Friday, April 25, 2008

Favorite Movies by Year

[Based on a similar project my friend Ronny has done.]

2015
Gold:  Star Wars: the Force Awakens
Silver: The Martian
Bronze: Inside Out

2014
Gold:  Interstellar
Silver:  The Lego Movie
Bronze:  Muppets Most Wanted
(honorable mentions:  Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, X-Men: Days of Future Past)

2013
Gold:  Frozen
Silver:  The Great Gatsby
Silver:  Oz the Great and Powerful
(honorable mentions:  Warm Bodies, Monsters University)

2012
Gold: John Carter
Silver:  The Avengers
Bronze:  The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey
(honorable mentions: Brave, Lincoln, Wreck-It Ralph)

2011
Gold: The Adventures of Tintin
Silver: Kung Fu Panda 2
Bronze: Captain America: the First Avenger
(honorable mentions: The Green Hornet, The Muppets)

2010
Gold: Toy Story 3
Silver: How to Train Your Dragon
Bronze: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
(honorable mentions: Tangled, Easy A, Despicable Me)

2009
Gold: Up
Silver: Princess & the Frog
Bronze: The Invention of Lying
(Honorable mentions: Star Trek, Julie & Julia, Me and Orson Welles)

2008
Gold: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Silver: Wall-E
Bronze: Justice League: the New Frontier
(Honorable mentions: Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Iron Man)

2007
Gold: Across the Universe
Silver: Ratatouille
Bronze: Enchanted
(Honorable mentions: The Simpsons Movie, Stardust, Bridge to Teribithia)

2006
Gold: Cars
Silver: Happy Feet
Bronze: An Inconvenient Truth
(Honorable mention: V for Vendetta, Flushed Away)

2005
Gold: The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Silver: Madagascar
Bronze: Nanny McPhee
(Honorable mention: Wallace and Grommit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit)

2004
Gold: The Incredibles
Silver: Spider-Man 2
Bronze: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(Honorable mentions: The Polar Express, The Notebook)

2003
Gold: Finding Nemo
Silver: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King
Bronze: X2: X-Men United

2002
Gold: The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers
Silver: Spider-Man
Bronze: Ice Age

2001
Gold: The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring
Silver: Monsters, Inc.
Bronze: Shrek
(Honorable mentions: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, America’s Sweethearts, I Am Sam)

2000
Gold: Unbreakable
Silver: O, Brother, Where Art Thou?
Bronze: Chicken Run
(Honorable mentions: Fantasia 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

1999
Gold: Dogma
Silver: The Sixth Sense
Bronze: The Matrix
(Honorable mentions: Iron Giant, The Mummy, The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc)

1998
Gold: Shakespeare in Love
Silver: Mulan
Bronze: Ever After: a Cinderella Story
(Honorable mentions: The Mask of Zorro, There’s Something about Mary, The Truman Show)

1997
Gold: Titanic
Silver: Tomorrow Never Dies
Bronze: Liar Liar
(Honorable mentions: Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Contact)

1996
Gold: That Thing You Do!
Silver: First Wives Club
Bronze: Twister
(Honorable mention: Mystery Science Theater 3000: the Movie)

1995
Gold: Toy Story
Silver: While You Were Sleeping
Bronze: Apollo 13
(Honorable mentions: Sense and Sensibility, Pocohontas, Brady Bunch Movie)

1994
Gold: Star Trek: Generations
Silver: Forrest Gump
Bronze: It Could Happen to You
(Honorable mention: Naked Gun 33 1/3: the Final Insult)

1993
Gold:  Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Silver:  Groundhog Day
Bronze:  Dave
(Honorable mentions:  Tombstone, The Three Musketeers, Jurassic Park)

1992
Gold: A League of Their Own
Silver: Chaplin
Bronze: Aladdin
(Honorable mentions: Death Becomes Her, Howard's End)

1991
Gold:  The Rocketeer
Silver:  Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country
Bronze:  Beauty and the Beast
(Honorable mentions: Hot Shots!, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear)

1990
Gold:  Edward Scissorhands
Silver:  Hunt for Red October
Bronze:  Home Alone
(Honorable mentions: Ghost, Rescuers Down Under, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

1989
Gold:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Silver:  The Little Mermaid
Bronze:  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
(Honorable mentions: Batman, Henry V, The 'Burbs)

1988
Gold:  The Naked Gun
Silver: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Bronze: Beetlejuice
(Honorable mentions: Willow, Last Temptation of Christ, Oliver & Company)

