A deviation from The Plan: life as a pale master

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As i mentioned not too long ago, DDO mainstay Schir Gold of Sarlona was in the midst of a third druid life with a greedy eye towards TR’ing as a wizard Pale Master.  Well, a hefty amount of organized questing saw me through the rest of heroic content and ready to make the leap into a new class, which i did a few days ago.  Incidentally, it seems to have been Druid Week in the DDO world, as both the DDOCast and fellow blogger Erdrique put a spotlight on these natural warriors.

For this current incarnation as a druid, Schir followed the skeleton of a melee wolf build i saw on the DDO forums.  Her previous experiences as a druid focused on the spellcasting, which just completely wrecked the heroic content primarily through DOTs like creeping cold and the druid’s top-notch CC via earthquake.  Also, i found the SLA word of balance particularly useful.  For the melee build i went with a half-elf and took every opportunity to boost her sneak attack damage and doublestrike chances via [improved] shield mastery, and put most of her build points into strength and wisdom.  Life as a wolf wound up being one of the funnest lives ever, with Schir tearing up pretty much everything she encountered along with her wolf companion Miracle and whatever level animal summon spell she had access to at any particular level.  Flavor-wise, the Blood Frenzy enhancement really puts you into the mindset of the hunter, with your pack ripping through mob after mob, carried forward to the next battle with the mass vigor spells keeping the dog pack in tip top shape.

Question answered, DDO-style:

Once she hit 8th level and gained the ability to wild shape into a winter wolf, i never even looked askance at the other forms and went all in, having a blast slotting whatever icy-themed gear i got my hands on to keep with the theme.  Toward the high-end, i scored the Frostbite Blade, a really cool looking scimitar that fell into my possession through what i felt was fate.  Unfortunately, you can’t see it when you’re in wolf form, but the bad guys were certainly feeling it’s chilling touch.  It wasn’t until after TR’ing (which yes, i’ll get to in a moment) that i finally got my feet wet in challenges and picked up the Frozen Tunic – an unbelievably awesome piece of gear that would have been perfect.  One day i’ll have to re-visit the melee wolf druid and see how she does decked out in one of those.  At any rate, i had a super fun time as a melee wolf druid.  They’re so survivable with their vigor spells and still not too shabby in the CC department either.  And the dps is crazy.  Maybe not top tier; i don’t have a lot of experience as a melee anything so it could be that in the scope of things they’re not that great.  But out of all her lives, Schir never tore through monsters like she did here.  For her investment in three lives as a druid, from now on all of her summons, hirelings and charmed minons will have +6 to all of their ability scores. This will be perfect for her [eventual] return to artificer.  It also aligns excellently with the life Schir currently pursues, which is a break in my original plan of 3x ranger/druid/sorcerer then before heading back to artificer – the dread Pale Master!

Schir Gold hanging out with her Skeletal Knight at the memorial to Gary Gygax.  Notice the cloud of flies and sickly pallor?  That's the Shroud of the Zombie AFAIK a totally useless enhancement.

Schir Gold hanging out with her Skeletal Knight at the memorial to Gary Gygax. Notice the cloud of flies and sickly pallor? That’s the Shroud of the Zombie AFAIK a totally useless enhancement.

Whatever caused the idea to take a wizard life to pop into my head, i can’t recall but the more i considered it the more excited i became to try it out.  More than likely i read a forum thread that intrigued me, but as i said in the past too, for an MMO solo-er like me the “pet classes” are a definite boon and i had my eye on that skeletal knight (who would be buffed up nicely by those druid past lives).  Normally, and this is true of all Schir’s various lives, i stay pure to whatever class she in.

Multiclassing always seemed a tad tricky to manage for me, and i like the idea of being the best of whatever class i’m playing, getting capstones and so forth.  In the case of the wizard however, i came across a build called a Pale Trapper that offered something Schir hasn’t had access to in quite some time: the ability to handle traps and locks.  Again, something for solo play that is hella useful. Granted, quest knowledge goes a long way towards surviving the nasty traps in some of these dungeons, but towards the high end of play it can become a dicey (and slicey) proposition – especially when you’re trying to maintain your elite bravery streak.  Even in lower level content, areas like that corridor in Tangleroot’s spider caves can take some fancy maneuvering to get past.

Schir Gold - the first character i ever got to level 20 - on May 12, 2012.  Only took 6 years of on-and-off play.

Schir Gold – the first character i ever got to level 20 – on May 12, 2012. Only took 6 years of on-and-off play.

If any of my old-time PnP or MMO gaming buddies were still around, they would be shocked to discover how much i’ve come to enjoy caster classes, and this wizard life is no exception.  In this regard, i have to hand it to Schir’s time as an air savant sorcerer for instilling such a deep appreciation for the fun of spell slinging (and to a lesser extent a short-lived PnP campaign when i ran a wizard starting at 1st level).  There’s so much you can do with magic, with each new level bringing a noticeable increase in the breadth of your abilities.  At this point, i haven’t gotten too far up there in level but i’m already seeing the payoffs whenever a coveted new spell slot or, even moreso, spell level opens up.  What i am most looking forward to is hitting level 12 and getting that Shroud of the Wraith enhancement from the pale master tree.  If i’m honest, i don’t know if it’s the best of the various shrouds, but personally i’ve always thought wraiths are just cool.  This sounds silly, but the word itself “wraith” i’ve long considered simply slick sounding.  Back in the day, i had a fun time playing the PnP game Wraith: The Oblivion, and maybe that has something to do with it.

On the other hand, when i snagged the Marvel Comics mini-series Wraith (part of the Annihilation Conquest arc) i was greatly underwhelmed.  The character did look freaking cool though.  In DDO game terms, the incorporeality, floating, auto ghost touch and CON-draining attacks seem incredibly useful.  While i’m on the subject of the shrouds, what’s up with shroud of the zombie?  Does anyone ever use that one?  A couple of times i toggled it on and boy did it seem to really suck.

Wraith (Zak-Del)

Wraith (Zak-Del) – a Marvel Comics character whose debut book let a lot to be desired (and also didn’t have that great of interior art, again proving not to judge a book by its cover).

Just like in PnP, at lower levels, wizards and other arcane spellcasters tend to be very squishy, relying on their tougher companions to do a lot of the fighting (and getting hit).  For Schir’s first level in this life, she was a rogue because, well that’s just what you do whenever your build involves rogue.  Getting to level 2 takes all of about an hour to blow through Korthos Village on elite so it really isn’t even worth mentioning.  For her race, i went with the drow because i wanted to max out her INT, which i did by starting with a 20 in that score.  The rest of the points went mostly into CON, and i threw a couple in DEX and CHA for the bump in her rogue skills and UMD – all of which have a great headstart through her 3 past lives as an artificer.

As far as feats go, this was the first life in years where i did not take toughness.  Back in the day, it was pretty much a must-have inclusion for any build along with a minimum 14 CON and (in some circles) 1 point in tumble. It’s worth noting that i betray my non min/max status by saying i always put as much into tumble as i can with any of her lives, because frankly i like to roll and dive all around. Since the addition of Epic Destinies to DDO, i knew immediately that i’d choose the Magister when i could simply because of the unearthly reactions ability’s description that states “at rank 3 when you tumble, you will phase out from reality briefly.”  How cool does that sound?  Very cool, that’s how much (and it is imo – probably one of my favorite things to do in DDO, i know, easily amused).

