Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TSR's "Attack Force" Minigame

I've recently covered TSR's Minigame "Revolt on Antares", one of TSR's chances at dipping into the microgame / pocket game market first realized by Austin, TX based company "Metagaming".  I'll make a personal confession here ... for me, games in my life, in my wee years (1969 to 1977) consisted of card games like "Go Fish" and "War" as well as stuff like Milton Bradley's offerings.  Most of my "games" were the mass market, childhood staples ... fun kids stuff like Parker Brothers "The Six Million Dollar Man".

Finding "OGRE", my first Microgame from Metagaming in 1977 not only turned my world upside down (gaming wise) but it blew my mind.  This is easy to do for a 7 year old avid sci-fi quasi nerd ... here was a game that picqued my imagination and it fit in my pocket (or my 3 ring binder when I snuck it to school).  Small format, with only a few illustrations and a dump truck load of imagination.

For years Metagaming had the monopoly on "microgames" but the blood was in the water and other big fish began circling the cloudy waters ... big fish like SPI and TSR.  TSR's entries were limited but bore TSR's high quality (at least to me).  Sometimes manufacturers have a "tell", a certain "feel" to their games and TSR's minigames generally had that TSR "feel" to them.  As a kid I was drawn to this "feel", at least for two of TSR's offerings; "Revolt on Antares" and ... "Attack Force".

Designed by David James Ritchie, the main two things that can be said about TSR's 1982 offering "Attack Force" is that not only is it part of a family of "copy-cat" games that tried to cash in on the amazing runaway financial success of "Star Wars" but it is amazing to me why George Lucas didn't sue the ever living hell out of TSR for this game.  

In the time following the release of "Star Wars" on the silver screen, George Lucas was a sue happy zealot, going after the likes of Ideal for their "Star Force" line of action figures (which predated "Star Wars" and bore a remarkable resemblence to C3PO and R2D2 long before there actually was a C3PO or R2D2) and going after "Battlestar Galactica" because, you know, if you were to watch "Star Wars" and watch "Battlestar Galactica" the similarities really just jump out at you ... not.

"Attack Force" is, in a few short words, the final epic starfighter battle of 1977's super sucessful "Star Wars" played out on paper with die cut counters and a pair of six sided dice to determine the outcome.  If you have any doubt to that, the catch phrase on the front of the game, "Starfighters stalk planet killer" should remove all doubt but if there are any further doubts, let me try to remove that as well.  Just read the back of the instruction manual ...

Game play revolves around four flights of star fighters, divided into two types; Falcon and Eagle (which could be X-wing and Y-wing).  Four flights of Arcturan starfighters, four different colors of flights, facing a round, planet killing Nova Ship which not only has surface mounted launch bays for Imperial fighters but also a vast network of surface mounted defence turrets.  The defense turrets, which consist of lasers, blasters and pom-poms, can move along a track type of network giving the Nova Ship not only a variable defense but one that can be modified or arranged according to the desires of the Nova Ship player.  Each type of surface battery has a different type (or volume) of firepower giving each a unique strategy in setting up the defense as well as playing the game.

Imperial fighters come in two varieties; standard and custom.  The standard Imperial fighters are called "Cobras" while the custom fighter is a super fighter owned by the Imperial hero Vaj Korsen, evil tyrant of the Empire of the First Born.  The similarities between the Nova Ship and the Death Star, as well as Vaj Korsen and Darth Vader, right down to each having their own "next gen" starfighter.

Even as a 12 year old kid, the name "Vaj" caused more than a few pre-pubescent giggles and laughs at our games.

As for the weak point, the Achille's Heel of the Nova Ship, there are several exhaust ports which the Arcturan starfighters must attack in order to destroy the Nova Ship.  Only an attack against the correct exhaust port will set up a chain reaction that will destroy the Death Star ... sorry, the Nova Ship.  The actual exhaust port is randomly placed each game making each game different from that point of view.  I wonder if the exhaust port was only two meters wide ... the only thing missing from this game was a trench run.

Playing this game was a lot of fun back then.  The game itself was simple and didn't take a lot of time to set up or play (one of the great things about the small format games) but the real attractiveness of the game was the counters ... 

The counters for the Imperial Cobra starfighters, the Arcturan Eagle and Falcon starfighters were easy to use with TSR's other (then) contemporary science fiction offering "Star Frontiers" and its spaceship supplement "Knight Hawks".

Like I said, it amazes me that George Lucas never sued the hell out of TSR for such a blatant "Star Wars" ripoff as this game was.  Once an inexpensive offering from TSR, "Attack Force" is the second and last minigame offering from TSR that I bought and it still remains a guilty pleasure to play every few years.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"The Last American" - Post Apocalyptic goodness from Marvel Comics

"Are you there, God? Come on out! I got a bone to pick with you! A bone -- hah! That's a good one! I got a million bones to pick with you, pal! All the bones in the world! This is all your fault! That's right! You coulda stopped it -- why didn't you? Eh? You're so all-damn powerful, why didn't you do something? Have you seen what it's like out there? Have you? Well, I'll tell you, pal! If there is a God then you gotta be one twisted, evil son of a bitch! Damn you! Come on! I'm not afraid of you! Strike me down! Gimme the big zap! What are you waiting for? Had enough death? Sickened even yourself? Don't worry! You'll be doing me a favor! I don't any part of this. I don't want to be the last American..."  -- Ulysses S. Pilgrim

"The Last American" (hereby abbreviated TLA for brevity’s sake) was a four issue comic written by John Wagner and Alan Grant with two issues being done by each author supposedly at the end of their professional relationship (a relationship that was rapidly sinking against the jagged rocks of artistic differences).   

