The plan was just to have her attend as a free observer.  This time, there was no trouble with getting to the con on time and we arrived early to the table where I would be playing Dragon Lairds with Tom Wham. Also at the table was Kifflie Scott, wife of Steve Sullivan, and "Zenopus", who I know from the OD&D Discussion Board.  Tom was great and let Megan participate. Dragon Lairds, a combination board and card game, was a more complex game than I was expecting and there were a lot of individual cards to learn about. The two hour time slot was not long enough to get more than halfway through the game at our slow learning pace, but everyone had a good time and Tom even had candy bars for everyone at the end -- so we were all winners! Better yet, Steve sold a poster map he had made of Lake Geneva to one of the other players, and it was made to look like an Old School D&D map. I just had to have one too! After the game, I figured Megan and I would spend two hours touring the exhibit hall and running into people...but there were a lot fewer people to run into on Sunday and we finished the hall in less than 30 minutes. I did buy some more great stuff, like the "new" version of Palace of the Vampire Queen by Pacesetter, and upgraded my El Raja Key Archive basic DVD to the standard model (which I verified I could do at the con, instead of mailing it back in, after talking to the TLB Games guys to make sure. We walked all around the convention, watching people play games and enjoying the con ambiance, something I always enjoy. But we still wound up at my table very early to set up for running James Bond 007.While setting up the game, an old friend, Justice Carmon, came over from watching Jeff Dee play and chatted with me for awhile. Luckily, I was feeling pretty confident for my session, as I had seven pages of notes, adapting the solo introductory story from the 1984 rulebook. I had not run the game, as I confessed later to my players, since the 1980s, but I had been studying the rules a lot and felt as comfortable as I could with what I had long considered a clunky game system.And I expected a full table too; this was the only one of my three games that had been fully booked online in advance, and had two people on a waiting list to boot!  But one person was a no-show, and two people decided to leave and go find a different game to play with their friend, and the two waiting list guys just happened to be there and took their spots.And those notes I'd carefully taken? The notes assumed they would head right away for the island (the scenario was called "The Island of Dr. No", after all), but for the first hour I had to wing everything as they did lots of serious spywork in Tobruk, Libya tailing suspects, bugging phone booths (this was the 1980's), and catching an assassin sent to kill them. That part actually went great. It was when they trailed the second assassin to the island that things started to fall apart.Two of them went in undercover to the island, which is what the majority of my notes had anticipated, but the other three snuck onto the island the night before, including their one good sniper...but a sniper who wasn't very good at being stealthy. He was caught and taken prisoner, leaving the player stuck waiting for awhile to get rescued.One of the two agents in the building went into the duct work to look for the captured agent and the missing agent (their original mission!), just as I had prepared for in my notes. Meanwhile, the other agent inside and the two agents outside tried to create diversions. The agent inside got in a fight with two engineers in the building and -- since his agent was more of an engineer type himself -- it was a slap fight that ended with the agent knocking the[...]

GaryCon IX Report - part 2


Day 2 of GaryCon started -- with me already running behind! Sluggish and unable to get out the door when I was supposed to, I headed back up to Lake Geneva from Chicagoland, arriving there a bit after 10 again. This was particularly unfortunate because the game I wanted to play that morning started at 8 am, when Carlos Lising was running a pick-up game of his own fan-made sequel to the Slave Lords modules. He had, through his connections, secured not only a quiet board room to run his game in, but roped celebrity player Luke Gygax into playing!  Better still, my collaborator and Castle Greyhawk webcomic artist Mike Bridges was there with his good friend Jayson. And David Hill, a name I recognized from Facebook groups I belong to, was there. We had to be out by 11:30, which left me less than 90 minutes to play the illusionist I picked out. Sadly, I was the 13th player in a chaotic hunt for Markessa (the villainous Slave Lord from module A2) that had already devolved into about three separate groups. Carlos was doing a good job of keeping track of everything and role-playing familiars each character had (for some reason), but the hectic pace didn’t give me much time to shine. We also failed to find Markessa (I do like to think my ESP and Invisibility spells were integral to stopping her lieutenant, the Man in Black, though). Besides the star-studded players, Carlos had put together an adventure chock-full of winking nods to the original A series of modules. Afterwards, Carlos, Mike, Jayson, and me all hung around each other and went to the exhibit hall. Mike got his copy of the Greyhawk map from the folio signed by Darlene. Carlos picked up a paining he had commissioned Jeff Easley to do for him that will be the cover to his fan-made module. Everyone was impressed -- I have seen professionally published work by Easley with less attention to detail than this painting. We wanted Carlos to continue touring the hall with us, but he was a little incoherent after being stunned by his amazing painting. We left him floating on cloud 9 while we perused various booths. I picked up the Hirelings board game for a steal and proudly carried that around with me the rest of the day.Mike, Jayson, and I stayed together for lunch, leaving the con and heading to Claw’s Hot Dogs, a place I had discovered just the night before when I was briefly turned around trying to leave the con. It seemed a remarkably appropriate name for a restaurant within a short driving distance of convention focused on Dungeons & Dragons (only Claw/Claw/Bite Hot Dogs would have been better).  The food was good, served fast, and came in good-sized portions for the price. Mike and Jayson had to get me back to the convention quick, though, because at 2 o’clock I was signed up to play “The Wyrd Museum.”  I didn’t know the DM, Robert Fredona, from Adam, but I was hooked by the event catalog’s description of “OD&D with a Victorian twist.”  It exceeded my expectations. I knew I was in for a treat when, not limited to well-known Victorian characters, I got a chance to play Carnacki, the original ghostbuster in fiction. I naturally jumped at the chance. Every detail of this scenario was meticulously, even lovingly crafted, from the custom character sheets that resembled the original 1975 D&D character sheets, to the museum brochure full of clues we were offered at the start of the game, to the table-sized map that had every major object in every room on display as a miniature. I have seldom used the word "sumptuous" with a gaming session, but this was sumptuous immersion. The play itself went very well, though that was equally attributable to the players as to the DM's preparation. The scenario itself was almost too straightforward for a four-hour time slot, but The Invisible Man's player wisely turned on us at the end to give us a new antagonist and a more dramatic climax. When[...]

