Friday, October 17, 2014

A new fancy: "East of West"

I was at Bombshell Comics in Hattiesburg the other day, seeing if a new "Prophet" had come in and I got invited to peruse a new offering ... "East of West".  It's a post apocalyptic western that mixes "Call of Cthulhu", "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Bladerunner" all together in a delightful blend.

In other words, it's my kind of weird and I have pretty high standards for weird.

It's an alternate America.  Sometime during the American Civil War a comet hit North America forever changing the world.  America is divided into high tech versions of the Union, the Confederacy, Texas, a nation of Freedmen (ex-slaves), the Endless Nations (all the Indian tribes joined together) and an outcast of China which has established a new Chinese empire on the west coast.

All are divided into their areas and at the center point where all of their territories meet is the impact crater of the comet.

Basically the story involves the end times, a group called "The Chosen" which is a cult trying to bring about the end of the world and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Only, it's the three Horsemen because when Pestilence, Famine and Conquest awaken they find that Death has already awakened and been working for some time without them.  In fact, Death has found his soul mate, fallen in love, had a child and had his wife and child stolen from him.

This has tended to make Death a little pissed off.

Death finds that not only has he been betrayed, but that his wife and child are both alive.

His son has been kidnapped and is being groomed to be the "Beast of the Apocalypse" in an isolation facility where the child is being programmed by "The Chosen" as the ultimate weapon and conqueror of the world, a living means to the end of the world.

Death itself is a pretty neat character.  He's dressed all in white, from head to toe, long white hair, white albino skin and he carries traditional, albeit, high-tech western style weaponry.  

He reminds me a lot of Michael Moorcock's "Elric" if "Elric" had been cast to play the title role in "The Outlaw Josey Wales."  Death has some great lines in the comic, one of my favorite being his retort to one of the major power brokers in the storyline when he tells him "I beg to fucking differ." which itself made me chuckle out loud.  Not since "Firefly" and Captain Malcolm Reynolds have I liked a character as much as I've started liking this personification of Death.

This is what weird science fiction westerns should be about / like.

Death is a bad ass and stares down entire armies.  He wades through legions with six guns blazing, riding a mechanical robot horse that has a head that fires a devastating beam that reminds me of the hyperwave gun on the Space Battleship Yamato.  In other words, he's well equipped to deal his trade.

Death is travelling with two companions, "Crow" and "Wolf", both extremely powerful witches from the Endless Nations ... 

Crow is something not human, a female in shape only that can turn into a cloud of black crows that tear the eyes out of her enemies and tear them apart.  Wolf is an Indian who turns into a pack of white wolves that, well, pretty much tear his enemies apart.  Death, therefore, goes into battle aided by lots of snarling white wolves and a black cloud of killer crows.  It's magic, it fits, and when it happens it's effective.

And then there's the Cthulhu-like horror

There's mystical and mythical and just plain Lovecraftian-type plots going on.  Stories within stories, arcs within arcs.  Not since reading "Jonah Hex" as a child or the late '70's / early '80's of "Heavy Metal" magazine have I found something that catches my fancy like this story does (well, this and "Prophet").

So, it's good to be a kid again.

I don't read many comics but when I do, they're good ones.

I have high standards for weird and "East of West", so far, fulfills all of those standards and exceeds expectations.  If your tastes in weird run close to mine, give it a try.  "East of West" may make you a lot of not unhappy.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Late birthday gift to myself

Broke down and bought these for myself.  

I've had Fantasy Flight Games' "X-Wing" for about two years now.  I've not really played it ... just haven't had time.  Our old game group (mostly guys I work with) really haven't gotten together in a year or so ... so, no games.  So far I've got the starter set (one X-wing and two TIE fighters) and the Millennium Falcon expansion pack (got it mostly just for the miniature).  At $15 bux a piece, the miniatures had kind of hit a price limit for me.  They're good, really good miniatures but $15 is a bit much for me.  Now I've found a dealer selling them for $10 each and free shipping on orders so I'm giving myself the go ahead to start building my fleet and get this game rolling.

