The Holidays are Upon Us!

Which means new reads! And new games!

Honestly, part of the reason why I’ve been hard pressed for blogable content has been that I’ve spent the last couple months reading the 156 stories we received in submissions.

The other part has been that most of my reading that hasn’t been for Castalia House has been in the form of Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. Which has been absolutely fantastic, but just hasn’t been great for blog-fodder, at least insomuch as I can’t easily relate it to D&D or the Pulps. Not that Churchill’s hot takes haven’t gotten me in a bit of trouble. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m hoping that by the new year I’ll be finished with it and be able to plunge headlong into some Jack Vance. PC Bushi has been kicking my ass in the Vance area and by now has probably read more than me! I’ll need to catch up.

I’ve also been steeped in Battle for Wesnoth, which DolusMiles recommended to me, and OMG, this is up my alley. I’ve been working my way through the core campaigns, but I may have stalled out late-game in the first really big elf campaign.

Asshole elf-brother: Now that we’ve exhausted our forces fighting orcs, it’s time to exact additional retribution on the lizardmen that we fought once. By the way, I am totally not turning evil from that philtre of invisibility extracted from the blood of lich that we used to assassinate the Orc Warchief.

Healer: This is messed up, dude. I’m going home and taking all of the fairies, sorceresses, and ents with me.

Lizardmen: Please don’t murder us! ::sends a bunch of max level sorcerers and spearmen to slaughter my meager forces::

I don’t think I did well enough in the previous mission, because I’m starting with too little gold to recruit enough troops to hold off lizardmen in a mission with a)no healers and b)no friendly villages to recover health at. Of course, it’s a cascading issue.

The Human Alliance mission has infinite Trolls, and a little over half-way through, I did what I could to fall back but I lost a few really good units. The next mission in the ice fields, I won, but I had too little gold and too few troops to get a lot of bonus gold by finishing early. So, I’d need to go back two or more battles to substantially improve my situation. Oh, well…

I’ve been savoring Outsiders Vol 2, and I think I’m putting off finishing it because it’s been one of the best Outsiders titles I’ve read so far. I may do a cap on it here once I’m done.

Batman & the Outsiders Vol 3 has been postponed until at least March, which had me hopping mad when I first heard about it, but honestly, since issue 5, Terrifics has been giving me just about everything I could want from an Outsiders title except for having more than one actual Outsider in it.

Amusingly, I’m back in a spot where I’m hardly buying any new comics except for the Wal-Mart giants; quite the shift from about this time a year ago, when I’d been following Metal, Batman and followed Snyder’s story into the Justice League. I may post a full on breakdown of my comic reading at some point, but I went from all-in on Tom King’s Batman to done with both him and Snyder’s arc, which lost momentum hard after No Justice.

The best contemporary comic books I’ve read this year have been Valiant’s Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome and DC’s Brave and the Bold and Batman: Kings of Fear mini-series.

Anywho…

The lineup for Cirsova 2019 is almost finalized. We have one outstanding offer that needs to be resolved, and I need to see that people who asked for checks received them, but we should be able to make our official announcement pretty soon.

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Outsiders Vol 2 Rambling

Now that I got a solid, consecutive run, I’ve started on Outsiders Vol. 2! I’m glad I waited until I had both #1s and #3 to start it, because the opening of this story is a hot chaotic mess. Like, even starting at #1, I feel like I missed something, and the Suicide Squad “Dragon’s Hoard” arc did NOT fill anything in like I’d hoped it would.

There’s clearly a case of typical DC timeline reset/telescoping, even though Zero Hour hadn’t happened yet, because the events of Millennium are suggested to have happened just a few months in the past for Katana, who is still watching over the comatose Gaby.

From a throwaway line of dialogue explaining that he was busy and couldn’t attend Brion’s nephew’s christening, it’s revealed (to me, at least) that Metamorpho is alive.

The last few issues of Outsiders vol.1 did something really weird where Atomic Knight showed up for the event for a couple issues before the end of the run, and rather than just having him as a guest, he got listed as a member of the Outsiders and is included in the ‘remember when we were a team?’ splash. He was a dull late edition, and they’re teasing him showing up, but he’s not made it to Markovia just yet.

Technocrat shows up practically out of nowhere, giving off the feeling that he’d come in from another title with the amount of backstory that’s implied but never mentioned—the first minor villain is a guy who has a past with him who his wife sent to have him assassinated. But sure enough, this is the first time he makes his appearance.

No one behaves around Faust like he’s a guy everyone just met who’s turned someone into a werebear—it’s weird.

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Eradicator even shows early on as one of the first supers to try to “punish” the Outsiders for the crimes they were alleged to have committed.

Anyway, Outsiders 2 picks up in Markovia, which is now overrun with vampires. A vampire king has gained control of the throne, framed Brion for the murder of his sister the queen, and framed the Outsiders for atrocities against the Markovian people.