GaryCon IX Report - part 1


My 2017 GaryCon IX adventure began a day early. I had decided to accept the open invitation of Frank Mentzer to come to Frankenparty, the huge gathering at his Wisconsin home the night before the con. It was a little adventurous just getting there from Chicagoland, as I missed a turn and got lost briefly right around the border, but I soon found my way there by another route. A lot of people were already there by six o’clock, who all seemed to know each other, so I was feeling pretty shy and ready to hide in a corner when I got inside. Luckily, Carlos Lising was there and spent some time sitting with me and talking about comic books. With his encouragement, I hung around Frank Mentzer’s office, listened to him tell stories, and got to touch Gary Gygax’s desk. I completely botched the treasure hunt, though, even with several people offering me help. Frank and Debbie were such gracious hosts that I would definitely like to go back next year. The next day was Day 1 of GaryCon.  That morning, I left again from Chicagoland, this time bound for Lake Geneva. A wrong turn took me to Grayslake and I thought I would miss my first event at 10 am, but I made excellent time through Wisconsin thanks to their speed limit of 70 and I made it to the Grand Geneva Resort just 10 minutes late. I did not even have time to pick up my tickets and name tag; I had to slip away in the middle of the session to go get those. My first event was an AD&D (1st ed) adventure called “A Debt of Honor.” My friend Will Schumacher had recommended the DM and I thought he would be playing with me, but Will had dropped out the week before.  Right away, while looking at the characters available to play, Eli triggered one of my pet peeves --  too much house ruling. When I sign up to play a certain game at a convention, I expect to play that game as-is, not someone else’s modified version of it. But the halfling thief looked unaltered; I gladly accepted it even though, in my experience, thieves tend to be unimportant past low level. The scenario was decent, though the back story was too hard to figure out.  I was glad for so many traps in it, since it kept my thief relevant. Some of the traps were ingenious, though the placement of them was repetitious. As is sometimes the case with these convention scenarios, it’s the fellow players at the table who made the game special. I graded the event with a B and left the table at 2, thinking this was an encouraging beginning, despite my frantic arrival.Next, I had a ticket to observe Jim Ward's Celebrity Metamorphosis Alpha event (having failed to secure a player ticket). I explained to him in advance how my plan was to observe just the first half of the game before checking out the exhibit hall. This was my first time observing Jim game mastering and was struck by his natural charisma and charm. I picked up some good ideas from him, like letting the players pick any 10 items they want to carry, and shuffling index cards with players’ names on them instead of having people roll individual initiative. All was going well after an hour (even for the players - only one character death by then), until I found I had some recycling to throw away. That led to a long quest to find a receptacle marked for recycling that ultimately ended in failure. Later, I was told that the bins with tan bags inside were for recycling, but since no one knew that I found they were always filled with mixed trash. Only in this way did the Grand Geneva Resort let me down all weekend.Because I had wandered so far afield with an empty and unwanted water bottle, I had found myself too close to the exhibit hall. Now, in just a few hours of being out of service range, my phone was rapidly sucking it's battery dry. I was hoping my friend Carlos would have a compatible charging cord, and knew I would  find him in the hall. This would, surely, just be a [...]

Chronology of Events for a Silver Age Marvel Super Heroes Campaign


Many years ago, I tried to run an ambitious, open-ended Marvel Super Heroes campaign set in 1967. What follows are my scheduled events for the first day and a half of campaign time.

Watching the 20th Century, 1912-1913


The Land Beyond the Sunset's been awhile since I've watched a film from the Edison studios. It's clear that the directors here have learned a lot from D.W. Griffith, in regards to staging and building pathos on film. This is the sad, and a little weird, tale of a poor boy in the big city, mistreated by his mean old grandmother (possibly the first wicked grandmother character in film history).One day, he gets a chance to go along with a church group out into the country and sees the world outside the inner city's slums for the first time. He hears a story about fairies and we're treated to a story within a story of the same boy, imaging himself in Tudor garb, being led to a magical place by fairy women.The story is a strong condemnation of inner cities, and it's inspiring that the boy feels empowered by fantasy fiction, to want a better life after hearing it. But it's also a little weird that the positive change in the boy's life we get to see is him running away from home (actually, drifting off to sea in a rowboat, which seems even more dangerous!).1913The House of Darkness, it’s not a horror story; the house is an insane asylum. The doctor’s wife learns that her piano playing serves as musical therapy for her patients. At first, the patients are shown sympathetically, but it soons become evident that the inmates are in this drama to give it an irrationally violent villain. There is some interesting casting here -- this is the earliest movie I’ve ever seen Lionel Barrymore in. Here he plays the doctor and, for those of us who grew up watching It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s hard to believe Lionel was typecast as playing good guys until that movie. Lillian Gish is wasted as a nurse with a part that’s little more than a walk-on cameo. Charles Mailes is a convincing villain. There is also effective use of slow fades to black in this film.The Mothering Heart W. Griffith teams up with Lillian Gish again for this ...well, it was probably intended as a tear jerker. Lillian is an innocent young bride of a poor husband who succeeds at business and then wants the better things in life, without her. Lillian seems poorly cast as the dowdy, cast-off wife -- at least until her crowning moment when she learns her husband is cheating on her and you can see the innocence melt away from her face. Why is it called The “Mothering” Heart? About two-thirds of the way through, we finally see a baby. Lillian is raising the baby on her own, but there’s no explanation for where the baby came from and we never saw Lillian pregnant. Were they separated for nine months during what seemed like only one dinner date with the mistress? Spoilers -- things don’t go well for the baby, giving Lillian a chance to show some more emoting, though less convincingly. And there’s an annoyingly contrite reconciliation at the end.The Night Before Christmas you thought Christmas needed more witches and devils in it, this 1913 Russian film is for you! Vakula the Smith is the village nerd -- despite being ridiculously strong, he’s rejected by the prettiest girl in town and mocked by her friends at her Christmas party. The girl teases him by agreeing to marry him if he brings her the tsar’s wife’s shoes. Meanwhile, the sexy village witch (we know she’s sexy because she bares her forearms) is consorting with a devil (possibly The Devil). She’s perfectly okay with consorting with devils, but is hugely embarrassed at the thought of being caught with male visitors. In the film’s best and truly funny scene, as a string of male visitors come around to call on her, she stuffs them one by one into sacks and hides them (including the devil) in the corne[...]

