Explosion High Issue One!

If your sidekick is slacking, your alien hero’s awful or your deity’s down in the dumps, you can always send them to Explosion High to learn how to be a superhero!

The school’s got a beautiful jungle campus surrounded by lasers, dinosaurs and laser dinosaurs, but don’t worry, the forcefield around the campus works 90% of the time!

Professor Explosion’s strict courses involve training students in skills needed for both your hero and secret identities, punctuated with deadly traps to keep students on their toes!

Kid, Trouble, Dawn, Mercury, The Mighty Z, Knight Lite and Skyshark are some of the newest students in Explosion High! and possibly the best, if they survive the first day!

Split into three stories, Explosion High follows our doomed students:

The Exploding Race literally drops the characters into the action and blows them up! Kid, Skyshark and Mercury have to pass the final test, fleeing through the jungle to the campus, being chased by dinosaurs. Art by Norrie Millar and colours by Faye Stacey.

Bad Guy follows Trouble, Knight Lite and Dawn as they’re late, lost and surrounded. Can they survive each other, let alone the dinosaur jungle? Art by Debora Lancianese.

The Faulty Stars brings the surviving cast members together and drops an alien into the mix, as we finally see our team! Art by Mike Armstrong, colours by Debora Lancianese!

The stories are written by me, lettered by Rob Jones, edited by Matt Hardy and there’s even an epilogue with my previous collaborator on Blob Detective and Tales from the Quarantine, the wonderful Russell Mark Olson.

If you like the X-Men, Venture Bros and Clone High, then this is the place for you. It’s some high energy superhero nonsense, able to be both brightly coloured fun despite all the deadliness.

Digital Copies

There are a few different places you can pick up Explosion High at the moment.

ComicHaus is a kind of ‘Netflix for indie comics’, where you can subscribe to get access to anything from their library with a subscription fee (or a free trial if you just want to check it out for this). As well as Explosion High, there’s work from Mad Robot Comics and the regular creators we team up with.

Itch.io is a digital platform for creative indie content. That includes video games, RPGs, prose and comics. I’ve put up Explosion High up on there as I’m curious to see how comics do on that platform, and I know creators generally get a better cut, even if it’s not the most searchable platform. If you go here, you’ll get the comic in PDF.

DriveThruComics is a digital storefront similar to Itch, but with better search functionality and a lot more content already on there, so it’s swings and roundabouts as far as what’s better. Again, you can get a PDF copy here.

I’m also proud to say that I’m the first of the Mad Robot Comics empire to be on BuySmallPress with Explosion High, so you can get it there, too!

Physical Copies

Mad Robot Comics are currently seeking distribution through Diamond, who have had what could be called ‘a year’ for the last two years. I used to spend hours every month putting through orders with them back in my comic shop days, so it’d be interesting actually listing a comic through them. That’s a little while off, though.

Speaking of my comic book days, I’ve been selling physical copies through Dave’s Comics in Brighton, my alma mater and one of my favourite places. There are limited supplies there, so if you’re in the city, pick one up ASAP.

Similarly, my current home away from home is the Dice Saloon, where I professionally GM indie RPGs every other week. They also have a limited supply of the comic, so you can pick them up there.

Finally, follow the Mad Robot Comics Twitter account as the Magnificent Matthew Hardy (Cyberarchy, Cadavers, Vehicle-Kill) and Awesome Ash Deadman (Murder Most Mundane, Saxon’s Second Hand Books) are currently attending comic conventions on the Mad Robot Comics stall. They’ve been to several last year and depending on how everything goes with the pandemic, hopefully they’ll be back out in 2022 and I’ll be joining them in the future to shill all our comics.

The amazing pin-up by Gustaffo Vargas!

The Kickstarter and The Future

Explosion High Issue One’s Kickstarter is done. Everything’s been shipped out apart from a couple of physical copies which people have not given me addresses for. I’ll be checking in every few months to see if they’ve finally updated their details, but I figure at this point I’m calling it done.

I need to start sending copies to reviewers, as I want not only to get this issue into more hands, but to get more eyes on issue two.

Speaking of which, I am planning to have issue two out on some crowdfunding platform this year, although I’ve got a lot of things to consider with that at the moment. I have most of the original art team returning and a pair of more tightly-connected stories going from a dorm party to gym class.

The annotated script reward level was a joy, but it was incredibly labour intensive, so I’m thinking I’ll create one annotated script, scan it and then have a less limited tier where I’ll vandalise one part of each annotation in a unique way. That was more people will get to see the tangents I go on both in the script and annotations, the pictures I put in, and any puzzles, tears, burns and cut-out sections. I’ve also put in a couple of spots where people can back and have themselves as superhero students, probably not surviving Explosion High.

During CabinCon, a mini-convention with friends, I wrote the script for a 16-page ‘zine style comic which I’m also hoping to find an artist for an get up on Kickstarter next year after the EH2 project. It’s somehow even scrappier and weirder than Explosion High, a kind of cross between Masters of the Universe, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, Adventure Time and Yor: Hunter from the Future. I’ll share more noise about that when I can.

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New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis (Graphic Novel Quest) – Part Two

Graphic Novel Quest is my attempt to read all of my graphic novel collection, hopefully within a year. I’m going to revisit some old favourites, question some of my previous purchasing decisions and talk about some of my findings here on Faked Tales.

The Brian Michael Bendis Complete Collections of New Avengers cover a lot of stories and weave in with some Marvel Events, so I’ve had to split this out into a couple of different articles.

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Complete Collection Volume Two

By Brian Michael Bendis and a ton of artists.

This collection keeps getting interrupted.

This one’s the volume that interweaves the most other other books.

Previously, the New Avengers formed after a load of supervillains escaped from prison. Someone’s behind it, SHIELD are acting more suspicious than they normally are.

This volume starts with a trip to Japan and the Silver Samurai. The New Avengers fight a bunch of ninja and Madam Hydra. After kidnapping her, she gets Spider-Woman to release her on a plane, covering up her duplicity but not well enough to avoid notice from Captain America.

Spider-Woman juggling her many allegiances.

There’s a quick detour showing that Spider-Woman’s working for both Hydra and a still on the run Nick Fury. And SHIELD. She’s got a lot of allegiances and has to juggle them all. It’s a tricky situation and the Avengers understand, although even that seems to be possibly part of her many shifting and unclear allegiances.

Then we skip over to—

House of M

By Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel

An entertaining diversion.

The Avengers and X-Men meet up to figure out what they’ll do with Scarlet Witch. Killing her is floated by some of the X-Men, who have been through things like the Dark Phoenix Saga. He debate comes to an abrupt end when reality falls apart and changes into something new.

The new world… of M.

Wolverine wakes up in a new world which is totally different, with him as a SHIELD agent in a world where mutants are the dominant species. Humans are fine and tolerated, but generally treated as a second class citizen compared to mutants. Magneto and the ‘House of M’ rule everything. Spider-Man is a celebrity married to Gwen Stacy and with a kid. Carol Danvers is equally famous. Captain America’s just an old man sneered at by mutant kids. Luke Cage runs a human under group group including Hawkeye, who’s still dead in the main timeline.

The big shock for Wolverine is that he remembers everything. He’s been an amnesiac since the 70’s and now it’s all there, including his real name. The world is a compromised utopia for a specific reason. Scarlet Witch made it this way to try and please folks. Once memories start to get restored, the Avengers and X-Men fight for their reality, even if some of them aren’t sure whether they should.

