Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm not quite sure what to make of this

So, I was on campus the other day and stopped in the student-run snack bar/coffee shop for a bite to eat. The counter attendant/barista was wearing a pretty cool T-shirt and she let me take a picture:

At first I thought it was band merch, given the design; I saw a list of cities in the word balloon that could have represented the tour. But then I found out that La Notte is just a service mark of Aritzia Apparel and the design was probably random; they seem to do a lot of hip, Urban Outfitters type of design, with lots of BROOKLYN and such.

This looks to me like old Kirby artwork. In particular, the woman reminds me a lot of his Sif. The man seems a little more generic, but I do recall that style of helmet on The Guardian.

Let's look a little closer.

A quick Googling tells me that whoever these folks are, the man is reciting the chorus to rap/hip-hop artist Frank Ocean's Lost, a song about a drug mule.

Well, that doesn't help clear it up at all.

Any guesses? Or just total randomness?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Figure follow-up

So, a couple of years ago I posted about finding some Hebrew Heroes at Value Village. I was walking through the other day and found some guys that looked awfully familiar:

While the design and coloring seem pretty close, there are differences: for example, all these guys have gray bases, while the Israelites had no base or a partial brown base. Further, these guys don't have butt-stamps with their individual names, like Joshua and Judah did - the first two just have "Egyptian" stamped on the underside of the bases, and the crusader figure is totally unmarked.

(On a side note, it was interesting that these guys had been disarmed somewhere along the way...  a pacifist parent, perhaps?)

I am still no closer to uncovering the background of these figures, other than to note that these are from the Marx toy company (which went out of business 35 years ago and now just runs a museum). I imagine an old toy series called "Religious Wars and Warriors throughout History," or something like that, with all sorts of figures representing different sectarian conflicts. Collect 'em all!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Die hard

So, in my D&D (actually Pathfinder) game the other night, someone had occasion to roll a D3 - a three-sided die - and it brought up an age-old discussion. Well, not age-old, but ongoing.

My buddy John, the DM, traditionally uses a D6 as a D3, and assigns the values this way:

So, a roll of one or two means a result of one, a roll of three or four means a result of two, and roll of five or six means a result of three. This doesn't make any sense to me. Not only do rolls outside the range of results represent a different number (seeing a four, I must interpret a two) but rolls within the range of results also represent a different number (a two does not mean two even though two is an acceptable result). Everything except a roll of one means something different from what is showing, and the relationship is not constant: six means three less than showing, but five means two less than showing.

It makes much more sense to me to do it this way:

So, rolls of one, two, and three mean results of one, two, and three - if they come up, no interpretation required. Any roll over three gets three subtracted and that's the result - a consistent modification. I just get my head around this better.

Now, my buddy John is a generous DM, so he has a house rule that we only use the "top half" of Hit Point ranges when leveling up. For example, if you were leveling up a wizard, you would use a D6, but calculate the results like this:

This is my method for the D3, only in reverse: the high numbers - four, five, and six - mean what they show; rolls of three or under all get three added to them. In addition to being generous, it is consistent and easy to calculate. If we did the HP the same we did the D3, it would look like this:

Again, only one roll - the six - would mean what it said. To reiterate, we don't do it this way.

I can't understand why the HP roll seems logical but applying the same method to the D3 roll seems counter-intuitive - not just to John, but to many players. Maybe it's a D&D tradition of which I am not aware?

Anyway, I try to avoid the while thing as often as possible by using one of these:

Yeah, an actual D3. Not with three sides, of course, just D6 with 1-2-3 repeated twice on the faces. No muss, no fuss. I also have a binary die, a D6 with 0-1 repeated three times. (That's just showing off, though.)

So all this thinking about using one die for another got me thinking: I could replace the standard D6 and D4 with modified D12s. Instead of going 1 to 12, repeat 1-6 twice and 1-4 three times on the faces:

Or maybe we just do a little telescoping: 
  • use a D20 for D20 and D10
  • use a D12 for D12 and D6
  • use a D8 for D8 and D4
  • use a D6 for D3 and D2

I think I smell a kickstarter....

