My Early days with comics – Retrospective

By Bronze Oldie

Nerd Dimension claims no ownership and copyrights of Marvel IPs or artwork.

I came into to comics at the point of transition from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age. At the Time, Marvel was publishing a lot of re-prints of classic Silver age material, most notably Marvel tales (re-printing Spider-man) Marvels Greatest Comics (re-printing Fantastic Four) Marvel Triple Action (re-printing Avengers) and X-men (reprinting X-men). So I am something of an authority on Silver Age Marvel, as well as Bronze Age.

During the actual Silver Age, I was too young to read. But I was already into superheroes through the medium of television. There was a Batman series on TV at the time starring Adam West that I loved and had toys of and the show still shares a cult status among fans and marks a specific time in American Television. The DC cartoons were in my opinion were much superior to the Marvel ones. Most of the Marvel cartoons consisted of someone waving panels of Jack Kirby art while someone narrated and fell short of translating the excited from the page. The DC cartoons where much better animated, the exception being the Spiderman cartoon. So when I started learning how to read, I came into comics with a bias in favor of DC.

Unfortunately, DC squandered this advantage with comics that were so much lower in quality than the Marvel ones, even to a 6-year-old’s eyes and that is saying something. In the Early DC comics I first read, Batman was fighting ordinary criminals with no costumes or powers, Superman was fighting Terra Man (the space cowboy), Clark Kent had a new co-worker, Guy Lombardo, a sportscaster who would bully Clark (while Clark pretended to be bullied), Wonder Woman had no powers and was a Kung Fu Fighting Private Detective, The Metal Men all got melted, and the Justice League teamed up with the Justice Society to search for the Seven Soldiers of Victory.

The first Marvel comic I read, in contrast, features the climax of the Skrull/Kree War, a reprint of the Fantastic Four defeating Galactus, Ragnarok, the Mimic (with the combined powers of the X-men) fighting the Super Adaptoid (with the combined powers of the Avengers), MODOK and Dr Doom fighting over the Cosmic Cube, and in the same issue: Captain America vs Nick Fury and the Falcon vs. the Captain America and Bucky from the 1950’s. With that beginning, although I occasionally bought DC comics, I was mostly a Marvelite from then on.

Comics in those days were $0.20 each. I’m pretty certain that they were deliberately priced at double the cost of a chocolate bar, which costed $0.10 in those days. At 20 cents per comic, that should have meant, if I got hold of a dollar, that I should have been able to get 5 comics for a dollar. It should have been that way. . . . But Americans like to make tax paying as painful a process as possible. Every Spring Americans get super stressed trying to fill out the income tax form and I am sure many have seen this play out in sitcoms through the years. But unlike other countries, in the States, sales tax is tacked on on top of the labeled price, not included in it. So a dollar bought me 4 comics and some change. Then a period of inflation began under president Nixon. Chocolate bars became slightly larger and rose to $0.15 and comics added a couple of pages and rose to $0.25 each. Again, this should have been 4 for a dollar. Instead, it was 3 for a dollar and some change leftover.

Every pharmacy, or 7-11 small store had a rotating rack that would hold more than 50 different comics within its thin frame. And I was very dependent on the good will of parents to buy me that comic I wanted so bad. Often I had to choose one over the other as was the case for most kids growing up. So I chose not to find out what happened with the Avengers and the Space Phantom, because I wanted to see Quicksilver and the Human Torch fight over Crystal. Most comics stories were two of three issues long and I would often miss the beginning or conclusion of a story, after all it is hard to develop consistent buying patterns as an infant with no disposable income! There were a few instances where I was able to get every issue of a particular comic for several months in a row. Because if a story lasted longer than one issue, it would be a whole month before I got to see what happened next.

I was just the right age to be coming in at the very beginning of a lot of Bronze Age things. My very second Avengers story was based on a idea suggested by an intern named Chris Claremont, in which the Avengers fought the Sentinels. I came in at the beginning of the Defenders, and just before Steve Englehart began writing the Avengers and Captain America. I was there for the beginning of Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel and Roy Thomas’ run on Fantastic Four.

I thought I liked particular characters. I didn’t realize that I actually like particular writers, including: Stan Lee (Fantastic Four, Avengers), Roy Thomas (Avengers, X-men, Fantastic Four), Steve Englehart (Defenders, Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Amazing Adventures featuring: the Beast), Steve Gerber (Defenders), and Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel). Because of this I missed things I would have liked and later discovered like Warlock (Jim Starlin), early issues of Master of Kung Fu (Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart), Guardians of the Galaxy (Steve Gerber) and Man Thing (Steve Gerber).    

