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REVIEWS – COMICS
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5.INK IN MY VEINS – Comic Review: SPAWN ANNUAL: BLOOD & SHADOWS
Reviewed by Mark E. Haskins

Comic Title: SPAWN ANNUAL: BLOOD & SHADOWS
Publisher: Image
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Ashley Wood

BLOOD & SHADOWS isn't just a story, it's a twisted journey into the dark depths of humanity. Unlike the regular Spawn series, the main character isn't everyone's favourite undead hero. Instead, Spawn skulks in the background watching over the residents of a run-down apartment building. Each has been drawn to this building by an ancient evil that feeds off their dark secrets. The building's newest resident is detective Leah, and her girlfriend Camille. Leah is on the trail of a serial killer who has been mutilating young women. But when she moves into her new apartment, she finds herself forced to confront her own secrets.
From the cover to the last page the artwork draws you in, and takes you through a twisted, nightmare vision of the world. The dark, raw, gritty, illustration is captures your eye, and is a perfect complement to the story, which grabs you by the throat, and doesn't let go. Jenkins shows us the evil that lurks in the ordinary, and the everyday. At times it's unsettling, shocking, and horrific, but once you pick the book up you can't put it down. If I had to compare BLOOD & SHADOWS to something, the first thing that comes to mind is the movie Seven. Not for the weak of heart, but some dark part of our psyche just can't help but watch.
BLOOD & SHADOWS isn't your typical comic book story. There are no heros in spandex there to save the day. There are no spectacular fight scenes between the forces of good and evil. There's just a group of ordinary people, and the dark secrets they're hiding from the rest of the world. Spawn's role in the story is a sort of guardian, walking a line between Heaven and Hell. He's there to restore balance, by cleansing the earth of an evil that fell from Heaven when Lucifer challenged God's rule. I won't say more about the plot, because I don't want to give anything away, but I will say this book is a must read. Just don't blame me if it gives you nightmares.

THE GAMING CONNECTION
In BLOOD & SHADOWS the images, and the telling of the story both work to evoke an emotional response right from the beginning. This draws the reader in and sets up the mood for the entire story. You can do the same thing with your adventures with just a little extra preparation. Use appropriate music, lighting, voices for your GMCs, and describe the details of your setting. Creating the right mood will help your players get into character, draw them into your story, and make your gaming sessions a lot more intense.

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4.INK IN MY VEINS – Comic Review: DANGER GIRL
Reviewed by Mark E. Haskins

Comic Title: DANGER GIRL
Publisher: Cliffhanger
Writers: J. Scott Campbell & Andy Hartnell
Artist: J. Scott Campbell
Inks: Alex Garner
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Issues Read For This Review: 1 to 5

Danger Girl, like many Cliffhanger titles, hit the comic scene like a tornado through a trailer park. Everyone has been going gaga for those sultry women of the spy world. And who can blame them, after all, Danger Girl is basically James Bond meets Baywatch, just what the target demographic dreams of. Danger Girl is corny, cheesy, and way over-the-top, but its also a heck of a lot of fun.
The Danger Girl team is made up of: Deuce, a retired secret agent come back to lead the Danger Girls, (who for all intents, and purposes is Sean Connery); Natalia Kassel, a former Russian intelligence agent with an affinity for knives; Sydney Savage, a special ops. agent from the land down under, with a love of leather and whips; Silicon Valerie, the team's prepubescent techno wizard; and finally, Abbey Chase, an expert in languages, a champion marksman, a scholar of ancient civilizations, and the teams newest recruit.
Their mission is to stop the forces of Hammer, a nasty organization that has risen out of the ashes of the Nazis, from taking over the world. The rest of the cast is filled out with debonair and mysterious spies like Jonny Barracuda and Agent Zero, and a number of nasty villains like Major Maxim, the inhuman Hammer enforcer and mad Hammer scientist Doctor Kharnov Von Kripplor. The first story arc has the Danger Girl team attempting to stop Hammer from collecting three ancient artifacts, that are believed to contain mystical power.
Each episode reads like an action movie, with car chases, explosions, corny one-liners, and of course presents the Danger Girls in as little clothing as possible. The stories are dynamic and entertaining with just enough humor to make sure you're not taking things too seriously. Though Campbell and Hartnell employ conventional 'spy movie' plots, they've also managed to have fun with those conventions, throwing in enough twists and turns to draw readers into the action and keep them interested. Between double agents, mysterious figures, and narrow escapes, the plotting keeps you on your toes. The stories do an excellent job of producing a dramatic 'cliffhanger' ending -- you always end up wondering, "How are they going to get out of this one?"
Campbell's art is clean and crisp. He's done a terrific job of portraying the kind of action you expect from a James Bond film onto the printed page. What stands out (besides the attributes of the tightly dressed Danger Girls) is the linework used to define the characters, and the outstanding color.
The only real complaint I have about Danger Girl, and I know you all see this coming, is that it doesn't come out on a regular basis; there is way too much time between issues. The boy wonders behind Danger Girl seem to spend so much time working out movie and toy deals that they have little time left over to produce the comic. Perhaps once they've pocketed enough change they'll hire someone to make there deals for them. Despite that, I recommend Danger Girl, though you might want to wait until a collection of issues are bound into a graphic novel.

