Marvel 616 Review – Journey Into Mystery #90

Journey Into Mystery Issue 90 Photo Credit: Marvel

While The Fantastic Four have been busy meeting The Hulk, Thor continues to face off against everything from communists to Loki to space aliens. The 90th issue of Journey Into Mystery once again presents an alien foe to the god of thunder.

This time Thor ends up fighting a race of aliens called The Xartans. These are aliens who are able to copy themselves into anything they see. Thus the title of The Carbon Copy Man (although there are actually several Xartans so the name doesn’t exactly hold up.)

Before the fight begins, Dr. Blake is just on the verge of telling his love interest Jane Foster that he is secretly Thor. Before this happens, Odin comes to Blake in a vision and warns him against doing so. Dr. Blake continues to look like a coward to Jane and she, of course, is thinking about her hero, Thor.

Soon, Dr. Blake is encountering people in town he knows doing strange things. New laws have passed saying cars should drive on sidewalks, billboards should go over office windows instead of where they belong, and worst of all, if people are sick but can’t pay to see a doctor they should be kicked out of the hospital. (That last one can be uncomfortably close to the truth and it’s interesting it appears here but I digress)

Dr. Blake is, of course, none too happy about any of this. He decides to investigate and ask the Mayor, who he appears to be friends with, although there has been no real mention of him before. The Mayor also seems happy with these odd changes.

Blake changes to Thor and tries to find out what is happening when he is trapped by a huge electromagnet. This separates him from his hammer and Thor turns back into Blake. This is probably good since all the actual people are in a spaceship operated by the Xartans. Blake tells the Xartans they are no match for Thor and so they should destroy him to take over the planet unimpeded. Jane’s not very impressed with this.

It does give Blake the chance to pick up his hammer and become Thor once again, however. There’s a fight with two of the Xartans using different methods to try to beat Thor but, of course, our hero wins in the end.

At the end of the story Thor tells the Xartans they have to change into trees. They do it, thinking they will be able to change back whenever they want. Thor may have outsmarted them because he figures trees don’t think so neither can the Xartans when they are in tree form.

This is reminiscent of how Reed Richards gets the Skrulls to turn into cows. Neither change is permanent and I’m sure we’ll see more of the Xartans in the future.

Overall, this story is fairly forgettable, other than the fact Odin really doesn’t want Blake to spill the beans to Jane Foster.

Next up on our reading list we’ll be catching up with the big green guy once again in The Incredible Hulk #6!

Final Destination 2 – Movie Review

Final Destination 2 2003 Film

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hello internet! It’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another movie about the inevitability of death, Final Destination 2. If you haven’t watched this before, buckle your seatbelts and strap in and watch it first because there may be spoilers in this review.

On the surface, it seems really silly to have something called Final Destination have a sequel. After all, wouldn’t final imply it’s the last? But the sequel does work and it actually connects fairly well to the first.

In the second film, we start off with something way more likely than death by plane crash. Instead, it’s death by car accident. Kim and her friends are about to drive out of town for a fun little getaway. She sees a huge, if somewhat unlikely, series of events resulting in a major traffic accident where she and a bunch of other people die. When she snaps to, she takes action and blocks traffic. Kim and several other people are spared death. Unfortunately her friends end up dead anyway.

Kim has heard about the events of flight 180 and the freakish deaths afterward and realizes she’s just experienced something similar. Clear, played by Ali Larter in the first film is still alive so Kim goes to see if she can be any help.

For the rest of the movie characters are trying, and mostly failing, to avoid their own inevitable deaths one by one.

I think the interesting twist in this one is how each character is somehow connected to the passengers who survived Flight 180. They come up with some rules for how to defeat death although, I’m not sure those rules really make much sense.

There are points where a lot of the characters simply ignore things they shouldn’t or take unreasonable actions. But, Kim and Clear for the majority of the film play it smart and Kim has the best idea of them all. I won’t spoil that here but her method does seem reasonable to defeat death in my opinion.

It’s a clever sequel and it once again has Tony Todd adding in an extra layer of creepy in the way only he (and maybe someone like Boris Karloff) can. If you liked the first film, this is not a bad follow up and I do recommend it. It’s just not quite as clever as the first, although I do think overall it is better acted.

Inevitably yours,

Slick Dungeon

Final Destination – Movie Review

Final Destination 2000 Film

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey film fanatics, Slick Dungeon here! I’m back to review another horror film. This time I went with the movie that cuts out the middle man, Final Destination. So, before the flight that is this review takes off, make sure you’ve already watched the film because there will be some spoilers.

Still with me? Okay great. Final Destination is a horror/thriller film about a group of teenagers who narrowly escape death when they get off of a flight right before it explodes. While most horror films have a bad guy going around offing the characters in one way or another, this one completely cuts out the middle man. There is no creepy stalker with a knife, there is no nightmarish figure haunting your dreams, there is not even a mythical vampire trying to suck your blood in this film. Instead, the bad guy is the inevitability of death. As far as villains go, this one is pretty unbeatable.