The path i’m following through the levels is based loosely on a couple of different builds i found in the forum: this pale trapper one and this hyper-detailed and useful pale master guide.  From my play experience so far, i guessing there’s several times when you’ll basically completely re-do your enhancements.  For example, i’m sure the traditionalist caster from the archmage tree makes a significant impact later on, but this early there aren’t even any orbs to equip so it would be essentially useless. True, it does function when you have a staff equipped…but for the most part i’ve been relying on master’s touch and whatever highest damage great axe i can find.  As i’ve gained levels though, i notice a distinct blending of spellcasting and axe-swinging that is proving pretty effective.  Schir just hit level 7 (6 as a wizard) which allowed her to don the shroud of the vampire, and most fights seem to go like this: web up as many bruisers as she can, frost lance the toughest of the bunch (or whichever guy starts waving his arms around), cast lesser death aura and wade into the web swinging.  Every so often i’ll toss out the chill touch SLA too, which i’m guessing is enhanced by the glaciation on the incredible Frozen Tunic because it hits for a lotta damage. Again, the Frozen Tunic proves indispensible.  Seriously, i love that thing and i can’t wait to start upgrading it through the challenges.

Schir Gold wearing the Shroud of the Vampire

Schir Gold wearing the Shroud of the Vampire

Speaking of the Frozen Tunic, something i wanted to touch on is the importance of gear in DDO.  It’s no secret that i jump around between several MMOs, and while upgrading your gear is important in all of them, it feels really important in DDO.  Maybe it’s because there’s just a lot of variables in this game particularly like all the different spell powers, melee facets like PRR, doublestrike and the like, AC, saving throws, etc.  So many times throughout all the years i’ve played, i’ll get some piece of gear or another and all of a sudden there’s like a quantum leap forward in how effective you become.  If i may again use the Frozen Tunic as an example, until i got this thing, Schir was doing okay.  Her Niac’s was dependable and slogging through fights wasn’t super difficult with the aforementioned master’s touch/big friggin’ axe combo.  Then i donned these sweet duds and it was like the mobs were practically nothing.  Her icy rays went from being a good start of a fight to ending them before they even started, and the minor freezing ice ability seems to proc WAY more than 5% of the time.  Likewise, once she hit level 5 and her Charged Gauntlets made a shocking difference in her dps (see what i did there?).  Fortunately, i’m a bit of a hoarder so i’ve got a big ol’ shared vault, personal vault and TR cache filled with all sorts of doodads, many of which i’ve never used due but am now eyeing with avarice for the chance to equip.

Based on how much impact that Frozen Tunic has been for me, i’m definitely going to spend more time engaging in the various challenges in House Cannith as well.  My next goal is acquiring the Bracers of Wind and Spare Hand, which if they’re anything like the tunic will be a fantastic addition to her load out.  Perma-blurry from the bracers will get a ton of mileage, and an item doing double duty for DD and open locks ain’t too shabby neither.  In my experience the bracers and belt slots, particularly the latter, are often difficult for me to fill anyway.  There’s no shortage of good stuff out there for them, but a lot of it is raid loot and, again, for a solo guy like me the opportunities to get them don’t come along too often (read: basically never).

Before wrapping up, i want to mention a forum thread that proved enlightening to me.

Why do people play an Massively MULTIPLAYER Game and then go and solo everything?

Naturally, i felt compelled to read this one because i am one of those people.  In the last week, the thread has grown to 7 pages in length and there are all sorts of interesting replies.  Some decry the presence of people like me ruining games, some are wholly indifferent.  More than a few folks gave glib replies or come off as a bit salty, using the opportunity to dress down Turbine for doing things they feel make grouping difficult, while others put down the playerbase for being a PiTA to do the same. But scattered amongst those responses are some thoughtful responses, too.  While reading through them, what emerged to me was the simple fact that the persistent world of MMO games offers a unique sort of play experience.  Unlike single-player games, there is no ending.  While many of today’s games, for instance my all-time favorite game Mass Effect, offer occasional DLC packs and whatnot, there is a definite end to the game.  But in the world of MMOs, even those with healthy endgame content, you can continue to play your character for as long as the servers remain functioning.  While doing so, you participate in a large environment with unique economy filled with countless other real people controlling fun characters rushing to and fro about whatever business they have.  To me, that’s the exciting part of MMOs even if i’m not in a party with any of them.  People still chat in the general channel and occasionally even wave or bow to each other.  Once in a while (although i haven’t seen it in years) someone will conduct a little game of sorts with whomever is around, like this one time i remember a guy saying that whoever could find him would get some item or another, and all of a sudden there’s dozens of people running all over the place searching for him.

For the curious, here was my response to the OP:

i can’t speak for anyone but me on this, but i like the atmosphere of an open persistent world. People running to and fro, general banter and so forth. That being said, in my experience i have a different pace than most that i’ve grouped with. Sometimes i do a quest pretty fast, and sometimes really slow, and sometimes i stop in the middle of it to do something else. i don’t generally do things the “accepted” way, and then there’s raids, which i’ve barely ever done and feel like i’d be an annoyance.

At the end of the day, the answer to the OP really is a simple one though: because we have fun.  Whether we’re in a PUG or a guild party, or a group consisting of hirelings, onyx panthers and owlbears, we log in to watch our characters change and grow, get shiny new gear and check out the latest quests and mini-games.

And then some of us write verbose blogs about our experiences there too!

 

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Digital Pull List: multi-week roundup

Since i’m currently only into a smattering of books, there haven’t been weekly releases for me to absorb so i’ve been saving up several releases worth of thoughts and speculations to compile here today.  Plus, as i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, i like to give a book a fair shake of three issues before laying judgement.  That being said, i’ll dive right into the first 3-issue chance i gave to Hulk (2014) under the Marvel NOW! imprint.

Hulk #1 cover by Jerome Opena

Hulk #1 cover by Jerome Opena

This book, to me, represents the perfect example of not judging a book by its cover…because frankly it just plain sucks.

Let me back up a bit and explain where i’m coming from and start with admitting i’ve never been a big fan of ol’ Jade Jaws.  While it’s true that i did favor the gamma goliath in a theoretical throwdown with the Man of Steel that generated a healthy discussion, i’ve come to the realization that i only really enjoy the character conceptually.  Regular weekly get-togethers with friend and fellow geek @DanEffinManess without fail turn to comics (and sometimes professional wrestling) and usually result in the breakdown of comic book logic to the point where we both wonder why we are still so fascinated by them – a sentiment echoed during a recent work conversation with @Gewpoe. It is worth noting here that both of those fellas are talented artists and very humorous in their own right, giving evidence that once comics are in your blood they’re there to stay even when you think you’ve grown beyond the capes-and-tights continuity.

Anyway, as regards Hulk, the problem for me basically amounts to the character just ain’t that interesting.  After consideration, from my perspective it’s a question of motivation, and maybe there’s some great Hulk stories out there that would change my mind but i have yet to encounter any of them.  Other heroes have all sorts of motivations, and as a reader the best stories are relatable because we understand the emotional arc of the character.  Now, take the Hulk, distilled quite ably by Tony Stark in Marvel’s The Avengers.

Perhaps it’s due to my habitually laid-back personality, but maybe that’s why Hulk never clicked with me – the dude only has one emotion (embodies it as a matter of fact).  Rage is not a standard part of my emotional repertoire.  Now the interesting flip side to Hulk’s character, his alter ego Bruce Banner, was also portrayed astutely in that same film by actor Mark Ruffalo, who with a single line of dialogue suddenly made 50 years of backstory make a lot more sense to me.