These will be the start of my X-Wing game miniatures collection which I plan on adding to each paycheck as well as making some custom capital ships / freighters / support craft through kitbashing.  The Tantive IV is one of my favorite ships in all of sci-fi shipdom.  My 8 year old mind fell in love with that hammerhead shape and those eleven blazing engines as soon as I saw it on the silver screen way back in 1977 and ever since then I've been looking for a good sized replica of this classic ship.  About two years ago I broke down and bought the $300 27 inch long Rand Cooper Tantive IV (currently saving up for his $500 38 inch long Imperial Star Destroyer) but haven't put it together yet.  Here's a Tantive IV in much smaller scale (still large) and it's prepainted and assembled so right out of the box it's a display unit.  I'll probably only have one Tantive IV in my collection but I've got up to three Rebel transports ear-marked for the collection and this will be my first one.  The local hobby shop wanted $50 for the Transport and $90 for the Tantive IV which, again, was a bit much in my book (and for my wallet).  I spend some pretty money pretty fast sometimes but even I'm prone to waiting until the price falls or shopping around for the best price.  I like to support my local shops but going online I saved about $40 on these two items (the Transport was $40 and the Tantive IV was $60).  That savings gives me enough money to either add four fighters to my collection or another Rebel Transport (and I've found an online shop that I'm going to give a lot of business to in the months to come).

So, that's the update.  Happy late birthday to me and it was a pretty good birthday with me buying myself the '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby back in June and now, two months later, these two sets of expansion miniatures.


It's not often that I collect a series of comic books and usually when I do it's a short-run series like Miller and Darrow's "Hard Boiled" or something like Delgado's "Hieroglyph" or Steve White and Dan Abnett's "Hypersonic" but every once in a while, thank you life, there comes another series which I adore.  Luckily I found this one about two years back but didn't start collecting it until this month (which meant that I had to catch up).  

Prophet is the story of John Prophet, a modified / vat grown super soldier (think Captain America) who wakes up from stasis / hybernation on Earth so far in the future that nothing is recognizable to him.  Time, alien races and cosmic events have forever altered the planet, even the galaxy.  John Prophet is not alone, he is one of many John Prophets, some altered genetically for different environments or situations and each as a mission.

The Empire of Man is returning, rising in power, and hell is to be paid.

I can't tell you very much about this other than if you like classic 1970's style Angus McKee, Richard Corben, Moebius and Moreno artwork like that once found in the pages of "Metal Hurlant" ("Heavy Metal" to us Americans) then Prophet is for you.  Just flipping through the pages and looking at the artwork takes me back in time to when art ... comic art ... was hand drawn and not done on computers.  It's crude, brutal and wonderful, not glossy, sedate and precise.  I've ranted about art, especially sci-fi art, and how in it moving into the digital age it has lost a lot of what made it so great.  There's no soul, no emotion anymore in sci-fi art and it shows.  The same can be said of modern sci-fi comic books.  Everything is so clean, antiseptic, mundane and predictable.

Not so with Prophet.

Prophet is the telling of an epic story, tens of thousands of years, with characters that have started in another age of comics (the 1990s) and off and on appeared in several series then had their selves thrown into a reboot in the far future, a future so wonderfully bizarre that you wish that someone would make a movie of it.

Carnivorous aliens, symbiotes, parasites, adaptive membranes, interspecies sex, living rock people, living metal robots, crystal sentients, sapient fungus ... Prophet has something for everyone and a surprise for all.  The artwork is amazing in scope and depth, it's like looking at Darrow's work on "Hard Boiled" ... every time you go back and look at it you see something you missed.

John Prophet is an interesting character but so far I'm drawn more to Diehard, a cyborg shell that is over 10,000 years old.   A man from the 1990's, his body was replaced after his death and his cyborg form lives on.  Several stories tell of Diehard's past, some of when he was still a man, others when he was living on some planet with some adoptive race and had a family.  The fact that Diehard is replacing parts of himself with organic parts taken from dead John Prophet clones is intriguing.  At one point he has a human heart beating in his chest cavity (something he hasn't had for thousands of years) and later he can speak again due to adding one of the clone's vocal cords to his design.  You would think that if a machine was operating just fine without a human heart (and for thousands of years) why would it need to install one now?  Also, why does it need vocal cords to communicate which it could just have a speaker to project an artificial voice.

I may find this out yet.

If you want to pick up on Prophet, you can do so now quickly and cheaply.  There are 45 issues of Prophet dating back to the early '90's but the current restart didn't happen until issue 21.  There are 45 issues now meaning that you need to start at issue 21 and catch up.  That means that you have 24 issues to grab.  This isn't hard since on Amazon there are three trade paperbacks which capture issues 21 to 38 leaving you only with 39 to 45.  I bought the trade paperbacks (about 10 bux each) and then found the other back issues at my local hobby shop for face price.