What If I Ran 1966


Screen capture from Mike's Amazing World of Comics.I’ve done several “what if” posts like this in the past for this blog (like “If I ran Marvel Comics”), considering what I would do if I was given control of Marvel Comics. But this time, I’m thinking about something new…what would I do if I’d been given control of Marvel back in 1966.This was a pivotal time in Marvel Comics. Steve Ditko was gone. Wally Wood went to go work somewhere else. Stan Lee -- I don’t like to say anything bad about Stan, but he was stretched thin trying to write too much. The idea that the Marvel universe was proceeding in real time was disappearing. But at the same time, Jack Kirby was hitting new heights of storytelling greatness and creating new characters at a fever pitch. This was still a great time for Marvel, but it could have been even better.   Let’s assume that I was brought into the company by an aging Martin Goodman. The old man would sort of betray his nephew, Stan, who was the rightful heir to the Marvel Comics Group. The first thing I would do would be to talk to Stan about how valuable he was to the company, thank him for all he’d done, but ask him to cut back to four titles and really concentrate on turning out good stories and watch his continuity.The next step would be to declare what titles the company would be publishing from then on. Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, and Tales of Suspense were going to get split out into individual titles early. I would dump Fantasy Masterpieces and just have one reprint book, Marvel Tales. Millie the Model was getting cut back to one title. Two-Gun Kid and Rawhide Kid were going bye, but Kid Colt Outlaw would stay (the other two cowboys could always guest-star in his title). Patsy and Heady would stick around. That would be 17 titles, about what Marvel was already producing anyway. Next up would be bringing Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back together. I would make them talk about what slights or imagined slights Ditko perceived and offer Ditko a deal -- he wouldn’t have to come back and draw, and he wouldn’t have to work with Stan anymore, but I wanted him inking Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Then I’d have a heart-to-heart with Jack Kirby. Jack would open up to me and tell me about his issues with Stan. I would reassure Jack that I would take Stan off all his titles and, in return, Jack would stay loyal to Marvel and never leave for DC. His Fourth World characters would later become part of the Marvel line.Next I’d find Wally Wood. I wouldn’t want to take him away from THUNDER Agents because that was some amazing stuff, but I'd give him the incentive he needed to find time to keep working for Marvel on the side by doubling his pay. In fact, let's just assume that I came to Marvel along with the financial backing to double the pay of all the artists and inkers.    Other than that, I would keep all the same creative players Marvel was already using, or had used at least once in the past year, but maybe mix them around a little.Then I would meet with everyone and explain that Marvel Comics would continue to be about change and not the illusion of change. Time would continue to pass in the comic books, though we would begin slowing it down to 6 months of comic book time in 1 year of real time. Further, every issue would resolve at least one plot element. No plot strings would go untied after six issues. And no cliffhangers picking up at the same time the following issue; at least a minute of time would have to pass, without cheating the reader. On specific titles:Amazing Spider-ManI would take over writing Spider-Man, with John Romita doing the art, but Steve Ditko inking over him to keep a consistent look with the first three years of the title. I would get Peter Parker out of the rut of taking photos fo[...]

Dirk Gentle's Holistic Detective Agency Review (through Episode 4)


Halfway through Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (I'm an episode behind) and ready to share what I think I know so far. POTENTIAL SPOILERS (if I'm right):In the 1960s, a rich inventor is working on a time machine. He needs a power source, so he builds the power grid under the neighborhood where Todd lives. But he's old and afraid he's going to die before he finishes, so he invents a mind transferal machine; that way, he can put his consciousness in a younger body and continue. In the new body, he falls in love (with who? The mother hasn't been revealed yet. Is this the only thing that doesn't tie in?) and fathers a daughter. He knows his daughter is in danger because people are after his machines, so he hires the bodyguard, Farah. He also hires Dirk Gently to investigate his own death before it happens.In the end, before he dies, he finished the time machine. He used it to find out how he dies and that his daughter has been kidnapped. He needs to make sure Dirk knows how to find her and save her, but he can't just leave him a note because then the ones who want the machine will find it. So he lays out a bunch of clues that lead to the "death maze" (perfect for H&H!) and the map to where they'll find his daughter at the right time to save her.I was way off on the First Souls. I thought they would be the first sentient beings who had the ability to transfer into other bodies naturally. That they hired the inventor to build the time machine for them because they wanted to go back to their original bodies. But now I'm disappointed; it seems the First Souls were just a group of thieves who found and stole the mind transferal machine back in the '60s. Now they have a much more nebulous reason to want the time machine. They may not even know what the time machine does, but just want it because the inventor made it and figure it's something useful. Who summoned the shark that killed the father? I suspect it was the father himself. He knew when the First Souls were coming for him, knew the shark would kill them, and in the chaos his daughter would be able to escape. Why they brought his daughter's consciousness to him in the body of a corgi, I'm not sure. Perhaps it was an extra precaution -- trade the corgi first, then machine, then the daughter's body last? How do Todd and his sister Amanda figure into this? Their "disease" (gift?) makes (or made, in Todd's case) them sensitive to cosmic phenomena. It makes them able to be in the right place at the right time. I suspect Dirk Gently has the disease/gift too, no one has said so yet, but the CIA mistook his disease for ESP. Why is Dirk Gently so different from the novels? He seems much less sure of himself than he should be, and increasingly reliant on Todd to do things for him. I think that's what the Rowdy 3 are draining from Dirk every time they encounter him, his disease. I'm not sure if there's an agenda there; I suspect they are something like incubi or vampires who drain the disease from him. They haven't tried it from Todd because his disease is in remission and Amanda's medication blocks them from fully perceiving she has the gift. The real loose end is, who sent the assassin Bart? I suspect it's the CIA. They may know some of what's going on thanks to their ESP branch and want the machines for themselves. They have a two-pronged approach for stopping Dirk -- one is Bart, sent to kill him, and two is Col. Riggins, who Dirk sees as a father figure. They would prefer Riggins to be able to bring Dirk in as their plan A, which is why they put the assassin on Dirk's trail from so far away (it is taking her forever to drive to where he is!). [...]

The Best of Out-of-Context Theater - pt. 1


You may have seen websites like this before -- panels of comic book art, taken out of context, where it can be shown to have a (probably unintentional) funny double meaning. The name "out-of-context theater" came from fellow RPG author Steve Miller, who started posting these on Facebook in 2014. The following year, I started posting more, exclusively from 1930s-era comic books. These are the best of those posts.Warning: this is the most risque humor you're likely to ever see from me on this blog.Ben Webster's Page (The Funnies #2).From "Marty McCann, Champion of the Navy" (More Fun Comics #23).From Funny Picture Stories v. 2 #2 (1937).From Funny Picture Stories v. 2 #3 (1937).From Detective Comics #10."Car jerkin" may mean something different than I think it does. From Famous Funnies #43 (Feb. 1938).From Action Comics #3.Zatara doesn't understand why this always makes the female escorts nervous.Cheaper this way...[...]