Mike McMahon was the artist for all four issues.  

 Published by Epic Comics from December of 1990 to March of 1991, TLA was a four issue limited run that left off with a slightly open-ending.  I became interested in this particular work for the primary reason that it fulfilled two of my strongest fascinations … waking up from long term suspended animation in a strange, new world (ala Rip Van Winkle) and the post apocalypse.  I've always been fascinated with stories about ordinary people thrust into environments beyond their control and often times beyond their understanding.

The story of TLA centers on Ulysses S. Pilgrim, a disgraced US Army soldier in military prison for some unknown but obviously severe crime.  Pilgrim is chosen to be the last American, a project which will put him in suspended animation for 20 years deep inside a hardened bunker in order to (hopefully) survive World War III.  At the time of Pilgrim being chosen for the project, for whatever reasons, global nuclear war is imminent and unavoidable and time is running out.  Pilgrim is whisked away from his family, put into the bunker with enough supplies to weather the coming war, and given the task of waking up in 20 years to begin the rebuilding the United States of America.

The story begins on July 4, 2019, at twelve noon, twenty years after the nuclear war.   Pilgrim wakes up in a bunker, attended to by a likable robot valet / Man-Friday named “Charlie” who is obsessed with pop culture (the robot has had twenty years to absorb all the substantial archive of recorded pop media that the bunker has to offer) as well as two large, gruff, all business-like, no-nonsense combat robots named “Able” and “Baker” (A, B, and C for you non-military types).  Charlie serves as Pilgrim’s personal valet and as a go-between for Pilgrim and the two combat robots.

Pilgrim’s first questions when he wakes up is “Who won?”  Before he can receive an answer from Charlie he admonishes himself that what he just asked was a pretty stupid question, in hind sight.

Waking up and leaving the bunker, Pilgrim and his three robot companions travel the devastated America in a large, squat, armored ATV.  They find nothing but destruction and desolation.  Along the way, Pilgrim has flashbacks and memories of his life before he went into suspended animation.  We learn of the life he left behind, his wife, his young son.  He pines for them during his travels, even almost visiting the place where he and his wife first met by accident (he ran over her bicycle with his VW bug).  Along the way, the destruction and devastation are so great that Pilgrim has trouble dealing with the immensity of the fate of the human race.   

When offered a bottle of whiskey he proceeds to get drunk and curse God.  His fourth travelling companion, a hallucination, a figment of his imagination, is Bert the Turtle from the old Civil Defense films of the 1950’s.  Bert becomes his best friend and talks to him all the time, often serving as a filter to help Pilgrim understand the situation that he is in and the situations that he finds himself in.  This seems to upset the two combat robots and concerns Charlie who sees Pilgrim’s continual backwards mental slide as some kind of failure on Charlie’s part to take care of Pilgrim during his 20 year long hibernation.

Able: "It ain't my job to be worried about his state of health but if it was my job to be worried I'd BE worried."

Charlie: "Oh, Doctor Kildare!  You're so handsome when you diagnose!"

Able:  "Come to that.  I'd be worried about YOUR state of health."

With only four issues to tell a story I won’t ruin it by giving a complete summary of the story, suffice to say that if you like post-apocalyptic stories then TLA is a little bundle of pure PA candy.

TLA is a great post-apocalyptic treasure and at just four issues it doesn’t take a deep wallet to add it to your collection or a lot of time to add it to your memories.  The designs of the robots and the ATV are solid if a bit whimsical but Pilgrim’s uniform looks more for show than actual use.  He is a caricature of America, even more so than Uncle Sam ever was.

All in all, TLA is solid and is one of those lost gems that would make a great movie, even if it only made it as a low budget, CGI heavy movie in the same league as most Sci-Fi channel movies.  Hell, you could make this movie with only a handful of people and I'd suggest the more less well-known the better.  The robots would be simple to build or even easier to just CGI together, ditto for the ATV and the PA backdrops.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

TSR Minigame – “Revolt on Antares”

Being a particularly smart but wholly unchallenged kid growing up left me to fill in the gaps and one of those gaps that entertained my spinning mind was wargaming.  There came a golden age of gaming and that age was the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s. Bookshelf games like Avalon Hill’s “Tactics II” and SPI’s “Invasion America” were the large format games, full of heavy stock folding maps, exhaustively numbered yet scantily illustrated rules and a metric ton of die-cut counters.  Those games dominated the early to mid 1970’s but gave way to the likes of TSR's role playing games in the late '70's and early '80's.  Mid-level games were the boxed sets, with individual scenarios or game modules, richly illustrated and making use of multiple polyhedron dice.  The mid-level games mostly belonged to the RPG role playing games genre like TSR’s “Dungeons and Dragons” and other such ilk.  Below that were the small scale format games made extremely popular in the late 1970’s with Austin, TX's own Metagaming’s line of “Microgames”.