If you like weird sci-fi, were once a fan of the old Heavy Metal magazine and like stuff like Delgado's "Hieroglyph" then you'll dig Prophet.  Each issue is a page turning treat that leaves you waiting impatiently for next month and the next issue.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My old dune buggy

I'm a '69 model, posed here in my '70 model Dune Buggy at my old house in Birmingham, AL. To this day I don't see how my parents never saw what was coming in my teenage and later years but in hindsight I had a frigging great childhood and it only got better after that!

The strange thing is, at 45 years old, I still remember this pedal pusher car. I had a lot of fun in it but quickly outgrew it and moved on to another, bigger toy ... the Marx Wild Rider! Even then I marveled at the levers and pedals that made the wheels turn.

Do you see the discolored stripes in the rear plastic wheels? That's from me doing "burnouts" on the back patio there, I could sit in one place and basically physically pedal it faster than it could get traction so the rear wheels just spun on the concrete. I used to do the same thing with my Mattel "Big Wheel" only with the front wheel. Sanded that thing almost smooth doing "burnouts" on pavement.

My parents really didn't have a clue what they had brought into this world ...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The new toy - 1989 turbo Dodge Daytona Shelby

I turned 45 years old in June and I was good to myself.  I bought another toy, another high tech muscle car from the 1980's, this time it was a turbo Dodge, a 1989 Daytona Shelby to be exact.

I've had a fondness for turbo Dodges since they were introduced in 1984 as the Daytona and the top of the line Daytona Turbo-Z.  

I had a 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z way back in 1989 and 1990 but I sold it so I could buy a 1980 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am Pace Car.  Both the Dodge Daytona Turbo-Z and the 1980 Pontiac Turbo Pace Car are long gone but I find it was the Dodge that I missed more.  The Dodge was just a fun car to drive, sporty, sharp looking, the 2.2 liter turbocharged, fuel injected engine was a real stormer when the long skinny pedal went flat to the floor and she handled great ... a little strange since she was a front wheel drive car, but you got used to that.

That's a picture of my old 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo-Z, circa 1989, sitting in my parents' driveway.  My only regret with the car was that it didn't have T-tops.  I'm just not a solid roof sports car kind of guy.  If part of the roof doesn't come off from the factory then I'm not going to be happy with the car.  Still, this little turbo Dodge got me through junior college with its 30 plus miles per gallon fuel economy when my '79 Trans Am with its deep 3.73 geared rear end and big 6.6 liter 403 cubic inch V8 was struggling to get the mid-teens in gas mileage while commuting.

I miss my old Dodge Daytona Turbo-Z.  I went looking for another Turbo-Z but they are few and far between today and the ones that were in the condition I wanted were just more than I wanted to pay for them.  The cheaper ones had issue after issue, sometimes stuff like holes rusted in the floor boards or old greasy / oily parts wrapped up in shop towels and sitting in the passenger seat.

I looked long and hard and finally found a one owner, 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby in Corpus Christi, Texas.  It had 142,000 miles and some change on her, one owner, garage kept and maintained.  I paid $1800 for it, drove to Corpus Christi, Texas one Saturday, met the owner, test drove the Daytona, said I'd take it, paid him, signed the paperwork, spent the night in a motel and drove the Daytona home the next day.

I drove almost 700 miles on the return journey.  

The Daytona has a 14 gallon fuel tank.

I used a tank and a half of gas on the way back and averaged about 33 miles per gallon.  This from a 25 year old 2.2 liter SOHC turbo charged, intercooled, port fuel injected inline four cylinder with a heavy duty five speed manual transmission, limited slip differential and a race ready Getrag gear set.  Oh, and the Daytona that I bought had T-tops!

This new Daytona is nothing short of awesome.  Currently she's in the shop getting her AC converted over from Freon to 134A (my mechanic couldn't believe that I was bringing in a Freon chilled car and he doubted that he could even get a can of Freon anymore so I told him not to waste his time and just convert her to the new stuff).

Dodge produced 4741 Daytona Shelbys in 1989.

Here's how mine breaks down.

She's painted Flash Red ... 1612 out of 4741 were painted that color

She's got T-tops ... 1952 out of 4741 had the T-top package

She's got a factory CD player ... 862 out of 4741 had that option.

