Monday, March 29, 2010

Read the Guild

The first issue of Dark Horse Comics' The Guild comic book hit the stands this week, based on the popular web series about a group of MMORPG players who meet in real life. The comic feels very much like the show, which isn't overly surprising in that it's written by the creator and writer of the show, the multi-talented Felicia Day.
If you've been reading my blog for a while you already know that I'm a big fan of the series. I mean, hey, I play Lord of the Rings Online and have met several of my Kinship members in real life, so I can definitely identify with the characters on The Guild. And I love comic books. So a Guild Comic? What's not to like?
In the first issue we begin to learn how Felicia Day's character Cyd Sherman (game name Codex) first gets involved with Online gaming and how she meets the other members of her guild, The Knights of Good. It's good to get a little more background on Codex and the gang. Things that are hinted at in the show are fleshed out a bit more in the comic. And if you've watched the show you get to enjoy knowing how some of the relationships between these people are going to turn out later.
Best of all, we finally get to the see the Characters "In Game" as the show never actually shows what the Knights of Good are looking at on the screen when they are playing. If you've seen The Guild music video 'Do You want to Date My Avatar' then you have some idea of what the player's costumes look like, but the comic allows you to see, not the actors, but the actual Characters, so Vork is a massive Conan type (though still bald) and Codex is a curvy babe with flowing red hair. There are glimpses of Bladezz in the game too, but so far no Tink or Zaboo.
Anyway, if you're a fan of the show, you definitely want to read The Guild comic book. It will help tide you over until season 4 hits the Internet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Swords of Night and Day

David Gemmell's usual brand of fantasy tips over slightly into science fiction in The Swords of Night and Day, the follow up to White Wolf, which I reviewed a few posts back. Swords picks up 1000 years after White Wolf when Skilgannon the Damned awakes to find that he has been "reborn" into a new body. He's been called back from the dead by a man named Landis Khan to fulfill a prophecy by defeating "The Eternal", a seemingly immortal queen who threatens to take over the known world with her army of Beast men.
The reason I say this wanders into SF land is that there are quite a few hints that all the "magic" in the Drenai saga is actually left over science from the ancient past (possibly our world). Skilgannon has been cloned and the animal men joinings are products of genetic engineering. Things that could be satellites, solar mirrors and electric machines are all described in iron age terms. Makes for an interesting spin on Gemmell's long running series.
Druss the Legend figures in this book as well. Initially Skilgannon meets a young man named Harad who is an exact physical double of Druss, but unlike Skilgannon who has actually had his "soul" called back from the purgatory-like Void, Druss's spirit does not inhabit Harad's clone body. Presumably Druss has moved on to "The Golden Valley," the heaven of the Drenai religion. Later though, when Harad is injured, Druss voluntarily crosses over from paradise to once again fight in the world of men. As always it's good to see the Deathwalker and in this book he's young and vital again in the cloned body.
I enjoyed The Swords of Night and Day quite a bit, though like White Wolf it has a plot that rambles and probably too many supporting characters. The book has a slightly padded feel to it, as if Gemmell's editors had asked for a longer book to meet the expectations of fantasy readers raised on doorstop trilogies. Still, the length does give Gemmell time to explore the lives of all his characters.
I have said before that Gemmell was the one fantasy writer who came the closest over the years to writing sword & sorcery novels. Though he listed J.R.R. Tolkien as an influence, his books didn't feature elves or dwarves or any of the standard tropes. Gemmell took Tolkien's influence in his own direction. His heroes are much more like those of Robert E. Howard, with the short tempered, mighty Druss being much closer to Conan than Aragorn. At heart, his books are closer to Westerns than anything else. Skilgannon is much like a gun fighter with swords, and Waylander always makes me think of Clint Eastwood. Since Gemmell said one of his other major influences was Louis L'amour, I guess that's not surprising. Though the closing pages hint at a possible sequel, sadly there will be no more adventures of Druss or Skilgannon. Gemmell's untimely death has left a hole in the fantasy field that's not likely to be filled any time soon.