1987
Gold: The Princess Bride
Silver: Spaceballs
Bronze: Brave Little Toaster
(Honorable mentions: Moonstruck, Roxanne, Three Men and a Baby)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Batman Archives Vol. 2 Reviewed - p. 2

Detective Comics #64. Grade: A. Easily the best Joker story in the book, in this one the Joker turns himself in and accepts a swiftly executed death sentence so that his henchmen can revive him with a serum and protect him from any further persecution for his past crimes. Reminiscent of the first Penguin appearance, the Joker frames the Batman – this time for breaking and entering his hotel room. Batman has to solve how the Joker is still leading his gang while seemingly not contacting them, and it's a puzzle nicely done. There's also a great moment when the Joker questions why he does what he does and not just unmask Batman when he keeps capturing him.

DC #65. Grade: C+. This story starts with a bizarre flashback that has Batman already active and known by the police back in 1937 (and wearing his current style of cape to boot). When we return to the present, it's so that Batman and Robin can be summoned to Commissioner Gordon's office for no other reason than to be invited on Gordon's vacation to rural Montana (or somewhere like that). Without even checking Bruce Wayne's social calendar or wondering who will protect Gotham City in their absence, Batman and Robin both agree to go (Robin even thinks this sounds "swell"). This is all a set-up for Batman to meet state trooper Tom Nolan, the cop who hates Batman. The relation between Tom and Batman is actually interesting -- Batman is shown to have a strong need for acceptance from authority figures (being hated by Tom actually gives him nightmares) and Tom doesn't just dislike Batman, he hates him enough that he starts a fistfight with Batman. The match is so one-sided, and Tom's perseverance so noble, that you're actually rooting for Tom!

DC #66. Grade: A-. The first appearance of Two-Face! It's interesting how Two-Face arrived fully formed and has been little changed over the years (except for a few temporary cures). The bit about having Two-Face scaring the movie theater audience by
projecting himself on the screen, and Batman and Two-Face fighting in front of the screen with Two-Face's giant face behind them – was a nice touch that emphasizes Two-Face's defining feature. An even better hoot, though, is that the audience is watching a Superman cartoon before that.

DC #67. Grade: C. The Penguin's third appearance, and how mediocre he's become already! He can't even try to hold his own against Batman in a fight anymore, like he could the first time around. The real problem here is how improbable the bird-based crimes in this story are. The Penguin has a falcon hidden in his umbrella and no one notices that…?

DC #68. Grade: B-. This is literally part two of #66, picking up right where it left off. There's a nice scene with Two-Face pretending to be cured so he can see his old girlfriend one more time, and a pretty good plot about one of Two-Face's gang and who he really is, but the story is otherwise bogged down with scene-chewing characters like the eccentric millionaire who builds everything out of matches. It's hard to forgive the scene of Two-Face knocking out Batman by throwing his silver dollar in Batman's face, though. And, in a scene that surely inspired a generation of boys dressing up as old ladies, Robin disguises himself as an old lady.

DC #69. Grade: C+. There's an interesting premise here of the Joker sending seemingly prank gifts to a group of businessmen that mean nothing to anyone else, but make those men very afraid. Unfortunately, the meaning behind the gifts turns out to be rather unsatisfying once revealed. Linda and Bruce spend two pages stuck on a carnival ride together while the Batman is needed, echoing the kind of domestic drama that was taking over Superman at the time. There's an odd bit of meta-humor as Batman and Robin beat the Joker right away and are struck by how odd it was that he didn't get the better of them first. The story ends with Batman and Robin chase the Joker through a war propaganda comic – I mean, an aircraft factory.

DC #70. Grade: B-. Not as goofy a read as it sounds – Carlo is a phony mind-reader who undergoes brain surgery and, because of a slip up, actually gains the ability to read minds. Sure, if he kept this quieter he could have made a safe fortune, but he goes a little nutty and starts using mind-reading for things like learning safe combinations so he can enjoy the excitement of being a cat burglar. When Batman and Robin confront him, he's got nothing until he cleverly says he knows who Batman really is, which makes Batman think about who he really is. The schtick of trying to trick a villain into disbelieving what they know of Batman's identity hadn't been invented yet, so instead Batman and Robin stoically try one last mission to stop Carlo, even though it will mean the end of their careers…unless Carlo conveniently dies. There is, however, an odd detail about Batman having a diamond bat-shaped badge that he only feels like carrying on him because this is his last case.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Batman Archives Vol. 2 Reviewed - p. 1

[Orginally shared on Superland in May 2006]

Detective Comics #51. Grade: D+. A muddled plot about crooks hiding out in a carnival is just a set-up for Robin to shine by showing he can lick any crooks – as long as they happen to be in a funhouse. Lucky none of them brought guns in with them! What really earns the low grade is the ringleader thinking he can escape Batman on a roller coaster and Batman not just waiting until the ride is over to catch him.