Also, my interior is this kind of blue gray and according to the options, Daytona Shelbys came with three choices for interior colors ... taupe, bordeaux or charcoal so basically tan, red or black yet mine has a blue gray / silver type interior.  Since the previous owner says that he special ordered the Daytona brand new there might have been a color override making my Daytona Shelby unique and maybe 1 of 1 ever produced.

Sitting pretty on a beach in Corpus Christi (TX)

Well, okay, I've got a new toy.  Since I didn't want to hack up the '86 Trans Am in my garage I needed a new toy that I was willing to modify.

I wanted a toy that I could work on, modify, and make go faster.  The turbo Dodges caught my fancy so I decided that I wanted to learn about how to go faster in a turbo Dodge.  The goal will be to go as fast as possible while keeping everything looking stock or near stock ... no cone filters, no PVC and dryer hose homemade air intakes, no removing the air conditioning or taking the seats out ... it's got to go fast and look bone stock.  The neat thing is that if you go to YouTube you can find several Daytona Shelby's running tens in the quarter in street trim.  

That's almost as fast as my stock '04 Honda CBR600RR (10.7 sec at 133mph) meaning that there are some built-up Dodge Daytonas out there running almost as fast as my super sport bike.


Well, enough gabbing about my new toy.  If you want to learn more, here's the link to my new blog on it; the 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby Diary.

On a closing note ... I'm eccentric.  I like to drive cars and motorcycles that no one else has.  Life is too short to drive mediocre cars and with all the boring cars and trucks out there today it's nice to drive something that turns heads like whiplash.  My '86 TA never fails to draw attention or even a small crowd when I drive it simply because you never see one of these cars in this good of a shape anymore.

The Dodge Daytona Shelby has the same effect on people.

Just the other day I took my wife to lunch in the '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby and after we circled the restaurant looking for a parking spot we finally parked in front and the owner of the restaurant hurried out, saying that he had watched us looking for a parking spot and he HAD to know what kind of car we were driving.  He thought it was some kind of new exotic import.  When I told him it was a 1989 Dodge Daytona Shelby he was floored.  Yeah, he recognized the Daytona and remembered them from a long, long time ago but he hadn't seen one in decades and certainly not one in as good of a condition as the one that we were driving.

I told him that if he liked the Daytona he should get a look at my '86 Trans Am.

Being eccentric has its advantages.  

The '86 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and the '89 Dodge Daytona Shelby, two examples of street warriors from The Second Muscle Car Era and survivors of that decade that we called the '80's ... a decade when I was a teenager and got to live in a time when cars like the two I own were brand new, prowling the streets and some of the fastest things money could buy on four wheels.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Doomsday +1" - '70's post apocalyptic goodness from Charlton Comics

"Doomsday +1" was a post apocalyptic science fiction comic series published by the small, Derby, Connecticut-based publisher Charlton Comics.  The series ran for twelve issues with the first six issues running from July 1975 to May 1976 while the second six issues were simply reprints of the first six issues labeled 7 to 12. The reprints ran from June 1978 to May 1979.

The cover of issue one is wrong ... the astronauts did not arrive back in
New York and this art was clearly a homage / play to the
highly successful "Planet of the Apes" franchise.

"Doomsday +1" is probably best known as the first original, color-comics series by artist John Byrne who would eventually become a major industry figure.  The series was created by writer Joe Gill with John Byrne doing the penciling and inking while George Wildman served as the editor. 

Byrne, serving as letterer, used the pseudonym "Byrne Robotics" while working on issues #4-6 (later reprinted as issues #10-12). The credits for issue #5 show the artwork as "Art: Byrne Robotics with technical assistance from Patterson-75", a pseudonym then for Bruce Patterson who provided some degree of inking.  Byrne drew the covers of issues #2-6, with the cover of issue #1 variously credited to Byrne and to Tom Sutton. Issues #7 and #11 featured re-colored reprints of Byrne covers, while issues #8-10 and #12 featured "new" covers created by blowing up panels of interior artwork from the stories.


The stories ran from 22 to 23 pages with most issues also containing a two-page text backup — either a story featuring the main characters or a non-fiction featurette. The backup story in issue #5 consisted of two comic pages, drawn by Steve Ditko, of "real world" paranormal vignettes.  These stories were, by and large, nothing more than filler.