In the end, the person behind all of this is a bit of a surprise, and Wanda gets fed up of everything, saying, “No More Mutants” and depowering all but 198 mutants. A species already hated, now they’re almost extinct and many die from this change.

Three words which would wreck the X-Men line for ages.

House of M is a tragedy, but it’s a beautifully drawn one. Even though most people forget it ever happened thanks to Scarlet Witch’s powers, it’s still something that resonates. It motivates Spider-Man’s actions in Civil War, Carol Danvers’ drive to becoming an A-lister among heroes, as well as all the horrors for the next seven years of X-Men comics.

Back to New Avengers Complete Collection Volume Two

House of M happened and while most people don’t remember it, SHIELD’s Maria Hill is aware something’s up and knows the Avengers have something to do with it. At the same time, all of the energy from the powers of the depowered mutants seem to have coalesced into a person whose mutant ability woke up with M-Day. He’s acting on instinct, lashing out, killing Alpha Flight and the New Avengers do their best to stop him. Spider-Man’s attempt at going into SHIELD to find information ends up with him interrogated by them in an effort to discover what House of M was.

Some of the depowered mutants, although not all of them will stay that way.

SHIELD don’t care for the heroes at this point and things are already hitting a tipping point between heroes and government officials just in time for—

Civil War

By Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

Not as bad as it could have been, but still not good.

Sigh… It’s time for some hopefully lukewarm takes by now. Civil War’s not all that good. It’s fine. It’s better than I feared it would be, but it suffers from a lot of problems like Mark Millar writing a lot of characters in ways which feel a bit out of character from how they usually are. The plot’s one which could have worked better in a one-off superhero universe and taken to a greater extent. Also, most importantly, it ruined the New Warriors, which is something I will never be able to forgive Mark Millar for.

Nitro kills a bunch of kids and the New Warriors.

It all starts spinning out of New Warriors Volume Three, where they’re fame-hungry reality TV stars. They chase some villains and mess up, leading to the explosive villain Nitro running into a school and exploding. The deaths are all the government need to push through a Registration Act they’ve been hinting at for a while. All superheroes are going to have to register with SHIELD and if they’re heroes, they’ll be on their payroll (yay!) but also beholden to whatever agenda SHIELD and the US Government want (boo!)

As the countdown to registration happens, the heroes are torn about their response to it.

Battle lines are drawn immediately with the already-out Captain America fighting his way out of SHIELD in an impressive sequence. Tony Stark, Hank Pym, Mr Fantastic and a number of heroes are already pro-registration while Captain America, Luke Cage and others are against it.

The conflict’s an interesting one and while the Civil War film does a lot of things better than the comic, this series benefits from having so many heroes where you can see their perspectives, you can have the consequences of the act for good and ill.

This had to be undone, but was a shocking moment when it happened.

In my opinion, the act was a bad idea, and the New Avengers heroes are mostly anti-registration which doesn’t help in trying to show this even-handedly. I know it was seen as more of a conflicted issue, but the amount of bad ideas from the pro-registration side mirror an amount of American atrocities like building an inter-dimensional Guantanamo Bay was bad at the time and has aged worse.

A few fun moments include Punisher being a massive Captain America fanboy, only to be beaten down by him for his terrible methods. Spider-Man’s reversal of decision after outing himself to the public. Emma Frost telling Tony Stark to fuck off is a particular gem. The mutants are decimated and being held in an enclosure by sentinels ‘for their own safety’ given how few of them there are now. Fuck you and your bad ideas, Tony.

Millar’s characterisations aren’t always great but here he gets Emma Frost.

Back to New Avengers Complete Collection Volume Two… Again

We get some individual stories set during Civil War, including Luke Cage’s resistance to the Registration Act, where Cap went after fleeing SHIELD and even a disgruntled Stark employee who takes down Tony briefly as he’s using designs the guy contributed to for a cause he’s against.

Finally, we get the revelation of the ‘Illuminati’, a kind of Marvel Smart Boy’s Club, formed after one event too many, keeping a line of communication between the teams and trying to work behind the scenes all through the last few decades comics, fracturing with the Civil War. Then there’s the only nod to the death of Captain America, which happened post-Civil War in his own comic. It’s a pair of vignettes, with Captain America (pre-death) and Tony Stark both providing their post-script to the whole even and whether it was worth it.

The cost of the civil war.

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Complete Collection Volume Three

By Brian Michael Bendis and a ton of artists.

Post Civil War, this lot are on the run.

This volume spends a lot of time with the New Avengers on the run from the new, official Avengers team run by Stark. Captain America’s dead and replaced with Bucky and Dr Strange is helping out as the team hide in his Sanctum Sanctorum, disguised as the site of a future Starbucks.

There’s some dirty pool (Bendis loves using that phrase in these volumes) from the Mighty Avengers as they lead the New Avengers into a trap briefly.

Hawkeye’s back from the dead and sleeps with what turns out to be a Doombot Wanda.

The gang end up heading back out to Japan to rescue Ronin aka Echo, who needs their help. She’s been killed by Elektra and brought back in an attempt to make her into a Hand Assassin. It’s a thing they do, mainly to Elektra.

When the New Avengers rescue her, Echo kills Elektra and reveals that she’s a Skrull.

Skrullektra

The Skrull revelation shocks the team and they immediately start picking at each other, especially Wolverine who Bendis writes incredibly antagonistically in all of this run. Spider-Woman ends up shocking the team and fleeing with the Skrull corpse to Tony’s side, figuring he’ll know what to do.

Mighty Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Complete Collection

By Brian Michael Bendis and a ton of artists.

Tony Stark gets turned into a naked Ultron who looks like Janet Van Dyne.

This single volume is the whole run of the Tony Stark created ‘official’ Avengers team. It starts with Frank Cho doing art duties and some attempts to distinguish a different tone between teams by giving this lot thought bubbles. Tony and Carol build a team and immediately have to deal with Ultron who merges with Tony Stark and appears as a mostly naked robot woman who’s styled after The Wasp (blame Hank Pym for that one).

The Janet Ultron’s plan.

There’s a crossover with the New Avengers volume, as a Latverian satellite meant to be a trap for some vague point in the future is accidentally set off, launching a ‘Venom Bomb’ at New York, turning citizens and Avengers alike into Venoms.

This story crosses over between both titles

As this series goes on, Ms Marvel seems more in charge of the team and I love how she does a good job of calling the team off from capturing the New Avengers multiple times when they show up to help. They may be on opposing sides of the Civil War, but there’s no reason to be a dick if they’re still being heroes.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag and short-lived, but still a fun view of the other side of the post-Registration Act Avengers.

Back to New Avengers Complete Collection Volume Three

By Brian Michael Bendis and others.

Finishing this piece on the New Avengers saga is a miniseries tacked into the back of this volume which I really enjoyed. We found out about the Illuminati, so now we get to see them react to different Marvel events.

A collection of Marvel’s least trustworthy geniuses.

First up is the Kree-Skrull War and the captivity of the members of the Illuminati. We also see that they have the components of the Infinity Gauntlet held between them. They confront The Beyonder, retconning his existence from Secret Wars II. There’s some talk of women problems as this is the most boy’s club out of all the boy’s clubs in the Marvel Universe. Finally, post Civil War, we get Tony Stark bringing the Illuminati the Skrull corpse of Elektra, only to find out the Illuminati have been infiltrated. Skrull are everywhere and could be any hero. The group split, even more shattered than before, and with no really place to go.