The first issue had a weird gimmick; I’m not sure I’m okay with it—there were two #1s, and each had a more or less different story, except for about half a dozen pages where the stories intersect which were the same. Confusingly, it would make more sense to read #1 “Omega” before #1 “Alpha”, because the Omega issue has more details catching you up on what’s happened since Vol. 1 ended. Not to mention, it shows how Halo gets revived. Anyway, Looker dies, which is great, except I know that she comes back as a vampire in 8 or 9 issues. Oh well.

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The art is better than okay. Even though the aesthetic isn’t really comparable to Jim Aparo’s, I like it better than Alan Davis’s and it’s miles above Erik Jensen, who filled in on the last few issues and drew GeoForce with a chin a mile long.

I don’t like that they went with Davis’ ‘squished head’ interpretation of Katana, but at least they made her cute (I think they wanted to give her a younger look, which again kind of goes to ‘soft continuity’ that I think Vol. 2 is using). I’m not a fan of the body-suit version of her costume; it looks and feels more generic super-heroey.

I still hate Looker, but at least her design is no longer an on obvious Dazzler knock-off and at least she looks more feminine and less drag-queenish.

Halo looks terrible, and I wish that they’d let her hair grow out while she was in her coma.

GeoForce looks solid, and the rest of the new characters are pretty good.

While I don’t think the Outsiders will ever look better than they did in the two-issue Convergence tie-in, this is probably the best of the rest of the non-Aparo stuff.

 

Retrospective: Batman and the Outsiders Vol.1 & Outsiders Vol. 1

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while, but I’ve just been so busy that I’m only now getting around to it! A couple weeks back, I finished the original run of Outsiders. That includes Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1, Adventures of the Outsiders (a continuation of BatO vol 1 sans Batman), and Outsiders Vol. 1 (a deluxe format monthly that ran concurrently with the conclusion of BatO post-Crisis, taking place one year after).

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Outsiders was a title with peaks and valleys in its relatively brief run. By the time it was cancelled, it’s hard to not look at it as a mercy killing. I won’t say that Looker’s arrival ruined the Outsiders, but many of its best stories predate her addition to the team. After Jim Aparo left the original title, Mike Barr’s writing was still on enough to deliver some great stories, but by the time Jim had left the deluxe format title to other artists, like Erik Larsen (who drew Geo-Force’s chin longer than the rest of his head from the lip up), Mike had started writing for a main-line Batbook and was phoning it in a bit.

The Outsiders were never a great superhero team, and a lot of their team fights were run-of-the-mill Silver Age schlock (to which it was sort of an homage, if not the last gasp). The real charm of the Outsiders was in the deeply personal moments that these characters would sometimes share with each other and the reader.

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Halo didn’t exactly have it easy, either, but she’s pretty chipper about it.

 

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For instance, Katana begins as a very complex character; she’s lost her husband and her child and sworn bloody vengeance. Batman helps temper some of that vengeance, and taking care of Halo stirs her maternal instincts, though there’s the tension of being an adoptive mother of a teenage daughter that she has to work through. One of the great touches that I wish more had been done with was Bruce setting Tatsu up with her own oriental bookstore in Gotham as a front; she gets the ball rolling to open a store of her own on the West Coast in the deluxe series, but nothing ever comes of it. You can’t imagine how much I would love a series of Katana solving cozy oriental occult mysteries out of her bookstore. Unfortunately, Katana spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 just being the close-combat character with no powers who speaks in stilted English. While much of Katana’s personal drama actually does get resolved to satisfactory degrees (something I gather that gets rolled back in later books), the series misses out on opportunities to develop her further.

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Halo goes through a pretty powerful arc, and has a rough ride, learning she was never human to begin with, finding her human host body was a terrible person, and nearly being absconded with by Kobra cultists while trying to find herself. She unfortunately spends much of Outsiders Vol 1 filling in the twee teenager role, but without near as many of the touching moments, such as when she and Brion were teased at as a couple but mutually backed away—the great “you’re like a sister/I’ve never had a brother before” moment was powerful, especially given Terra’s death over in Titans, but it was a bond that never really developed deeply.

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Fans were often split as to whether Katana or Black Lightning were Batman’s #2 on the team while he was leading it. Many folks in the letters especially wished to see Black Lightning step up into the leadership role. And I’ll give Outsiders Vol 1 this: the arc where BL is wanting to try to get back on better terms with his ex-wife, but the African politician behind the food aid charity she’s working with turns out to be an evil dictator who’s stealing the money and turning his country into a Soviet satellite really was the best the deluxe run had to offer. And it was good. But Geo-Force was, for story reasons, the nominal team lead.

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Except once Batman left, Brion kinda lost his chill, and Looker showing up to cheat on her husband (and lead Brion to cheat with Denise) didn’t help things. Looker, who was something of a knock-off of Dazzler, is portrayed as a chronic narcissist, is drawn like a drag queen, and never gets any character development beyond “Thot who cheats on her husband who misses her deeply”. Which is a real shame, because her origin arc in the final issues of BatO was really good and set her up to be a potentially better character than she ultimately ended up being.