Synopsis:  "Doomsday +1" features some of my favorite genres; atomic holocaust, survival, astronauts returning to a devastated Earth and a good dose of science fiction / science fantasy thrown in.  "Doomsday +1" occurs in the near future (then the late '70's / early '80's) in which a South American despot named Rykos, facing a military coup de tat, launches his sole two atomic missiles on the world.  The atomic missiles are targeted on New York City in the United States and Moscow in the U.S.S.R. Both cities are destroyed.  The two superpowers, each believing the other has launched a first strike, launch their own atomic arsenals at each other in retaliation. The truth becomes known and American president Cole along with Russian premier Mikhail realize their errors but it is too late; the fully automated nuclear-missile systems of each country can not be countermanded or turned off.

The world is doomed to atomic holocaust.

Only hours before the apocalypse begins, a Saturn VI rocket bearing three astronauts launches from Cape Kennedy in Florida.  Onboard the Apollo style command module are three astronauts: Captain Boyd Ellis, United States Air Force; his fiancĂ©e, Jill Malden; and Japanese physicist Ikei Yashida.  All three astronauts witness the atomic holocaust from the safety of orbit.  Weeks later, after the post-apocalyptic radiation has subsided to safe levels, their space capsule lands upon a melting Greenland ice field.  Seeking shelter, the three astronauts make it across the ice field and encounter a wooly mammoth, frozen alive for thousands of years and now thawed due to the atomic exchange.  They are saved by an equally ancient Goth named "Kuno" who joins the party but is the man lost in time among all the high technology that the astronauts depend on to survive.

Crossing over into Canada using a sail boat / yacht, they are attacked by a robot operated fighter jet.  Arriving at a Royal Canadian Air Force base, they make the base their home only to discover that a crazed Russian scientist / cyborg has them in his sights.  The Russian cyborg sends hundreds of robot paratrooper infantry to attack the RCAF base and the astronauts.  

Boyd Ellis uses a RCAF jet fighter to strafe the robots from the air while Jill, Ikei and Kuno make ground attacks using laser rifles (backpack mounted power packs) and an atomic powered tank (with a flamethrower cannon).  Boyd Ellis must land his jet when he is low on supplies and he is captured by the robots and taken to Russia to be interrogated by the Russian Cyborg.  Jill, Ikei and Kuno all board a RCAF supersonic transport, travel to Russia and with the help of Boyd, defeat the crazed cyborg and escape back to Canada.  The cyborg threatens revenge but Boyd tells him that if he tries anything that Boyd and the others will return and nuke the cyborg thus offering mutual assured destruction.

Back at the base, Boyd and Jill realize that they have grown apart and may not be the couple that they once planned to be.  Jill seems taken with Kuno now and Ikei, long jealous of Jill, is ready to move in on the vacant spot that she is leaving in Boyd's life.

The first two books in the series (detailed above) are probably the best in the way of story telling.  Later issues tended to get a little bit silly.  Plots included meeting robot guardians from a highly advanced galactic civilization who are here to pass judgment on humans for their folly (and let the astronauts teach them the error of their ways).  The astronauts deal with an underwater city being attacked by ancient aquatic enemies, visitors from a future utopia and of course, a group of other American survivors who want to do away with Boyd and Kuno and keep the women for their own needs and pleasures.

Overall, "Doomsday +1" pleases on a base level that, as a child, I found hard to ignore.  This series pandered to all of my post apocalyptic day dreams and my original copies of this short-lived series are very dog eared, especially issue #2 with the epic air and land fight against the Russian robot death machines.  The art is okay (Charlton was never known for its fantastic art quality) but the story, at least the first two or three issues) goes far in supporting what the art can't convey.

And it's John Byrne whose art is iconic and it's early John Byrne so that counts for something as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ricardo Delgado's "Hieroglyph"

Digging through the piles of crap that I need to sort in my study I came across a four part sci-fi comic series that I had almost forgotten about.

I like comics.

As a child I used to read comic books a lot but the older I got the less I read and the less I collected them.  Super heroes don't do anything for me, never really did so while I enjoy the occasional "Batman", "Spiderman", "Iron Man" and "Avengers" movie you won't find any of those comics in my meager collection.  No, I grew up reading stuff like "The Losers", "Sgt. Rock", "The Unknown Soldier", "Weird War Tales", "Tales of the Haunted Tank", etc.  Later, in my late teens and early twenties my taste in comics both waned and got pretty picky to the point that I might get a few comics a year and those comics would have to be pretty frigging outstanding.  They were almost invariably science fiction ...  This curve of decline of interest in collecting comics / required quality of comic to be collected only grew as I got older.