Polyhedral dice trivia: people think D12 is the outcast because she is used so infrequently, 
but the D10 is the only one that is not a Platonic Solid and he gets a lot of grief from the other dice over that.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

5x5 Theatre Review: Kavalier & Clay

So, I went to Book-It Theatre last night with buddy Margaret to see their adaptation of The Amazing Adventures of Kavlaier & Clay. What is Book-It? Here it is in their own words:
Book-It creates world-premiere adaptations of classic and contemporary literature for the stage, preserving the narrative text as it is spoken, not by a single “narrator” but as dialogue by the characters in the production. This technique [...] allows the Book-It theatre experience to spark the audience’s interest in reading and to challenge the audience to participate by using their imaginations. Book-It’s unique style of acting and adapting books is trademarked, known as the Book-It Style™.
I did not know that it was trademarked. Anyway...

1. The production was four hours long: a five-hour running time with two ten-minute intermissions and a forty-minute dinner break. We were there from just before 6 pm to just after 11 pm. Despite this, huge swaths of the novel were cast aside, and the adaptation focused on two themes: Joe Kavalier Hates Germans and Sammy Clay Is Gay. As a result, the play moves along briskly and the evening never felt a lag.

2. The lead actors were excellent. David Goldstein captured Sammy's alternating bravado and self-loathing perfectly. Frank Boyd made an engaging Joe, thin and intellectual and sad, although he did have to resist the urge to act with his accent. Opal Peachey was a lovely young surrealist Rosa (and Luna Moth in a fantasy sequence) but really shone as older, bitter, weary suburban Rosa. The huge cast of characters was presented by an ensemble; only a few of the multiple-roles were occasionally jarring.

3. The scenic design and costumes were minimalist and presentational but serviceable, if nothing extraordinary. Two elements didn't work for me: one, the art that was shown enlarged as Joe would draw something just wasn't good enough - Joe is supposed to have a very delicate, professional drawing style influenced by his fine art training, and the images that were supposedly his were not bad, just cartoonish. In addition, the stagehands were in costume as they changed props and sets; it was a bit distracting, especially when they did not join the scene as extras.

4. Everybody in attendance seemed to have a favorite scene or line and were either pleased or disappointed to find its inclusion or absence. I was glad to find the What is the Why? scene fully intact, along with its Do Mine Next follow-up in the Rat Hole; on the other hand, Margaret was disappointed that the extended Antarctic sequence was truncated and presented mostly symbolically and with little detail. Surprisingly, the Golem of Prague is mentioned only a few times, and is never a presence in the story at all.

5. The play seemed of two minds about showing superheroes, the genre and fad that the play is set within. I mentioned that Luna Moth's origin story is indeed portrayed; Sammy's Dad, the circus strongman Mighty Molecule, also makes an early appearance in an awesome costume, foreshadowing the whole trope. But while the origin of the Escapist is acted out by all the characters in a fantasy tableau, just like with Luna Moth, the depiction ends before Tom Mayflower dons his costume. The only time we see the Escapist costume is when Joe wears it in the Empire State Building scene toward the end. The lack of an appearance, either in an enlarged image or in a fantasy sequence, by the character that drives the boys' fortunes seems a pretty odd omission, and it left quite a hole in the narrative for me.

Overall, a worthwhile production and a great night at the theatre.

Bonus Material

In the lobby of the theatre, they had erected a display educating the audience not about the book, but about comic themselves. Here's what it looked like:

I had some quibbles with the setup. The display seemed to read from left to right, but the chronology was off. They didn't distinguish between comic books and strips clearly, and some of the facts seemed incorrect. It was still a nice touch.

Good sense of history: pre-Batman Detective Comics.

Bonus points for using material from obscure publishers, not just the Big Two.

Mad props for including the original Red Tornado.

Charlie Brown, Sandman, and Doc Savage: an example of the odd chronology.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rumination and a Query

So, while I was looking for something else entirely, I came across this image on someone's genealogy blog. I was of course intrigued by the Seattle connection. The attribution said the image came from the Tuesday, March 5, 1940 edition of The Seattle Daily Times (now just the Seattle Times) and I was hoping that it was a teaser for an appearance by a Superman actor at a department store or amusement park. I was so intrigued that I paid to have access to the full article: it turned out that the story was a promotion for the Superman comic strip, which was to begin running in the newspaper the following Monday.

