Thursday, July 31, 2014

Strange Stars Update: History Lesson

Work proceeds on Strange Stars. After some wrangling, we've gotten the layout into pretty much it's final form, so I thought it was time again to show off some pages. This is a two page spread:

There are some typos in the text to be fixed, but I I'm really happy with how the pages shaped up.

This page features the artwork of Jez Gordon and Dave Johnson, and as always, is brought to you by the graphic design skills of Lester B. Portly.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Price (part 4)

We continue our examination of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Saga with The Price. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

The Price (part 3)
Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October 1981) Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Synopsis: While Syzygy Darklock is claiming the power of the gods, Sister Marian waits--and worries. She knows she could get excommunicated for helping Darklock, but she cares for him too deeply not to. She reminds herself that she has taken vows of absolute chastity...

Suddenly, she hears Darklock call. He's back:

Darklock winds up in the hospital. He's lost an eye, an arm, and both legs. He has burns all over his body. But he's also healing at an incredible rate and he's grown half a meter. Bandaged up and in a hospital bed, he explains to Sister Marian what happened: The power was too much for his human frame and his body nearly burst trying to contain it. Bailgesuard closed the iris and saved him, but not before the damage was done.

In addition to the power, Darklock has inherited his brothers estate. The cybernetic specialists comes in and:

That done, he's ready to go after Killgaren. Sister Marian agrees to be his anchor once again, but after this is done she thinks they should discuss their feelings. Darklock agrees, not really paying full attention to her feelings. He's focused on revenge.

Things to Notice:
  • The doctors are puzzled by Darklock's condition but not all that freaked out. This sort of thing must not be that unusual in the Instrumentality.
The Price now reveals itself as a superhero origin story of sorts, in the Marvel mode. Darklock gains great power (at great price), but he's not paying enough attention to his relationships, and it seems likely he'll live to regret it.

This is probably as good a place as any to discuss Darklock's first name, "Syzygy." It comes from a Greek word σύζυγοι (syzygoi), meaning literally "yoked together." In some forms of Gnosticism, this was the name given to male/female pairs of emanations of God. Carl Jung used the term to mean "a union of opposites." It also is used in astronomy to mean a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies. Starlin may have chosen the name just because it sounded cool, or perhaps he had some of these meanings in mind.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Superman vs. Gandalf

Some years ago, I was reading a Shannara book (not something I'm likely to repeat), and one of the things that bothered me about it was how characters kept talking about "your magic" or "his magic is [x]." This language was grating because it contradicted my view of magic (formed from most fantasy fiction) as a singular force or tool that might be used in different ways, but was always just "magic." This language reminded more of a superhero setting. This got me thinking about what difference was between these approaches in terms of how fantastic abilities are portrayed.

It seems to me that there's probably a continuum with two poles:

Skill/Expertise: Fantastic abilities are accessed by training or learning, though as with any skill, some people will have a greater aptitude for it than others. The ability pretty much does the same thing for everybody, the difference is in the creativity of application and power level. Examples: Green lantern power rings, magic in the Conan stories or in The Dying Earth.

Unique Power: Fantastic abilities come in the form of idiosyncratic powers or at least one in a large array of powers. The focus is more on what a character can do rather than how good they are at doing it. Examples: standard superheroes.

Note that the names don't necessarily carry any connotations beyond the stated ones. For instance, the fantastic ability could be completely inborn or intrinsic but still fall into the "skill/expertise" category.

There is a category between those two that shows a greater variety of presentation. I would call this one:

Interesting Technique: Fantastic abilities have a common origin and common basic features, but individuals will develop a single unique application of sub-ability, or a small number of them. Examples: psi-powers in a lot of media, the powers of the Shimigami in the anime Bleach (fighting anime has this sort of thing a fair amount), the eponymous Exalted in the rpg.

The middle option tends to occur a lot when all the characters are of the same organization/origin, whereas the skill expertise approach is more commonly seen when fantastic powers are rare--but not always. There is a common variant where each power source/variety works like Skill/Expertise, but there are multiple power sources/varieties (bending in Avatar would be a good example). Also, settings can be mostly one presentation, but still have characters/groups show up that better fit another.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I've again been thinking about a superheroic science fantasy game, an evolution of this idea, set in the world of this post and this one. A world where superhuman beings battle across a post-apocalyptic landscape, fighting over the strange relics of a strange war between magic and technology.

Besides all things Masters of the Universe (especially the Don Glut mini-comics), here are some other inspirations:

Novels & Short Fiction:
Alistair Rennie. "BleakWarrior Meets the Sons of Brawl" and "The Gutter Sees the Light That Never Shines"
Karl Edward Wagner. the Kane stories
Zachary Jernigan. No Return: A Novel of Jeroun

Dragonball and Dragonball Z
Ninja Scroll
Thundarr the Barbarian

Jack Kirby. First Issue Special #1, Forever People, New Gods
Jim Starlin. Warlock series, The Price
Gray Morrow. Orion, Edge of Chaos

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do You Have An Alignment or Does It Have You?