Flash forward to 2000.

I'm in a comic / hobby shop and I see the first issue of Ricardo Delgado's "Hieroglyph".  I can't say that the cover is the greatest in the world but being a fan of all things weird and Cthulhu-ian I was intrigued so I picked it off the rack and gave it a readsy.  I was impressed with Delgado's artwork.  The story followed an astronaut from Earth on some vague mission to explore the universe.  He's separated from his family by time and space.  He has a giant "mothership" in orbit and he takes a shuttle down to the latest planet he's supposed to investigate / catalog.  

The shuttle is the size of a B2 stealth bomber (and looks amazingly like a B2 stealth bomber).  Landing on the planet he muses that he's going to be bored, he'll get this planet cataloged quick and then be on his way to yet another boring world in a long line of boring worlds until his mission is up and he can get back to his wife and two kids.  Shortly after that, everything changes and the astronaut discovers that not only is the planet not dead but that it has untold amounts of different lifeforms in types that defy the imagination.  The astronaut also quickly becomes part of a holy war fought over a pentagon shaped talisman with unknown powers but powers that every faction on the planet is willing to go to extremes to possess.

The premise is simple and a bit loose but the artwork is delightful.  Taken from Delgado's fascination with the wonders of ancient Egypt, the art of "Hieroglyph" focuses on the grand and the immense.  Going into space, let alone flight to other stars is not a small feat of technology yet despite all the amazing advances of science and engineering that Delgado has given to the Astronaut ... all of that seems dwarfed, literally, by the immensity of the ruins that the Astronaut continually comes across.  Ancient alien temples, burial chambers of long dead alien rulers, weird alien hieroglyphs, fossilized bones stuck in strata of rocks ... it blows not only the Astronaut's mind but the reader's mind as well.

While the artwork is not as tight or sharp edged as Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's "Hardboiled" but similar in nature in that the visuals tell the story and the text is really only there to join certain ideas together and sometimes to speed things along when the visuals bog.  It's not the "Blade Runner" meets "Where's Waldo" of "Hardboiled", more like an epic tour of an amazing alien panorama where the details are not tiny but rather vast and sweeping visuals.

Trust me, it works and Delgado's artwork would have been right at home in the late 1970's sharing pages of "Heavy Metal" magazine with the likes of Moebius, Moreno and even Corben.

"Hieroglyph" has plenty of artwork and eye candy.  It lacks a whiney protagonist which endears it to me because I myself am a strong individual who deplores whiney or useless people.  I find it hard to believe that someone can go through something as hard as astronaut training only to wind up some blubbering, inwards collapsing wimp at the first sign of trouble.  Such is not the hero astronaut of Delgado's "Hieroglyph".  No, the astronaut faces his fate / destiny with little or no whining, not the usual liberal limp wristed, hand wringing, soul searching, self-defeating, self-loathing pseudo heroes that the insipid pop culture of our once great society has forced upon us lately.  Even for a nearly 15 year old comic series, it's refreshing to see the main character show some stoic traits, accept his fate and deal with it.

If any story cries out to be released as a complete trade paperback it is "Hieroglyph."  I have read where finding this series is kind of difficult.  I can't tell you because I collected it month by month when it was first published.  

Delgado has a blog if you wish to know more about him.  Find it here.

Final verdict?  If you're picky like me about comics and you like great art and lost astronauts then "Hieroglyph" is probably worth checking out and collecting.  Perhaps Delgado will do a sequel but with a decade and a half so far those hopes grow dimmer and dimmer.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

TSR's "GAMMA WORLD" - Post Apocalypse Role Playing Game

Growing up in the 1970's was an interesting time ... it was fun mixed with gloom.  The ever present spectre of America and Russia nuking each other back into the Stone Age was a fear that was driven home constantly.  Disaster movies, end of the world movies and a host of other media came at us like a tidal wave but instead of scaring me half to death it only fascinated me.  As I grew up, the post apocalypse scenario became the stuff of day dreams for me, not nightmares.  Somewhere during that time I started to become a loner ... movies like Charlton Heston's "The Omega Man" weren't scary to me ... they were a dream come true if they had been reality and I'd been "The Omega Man."