DC #52. Grade: C+. A nice set-up for a mystery, involving a jade box and a legendary ring, quickly derails once Batman spends a whole page beating up a dog with his fists. The last two panels are extremely word-heavy as the writer realized he had left explaining the plot until then.

DC #53. Grade: C+. I'm being generous because I like feel-good stories – Batman saves a nobody actress from killing herself and then convinces virtually all of Gotham City to pretend she's a big star to impress her parents when they are in town. Actually, the "storming of the crooks' hideout" sequence has some of the better page layouts in this volume.

DC #54. Grade: B+. These harbor pirates wouldn't be worth mentioning if not for their leader, Hook Morgan. His gimmick is just a hook for a hand, but he's a vicious fighter and nearly kills Batman – and not in the silly "Batman happens to trip and gives the villain a break" way, but almost physically overpowers Batman at a time when violence was beginning to be less realistic in the comics. That Hook Morgan never returns is a crime.

DC #55. Grade: B-. The science behind the brain burglar is hokey even for a golden age comic (Fifth columnists want a professor's brain machine and atom destroyer, apparently ignorant of truth serum and atom smashers). What is significant here is a very rare occurrence of Batman going up against fifth columnists and Nazis. The blimp battle reminded me of the Rocketeer movie.

DC #56. Grade: D+. A rare vacation adventure, here Batman and Robin go to Gulch City, where apparently everyone is nuts. First they believe that Indians used to worship stone idols, and then when the stone idol seems to come to life, the townsfolk start worshipping it and offer the mayor as a sacrifice. Inbreeding, perhaps? The saving grace is when Batman almost goes mad with worry when Robin inexplicably vanishes.

DC #57. Grade: B+. Jasper Sneed is a man with a million dollars and an exotic poison in his body that will kill him in 24-hours. Driven insane by the poison, Sneed decides to use his money to kill off the family that longs to inherit it. The characters are stock B-movie characters to go along with a B-movie plot – even the butler did it – though once the butler's real identity is revealed the story ends on a nice twist.

DC #58. Grade: B+. The first appearance of the Penguin! It's interesting to see how the Penguin was originally intended – as Batman's physical equal despite his comical appearance. I had also read before, so was not surprised to see, that the Penguin was a cold-blooded killer when he debuted, offing the gang boss that the Penguin had slowly replaced from within the gang. The Penguin goes by the name of Mr. Boniface in this story, but it's pretty clearly an alias and not his real name. The plot about framing Batman is actually pretty good.

DC #59. Grade: C+. It's the Penguin's second appearance and already he's starting to wear out. The Penguin's scheme this time is much less inspired (perhaps purposely meant to contrast with his high-brow personality) as he turns in crooked hoboes for the reward money, then frees them, and splits the reward money with them. It also just gets old so quickly watching crooks that should be smarter choose not to shoot Batman when they have the upper hand. The Penguin opts for the drama of a sword fight at the end.

DC #60. Grade: C+. This is a pretty good story, but not a great Joker story or even a very good Batman story. The scheme is that crooks are masquerading as uniformed public servants at each crime. Instead of punching out the Joker at the post office, Batman pushes stamps in his face because it goes with the pun he's delivering. The Joker is acting smarter than the heroes here, throwing money out of his getaway vehicle so kids will fill the street and stop the Batmobile from catching up to him. In a scene that surely inspired a generation of cross-dressers, Robin dresses up like a girl to hide from the Joker and his henchmen.

DC #61. Grade: A. One of the first comic books I ever owned was one of those Batman 100-page reprint volumes that came out in the early `70s. I still have it, but it's missing part of the book including the first half of this story – "The Three Racketeers." I like to think my good review of it is not based entirely on nostalgia, but I really do think it's one of the smarter stories in this volume, with crooks coming up with clever schemes that might have worked. Because there are three stories here and three villains, the pacing is much tighter than usual and Batman makes no careless blunders that pad out the story. I find Prof. Post and his lethargy serum the most intriguing adversary for Batman and think it's a shame he or his invention have never returned.