I was in the mood for a kung fu film this weekend so I picked up a used copy of Jet Li's Fearless. Couldn't have made a better choice really, as an interview in the DVD extra's revealed, Li has decided to make an old fashion wushu film with a minimum of wirework or CGI effects. This one's all about the brawling. Pretty much a non stop series of fights. There is a story, presumably inspired by real life events, but for the most part Fearless is a throwback to the old Shaw Brothers days of kung fu films. I kept expecting someone to call someone "You bastard!" in a badly dubbed bit of dialogue.
Oddly enough, where most films of this sort are concerned with revenge (You killed Master!), in Fearless it is the seeking of revenge that almost destroys the protagonist. His eventual redemption comes from learning that his world view was seriously flawed.
Jet Li does a great job in this one, showing that at age 42 he can still punch and kick with the best of them. There are some wire shots in Fearless, but not too many. Though I enjoy the wow factor of Matrix-like moves, I do sometimes miss the days when you knew a martial arts movie star could really do most of what you saw on the screen. As Li points out in an interview, anyone can be made to look good with wires and CGI.
Anyway, Fearless has swords and spears and tri-sectional staffs and lots and lots of hand to hand combat. Jet Li said that this would be his last martial arts film. He said that with Fearless he had said all he had to say about wushu. If that's the case he picked a winner to go out on.

Monday, March 15, 2010

White Wolf

David Gemmell's novel White Wolf is a bit different than most of Gemmell's other books in that it favors character study over a strong central plot. Oh there's a plot, but it takes a while to get up and running and it doesn't have the narrative drive of most of Gemmell's other books. Instead Gemmell spends a long time developing a new hero, Skilgannon the Damned, taking as much time to explain how he became the man he is as showing his current adventures.
It works well and the reader comes away feeling that he really knows Skilgannon, however I did feel that the story suffered a bit and the ending seems rushed. Gemmell usually strikes more of a balance between character development and story.
Skilgannon is a former general and lover of the 'Witch Queen", who let his men and his own bloodlust get away from him, allowing a horrifying massacre that gained him the title 'The Damned'. This was partly because of the demonic influence of the two cursed swords he carries, but Skilgannon shoulders the blame and walks away from the queen. He enters a monastery and tries to become a priest but he is tormented by his past and by dreams of a white wolf.. A few years later, events and his own violent nature cause Skilgannon to again take up his swords. As a last favor to the abbot, Skilgannon agrees to escort a priest to a nearby war torn city. This brings him into conflict with dangerous creatures called joinings, men who have been mutated into were beasts. It also brings him across the path of David Gemmell's signature character, Druss the Axeman.
This book takes place ten years prior to Gemmell's first novel, Legend. Druss is almost fifty and feeling his years as he once again battles the forces of evil. Gemmell does a nice job of contrasting his two heroes. Skilgannon is conflicted about almost everything and Druss sees the world in black and white. Fans of Druss should be aware that though White Wolf is subtitled a Novel of Druss the Legend, Skilgannon occupies center stage. There's plenty of Druss though, hacking his way through scores of enemies with his double bladed axe. Even among all the character studies, Gemmell doesn't skimp on the action and those looking for lots of battles and bloodshed won't be disappointed.
Along with all this, you get Gemmell's usual ruminations of friendship, love, and personal honor. One thing I really like about Gemmell's book is that I always come away feeling slightly uplifted because there's always at least one (and usually more than one) character who's trying to do the right thing just because it's the right thing to do. Gemmell's heroes often pay a high price for behaving honorably but they don't give up or back down.
This book came out in 2004 and its sequel, The Swords of Night and Day, in 2005. I read White Wolf in hardback, but somehow missed the sequel. I have it here and will probably leap into it while the events of White Wolf are still fresh in my mind.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dead Eyes

Wednesday after work I met my father, my uncle, my brother, and my brother's youngest son at a new shooting range. My nephew had been pestering my uncle to let him shoot one of his automatic weapons so my uncle showed up with his M-16. I should note here that my uncle has long held a Federal Fire Arms License and he's licensed to own fully automatic weapons.
My brother brought his Glock .40 (which I gave him) and I brought my trusty Smith & Wesson .357. We were a well armed bunch.
It had been a while since I'd gone shooting but I still managed to keep all my patterns tight. My brother, who has always been a good shot, also was in good form. My uncle, a lifelong gun enthusiast, is also an excellent shot and so is my father. This was my nephew's first time firing a handgun or a rifle and as it turned out he also did very well. Makes me wonder if eye-hand coordination is a hereditary. Everybody in my crew can shoot.
In fact, that reminds me of two Christmases ago when the same nephew got a compound bow. He wanted me to go out in the back yard and watch him shoot it, so we went out to where they had a target set up. After he showed off a bit, he asked me if I'd like to try it. Now I probably hadn't shot a bow in twenty years, but I took the compound bow and placed my first arrow in the bull's-eye. My nephew was stunned to say the least.
Anyway I had a great time. I don't get to hang out with my dad and uncle much nowadays, but when I was a kid I spent all kinds of time with the two of them, riding dirt bikes, deer hunting, camping, and just all around adventuring. Felt like old times, and having my brother and his son there just made it better.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Black Vulmea's Vengeance