My early desire for science fiction began with the much celebrated "Planet of the Apes" franchise ... I was a kid and lived through seeing all of the movies on TV, followed by watching the TV series and the animated series.  That was the first of my taste of post apocalypse sci-fi and I craved more.  The more I got a taste of it, the more post apocalyptic science fiction really took hold of my imagination.  Books like "Damnation Alley", "War of the Worlds" and "The Time Machine" only fueled my love of a devastated future and the brave struggles that would be needed to overcome the folly of man.

It was late 1977 when science fiction really just came out of nowhere and seized my imagination.  I was 8 years old, "Star Wars" didn't make it to Hattiesburg, MS until the Fall of 1977 but I finally got to see, on the big screen, what everyone else was raving about.  After months of being teased by pictures and articles in magazines and the occasional rare commercial for that movie, "Star Wars" finally arrived like a tidal wave and it lit a fire in my brain, an out of control science fiction fire that continues to burn hot and bright even today.  

Science fiction had me by the soul and I was hooked and one of the greatest outlets for my imagination in my single digit years was science fiction role playing games and out of those sci-fi role playing games I think that TSR was the main provider of my entertainment for the most years.  From third grade to ninth grade, 1977 to 1983, I was a devout game player.

My first introduction to role playing games was TSR's classic "Dungeons and Dragons", the basic edition boxed set which my best friend bought and we played in the Fall of 1977, probably around the time that "Star Wars" hit the silver screen locally.

This was the first time that I'd ever played a role playing game before and even though my interest was piqued in role playing games that same interest let me know real quick that fantasy (i.e. elves, dwarves, dragons, magic, etc.) just wasn't where my heart lay.  

Everyone back then was playing D&D, from elementary kids to college students but my heart just wasn't into fantasy or sorcery.  A lot of people my age were big into Tolkien but the closest I ever got to Tolkien was the Rankin / Bass animated musical "The Hobbit" and even that couldn't turn my interest in fantasy.  Even Ralph Bakshi's animated "The Lord of the Rings" didn't grab me so while other kids were trying to come to grips with Tolkien's works, the "D&D" craze and then "Star Wars" I was lucky in one respect ... my heart was set on science fiction.

Of this I was sure.

Science fiction.

Just science fiction and TSR answered the desire for both science fiction and role playing with their 1978 post apocalyptic opus ... "Gamma World".

I first saw "Gamma World" advertised in "Boy's Life" magazine, yes, the Boy Scout magazine but then like I said, role playing games, especially "D&D" were really gaining in popularity during this time.  I mean, when Sears put a "D&D" boxed set in their Wishbook catalog and when "Gamma World" (with the illustration shown above) appears on "Boy's Life" then you were dealing with a game, nay, a phenomenon that would make history in its wake.

"Gamma World."

Science fiction role playing set in a post apocalyptic far future.


Robots and mutated animals and Mark V blasters!  Oh my!

"Gamma World" was the product of James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet and was a boxed set, like the "D&D" basic set.  I bought my first edition "Gamma World" boxed set at "Bookland" in the Cloverleaf Mall.  It cost me $10, was shrink wrapped, and displayed proudly in a cardboard display stand near the front of the store.  I rode my 10 speed bike home from the Mall with my pocket ten dollars lighter and the "Gamma World" boxed set in my backpack.

For your money you got a nicely illustrated cardboard box (bookshelf type edition) with a colored front and a black and white back.  Early editions had no rear illustration or description of the game / box contents so a simple sheet was put with the box and then shrink wrapped to the outside / back box bottom.


Inside the box was a nicely illustated black and white (two color) 57 page rulebook ...


 A map of the devastated North American continent ...

I never drew on my map ... I guess I didn't want to ruin it.  Instead, I would put hex paper over an area, trace the outline of any major areas and then fill in the hex paper with the details.  I also guess that is why my original first edition GW map is still pristine even today.

The boxed set came with dice like I'd never seen before.  Mind you, like I said before, my "games" were limited to the offerings from the likes of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers.  These new games, where you had to use your imagination and you had to make your own maps (game boards) and there were dice in the shape of stuff you learned in math class ... all of this was new and cool and awesome!

"Gamma World" came with six polyhedron dice; a four sided die (d4), a six sided die (d6), an eight sided die (d8), a ten sided die (d10), a twelve sided die (d12) and a twenty sided die (d20).  The dice were different than any dice I'd ever owned as a kid before.

