19 August 2021

My Prescription: Two Comic Books a Day

Slowly rebuilding the collection...
The world sucks right now. My prescription for the pain? Two comic books a day.

I sold off my entire ~1500 issue collection of Marvel comic books in 2003, a collection that included some real gems like an entire run of Rom Spaceknight, the entire run of GI Joe, and first appearances of some cool characters like Captain Marvel (Mar-vell of the Kree), The Stranger, and the Abomination. I still regret that decision.

I stopped reading comics around 2001 but really my interest began to wane earlier, in the late ‘90s with all the “Heroes Reborn” garbage and the first reboots of the classic Marvel titles. It just wasn’t the same Marvel I grew up with. I convinced myself I “outgrew” comics about 20 years ago.

I was contemplating my favorite tabletop games the other day, as well as perusing my bookshelves and suddenly I realized: I still love comics! My bookshelves are filled with artist biographies and in-depth histories of the creation of our favorite spandex-clad mythologies. Meanwhile, Super Mission Force has quickly become my go-to wargame while my favorite RPG experiences have always been comic-book games like TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, as well as Mayfair’s DC Heroes. Surprisingly, I haven’t been too interested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, catching (but thoroughly enjoying) only a handful of the movies but still upon reflection I realized: yeah, I still love comics.

Work, school, and domestic duties still occupy nearly all of my time but I can usually steal just a few minutes of each day to read. I try to always have a novel going or an interesting website cued up. Then it hit me: why not read the Marvel Universe, from the start?

I managed to pick up quite a collection of the official high-quality scans of Marvel comic books on DVD-ROM released by GIT Corp from 2005-2007. Unfortunately, those discs came out right when the MCU, and associated interest in the source material, really started to gather steam. Instead of continuing the contract with GIT Corp and offering scans of the entire library, Marvel stopped licensing the scans. The technology has almost caught up now to bring Marvel’s plans to fruition: there are now streaming services allowing one to read almost any title at their heart’s content. Unfortunately these books are recolored when digitized and just don’t look the same. I’m thrilled that all these old comics are available, I just want to see everything: those benday dots, the old sea monkey ads, just to maximize the nostalgia.

Anyways, I’m giving myself 5 years to read the first 30 years of Marvel comics. Actually I can’t cram in every Marvel title, far from it. I’ve got seven of the biggest titles on DVD-ROM (Hulk, Iron Man, Amazing Spider Man, Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, Captain America, and Fantastic Four). In addition to these I’ve added Thor, and Daredevil (to get the street-level perspective). I’m also anticipating a few “floater” spots in the reading schedule, so I can work in old favorites with smaller runs, like Captain Marvel (Mar-vell of the Kree from the 60s-70s), or X-Factor, or Secret Wars, or something.

My start date is November, 1961, with Fantastic Four #1, and I’m reading the books in publication order. My stop date will be November, 1991, exactly 30 years after the publication of FF #1. I’ve selected this seemingly arbitrary date because: 1) I don’t want to continue this project to my death, and 2) it lets me avoid the Liefeld years at the X-Men, teenage Tony Stark, Onslaught, the reboots, and all the other stuff that showed that comics should’ve ended in the 90s. Really I just want to read the height of Marvel like Gruenwald and Claremont in the 80s, while finally capturing all the key moments those creators built on like Lee/Kirby/Ditko’s 60s work, and the Buscema/Thomas 70s.

My goal is two books a day. Right now it’s easy since I’m reading the early 60s stuff which was frequently 10-13 pages of material max, with less exposition than the real angsty stuff of the 80s. Also, when I finally get to the books I had as a kid (~’81-’96), I should pick up speed, as I read some of those books backwards and forwards a hundred times. Some of the panels are still burned into my psyche. If I can keep up the pace, over the next five years I’ll read the first 30 years of continuity for approximately 10 Marvel titles.

‘Cause you gotta have goals.

18 June 2021

Super Mission Force Game 2: Rooftop Rumble

So I've been putting off continuing my Super Mission Force (2nd Edition [SMF2]) campaign because of terrain. Actually because the real world is just too damn busy right now but terrain was my excuse.