The Illuminati and the Avengers can’t trust their own teams, perfect timing for Secret Invasion.

To be concluded…

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New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis (Graphic Novel Quest) – Part One

Graphic Novel Quest is my attempt to read all of my graphic novel collection, hopefully within a year. I’m going to revisit some old favourites, question some of my previous purchasing decisions and talk about some of my findings here on Faked Tales.

One of the shinier eras of Marvel

I’m a massive mark for Brian Michael Bendis and have been since the era of Powers and his Ultimate Spider-Man run. I’ve never really been an Avengers fan, so when he took over the title, I decided to finally dive in.

When I first read Marvel Comics it was through the UK reprints of Secret Wars and even as a little kid, I hated the way that Captain America and the others shunned the X-Men as they were siding with Magneto. He was good, but no one believed the X-Men, so they went their own way for most of the comic. They were always ‘The Man’ in X-Men comics, whether they were the well-meaning liberals tutting when a group of mutants were murdered but not really doing anything about it, or intentionally working with anti-mutant forces as they were cloaked in officialdom and legitimacy.

So I wasn’t going in expecting to like the characters, just to like the writer. This became the main title I was collecting during some rough X-years, combining the soap operatic nature of the X-Men with some massive scale events you’d see in more of a JLA style book.

The Avengers were coming out of their own dark age, as Chuck the Truck was finishing up his run (I don’t like Austen’s comic work, but it’s interesting even if it’s bad, and he’s been doing some good work in cartoons now, so good for him). Bendis was brought on board with the idea that he would make New Avengers the number one Marvel book. The essential comic you’d get if you wanted to follow the main story of what Marvel was doing. For a few years, you could say that he succeeded in his mission.

On the shelves, these are all a bit tricky to cover as they involved some diving back and forth between the New Avengers Complete Collections and the collections of the big Marvel events, which felt like they really ramped up at this time.

Secret War

By Brian Michael Bendis and Gabriele Dell’Otto

A smart premise, although it’s secondary to the illegal attack on foreign soil story.

The unofficial start to this era. Secret War feels like Bendis is feeling out the characters who will become pivotal later and sets some of the stage for the wider New Avengers world.

Luke Cage is attacked and put in the hospital, despite his bulletproof skin. It becomes clear that a number of heroes have no memory of something bad they did for Nick Fury, and now they’re being targeted for it. Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Black Widow and a new character called Quake all were enlisted in an attack on Latveria which was not authorised, but part of an operation Fury did, then wiped their minds.

The motivator’s kind of a fun idea; all the low-level supervillains in New York who have million-dollar jet packs, scorpion outfits and flamethrowers just to knock over banks, were actually given their suits by Lucia von Bardas, the prime minister of Latveria.

Lucia, merged with all that villain tech.

America doing black ops to destabilise other nations isn’t really much of a reach, but Fury using the Avengers and doing this without going through the proper channels sees him burned and having to go to ground. The Avengers are suspicious of SHIELD and Quake is now an operative on the board who’s loyal to Fury and mysterious. She also looks incredibly similar to a Hackers-era Angelina Jolie.

New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis, Complete Collection Volume One

By Brian Michael Bendis and a ton of artists.

Bendis took over the old Avengers title in issue 500 and managed to dismantle the group in four issues. I remember this pissing a LOT of people off at the time. He was killing Avengers, removing a bunch of members from the team and then he was planning on making an Avengers team with Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Daredevil in it. None of them had been Avengers to a level where it made sense, but in retrospect, it was really needed. That, and even the people who complained weren’t buying Avengers at the time. Almost no one was.

As much as I like Bendis, there’s a lot of this kind of #bantz, especially early on

‘Avengers Disassembled’ is the final story in the Avengers comic when Bendis took over. The team start out chilling in their mansion, only to have the recently dead Jack of Hearts reappear as a kind of bomb-laden zombie. He kills Ant-Man (the Scott Lang Ant-Man Paul Rudd plays in the movies). Vision flies a jet into the mansion, vomits Ultrons to fight the team and then gets ripped in two by a berserk She-Hulk. Tony Stark is inexplicably (even to him) drunk at the UN and manages to get the Avengers’ status as an official body revoked. Kree attackers appear out of nowhere and Hawkeye sacrifices himself by leaping into a ship with an exploding jet pack. It’s quick, brutal, confusing and disorientating. But it’s that way for a reason.

I didn’t care about Hawkeye until the 2012 Fraction/Aja run, but this still feels cheap.

We find out that Wasp accidentally let slip to Scarlet Witch that she had children who were later found out to be imaginary because of Scarlet Witch’s whole deal. She has a breakdown and did all this. Eventually she’s stopped and taken away by Magneto and Professor X to figure out what to do. It’s too late for the Avengers though, as so many are hurt, dead or demoralised. The Avengers end after some fond memories, and the knowledge that they’re not going to end forever.

These two best buds. I’m sure they’ll do great things together in this series.

New Avengers kicks things off for the main event. There’s a breakout at The Raft, a supervillain prison in the sea just out from New York. Captain America, Iron Man, Daredevil, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage and Spider-Man are all on the scene and manage to keep just over half of the villains from getting out. They also find The Sentry, from a Paul Jenkins miniseries. He’s a Superman-level hero who has a lot of problems and apparently was a part of Marvel history before the world was made to forget he existed.

With a load of villains loose and a new sense of purpose, Cap and Iron Man bring together a team of ‘New Avengers’ who work out of Stark Tower.

The second storyline follows the gang all the way to the Savage Land where we get a couple of recurring bits, including the inevitable destruction of any plane which flies to the Savage Land.

Even Tony’s planes aren’t immune to this bit.

SHIELD appear to be up to shenanigans in the Savage Land, although it’s unclear what, apart from that the New Avengers can’t trust SHIELD while trying to track down the Raft escapees and why the breakout happened. Wolverine joins at this point and Daredevil turns down membership.

The last story of this volume covers some of the Sentry’s nonsense as Emma Frost is brought in to help Sentry figure out who he is, and the rest of the team fight The Wrecker. There’s a whole thing with this era and its art which feels a bit like the Image reverse-exodus from people like David Finch, and how their art looks. It’s all very actiony and stylised. It’s incredibly horny, too. Both Finch and McNiven who draw the majority of this volume draw very cheesecakey art. It’s not the worst offender, but a reminder that the 00’s were about as bad as the 90’s, just with slightly fancier special effects. Speaking of which, there’s a kind of odd shine to everyone where their skin seems as shiny as the costumes and the metal of Tony’s armour. My memory of it was worse than it actually turned out upon revisiting the stories. It’s still a little odd compared to modern and classic colouring alike.

Spider-Woman and Spider-Man have a fun, awful dynamic.

To be continued…

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Amphigorey (Graphic Novel Quest)

By Edward Gorey

We got a couple of the small Edward Gorey books in at Dave’s Comics when I was working there. I immediately enjoyed the Gashleycrumb Tinies and when Amphigorey came in, I picked it up right away.

The one time Nick Cave came into the comic shop, we ended up talking about ceilings and about Edward Gorey’s work as he was unsurprisingly, a fan.

The Plot

It’s difficult to really get into the plot, as this is a collection of several morbid short stories, illustrated two to a page, sometimes with a caption, but sometimes the images just stand on their own.

