DC Metal’s Dark Knights Ranked

As promised, I am ranking the Dark Knights from DC’s Metal event.

First, I’d like to note a few things about the other cross-over/tie-in titles:

Gotham Resistance was the real gem of the event. It picks up with Damian right after Batman’s disappearance, and brings in the Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, and Nightwing for an all-out-assault on a Gotham City that has been transformed into a series of Malebolges by the Batman Who Laughs and a number of Gotham Rogues he’s empowered with Nth Metal Joker cards. The story flowed well across all four titles and, despite the fact that they’re titles I’m not interested in, made me consider giving them a shot because they were ALL GOOD!

Bats Out of Hell was a disappointment. While the B-team heroes brought an A-game story, the A-team heroes’ writers brought their B-game. Despite a shot to have some really great fights between the Dark Knights and the Justice League, or some good character development to build on some of the stuff established in the one-shot tie-ins, Bats Out of Hell was largely wasted. The first two issues felt like a muddle mess of clips, failing to establish much of story in its own right. Part 3 had a decent idea of primarily featuring a Knight interacting with his counterpart, but gets an F for execution. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 32 literally uses Dawnbreaker’s power as an excuse to not draw half the comic. “Oh, he has power over light AND darkness? Let’s make ever other panel solid black and not draw backgrounds!” This meeting was nothing but wasted potential, and I much rather would’ve seen a Wonder-Woman tie-in devoted entirely to her and Merciless.

Batman Lost was really good. It may not have been a work of genius, but it’s easy to mistake a competently done Batman story in this vein as being genius because they’re so easy to mess up. It reminds me a bit of those navel gazey and introspective Bat stories that Grant Morrison is prone to writing; you know, the ones that that are tie-ins to his Bat Saga but are so off the wall that they don’t get collected in context of the works that would allow them to make the remotest amount of sense? It was like that, only you could follow it and it was enjoyable enough. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time as a Bat story, even if it was kind of filler.

Now, onto the rankings of the Knights!

7. The Drowned – The Drowned is by far my least favorite of the Dark Knights. The gulf between the 6 and 7 slots are tremendous. The art wasn’t bad, but other than the whole “Batman is a woman in this world—also she is Aquaman,” it didn’t really do much to look at the character in any sort of unique, insightful, or exciting way. It had a nice aesthetic, but it failed to do anything with it and just was not an interesting book.Batman-The-Drowned.jpg

6. Red Death – Okay, Red Death is down here in number 6, but not because it was bad, just the others were better! Batman fuses with the Flash to gain access to the Speed Force. It’s kind of Cronenbergesque. The reason why it’s ranked so low is Red Death book really just portrays one brief scene between the two. I liked the concept, but wanted something meatier.Batman-The-Red-Death.jpg

5. Dawnbreaker – Dawnbreaker gets a lot of hate because Dawnbreaker is dumb. The premise, that is. The Green Lantern ring went to Bruce Wayne, who used it for revenge against criminals and went insane with power (like that one time Green Lantern went insane, except worse, because he’s Batman and has Maximum Willpower + 200%). He ends up killing everyone and everything, plunging his world into total darkness. It’s dumb, yeah, but his book tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, and it features some really great artwork of Lantern-Ring horrors; which is what makes HJ&tGLC 32 that much more disappointing.Batman-The-Dawnbreaker.jpg

4. Batman Who Laughs – Batman Who Laughs falls in the middle because it met expectations. And meeting expectations was not easy to do, and this could’ve been a big let-down. As it is, though, we got a pretty gruesome Bat story that gives us a decent canonical reason for why, at the end of the day, Batman CAN’T kill the Joker. Imagine Return of the Joker, only with the real Batman being possessed and not schlubby middle-aged Tim Drake. Had a real “Oh, man… Oh, shit…” vibe to it; not for the faint of heart.

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3. Murder Machine – Murder Machine was kind of bizarre and surreal, but oh my gosh it had some amazing art! In MM’s universe, Bane killed Alfred instead of breaking Batman’s back, and an AI Alfred program goes crazy, Batman along with it. This is one I need to reread so it’ll make more sense in context of the rest of the Event, but it was good enough that I decided to pick up all of Metal even though the Outsiders were a bait-and-switch in The Casting.Batman_The_Murder_Machine_Vol_1_1.jpg

2. Devastator – This one was a real surprise; I expected Devastator to be in the middle, but whoa. Here we have a Batman who had to deal with a Superman who went crazy, so he injected himself with the Doomsday virus. I was not expecting that what sent this Batman off the deep end was seeing Superman kill Lois. Devastator’s interactions with Lois were some of the most powerful in the whole event (the “I’m doing this for you, Lois…”), in part because, unlike with some of the Knights, we don’t really have an “evil” Batman so much as a Batman who is broken by his worst fear—Superman going full murdergod and no force on earth able to stop him—coming true.batman devastator.jpg