Microgames were big sellers … at $2.95 each, a microgame came with an attractively illustrated and compact rule book about the size of a quick reference guide, a fold out map limited to a handful of colors (at best) and a single sheet of counters that you had to cut out yourself (the more fancy games had die-cut counters that you just punched out from the “sprue”).  These games often used a six sided die to determine game results though very few of these games actually included the dice and if they did they were incredibly small, the size that you could fit on a fingernail with plenty of space to spare.  All of this tiny gaming goodness came to you in either a simple plastic closure bag or a “Ziploc” type bag.  Later offerings from Steve Jackson Games actually came in plastic clamshell boxes but no Metagaming offerings were ever offered in these types of cases.

Some of the more successful small format games were, of course, “OGRE”, “GEV”, “Car Wars” and the various “Car Wars” supplements like “Sunday Drivers” and “Truck Stop”.  Metagaming made a name for itself and the “microgame” early on so it was no wonder that a gaming giant like TSR would see the microgame format (and market) as something that they could enter and hopefully make a profit in.  One of the first TSR offerings in the newly cointed “minigame” market (because “microgame” was, I think, was an actual copyrighted term) was “Revolt on Antares” hereafter referred to, for brevity’s sake, simply as “ROA.”

“ROA” remains one of my favorite small format game offerings from that time.

I picked up my copy of “ROA” in Bookland at Cloverleaf Mall back in 1981 late one Friday afternoon after school.  It was a quick purchase, I knew exactly what I wanted and exactly where it was, about a third of the way inside the store in its own special standup cardboard TSR display rack.  I was headed on a Boy Scout hike to one of the military parks, Vicksburg or Shiloh, I can’t remember.  It was going to be cold, wet and an overnight trip.  Being in the Boy Scouts, we played a lot of D&D and Gamma World … two favorites which usually were taken on overnight trips or week long camping trips to Camp Tiak.  Microgames were another popular thing to pack among the wargaming scouts and stuff like “Melee”, “Wizard”, “OGRE” and “GEV” were often played late at night in the hallways of the National Guard armories where we spent the night in our sleeping bags.  Flashlights, notebooks and the sounds of pencils on paper and dice rolling were common for hours, accompanied by the low playing cassette tapes of Rush “Tom Sawyer”, the Gap Band’s “You dropped a bomb on me”, and AC-DC’s “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap” on our “boom boxes”, all before lights out was called by the Scoutmaster.

This particular trip, be it Vicksburg or Shiloh, I picked up TSR’s “ROA”.  It cost me $9.99 (which was three times what an average “Microgame” cost then) but it was worth it.  “ROA” was, perhaps, the greatest and best of the TSR small format offerings.  It came in a blisterpack that was unfortunately disposable and included a richly illustrated rule book, two standard sized six sided dice, a die-cut counter sheet and a lavishly colored map (so different than the simple two and three color Metagaming offerings at the time).  The counters were richly illustrated as well, very detailed as opposed to the typical symbols of infantry and armor given in the more traditional wargames.

“ROA” told the story of political intrigue and war on the planet Imirrhos, ninth planet in the Antares star system so technically the game should have been called “Revolt on Imirrhos” rather than “Revolt on Antares” since no revolt was actually occurring on the surface of the star.  Imirrhos was a planet divided between seven powerful houses or kingdoms, each house had its own individual leader each with a special power and their own army.  Whether the powers that each leader had were some kind of mutant power or due to some kind of technology advantage it wasn’t really clear though some of the powers did seem to be more mutations (long range telepathy) than anything that could be explained away with science (like the ability to teleport units or cast unpredictable lightning).  

And, speaking of science … each house had in their possession a single ancient artifact, a bit of super advanced, barely (if at all) understood science from a long dead race that had inhabited Imirrhos long before humans ever colonized it.  Artifacts included the Devastator (a super bomb, single use only), a force field generator, an energy drainer, a dimensional plane, two types of powerful self-propelled artillery and even a mysterious UFO that was by itself the match of an entire airjet squadron.  These artifacts offered each house an additional power or benefit in addition to the power that the leader already had and since artifact possession changed at the start of each game, no house had the same artifact every game session.

House forces consisted of five types of combat units; laser tanks, hovercraft, jump troops, power infantry and airjet squadrons.  Not all houses had all types of units.  The map was a “peeled fruit skin” type of map where units could exit off the left or right (reentering directly on the opposite side that they exited) but could not exit off the top or bottom of the map (not very realistic but …).  A single starport existed in Terran or neutral controlled territory.


Combat was simple … each counter had two stats; combat strength and movement allowance.  Combat was resolved by adding up all the combat strength of all the units engaged in the battle and rolling a single die for each player, adding that to the sum of the combat strength.  The winner of the die roll got to subtract the difference of the two die rolls from the combat strength of the defender, eliminating units directly.