The stories are all entertainingly creepy. The Gashleycrumb Tinies is a rhyming A-Z of infant death, although they’re often teased at in the images and all adorably dark. The Bug Book is a weird, colourful change from the black and white the rest has. The Willowdale Handcar is a fun journey which goes past a number of odd locations as we follow a trio on a handcar. The Doubtful Guest is kind of adorable, but also a little unpleasant.

They’re best taken one at a time and digested in that fashion rather than binged. I know I’ve raced through it before and aside from a couple, they didn’t all sink in so much.

Is it any good?

Yes, it’s very good. If there are still the individual volumes, you might want to check those out instead, but this is a fantastic collection and a good book to dip into from time to time.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, and I’m annoyed I can’t find my copy of the second volume.

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Alias Ultimate Collection Vol 1 (Graphic Novel Quest)

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Michael Gaydos, Colours by Matt Hollingsworth and Letters by Richard Starkings

Marvel Comics went hard when they decided to launch their ‘Max’ line of Comics Codeless ‘mature readers’ comics. They also tapped Brian Michael Bendis who most people might have known from Ultimate Spider-Man, but also had a background in crime comics (more on those later this year).

Alias may have the same name as the spy show which came out the same year, but it’s a totally different story. Handily, a lot of you will know the basics from the Jessica Jones television show which aired a few years ago, although this is a lot closer to the Marvel Universe than that show, it’s also a bit similar to DC’s Chase, which was one of my motivations for buying the series when it first came out.

This is literally the start of Marvel’s mature readers ‘Max’ line. They really start as they mean to go on.

The Plot

Jessica Jones was an Avenger for an incredibly short time. That’s okay, they’ve had tons of members who no one remembers. Did you know they had Gilgamesh from the Eternals on their roster? Or that Mr Fantastic was an Avenger briefly? I only did because they were in an Inferno tie-in.

Anyway, Jessica was an Avenger and then *something* happened, which is alluded to but not discussed openly in this volume. We get two stories and several hints about Jessica’s life both as the super-powered Jewel, and as a post-heroic private detective.

A memento from Jessica’s brief stint as an Avenger.

The first story arc has Jessica hired to spy on someone and getting some footage of Captain America with them, shortly before their death. She has to navigate a superhero community which she ditched and suspicious motivations from her employer.

The second story has Jessica searching for Rick Jones, the constant sidekick to Captain America, Hulk and the Avengers as a while. He’s apparently married, mooching off folks and now vanished.

I enjoyed the Jessica Jones show, but I did wish there were some cases which weren’t all tied back to her origin and her superhero times. I can understand how it would be impossible for an MCU to have all the appearances of Captain America, Captain Marvel and many other heroes whose names don’t begin with Captain.

Some classic Bendis patter

Is it any good?

There are valid criticisms for his style, but I’m a sucker for a Bendis page. This is a good book, although it is only half of the comic, all of which I still have in floppies. Gaydos’ art definitely feels of the era and you wouldn’t recognise Jessica if you’d only seen the television show, but it’s still a classic.

Rick Jones, who I was confused by after reading the Peter David Captain Marvel. There is a reason for his presence here, though.

Am I keeping it?

This one’s difficult. I am definitely keeping it in some form. I’ve got the whole thing in individual issues and while I’d like a collection of it, the hardcover version I’ve got is very out of print, so I’d need to either get rid of the collection and replace it with modern softcovers which collect the whole thing, or stick with the individual issues.

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Akiko Volumes 1-7 & Flights of Fancy and Amelia Cole (Graphic Novel Quest)

Akiko Volumes 1-7 & Flights of Fancy

By Mark Crilley

The Plot

Akiko is a human girl who one day gets an invite to the planet Smoo, a slightly squished-looking planet. She’s sent to save the young Prince Froptoppit due to what seems like an administrative error but is actually an attempt to get the pair to meet as the prince fancies her.

On this journey, her companions include Spuckler Boach, a messy rogue, Gax, a loyal robot who keeps losing parts, Mr Beeba, a pompous academic and Poog, a floating orb with eyes and a mouth who few can understand. They’re a brilliant, messy cast, often clashing with each other but at their best when they’re working together.

The ‘working together’ thing doesn’t happen often.

Smoo and the other worlds are all brilliantly weird, illustrated gorgeously by Crilley and explained to Akiko who acts as our viewpoint for the stories. It feels like a precursor to things like Adventure Time, as a heroic, chaotic mess which works well for children and adults.

Volumes 1-3: The Menace of Alia Rellapor

Folks, I’ve done the bad thing and I have Akiko volumes from two different runs. Volume One is from the pocket book versions which are roughly manga-sized, then the rest is from the regular-sized run. This is because the pocket book version contained the original “On the Planet Smoo” comic as well.

Akiko’s returned to the planet Smoo as Prince Froptopit’s actually been kidnapped this time. The quest goes through all sorts of wonderful, strange places and a motorway service station in the middle of a bridge. This feels like the series proper, where the original strip was a proof of design. It’s the longest story, stretching over three volumes. There are a few twists which are guessable, such as the identity of the evil Alia Rellapor, but it still throws in some fun surprises and incredible visuals. If you had to only read one Akiko story, this is definitely the one to go with.

Volume 4: The Story Tree

The next volume is a series of short stories from the cast, including Beeba meeting some religious zealot fanboys of an old novel, potential romance for Spuckler, a congregation of weird robots with Gax and even a brief interlude from Poog which is as odd an nonverbal as you’d expect from the singing, floating head.

Volume 5: Bornstone’s Elixir

Beeba’s mentor is dying and only a mythical elixir could help him. The mentor doesn’t want this to happen, but Beeba gets the band back together regardless. There’s an upside down floating city in here, and that’s just the place they set off on their quest from.

The city’s upside down, but everyone else is the regular way up.

Volume 6: Stranded in Kimura/Moonshopping

This volume’s split into a couple of shorter arcs. Stranded in Kimura takes us out of Akiko’s head and into a human who ends up looking after Akiko and the aliens as they land on Earth and don’t have a way back off. The change of perspective is really interesting and Akiko’s worldliness from her previous adventures makes her seem alien.

Moonshopping is back to the usual affairs as Smoo needs a new moon and the aliens are sent into another dimension to try and get one. It’s somehow weirder than the usual Smoovian stories, including this awesome-looking guy who has a pad for a head.

Volume 7: The Battle of Boach’s Keep

A curious end for the main stories, this one has Spuckler selling his family’s falling down farm to a corporation, then waging a one-man war against them when he realises what he’s done. Akiko’s story is separate from Spuckler’s for the majority, but both are dealing with GothTek, a giant corporations somewhat like if Amazon became The Empire from Star Wars. More so than they already have.

While GothTek are far from innocent here, a real focus is on Spuckler’s personal state as he loses more and more in order to grasp onto land which he did sell. It’s a sad story, but still manages to end in a satisfying manner.

Flights of Fancy

The final volume of Akiko contains small strips contained in the back matter of the individual Akiko issues, and a new one, as well. They vary in length and style, but there are some fun little tidbits including a few fourth wall breaks which work well with the sprawling chaos of the first few strips as they interweave with each other.

Is it any good?

Yes, very good. As a GM of roleplaying games I can see where I took some influences for the landscape as far back as the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Things like the upside down city and living castle are great visuals. During the ongoing unprecedented times, I finally got round to watching most of Adventure Time and it’s got that same kind of sensibility to it. Even though it’s very much an ‘all ages’ joint, it’s definitely worth the time of kids and adults alike.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, although I’ve made a note to see whether or not I can find any other version of it, given the mismatched copies I’ve got of the series. Despite the size difference, I might keep the smaller first volume on the shelf with the larger ones, as that might get me reading it more often.