1. Merciless –Another big surprise and the best of the bunch. I’m a DCAU Wonder Woman x Batman OTP guy, so this one really tugged at the heart strings. Bats and Wonder have been leading the force of good in an extensive war with Ares. Wondy dies, and it breaks the Bat. Bats takes up Ares’ Helm of War, and goes all death knight crusader. And it’s awesome. Merciless is one of the only ones of the bunch who I could see having worked as a standalone villain. In fact, a Batman corrupted by Ares would make a pretty good recurring Wonder Woman villain, especially given the weakness of her own rogue gallery. The biggest letdown of Metal so far has been that Merciless and WW haven’t gotten much page time together, and the couple panels they got Bats Out of Hell were bland and even kinda spoiled some of Merciless’ depth. But still! Of the whole bunch, this is the one I want to see more of after Metal is over.

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Addenda: Mom-Jeans Lois is smokin’ hot.

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What’s Coming Up? Letters Section, Short Reviews, Ad Space, and More!

I’m a little jet-lagged by the Holiday Break, but I promise my ranking of the Dark Knights will be coming soon!

Cirsova got its first letter for our letters section, from none other than Dave Ritzlin of DMR Books (Swords of Steel, Scrolls of Legendry). What’s it say? Well, you’ll have to pick up the spring issue to find out, but if you have a letter you’d like to send us to publish, you can do so by sending us an email to cirsova at yahoo dot com with the subject “letters”.

I’m staying on top of Short Reviews, though I lost my shot at getting ahead of the game over the holidays because when A. Merritt Fantasy Magazine publishes a “Novel”, they aren’t putting Novel in pulp-mag finger quotes. But what a Novel it was!

I’ll be returning to Wargame Wednesday for a stretch at Castalia, but I gotta put some polish on some things! But you’ll see some play-throughs of Avalon Hill’s Battle of the Bulge coming from us soon.

Lastly, we’ve still got some ad space in issue 7. Check here for details!

Cirsova Primarily a PulpRev Publication?!

We got mentioned recently in Steve DuBois’ review of one of our contemporaries, Broadswords & Blasters. It’s a good review, B&B is a pub I’ve really been meaning to check out, I just haven’t had the time.

Still, it’s an interesting take-away that we “work primarily with authors who identify as members of the movement” given that maybe half a dozen out of over 50 contributors are actively involved beyond having used the tag a few times.

Rather than just say that Steve’s wrong (I probably turned down as many stories from members of the #PulpRev community for next year as I acquired, more if we count anyone who used either hashtag), I think it would be more useful to look at how this misconception came to be.

Some of this misunderstanding might spring from Cirsova having been a pre- publication, so there may have been the misconception that all of our writers were part of the movement when the movement was a fan of our publication.

I spoke about this once here, but I’ll reiterate that being published by us does not draft anyone into any movements nor does being part of any movement guarantee you’ll be published by us.

I’ll also note that there are, at this point, two distinct PulpRevs/PulpRevolutions

The first was the Movement, back when it was #PulpRevolution and eventually #PulpRev. It was small, but there was momentum behind it. This was mid-late 2016 through early 2017. Several authors, including Cirsova contributors, latched on because there was buzz and it was an exciting time. It was a “Beyond Sad Puppies”/”Beyond Rabid Puppies”/”Beyond other stuff” thing that folks were looking to get in on.

The second is the Community, which formed from participants in the movement. This is #PulpRev. It’s not really a club, because its doors are pretty open, but it’s not really a movement anymore, either. It’s more introspective, having become something of a writers’ circle. Involvement in the first =/= involvement in the second.

I was an active proponent of the first and remain an involved, but peripheral, figure in the second, but I do consider them very different things.

However that brings me around to how one could have the misconception of Cirsova being a primarily “#pulprev” magazine. What we were looking for in our stories got taken and held up as exemplary; we kept looking for the same things and buying stories from writers who wrote what we were looking for.

Death Spirals: When Losing in a Fight Ensures You Will Lose the Fight

I’ve been playing Betrayal at Krondor a bit over the last week, and it’s had me thinking about death-spirals in RPGs.