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Emily Briggs ultimately cheats on her husband because he loved her for who she was; she wanted him to be attracted to the attention seeking fame-whore persona she adopted when her physique changed. It’s pretty tragic.

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Metamorpho was pretty great throughout. I really have no complaints where Rex was concerned other than the fact that he gets killed off for the garbage Millennium Crossover. He doesn’t get Ben Grimmed too hard, but his condition does give him some motivation. Stuff with he and Sapphire Stagg was solid, and just before he’s killed off, the two of them adopt a child together.

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I get that it was a way they could end the comic and it had to tie into Millennium somehow, but making Dr. Jace a Manhunter sleeper agent was a terrible choice. After Batman left, she became the de facto team coordinator (if not leader), since Brion was usually having mantrums. She helped keep the team together, and really even played a role in starting it, since it was she who gave Brion his powers. Making Looker, who had sewn discord among them members of the team pretty much from the moment she showed up to the last battle with the Manhunters, the mole would’ve been a much better twist than making Dr. Jace suddenly evil for no reason.

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Barr wrote a brutal, violent, and often petulant Batman, yet somehow his other characters from Outsiders tended to shine the brightest when he was around. His return at the end of Outsiders Vol 1. and the appearance in the Annual (a story that made me reconsider whether Kobra was trash-tier) were bright spots not for him, but for the other team members, but it wasn’t quite enough. Halo’s haircut, Looker being foisted front-and-center on so many occasions, and the character development that made first run what it was getting kind of tossed in some cases, flatlined in others, left an ensemble title with the ensemble spread thin even when the stories themselves were solid.

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I need a better camera. I did a grid transfer enlargement of a panel of Geo-Force fighting Superman from BatO 19, one of the best issues. 

It sounds like I’m dumping really hard on a series that I do love, but I guess I kind of am. I’ll admit that a lot of the love I have for the Outsiders is for the potential that the characters and the title had that ultimately go unrealized. But I don’t want anyone to think that there weren’t high points. There were. Lots of them. And that’s why it was hard to watch a title that had so many great moments and great character development begin to grow stale and flanderize some of its best characters.

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Oh, yeah, and Atomic Knight is an Outsider for like 3 or 4 issues.

Happy Frogs, Our Recs, and Outsiders

Jon del Arroz posted the Happy Frog’s Hugo Slate yesterday; Cirsova was his pick for best Semi-Pro Zine. It’s cool to be recognized (thanks, Jon!), and while I’d be honored if the magazine received the nomination in 2018, I’d much rather see some of our stories up for awards. I’m not saying don’t vote to nominate us, but I’d like to point out that people talk about stories that are nominated for awards, not publications.

The three magazine categories, editor, podcast, and (to a lesser extent) artist categories were footnotes to the discussion last year. Stories in all categories, movies, tv, and (to a lesser extent) related work are where all the buzz is.

There are several noms for Cirsova stories for this year’s Planetary Awards, which is cool, cuz folks are talking about our stories.

Anyway, no reason why I shouldn’t put forward some picks of my own, since I still have nominating privileges:

Best Novel: Aye, Robot, by Rob Kroese — This has been one of my favorites from last year.

Best Novella: The First American, by Schuyler Hernstrom — This one is fantastic, has met with some rave reviews, and looks like it could be a favorite for this year’s Planetary Awards. The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, by Cynthia Ward was also a lot of fun; I mean, if you’re going to play the game and don’t want your vote divided, I’d say vote for the story we published, but still go ahead and check this one out.

Best Novelette: We published two novelettes last year — The Magelords of Ruach by Abraham Strongjohn and The Last Job on Harz by Tyler Young, both in our fall issue.

Best Short Story: We published a lot of short stories last year; why not pick one of those?

Best Related Work: The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature, by QuQu Media

Best Graphic Story: Gotham Resistance — I’ve been loving DC’s metal event, but this 4-part crossover between Teen Titans, Green Arrow, Suicide Squad and Nightwing was really the peak; it had a huge ensemble but didn’t suffer at all from your typical ensemble comic problems.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) — Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) — I’m torn on this one. Either Buddy Thunderstruck’s Haters of the Lost Arcade or the episode of Sab Jholmaal Hai where they throw trash on a wizard and he turns one of the cats into a giant chicken.

Lastly, pretty soon I hope to be able to do a thorough piece on Outsiders Vol. 1. I’m a few issues from the end, but just found out that one of the last arcs feeds into and gets resolved by the Millennium crossover event. Once I finish that, I’ll have to decide whether I should try to fill out my collection with Volume 2 or go straight up to Batman and the Outsiders Volume 2. I’m leaning a bit towards the latter, since it’s a Chuck Dixon book and it ties into the Grant Morrison “Bat Epic” run I recently sort of finished (still haven’t read the Crises or Batman Inc. Vol 2.) and starts with a “Getting the Band Back Together” mini-arc that I have three issues of.