The dice were molded in white plastic, at least the dice that came with my game were.

The game also came with an unbranded, paper wrapped white crayon.  I had no idea what the crayon was for ...  A friend once told me the crayon was for marking on the map but that didn't make sense.  Another friend said it was for coloring in the numbers on the dice so they would be easier to read ... that didn't make much sense either since it was a white crayon and the dice were white.  To this day I still don't know what the damn white crayon was for ...  I just took a Pilot Razorpoint ink pen and used that to fill in the numbers on the dice.  That lasted for a few weeks of constant play and then you had to highlight the numbers again.

Gameplay for GW was heavily based off of the "D&D" game mechanics with stuff like hit points, six attributes ranging from 3 to 18, saving throws, armor class and hit dice.  Combat took the weapon class of whatever you were using, cross referenced that to the armor class of your target and gave you a number to roll equal to or higher in order to succeed in combat.  I liked this because it made it hard for someone with a wooden spear to hurt someone in power armor, all of which just made sense.

"Gamma World" took place on Earth.  A century after a final, cataclysmic global war almost wiped all of life on Earth out the survivors, mutants, humans, animals and plants, all vie for dominion.  Knocked literally almost back to the Stone Age, rites of passage for tribals include journeys or pilgrimages to the ancient ruins where the tribals would face all sorts of dangers ... malfunctioning robots, complex security systems, killer plants, mutants, mutated animals, and even radiation.  If you made it back alive with an artifact or some other proof that you'd been to the ruins ... if ... then you became a member of the tribe.

If you were lucky enough to find an artifact then you had to spend time to figure out how to use that artifact.  Artifacts came in three levels of complexity ... something like a grenade was simple, figuring out how a control panel in an automated factory that built robots was very complex.  Sometimes you figured it out, sometimes you broke it trying to figure it out and sometimes you hurt or killed yourself (or someone else) trying to figure it out.  Figuring an artifact out required time spent and die rolls to be made.  The charts shown below became a familar page to reference to in the rule book.

"Gamma World" grabbed my imagination ... if I was going to role play some character in a primative background that would be swinging a sword and fighting for their life then I'd rather be doing it in a sci-fi post apocalypse seting than in some dungeon.  I preferred mental mutations to magic, any day and robots and carniverous plants to elves and dwarves.

Our GW games were drawn out on sheets of notebook paper clipped into Mead 3 ring binders, our campaigns were sketched out in spiral bound notebooks and our maps were sketched out on sheets of graph paper and hex paper.  Several of our characters were long term characters used over a period of years ... one was a Sleeth that had a sawed off double barrel shotgun.  This character was active so long that when Lou Zochi introduced his 30 sided die that the Sleeth character got to use that to roll to-hit instead of a 20 sided die.  The double barrel sawed off shotgun, as I care to remember, was a favorite weapon of our impressionable youth no doubt brought on by our recent viewing of Mel Gibson's titular character in the movie "Mad Max."

Other fond memories I have of this game include finding a Pure Strain Human in suspended animation in a fallout shelter and reviving them.  That PSH helped our characters understand all the technology that we'd later find.  We also found a non-functioning android in the same shelter and the PSH programmed it to aid us as well ... kind of like "The Questor Tapes".

The first edition of "Gamma World" was the best ... each subsequent edition not only added more useless and needless things to the original edition but each new addition also watered down the vast, rich story included in the original edition and even sometimes made a parody of it.  Over the years less attention of the game was paid to the struggle and more emphasis was spent on who could design the whackiest mutant creature of all.  GW went from being something that was interesting and fun to being something that was a caricature of itself.  The first edition GW game had the richest history, the best equipment, the best monsters, mutations, and robots.  Other editions gutted the rich context of the first generation, all trying to outdo it ... and none succeeded.  


I own just about every edition of GW that's been made but it's still the first edition that I hold in high regard, the later editions not so much if at all.

So many hours of my youth were spent thumbing through the GW rule book, inventing new artifacts and weapons, drawing out characters and equipment.   I haven't played GW in a long, long time.  The last time I played GW was probably 8th grade, make it 1983 or so.  I miss it in the way that you miss things that have passed into memory and GW still holds a special place in my study, the original boxed set that I bought all those many years ago sits on the shelf next to my "D&D" basic set.

I guess, in a way, my boxed sets of old TSR RPGs have become artifacts in and of their selves.  Ironic ... but maybe fitting as well.