The most fascinating characteristic of the article is that the writer had to explain who Superman was. Here are some excerpts from the piece, starting with the opening:

The writer continues with a short summary of the origin story, with "Jor-L" predicting Krypton's doom, the infant in the rocket, and the Kansas orphanage. He closes with this:

What struck me was how new it all was. Superhero was not yet a genre - this strip called "Superman" was still an 'exciting adventure strip.' There are no clich├ęs yet, no tropes, no stereotypes: a cape, a mask, and a secret identity had not yet become trite or been reduced to shorthand emblems; [fill-in-the-blank]-man jokes were not the commonplace they are now. The whole genre was still being created. If I created a new superhero comic strip and had it syndicated today (miracle though that would be) the strip would be described as such, in those words, and the character would probably compared to anther superhero. (Metropolis has Superman, Gotham has Batman - and Bigtown has Captain Fireworks!)

This familiarity has in-story effects as well having a real-world, social dimension. Not only were these types of stories new to the readers, but these types of heroes were new to the other characters in the stories. A tough cookie like Lois Lane could be shocked, confused, or mystified by a seemingly normal person with extra-normal abilities - especially one wearing a costume and purporting to be an altruistic do-gooder. But now, 75 years after Superman came to Seattle, we've all read about or heard about or seen superheroes, and it is hard to imagine a fictional world in which people haven't. In 1978, the classic "You've got me - who's got you?!" line from Superman - The Movie was clever enough for us to forget that the idea of being surprised by a superhero was already wearing a bit thin. By last year's Man of Steel, it really required a willing suspension of disbelief to go with the idea that no one in the 21st century had any familiarity with the concept of super-powered people - or alien invasions.

Because we have a similar problem in other genres. How could anyone not recognize a mothership now, or at least be familiar with the concept? If an alien invasion happened for real, our population (at least the industrialized, hollywooded world) would have all sorts of cultural narrative contextualizing their response - how can we accept movie people reacting any differently? Same for zombie movies: can anyone watch a zombie movie now and believe that the characters have never seen a zombie movie?

The downside of this can be a kind of hermetically-sealed narrative: in superhero comics, there are in-story comics about real superheroes, police departments have metahuman squads, alien civilizations have embassies, and government agencies register superheroes: every cultural facet is accounted for. Alternatively, the stories become cutely self-referential: a superhero who is real in the narrative is compared in dialog to another fictional character who is fictional in that reality; characters allude to Star Wars and E.T. whenever movie aliens invade; and zombie movie characters make in-joke references to other zombie movies. I guess I miss the idea that something fantastical could actually be new, to both me and the characters in the story. But other than setting a story in a historical period before the rise of these genre tropes, I'm not sure how to do that.

The saying goes that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I guess you also never get a second chance to be the first superhero.


PS: On July 5th, when there hadn't been a post in this blog for a week, I got five or six times my usual hits. What the what?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

5x5 Movie Review: Maleficient = Magnificent

Maleficent - directed by Robert Stromberg, starring Angelina Jolie, Disney Studios

1. I saw Angelina Jolie in the 1998 film Playing by Heart, in which she delivered one of my top ten favorite scenes from all movies and I was convinced that she was one of the greatest actresses of all time. I liked her as much in this as I did after seeing that, despite everything that has happened in between.

2. Revisiting and revising fairy tales is all the rage right now, from comics' Fables to television's Once Upon a Time, and Maleficent could easily be placed on that band wagon. The film has such intelligence and grace, and was so well-written, that it rises above the merely trendy and stands on its own as a great film.

3. The writing has some wonderful, delicate touches. Philip must pass through a wall of thorns to be joined with the Sleeping Beauty and true love's kiss is all that can break the curse, but as Alan Moore wrote of Batman's world in the introduction to Dark Knight Returns, "everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it's totally different."

4. The only false note in the whole affair for me was the voice-over narration, of which I could have done with a lot less. I understand its purpose in the film's ethos, I think, and it did help keep the running time down to 97 minutes (am I the only one tired of two-and-a-half hour movies becoming routine?), but at times it seemed superfluous.

5. On the other hand, the filmmakers showed great restraint with the CGI; Peter Jackson and other should take note. Fantasy lands and the clash of armies are wonderful and wondrous when they are done well, but all too often enough is not enough and the film piles on more creatures and effects that the imaginary landscapes can even support. This film paints its canvas with a wonderful, fey world and harsh iron kingdom, but never lets the fantastical get in the way of the human and the real. We remain focused on the characters, and on Jolie in particular, and that is what you really want to see, anyway.

So, go see it...