Amelia Cole and The Unknown World

Written by Adam P Knave and DJ Kirkbride

Drawn by Nick Brokenshire

Lettered by Rachel Deering

I’m pretty sure I heard about this on the War Rocket Ajax podcast. It’s a Monkey Brain comic, which released digitally first. I read a few series that way, but I fell off pretty quickly when Apple stopped letting me buy comics directly through the ComiXology app. I’ve since got more used to using the browser to buy and app to read, but I basically just lost momentum.

Plot

Amelia Cole is a magician who lives between a world of magic and a world of mundanity, but she finds herself stuck in a world which does a bit of both. Normal humans are second class citizens, with the police and a hooded vigilante looking after anyone magical.

Amelia’s got ties to this world beyond just accidentally ending up here. She also makes a golem out of tools and replaces her wand with a hammer. The series is brightly made, fairly chill in its world despite the darker tones of it all. Even though stylistically it doesn’t look like a Ghibli movie, it has that tone of a beautiful world that’s kind of sad and dangerous, with a lot more going on under the hood.

Lemmy’s a good golem.

Is it any good?

Yeah. The story’s fairly simple but the world’s great, even the supporting characters are fun, the art’s lively and engaging.

Am I keeping it?

Probably, yes. I like it, but I’m not in a massive rush to continue with the books yet. I think I’m a few volumes behind but I’ve no idea how long it went on for or whether it even ended.

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100 Bullets Volumes 1-13 (Graphic Novel Quest)

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Eduardo Risso, Colours by Patricia Mulvihill, Letters by Clem Robins and Covers by Dave Johnson

The Agents Shepherd and Graves

I didn’t get into Vertigo when it first came out as a line within Detective Comics Comics. Instead, I started with Preacher and Transmetropolitan which were long-running Vertigo series which had a beginning, middle and end. As someone who mostly reads cape comics which are an eternal soap opera, there’s something quite satisfying when I stray from that genre when a series actually ends.

100 Bullets was a crime comic I bounced off initially, despite the great concept. I’ll admit it’s mainly because of the art. Again, I was used to cape comics and there was a stylistic flourish which I found a bit ugly. Still, I peservered and despite not caring for it at first, Risso’s art really grew on me.

Things don’t end well for a lot of characters in this series.

It’s a crime comic I was getting into a little after I’d started watching shows like The Wire and Oz, so it goes in that kind of bucket in my head. It has some fascinating morality plays, although reading it again in 2022 makes me wonder whether there was research by Azzarello, whether he spoke to people of other cultures when writing extremely stereotypical sounding dialogue for them. It comes across more potentially cringey than racist but then I’m a Southern English fop, so I’m probably not the person to judge it for appropriateness.

The Plot

The first meeting of Graves and someone for his ‘game’ in the series.

100 Bullets is primarily a question of morality, shown in different ways. The main one is a question easily pitched to the audience themselves.

An old man appears one day with a briefcase. He explains to you that there was a point in your life where things went wrong. Your life was ruined in some way, and it’s all attributable to one person. The briefcase has a photo of them, proof, a gun and one hundred bullets. They’re not traceable, if you’re caught with them then the police will throw you back out on the street.

The man, Graves, doesn’t tell you to kill the person who did this, but the implication is there. The temptation.

This isn’t even the main story for this issue, but there’s always something going on with Graves.

For the first half of the story, it’s mostly contained in vignettes of one to five issues, so you normally get a couple per volume. Graves’ game has been going on for a while, but we first see him deliver the case to Dizzy Cordova, fresh out of prison and armed with the knowledge of the two policemen who were the murderers of her husband and child.

Dizzy doesn’t just dive into things; instead she goes to the police, she sees old friends, she really goes over it before finally fighting both the officers and a surprise culprit.

The story moves on, although Dizzy returns later. We see people given this information who dive right into their murder, who fail incredibly, or are in the background while other plots are going on. Graves keeps at this game, even while there are other people like Agent Shepherd, who seems to be following him.

Even when you get a one-off story of a person being armed, there seems to be some kind of connective tissue behind it all. To quote Lester Freamon from The Wire, “All the pieces matter.”

Our first close-up appearance of Lono.

The Real Plot… spoilers

100 Bullets is a story about a criminal organisation. No, THE criminal organisation. The Trust are an ancient order of thirteen families who carved up America between them. They were policed by a group called The Minutemen, who were the biggest, baddest murderers, activated when a house made moves against another. Traitors would be dealt with swiftly, brutally.

Agent Graves acted as the leader of the Minutemen who have charming names like The Monster, The Saint, The Bastard and so on. The Trust waged a war on the Minutemen who responded in kind, then went to ground. Hypnotic triggers were put in most of them and they were sent out to live their lives until they see or hear the word, “Croatoa”, apparently a victim of ancient Minutemen.

The first time we see the trigger word used, it’s an amazing impact, just to show how big an epiphany it causes.

The word wakes them up and a bloodbath often ensues. Sometimes it works in their favour, sometimes it doesn’t. Most of these characters are sent on their path by Graves, hoping that his game will have a way to reactivate them, even though not everyone will survive them. He even has a couple of new potential Minutemen like Dizzy and Loop, the son of an old Minuteman.

The game’s not the only thing on the table though. Some houses in The Trust are using the lack of policing to close ranks, killing and absorbing other houses. Agent Shepherd has mercurial interests, seeming to be helping both The Trust and Graves. Lono, a former Minuteman who wasn’t there during one of their massive moves against The Trust which solidified the war between them is a beast of a man. He’s an evil Wolverine, a Lu Bu, a voracious and compelling monster who seems near invincible, making his encounters with the far too mortal Minutemen terrifying.

The volumes I bought were of various sizes, collecting specific story arcs up until the final four volumes which are all neatly of similar length as it’s all one story by that point. The games are over and no one’s making it out alive.

Another Minuteman stumbling closer to the truth.

Is it any good?

Yes, although that is with an a couple of criticisms.

It can get a little busy, story-wise when it’s still playing keep-away with what Graves and Shepherd are up to, and their loyalties. The obfuscation can make things a bit tricky to keep track of, but that’s a problem that sorts itself out as time goes on and the cast get whittled down.

The other point of confusion is the nicknames the cast have. That most of them are amoral stubbly white guys of roughly the same build and the nicknames are kind of generic doesn’t help. It feels a bit like a Three Jokers problem, as most of them could be, “The Bastard” or “The Point Man”. Again, between body count and the fact the nicknames are more historical aspects of the characters means that it’s a problem that sorts itself out.

My final issue is the dialogue. It might be that Brian Azzarello did a lot of research and hopefully he did. I know he’s been praised for his dialogue and the specificity. He uses a Tarantinoian amount of the N word and goes all over the place with crudeness. It just made me cringe a bit and ponder the level of research Azzarello did while I was reading the series.

This is a horrible, seedy world where pretty much everyone’s up to no good. The background characters are as likely to be up to something as our protagonists. Risso draws a vibrant, lively world which is as colourful as it is shady. Some standout moments include Lono’s introduction in the background of an early story as he fights a helicopter on a clear blue day, all while our protagonist and antagonist don’t notice, or the sight of a tiger which feels almost supernatural compared to the street level everything else has here.

Good news, the tiger survives.

Am I keeping it?