THE GAMING CONNECTION
For gamers, and especially those of you into conspiracy based games (such as Peregrine's upcoming roleplay game Nanogenesis), Danger Girl is a good resource. It's filled with plots and counter plots, conceived by mysterious organizations working to either rule the world or (supposedly) make the world safe. Key to any conspiracy game is to keep your players off balance and paranoid. Each time your players think they know what's going on, the plot should twist unexpectedly, making them re-evaluate their situation. In Danger Girl, whenever Abbey thinks she's about to get away with the goods, either the bad guys enter, guns blazing, or she gets hit with something unexpected. Abbey's never quite sure who to trust or what's going to happen next -- the same should apply to your players.

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3.INK IN MY VEINS – Comic Review: THE MIGHTY THOR
Reviewed by Mark E. Haskins

Comic Title: THE MIGHTY THOR
Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Dan Jergens
Artists: John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson
Colors: Gregory Wright & Kevin Somers
Issues Read For This Review: 1 to 10

With a crack of thunder, Thor has returned to the Marvel Universe. After the 'Onslaught' affair, Thor was believed to be dead, along with the rest of Earth's heroes (of course WE know they were simply in an alternate universe). When the heroes did return, Thor was not among them, choosing to sacrifice himself to prevent Doom from kidnapping Franklin Richards, while permitting the others to return. However, the Norse god has managed to find his way back, and it was worth the wait.
Thor's return was awesome. Someone claiming to be Heimdall, holding a group of children hostage, demanded to speak with the god of thunder. Larger than life, the Norse god appears. With Mjolnir in hand, Thor wastes no time saving the children, and apprehending the impostor. 'Heimdall' turns out to be someone suffering from delusions. However, we also discover that all is not right with the real gods.
Asgard has been destroyed by an outside force, and is deserted. With no idea what has happened, Thor vows to locate his family and friends. But before he can begin his search, he is faced with a new threat. Possessed by the armor of the Destroyer, someone is demolishing the city. Thor teams up with the Avengers, to wage a battle that has become one of my all time favorite moments in comics. As Thor goes toe to toe with the Destroyer, we also witness the actions of Jake Olsen, a paramedic on the scene. As Thor hurls punches, Jake is saving lives. The battle against the Destroyer turns ugly. Thor summons all his power for a final blow, meanwhile Jake struggles to free a victim from a wreaked car. Thor hits the Destroyer with everything, and somehow Jake manages to lift the car enough for the person to crawl out. The Destroyer shrugs off Thor's assault, and attacks with a blast of his own. The Destroyer's blast not only takes down Thor, but results in an explosion that catches Jake as he uses his body to shield his patient. Both Thor and Jake are killed.
That was just the first issue -- it only gets better. Thor is brought back to life through a deal with a mysterious figure called Marnot. Thor must assume the mortal guise of Jake Olsen who sacrificed himself during Thor's battle. Feeling responsible for Jake's death Thor agrees, and returns to again battle the Destroyer. This time he wins. Now, though he continues his search for the other gods, he must face life as Jake, accepting the responsibilities that go along with that life.
Thor learns that the Norse gods weren't the only ones ravaged by war, and that the Greek gods have also suffered. However, Zeus claims it was Odin who waged war on his people, and refuses any assistance. Thor also has to contend with his hammer, which no longer obeys his commands. Meanwhile, in the guise of Jake, he sometimes finds himself caught between worlds, as when he forgets to pick up his fiancee's daughter from school.
Eventually we learn of the Dark Gods, and how they came to Asgard to conquer Odin and his followers. Thor, with the help of Spider-Man, battles Tokkots, one of the Dark Gods. Learning that Thor lives, Perrikus (the Dark God of power) challenges him in combat. Thor accepts, and once again we are treated to a battle of god-like proportions, resulting in the destruction of Mjolnir, and Thor again becoming Jake.
Thor is one of the best comics out there. The stories have an epic proportion you would expect with Thor, but also possess a human quality you can relate to. Having Thor take on a human persona, is an excellent way of maintaining a human perspective, and for grounding Thor in the everyday world. The artwork is excellent, employing a more classical style (as opposed to some of the manga influenced books). Thor himself is drawn larger than life, and his world is awe inspiring. The story has been an odyssey filled with mystery, danger, triumph and despair. The supporting cast offers a unique blend of mortals and gods, giving a sweeping perspective of his world. The Dark Gods are superior villains; they're powerful, bent on destruction, and totally evil. The only weak point stems from the Jake Olsen story arch. At times the writing is awkward when describing the 'real life' of Jake Olsen's world, especially in comparison to Thor's larger-than-life situations. Still, this is but a minor distraction which shouldn't keep you from putting The Mighty Thor on your must read list.

