Armagideon Time

A muted implosion

August 4th, 2020

While checking my feeds this morning, I saw a twitter post from pal Greg announcing that Avengers Annual #10 hit the stands 39 years ago today.

It got me thinking — not about the story itself, which was Chris Claremont’s vituperative response to the extremely grotesque send-off Carol Danvers got in Avengers #200. The grottiness of the tale and Bullpen politics behind it have been covered in detail in many other places, Hell, I’ll even give it another go-over when I get around to writing about the own decade-digesting deep dive into the series I undertook earlier this year, but it’s not what I’m going to tackle today.

I got my copy of comic new on the stands — not in the summer of 1981, but in the final weeks of 1989. The shop where I bought it — NEC Quincy, when it was still across from the subway station — had scores of them on the bottom of the week’s new releases shelf. They were uncirculated, unbagged, and flagged with a little index card sign announcing that they were a buck a piece.

My guess is that someone at the store went long on these back during the height of speculative X-mania (The first appearance of Rogue! BUY TEN!) and the palette of comics somehow got lost in a backroom for the better part of a decade.

Space issues aside, that still doesn’t explain why the store chose to flood the market instead of doling the comics out a few at a time with progressively higher asking prices. But then I remembered that this wasn’t an isolated incident at the time.

My copy of Watchmen #1 was purchased from the same shop in the same kind of deal (only for $2 instead of $1). At the same time, a flood of previously “HOT” comics from years prior started popping up in the chain’s fifty-cents bins.

It’s where I got the early issues I missed of the “Bwah Ha Ha” Justice League and a replacement copy of The Nam #1 and the first year of Alpha Flight (which wasn’t exactly setting fandom on fire in 1989, but it was still one hell of a demotion). Even lower grade copies of less significant parts of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men run started popping up in the bins, where anything short of being shat on would’ve been wall book material just a few years before.

I’m sure it was all wrapped up in the collapse of Direct Market/Indie Comics bubble, along with fandom’s shift toward the superstar artist thing which would become the basis for the next boom & bust cycle. It makes perfect sense in hindsight, but it was mighty strange to encounter in the wild at the time.

A plague of idleness

July 27th, 2020

That was a longer than anticipated hiatus, but time in the pandemic era is a curious thing.

Measuring by the closure of the Kid’s school, the lockdown began on my birthday and has inexorably crawled forward to engulf Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the Kid’s birthday, the Fourth of July, and — most recently — a family wake and funeral (non-COVID related).

At the same time, my brain keeps waiting for “summer” to begin, using metrics hardwired into me by thirty years of attending and working at a university. We’re a stone’s throw from the beginning of August yet I am still psychically prepping for the end of May.

I live a life of routines now. I wake up, get something to eat while catching up with current apocalyptic events, then feed the animals. Then I goof off to do some minor chores before waking Maura up so she can start her daily tasks.

The late morning through afternoon are spent working from home, clearing my queues of daily tasks and staying on call for urgent action items. Then there’s lunch with the family, followed by some videogames, reading, or — most likely — a fitful nap on the sofa.

Sometimes I will get called in to assist in some bigger household project of Maura’s before dinner, which is spent in the living room watching Community on Netflix with the family. Maura and the Kid then go upstairs to do their own things, while I crash out on the sofa while streaming some badly transferred 1970s TV movie or sci-fi show via YouTube.

I regain consciousness around three in the morning, drag myself up to bed, and nod off for a couple of hours before starting the whole process over again.

This — or something close to it — would normally be my idea of a “best life.” Untethered from the world at large — the world that WAS — though, it becomes difficult to do more than simply “be.” All the grand projects (or small ones such as regularly updating this site) I’d planned to do “when I had the time” fell by the wayside once time was something I had too much of.

The above sounds a lot grimmer than I wanted it to. The fact I made the effort to write this is a positive sign. And the past four months haven’t been entirely wasted. It has allowed me to top off my idea tank to levels unseen since AT first became a thing. The “what the fuck do I have left write about” burn-out I’d been feeling is gone, replaced by anxiety over what topic I want to tackle next.

Hopefully it wont take almost three months to get there.

A message from the Kid

May 4th, 2020

Well?

Fourteen

May 3rd, 2020

You didn’t think a trivial hassle like a global pandemic would stop me from commemorating the fourteenth anniversary of this site, did you?

To be honest, it almost did. It has been just over a month since my last update, and I haven’t really missed posting here. Ideas for posts haven’t stopped coming to me, but the motivation to actualize them has been lacking.

I started to wonder if I should just officially shutter the site, but then I remembered that I still haven’t gotten around to writing my longform takes on Crisis on Infinite Earths or John Byrne’s Superman relaunch and I’ve done too much research to let those drop.

Even if the content has been thin on the ground, it’s easier to keep this venue open than to kill it and start fresh should my itch to write flare up down the line.

Anyway, I hope all of you are doing as well as can be expected in the current circumstances. Take care, stay safe, and don’t forget to check the first comment on this post.

Journal of the plague month

April 2nd, 2020

Just a small update to let you know how things are going, for the handful of you who still check in on this site.

They are going as well as can be expected, given the current circumstances. I’m working remotely from home, staying put, and trying to bee busy.

The last bit hasn’t been easy. Despite the ample free time, it has been difficult to maintain concentration or anything resembling executive function. I can barely motivate myself to indulge in the timewasters I’ve traditionally used as an excuse for not writing, much less worked up any motivation to actually write.