There were three other factions involved in the seething turmoil on Imirrhos; the Terran Empire (which in its weakened state had allowed the turmoil to ferment on Imirrhos), the natives of Imirrhos itself (spear carrying, floppy eared, elephant footed, low-tech bipedal tribals under a charismatic leader named “Mirrhos” (which was the planet name minus the “I” in front of it) and a mysterious alien race known as the “Silakka” that was waiting to invade.  If that wasn’t enough, players could attempt to recruit intergalactic mercenaries, powerful individuals each with a unique ability, to fight for their houses.  These mercenaries ranged from an intergalactic assassin to a chubby free trader, several jump troop, power infantry, laser tank and hovercraft group leaders, a pair of hot shot airjet squadron leaders and even an android of mysterious alien origin that could travel through dimensions.  One of the more interesting mercenaries was “Dr. Death” who could raise the recent dead to fight again, ala zombie fashion.

Overall, the game played well and offered a variety of background story to enrich the science fiction that supported the game.  “ROA” wasn’t a particularly deep game and the simplification of its rules set and subsequent game play made it just that much more attractive.  “ROA” isn’t meant to be “Battle of the Bulge”, it’s meant to be an easy to learn, easy to play fun little game with little or no paperwork or record keeping.  A lot of the game is dependent on the roll of the die and many situations are resolved through die rolls.  My own copy of “ROH” is well worn from untold gaming sessions though I haven’t played “ROA” in over 30 years now.  Maybe it’s time to pull out “ROA” and teach my oldest daughter how to play.

As a side note, the counters for “ROH” also lent their selves well to another TSR offering, “Star Frontiers” and the later “Knight Hawks” expansion.  Many of the celebrities of “ROH” eventually found their selves in the “Star Frontiers” game settings.  In fact, both “ROH” and TSR’s other minigame offering of note, “Attack Force”, (which I’ll discuss soon) had counters that were often cross-borrowed for our “Star Frontiers” games, especially the starfighter counters in the “Attack Force” game. 

Good memories.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Timothy Truman's "Scout" comic series

“Scout” is probably one of my all-time favorite series of comic books, written by artist and guitarist Timothy Truman and published by the stinky hippy managed, ill-fated Eclipse Comics which was itself an independent bastion during the “Direct Distributing” years taking on the likes of Marvel and DC.  “Scout” debuted back in September of 1985 and at that time I was just sixteen and a junior in high school.  Now, when it comes to comic books I’m not big on super heroes … I was far less a “Superman” kind of comic book fan than I was a fan of comics like “The Unknown Soldier”, “Sergeant Rock”, “The Losers”, “Weird War Tales” and the various horror comics.  Comics and I parted ways for a while, several years in fact, and when we met back up my interest in comics had changed considerably.

“Scout” piqued my interest because it had relevant issues in a time when those issues were still both relevant and a possible outcome to (then) current events.  I know that sounds kind of like a cop-out but “Scout” hit hard and it hit true, for the time that it came out swinging.  The series took place in the (then) year of 1999 in a story setting where the United States had been knocked far down the world political power ladder.  America was being punished for years of ecological waste with heavy sanctions levied against it by the other countries of the world (kind of like Germany was punished at the end of World War I).  Despite all the liberal guilt based background, the actual story followed the spiritual quest of a Native American Apache Indian by the name of Emmanuel Santana (who was actually named for Carlos Santana, the musician, which Truman was friends with).  

Santana was an ex-US Army Ranger on a spiritual mission to destroy several mythical monsters of Native American folklore that had come to plague the land.  These monsters could take on human form and thus infiltrate various power structures of our once great country.  This particular quest comprised the first seven issues of the series, after that, the series got pretty serious up until the 24th issue which ended the first series.  Along the way, Santana is reunited with an ex-lover, Rosanna Winter (also a US Army Ranger who, along with her psycho Ranger teammate Raymond, is tasked with hunting down Santana).  Santana also meets up with Beau Le Duke (a gun toting, beer guzzling, bearded real man’s man), Monday the Eliminator (who is a mostly immortal warrior created back in the time of the Greeks) and a mercenary group called “The Swords of Texas.” 

(Rosanna Winter would have her own off-shoot series, four issues, in the “New America” collection and “The Swords of Texas” got their own four issue mini-series as well to bridge the gap between the first series of “Scout” and the second series.)

“Scout” was gritty from the start, and it had a rough, shaky start to be sure.  When I first read it I noticed that it had that kind of Pepe Moreno “Rebel” feel to it (and I’ll discuss Moreno’s “Rebel” and “Generation X” in followup postings).  Originally published bi-monthly, “Scout” was later announced to being rescheduled as a monthly series.  “Scout” had a lot of growing pains and I was there for its birth as well as its whole life run.  “Scout”, in one form or another, was published from the fall of 1985 to the summer of 1989 and it was an epic run for a comic.  Equipment and hardware in the series were period specific and easily recognizable to anyone who followed pop culture action shows or movies … Monday the Eliminator preferred to carry a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun (the iconic shotgun of the 1980s) and later had a cybernetic eye implanted so he could chip into a 5.56mm “smartgun” (itself a heavily modified M60). 