So where does this leave us with the Hulk comic?  Sadly disappointed, i’m afraid.  Remember what i said about judging a book by its cover?  When i came across Hulk #1 on the Marvel Comics app, i got suckered by the provocative cover and figured i’d give it a shot.  The Hulk looked really cool there towards the bottom (except for that weird glowy belt thing – what’s up with that?) and i liked how Banner was shown more prominently, looking all gritty and surrounded by sketchy formulae in the background.  Scrawled over the title is a challenging question “Who Shot Bruce Banner?”

Maybe this would be a great take on the character and focus on the thing that ultimately would make him more endearing to me – the man beneath the monster.  Sure, it’s awesome when Hulk…hulks out, and pounds everything in sight into oblivion.  But between all the action, what would keep me as a reader engaged is connecting with the human side and whatever problems and motivations keep him going.  In that regard, it’s no wonder the classic Hulk television show was so beloved, because Bill Bixby made you give a crap about Banner.

Bixby

We DID like him when he got angry…but i liked him when he wasn’t, too.

Moving past the cover of Hulk #1, i’m still in good shape.  There’s a nice Starlin-esque image of some scientific equipment, an gun-toting hand belonging to an unknown shooter and a silhouette of (presumably) Bruce Banner getting shot in the back of the head.  Color me intrigued, if only for the fact that up until that moment it was my understanding that, should Banner take a bullet, he would immediately transform into the Hulk.  The guy even shot himself to try and end the Hulk menace before and things didn’t work out.  So i’m thinking that i’m heading into a mystery here, and naturally assume this headshot is just symbolic.

Underneath the image…wait a sec why does it say “Who Shot The Hulk”?  Wasn’t the mystery supposed to be who shot Bruce Banner?  Why the change, and why so soon?  i haven’t even read page one yet.  Okay, Hulk, i’ll play your game.  Let’s flip the page and see what happens.

Ugh!

Abysmal disappointment within one nanosecond when i realize who’s handling the interior art: Mark Bagley.  He’s been working in comics a long, long time, on high profile books like Ultimate Spider-Man for instance, but i gotta tell you – i’ve always thought this guy’s artwork is just straight up crapola.  Now before any haters say “i bet you couldn’t draw half that good” i’ll be the first to admit you’re absolutely right.  On the other hand, i’m not working as a professional artist so the issue is moot.  Within the industry, i’m sure Bagley is known as a dependable artist and might be the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but man do i dislike his work.  It’s so generic!  It looks like stuff that you would see from art school assignments before the student has developed a unique style or really understood sequential storytelling.  Lame, lame, lame.  And you know what?  Right now i’m scrutinizing each page closely and if i’m honest it really isn’t even that technically sound. Perspectives are off, faces look all funked up, and the backgrounds….i mean Rob Liefeld draws more engrossing eye candy.

Almost instantly, i regretted my decision to give a book 3 issues to prove itself to me.  But a deal’s a deal.  Mark Waid’s no slouch in the writing department, so maybe this tale of woe will be saved by smart writing.

Nope.

The story opens with Bruce Banner in an operating room getting brain surgery because someone shot him in the head.  Who could do such a thing, and with what sort of magical or scientifically devised projectile?  Maybe The Leader’s gamma-irradiated brain concocted a plan to overcome Banner’s indestructible self-defense.  Yeah, that must be it, or something along those lines.

Or it was some shadowy agent working for generic guys who raided the Reservoir Dogs costume storehouse who shot him with a regular ol’ rifle.  But don’t worry – it makes sense because she “trained hard for the moment.”

WHAT?

Yadda yadda yadda Banner hulks out in the O.R. (but the head wound for some reason doesn’t heal upon transformation).  He hulks his way out of where Mr. Blonde and crew were keeping him and leaps away.  Except his head hurts, and he crashes in Genericville U.S.A where, two weeks later, S.H.I.E.L.D. finds him trying to re-learn his ABC’s because of irreversible brain damage.  The shocked and dismayed Agent Coulson and Maria Hill are told by hospital staff (who seem blissfully unaware that their patient destroyed Main Street when he was a green rage monster) “he’ll never be smart again.”  Or, until two issues later when he’s already getting better.

The three issues i read also featured a guest appearance by some Avengers who helped Hulk decimate Genericsville when a goopy mess that was corpsecrafted into a zombie version of Hulk nemesis Abomination and controlled by Reservoir Dog attacked for so apparent reason.  For his part, Reservoir Dog was far away in his radioactive lab/lair where hazmat-suited bad guys tinkered with vats of nuclear glowy stuff and pontificated to himself how no one would suspect his real plans until it was too late for all of them…or me for that matter, because i’d blissfully reached the end of this stinkfest.

Oddly enough, there’s yet another new Hulk series – Savage Hulk – that released today 6.25.14.  This series is written and pencilled by Alan Davis and, while i’m not a huge fan of his either, i will say he is a WAY better artist than Bagley.  In order to wash the taste of Hulk (2014) out of my mouth, i have this one a d/l.  Who knows, maybe it will be the series to finally get me to dig Hulk comics.  After issue 3 i’ll let you know.  But if my weekly talks with compadre hold any water, Hulk is best used as a supporting character rather than as a star (which makes me wary of yet another possible solo film).

Daredevil 2014

Daredevil (2014) #1 cover by Chris Samnee

Another book written by Mark Waid, this time featuring one of my all-time favorite superheroes – Daredevil!  Once described as “Spider-Man with his eyes closed” by my favorite comics blogger Paul O’Connor (better known as Longbox Graveyard to the blogosphere), i’ve got to credit my older brother for the convergence of me being 10 years old and him having the sweet now-legendary Frank Miller run of DD comics from the 80’s for my deep commitment to the character.

Nothing about these books was nice - they were grim and gritty and 10-year-old me loved it!

Nothing about these books was nice – they were grim and gritty and 10-year-old me loved it!

If i’m honest, i’ve never read a Daredevil book i didn’t enjoy. But i will admit i skipped out on his 90’s stories when he was wearing armor like everyone else in the 90’s for some reason. More than once here at The Long Shot i’ve praised the Bendis/Maleev run as one of my favorite comic stories of all time, and i was over the moon when Mike Allred handled the art chores on Volume 3, issue #17, since pound-for-pound i consider him the best artist working in comics today.

This latest iteration of the character finds him relocated from his traditional digs in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood all the way to the west coast in San Francisco.  One of the things i like most about this book is that, like the currently-running Moon Knight, the series doesn’t shy away from the character’s history and continuity.  In the book, Daredevil’s secret identity as blind lawyer Matt Murdock isn’t a secret, and also like Moon Knight the story finds him working with law enforcement in a sort of consultant role.

The series opens with Murdock at the SFPD’s forensics lab, using his super-enhanced senses to help the police with a kidnapping case by examining evidence to get a lead.  For their part, the detectives are naturally skeptical of a civilian doing their job for them, but at the end of the day when a little girl’s life is at stake they’re willing to let him lend a hand, even when he suits up as Daredevil.  This is definitely a trend that i’m enjoying in some comics these days – that the “regular” people who live in their universe acknowledge that there are vigilantes out there, part of their everyday world.

The interior art on this series is also handled by Chris Samnee, and i’m really digging the unconventional style he brings.  Take pages 5-6 for example: one is a quick jumping-on point that retells his origin for any newcomers, and the other a nifty overview that gives you insight into both his powers and a little fish-out-of-water synopsis of how his relocation is affecting him.  Both pages are designed in a circular pattern in the manner that his famous “radar sense” is usually shown visually, and full of color and stylistic touches.  While Samnee’s artwork isn’t what you’d call photorealistic, to me it’s more impressionistic.  At this point in my comic book reading career, this is the kind of stuff i enjoy the most.  There’s a sense of playfulness and cinematic scope to it that isn’t defined by square panels.  It’s sequential when it needs to be, no doubt, but the images help move the story along more through the evocation of what they portray rather than through movement through time or space.