Seeing Paul McCartney


I don’t actually have a bucket list, but if I did, seeing Paul McCartney in concert would have been up near the top. Only now I can cross that off my non-existent bucket list – because two nights ago I saw him in Cleveland, Ohio. I did not buy a ticket for Megan, partly to cut costs on the trip, but also because I knew she would not be as excited to see him as me. But she still wanted to come on the trip, having never seen Cleveland.Megan and I expected the drive across Indiana and Ohio to be rough; the air conditioner broke in the car awhile back. It was 84 degrees in the car in the afternoon, but not the whole afternoon because we drive through a rainstorm in Indiana that came with its old cold front. For a while, it was 67 degrees in the car. And the drive took a really long time; Megan and I left at 8 in the morning and we reached Cleveland’s west suburbs at 6 (and that’s including the hour we lost driving east).Until the night before, Megan had been planning on driving us back home that same night after the concert, but she chickened out (fortunately – she would have been driving until 7 am!) and we made a reservation for an America’s Best Value Inn. The building itself was pretty dumpy, in a pretty slummy neighborhood, but the room itself was fine.I had foolishly imagined us reaching Cleveland as soon as 3, having time to explore downtown Cleveland and eat dinner downtown before dropping Megan off back at the motel. I even had the downtown restaurant picked out I wanted to try (the Winking Lizard Tavern – sounded so D&D-y!). But as pressed for time as we now were (the concert started at 8!), we had to settle for a Big Boy restaurant. I had not been to a Big Boy in decades and had waxed nostalgically about them since seeing our first sign for one in Ohio, so Megan was now looking forward to it as well. Megan was fine with her meal, but I was disappointed, having remembered it being better. It reminded me a lot of Denny’s.Having dropped off Megan back at the motel, I made my way downtown. I was used to the squalor around downtown, having driven into Chicago plenty of times off the expressway. Downtown itself was pretty spectacular, looking like a floating island. The bridges to downtown even reminded me of Fellowship of the Ring. That was a pleasant surprise. My next surprise wasn’t so pleasant. I had read that parking could be had just a few blocks from the Quicken Loans Arena for $5-6 – which might be true most of the year when there was nothing special going on at the arena or the neighboring stadium. But because Paul was there that night, every parking lot downtown had a “special event” rate of $20-40. I drove further to the $20 lots (still feeling gouged – way to make a good impression on new visitors, Cleveland!). Then I ran half the way back to the arena. I was now down to 15 minutes to 8!There were four lines to get in, and then just a mass of people inside. I had been asked by a coworker to pick up a program book, but I saw no merchandise for sale anywhere. I did see plenty of beer and food being sold down every corridor. My seat was two levels up. I had to take an escalator and thought that was going to be my only problem with heights for the night. I was so wrong.I stepped into the auditorium – to find it the most vertical auditorium I had ever seen! To reach my seat, I would have to step out onto a narrow ledge with just a short glass wall in front of it, with a 40’ drop underneath it, and then climb stairs that were more like ladders than stairs. I couldn’t do it – I started breathing fast and my legs got weak. I told an usher I couldn’t go out there. I was told I could go to the customer service window in the corridor and request a bette[...]

Watching the 20th Century, 1912


(Continuing from here)Cleopatra, boring experiment with filming a 97-minute stage play, without sound. Twenty years later, a director like Cecil B. Demille will make material like this work, but in 1912 cinema wasn’t ready to tackle this yet. There is perhaps 10 minutes of good cinematography throughout the movie, and at least half of that in the meeting of Cleopatra and Marc Antony for the first time, at about 30 minutes into the movie. If you’re going to watch any part of this train wreck, just fast forward to that.The Girl and Her Trust bad films in a row put me off this project for awhile, but D. W. Griffith delivers with this short action film. Sure, the hero is a jerk you wish would get his comeuppance instead of the girl, and the telegraph girl’s plea is laughably specific (“Help...tramps!”), but it has exciting jump cuts and close-ups to build tension, very advanced camera work (first scene filmed from the back of a speeding car?), pretty good performances by Dorothy Bernard and one of the unnamed actors playing a menacing hobo, and possibly the first exciting locomotive chase in film. The Sunbeam is a dark little film from Griffith about a cute little girl who brings a couple together. From a modern perspective, it is a bit disturbing how affectionate two strangers get with a little girl, and how quickly they decide to adopt her without even considering checking to see if there’s a next of kin. Still, the girl is adorable and it’s fun seeing the rotten kids get their comeuppance by being run off by the cops. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this the first film I’ve watched intended as a horror film? It’s very cheesy; I find it hard to believe that even an audience in 1912 would have found this remotely scary. The film is ambiguous about whether Hyde killed the parson, or what he planned to do to the little girl he knocks down. The trick of having Jekyll drop items off his lap to show his distracted state of mind is used twice.Petticoat Camp this title and this plot, this would have made a good screwball comedy in the 1930s, with a surprisingly strong message about gender equality. There is the outline for such a movie here, but it isn’t well-realized in silence, and the humor is understated for so long that when it turns absurd it is quite jarring. There is one good sight gag, when one of the husbands tries to serve a meal to the other abandoned husbands. The Musketeers of Pig Alley is really hurting my enthusiasm for my “Watching the 20th Century” project. The movies have not been very compelling from this year. I’d rather be watching the Mack Sennet comedies that began this year, but they’re too short by my own rules. This movie didn’t help much. A D.W. Griffith gangster flick, “Musketeers” follows hot young Lillian Gish, who becomes the object of wonderfully menacing Elmer Booth’s infatuation. He beats her boyfriend and robs her so she’ll have no one to turn to but him, but when a rival gangster also takes an interest in her, Elmer and the other guy’s gangs have a shootout that leaves only Elmer alive. The middle of the film is padded with a lot of non-suspenseful gangsters stalking each other, and I don’t buy that the milktoast-y boyfriend spots his billfold on Elmer during the shootout and steals it back while bullets are flying around them. Also, if you look closely, there’s a walk-on during the alley stalking scenes[...]

Ape-Man #5


It seemed like there was nothing those Commies wouldn’t try, except for tackling Ape-Man!  And even that was only true until the -- “Attack of the Red Chimp!”by Scott Casper, thanks to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Tales to Astonish #39The delivery truck came to a screeching halt at the dock, the driver pulling up perpendicular to the gangplank. Some tough-looking men waited on the barge, expecting the delivery.  A strange, accented voice came over a crackling loudspeaker:“Hurry and load the cages aboard the ship!”Other men were already swinging open the back doors of the truck, pulled down a ramp, and tugged on wheeled cages to roll them down onto the street.  The cages were large, and needed to be, since they contained every ape from the ape exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, including Mattie the gibbon, Bobo and Faben the chimpanzees, Plato and Ginger the orangutans, and Johnson the gorilla.A man working a crane on the dock hoisted the cages, one by one, into the air and onto the deck of the barge. The last crate, holding Johnson, was in the air when a Volkswagen microbus screeched around a corner, some blocks away, but made a beeline straight for the docks at dangerous speeds for city streets. “Stop that van from reaching the ship!” commanded the voice on the crackly loudspeaker. Three men answered by producing sub-machine guns. They lined up and opened fire on the approaching microbus, aiming for the windshield and the front tires. The windshield shattered right away, but the driver was hunched down out of sight. The left tire blew out first, and then the right, sending the microbus swerving out of control. The vehicle tipped over and rolled, clattering down the street straight towards the gunmen, who had to scatter out of its way. When Ape-Man appeared, he was leaping over the top of the still-rolling microbus, over the heads of the gunmen, tucked and rolled right past them, and then jumped up into a sprint for the gangplank. In the minute it had taken to get this far, Johnson’s cage was on deck and the barge was starting to move. Ape-Man easily vaulted the distance to the deck, landing within reach of one of the tough guys guarding the cages and took him down with a ferocious right hook.  Three others held what appeared to be cattle prods, no doubt meant to harm the apes. Ape-Man laid into them and, a minute later, was standing over the last of them still conscious.“Where’s the Red Chimp?” Ape-Man angrily asked in his face.  The anger was more for show, for inside, Ape-Man was secretly nervous.Unlike W., The Price, goons from the H.E. corporation, and the smaller crooks Ape-Man had fought so far, the Red Chimp had a history stretching back 10 years. Ape-Man had done some digging at the library and found out that the Red Chimp was once an ordinary chimpanzee, its intelligence enhanced by Russian scientists, and then trained by the KGB to be a spy. The Red Chimp was suspected in assassinations and government coups all over the world, but no one would likely have known anything about him had True Blue not stopped him once in ‘57, when a lot of the details of the Chimp’s past came out. The loudspeaker crackled again. “If you are looking for me, come to the fore end of the barge, Ape-Man.”The barge was about 100 feet long, with a wheelhouse cannibalized from a tugboat at the fore end. Ape-Man looked into each of the cages and saw the ape prisoners looked nervous. “Just stay calm; I’ll get you back home,” Ape-Man said into his headpiece communicator. The apes understood.Ape-Man moved cautiously from the cages towards the fore of the barge, and not just because he suspected a trap. The barge had [...]