Emanuel Santana carried an Israeli made 9mm Uzi submachinegun (the iconic SMG of the 1980’s) and in the first few issues a Automag .44 caliber automatic magnum (much like Clint Eastwood’s character “Dirty Harry” used in the movie “Sudden Impact”).  Later a Colt .357 Python magnum revolver with a ribbed barrel was included and Scout carried a 5.56mm Colt M16, a H&K CAWS automatic 12 gauge combat shotgun, a 7.62mm FN FAL battle rifle, hand grenades, knives and later in the series, a British made .303 Lee Enfield bolt action rifle of WW2 origin.  Emanuel Santana’s outfit was a mixture of pop culture (a leather jacket with an American flag on the back), military surplus (his duty belt, holsters, and fanny packs) and traditional tribal Native American fashion (bandannas, war paint, groin cloth and boots).  He rode a Harley Davidson Sportster … that ever so ridiculous icon of 1980’s faux motorcycling because back then (and to a lesser extent today) Harleys were considered “cool” and “tough” even if they could live up to neither aspect of their pop culture reputation.

What made the comic interesting besides the ingredients that went into the comic itself was the fact that not only was Timothy Truman a musician but he put a lot of music into his comic as well.  One of the characters that Santana encounters is called “Guitar Man” and it is “Guitar Man” who plays his Fender Stratocaster loudly while the enemy base is burning around him.  “Guitar Man” always seemed to be the embodiment of Jimi Hendrix, at least to me; that’s the vibe that I got from that character.   Missy, a woman that Santana rescues early in the series, goes on to become a pop star with her own band.  In this way, the comic had that kind of “Streets of Fire” feel to it.  In issue number 16, Truman even included a flexi-disc record that you could play on your record player (some of you won’t know what that is) … a two song soundtrack for the comic itself.   

After a brief respite from the comic, Timothy Truman and his band “The Dixie Pistols” cut a vinyl record of blues rock that was inspired by the comic itself, another first and this time a LP based soundtrack to a comic book.   

The record included a mini-comic detailing some of the events after the first 24 issue “Scout” series concluded, namely the marriage of Santana.  Santana found a wife, was married, had two sons, his wife died, and he went back to traveling the devastated America with his sons.  The mini-comic paved the way for the introduction of the second full length series and sequel to the first; “Scout: War Shaman”.   

That series lasted sixteen issues and ended with the death of Emanuel Santana.

During this time, two other “Scout” series were produced; “New America” which chronicled Rosa Winter’s violent rise to American political power and “The Swords of Texas” which told the story of the mercenary group that had played a big part in helping Emanuel Santana.

There was even a technical manual / handbook published which detailed and gave the specs for all of the equipment that Scout and his friends used in the series as well as profiles, maps, etc.  One of the neater vehicles introduced in the series was the Israeli giant mecha called "Big Moishe".

“Scout” was one of those iconic comics that, if you got onboard with the first issue and managed to hang on until the end then it was an epic ride and one of those kind of artistic events that you “had to be there for” otherwise you just couldn’t really get the feel of what it was like to have been part of it.  Today, finding all of the issues let alone the flexi-disc and the vinyl album by The Dixie Pistols would be a real grail quest.  I’m glad that I’ve got all of my original stuff and every few years I sit down and revisit Emanuel Santana’s journey through the Second American Civil War, throw my Dixie Pistols vinyl album on the old turn table and just lose myself in some great childhood memories.

I guess what strikes me as interesting is that as I’m writing this it has now been 28 years since I first picked up my first issue of Truman’s “Scout” at Brendon’s comic shop there on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg back when he had opened a shop right next to the hobby shop.  Twenty-eight years ago, way back in September of 1985, I was sixteen years old and the year 1999 was still so far away that it might never be reached.  1999 was a mythical, magical year.  Warren Publishing had an entire series of adult graphic magazines sold under the “1999” banner.  There was “Space: 1999” the old TV show from the 1970’s where the Moon was blown out of orbit by a nuclear chain reaction and went hurtling off into space on adventures every week and the pop artist Prince wanted us to party like it was 1999 in his hit song.  
1999, way back then, was so far away.

What is interesting, though, is that way back in 1985, at fourteen years in the future, the year 1999 was as far ahead of us (then) as 1999 is behind us (now) in 2013.  Think about it … Not only did we make it through the long fourteen year climb up to 1999 but the world didn’t end either and, now that we are the same amount of time and distance on the other side of 1999 as we were in front of 1999 way back in 1985 it is interesting to stop, take a deep breath, and look back at just how far we have come as well as what our expectations of our future once were.

Think about it for a minute ... the iconic year 1999 is now as far behind us as it once used to be in front of us.  That year is now as far behind as it once was ahead of us.  I find it interesting to look back on how we all thought the world was going to be … and to see how it really turned out.

The future isn’t what it used to be and that may not be a bad thing.  For all the troubles that this once great nation now has, for all the wrong choices that it has made politically in the last five years, thankfully, this once great nation doesn’t resemble the nightmarish hell that the United States in Emanuel Santana’s time is portrayed as. 
There isn’t a Second American Civil War … at least not yet. 

So if you’re like me and you like finding new and interesting stuff then I’ve got a real grail quest for you.   I've got all of my Scout series, extras, flexi-disc and vinyl record.  How about you?