At the end of my first SMF2 game, I rolled the next scenario and got "Rooftop Rumble". I like a nice-looking board and planned to make some convincing rooftops with water tanks, air-conditioning units and such. When life intruded and delayed my terrain-making, I stubbornly refused to play until I could get back to the rooftops.

After a particularly busy few weeks I realized, for my sanity, I needed some gaming. So I slapped down a couple of foam board sheets I sprayed with gray acrylic paint, cut one of them into two parts, and put all three resulting rooftops at slightly different vertical levels. I raided my bit box to grab a few nurnies and greebles to act as roof vents, antennas, and other scatter. I would rather have painted all the bits gray as well but hey, at least I now had a board.

And I'm glad I broke down and played on a "substandard" board. This game is so fun! The narrative that emerges through play is incredible.

The bad guys, The Phantom Satellites lost the first game when their secret Weapon was destroyed by the heroic team, The Cabinet. The MVP of that first game was most certainly Master Astra, the shuriken-wielding Street Level character whose rocket-powered nitro-stars did the bulk of the damage to the weapon including the coup-de-grace. My subplot rolls for the second game revealed an "Art" connection, which didn't make much sense. Since it was a "Rooftop Rumble" game, and Master Astra is definitely a Daredevil-like gritty urban character, I said that the evil mastermind known as The Phantom Sun had tracked down the source of Master Astra's shuriken arsenal. The villains then intended to abduct the hero's artist friend, secretly a brilliant inventor who crafts Master Astra's various hi tech throwing stars. For some weird reason, the intense battle during their first encounter also caused Master Astra and the mentalist frog-alien Ssluuzurom to develop a temporary psychic bond, making it difficult for them to attack each other in this game.

Heroes on the right
The game started with all characters randomly placed, except for the Free Radical Squad, who I decided could begin mounted on the armored hero Heavy Fist. I regret this now because it gave the heroes an advantage. I should have let the villains begin with the psychic frog-alien adjacent to his boss, The Phantom Sun, so that the cosmic mastermind could've carried him into battle.

Combatants rush forward!
Turn 1 began with everyone moving forward on the offensive, with Heavy Fist's leaping power carrying him and his shrunken infantrymen passengers to the rooftop blockhouse for cover. Since this was Rooftop Rumble and anyone leaving a building edge suffers falling damage (excepting flyers and a few others), I knew the villains' strategy was to use Ssluuzurom's Mind Control to force the heroes to "willingly" leap to their own dooms. The heroes felt the dreaded effects of the Mind Control last game and therefore targeted the alien mentalist immediately. The evil android known as The Upgrade used Power Blast with its awesome 30 inch range to hit Madame President, the good guy leader, with a massive 5 Body attack. First blood almost had the heroes down one figure!

The Phantom Sun activated his Flight power and rushed forward to intercept Heavy Fist, not quite reaching his prey. Master Astra then revealed their X-Factor chosen for this game: the rocket-powered grappling-line shuriken (adapted from the Archer Archetype's special maneuvers), which allowed the hero to effectively duplicate the Leaping power. Using the special throwing star, Master Astra swung across the rooftops, engaging a surprised Phantom Sun in aerial hand-to-hand combat. The mastermind proved a worthy opponent, shrugging off the attack.

11 hits; daaaang!
Turn 2 started with a bang and proved to be the most exciting turn, although as I write this I realize I violated the rules to the villains' detriment. The heroes won initiative and Heavy Fist activated, managing to recharge his jet pack (Leaping) and blast across the board, conducting a Death from Above attack against the feared amphibious alien. Action-packed as this was, I realize now that Heavy Fist began without line-of-sight to his target and therefore could not have made this attack. Dang. Well, the following is what happened, based on my illegal attack...

The armored hero smashed into the alien psychic rolling an incredible 11 point melee attack, which the unfortunate Ssluuzurom could only reduce to 9 damage. I was unsure of what to do with that much excess damage but the game's creator, Mr. Scott Pyle, graciously and quickly provided me with the official ruling (excess damage is lost). Remarkably, the alien villain made his KO roll, staying conscious while suffering an incredible 18 inches of knockback! I then rolled for his last ditch attempt to hang on and he made it, preventing himself from flying off the roof to the street below. Pulling himself slowly back onto the roof, the alien's eyes glowed as he activated his Mind Control, commanding Heavy Fist to leap off the building, with his tiny soldiers in tow. Perhaps our hero had built up a natural mental shield after being manipulated so often last game: he shrugged off the attack!