Ape-Man #4


The Ape-Man has always been smarter than his opponents before, but what happens when he faces a mad scientist who is his equal? Find out in —“The Price of Defeat!”by Scott Casper, thanks to Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby for Tales to Astonish #38Face front, true believers! This tale is going to start right in the thick of it!Teenagers scattered like alarmed pigeons as Ape-Man burst out of the planetarium. He leaned into his run, sometimes running on all fours as his long, loping arms swung in front of him. But where he was headed…he was not sure. Where?  Where could he be? Every clue he left has just been a red herring so far! Ape-Man inwardly fumed. While he fumed, he noticed that not everyone was running from him. He could not ask anyone why they were running, looking as ape-like as he did, but he could look around and try to trace back an origin point they were running from, and it seemed to be the nearest science lab building on the campus.“Aha!” Ape-Man shouted and he sprinted for the front entrance to the science lab building. He went for the door handle and almost touched it — but drew his hand back when he glanced through the door’s glass panel and saw there was something affixed to the door handle on the inside. Getting a better look, he saw they were jumper cables, hooked to a car battery on the floor. Ignoring the handle, Ape-Man jumped up into the air and kicked the door hard with both feet — hard enough to break the door open. After ducking inside, he stopped and listened, only to hear men’s gruff voices coming from down a corridor, and the sound of an idling vehicle. There must have been a door open at the rear of the building, Ape-Man figured.Ape-Man snuck down the corridor, ducking into a doorway in time before two big men emerged from the stairwell carrying something heavy between them. Glancing at their backs as they walked away from him, he saw they wore delivery uniforms.“I hope there ain’t more of these…” one of them grumbled.Ape-Man silently crept after them, eventually following them to a loading dock where two more men in delivery uniforms were coming from the back of an idling van. They held a big cardboard box open for the other two men to put what appeared to be a piece of computer equipment inside.Someone in sneakers was coming up behind Ape-Man, too close for him to dodge out of sight again. Ape-Man glanced back and saw a man in a dark suit, wearing a hood over his face — and the man saw him right back. The hooded man reacted with surprise, but not too much alarm.“It’s Ape-Man!” the hooded man shouted with a familiar voice. “Don’t just stand there! Get him!”Ape-Man glanced back and saw that two of the movers had pistols in their hands now. He was exposed here in the corridor, but behind him was the doorway to what looked like a chemistry lab he could duck into for cover. Ape-man glanced back again at the hooded man, who had stepped away already to an elevator that was opening for him.  It only took a moment’s calculation for Ape-Man to figure that the men with guns posed the greater threat. Ape-Man reached into the room behind him, grabbed up a waste basket, and swung it over the head of the nearest goon. While the first goon struggled with aiming a gun while he could not see, Ape-Man picked him up and threw him into the goon right behind the first.“I – do – not – like – guns!” Ape-Man roared, shaking his fists in the air. He hopped as he walked forward and that was because he was picking up a dropped gun with each foot, one at a time, and tossed them back behind him.“It really talks!” one of the rem[...]

Ape-Man #3


“The Ape-Man’s Secret!”by Scott Casper, thanks to Lieber and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #37Poe Park, South BronxNovember 3, 1962Polka music wafted from the gazebo in the park. The children dancing were warm, but for everyone else it was chilly and they needed their sweaters or jackets.Detective Martin Webster was not there for the music (he did not care for polka) and he did not have a child at the free concert (though he and his wife had tried to have one); Martin Webster was there to talk to Jacob Stern. Stern, a Jewish man of about 30 years of age, had been standing a short distance away from the festivities, smoking a cigarette, which had made it easy to approach him. Martin had in fact already identified himself and started asking some casual questions, to put Stern at ease.“No, I don’t have any kids,” Jacob said. “But that girl over there? She’s my niece.”“Ever take her to see the apes at the zoo, Mr. Stern?”Jacob gave Martin a quizzical look. “What’s this about, officer?”“Ape sightings, Mr. Stern. Four reports of them on my desk back at the office. You know what I don’t have on my desk? Any reports of apes going missing from the zoo.”“There’s a good explanation for that.”“Which is?”“None of our apes have gone missing. It was just Halloween, you know. Maybe someone had rented an ape costume and was trying it out.”“I see. An ape costume. Yes, that could explain it. Do you think that’s the explanation for the Ape-Man?  A man in a costume?”  Jacob shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”Martin seemed to mull that over a bit, then changed direction. “On the first, you saw the costumed vigilante people were calling the Bronze Defender, yes?  The one who had publicly proclaimed he was going to clean the protection rackets out of the Bronx last month. You called in to the police, in fact, from the zoo, when the Bronze Defender appeared there.”“Yeah, that was me. So…?”“So witnesses say an ape appeared out of nowhere and attacked this Bronze Defender. Then the ape ran off and, when people came to help him, they found incriminating photographs next to him that linked the Bronze Defender to the very protection racket this man had been claiming he was fighting. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?”“I guess I do. You’re wondering where the photos came from? I would guess that the Bronze Defender was carrying them himself, and when the man in the ape costume attacked him, they just…fell out.”“No, that’s not where I was going with that, Mr. Stern. What I wanted to ask was…you called the police before the attack. Before anyone suspected the Bronze Defender of anything. So, why did you call?”Jacob just stared at him for about 30 seconds. Then he responded indignantly, “Officer, I have never approved of these so-called superheroes and their vigilantism!”Bronx ZooMeanwhileBack at the zoo, in Dr. Raymond Carter’s office, Bernie Spengler hung up the phone. “That was Jacob,” Bernie said. “That Detective Webster followed him and questioned him, like we hoped. That should give you plenty of time to finally give me some straight answers.”“I guess you deserve it,” Raymond said. He collapsed into his chair, in total surrender. “What do you want to know first?”“Are you, are you serious? Who is the Ape-Man?  One of the apes, or–”“It’s me.  It’s me!” Raymond said, rolling his head from side to side as if it pained him to say it. “When that burglar broke in here months ago, the only way I could stop him was to try our experiment on myself — imprin[...]