THE GAMING CONNECTION
For gamers, Thor offers some great source material and ideas for high-level campaigns. Gamemasters often have difficulty dealing with powerful Characters. Thor offers some ideas for humbling them. A Character should always have the possibility of encountering a greater power than themself, whether in the guise of a mysterious and powerful stranger, or a natural or supernatural force. High-powered Characters should have to contend with high-powered threats -- world shattering events and danger on an epic scale. Characters can also be confronted by a mystery that can't be solved by their powers or brute force alone. They could lose their existing powers as part of a 'deal' or until some task is accomplished.
Thor also provides an excellent portrayal of how gods might act; although some, like Thor, may care for mortals, they remain aloof and above us in stature and motives. When a god enters into you campaign, your players' Characters, regardless of their accumulated powers, should be in awe.

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2.INK IN MY VEINS – Comic Review: ALPHA FLIGHT
Reviewed by Mark E. Haskins

Comic Title: ALPHA FLIGHT
Publisher: Marvel
Writers: Steve Seagle, Duncan Rouleau
Artist: Duncan Rouleau
Inks: Jamie Mendoza
Colors: Lee Ann Denham
Issues Read For This Review: 1 to 19

Marvel has been bought by Toy Biz, and already fans are feeling the repercussions. I'm referring in particular to the cancelation of ALPHA FLIGHT. Ok, I'm Canadian, so naturally I love reading about Canada's premier super hero team, and in my opinion there's nothing sweeter than a hero named Puck, who says things like "sweet mother molson" [a reference to a beer company]. That said, I would still like to know why you'd cancel a quality comic like ALPHA FLIGHT -- a book with intelligent stories and excellent art.
For those of you not familliar with the book, let me bring you up to speed. The original ALPHA FLIGHT had been disbanded some time ago with the closing of Department H, the government agecy in charge of the project. However, the Canadian government reestablished Dept H and ALPHA FLIGHT, becausen of the need to defend Canada from super powered threats such as Onslaught. This new version of ALPHA FLIGHT is made up of veterans Guardian, Vindicator, Puck, and Sasquatch, along with some rookies Murmur, Radius, Flex, and Manbot. Each memeber posses unique and extrordinary powers such as Murmur's ablity to command others, and Vindicator's abilty to draw power from the earth itself. The team's charter is to defend and protect Canada from other super-powered threats. The team has battled the Zodiac, Mesmero, the deziens of the Micro Verse and even the dark machinations of its own government.
The team was brought together within the mysterious new Department H. Some members such as Vindicator and Puck were reluctant to return, but that was nothing a little brain washcing by the Canadian Government couldn't cure. There were growing pains to overcome, including the training of new members, the shock of Guardian apparently coming back from the dead twenty years younger, losing Madison Jefferies to the Zodiac, and the death of Sasquatch. On top of all this was the kind of plotting and subterfuge which led you to have doubts about who were the good guys, and who were the bad guys. I loved it. However, the early stories became confused and cluttered, but I give the creative team full credit for the way they sorted things out, and came back with a cleaner, stronger story, that had all the mystery and intrigue that made the book interesting.
Despite having everyone against them, and no one to trust, ALPHA FLIGHT manages to pull together as a team, take down General Clarke (the mysterious individual trying to control them), fight off the Zodiac, and save Canada. After the dust settled Mr Gentry, the newly apointed head of Dept H, stepped forward and with a no-nonsense attitude and little love for secrets, began to work with ALPHA FLIGHT to get to the bottom of the secrets surrounding Dept H. One such mystery was the resurected Weapon X program by Dr Huxley. Of course Huxley's newest experiment escapes, and its up to ALPHA FLIGHT to retrieve it.
This is a really good book. With each issue the art improved and the writing got tighter. But just when Segal and Rouleau are coming into there own as a creative team Marvel pulls the plug. For a company in finacial trouble you'd think that a comic with such a loyal fan base as would be something to hold on to. If your into comic books with X-File like plot twists I suggest you get your hands on as many back issues as you can. If your a fan of ALPHA FLIGHT then let the suits at Marvel know just how big a mistake they made in canceling this book. By sweet mother molson we just might make a difference, or at the very least really anoy them for taking away our favourite Canadian comic book.