Samnee’s art also has a sort of indie quality to it that i like to see on high profile books, a break from the kind of high-octane action and super-ripped heroes that are kind of the norm.  He’s got style and flavor, which goes a long way.  For example, it’s a lot easier to forgive ill-defined backgrounds when you consider they’re maybe just not that important to the image, as opposed to the Hulk book i talked about earlier, in which you can see the artist spent time drawing them but they just plain sucked.

Daredevil (2014) #1 page 5

Daredevil (2014) #1 page 5

Daredevil (2014) #1, page 6

Daredevil (2014) #1, page 6

The most recent issue of – #4 – wrapped up an arc which found DD in a quasi-teamup with The Shroud taking on a villain who has steadily risen in prominence in Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery over the past few years, The Owl.

Who’s The Shroud, you ask?  Again i’ve got to hand it to my brother’s childhood collection for my knowledge of this Batman/Shadow mashup thanks to his store of Marvel Team-Up issues.  IIRC it was during Spidey’s team-up with The Shroud that he briefly related his origin about studying with the Cult of Kali and getting blinded by a red-hot brand that gave him other worldly sense and the ability to control darkforce.  Then the pair of them defeated Danse Macabre – a worshiper of Shiva – before going their separate ways…but not before The Shroud let on that he knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.

Shroud’s usual M.O. is in trying to take over crime (so he can squash it presumably) and in the pages of DD it was no different.  In this case, he gets in over his head with The Owl, who uses the abduction of The Shroud’s girlfriend to blackmail and manipulate him.  This leads to a back-and-forth with DD until the pair devise a plan to defeat The Owl that winds up going awry.  In case you read the story, i don’t want to spoil anything but i will say that, in the end, Daredevil wins.

Because good guys.

Just a moment ago, i wondered to myself if the people in charge over at Marvel NOW! are, like, the same age and disposition as me.  Browsing through the titles, it seems like every book i enjoyed from when i was around 10 is experiencing a resurgence under the imprint, and i’m loving it thoroughly.  So many great characters that i enjoyed as a kid are cropping up in their own books or featured in others, like the aforementioned Shroud for instance.  The final few books i want to mention fall under those auspices, but before i get to those i want to take a moment to point out something that is clearly illustrated by the titles mentioned here already: Hulk and Daredevil.

Both are written by the same person, and yet one i absolutely abhor and the other adore.  Care to take a guess as to why?  The answer is fairly obvious and i even gave you a pun as a clue.

The art.

Back in the day when Wizard Magazine was still a thing, they ran an article that asked the question of which was more important in a comic book: the writing or the art.  It was a thoughtful piece that put the question to fans and industry folks alike.  Good points were made from both sides, but to me the answer was there in the headline.  The art is the defining aspect of comic books.  Take away the art and what do you have?  Prose – and poorly presented at that.  Could you imagine reading only the dialogue boxes and narration?  It would be awful.  By that same token, you could flip through a book without any written words and probably still have at least an idea what was happening.  These two books really drive that point home to me.  Over the years i’ve read a lot of books written by Mark Waid.  Some are good, some are bad.  Some really spectacular/profound/wonderful and some terrible/drivel/blech.  Putting Hulk and DD side-by-side, i can say that the DD story really isn’t that great.  There’s nothing groundbreaking there, and the character doesn’t grow a whole lot in the four issues already published.  Same thing with Hulk – the story is lame and really generic, like he could have plucked the script out of a pile of scripts for any character and just changed the names.  But i have a blast reading DD and it was a chore to plod through Hulk.  Why?  Because in one, the art is horrendous and adds nothing to the experience, while in the other i had a fun time just looking at the pictures.

The last few books on my pull list have already gotten an examination of their own so really, this is just a free advertisement for continued reading.  You’re welcome, Marvel Comics.

Magneto #5

Magneto #5

Magneto, written by Cullen Bunn, has a new artist starting with issue #4 and the latest #5.  It’s a bit of a let down if i’m honest, because Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s work on #1-3 was so reminiscent of Dark Knight Returns era Frank Miller that i felt it really lent a similar quality to the book – that of a grizzled older guy using brutal methods to get the job done in the violent world he inhabited.  Although, now that i’m looking through them, i’m not sure if #5 is credited properly because it looks like Walta’s work but it lists Javier Fernandez as the artist.  Issue #4 is definitely not Walta though.  In fact, while reading it i thought it was Jim Calafiore’s work.  Don’t get me wrong, back when i was tracking down #1-75 of Aquaman circa 1994-2001 i thought Calafiore’s work on the character was great, but Magneto #4 kind felt like a throwaway issue to me with a fill-in story and artist.  Issue #5 got right back on track through, and introduced an intriguing female character who managed to track down the Master of Magnetism and offer to help.  The end of the issue leaves you with a cliffhanger though, that makes you wonder what her real intentions are…

Moon Knight #4

Moon Knight #4

Moon Knight, scribed by Warren Ellis and featuring some of the best comic book art around right now by Declan Shalvey, most recently took on a weird-o dream-related case that found Marc Spector back in his three-piece to help a researcher figure out why his test subjects were losing their minds.  If i had to pick a single book right now that was my favorite, i’d have to go with Moon Knight not only because of the fantastic cinematic artwork, but because it features a classic character in such unconventional situations and adventures.  Down the road, i’m not sure if Ellis will start pitting Moon Knight against costumed villains or placing him in the larger context of the superheroic world he inhabits, but if he does i hope it’s a long way off.  As it stands now, if you only read one book – READ THIS BOOK.  That goes for people like @Gewpoe too – even if you’re not into the spandex scene, i bet you’ll enjoy this current Moon Knight series.

Silver Surfer #3

Silver Surfer #3

And finally, last but far from least – Silver Surfer by Mike Allred and written by some guy.  Seriously, no disrespect to Dan Slott but if the cymbal-banging monkey toy on the cover were writing this book i’d still pick it up just for Allred’s amazing artwork.  Three issues in and i’m actually curious about the writing process.  The credits list Dan Slott and Mike Allred as storytellers, but i gotta say this reads like 100% pure Allred (and by that i mean Mike and Laura).  A villain named Incredulous Zed, supporting characters like Mr. Mygdalla and metaphysical and existential quandaries amidst the threat of reality collapse is classic Allred territory.  It’s also probably the very best iteration of the Silver Surfer character that i’ve ever read, combining philosophical issues alongside cosmic danger that has the eponymous character – despite virtually limitless power – learning more about the universe from the simple creatures around him than through his own cosmic awareness.  The most recent issue #3 wraps up the first arc that had the Surfer of the Spaceways championing unwitting girl-in-distress Dawn Greenwood while simultaneously saving all future possibility – literally.  For her part, Dawn proved to be a terrific addition to Surfer lore by taking on the role of hero herself and proving just as instrumental in saving the day.  The issue featured a few standout moments for me as well.  The first was a single panel on page 9 where the Surfer explains to dawn what he’s doing.  In true Allred fashion, he is able to convey a certain i don’t even know what through the look on Silver Surfer’s face in that characteristic simple-yet-complex Allred way.  A few pages later, Surfer tries to explain to a panicked population what’s going on, but winds up putting his status as a feared Herald of Galactus to use instead to galvanize them into action.  And finally, on the last page in what will surely become a staple of Surfer continuity, his famed surfboard gets a real name of its own in what for me was a true laugh-out-loud moment.  You’ll never find me having a bad word for anything Mike Allred works on, and Silver Surfer is no exception, so if you’re looking for a comic that is just pure fun but at the same time thoughtful and bursting with phenomenal artwork, definitely check this one out.