The story centers around Alex, Clear and a few other random people who were about to board a flight to France for a school outing. Just before the flight takes off, Alex has a terrible vision of the plane exploding and killing everyone on it. He has a bit of a freak out and makes for the exit. A few other people follow and/or are kicked off the flight along with Alex.

While most of the people who got off the flight seem to think Alex is off his rocker, the plane does explode. Great, everyone is saved right? Wrong! Not long after, one of Alex’s friends is killed. The audience can see it happen and it’s no accident. However, it looks an awful lot like a suicide. Alex figures out this is the inevitable death of all of those spared from the fiery death on the plane.

The rest of the film is spent figuring out who will go next, how to avoid death and how to make seem like Alex is not a crazed killer.

While not all of the effects are perfect in this film, and the acting is only average for the most part (Ali Larter excepted) this movie really does leave you with an unsettling feeling. If you are averse to flying I don’t recommend watching this at all because it’s just going to increase your fear.

The movie has few smash and jump cuts likely to make anyone jump and there is definitely a bit of gore but it’s not over the top.

If you are in the mood for a spooky thriller/horror film you’ll keep thinking about long after it is over, this is the movie for you.

Inevitably yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Review – Fantastic Four #12

The Fantastic Four Issue 12 Photo Credit: Marvel

In all of comic book history there is one type of event which sells more issues than any other. The crossover issue. This is an issue where characters guest star in pages of one another’s books. A lot of times this is to team up and destroy some great evil. Other times there are heroes who are good at heart but have a slightly different view of the world and they end up butting heads. Nobody pulled the latter type of crossover off better than Stan Lee.

From the first moments when we knew there was The Thing and The Hulk fans wondered which character was stronger. The eagerness to see the answer to that only increases whenever Ben Grimm brags he could knock out The Hulk any day of the week. Hulk hasn’t specifically called out The Thing in his book before but we as the readers already know Hulk has destroyed a ton of seemingly indestructible things (pun intended).

The cover of issue 12 promises a “book-length epic” and we can tell from the beginning this is going to be a big deal.

The issue starts off with Ben Grimm on a date with his girlfriend at the symphony. He’s in his usual disguise of a trench coat, fedora, and sunglasses. It’s not a great disguise but I guess it works well enough. On the way out, they see a company of infantrymen. A man next to Thing knocks his hat off and Ben, in a fit of anger, lifts the man up with one hand. The soldiers see this and think they’ve just caught a glimpse of the Hulk. They try out a few gadgets to restrain Ben, including a snap cable contraption that wraps around him, and a gas grenade. None of it is effective for long. The gas does slow Ben down, however. The soldiers explain the situation but Ben is even more insulted they think he’s the Hulk and says, “You tryin to tell me you thought that brainless lump of lard was me?!! Of all the crummy…” So, yeah Ben’s in prime fighting mood by this point.

Ben Grimm drops Alicia off and heads back to the Baxter building. He can’t find his electronic beam to open the elevator so he just rips off the door and climbs thirty-five floors up the cable. Ben relates the story to Reed Richards and the gang. He says, “Next they’ll be takin’ me for Frankenstein!” This quip actually works on multiple levels because Frankenstein’s monster is exactly what Stan Lee based Hulk off of in the first place.

Coincidentally, the Fantastic Four had just received a call from General Thunderbolt Ross who wants to talk to Reed about The Hulk. Ben is skeptical of Ross and isn’t even sure if there really is a Hulk since he’d never seen him in person. Ross comes in and apologizes to Ben, explaining the only way to recognize the Hulk is by his superhuman strength. (I guess the green/sometimes gray skin is not enough of a tip off.)

Ben immediately states he can make mincemeat of The Hulk. Ross shows everyone a picture of the Hulk and lets the team know a missile installation in the desert has been sabotaged. Ross assumes it had to have been Hulk. Ross asks the FF to find and destroy the Hulk.

Ross then shows them some film footage of Hulk destroying a cannon. This frightens Sue Storm enough that she accidentally turns invisible. Weirdly, Ben seems kind of insulted Sue thinks Hulk is more terrifying than he is.

We’re next treated to some panels where Ben imagines ways he would beat Hulk. Johnny Storm does the same thing. Even Reed thinks of defeating Hulk by surprising the monster and smothering him. Sue thinks all she can do is go along for the ride, unsure how she might help.

In a panel that just shows how dismissive men were of women at the time, General Ross states, “A pretty young lady can always be of help–just by keeping the men’s morale up!” Reed agrees by saying, “That’s just the way we feel about Sue, General!” Keep in mind, out of all of these characters, the only one with a real shot of stopping the Hulk would be Sue Storm. She would just need to send a tiny force bubble of air into his bloodstream and no more Hulk. Plus she is the only one who could actually use the element of surprise against him.