It’s a full 180-turn from the couple of weeks I took off last summer to get the house ready for the Kid’s arrival. I didn’t just rise to the occasion, I rose above it and knocked out dozens of long-delayed house projects, as well.

Now I find myself surrounded by a backlog of “fun” stuff I’d been putting off for a moment such as this, and finding myself vegetating in place instead.

And that’s fine, honestly. These are interesting times and the anxious dread they induce can’t be efficiently drowned out by burying myself in a grindy videogame or binge-watching some retro trash. I’ll can except a little ennui in exchange for keeping me and my own safe.

And that’s about it, really. The Kid is leaning on me to play another game of Uno with her, which involves some custom cards she wrote up whose purpose is to ensure “Pop loses.” Again, it’s a hit I’ll gladly take.

Being an almost comprehensive list (at the time of posting) of the records I’ve played on this day of COVID-19 furlough.

Air – Moon Safari (both sides)
The Cars – The Cars (both sides)
Throwing Muses – House Tornado (both sides)
X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents (both sides)
Blondie – The Best of Blondie (both sides)
The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (both sides)
Siouxsie & The Banshees – Juju (side one)

48

March 13th, 2020

Let it be known that I spent my 48th birthday on pandemic-induced furlough, eating junk food and watching the world burn.

Also, a happy birthday for fellow 313’er Mike Sterling, who owns the best dang comic shop on the planet. In fact, you should go buy something from him right now.

Recommended listening: There won’t be a birthday mix this year, because I’ve been too busy to curate one. You’ll just have to settle for this punk pop/mid revival obscurity.

Playlist of the plague days

March 12th, 2020

Being an almost comprehensive list (at the time of posting) of the records I’ve played on my first day of COVID-19 furlough.

Air – Moon Safari (both sides)
Apollo 440 – “Can’t Stop the Rock” (12″ extended 440 mix)
Chemical Brothers – Exit Planet Dust (side one)
Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes (side four)
Various Artists – Indie Top 20: Volume IX (side one, the “Madchester side”)
Mazzy Star – So Tonight I Might See (side one)
The Pogues – Red Roses for Me (both sides)
Various Artists – Radio Active (1982 K-Tel compilation, both sides)
Tubeway Army – Replicas (both sides)
The Clash – The Clash (US version, both sides)

All my AROOOO-dy friends

March 5th, 2020

And before you jump into the comments and ask, Johnny Cash is canonically a vampire.

Blood from a stone

March 4th, 2020

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Mines of Bloodstone AD&D module was a big deal when it dropped in 1986.

Dragon Magazine hyped the heck out of its high-level level play parameters, which went beyond even the demigod-slaying action of the classic The Queen of the Demonweb Pits. My geeky teen self was not immune to this hard sell, which is why Mines was one of the few official adventure supplements I bought for full retail price back when spending money was scarce.

The badass novelty of the product was reason enough, the same way crappy-ass horror movies on VHS or laughably “transgressive” heavy metal music could bypass my flimsy adolescent male quality filters. I didn’t even have a regular group of players at the time of purchase, much less ones with suitably powerful characters. It was something to “ooh” and “ahh” over and use as an inspiration for some derivative homebrew adventures.

The marketing angle of a high-level AD&D scenario (or promised campaign) obscured the deeper question of whether such a thing was actually feasible or what shape it ought to take. Coming from outside the TSR bubble, John Saunders didn’t mince words on the matter in his White Dwarf review of Mines of Bloodstone.

If I’d read his takedown at the time, I’d have dismissed it as some boring old fart being nasty. These days, I’m inclined to think he didn’t go far enough.

High-level play doesn’t lend itself to official RPG scenarios. Unless you’re doing a one-off using “came with the frame” characters, the number of variable to consider is staggering. Once character levels start encroaching on the lower teens, the official rules start taking a backseat to the specific group’s internal narrative. The combination of gear, spells, abilities, history, relationships (to other players, NPC, the DM, the game world in general) takes on a life of its own where number-crunching and tables become secondary to interactive storytelling. The rules are still there to provide structure when required, but the campaign’s momentum is the real engine driving events.

Effective scenarios for such groups require more than simply upscaling traditional module fare into absurd levels or dropping plot device beasties such as demon princes or the tarrasques into the mix. (Statistically speaking, I’m sure that some party has legitimately bested a tarrasque in line with the official rules, but that would be the astronomical exception to the norm…and, no, I don’t want to hear how your party once pulled it off.) By the same token, a module writer can’t account for countless permutations of “my wizard won a pocket universe from the Green God and the group’s fighter had a troll arm grafted on by a necromancer after her original arm was lost to a vorpal blade and have I mentioned our time-travelling magic carpet?”

My sole playthru of Mines of Bloodstone was the closing act of an epic session staged across a weekend of all-nighters during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. My pal Scott and Lil Bro had finished hacking their way through the Temple of Elemental Evil with their over-leveled paladin and cavalier buddy duo and were eager to kick even more ass. I pulled out Mines and let them run riot through it, with little regard for the rules or basic plot logic.

It was ludicrous exercise in adolescent male power fantasies, but that’s really all the module is really decent for.

And they loved it…although it burned the three of us out on AD&D for a while, and we spent the rest of the summer playing Champions instead.

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