Ape-Man #2


“Ape-Man, I know your secret! Meet me at the Wallace Ave. Warehouse tonight! –W.” was all the sign read.  Why did it strike such fear in the heart of Ape-Man? Find out in —“The Challenge of W!”by Scott Casper, thanks to Lieber and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #36Mattie was a small female gibbon, an “escapee” from the Bronx Zoo’s collection, as the other apes were. Mattie chattered a little, then sped to the wall, leapt up, and found the bars on the warehouse windows more than adequate for scaling up the side of the building. In moments, Mattie was inside; tense minutes after that, Mattie was hanging off the door handle of the back door as it swung open.“Nice work, Mattie!” Ape-Man said. “Mattie, you stay here. Faben, you’re with me!” he said to the chimpanzee with him. He had some more instructions for Faben which he gave the excited chimp before heading inside.Ape-Man could not even see the third floor windows when he entered; there was a partial roof over him and partition walls blocking his view of the whole floor of the warehouse. The partition walls extended out from the side walls to support columns that rose through the second floor. It was a little scary how good a burglar Mattie was, having found her way down here so fast.  Ape-Man moved cautiously into the dark interior of the warehouse. He had expected to find more cover, but the warehouse was disturbingly free of good hiding places, like stacks of boxes and crates. Multiple staircases ascended to the partial second floor of the place and, as Ape-Man moved into the middle of the warehouse, he could finally see all the way up to the roof.A button was pushed somewhere up above him and the lights began to flicker on all over the warehouse. Looking up, Ape-Man spotted a figure who had been standing quietly on a catwalk connecting sections of the second floor positioned almost directly above him. The figure was a thin, slight man dressed like a cowboy, complete with ten-gallon hat and twin pistols holstered at his waist. The figure was casually posed, leaning on the rail of the catwalk, but had an old-fashioned Winchester bolt-action rifle cradled in his arms that lent him menace.“Well, slap my knee and caaaalll me crazy!” the cowboy shouted excitedly. “If that don’t beat all, my trap’s done caught me an ape with some curious fashion sense! Now, the big money question is, is you a talkin’ ape, or am I just wastin’ my time not pullin’ this trigger…” the cowboy said, still sounding comical, but drawing the rifle up to his shoulder and pointing it right at Ape-Man with frightening speed.Ape-Man raised his hands and spoke in a deep, growly, but still human-like voice. “You must be ‘W’.  You can’t be surprised, if you know my secret…” Ape-Man said.“W” laughed. The rifle jiggled a little, but was still aimed at Ape-Man. “For a talkin’ ape, you’ll be feelin’ mighty stoopid’ in a minute. ‘Cuz I never knew any secrets. I jus’ make up thangs’ when I need to get wut’ I want.”“And what is that, Mr…?”“Just call me W — most people do,” W said. “Mostly I aim ta’ get paid for shootin’ ya, but first…I’m wondering if there’s anything to be gained from keepin’ ya’ alive a little longer. Like that thingee you’re wearin’ on your noggin. Does that have somethin’ to do with you bein’ able to talk? Cuz that might be worth somethin’ to me…like shootin’ you so you’ll die quick instead a’ slow…”“Wait, let me take this off…” Ape-Man said, reaching up for his headset. Instead of taking [...]

Ape-Man #0


The Ape-Man — who is he? What is he? The startling answers to these questions could be found, one night, in the laboratory of Dr. Raymond Carter.On this fateful day, Dr. Carter stood alone in the office, brooding, his long shadow cast over the room as he faced the twilight outside his window. In his hand, he clutched a letter from the administration of the zoo that housed his lab. The zoo wants to see results! Raymond thought. My funding depends on it. The future of my research depends on it! If I am to save both, then I must succeed tonight!Raymond Carter carelessly tossed the letter towards his desk and exited the room, bound for the test subject cages that lined the corridor outside his private lab. The familiar tread of his shoes on the tile floor signaled a chorus of chattering from the caged animals.“Plato,” Raymond said, touching the bars of the cage holding his prized orangutan. Plato was suffering from hepatitis. “Johnson,” he said, reaching over to the cage of the strong, healthy, but troublesome gorilla in the next cage over. “Let’s see if my newest adjustments produce any results.”Circling the cages to the entrance to the lab, Raymond unlocked this inner door, turned on the lights inside, and opened the back gate to Plato’s cage. He coaxed Plato with a banana onto the titled gurney that would be the receiving end of the ray. Plato was conditioned not to resist when being strapped down by being rewarded with food before and after. Johnson was more problematic; instead of being strapped down, Raymond had needed to devise a smaller cage that could hold Johnson in place while the ray was passing through him.Unbeknownst to Dr. Raymond Carter, a man was at the back door to his lab — a man with sinister intent. He wore a jacket similar to the ones many employees of the zoo wore, similar enough to fool anyone who did not look too closely. He wore a cap on his head. Despite being a Caucasian male in just his 30s, this man had lived hard and his features were hard and deeply lined in his face.Perfect, no one around, the Burglar thought to himself. The zoo must keep a lot of valuable stuff locked away in this lab. It’s late enough that no one should be inside, but not so late that I’ll arouse too much suspicion if I’m seen loading stuff into my truck by the loading bay. I’ll be outta here before anyone thinks to question me. He allowed himself a smile as he produced the lockpicks he would need to get inside.Raymond began recording. “Experiment number 114…I have corrected the wavelength of the ray to compensate for the specific ratio of difference in body densities between my test subjects, which I am hoping is the missing component that has kept the ray from working so far. If successful, the ray will copy the physical traits from the first recipient of the ray and map, or overlay, these same traits onto the second recipient of the ray. In this way, a stronger animal might make a weaker animal stronger, a healthier animal make a sickly animal healthier…if I can someday adjust for specific traits, I can eliminate disease by mapping disease resistance, or perhaps even the absence of the disease, onto the second recipient. It is now…5:43 pm and I am activating the ray.”A switch was thrown and electrodes crackled with fresh power. The ray projector hummed gradually louder. It was a necessarily large instrument, mounted to the floor on a heavy column that also held a large canister of radioactive chemical “soup”. The projector emitted pulsed charged particles in a beam, particles that had alter[...]