The Marvel Universe was much more coherent back then. It was only ten years old at that point and several writers had very long runs in the Silver age. Most notably Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who did more than a hundred issues of Fantastic Four, as well as a long run on Thor and Roy Thomas who had very long runs on both Avengers and X-men. Comics would often reference events in past issues, and would often include a panel showing the events they were talking about with a footnote, indicating which issue they were referring to. Writers would spin very long subplots and then tell the next writer what they had been doing. So, for example, Roy Thomas had been laying clues for years that something was strange about the Vision. And it was years more before Steve Englehart finally revealed that the vision had been built from the android body of the original Human Torch.

Also, the Comics Code was loosening its’ grip a bit, allowing horror comics to be produced. DC mostly did anthology horror comics. (Swamp Thing was an exception) But Marvel was doing ongoing series featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, the Living Mummy, Werewolf by Night, Man Thing and the Ghost Rider. And Western and War comics were still around too. 

But then, this era of my comics fandom came to an end, when I moved to a place where comics were not available. As a result, I missed things. But when I moved back, I returned to comics. Again, just in time.

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Lamentations of the Flame Princess: a review of the game system

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: a review of the game system

By Bronze oldie

I was asked to review Lamentations of the Flame Princess as a game system. In case you are not familiar with this, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) is a game company that pulls no punches and is publishing some of the highest quality and innovative RPG material on the market today. The quality of the art and the way that the books are put together is amazing. It’s very surprising to me that LotFP  is able to  get such high quality artists, when Wizards of the Coast, with backing of the Mighty Hasbro corporation, who have the ability to outbid everyone else, produces such comparatively inferior art for their games. 

LotFP publishes a wide variety of modules and game supplements. Some of them, like Carcosa or A Red and Pleasant Land are game worlds. Some are modules that you can easily plop down into the middle of a regular D&D campaign. But most of the books take place in a game world that resembles 17th Century Earth: the time of the English Civil War, the 30 years war, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

But at one point, the decision was made to make a game system to go with the books. It was originally released as box set with a players handbook, a referee’s guide, a module (Tower of the Star Gazer) and a book on how to play a RPG for people who have never done that. Since then, the players handbook: Rules & Magic has been updated. It’s available for free without the art. But the paid version without the art is much better. On the other hand, this is a game for adults, and the art reflects this. You might not want to give the book to a child if you have not seen it yet.

Looking through the book, it is mostly a clone of TSR version of D&D that is closest to the B/X version of the game. 21st century players are used to each edition of D&D being radically different from the previous version. But the TSR versions were more alike, similar to the way that 3.0, 3.5 and Pathfinder are similar. There were slight variations between TSR versions of D&D. The worse Armor Class was 10 in some versions and 9 in others. But Chainmail was AC:5 is all versions and Plate mail+Shield was AC: 2 in all versions. LotFP is very familiar to players of TSR D&D, with only a few, but significant changes. It has the same seven classes that go back to the original version of D&D. (Cleric, Fighter, Magic User, Thief, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling) Skills are rolled on a d6 instead of a % as TSR does or a d20 as 3+ editions do. The Weapons available have a few things that are spelled out, and all others are grouped according to their size.

But the biggest difference in LotFP is that the classes are more separated. Every Class is the best at something: Fighters are best at roll-to-hit, Specialists (Thieves) are best at using skills, Dwarfs have the most Hit Points. Halflings are best at Saving Throws, missile weapons, and Hiding in the wilderness. And the Magic of Clerics and Magi are completely separated. With only Dispel Magic on both spell lists. Also, the get-out-of-jail spells have been removed from the list. (Raise Dead, Resurrection, limited Wish, Wish) also, the damage dealing spells have been removed (Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Cone of Cold) leaving Magic Missile as the “go to” spell for dealing damage (which has been increased to 1d4 per level) And there are some interesting new spells. The combined effect of these changes are to make Magic dangerous and scary. And a recent book: Vaginas Are Magic, introduced a new rule that made 9th level spells potentially available to a 1st Level character.

However, the LotFP rules can sometimes confound player expectations if they have played D&D. For example: Starting in Original D&D and throughout all the boxed sets, Halflings were always a variant of Fighter. But starting with (1st ed) AD&D and on through all the later versions of the game, Halflings were strongly encouraged to be Thieves. In LotFP, Halflings are more like the 2-5th editions’ Ranger.

And players who are used to using the rules to defeat the monster instead of role playing, who are used to Feats and Skills for all classes, won’t like the simplicity of the the LotFP system. 