THE GAMING CONNECTION
ALPHA FLIGHT is one of the best examples of a superhero 'team'. The book can be a great source of ideas on how to handle large groups of Characters. The writers of ALPHA FLIGHT often split the large group into smaller teams to handle specific situations. This makes things manageable and provides a greater opportunity for everyone to make a useful contribution. For example, say your villain decides to create a diversion by causing a nuclear reactor overload, so he can infiltrate a top secret base and steal a prototype weapon. Your players can't be in two places at once -- they'll need to split up in order to save the day. Both groups are actively engaged, but easier to manage for roleplaying.

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1.INK IN MY VEINS – Comic Review: BATTLE CHASERS
Reviewed by Mark E. Haskins

Comic Title: BATTLE CHASERS
Publisher: Cliffhanger
Writers: Joe Madureira & Munier Sharrieff
Artist: Joe Madureira
Inks: Tom McWeeney
Colors: Liquid
Issues Read For This Review: 1 to 4

Unless you've been living on Baffin Island, you've heard of Cliffhanger's huge hit BATTLE CHASERS. It's a sweeping tale of high magic and weird technology, brought to life with stunning art and plots that leave you wanting more. However, just in case you have been living on Baffin Island, here's a brief run down of the story.
At its core BATTLE CHASERS is a simple tale of good versus evil -- but that's were the simplicity ends. On the side of good you have Garrison, the greatest swordsman to ever live -- who has sworn never to use a sword again, Calibreto, a wargolem from a time almost forgotten seeking only to live in peace, and Knolan, an old but powerful wizard. The three reluctant heroes are brought together by a young girl named Gully, an orphan on the run from the bad guys -- a pack of were-wolves. The were-wolves have killed Gully's father, Aramus, and now pursue her in the hope of obtaining her father's magic gauntlets for their mysterious master. Just as they're about to close for the kill, Gully is rescued by the awesome fire-power of Calibreto. Calibreto takes Gully to see Knolan, who recognizes the gauntlets, and decides they must see King Vaneer in Capital City. En route they encounter Garrison, an old friend of Gully's father. To complicate matters, a gang of very powerful and nasty criminals have escaped from prison and are holding Capital City hostage until the man who put them away is handed over to them; of course that man is... Garrison.
That only scratches the surface of the story. One of the things I enjoy about this book are the levels of plot, action, and character development. Each issue, you learn something new about the characters, the story, and the world in which it all takes place, but you never learn everything. Like the company name suggests, you're always left hanging, wanting more.
BATTLE CHASERS is what comic books should be -- a perfect balance of outstanding art with a well told story. Joe Madureira's Japanese influenced art style, creates not only fluid action scenes, but a sense of drama, with silhouettes, close-ups of facial expressions, and larger than life heroes and villains. Together with his partners Munier Sharrieff and Tom McWeeney, Madureira has created a fantastic world of sorcery and science.
The down and dirty on BATTLE CHASERS is this book is all good. If BATTLE CHASERS isn't on your must read list, put it there. In fact there's only one thing that would improve this book -- a regular monthly release schedule. BATTLE CHASERS is the only monthly comic book I know of that comes out in quarterly installments. There's nothing wrong with building a little anticipation by making the fans wait for the next issue, but having to wait months between issues is cruel, and unusual punishment.

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This page was last updated May 8, 2003. Content copyright ©1995 to 2003 Kevin Davies.