Ape-Man #1


(I understand the fiction site, Brave New 'Verse, which was hosting my Ape-Man stories is going away. So I'm moving them here to my blog. This is an original pastiche hero and an ode to the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Enjoy!)“The Ape-Man!”by Scott Casper, thanks to Lee and Kirby for Tales to Astonish #35180th Street & Daly Avenue, The BronxSeptember 5, 1962Bernie Spengler stood at his favorite newsstand and plucked a 12-cent comic book off the rack, right out from under the big sign that read ‘cigarettes’. The last time he’d bought a comic book, they were only 10 cents. Bernie did not balk about the price increase, though; he had a lot of free time on his hands today and much to take his mind off of.“You read that stuff?” a familiar voice asked. Bernie looked up at Jacob Stern, his coworker as of yesterday. Wearing his gray suit and matching Fedora with his customary red tie, Jacob looked just like he was heading into work — which Bernie, supposed, he did too, just out of habit.The newsstand was at the corner where the two men would meet every day before heading to Dr. Carter’s office in the Bronx Zoo, where they had worked as assistants, at least until Carter had dismissed them. They had letters of recommendation from Carter and his promise to help them land jobs at any zoo in the world — but their jobs were “no longer required” here. Jacob was buying a pack of cigarettes. “So where are you gonna’ work?” he asked nonchalantly to Bernie.“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it yet,” Bernie said truthfully. He had felt in a daze since coming home yesterday early.“Did you keep that letter from Carter?” Jacob asked. “Like it’s going to do us much good. ‘Fired’ still means fired, no matter how he dresses it up.”“Excuse me,” a mustachioed man in a nice blue suit and tan Fedora said. A man in a similarly nice suit was standing behind him, listening, as if they were together. “Did I hear you say Carter? Did you two gentlemen work for Dr. Raymond Carter?”“What if we did?” Jacob retorted in Jacob’s typical, confrontational style.“We understood he had just let his two most trusted assistants go, while he’s been working for months on some top secret project.”“What if he has?”The two strangers glanced at each other. “It just seems strange that Dr. Carter would let his assistants go, unless he’s finished whatever he was working on. Or doesn’t want to share credit?”“Are you two journalists…?” Bernie asked. He had been only half-listening at first, but now he was curious why these men were asking these strangers, or seemed to have known to find them here.“Go one, beat it!” Jacob said. “How do we know you’re not commie spies? We ain’t tellin’ you anything.”The mustachioed man looked like he was going to respond, but the other man touched his jacket and gave him a look that told him to let it go. They both tipped their hats and walked away.“If that don’t beat all,” Jacob said. “If they’d offered me a good bribe, I might have told ‘em everything I know! Well…see ya’ in the funny papers, Bernie. It was great workin’ with ‘ya.”Jacob lit a cigarette and walked away. Bernie rolled up his new purchase and tucked it under his arm. He watched Jacob walk away, wondering if they would ever work together again. Then he watched the two strange men walking away, and wondered where they were going.It wasn’t any of his business now, Bernie told himself as he strolled away in another direction. He had alway[...]

H&H Rpol Campaign - the Lost Chapters, pt. 1


I haven't posted about this since 2013, but the very first time I ever ran a Hideouts & Hoodlums campaign online (back in 2009!) was on I had some issues with the site over the years I ran the game there, but trusted that it was a forever archive that would save my game for future reference. I used the archive three years ago when I wrote up what happened in the first chapter/scenario of the campaign there.

But is not, apparently, a forever archive. Last year, I was dismayed to find it had been removed for sitting idle too long, and was gone forever. And for the most part, it still is. I have, however, found some pages I printed out in the past that I will add here.

This page is from the second chapter/scenario. It sadly, does not have all the players who were playing then represented on it.

Watching the 20th Century, 1911-1912


Dante’s Inferno was a difficult movie to get through for several reasons. One was time constraints -- at just over an hour, this is the longest movie by far that I’ve watched for this project. I now can no longer get in a quick movie over a single breakfast. There’s also the reason that the subject matter is -- albeit appropriate for where this story takes place -- depressing stuff. But the biggest reason for me is that the film dutifully recreates the visuals of Gustave Doré’s illustrations, complete with lots -- LOTS -- of male nudity (or almost full nudity). Dangly bits are always concealed, but there is only so much naked man butt I can look at before it throws me off my cereal. That said, this film is pretty remarkable. It accomplishes a lot without CGI that would be totally CGI’ed today. People float around with impressive wire work. Beatrice’s scintillating halo looks like it’s achieved by shining a bright light through a big fan positioned behind her head. When you see Geryon and he’s obviously a model, it’s more of a “I want a Geryon action figure right now!” moment than a “wow, is that cheesy” moment. The demon costumes are pretty impressive. Forced perspective and split screens make some of the monsters, like Lucifer and Antaeus, appear to be giants. Everything else is achieved by using extreme long shots. Is that a tiger threatening Dante, or a guy crouching in a costume? At this distance it’s impossible to say.Most of Dante’s Inferno is Dante walking around and getting to hear the life stories of the sinners being tortured. Most of these are only summarized in single title cards -- but two stories are acted out for us to see. One occurs in the middle of the movie, serving as an intermission of sorts, to break up the movie, but the second one comes, puzzlingly, almost right at the end.Anyway, the Italians set the bar pretty high with this production. Now back to American movies of 1911 to see what they were getting done! Fighting Blood*Sighs*...yeah, this is what American movies were doing at the time. D. W. Griffith churned out a Western here with a little family drama mixed in. By our modern perspective, we understand that Tuttle is a crazed militiaman squatting on Indian lands, and the fact that he punches his son in the face doesn’t make him any more likeable. It’s only the cute little kids you root for when the Indians attack. The real interesting thing here is the aerial footage of the attack. It’s filmed from a stationary position, so it’s not a flyby. Is the cameraman leaning over a cliff to takes these shots? The Indian Brothers I follow this short D.W. Griffith film, Indian refugee comes and asks the chief of a tribe if he can join them, gets mocked for wearing a skirt and is given a dress to wear, goes berserk, turns into Gollum (he starts crawling around like Gollum, anyway), and kills the chief. The chief’s brother (they’re both dressed as chiefs, so they must have been co-leaders) says “This time, it’s personal!” and chases after the killer. The chase moves from on foot to on horseback, and some Indians the killer stole his horse from get into the chase. The chief’s brother has a territorial dispute with the horse owners, wins it with a knife fight, and then drags the killer back home to kill him in front of his brother’s funeral pyre.[...]

CodConXXII Report


It had been years since I last tried CodCon, but this year I decided to give it a go. Getting there was super easy, since the College of DuPage campus is about a 30-minute drive from my house. I did park at the wrong end of the building, but that only afforded me the chance to walk past the LARP area and artist booths that I wouldn't have time to get back to the rest of the day.  There was a little mix-up when I arrived because I was being told the game I was running was in the next room over, when my table was in fact two doors down. But I luckily ran into my two signed up players before they gave up trying to find me.The reason I had stopped attending CodCon because there was such a small number of Old School players who show up there. Having only two people signed up to play Swords & Wizardry (the OD&D retroclone) only reinforced that nothing had changed. My players were a father and son pair and it was going to just be us until the father went over and recruited a board gamer who was sitting all alone.I was running my Frog God Games module Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti, which would have been challenging with five players -- but for three players? They spent a lot of time running from any encounter tougher than giant centipedes, while trying to piece together the source of the magical curse plaguing the land from safe distances. The father renamed the borsin (a S&W monster) "gorillalopes" -- a name I much prefer. They didn't figure out the well at all (they didn't go down), but spent a good deal of time around the palace.I had a great time with this other S&W monster called ghoul monkeys. I allowed Speak with Animals to work on them (ghoul monkeys don't seem to be fully undead) and the players seemed intimidated by the monkeys' ghoulish talk ("We are dead!  We are dead!").  After that, the players ran from the ghoul monkeys every time, unaware that their fighter could sweep attack these little guys. All this running away only ended after they figured out they had a Pipe of the Sewers with them -- after that, they went into every battle with an army of giant rats.After four hours that I thought went very well -- all things considered -- we wrapped up and I explained to them that they had actually stumbled onto a room under the palace one room away from the monster responsible for the curse, but couldn't figure out how to get through the door to that room.The best part of the game, though, if not the whole day, was learning who the father was -- this guy, Steve, once worked with my mother!  She had told us about each other years ago, but this was our first time actually meeting and gaming together.After that, I bought lunch from the con food vendor while enjoying a concert from Dan the Bard. I even bought my second CD from him (Bard Camp) and got it signed.  That was the second best part of the day.After that, I played in round one of a two-round Munchkin tournament. The con staffer who was supposed to judge this tournament made us all wait for nearly a half-hour for him to show up, and then he still didn't have the playing cards organized and shuffled for us!  I volunteered to help, as did some others, so we could finally get playing. Unlike S&W, we had enough players for Munchkin for two tables.My table had a nice group of players who played much as I do -- go easy on each other until level 6 and then start going after each other. Almost the whole table was tied at level 9 at the[...]