There are some who think that LotFP is more dangerous than other games. And it is more dangerous than the 3-5 edition games that Wiz-bro puts out. But it’s not any more dangerous than the TSR versions of the game. The big difference is that in the TSR versions of D&D, your character could at any moment be chopped up by and axe-wielding Orc. In LotFP, your character might be pulled away to the home plane of the eldritch abomination that you Summoned and failed to take control of.

Veins of the Earth

Veins of the Earth

by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess

for Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Just before bed, I looked at drive-through RPG, I don’t know why . . . But I found this gem. I may have been one of the first people to buy it. I liked Deep Carbon Observatory and thought I might like this too. I downloaded the PDF and read late into the night. . . .

I felt deeply moved after my first reading, something akin to a religious experience! I will never look at the Underdark the same way again! It starts with a monster manual of 52 new monsters. The first few I already liked! The next section is on Underdark societies, but after reading a few monsters, I skipped over these sections and dove into the rules.

Veins of the Earth portrays a world very different from most people’s vision of the Underdark. It’s not a series of 10 foot high tunnels that your party can have a Marching Order for. It’s Caves . . . that have to be navigated three-dimensionally. You have to climb and repel and squeeze through spaces so small that you have to stick one arm in front of you and tilt your shoulders to fit. Food is so scarce that your body is worth its’ weight in silver as a source of meat.*1

Overshadowing it all is the Dark and the deep.. deep and terrible Darkness “Dungeons are puddles of darkness. This is the sea.” Down here, infravision/darkvision doesn’t work very well. There are several methods provided in the book to adjudicate this. Down here, Light is initiative, Light is the ability to navigate, and Light is money currency. The amount of Light you have left is a measurement of time. The amount of Light you have to consume to get there is a measurement of distance. There are 20 new kinds of lamps offered in the book. Rules about what happens when you get lost in the dark. There is a new character sheet with an easier system of encumbrance than the LotFP standard.

It also has a section for the starvation rules. How long has it been since you ate? 4 days? Then you have to either buy/steal 600 light hours worth of food or eat one of your companions. Yeah, you read correctly.

Climbing in the caves is a very important skill, and non-specialized (non-thieves) party members only have a 16.66% chance of making that climb. Fortunately, you can improve your chance of climbing by studying the route of your climb. The longer you study, the better your odds, with an 82% chance if you spend more than an hour studying the route. (but keep in mind you are burning Light while you do so!) If the DM doesn’t want to roll for every climb, there is a way to roll for exploring and the time it takes. If you fall from a climb there is a highly variable chart to roll damage with the maximum roll of 1-600 hp. You might get lucky and survive that extreme fall or up to 5 of your friends might be able to catch you, sharing the damage among them and you.

Presented in the material is a new way of making caves, a sort of 3D line drawing that allows you to cover lots of rooms quickly.

There is also:

  • A method to use this to quickly generate random caves.

  • A section dedicated to the mapping of larger-scale features like rivers and mines.

  • 100 described caves that you can use on the fly

  • Random name generator

  • 100 works of art

  • 12 kinds of darkness

After reading the rules I went back and read the sections on Cultures in the Veins and monsters. The tone of Cultures and monsters varied considerably. Some of the Monsters I like a lot and would want to use whole cultures of them. Others were described too poetically which puts me off from using them.

Being a more seasoned gentleman myself, I find small print hard to read and the electronic format hard to use as I prefer to flip back and forth when using a book like this at the table. For this reason, I usually print out my pdf’s. There is the art, too. I am not a fan of Scrap Princess. , but her art on Deep Carbon Observatory is starting to grow on me . . . it sets a certain mood.

The art in this book is mostly black and white with little splashes of color. It looks much better on the tablet than the art in Deep Carbon Observatory and I can tell that on glossy pages it would look much better. There is a lot of this art throughout the book. The book has many many large sections of white text on black background. I could tell that it would use a lot of ink to print this out, all 368 pages! I ordered the actual book. . . .

When it arrived, It was extremely high quality, with a glossy cover that shows off Scrap Princess’ art the way it was meant to be seen! The cover looks much better than the one of on Maze of the Blue Medusa! There are two ribbons attached to the book, a red one and a black one to mark two different spots. The most commonly used charts are on the inside covers. The pages are thick . . . almost thick as cardstock! … . . .

All said the book is smaller than expected . . . half-page sized. . . . even smaller than Maze of the Blue Medusa! It doesn’t fit with all my other RPGing books. The smaller pages mean smaller print. Hard to read the small print. The pages are not white, but grey and I have to turn on the lights brightly in order to read the book. Many of the White (gray) print on a black background is hard to read. There is a faint pattern on the pages that I initially thought was bleed-over of print from other pages. The pages are flat, not glossy. Scrap Princess art (except the cover) does not look as good as the electronic version.