Yes, and I’m keeping these volumes. I know there are thicker ‘complete’ versions which turn the thirteen volumes into five, but I think I prefer them this way, contained in the different arcs and mostly given a name referential to the number of the volume. While I’m likely to read the whole run, these specific break points are all great for the flow of the story.

One of The Trust, too powerful and too confident in his victory over the Minutemen.
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52 Volumes 1-4 (Graphic Novel Quest)

The massive cast of B to Z-listers.

Written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka & Mark Waid

Layouts by Keith Giffen

Art by Joe Bennet, Chris Batista, Eddy Barrows, Todd Nanci, Rudy Jose, Jack Jadson, Derick Robertson, Ken Lashley, Phil Jimenez, Dan Jorgensen, Justiano, Mike McKone, Jamal Igle and Dale Eaglesham.

When I was a kid, I loved the Superman movie, Batman ‘89 and the DC Super Powers toys, but it was more passing than my love of Marvel. Part of the blame there’s probably because of the Marvel Secret Wars UK reprints. As a teenager, I read a bunch of Batman at sleepovers at a friend’s, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. My friend Adam and I bought a ton of Legion of Super-Heroes and New Warriors comics as they were generally in cheap boxes, and something new to get into.

I came into DC around the time of Infinite Crisis, which I’ll have some words about later on in Graphic Novel Quest. It’s a weird start point, but a perfect platform to launch into 52.

Infinite Crisis temporarily took Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman off the table, then fast forwarded all of DC’s comics for a year. Back then, I was only getting Legion of Super-Heroes, but this was a great jumping on point for me. 52 was a weekly comic which showed what happened in a year without the major trinity. It was supposed to be a tour of the world, but it became a lot more by focusing on a few specific storylines.

A fantastic dump of references to events in 52, beyond it and a few things which didn’t end up happening, either.

The Plot

It’s a tricky one to summarise. Basically we go week by week, issue by issue for a whole year, shown here in four collected volumes. You have a few different character arcs which often intersect and start or end at different points.

Steel has a story where he’s relating to the average Metropolitan on the street and trying to get his niece to understand how to be a hero. She wants a shortcut which leads her to Lex Luthor, fresh from another round of ‘I didn’t do all those crimes, it was an evil imposter’ and now he’s trying to make his own supermen. He’s still obsessed with Superman and the new hero, Supernova. Steel uncovers the truth behind the heroes, most of whom Luthor kills just to mess with Supernova, and the pair get in a massive fight leading to Luthor again going down, but blaming everything on a weird shapeshifter.

Lex Luthor with a symbolic empty S shield, representing his lack of any values.

Renee Montoya gets a mostly great story taking her from ruinous alcoholism to becoming the new Question. She goes on a tour with the old Question, finding out information about the Crime Bible and reuniting with her ex-girlfriend, Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. The old Question’s an irritating mentor, as you’d expect, but also priming Renee to replace him as he’s dying from lung cancer.

I like the old Question, but the Renee Montoya Question’s fantastic.

The story collides with a few others, most notably Black Adam’s, and hits a dramatic peak when Renee’s dragging a dying Question through the snow, trying to find Nanda Parbat despite having no real direction, no supplies and no hope. It’s such a low point for someone whose story’s been little other than that, but she takes the moment, becomes the Question and kicks some arse in a way which makes you know this was a Greg Rucka favourite.

I loved the JLI era, having gone back to it after loving Keith Giffen’s Legion of Super-Heroes (turns out, they’re very different, but still good). Booster Gold is one of the surviving remnants of that era who hasn’t been killed or made evil and then killed. He gets a ton of sponsorships, acts like a tool and gets a resentment of the new hero, Supernova. He ends up dying and being barely remembered.

A depowered Clark Kent flings himself out of a window in order to get an interview with Supernova

Only he doesn’t. The cover of volume four spoils this, but Booster’s floating sidekick isn’t who we thought and has been infested with something awful. Booster goes into hiding by faking his death using his corpse from the future. He and his present day ancestor have been Supernova all along, to help figure out what’s going on and buy time.

This is why I lent this out to friends one at a time, so they didn’t see this cover.

Ralph Dibny’s story is one I always forget in this series. His wife died in Identity Crisis (more on that later in the year). He’s trying to find a way to resurrect her, going from hard time to hard time, including a horrifying moment with a cult trying to resurrect Connor Kent and a wicker Sue Dibny who actually starts moving. The story floats about, not really doing anything, until a denouement which reveals his floating sidekick isn’t who we thought. He dies at the end, but he goes out a hero, even if it’s all picking at the Identity Crisis scab a bit.

Ralph takes Jean Loring back in time to witness her murder of Sue Dibny, accidentally knocking a vase, fixing one stray plot element of Identity Crisis.

Will Magnus shows up, along with a ton of mad scientists of various obscurity. They get up to shenanigans and create an apocalyptic Four Horsemen, before colliding with Black Adam in a disastrous manner. This feels like Grant Morrison and/or Mark Waid had fun plumbing the DC continuity depths.

The mad scientists celebrate Thanksgiving.

Black Adam goes through a rough time. He starts as a kind of super-dictator, learns to love by getting a girlfriend who calls him on his crap, gets powers and helps guide him towards being decent. Her brother also gets powers and a giant crocodile sidekick. After all this growth, everything goes awry, the crocodile turns out to be one of the horsemen, kills the brother, kills Black Adam’s now-wife and leads into World War III. He rips a lot of people apart and the comic takes so much joy in the violence, it has the stink of Geoff Johns all over it.

The post Identity Crisis to Early New 52 era was full of all of this kind of stuff, to diminishing returns.

Adam Strange, Animal Man and Starfire are lost in space, travelling home. This is another storyline I generally forget about. They meet up with Lobo who’s a pacifist now, and encounter some cosmic zombies.

Is it good?

Mostly. There’s a lot of good, a lot of nostalgia, but also a few things which have aged badly. The adolescent ultraviolence of DC around this era would eventually require the reboot of The New 52 and still continue for a few years after. As I said, the stench of Geoffrey Johns is throughout this book and it’s only got worse with age. I fear for when I reach the Green Lantern series by him.

Am I Keeping It?

Yeah. There’s more good than bad. It’s quite a journey and there’s a lot to love here both from the story and my own nostalgia.

Everyone fights Black Adam

40oz Comics Collection

40oz Comics is a tiny volume, packed with stuff.

I also read the 40oz Comics Collection, which collects several Jim Mahfood zines. I love his art style and sense of humour. I know he still works now, but he feels like a very specific point in time for me; specifically my comic shop days, listening to Pharcyde and Quannum in the office while sorting out standing orders. There’s not much story here, a lot of sketch comedy and stoner humour, but it’s entertaining and makes me want to make zines.

Poor zombies…
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Graphic Novel Quest 2022

The start of a new quest!

Last year I played every board game in my collection. It was a lot, especially as I didn’t take the task seriously in the first half of the year and then way too seriously later on. It hit the stamina of my beloved and my lodger pretty hard, and I had to get them trying some terrible, terrible games which are now out of my collection, on their way out or in one case going to a recycling bank.

This year I decided to take on a similar challenge, but one where I’d end up only causing myself harm by going through an arbitrary checklist of things I enjoy or have previously enjoyed.