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Damnation Alley

Feeling in a vegetative mood I decided to blow the dust off the old "DA" DVD, throw it in the XBox 360 and take it for another spin after all these years.  I was not disappointed.  Sure "DA" has problems and loop holes but tha's what makes it what it is.  The effects are dated but "DA" is still a solid "B" movie.  Never intended to do anything but entertain a viewer with their mind solidly thrown into neutral, "DA" lives up to expectations and remains a cherished part of my post-apocalyptic media collection.


"Damnation Alley", by Roger Zelazny, was originally written as a novella in 1967, turned into a novel in 1969 (the year I was born) and then made into a movie based very, very, very loosely on the book in 1977 (the year that "Star Wars" first hit the big screen).  The book illustrated above is the edition that I first owned and read in the mid-1980's, a time when post-apocalyptic drama was in high demand.  I'm pretty sure I still have this novel in my extensive collection, I see no reason why I would have ever gotten rid of it ... it's a great story full of post-apocalyptic wonder and like so many facets of my childhood I like to revisit it every decade or so just to kick the tires and do a few smokey burnouts down "Memory Lane".

All in all, "Damnation Alley" is another example of the cliche where someone says "the book was a lot better than the movie."  In this case, it is true.  Damnation Alley was a pretty cool movie, all given, but it had very little to do with Zelazny's book and by "very little" I mean that it took the basic premise of post apocalyptic mayhem, took the name of the main character and used the idea of driving an armored car across a blasted American wasteland and ... yeah, the rest of it they just kind of made up.  


The one part of the movie, where the big war board shows all of the Russian ICBMs coming over the pole to hit American targets, the launching of the retalitory strike and the different canned film footage of nuclear explosions ... that's how we all thought that we would go, probably in our sleep at a few minutes till midnight but in the 1970's and early 1980's that's pretty much how we figured the human race would end.

"DA" starred several recurring Hollywood actors ... George Peppard, pretty boy Jan-Michael Vincent, and Paul Winfield.  


As far as action movies go, "DA" is a good 1970's film and it begs, just begs to be remade in this era of "let's remake everything because we've run out of original ideas".  Of course I'd like a more faithful to the book version but then that's just me.

What PA movie wouldn't be complete without some
mutated giant scorpions to cause our heroes grief?

Probably the most iconic thing to come out of "DA" the movie is the armored vehicle that our heroes travel across "Damnation Alley" in ... the "Landmaster".  Long a popular sci-fi vehicle, the "Landmaster" was a twelve wheeled ATV that was armored, was NBC sealed, had a segmented body, could drive with either set of wheels out of commission, had six heavy machine guns, a pair of rocket launchers in an upper turret, full communications suite, a side hatch, a top hatch, a rear ramp that could raise and lower, room for four, bunks, a shower, food and water for extended periods of time and could use standard semi truck parts to repair its power / drive train components.

The original story struck me as perhaps being the spiritual forerunner of John Carpenter's "Escape from New York."  You had Hell Tanner, the last of the Hell's Angels, living in a post apocalyptic California.  He's one of the last of the true bad asses, he's in prison, and he's offered a parole by the governor if he'll run some antidote or serum across country to Boston (or some other blue state Yankee stronghold) that has come down with some disease.  Since it is post WW3 and all humans are precious, California decides to send the medicine in several armored cars (referred to simply as "cars").  These "cars" are awesome armored, fully armed, fully supplied all terrain transports with flame throwers, fifty caliber heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, rockets and two giant blades that can slice out from each side.  In order to earn his pardon, Hell Tanner has to make the run through Damnation Alley, a narrow belt of less-destroyed America plagued with giant insects, giant scorpions, bandits, radiation, and terrific mega-storms.  I won't tell you any more, if you haven't read it, read it.  

You can pick it up cheap at most used book stores.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's been a "Megaforce" kind of week ...

The title song to the 1981 Hal Needham military action comedy, sung by "707" (think of them as "SURVIVOR Light") has the lyrics of ...

There's something moving
In the air tonight
Something moving
At the speed of light

And it's calling
Calling, calling to you

I got a feeling
Rushing through my head
We might never get
This chance again

And it's calling, calling
Call to you, yeah

If the time should call
Should they'll find
What we believe
Then you can believe
I'm coming on

Like a mega force
Mega force
Like a mega force

"Megaforce" was calling to me.  For an entire week, "Megaforce" was calling to me.

It started out plainly enough ... I've got 707's song "Megaforce" on my iPod so I listened to that and started thinking how those first few guitar chords pretty much summed up the whole decade of the 1980's.  The '80's started out so strong ... so different, so full of hope, than the previous bleak, bland 1970's and here was a song that in just a few string licks pretty much summed the entire decade up.  As I thought about that, I realized that it had been a few years (quite a few) since I'd last seen "Megaforce."  I have it on DVD in my collection but it's a transfer from the VHS so "DVD Quality" is nowhere to be found.  Still it's viewable and in DVD format which is good since my last VHS player bit the dust many moons ago and I've never replaced it because the amount of VHS tapes I still own is less than the number of girlfriends I've had so ...