One of the major mechanics in Betrayal at Krondor is a two-tiered HP system consisting of Health and Stamina. You nominally have a 1:1 ratio between these, I believe, but it’s generally something like 2:1 due to the fact that you can only fully heal by resting at an inn. The first bucket of HP that gets depleted is your Stamina—once this is gone, you start losing Health, which begins to directly affect your performance. Each subsequent hit makes it more difficult for you to attack and defend. The effect of this is a potential for a death spiral in which your characters have no chance of suddenly turning the tides of battle because with each round their performance diminishes. Worse is the chivalry which prevents characters from fleeing if one party member is KO’d.

Coupled with the “Near Death” mechanic that makes HP recovery incredibly slow until you’ve crossed a certain threshold of Health regained, Krodor’s health system can lead to some dire straits. I spent a decent few hours wandering in the hills, trying not to starve to death as my rations dwindled.

Our homegame has something similar, in that it uses stamina (in the form of “Grit”) in place of health largely to reflect the difference between taking minor and serious wounds, however we’ve used (until recently) a single bucket. (The new bucket is very shallow and very expensive because it replenishes on a roundly basis, mostly as a way for tanky characters to mitigate ping damage). Once “Grit” is depleted, all damage begins being applied directly to the character’s body parts as wounds and injuries. In most cases, these are either so bad that they lead the character to bleed out before anything can be done for them or they result in debilitating injuries that can lay the character up for weeks or months in-game.

One of the big differences is that there’s not this lengthy dwindling death that a party dies as it loses HP. Despite being semi-two-tiered, G3’s mechanics usually mean that almost any injuries grievous enough to damage beyond HP are going to down a character in a way that puts them down for the rest of the fight. Typical activities that restore HP are not going to be enough to negate the actual injury as opposed to offsetting the fatigue tracked via Grit. It’s a bit easier in a tabletop to mitigate the negative effects of a character being out of commission than it is in a CRPG. In G3, a character gets hurt so bad that he’s out of commission for a few months, we can easily roll up a replacement and, if we don’t want to just retire the old character, pick up the injured character later after he’s had a chance to heal. Not quite as detrimental as being told “these three dudes MUST stay alive AND must stay fed AND need two-three weeks rest in the wilderness before they start healing normally”.

It really is a mechanic I find interesting and am always tempted to find more things to do with. Even if works out wonkily in something like Krondor, sometimes keeping a party at knife’s edge of fight-ready, I think it can add some cool drama and tension. But I also don’t think that it should be a vacuum that will inevitably suck a party down in defeat once a certain threshold has been crossed.

I Hate Doing “I’m Alive” Posts, But…

I just finished writing up about 2500 words regarding the last several months I’ve spent playing Avalon Hill’s Battle of the Bulge. We went through 4 playthroughs, two per side, with one mulligan, one marginal Allied Victory*, one overwhelming Allied Victory, and one overwhelming German Victory.

I’ve been shirking my Wargame Wednesday duties a bit (though I’ve already explained to the Castalia staff that my time is has become much more restricted since the days when I was a regular contributor on Wednesdays a little over a year ago), so I figured I’d give the crew at Castalia a shot at the post before I threw it up here at Cirsova.

*:Marginal in game terms, the Krauts got their asses kicked by any strategic measure, but the Allies suffered greater than historic losses.

Hard Lessons Learned Slowly

I’m very slowly figuring out what works and what doesn’t from the handful of times I’ve had tables or booths at cons or book fairs.

The thing that’s killing me is I always procrastinate until it’s too late to get business cards or bookmarks printed. Frankly, I think I’d be better off making these to give away than actually having any product to sell.

I at least learned from the first table I had to not be over-optimistic about stocks. I’ll be lucky if I ever get rid of all the copies of issue 1 that I’ve had since River City Comic Expo in 2016. Having no more than 10 copies seems to work.

Sell coloring books or children’s books. Virtually everyone who picks these up has a moment where their heart sinks in disappointment when they realize it’s not a coloring book or a comic.

Action, Adventure, and Romance are stronger selling points than pulp, sci-fi and fantasy. I think that navel gazing explanations of throw-backs, periods, Campbellians, Futurians, the Pulp Rev, etc. will make eyes glaze over and should be avoided. I typically never take it that far, and even mentioning the pulps at all tends to evoke a dead-eyed stare from most folks.

I did talk to an old man, though, who was a fan of ERB; he told me about a relative who was kind of spoiled as a kid and had dang near every Burroughs book. So, that was cool.

Also, I got to meet Jesse Abraham Lucas and Donald Uitvlugt in person and hang with both of them for a bit. Jesse’s a pretty decent pitch-man and better at striking up conversations than I am.

So, uh… before I potentially waste my money and time on getting another booth at a fair or a con again, I’ll be sure to actually get my cards and bookmarks printed up this time around.