This time I’m going to read every graphic novel I own in the house. I’ve got two and a half long bookshelves in my living room with graphic novels, but also several pods in a kallax shelving unit in the workroom and a number on a bookshelf and various piles in my bedroom as well. I decided this quest last year, but I only counted how many I’ve got in the gap between Christmas and New Year. What I mean by this is that I’ve got three hundred and sixty six graphic novels to read, there will be more I’ve forgotten or will find in the house, and I should have checked this before deciding to do this and now I’ve told enough people that I feel I ought to crack on.

A few rules and exceptions

I’ve already removed some graphic novels from the collection prior to 2022 if I knew I was going to get rid of them, and more will go on the ‘cull’ pile, probably ending up in local charity shops.

Emma has a ton of graphic novels. I’m not reading hers even though a couple ended up on my shelves. She’s a massive Vertigo person and while I’ve got some Preacher-era books, I’ve not read most of the early Vertigo titles. If I somehow end up doing well with this, I might finally get round to reading all of Sandman, which I’ve not done before.

My brother brought down a few graphic novels to try and get the lodger to read. They ended up on my shelves, but they’re his and are exempt from this challenge.

I’m missing some graphic novels in runs of a series, and if they’re mid-way, I’ll end up filling them in before I get to them. The main example is my Walking Dead collection, which is inexplicably missing volume twenty-five. I have no idea how I missed that then they were coming out. There are some I stop abruptly with, either as that version went out of print, I got board, I started collecting individual comics or some other reason. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to see what to keep, what to ditch and what to mark for completion.

I’m not going to read any X-Men collections, as I’m already doing another weird ritual thing by reading an issue of X-Men a day ever since I turned 40, then posting my findings on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve not added any manga. Maybe that’ll be next year’s challenge.

I’ve listed everything in alphabetical order and that’ll be my guiding direction for what to read next, but it’s not law, so I might skip ahead or pick a smaller volume if I need something portable for a trip or holiday.

Finally, this may change depending on my patience, stamina and time, but I’ll try and write a little something about them.

My most recently bought graphic novel, mid-read on a train.

Lists

There are some graphic novels which are glorious one-offs like I Kill Giants and All-Star Superman. There are some which went on forever, and here are a few I’m going to encounter soon:

  • 100 Bullets – I’ve cooled on Brian Azzarello, but I loved his crime drama with the compelling hook that people are delivered 100 untraceable bullets and a photo of the person who ruined their life, then set loose. It goes way beyond that, but it’s a fantastic hook.
  • Akiko – An adorable science fiction series with an entertainingly weird cast. It’s been so long since I read any of these, I forgot there were so many volumes.
  • Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis & Jonathan Hickman – I loved the Avengers Disassembled/New Avengers era. It looks a little old now with the weirdly shiny effects on everyone and some of Bendis’ dialogue, but it’s still a time I loved. Then Jonathan Hickman came along and wrote what I think is still my favourite Avengers run.
  • Batman: Knightfall – This is only three volumes, but they’re the thickest graphic novels I’ve got. They’re classics from my childhood and the last time I read them, I realised how different my sequential art reading comprehension was after decades of more decompressed storytelling.
  • Fables: Deluxe Edition – A series about fairytale people living in New York, starting with a murder mystery and meandering along from there. I enjoyed it, especially Mark Buckingham’s art in the early run. The hardcovers I bought felt like they were stalling by including absolutely everything, and my enthusiasm wore out. Like so many series, I might pick it back up after reading this.
  • Freakangels – Ugh, this is going to be one of many difficult Warren Ellis reads. A post apocalyptic webseries about psychic cooler-than-thou youths.
  • Invincible – I have two thirds of the series in hardcover. I enjoyed it, then it went on too long. The problem with making a superhero series where everything changes and sticks is that Robert Kirkman’s not great at either sticking to that rule or keeping things interesting for a long time. It might get better, hell, I might read this and feel that I was too harsh in this judgement.
  • JSA – This is a fractured run as I have a lot of these issues in ‘floppies’. I was converting them, I found a few cheap volumes and then cooled on Geoff Johns.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Archives – I’ve got a gap in this collection which won’t be filled due to rarity, but these are some lovely hardbacks putting together the earliest appearances of the far future superheroes.
  • Morning Glories – A deadly school with weird goings on. As a fan of Lost style mysteries, and a writer of my own deadly school, I knew I had to check this out.
  • Preacher – I used to buy myself a volume of Preacher as a treat when I worked Christmas Eve at Dave’s Comics. It’s a modern (for the 90’s) Western and a story about a literal search for god. Gloriously violent, vulgar and sacrilegious, it wasn’t without heart and I have no idea how well it’s aged.
  • Thieves & Kings – Half-comic and half-prose, this is a fantasy series which I really love and it’s always a surprise how it’s never really got any attention from anyone.
  • Transmetropolitan – Another Warren Ellis series, this time about a bitter journalist in a cyberpunk future which always feels like it’s probably too close to ours.
  • The Walking Dead – A fast read, despite being the longest series in this collection by a long way. The challenge the author set himself was to write an ongoing zombie narrative where so many end quickly and either unrealistically positive or a real downer. I got bored with the constant miserablism of the television show ages ago, but the series kept me entertained until it ended.

Predictions

I’ll get rid of less graphic novels than I intended.

I’ll feel embarrassed about some of my earliest blog posts being so favourable towards Identity Crisis.

There’ll be some lukewarm takes about Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen.

All-Star Superman and I Kill Giants will make me cry again.

I’ll get Batman fatigue, and conversely I’ll feel like I want more Superman in my collection, but not Death of Superman.

So, with all that out of the way, let Graphic Novel Quest 2022 commence!

My Legion Archives and Walking Dead, taken when I was working out my graphic novel spreadsheet.
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A Fool’s Errand: Board Game Quest 2021 Ends

Here we are, the end of Board Game Quest 2021. I’m writing most of this before the end of Board Game Quest, so I don’t know whether I’ll have made it at this point.

Where I’m at, there are three more board games left to play and eleven days left, but those include Christmas, New Year’s Eve. My beloved is away for Christmas to visit her family, providing things aren’t entirely locked down. Both she and my lodger are tired of this. There have been a lot of games to play, and we’ve barely looked back at any of our favourites. I’m already working out a list of games to take to our friends, The Milehams, once I’m done with this. We’re working on the motto of, “More plays of fewer games” for next year, to allow some system mastery of favourites like Root, Scythe and Oath. It’ll also mean going through some of the campaign games.

So, to go back to the start, let’s remind ourselves about the initial challenge.

I had to play every game in my collection in a year, with a few caveats.

* The game had to be playable, which meant that Survivor and Cards Against Humanity ended (more on that later).

  • The game had to be playable, which meant that Survivor and Cards Against Humanity weren’t playable (more on that later)
  • The game didn’t have to be a campaign game, which meant that Gen7, Betrayal Legacy and my many unfinished campaign games were out, as we’ve been locked down so long and weren’t likely to be able to get back to any campaigns anytime soon.
  • Anything in my ‘to sell’ pile was disqualified. Most of these were either played this year or put in the pile before 2021, like Brighton Monopoly and Heroclix. I’ve sold a few now, and hopefully will get more sold soon. I think I’ve had one game which went on this pile without being played this year. Again, more on that later.
  • Finally, if I found a game in the house, it would get added to the list. I had a lot more games than I thought. This meant that a lot of traditional games ended up on the pile. I didn’t include traditional card games, as a deck of cards can probably provide a year’s worth of cards by itself, but it meant Ludo, Scrabble, Tell Me, even Tic Tac Toe were all added to the pile.

CabinCon

After two years away, the peacocks now ruled CabinCon House.