So I thought I might watch "Megaforce" again, maybe on a Friday night, grab a pizza and sit down with an old friend from long ago for about an hour and a half of mindless fun.  Simple enough.  Then I took my youngest daughter to the city park playground to play.  I like to look around the playground for stuff that people leave behind, just I guess some kind of sociologist / archaeologist fetish ... to try to figure out, from the stuff left, what kind of people had come before me.  Sometimes kids leave toys, broken toys, garbage, trash, broken toy jewelry, a condom wrapper or two (who fucks in a playground?) and other stuff.  This time was no different but I did find something pertaining to my plans ... there, in the dirt near a tube slide I found ... this!

It's one of the latest incarnations of the Hot Wheels "Megaforce Mega-Destroyer" fast attack vehicle as seen in the movie.  Armed with a gatling gun, an automatic cannon, triple rocket rack and a laser gun which raises up on a rear pedestal and can rotate 360 degrees, the "Mega Destroyer" had both a stealth skin and could run silently on electrics.  Hot Wheels planned a big tie-in with the movie, going to offer several die-cast toy cars but when the movie bombed at the box office the Hot Wheels stuff (and probably a lot of other cool toys) never appeared.  A few "Megaforce" Hot Wheels did hit the market but they were rare, low production and are sought after collectors items today.

Unfortunately the "Megafighter" and "Tac-Com" are mislabeled.  The dirtbike is the "Megafighter" and the six wheeled ATV is the "Tac-Com".  Mattel put some money into this line in anticipation of the movie being a big hit and when it wasn't, well, the MegaDestroyer and Tac-Com vehicles were kept and simply given new names and reissued every few years in different color schemes.  The Hot Wheels "MegaDestroyer" I found in the city park is missing the laser gun, the rockets on top and is painted in a bright yellow paint scheme which includes the words "Nitro" and "Payback" on each side.

Here is a pic of how the original "Megaforce" Hot Wheels were packaged.

"Megaforce" ... Long a guilty little pleasure (right up there with Roger Corman's "Battle Beyond The Stars" and other '70's cheese), "Megaforce" is a movie that is often bad mouthed and ridiculed mainly by pseudo-overly intelligent movie savants that "just don't get it."  "Megaforce" hit the screens in 1981, was the work of Hal Needham (who brought us "Smokey and the Bandit") and starred a host of then promising faces; Barry Bostwick, Persis Khambatta (now with hair, last seen bald in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" as Ilia), Michael Beck, Edward Mulhare (who would later play "Devin" in "Knightrider") and Henry Silva.

So, I had the week started with sponging to 707 - "Megaforce" ...

Then I found the latest incarnation of the Hot Wheels "MegaDestroyer" at the city park playground ...

Then two nights later a friend on FaceBook posted a link not only to the 707 "Megaforce" song video but also to a remake by none other than KISS guitar alumni Ace Frehley ...  Frehley's Comet - "Calling to You" 

And that's when I just said "to hell with it".  "Megaforce" was calling to me in a big way and who was I to deny it?  Friday night I got pizza, sat down and watched "Megaforce".  My older daughter opted out of watching it (she knows my taste in movies) but my youngest daughter sat spell-bound watching the explosions, lasers and vehicles doing their stunts.  She loved the motorcycles and the dune buggies and when they started emitting different colored smoke screens she really liked that but when Ace Hunter's motorcycle lit the jet engine and started flying, well, that was just the cat's meow for her ...

... and sharing that with her I remember why I really like this movie.  It's just plain fun.  It's campy, it's cheesy, it's unbelievable, it's funny, it has some neat hardware (and pre-CGI whored out special effects) and above all this movie is just a C-130 full of fun.  If you can't have fun watching "Megaforce" then chances are your childhood wasn't a great one and you're probably not a very fun person to be around today.

So many people are quick to ridicule this movie and add it to their top ten list of bad movies that they miss what this movie really was; an allegory of the Cold War.  Maybe "Megaforce" didn't start out like that or maybe it wasn't intended to be an allegory of the Cold War but that is what "Megaforce" is.  

 Let's look at this concept closer ...

"Megaforce" starts out with two fictional countries, the peaceful Republic of Sardun and their aggressive neighbor Gamibia. Unable to defend themselves from the Gamibia incursion, Sardun seeks help from SCUFF (Supreme Command United Free Forces) for help.  Now Sardun and Gamibia are simply arbitrary, they exist as convenient stereotypes of any of a number of second and even third world nations out there torn between aligning their selves with either the USSR or the USA during the Cold War.  SCUFF is representative of NATO and "Megaforce" is a united nations ghost army, consisting of the best of the best, independent thinking soldiers from every free country in the world come together under one command to fight for freedom and fight against tyranny and injustice (aka "communism").  In other words, SCUFF is NATO and "Megaforce" is a multi-national crewed world police force capable of military strikes anywhere on the globe, they are the world's, the free world's preeminent police force and in that regard they represent America.

It's a bit of a stretch but that's what makes it fun.

Looking at the late 1970's and early 1980's, it was America's (and Europe's and NATO's) worst fear that the Russians would roll their armor into the Fulda Gap and that would be the end of Europe.  In that regard, America knew that we couldn't match Russia tank for tank so we made our tanks better.  We made our weapons better ... the M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the AH-64 Apache, the A-10 Warthog ... America took the technology high road and used technological superiority to counter numerical superiority.