After I had had time to digest the book, I realized that there is a lot missing in the content. Several peoples are covered in the Cultures section. There are no descriptions about what individual members of that race are like. Using this book will take a lot of extra work on my part. There is a table of 100 random encounters but, to use the table I will have to flesh out most of them.

There is no equipment list telling how much do things cost. It is stated that meat is worth its’ weight in hours of Light (silver equivalent) but how much are mushrooms? Are there extra big mushrooms that can be used to make things as a substitute for wood? Or do you have to use large bone? How much is real wood worth as jewelry? How much are things from the surface worth, especially highly addictive things, like tobacco? If Light is money, how long does a candle last. How much oil will fit in a lantern? There are 20 different lamps listed. But no costs. Some of them are permanent or semi-permanent sources of Light. How much do they cost? How long do the various fuels last?

With 350+ pages, you would think they would be at least a sample village in a cave or mini-adventure. In closing . . . I highly recommend this book as a reference, but not a book at the table. I plan to print out the tables and character sheets for use at the table though.

*1 (LotFP is on a silver standard)

Written by Pat Mathis

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Who is Nighthawk?

This week Pat delivers a follow up to his Defenders piece by shedding light on what many could consider one of Marvel’s Batmen. Read more to learn more about this charcter.

Last week in my essay about the Defenders, I made mention of Nighthawk (aka Kyle Richmond) a lot. For 10 years he was a major part of the Defenders and the Marvel Universe. But today, he is largely forgotten and not familiar with the younger generations of fans and readers. So who is Nighthawk? The short answer is that Nighthawk is Batman!

 

Now before you chop my head off read further to see why.

As the Avengers approached their 70th issue, writer Roy Thomas decided to do something special to mark the event. So he created a new character: the Grandmaster, a powerful immortal alien who was obsessed with gambling. Usually the Grandmaster’s wagers involve gladiatorial contests where he is betting on or against the Avengers. This time, he was making the wager with Kang the Conquerer, a time traveling analog to Doctor Doom. Kang chose the Avengers as his champions, so the Grandmaster pit half the Avengers (Yellowjacket, Wasp, Black Panther and Vision) against the Invaders. (Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch) The other half of the Avengers had to fight the Squadron Sinister, four villains that were analogs of the Justice League. So Thor fought Hyperion (Superman), Iron Man fought Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern), Goliath fought the Whizzer (the Flash), and Captain America fought Nighthawk (Batman).

A couple of years later, Nighthawk returned. But this time it was a different Nighthawk. This Nighthawk was a member of the Squadron Supreme, a group of heroes from an alternate earth that greatly resemble DC comics the Justice League. The members of the Squadron Supreme are greatly susceptible to telepathy. This is what allows for them to be taken over by telepathic villains that use them to attack the Avengers. Eventually Mark Gruenwald wrote a 12 issue miniseries about the Squadron Supreme that he viewed as his greatest achievement.

But the Squadron Sinister were still in the Marvel universe. Doctor Spectrum had a re- match with Iron Man in his own book. Nighthawk would go on to fight Daredevil in his book. In Defenders #13, the Squadron Sinister where re-united as henchmen of Nebulon the Celestial Man who had a scheme to melt the polar ice caps and flood the entire world. (Back then, nobody thought we would actually do this to ourselves out of neglect). Nighthawk turned against Nebulon and his comrades and helped the Defenders defeat the Squadron Sinister. He was then offered membership in the Defenders.

After this, the Squadron Sinister broke up. Hyperion went on to tangle with the Squadron Supreme’s version of Hyperion, becoming the Bizarro to his Superman.

But Nighthawk became, throughout the 1970’s one of the most constant members of the Defenders. So much so, that during the time that Doctor Strange was absent from the book, the Defenders met at Nighthawk’s house. Many people like to compare the Avengers and the Justice League to each other, but with the exception of Hawkeye and Quicksilver, most of the Avengers don’t really resemble the Justice League. On the other hand, many of the members of the Defenders do resemble the Justice League. Sub- Mariner is similar to Aquaman, Valkyrie resembles Wonder Woman’s powers and personality, Hellcat is like Catwoman, and Nighthawk is Batman. At one point both Nighthawk and Moon Knight were in the Defenders. So there were two Batmen!

Sadly after nearly 100 issues, Nighthawk’s run in the Defenders came to end in issue #106, and as we do our best to avoid dropping spoilers we recommend you discover the details yourself. Only a short time later, Nighthawk returned to the Defenders. But this turned out to be the Squadron Supreme’s Nighthawk. Our Nighthawk was well and truly dead. But it should never have been in doubt. A telepath was in contact with his mind at the moment of his death.