My friends from the internet hold a mini-convention every year (barring 2020) where we meet up for a week and play tabletop games. It’s fantastic, and this year it felt a bit odd, having not seen each other in a while, having to get tested for Covid ahead of time and meeting in the cold of November instead of May.

Between us, I think there were 24 or 25 games from my list which were in attendance, so I knew I’d get a few done. I played more games than this (30 in total), but I’m only mentioning the ones from Board Game Quest here.

Hanabi

My first game was actually one I didn’t have on my list of games I thought were going to be at CabinCon. As we entered, I saw a game going on and managed to dive in after a round. This is a really tense game about making a lovely firework display. You play with your cards facing everyone else and get clues about what you’ve got. Hopefully you can use those to play the fireworks in order, without everything going awry. We were so close with this one, but while our display was pretty, it wasn’t perfect.

Such tension!

Two Rooms and a Boom

One of the biggest challenges for this year has been games with a large player count. This was the worst for that, needing at least six players. Even worse, it had some black marks on it after a couple of incidents. One CabinConner taught it in my stead years ago in a fashion so bad that it put a lot of people off. Also having it as a kick-off ritual was a nice idea, but some people chafed against the idea of not playing anything until we had enough players for Two Rooms and a Boom.

Despite all this, I managed to rustle up initially a group of six, then it expanded to more and more until I had enough for a full session instead of one with limited roles.

The game has two rooms with a connecting central area, and two teams. Blue team had a president and red team has a bomber. Blue Team want to end the five rounds with the bomb and president in different rooms. Red Team want them in the same room. Each round, someone will run the room and send out people, and there are no restrictions about sharing your card. Nice, simple, but it gets amazing when you add weird roles. We did a test run which was fine, but the game glowed when there were almost all weird roles like an angel and devil who could only tell the truth and lie, respectively. There was a medic who the president had to reveal himself to and an engineer for the bomber, to force them both to have to trust someone.

This was a tense thing to get going, but a real joy to play for the first time in several years.

Dom as The Seeker, trying to spot anyone’s cards

Love Letter Premium

The large version of Love Letter could have been played with two or more players, but the differences only appear at five or more. This is a really fun variant on the normal game, including a lot of other ways to score points, letting you nominate someone you reckon will win a point and sharing their victory. It’s a bit of a longer game, but the expanded rules and the large tarot-sized cards made it a joy. It was nice seeing another group playing it later in the con, too.

Giant Love Letter cards and big wooden hearts make this a truly premium version of Love Letter

Skull

A fantastic pub game, allegedly made by the Hell’s Angels back in the day. You have three flower cards and one skull card, then you use them to gamble on how many you can turn over before hitting a skull. There are some amazing bluffing moments and incredible tension for something so simple. The game’s beautiful, too, even though I do have to remind people not to use them as coasters.

Don’t Get Got!

Much earlier this year, Sam from the CabinConners offered up a copy of Don’t Get Got, a kind of meta game you play while playing other games or just having an amount of time with other people, like at a party. I asked him for it, and he delivered it here. We also played a game of Don’t Get Got, which at least evened it out on this list.

You have a wallet filled with tiny cards telling you to do things, like get someone to argue with you about the colour of something, or to say something. I scored nothing as people were way too accommodating with my constant attempts to mess up and get corrected during a long game of Tapestry. It was tense trying to predict what actions people were doing which might ‘get’ you and avoiding them, and hilarious hearing the noises when someone else got got elsewhere in the house.

Bärenpark

This was a game I was saving until late in the year as it’s one of my favourites. It’s a game about placing tiles with different types of bears, or general theme park elements like paths, toilets or snack shops. You fill in tiles with these bears and place statues when you complete one. It’s easy to teach, has a few extra elements like achievements that you can play with, and has an adorable theme.

It’s a game which takes half an hour or so as well, so it’s perfect if you’ve got a little time, but not enough for a full-sized board game.

My final park

Fog of Love

This is technically a two-player game, but we’ve been loving playing it as a team game with two pairs of people running the brains of a dysfunctional couple in a romantic comedy. You create a character with a job, various needs to be satisfied in life, and the opposite player picks what their character found attractive about your character.

You play through several acts of increasing intensity, so we had our butcher’s brutal directness soften over time, but our IT guy partner couldn’t quite adapt to that. We had several rapid changes of romantic destiny we were aiming for and ended up alone, unhappy and with a child.

Our characters, just before we made a LOT of bad relationship decisions.

A Game About Wee Whimsical Creatures and Trying to Identify Them After Someone Makes Noises

This was a Kickstarter arrival just in time for CabinCon. It felt like a perfect game for our “Talking Bullshit Night”.

In this game, you line up some monsters, all adorably drawn by Benz. One player picks which one they’re making the noise of and folks need to guess which one it is. Short, sweet and it got some people in the other game room concerned about the noises being made, which was an added bonus.

Some of the creatures, as well as our scores and a whisky & coke to help with the monster noises.

Tapestry

I’m going back and adding this in, as Emma bought me Tapestry for Christmas, but I’m counting this one as it was played here. By Stonemeier Gamesm who brought us Scythe, this is a civilisation builder, but it’s fairly quick and chilled. It made for a good morning game in CabinCon.

You have a civilisation with a specific ruleset and a capital city on a nine by nine grid with a few spots filled in. You advance science, technology, military or exploration, or if you can’t then you advance to the next age of your civilisation and generate your resources.

It’s deceptively simple for something with so many pieces and sub-systems. It also creates some interesting issues with different levels of progress, leading to a civilisation with credit cards and space travel but no concept of writing yet.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

Another big game which was going to be tricky to get to the table given the player count. Luckily it’s a CabinCon staple. We rustled up some folks and managed to get a game sorted.

Based on the reboot of the television show, you’re trying to get to Earth while keeping your populace alive, safe from killing each other and your ship free from explosions or hostile robots. The problem is that some of you will be traitors; hidden robots trying to do the opposite, even if it looks like they might be helpful to begin with. I’ve already played Unfathomable which might just beat it slightly, game-wise, but only barely.

Decrypto

This is a game I love the look of and have owned for a while, but for some reason I just bounce off the rulebook. Luckily Ben Hendy (formerly of Who Dares Rolls), was on hand and a good teacher. Emma and I teamed up with him, trying to guess a code from four different words, but doing our best to make sure the other team didn’t figure out the words we had. It led to some amazing and baffling word choices, and will definitely be one to bring out for future game nights.

Ladies & Gentlemen

We only had enough players for two teams, but this was still good fun. In Ladies & Gentlemen, players are paired up into groups of a lady and a gentlemen. Hence the name.

The ladies play a card and deck-manipulation game, trying to arrange items in a shop, then reserve cards before others can. If nothing’s bought from their own shop, they can get the item in their ‘window’ for half price, but they risk other players wanting that item, too.

The gentlemen play a tile flipping game where they frantically rummage around a bunch of tiles looking for items to trade shares in. It’s a frenzied mess and good fun watching the chaos ensue.

Emma was the gentleman and after some teaching problems with the lady side in a previous game, found that role way more enjoyable. Personally I’m good with either of the roles.

The lady’s side of the board.

The Resistance: Avalon

I’ve played Quest already, but this is the classic version. It’s still good fun and a bit of a longer game. You’re going on missions for King Arthur, but some of you are secretly evil. Our missions included things like taking recycling out and trying to get some chocolates for Guinevere after making too much loud noise with all the recycling.

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