It worked.

Of course had the Fulda Gap ever been overrun with Russians the obvious answer from NATO would have simply been to drop a few neutron bombs on the Fulda Gap and turn it into a giant parking lot full of glowing Soviet tanks but that scenario also never happened, thank God.

"Megaforce" wasn't just a allegory, it was a prediction that superior technology could counter vastly superior numbers and that better training and individual thinking could overcome group thinking and political indoctrination.  

On one hand, you have Megaforce ... the best soldiers and technology that the free nations of the world can put together, composed of an elite raider force operating machinegun and rocket armed dirt bikes, machinegun, cannon, rocket and laser armed dune buggies and all coordinated by a six wheeled cannon and electronic warfare capable ATV known as "Tac-Com."  Supplemented by electrics, stealth paint and smoke screens, the vehicles of Megaforce are more than a match, one one one, for the outdated, lumbering armor of Gurerra and his forces.  Even the lowly armed dirt bike can take out a main battle tank all by itself if it can get close enough.  The Cold War allegory here, again, is a well trained, technologically superior military force can and will overcome a lesser trained, numerically superior force operating with a lesser technology base.  This was, in essence, the position of the East and the West during the Cold War.  Russia had more, America had better.

"Megaforce" visited the long standing conflict between the idealist and the realist ... Ace Hunter (Bostwick) remains an idealist while Duke Gurerra (Silva) has become and remains a realist.  One of the more striking moments of dialog in the film occur between Hunter and Gurerra when Gurerra says that Hunter shouldn't worry about his men, that the other members of Megaforce are expendable, they are just numbers to powerful commanders like Duke and Ace.  Gurerra says that in the 1970's that commanders like himself and Hunter could be idealists but in the 1980s that being an idealist was too expensive. 

Another blatant tip off to the Cold War allegory.

Later in the movie, Hunter sizes up the situation knowing that he and his men are heading into a trap and he uses one of the best cliches of the Cold War ... tried and proven true time and time again ... "Sometimes what works for you can work against you ..." and we see the Fulda Gap scenario reversed.

I won't spoil any more of this movie.  If you've seen it, you either hate it or love it and if you hate it you might hate it for the wrong reasons.  If you love it, I might just have given you another reason to do so, especially if you're like me and you grew up in the '80's during the Cold War.   

If you go into "Megaforce" expecting "Last of the Mohicans" or "Masterpiece Theater" then you're headed for disappointment.  Stark, bitter disappointment.  Otherwise, you're in for a treat.

If you haven't seen "Megaforce" (and why haven't you?!) then do so.  It's hard to find but worth the effort.  Pick a Friday night, order a pizza and sit down to an hour and a half of pure cheesy camp, of guys wearing spandex, riding rocket and machinegun armed dirt bikes, jumping over tanks and dropping handgrenades down open hatches ... if you like laser armed dune buggies and of cliches and humor that survive even over three decades later then you're in for a treat.

"Megaforce" is one of the forgotten classics, a cult film, a two liter of your favorite soft drink and pizza movie that is not only retarded but it's the good kind of retarded like so many lovable '80's films were.

Enjoy and remember ... the Good Guys always win.  Even in the '80's.

For more info, check out this fan site ... Megaforce HQ

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy birthday to me!

Happy birthday to me and because the wife is off at camp with my oldest daughter and my youngest daughter is staying with my parents I'm all alone on my birthday and that means that I'm going to celebrate it by myself.  I'm going to be good to myself so I'm buying myself some nice presents.  

Three to be exact.  Three presents of one of my favorite movie spaceships of all time, the Millennium Falcon.  I saw these books a while ago, the Haynes manual at a Books A Million and the 3D manual at my daughter's book fair at school.  The miniature was a new arrival at the local hobby shop so I spent the $30 to get it mainly because, well, it's the Millennium Falcon and it's about the size of your palm and never before could you get a miniature this good looking and this detailed so, yeah, if I never play the game at least I have a conversation / display piece for my desk.

The Haynes manual goes into a lot of detail and includes various models the the YT-1300 freighter including my favorite (and hope to one day scratchbuild) the "Ooota Goota" from the old West End Games "Tramp Freighters" game book.

My favorite rethinking of the YT-1300 series freighter.  If I had a YT-1300, this would be the one that I would have.  There's a guy on the FFG forum that converts MFs to the Oota Goota variant.  I may buy one from him.

If you love the Falcon you need to get this book.  It's full of reference, information, pictures and history of this iconic ship all put together not so much as an owner's manual but more of a guided tour of the ship.

The second book I bought for myself was the 3D guide to the Falcon.  It's done in layers so each flip of the page takes another layer of the Falcon away showing more and more detail.  It was kind of marketed as a kid's book and I found this at my daughter's school book fair but it was so neat that I had to get it.

And finally here's the Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing game miniature of the Falcon itself.  A little pricey at $30 it was worth every penny.  The attention to detail is amazing and even the gun barrels on the upper and lower turret are individually molded (and probably fragile as hell).  That's attention to detail!

So, all in all, happy birthday to me!