DC #62. Grade: B. The Joker kills off famous comedians (or comedians that happen to look like famous comedians) in order to collect the clues to collect a dead comedian's inheritance. Very dark, considering how many of the comedians are murdered, but it's a fairly intelligent caper without too much corniness. In a scene that surely inspired a generation of homosexuals, Robin is straddling an unconscious man and giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

DC #63. Grade: C+. This is the only appearance of Mr. Baffle, a villain so dashing, so clever, that he is able to disguise himself from Batman – on several occasions – simply by shaving his beard. Linda Page, who has seen him with and without a mask over just part of his face, recognizes him not by his face but by the roughness of his hands. If you can overlook this, the rest of the story isn't that bad and Mr. Baffle is notable for a villain that Batman wants to like and feels he could have been friends with under other circumstances.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Clerics of Pelor

[Written sometime in the last 10 years, this was an example of a project I had started several times over the years to develop and individualize -- not the gods, but the clergy for the World of Greyhawk campaign setting. Note the Pelor-specific names for common clerical spells.]
PELOR
Race(s) of Worshipers: Human (Flan - Common, Oerdian - Uncommon)
Alignment: Neutral Good
Spheres of Influence: Sun, light, healing, strength
Symbol(s): A golden face radiating arrows, or a square in a starburst in a circle.
Allied Deities: Beory, Rao, Celestian, Ehlonna, Zodal
Opposed Deities: Incabulous, Nerull, Pyremius ("Triumverate of Evil")
Frequency of Worship by Region:
Common -- Almor, Idee, Onnwal
Uncommon -- Nyrond, Sunndi
Rare -- Great Kingdom, South Province
Desired Virtues for Clerics: Altruistic, brave, cheerful, loving, loyal, merciful, patient, prudent, steadfast, thoughtful, and wordly.
Goals of the Church: Relieving the suffering of others, while driving back the forces of darkness. Clerics are holy knights who are chosen to battle these forces. An actively expanding church.
Tithe to Church: 5%
Other Sacrifices: Cannot own any non-magical items valued at over 400 gp (PH prices).
XP Cost for Specialty Clerics: 10%
Special Abilities:
Gained at 1st level -- Turn undead as if one level higher. All healing spells cure at least median hp (i.e., 5 hp for cure light wounds).
Gained at 4th level -- Always gets a saving throw vs. any spell that would inhibit vision, such as blindness or darkness (but not against gas, smoke, or normal darkness).
Gained at 7th level -- +4 to save vs. energy drain attacks.
Clerical Spells:
1st level --
1. Pelor's Blessing (Bless)
2. Ceremony: Burial, Coming of Age, Marriage
3. Turn as Many (Combine)
4. Pelor's Lightest Touch (Cure Light Wounds)
5. Find Evil (Detect Evil)
6. Sanctuary from Undead (Invisibility to Undead)
7. Holy Gift of Pelor's Light (Light)
8. Protection from Evil
9. Purify food & water
10. Remove Fear
11. Resist Cold
13. Sanctuary
2nd level --
1. Pelor's Blessed Touch (Aid)
2. Ceremony: Consecrate Item, Dedication, Investiture
3. Detect Magic
4. Draw Upon Holy Might
5. Air Spirit (Dust Devil)
6. Enthrall
7. Mystic Transfer
8. Step Not from the Light (Hold Person)
9. Resist Fire
10. Reverent Silence (Silence 15' Radius)
11. Slow Poison

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Reading Program Logo

[Wow, has it really been eight years since I was last asked to draw a logo for our summer reading program? I've always liked the frog and how this turned out. Sadly, my logo was replaced mid-summer with a frog's head with googly eyes. Sigh.]

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Last Submission to Dungeon Magazine

[Dated March 2007, this letter was my...oh, I lose track how many times I tried to be published in Dungeon magazine. I still like this scenario, but don't have time to develop it.]