 

In more recent times, Nighthawk has been brought resurrected. But he has not been a major player in the Marvel Universe like he was as a member of the Defenders in the 1970s.

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Who are the Defenders?

The premier piece from our latest contributor Pat. Read about a Super Hero team that never was really a team and learn something new about The Defenders. The show sucked but like with most things, the original content is was way better!

Who are the Defenders?

 

When The Defenders television series was just announced by Netflix, a friend of mine asked me who they were. This seemed a bit odd to me because they were such a major superhero team for Marvel Comics in the 1970’s. But now they have become forgotten. So allow me to remind you. . . .

The Defenders started as separate team ups between Doctor Strange and the Incredible Hulk, and Doctor Strange and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. This was followed by a three way team up of the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer. Finally, all four of them were given their own book: the Defenders. The prequel team-ups had been written by “Rascally” Roy Thomas, who continued to write stories about them in Marvel Feature. But once the Defenders got their own title, the writing chores were handed off to “Stainless” Steve Englehart. Several of the Early issues were inked by Bill Everett, the artist who co- created both the Sub-Mariner in the 1940’s and Daredevil in the 1960’s. From the beginning it was obvious that The Defenders would have a different vibe that the other team books. The Avengers were a semi military organization. The Fantastic Four were a Family whereas the X-men were more of a school club. The Defenders however were something entirely different and new to comics, they were the Non-Team. They had no set members or roster to speak of. In fact, when Valkyrie asked to become the fifth member of The Defenders, the Sub-Mariner told her that she could not join The Defenders because, The Defenders were not a Team. Each issue hit the shelves and you never knew who would be in The Defenders that Month. In one of the later issues The Defenders were Doctor Strange, Iceman and Mister Fantastic. A cover of one the early issues shows The Defenders (Doctor Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk and Yellowjacket) being rescued by The Defenders (Hulk, Luke Cage, Daredevil and the Son of Satan). At one point The Defenders held a television interview and the next day twenty heroes (including Iron Fist) showed up at Nighthawk’s home, asking to sign up and join The Defenders. At the same time, two different groups of villains banded together and proclaimed themselves to be the ‘real’ Defenders! Still even though the membership was constantly in flux, (there was an extended period in the middle of their run where Doctor Strange was absent) There were certain heroes who showed up in the pages of the Defenders more often than others did.

That list of Heroes is: Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, the Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat, Son of Satan, Gargoyle and Beast.

Some of their Major Stories include: the Avengers/Defenders War (When Steve Englehart wrote both books, and in which Hawkeye was a Defender), a crossover with the Guardians of the Galaxy (Which writer, Steve Gerber spun off into their on series), the ascension to cosmic power levels of the Red Guardian and the Presence, the Six Fingered Hand saga (written by J.M. DeMatteis) And the liberation of the Squadron Supreme’s world from the mental domination of the Overmind. (Also by J.M. DeMatteis)

But unlike other comics, The Defenders had almost no recurring villains. Xemu the Titan fought them a couple of times in their early issues. Nebulon the Celestial Man fought them three times. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants only fought The Defenders one time. But this was a major turning point in the mutant mastermind’s life, as the battle left him reverted to childhood. When, a few years later in the pages of the New Uncanny X- men, he was restored, it was to the peak of his powers.

After the 100th issue, the Beast became a regular member of the Defenders. This worked out so well that Iceman and Angel were brought in too. This changed the whole feel of the group under writer Peter Gillis’ tenure, which lasted a couple of more years before the book was canceled and the original X-Men re-united in the pages of X-Factor.

In the decades since, there have been a few attempts to revive the Defenders and reintroduce them to new fans. Though many of the heroes who have appeared in the Defenders did appear on television screens in the 90s (Silver Surfer, Mister Fantastic, X-men etc.) it was not until recently that Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and Iron fist  recently releasing theatrical releases and Netflix shows. But prior to the live action shows and the Cumberbatch film Fist and Cage had been getting more spotlight through starring in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series with Dr. Strange having a recurring role, Marvel obviously doing good in setting up these characters with the younger audience. In the realm of comics none of the attempts after print cancellation lasted as long as the original run. So when, in the recent Doctor Strange film, the Evil Eye, the McGuffin from the Avengers/Defenders war was used as a club; I was brought back to the early days of the Defenders.

Book and photograph property of Nerd Dimension

Hope you enjoyed my piece on the Defenders and will look forward to my next one that will have me shed light on Nighthawk.

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