 

Cleveland Stater, lesson learned

Here’s a full-pager from my first stint with The Cleveland Stater in summer 2013.  This one is notable for me for two reasons.  Firstly, it was the first time i ever “officially” covered an event, so it was fun to tell the people at the gate i was part of the press.  If i recall correct they said not to take photos or recordings or something like that…both of which i did 😉  After the presentation was given by the hosts of RadioLab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, they were standing around shaking hands and talking with members of the audience who’d stuck around.  Feeling emboldened, i told them i was from the university newspaper and asked if i could talk to them for a few minutes and ask some questions.  They had to check with their producer, who had to call the home office for an okay.  Once that was done they let me back into the green room with the guys and we spoke for about 30 minutes.  It was really quite exciting for me.  During the show, they had a quasi-announcement about their new live show that would start touring soon, and i was able to ask a bit about that.  Since it wasn’t officially announced yet, their producer asked that we not mention it in the story but, since the publication date came just after their planned announcement (which i explained) she said it was okay.  That made it especially exhilarating for me, because it meant i’d actually sort of gotten a scoop!

The inset box was an idea i’d come up with because another staff reporter i guess had decided to show up and cover the event as well.  If i’m honest, i felt like my article would turn out stronger and, as it turns out, on press day she’d arrived with only a piece that wasn’t even as long as the inset turned out to be.  So we fixed it up a bit and stuck it in there.  A few cuts had to be made to my piece to fit it – as you may or may not know brevity ain’t exactly my thang – but overall i like the way it turned out.  Working on this also taught me a valuable lesson in reporting: it can’t hurt to approach people and ask to speak with them, whether or not they’re “famous” or whatever.  Some of that i’d begun to learn already right here on my blog through success getting interviews with people like Jim Mahfood and Chad Zumock.  But those were arranged ahead of time via emails and whatnot.  Here, i just walked right up to them and the results were positive.

Another reason i enjoyed this particular assignment was because i got to layout the entire page as well, which included the photos i took.  The headline and deck head were ones that i came up with that remained unchanged throughout the editing process, plus i got to throw in a nice pull-out quote.  To top it all off, i got the entirety of page 2 all to myself.

i added the body of the story below this image, since it has a jump and it’s pretty difficult to read this converted PDF image online, too.

Radiolab

The page as it originally appeared in The Cleveland Stater, volume 14, issue 17 on 6.27.13. Click the image to check out the online version at the Stater website.

“From now on, when we think creative voices we’ll think Radiolab.”

Attendees of the 2013 Creative Voices Summit, held on June 11, were left with those words following a presentation by the hosts of the Peabody Award-winning radio program and podcast Radiolab. The show’s hosts, Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, visited Cleveland to share a behind-the-scenes look at what makes their program tick. During the hour-and-a-half presentation they gave the audience an insider’s view into the creative decisions that led up to Radiolab’s inception and how a show is put together.

The event, produced by a collaboration between the the nonprofit educational organization ideastream and Radiolab, was held at the Idea Center at Playhouse Square. Through a partnership between WVIZ/PBS and 90.3 WCPN, the Idea Center stands as an edifice to both creativity and education. The innovative and technology-based facility on Cleveland’s main cultural corridor serves both ideastream and the Playhouse Square Foundation’s art education programs.

Audience members familiar with the program’s distinctive audio production style may have been there simply as fans of the show. Some in attendance might have hoped for a glimpse into the creative decision-making process. But everyone in the Westfield Insurance Studio was treated to a meta-event when the guys from Radiolab revealed that the summit itself was part of their creative process.

The audience would become part of that process. “We’re going to actually experiment on you,” Krulwich said.

With a decades-long career as a journalist on both radio and television, Krulwich is known for his inventiveness and ability to convey complex information in a way that’s understandable. The meaning behind his cryptic announcement would become clearer throughout the presentation.

Krulwich’s co-host – radio host and producer Jad Abumrad – explained the dilemma the two faced when first developing what would become Radiolab. The two struck up a friendship through a chance meeting and began meeting regularly for breakfast. Their conversations were a free-flowing exchange, one of the signatures of their
program.
“How do you tell a story that’s composed with a lot of science, but that moves quickly and has the architecture you want and keeps the energy that was there at the diner?” Abumrad said.

They found their answer embedded in Abumrad’s audio work. As a trained musician he approaches storytelling like a piece of music. The beat and tempo of a voice, the lifts, lulls and even silence combine to reveal the most fun parts of a story. Musical accompaniment is what defines each Radiolab program.

“At first it’s just two guys talking,” Abumrad said. “Then the music creeps in and suddenly something different happens right there. It’s two guys seducing everyone listening.”

The idea is that the spoken word is a form of music. The coughs, laughs, giggles and interruptions are the rhythms and beats of life. They contribute to explaining the complex, dense, difficult and technical science.

“The music and the sense of the argument, if they are well matched, turn the argument into steel,” Krulwich said.

To illustrate this point, the two shared a segment from the show “Musical Language.” The clip demonstrated the concept of speech-to-song illusion discovered by Diana Deutsch, a British- American perceptual and cognitive psychologist.

While preparing the commentary for her CD “Musical Illusions and Paradoxes,” Deutsch left the room while an audio loop continued to play. After a few minutes she heard singing. But it wasn’t singing at all – the spoken words had transformed into music. And once that shift occurs in the brain, it sticks. So it was with audience members who quietly hummed along to the same seductive song-words heard by Deutsch on that day:

“Sometimes behave so strangely…”

The convergence of the human voice and music was a success. What had been a routine editing session became an experiment in sound and the nature of music; what had been a presentation about creative decision making became an experiment in making creative decisions.

Abumrad informed the audience that their participation at the summit was part of their plan to develop a plan for a live Radiolab show.

“We’re going to run through a dry read of a story that we’re working on,” Abumrad said. “You guys will be the very first humans who will hear this.”

Far from dry, the story revealed new scientific information about the day of “Dinopocalypse.” Modern science suggests that the age of dinosaurs literally ended in the span of an afternoon.

Sprinkled throughout the telling were moments of participation from both the audience and Radiolab’s production team, who acted as fill-ins for a sound effects crew that will be part of the live show. Audio clips – what Abumrad described in the past as “jaggedy sounds, little plurps and things, strange staccato, percussive things” – enhanced the story. Also presented was a fully-costumed version of the “hypothetical placental mammal.” Scientists theorize that this creature began to diversify into new species of mammals following the demise of dinosaurs.

The creature’s official name is Schrëwdinger, chosen by way of a voting contest after the decision of what to call it was given to Radiolab producer and Ohio native Molly Webster.

Following the read-through, Krulwich and Abumrad collected notecards from the audience on which they provided feedback on what was essentially a rough rehearsal. They also fielded questions from the audience. The last of these, and most appropriate, was in regards to creative decisions in balancing the narrative elements and the science involved in the Radiolab show.

“What does a scientist do, really?” Krulwich said. “A scientist tells him or herself a story, and then tests it. It’s storytelling in a very specific way, but I don’t believe they are two different worlds.”