I was flipping through some old comics last night and happened upon Marvel Super Special #2 The Savage Sword of Conan, which featured an all new Conan tale by Roy Thomas and John Buscema in full color. (The regular Savage Sword of Conan magazine was black and white.) I remember buying this one at Blair's Food Town back in 1975. Blair's was a locally owned supermarket and probably had the best news stand in the small town where I grew up. They got a wider variety of comics and magazine than anybody else, and even better, they never seemed to send anything back to the distributors. Comics just stayed on the spinner rack until they sold, so if you discovered a new character, like oh say...Conan, you could probably find three or four issues of the comic by digging through the spinner rack. But I digress.
The long story in SSoC was a tale of pirates and savage islanders called Revenge of the Barbarian, and Rascally Roy noted at the bottom of the splash page that it was an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story, Black Vulmea's Vengeance. I'm sure I didn't pay much attention to that in 75. Roy was constantly adapting REH's non-Conan stories into Conan tales for the comics. I'm not sure when I eventually got around to reading the original Black Vulmea story, but seeing the Conan version last night made me decide to dig out the old Berkley paperback and give it a re-read.
I'd forgotten what a straight ahead rollicking good adventure story it is. Terrence Vulmea is an Irishman and a pirate operating in the 17th century. Vulmea awakes from a night of drunken revelry to find a British ship bearing down on his own vessel. Most of Vulmea's crew are passed out drunk and Vulmea only manages to fire one shot from his deck gun before a broadside slams into his ship, knocking him out cold.
Vulmea awakes in chains, just in time to see his ship sink beneath the waves. The captain of the British ship, a man named Wentyard, turns out to be the same man who had Vulmea hanged when he was just a kid. Obviously Vulmea survived and chains or no chains, he's just about to hurl himself onto the man and crush his skull when he gets an idea for a more subtle form of vengeance and a shot at escape. Spinning a tale of fabulous treasure, Vulmea convinces Wentyard to sail to a remote island that Vulmea knows from experience is inhabited by savage tribesman.
Now if this was a tale by the sort of pulp hack that uninformed people think Howard was, that would be the whole plot. Vulmea would wreak his vengeance and be on his bloody way. Not REH, though. As the tale unfolds, events cause Vulmea to rethink his plan and in the end the title Black Vulmea's Vengeance can be interpreted in several ways.
Also those who have said that Howard could only write one character and they're all basically Conan would do well to read this story. While Vulmea is physically similar to the Cimmerian, Vulmea has a distinct personality, one more befitting a roguish pirate. He seems to be having a lot better time in his adventures than Conan usually does. He's also probably a bit more merciful than Conan.
Another thing of interest is that at several points, Vulmea mentions that he learned wood craft from the natives of North America. Howard's own Western heritage was seldom far from his mind and references to native Americans pop up in odd places now and again.
Anyway, Black Vulmea's Vengeance is a terrific story, well worth reading more than once. Some enterprising Hollywood type ought to adapt it into a film and show the Captain Jack Sparrow crowd a pirate movie with some teeth. But then again Hollywood would probably just screw it up as they appear to be doing with the new Conan film.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Hmm, March seems to be up and running and I haven't stopped by to blog. Not that much going on really. We did have some snow on Tuesday. It was fairly heavy and very pretty. I lucked out and was home on a vacation day so I didn't have to worry about getting out. I just enjoyed watching the large white flakes fall. Got about three inches, and for once it all melted instead of turning into a giant sheet of ice, so all and all a very enjoyable bit of winter weather.
Reading-wise things have been a bit slow. I re-read two of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels last weekend, Ceremony and Taming a Sea Horse. (The second title is from Robert Browning's My Last Duchess in case you were wondering.) As always, I enjoyed Parker's snappy dialog, and these early entries in the Spenser series are denser than the later books in terms of plot and characterization. Then I read David Gemmell's Winter Warriors, which was one of the few books of his that I hadn't already read. Very good, but a bit similar in plot and characters to Quest for Lost Heroes which I reviewed a few posts back. Had I been aware of that, I'd probably have waited a while to read Warriors. Oh well. Still a rollicking good adventure with lots of swordfights and action. I might do another Gemmell re-read over the weekend, but we'll see what else presents itself.
In real life, I had my yearly review at work this week. Went pretty well and I did get a raise, which is something to be thankful for in hard economic times. Otherwise, not much to report. We'll see what the weekend brings.