What follows is some brainstorming on a conception of alignment that probably just over-complicates things, but hopefully will be of some interest to somebody.

As we all know, alignment is derived from Moorcock and Anderson and is suppose to provide some moral and ethical structure to--well, the universe--and to provide a behavioral check on certain character types, but any attempt to relate it to actual moral quandaries, leads to discussion of baby orcs. Some people (myself included) have suggested at times the obvious solution of just viewing the sides as teams or opposing armies free of a moral dimension, but mostly it seems like people just ignore it. While I'm still advocating for a bit of blue and orange morality here, I want to suggest another wrinkle.

I recently finished the third of Hannu Rajaniemi's science fiction novels, The Causal Angel (more on that another time, maybe). One of the futuristic societies, the zoku, tend to form group minds, but individuals joining one or more zoku (Japanese for "clan") related hobbies, interests, or vocation. This process involves "entanglement," a sort of co-mingling of though and desires. The higher one's rank (i.e. the longer one is a member or the more "good" they do for the group) the more entanglement the individual becomes and so the more their thoughts and desires are reflected in the group consensus and action, or "volition." This effect is reciprocal, though, so the higher rank, the more one's on thoughts and actions are shaped by the zoku volition.

Maybe alignments could be a bit like that? Joining up with a fundamental metaphysical power of the universe means getting benefits (positive reaction, access to power) but also means you lose a bit of your individuality (or at least have that individuality altered). for someone powered by alignment (a paladin, a cleric), the higher level you become the worse it gets. A high level Paladin would be unlikely to worry about straying from their alignment; they would become one with it, or at least part of it.

This would make adhering to any alignment sort of like bartering your soul for magical power. The only difference is, with bartering your soul you are still quite aware you've given something up. With this approach, it would get harder and harder to ever imagine yourself doing anything differently.

This of course means that gods and other beings of great power and strong alignment allegiance have probably become more or less avatars for the consensus overmind/soul of the alignment.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fortress of Fear

Tales say the grim citadel congealed from a wanly luminous cloud that came down from ulterior stars. Surrounded by a blasted landscape, cloaked in mists, it crouches like some alien crustacean, black, hunched, and spined.  It thrums always with a sound part machine and part beating heart, and that sound is the insistent hunger of the Fear Lords.

Art by Mitch Grave
These Lords are well named; they draw their sustenance from the emotion fear in all its varieties. For eons they have been shut outside; only their hunger can reach into the cosmos. On this world and all the others where the fortress has appeared, they have fed through the actions of the master of the fortress. A creature with a face like a mask of flexible bone, he is their emissary, their general, and their will and soul. He commands their legions of terror: automatons powered by the soul-remnants of captives who died in abject fear in the fortress's chambers of horrors.

Art by digitalinkrod

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday Comics: The Price (Part 3)

We continue our examination of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar Saga with The Price. The earlier posts in the series can be found here.

The Price (part 3)
Eclipse Graphic Album Series #5 (October 1981) Story & Art by Jim Starlin

Synopsis: The demon Bailgesaurd has revealed to Darklock that the sorcerer Taurus Killgaren ordered the death of Darklock's brother. The demon is confident the knowledge will be of no use since Darklock has not the power to defeat the sorcerer. There might be a way, though.

Darklock is suspicious of the demon. He uses a magic amulet to ensure its truthfulness. Bailgesaurd sticks to his claim:

With the demon's help, Darklock can get to a 10th level reality called Nirvana's Gate, accessible to only gods and demons. There he will find an enchanted iris known as the Eye of the Gods. The Eye is the portal to an 11th level realm where the god's store there reserve's of mystical energy.

Darklock wonders why Biagesaurd doesn't take the energy for himself. The demon explains that the god's tainted the energies precisely so his kind couldn't get it. They did not, however, believe humans to be a threat, so they never proofed it against them. Why would a demon want to make a human more powerful? Bialgesaurd wants to see Killgaren die horribly:

Darklock agrees and commands Bialgesaurd transport him to the Eye. The demon does so, and Darklock is able to enter the eye with a simple spell of access:

To be continued.

Things to Notice:
  • Starlin's higher planes are reminiscent of Ditko's magical metascapes.
It all seems to be going pretty easy for Darklock, doesn't it? A demon just up and tells him how to still a whole bunch of power so they can both get revenge.

Of course, there's a catch, but it's really a bigger hint that Starlin isn't just telling a sci-fi revenge tale, here.