“We give a voice to things that have no voice,” Abumrad said. “They are separate endeavors, but the fun is balancing the tension between them.”

The Radiolab live show will come to Cleveland on October 4 at the State Theatre. Tickets are on sale now at the Playhouse Square box office and online.

Goodfellas of gaming

It’s been some time since i wrote anything about DDO.  Despite several forays into other MMOs that have begun to clutter my taskbar, the launcher for DDO remains fixed in the prime spot for waxing and waning periods of play.  Trying out other games to see what they have to offer is thoroughly enjoying, and there’s no shortage of fun MMO experiences out there.  The latest that i delved into was Marvel Heroes, a game which as a huge comics geek i am a little embarrassed to say was completely under my radar until last week.  Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play game that has some cool mechanics, not the least of which is the opportunity to build yourself a roster of established superheroes.  My roster started with Daredevil – a perennial favorite of mine – who i advanced to about mid-cap.  The game definitely speaks to the fanboy in me through the inclusion of so much great Marvel Comics lore, but if i’m honest after a while it just felt like a button masher with increasingly powerful buttons to mash.

ddo_logo

And so, even though i never feel like i’m completely out, nevertheless DDO pulls me back in.  Since there’s some scheduled downtime right now, i figure it’s a good time to ramble on about what is, at the end of the day, my favorite MMO.  Plus, since i’m on the blogroll with several other DDO players out there it’s only fitting that i write about it more than i have been.  Folks like Gamer Geoff, Erdrique’s Blog, Samius Gurobo, Micki’s Delirium and The Order of Syncletica consistently keep me engaged with their adventure and gameplay blogs and i hope to elicit even a little bit of what they’ve got going on.

The reasons for my enjoyment of DDO are many and varied, but probably the biggest of them is that it’s just so darned different than any other MMO i’ve sampled.  Sure, it has plenty of problems mechanically and commercially.  A trip to the forums will make that abundantly clear…but then again, that’s true of literally any MMO.  There are hardcore elite players of all games, whose dedication and playtime often astound me.  So when you reach the point where you’re analyzing spreadsheets of gameplay statistics you’re naturally going to find faults and flaws in any system.  The most common response to posters who voice their issues with gameplay boils down to “take a break, try another game.”  And to this, i wholeheartedly agree.  Variety is the spice of life after all.  But beyond that, it’s important to see what else is out there if only to become aware that there is no MMO game that perfectly captures every element.  Someday, a game may emerge that encapsulates an entire immersive experience with every customizable bell and whistle you can think of, but not today.

One of the things that keeps me coming back again and again to DDO is, frankly, my main character Schir Gold in whom i’ve invested considerable time and resources over the years.  Thanks to DDO’s really cool “reincarnation” mechanic, whenever a toon reaches the level cap, you can reincarnate (True Reincarnation or “TR”) them and start a new life back over at level one, gaining valuable bonuses based on your previous lives (they persist throughout multiple reincarnations).  This is a truly wonderful aspect to DDO, as anyone who’s read about my gaming experiences knows i struggle with altitis pretty regularly.  In DDO i have just the one character because, when i feel the urge to try a different class, it seems more useful to simply reincarnate as a different class than make a new, separate character.  Granted, this means i rarely ever have a toon at cap for joining guildmates in high-level content.  In fact i’ve probably only participated in a dozen raids over the last 8 years i’ve been playing DDO.  This kind of puts me in a strange place in the playerbase.  When it comes to “heroic” content – the levels leading up to post-20th level epic stuff (lumping in heroic raids here as well) – i’m pretty competent.  Self-healing, quest knowledge and experience see me through most quests with aplomb.  Considering i solo-play almost exclusively as well, i can handle myself confidently in that sort of content.  But throw me in a raid or EE content and i’m more likely to be piking or riding around in someone’s backpack.

This most recent spat of playing found me picking up on the tail end of Schir’s third life as a sorcerer.  Since stackable past life bonuses cap out at three, i won’t need to replay this class except for fun, which the sorcerer most certainly has been for me.  Actually, up until my first time playing the class, i’ve never in my life been much interested in spellcasters.  But boy, slinging magic around as an Air Savant was a watershed moment for me and now i love spellcasters.  Initially, i only took the class to beef up an eventual return to my favorite class, the artificer.  Three sorcerer, three ranger, three druid was the plan – that way Schir’s spells, crossbow damage output and pet would be considerably more powerful.  The plan to return to and stick with artificer is still in motion, and i’m currently on a third druid life as well…but i think i’ll try out a wizard next and probably get three of those under my Planar Gird as well.  Playing MMOs solo has really taught me the benefit of “pet classes” who get built-in minions, and the wizard Pale Master gets a neat Skeletal Knight minion that i think i’ll enjoy quite a bit.  Normally, i play pure classes (no multiclass) but i think i’ll dip into rogue for that one so i can handle traps and get the hella-useful evasion ability.

As to the non-character-specific aspects of DDO that set it apart from my experiences with other MMOs, the instanced quests make a huge difference.  You won’t find any of the sort of standard “fetch” quests that keep the XP trickling in by collecting firewood for the farmer or killing five spiders in the basement or whatever.  Quests in DDO are static, and every time you run them you’ll find the same mobs milling about the same places, fixed traps and treasure and so forth.  While i can’t speak for everyone, there was a point in my DDO career when i considered this to be tedium.  Where’s the challenge and excitement of discovery?  Well, truth be told, once i turned the corner of my perspective, it became clear to me that the challenge is not in what is presented to you, but rather in what you present to the quest.  Take, for example, The Lost Seekers quest chain – more commonly known as Water Works.  A series of four quests in the 3-4 level range, at one time this was a big undertaking for low level parties that had great payoffs in XP and loot.  Way back in the day, it represented something a full party would take on when they had ample time on their hands, a well-rounded group and plenty of resources.

These days, at least for multiple TR toons like Schir, Water Works is something i do almost straight off the boat from Korthos and it takes about 20 minutes for the whole shebang.  Granted, Schir has inflated stats and twink gear out the wazoo, plus there’s things like hirelings and guild airship buffs that make it quite difficult to be killed.  But during my most recent low-level runs it occurred to me that’s where part of the fun of this game lies. The content isn’t necessarily new or surprising, but the character approach to it is different each time based on power you’d accumulated since the last time.  What i mean is that, each trip around on the TR train, i notice that i can handle a higher level of content at the elite level and accomplish the quest goals a little quicker, a little better and a little more efficiently.  So for me, as a solo player, it’s rewarding to get the sense of achievement when i can realize i can handle, say, The Phiarlan Carnival line all on elite, or Stormcleave Outpost.

There is a caveat to all of this however, and it’s something i’ve noticed emerge in the forums over the past few years: the gap between veteran players and newcomers to DDO continually widens.  A perfect example of this was my afore-mentioned Water Works run.  For shiggles, when i entered the quest i left it open to the public.  Figuring that if anyone wanted to jump in, they could tag along either to pike or whatever – i was going to blow through it myself anyway.  Once i was on the second part of it, in popped a random fighter, and then a sorcerer.  Greetings were made, and i continued onward.  After a moment, one of them asked if we could repeat part one and i said sure, but that i was going to finish this one first then we could return.  The next thing i know, i hear the distinctive *ding!* that tells me uh-oh, someone just died (they both did, actually).  Before i could get back to their soul stones and even see what killed them, since i’d cleared a path already, they both ragequit on me for zerging.  At that moment i realized one of the flaws that keeps DDO from continuing to grow their playerbase – new players are met with veterans at early levels and simply cannot hope to keep up.  But for us veterans, it’s painful to take these quests slowly because to us, they’re rote and very easy to beat.  We’re just doing them for the quick XP to level up and get to the really fun stuff.  But to a new player, their experience of wonder and awe gets a little squashed when a single toon can rush into a room and defeat everything in sight before they even realize what’s going on.