I am proposing to submit to your magazine “The Missing Villagers of Tiluvam,” a D&D adventure for four 3rd-level characters. It is an indoor and rural intrigue adventure of approximately 10,000 words. The villain is Castellan Gennadi (4th-level NE fighter), the ambitious garrison leader at the local castle, embittered about the lack of opportunities in a backwater fief. While the baron is away at court, Gennadi and the men loyal to him staged a mass abduction in their own village and used disguises and illusions to blame it on hobgoblins. Now it is surely only a matter of time until the baron is ready to send his garrison on a rewarding campaign, but first a band of adventurers enters the scene…

Play begins in the Kingdom of Nyrond, not far from the Flinty Hills (though set in the World of GREYHAWK campaign setting, it is easily adaptable to other campaigns). By whatever means the DM chooses, the PCs learn of a mass abduction in the Barony and Village of Tiluvam. The locals believe the responsible party must be a hobgoblin tribe that had raided the tiny barony several times in the last 20 years. The local reeve -- a simple man named Vivian Fletcher (5th-level LG fighter) -- recommends the PCs first approach the baron’s castle and ask for help.

The poor village has a poor castle – an obsolete, wooden motte-and-bailey castle. The first indication that something unusual is going on at the castle is when the guards at the gate ask all newcomers to pet a cat. This is just one of several odd rules in effect at the castle, all instigated by the castellan’s advisor, Rayner the Red Magician (5th-level CN wizard). Rayner is unhinged, the steward Arrigo (2nd-level LE expert) is an embezzler (and immediately suspicious that the PCs are onto him), and Castellan Gennadi is a warhawk getting ready for his campaign. Sir Roger Ruffino (5th-level N fighter) could tell them all he knows, but he is a fop who fancies himself a swashbuckler and will only trade information for duels. Depending on which soldiers the PCs speak to, they may see a fearful hesitance to speak from the 13 soldiers (1st- and 2nd-level LN fighters) loyal to the baron or sense outright lying from the 10 soldiers (same levels, LE Alignment) loyal to Gennadi. But if the PCs appear too suspicious, they may wind up arrested and held in the castle with the captive villagers (Gennadi has not decided what to do with them yet) until the reeve can free them.

If the PCs search for clues in the village, they will find it virtually impossible (DC 30) to track the abductors, as over a full week has passed. Certain divinations (like speak with animals) could lead the PCs toward the castle right away. Or, the PCs could be led that way by allies in the village in the persons of Lady Margaret Hippogriff (4th-level LG fighter) and Adept Cecily (2nd-level NG cleric of Atroa), who are both suspicious of the castellan.

If the PCs head out in search of hobgoblins, shepherds and hunters will warn them away from an old watchtower. Gennadi will point them there too, expecting them to never return. He knows about the leucrotta holed up in the watchtower. In the underground storerooms below the watchtower, the leucrotta kept a pair of gnomes cornered and will try to exchange them for its freedom if hard-pressed. The gnomes reward rescuers with a potion of healing (they were planning to ration) and reveal that the gnomes had already driven the hobgoblins out of this region a long time ago.

The PCs can end this open scenario in a variety of ways. The PCs could decide that the leucrotta was responsible (despite the lack of evidence) and feel the adventure is solved when the gnomes are freed. Gennadi is willing to encourage this belief if his hobgoblin scheme falls apart. The PCs could even go into the hills in search of more evidence of hobgoblin activity (they won’t, but gnome patrols can corroborate what the gnome prisoners said).

The PCs could guess the truth about the traitors in the castle. They could head to Rel Mord to alert the baron. Unless the PCs leave very quietly, the castellan will learn of or guess their intentions and follow in hot pursuit with the men loyal to him. Rayner will betray him and flee if pressed, leaving Gennadi and up to 10 soldiers to fight. If the battle is going against the PCs, one of their allies from earlier could catch up and aid them. Alternatively, the PCs might somehow trick Gennadi into leaving the castle with a smaller force and ambush them.

The PCs could decide to assault the castle themselves and free the captive villagers. A frontal assault, even on a small wooden castle, would still be the most dangerous option, but clever PCs could use a variety of stratagems to gain subtler entry into the castle (or some NPCs might suggest them). Ideally, the prisoners could be freed with a minimal loss of life and then the castellan’s scheme would be exposed and ruined.

If the PCs win the day, the baron will be grateful if traitors in his castle have been rooted out in his absence. He rewards the defeat of Gennadi with his magic items – a shield +1 and dagger +1, in lieu of cash, plus a spell scroll lifted from Rayner (or left behind, if he fled). There is a monetary reward of 100 gp for tipping him off about Arrigo and a 500 gp bounty for the leucrotta’s head.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Freak (p. 2 of 3)

[Done circa 1997. Page 1 was posted in March.]