Multiple Arms power = distance melee!
The Free Radical Squad rushed forward and despite their short legs, could still pummel the alien with the Reach ability afforded by their Multiple Arms power. Another amazing roll saw the frogman face 6 potential points of damage, enough of which got through for the auto-KO. Combined with knockback, the blows sent the alien plummeting to the concrete below.

Master Astra attempted a similar maneuver against The Upgrade, swinging on a grappling line across two roofs to plant a foot in the android's face. Despite the telling blow, the android remained standing and nearly felled the shuriken-wielder with a devastating energy blast.

Turn 3 saw the villains reduced to three but still pressing the attack with the Mindhound leaping into the Free Radical Squad's midst, causing terrible damage. Returning the favor to the villains, Heavy Fist activated his jump jets and sailed a giant power fist straight into The Phantom Sun's face, knocking the would-be world conquerer cold with one blow!

The Upgrade went down in a flurry of punches from Master Astra, after the helmeted mystery-hero blocked the android's energy blast with a brilliantly timed albedo-cloud star! (Note: that's flavor only, my interpretation of Master Astra winning the melee combat with the help of some Gadget rerolls. 

The final melee
The Mindhound was the only villain standing at the beginning of Turn 4. That didn't last long. The Free Radical Squad pounded the beast with dozens of tiny fists. Although still suffering a severe injury from the previous battle, the strange beast mounted a a vicious counter attack, knocking out the little trooper squad. Master Astra then eliminated the threat, swinging into the melee and onto the beast's back, knocking it unconscious.

So, at the end of turn 4 it was a decisive ass-kicking with every member of the Phantom Satellites unconscious and three of The Cabinet's four still standing. In hindsight the illegal attack Heavy Fist conducted against the psychic delivered the easy victory to the heroes. It shouldn't have been that close.

The post-game had the Cabinet earning two "bumps", one of which I gave to the Free Radical Squad, the other to Master Astra. The Squad earned a +2" Move increase, an incredibly useful bump as they suffer from the Slow hindrance normally, and had their already low movement temporarily lowered due to a severe injury suffered in this fight. Master Astra earned another +1D bonus die to Image-based Pre- and Post-game Sub-Plot rolls.

The villains managed to avoid capture or death but both the Mindhound and Ssluuzurom suffered severe injuries. The Upgrade woke up unscathed while, fittingly, The Phantom Sun woke up ready to "Settle the Score" (giving him a bonus to next game's attacks).

23 May 2021

Kars for Kaiju

Howdy.  Things have been a bit slow around here, at least on the gaming front.  Real life in the way, too much to do, blah, blah, I've said it all before and I'm sure everyone reading this is just as strapped for time.

So, I've yet to play my second game of Super Mission Force, despite having such a great time with the first one.  I rolled up Rooftop Rumble for the second scenario and I don't have that table ready.  A silly excuse really, as I can (and probably will) just put some gray rectangles down for the rooftops.  I prefer detailed terrain though, and building some good rooftop scatter scenery has stalled my campaign.

Anyways, let's talk tiny cars...

I mentioned giant-monster gaming a couple of posts ago and that's really what's consuming my minimal free time.  In accordance with my personal rules to stay focused, I'm trying to stick to a few scales, or paint figures I can use across multiple scales and that plan includes using 28-32mm figures as giant monsters (kaiju).

Making 28mm figures appear colossal requires scenery to force the illusion so I've started making buildings and tiny cars.  I sculpted 11 sedan type cars with plasticine and then made a silicone rubber mold of the lot.  The pictures below show the first casts; I figure if I fill up the mold every night this week, I can have ~50 cars by the weekend.  Plenty of things for kaiju to smash!

The pics also show an (unpainted) scratchbuilt office building for the kaiju to smash.  It was extremely easy to make, technique-wise, but a bit time-consuming.  I've also experimented with doing a structure that represents an entire block thinking it would save time but initial indications show it takes just as long.