Another drawback to DDO, again based on my multiple MMO experience, is the story-telling aspect.  In fact, a recent forum post by Gamer Geoff posed the question of whether DDO was drifting further from it’s source material, the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons RPG.  There were some interesting points made, and my contribution was that it was missing the interactivity between the characters and the story.  Only sometimes, but rarely at that, do you get the sense that your character is making a difference or affecting the story in any meaningful way.  Even if you read the NPC dialogue which, come on, not many people do, more often than not you come off as just a straight-up mercenary doing not-so-heroic things for loot.  Sometimes there’s an intricate story to the quest…sometimes too intricate in my opinion.  Take the Stormreaver for example – i’ve been playing DDO since 2006 and i still have no idea what the deal is with that guy.  Either way, it doesn’t make any difference what dialogue choices you make as a player, the end is always the same – you either take the quest or you don’t. In contrast, look at Star Wars: The Old Republic.  That game has a fantastic story, one which is tailored to each of the game’s 8 classes and features superb voice acting for each of the possible 16 characters (male and female of each class).  For the most part, the story is linear and static, but thanks to Bioware’s consistent dedication to rich storytelling, you do get the sense that your character is a vibrant part of the story, making choices and developing a personality along the way.  In DDO, not so much.

All of this is part and parcel to what i originally made claim to though, that there is no perfect game out there (at least that i’ve discovered yet).  By perfect, i mean one that contains all the traditional aspects of MMO gaming that would please everyone all of the time.  Each one i’ve tried has lots of things i like, but lots of things i don’t enjoy, too.  Some games have excellent crafting systems, like FFXI and FFXIV – both of which blow DDO’s multiple craft systems and awful Cannith Crafting out of the water.  Others have astounding storytelling and terrific mini-games like SWTOR with it’s voice-acting, varietal PvP and Galactic Starfighter.  Still others impress with their dedication to source material like Marvel Heroes and Star Trek Online.

But all of that aside, i keep returning to the DDO.  Perhaps it’s because of my decades of love for Dungeons & Dragons as an intellectual property (except for that abysmal movie).  Maybe it’s because of the investment i’ve made in Schir Gold.  Possibly it’s because of all the friends i’ve made both in and out of the game through my guild and fellow bloggers.  But if i really think about it though, it’s mostly the actual gameplay itself.  Despite lag problems and a huge list of known bugs that includes the infamous “ladder bug,” i actually haven’t played another game that allows you to move, jump, climb and fight while on the run while playing the most customizable characters you can imagine, all while interacting with classic D&D myths and monsters in a persistent world.  Over the years, i’ve watched as the Harbor was destroyed and rebuilt, the Marketplace tent was blown to smithereens, walls were split asunder and portals to other worlds were opened.  The landscape changes, and throwaway NPCs milling around the common areas sometimes return in more vital roles later on.

But the quests remain the same, and offer you a chance to test whatever skills and treasure you’ve acquired each go-around, gaining new tricks and gear for whatever your next life holds.  And with that, the scheduled downtime is complete.  Time to go a-hunting for some wizard gear i can use on my next life.

A Secret Wars Apologist

Like this writer, Secret Wars was maybe the first comics I ever collected. I never knew it was considered gimmicky or a joke though. To me as well, it was an introduction to all the big names (heroes anyway) and a fantastic story with good drama. Bad guys were pretty lame though. I did like Klaw, Molecule Man and Kang though. Too bad that last one got chumped out toot sweet. And of course Doom, who got hisself torn apart but still one-upped The Beyonder! Issue #10 still one of my favorite covers of all time.
And yes, I also had all the figures and the Doom Wheel, which always made me think of the Wonder Wheel from Richard Pryor’s “The Toy.”
With the ease of conjuring issues of yesterday on digital apps, or probably in your local comic shop’s sale bin, if you have the means I highly recommend picking this up. It’s so choice.
Now as for Secret Wars II…

Bringing the chickens home to roost, part four

…and the last one:

Digital Pull List: Moon Knight

Just like it’s titular character, the newMoon Knight series by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire proves that no matter how often Marc Spector is left for dead, he’ll keep getting back up. Now three issues deep into his sixth official ongoing series, under the Marvel NOW! imprint, the Fist of Khonshu is experiencing another unique rebirth under the deft hands of his creative team.

Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

Moon Knight #1 cover by Declan Shalvey

The last time Moon Knight starred in his own book was the 12-issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev that ran from May 2011 until April 2012, and is one of the cornerstones of my digital collection. Say what you will about Bendis’ lengthy prose, for my money his best work has been done paired with Maleev’s phenomenal art, a collaboration first seen in their four-year run onDaredevil described by IGN as “one of the greatest creative tenures in Marvel history.” Their run on Moon Knight I felt was equally impressive, breaking new ground by letting Marc Spector really own his psychoses and use them to his advantage. In what I see as a current trend in comics generally, creators are frequently free to present their stories in these sorts of maxi-series, a trend that really allows for some terrific storytelling without getting bogged down in keeping a narrative running solely for the sake of continuing a monthly title.

Daredevil #26 cover by Alex Maleev

I first became aware of the new Moon Knight series through some promo pages that showed Moonie’s new costume – a three-piece suit and tie job complete with gloves and dress shoes, his entire head covered in a white cowl with a crescent moon symbol but sans cloak – all in stark white. Although his duds has seen a fair amount of modification over the years, this was certainly the biggest departure from his standard look. If I’m honest, the whole concept of superhero costumes is one I’m frequently skeptical of to begin with, so my impression of the unusual choice was a hearty “good for you, Warren Ellis, to hell with spandex!” My favorite superheroes have always been the street level guys anyway, and Moon Knight in particular has been a favorite since the Moench/Sienkiewicz run that started in 1980 which, as I peruse a gallery of the covers, I realize my brother had the entire run of the series. Damn, wish those issues were still packed in a milk crate in the attic!

Moon Knight volume 1, issue #7 cover by Bill Sienkiewicz – this one has always stuck out in my memory.

The first issue of Ellis’ run has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Shavley’s art that perfectly balances a look of realism with just enough comic-bookishness so that it doesn’t look silly because, let’s face it – in real life costumes would look pretty goofy for the most part. More than that, though, the art is very impressionistic and flows more like film cuts from an true piece of cinema rather than a summer blockbuster. The way a warm New York day cuts to a still Manhattan night on page one, followed by the way page 2 draws you deeper into the shadows of the city’s dark alleys on page two sets the stage perfectly for Moon Knight’s latest iteration as a hero who is grounded in the streets.

In fact, this time around find Spector working as a sort of consultant for an NYC police detective – a smart move for both him and the book itself that lends an air of realism to the whole affair instead of the standard “long vigilante” path that heroes typically follow. While assessing a crime scene, Spector’s skills as a soldier and crime-fighter are put on display, something I particularly enjoyed reading as a huge fan of procedural crime shows that is often omitted in usual superhero fare. The short scene also addresses a vigilante’s place in the world, when one of the beat cops questions his presence there as a civilian and he explains that the safety of the officers themselves in his concern – not just punching bad guys until they stop whatever they’re up to for the time being. The climax of the story shows off a bit of the tactician in Moon Knight that let’s him keep his whites white, too – no mean feat considering a confrontation deep below the streets in Manhattan’s old sewer tunnels.