C2E2 2016 Report


Back from C2E2! As in, just recently back. What a long day!Megan and I went with my coworker Joyce, who convinced us to ride the train into Chicago. We missed the first train, which is just as well since I had forgotten our badges the first time out the door! Once we were at union station, we almost missed the shuttle bus, but the driver stopped for us after seeing me run alongside him. No 30-minute wait for the next one!Lots of amazing cosplayers again this year, of course. Some of my favorites were dressed as Cinderella, Chewbacca, Spider-Gwen, Mr. Freeze, Mojo Jojo, and I was pleased by all the cosplay support for Agent Carter. All the Deadpools annoyed me, except for Steampunk Deadpool, which was awfully amusing. We walked through a large portion of the exhibit hall, but did not see everything. We didn't even bother going by the Marvel booth. Megan and I both got distracted by some store booths right away. I was tempted by some Animal Crossing stuffed animals, but $18 seemed too much for the size. I found this store from Oswego (The Comic Shop?) with a bunch of dollar bins and they were very helpful at going through my wishlist and finding at least four Astro City issues for me (Astro City, in the dollar bin! What's this world coming to?). Then, before we left the booth, Megan and I found the mini-magnets they were selling with classic video game packaging on them. I picked up Adventure and Kaboom! from the Atari 2600. The Peace Corps had a booth and I picked up two books from them, one being a comic book -- and I'm donating both of them to the Poplar Creek Public Library government documents department! And then Megan and I got excited about a store booth selling trade paperbacks for half-off. I found Superman Chronicles volume 10 and Megan wanted an Usagi Yojimbo omnibus -- thank goodness they only wanted cash and I didn't have enough for both, or I'm sure I would have been stuck carrying around that big omnibus the rest of the day.Then we headed upstairs for the seminars and attended "Designing for the Geek Community: Reinventing Library Services to Meet the Needs of Geeks in Chicago". Joyce and I got some good ideas from that to take back to work and I was able to talk to a D&D-running librarian about the long-term difficulties of maintaining a D&D club in a library. After that, we parted with Joyce for the day and Megan and I went to see John Cusack. Cusack was a real surprise -- untidy, foul-mouthed, anti-establishment -- yet refreshingly honest and somehow still charming. He disliked "top 5" type questions, but I couldn't resist going up to the mic and asking him my own about who he wanted to work with and never had. The only person he could think of off the top of his head was Martin Scorsese.After that we went back downstairs and checked out artist's alley. On our way to the alley area, in the exhibit hall, we happened to come across one of Megan's old TV heartthrobs, Austin St. James from Power Rangers, being interviewed. I tried to get Megan to go up to him afterwards, but she was too shy.The "alley" was so huge we only got through half of it in two hours! We spent more in artist's alley than we've ever spent before and I think we got some really good stuff. Megan's priority was getting to Jenny Parks to buy more cat merchandise. We found her and Megan picked up three buttons and a small print of Harry Potter as a cat. We also bought a comic book called Hero Cats of Stellar City t[...]

GaryCon XIII Report - Day 2


The next day, I had none of the previous day’s problem reaching the Grand Geneva and arrived with plenty of time to spare before 10 am. I ran into Brian Jelke, who said hi to me but then ignored me the rest of the bus ride from the parking lot to the entrance. I guess there’s still some bad blood between me and some of the guys at Kenzer & Company. It was good I was there on time, because I did not want to miss my only session with Dave Olson. Dave’s DMing skills had been one of the few highlights for me at last year’s GaryCon and he did not disappoint in the two-hour Tower of Skulls: Level 2 scenario. It was my first time playing “5th ed” D&D past 4th level, but the true challenge for us players is that only three of us showed up for the event. The scenario was extremely taxing for three players and we were not able to finish it. Dave was even able to prove wrong my earlier impression that “5th ed” PCs were largely unkillable. I then had two more hours of downtime to look around. I talked to Terry Pavlet again. I found that Darlene had even more art prints sitting out this day (I wish I’d bought another!). I finally picked up my first Seven Voyages of Zylarthen volume from Black Blade Publishing, making it the first time I think I’ve ever given Allan Grohe money.  I ran into Will Schumaker and his son Ben and got to talk to them, assuring them that I was having a much better GaryCon this time.  I got to talk to Paul Stromberg for the first time, as he walked me through his Dave Sutherland table display. I got to see what Paul looks like when he’s livid, as an ignorant server had sat a wet tray down on top of an art print Dave had signed. I also got to talk to Mike Mornard for the first time in person, and chatted with Dave Megarry’s wife.It was odd that, after having six players sign up for B&B and eight for H&H, that I would only have four people sign up to play OD&D: The Invasion of Arun’Kid.  But I picked up two extra players and the game went fine with a group of six. This session was particularly interesting because, just a week earlier, I had run this scenario for the first time in about 13 years, at the Games Plus store in Mount Prospect, Illinois. And it gave me a fascinating opportunity to compare and contrast.First of all, I had run it at Games Plus (let’s call that group Group A) using all of Supplement I: Greyhawk, but this time, I decided to leave out all of Greyhawk except for the thief class and multi-classing.  That meant Group B (the GaryCon group) was doing all d6 weapon damage. And it didn’t seem to make any difference in the long term. Of course, there is a dearth of larger-than-man-sized opponents in this particular module, which might have changed that dynamic. But whether we rolled d4, d6, + d8 or all d6 did not change up encounter outcomes. Another nice thing was that I wrote Arun’Kid with two different ways to approach it, with the PCs either as locals defending their home turf, or strangers protecting strangers they just met. I used the first option for Group A and the second option for Group B. I had never run this using the second option before; it had always seemed important to me that the PCs be locals so they would feel some loyalty to the village they’re saving. It turned out, though, that Group A was the one talking about ditching the village, while Group B valiantly neve[...]