The epilogue to issue one adds a nice bit of introspection as well, giving a glimpse inside the head of our hero that raises all sorts of questions that hopefully Ellis will have plenty of time to answer.

Quickly following up my read of the debut issue with the following one, I was at first a little confused. The first eight of 22 pages sets up a great narrative mystery that felt strangely devoid of the title character but certainly shows Ellis and Shavley’s bold approach to using white space. In fact, I felt like Shavley was really flexing his artistic muscles here, sacrificing art space to instead move the story along with powerful imagery.

When Moon Knight finally makes an appearance, we see him descending into the city decked out in a variation of his traditional costume, and for the rest of the read I was actually wondering if I’d snagged the wrong book because it was a big departure from the previous issue’s ambiance. It is worth noting that, again speaking to the strong sense of realism in the series so far, Ellis is not afraid to have his hero get injured by conventional weaponry during a drawn-out fight sequence with the issue’s bad guy and Shavley does an excellent job of showing that the cuts, bruises and gunshot wounds these character suffer aren’t just something they shrug off and keep going. The issue wraps up neatly with a mysterious non-costumed but still very dangerous character that, like last issue’s ending, sows the seeds for further storytelling down the line.

Going for the hat trick, I dove right into the next and latest issue #3, and that’s where the series really started to take shape for me. I will admit that it seemed a little short despite the standard 22 pages, but to that end I’ll credit Shavley’s art for pulling me along for a ride that takes you deeper into both Marc Spector’s psyche and the world he’s living in these days.

Issue #3 is essentially a ghost story, and about halfway through I experienced ana-ha moment when it occurred to me what I think Ellis is doing with this series. First, we had crime-fighting detective Moon Knight. Then soldier superhero Moon Knight. And now supernatural investigator Moon Knight.

Ellis is taking his time with each issue to craft small tales that allow Moon Knight to explore all of the many aspects of his personality (or personalities?) that we’ve seen throughout his career. In this way, I feel like this is a true reinvention of the character that kind of breaks the fourth wall for fans by having Marc Spector recognize all the phases his gone through and giving him the presence of mind to select the proper one for each job…except that we see when he’s all alone at home, maybe there’s more to it than that, as his longtime benefactor the Egyptian god Khonshu seems to be guiding him. That’s actually one of the things I’ve always liked best about the character – the ambiguous notion of some otherworldly deity that as far as I know has never really been confirmed as real (at least in the comic universe).

Another thing I’m digging about this series is the heretofore lack of established villains or even newly created costumed supervillains. I like the niche Ellis is carving for Moon Knight as a hero who is really taking ownership of his oddball place in the greater world of superheroes he operates in by taking on cases that slip through the cracks.

Like other titles in the Marvel NOW! and Infinite Comics imprints, Moon Knight has really grabbed my attention for the innovative way it’s treating the stories and characters, and I’m definitely keeping this on my digital pull list. If you’ve ever been a fan of Moon Knight, I say with confidence you won’t be disappointed by this title. And maybe go back and check out the Bendis/Maleev run while you’re at it – you can get the whole 12-issue run for $18 or so on the Marvel Comics App and start your own digital library.

Bringing the chickens home to roost, part three

One more…

Digital Pull List: Magneto

In less than two weeks, on May 23, comics fans and film-goers will pack the theaters to see a movie boasting not one, but two different portrayals of Marvel’s Master of Magnetism when X-Men: Days of Future Past is released. But long before Michael Fassbender reprisal of his charming, enthralling version of Magneto fromX-Men: First Class and decades before Gandalf lent his gravitas to the role, the X-Men’s oldest foe earned his iron-clad place as one of comicdom’s greatest villains by maintaining always at least a tiny shard of sympathy for his plight. Created during the height of America’s Civil Rights movement, it was never a secret that Mags and his nemesis Charles Xavier (Professor X) were analogs of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively. Both leaders amongst their own communities of marginalized and discriminated people – in their cases, mutants in the Marvel Universe.

Cover of X-Men #1 by Jack Kirby

Cover of X-Men #1 by Jack Kirby

Now, me personally, I’ve never considered Magneto to be purely villainous. He’s surely perpetrated his fair share of evil deeds, and that’s expected for a comic book bad guy because let’s face it, if they didn’t regularly cross accepted moral lines then there’d be more than a few of them who aren’t any worse than their heroic counterparts. And of course, there’s always The Punisher argument of why that lunatic falls on the side of the angels.

Nevertheless, though it’s certainly not a precedent for a supervillain to have their own book, it says something when the occasional antagonist stars in their own monthly comic. And I immediately felt the strong attraction when I spotted Magneto #1 while browsing the Marvel Comics app on my tablet, irresistibly drawn as if by one of the Fundamental Forces of Nature.

Magneto #1 cover by Paolo Rivera

The striking cover image that launched the series in March does an excellent job of conveying a few things about Magneto. For anyone familiar with the character’s history, the barbed wire impression of his infamous helmet really speaks to his origins in the concentration camps of Nazi-controlled Poland during WWII. It also serves a story purpose, too. With his powers diminished, Magneto is forced to act behind the scenes, noting in issue #1 that people around the world recognize him more by his helmet than anything else. With his current quest of taking a proactive role in protecting mutantkind, he is forced to act more clandestinely and to that end, stripped of much of his power and all his former resources, he travels the country using his non-mutant moniker Max Eisenhardt (roughly translated to “Iron Hard” in German – clever!).

The first issue of the series finds Magneto holed up in a gritty motel room with a conspiracy-theorist’s map of the U.S. complete with newspaper clippings and pinned yarn connecting various events linked to anti-mutant sentiment. Perhaps it’s Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art combined with the aged anti-hero archetype that makes it so reminiscent of Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns, and I was right away keyed in to his self-appointed crusade to do something about his species’ situation. Although I grew up reading a smattering of X-Men comics in the 80s, it wasn’t until recent years that I really came to appreciate the grand and humanistic struggle faced by Marvel’s homo superiors and their saga has mutated into one of my favorite comic book stories. I particularly like how most mutants consider their “superhero” names and costumes to be their “real” selves, and that their choices are more informed simply by their genetic lot in life, as opposed to traditional hero motivations of doing what’s right, beings an example to humanity or acting with great responsibility for their great power.

In Magneto’s book, most currently on issue #3, the Master of Magnetism has uncovered a literally underground movement to recreate the Omega Sentinel program using a salvaged Master Mold. This investigative story frequently features flashbacks to Magneto’s past, including the aforementioned Nazi occupation, and deftly shows not only how his past informs his present, but also helps explain his philosophies and ruthlessness throughout his life. At times though, it leaves me wondering if he is perhaps a bit shortsighted in seeing that his actions often imitate the brutality that was perpetrated upon himself, and I hope this is addressed in future issues – of which I hope there are many!

In the meantime, Magneto will definitely remain on my digital pull list, and whether you get your comics at your favorite mortar-and-brick shop or your favorite mobile app, I highly recommend this book. It’s a sophisticated look into one of comics’ greatest characters treated in a very realistic way. I especially like how, even with his diminished power, he is still cunning enough to stay one step ahead of his enemies and the S.H.I.E.L.D agents pursuing him. It’s also a very cool gimmick when the time comes for confrontation how he fashions makeshift helmets out of nearby metal, instantly instilling fear by the realization that this heretofore gritty old man is actually the feared Master of Magnetism.