Reed then shows off the fantasti-car to Ross. It’s got a new and more futuristic design thanks to Johnny’s tinkering. They hop in the car and head to the desert to try to find the Hulk. Ross shows them some debris he says the Hulk crushed.

The real crossover starts to happen when Reed Richards is taken to a meeting where Dr. Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are both present. Also there is an assistant to Banner named Dr. Karl Kort. Banner insists all the equipment was destroyed from the inside out and that a rampaging Hulk would have torn the device from the outside in.

Reed and Bruce do have a strong mutual respect and have ready one another’s work. Kort leaves the meeting early and is pretty freaked out by The Thing. Ben gets too bored waiting and barges in on the meeting. There’s a tussle to get control of the meeting again and Ross rages at the FF. The only person to defend them is Bruce Banner. Ross then insults Ben Grimm in the worst way possible saying, “Looks to me like you’re afraid of The Hulk!”

Banner offers his help to the FF to find “The Wrecker”. Banner and Rick say it’s a saboteur doing the damage. Ross pretty much just fumes the whole time. Banner finds himself wishing he could tell them why he’s so sure Hulk is innocent.

Back at Banner’s hideout he shows Rick a model of the device that was wrecked. Turns out it was supposed to make any city completely invulnerable to enemy missiles. In a sort of random series of events, Rick Jones ends up with Karl Kort’s wallet and sees a membership card to a “subversive communist-front organization!” Kort sees Rick though and pulls a gun on him.

This leads into the fourth part of the story, appropriately titled “The Hulk at last!”

Reed and his team have been fixing up army equipment in the form of some kind of rocket powered sled. Thing is easily able to withstand the g-forces as he pilots it for the first time. There’s a bend in the rails of the track for the sled and Ben goes flying but Johnny and Reed save the day. The army blames Ben even though it was clearly sabotaged.

Bruce Banner rushes to the FF to ask for help since he can’t find Rick Jones. He doesn’t tell them why he’s sure it isn’t The Hulk though and this leaves the team suspicious of Banner. Bruce decides to transform to the Hulk so he can save Rick.

There are underground tunnels Hulk, the FF and Kort all converge in. Hulk thinks he needs to fight the FF to get them to leave the area. This was Kort’s demand in order to release Rick. And at long last we get to see The Hulk face to face with The Thing.

Hulk gets in the first punch, knocking Ben to the ground. But Ben is hard enough to hurt Hulk’s hand. The Human Torch is up next but Hulk buries him in sand, thus dousing Johnny’s flames. Hulk punches his way up out of the tunnels and buries Ben and Johnny underneath him.

Yet the Hulk is not aware of just how good Reed Richards is at finding the smallest crack to stretch through to get out of a trap. Reed wraps his arms around the Hulk. Hulk breaks free but so do Johnny and Ben. Hulk throws a wooden frame house from an old west ghost town at the team. This doesn’t stop them at all. Hulk next tries to separate them. He’s about to power dive Thing when he gets wrapped up by Reed. Hulk spins his way out of it. But Johnny is right there flying at the Hulk. Hulk gives one of his thunderclaps which causes a sonic boom strong enough to knock down three out of the four of the FF. Thing socks Hulk right on the jaw and this time its Hulk who is knocked back.

Just as we’re about to find out who wins the fight Hulk is hit with some kind of atomic ray. Ben is really mad he didn’t get to finish his fight and seconds later is confronted with a giant robot. Ben realizes this is The Wrecker’s machine and he finds the door to the guy’s lab. Ben smashes the door in to find Karl Kort. By now, everyone has realized it wasn’t Hulk who did the destruction earlier.

Just as Kort is about to hit Ben with the same ray he hit Hulk with, Sue knocks the ray out of Kort’s hands.

The bad guy is captured. Hulk realizes he doesn’t need to fight The Thing and might be too weak to do it anyway and goes back to change into Bruce Banner once more.

Ross holds a little ceremony for the FF and Reed and Bruce say they would like to meet again. The end of the issue asks, “Will the Hulk again meet the Fantastic Four??” I think we all know the answer to that.

This was a fairly major issue for the 616 universe. It was test to see if there was enough appeal to have characters regularly cross over to other books. The formula must have been successful enough considering it’s still done all the time.

Next up on the reading list we’re checking in on one of the few people who might be able to beat both Hulk and Thing in a fight, the god of thunder, Thor, himself in Journey Into Mystery #90!

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight – Movie Review

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight 2020 Film

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello horror fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon! If you’ve ever seen a slasher horror film you know the title of the film I am about to review is good advice. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight is a camper/slasher from Poland in the storied traditions of movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th. Be warned there will be some spoilers in this review so be warned before you read.

After a small intro scene from the past, the movie starts like most slashers. We have a group of campers out in the woods and the audience is pretty sure not all of these people are going to make it through the night. The people camping are here due to some problem or other they’ve had with technology. This is a sleep away camp where cell phones and other electronic devices are not allowed. The point is for them to get away from technology.

This is especially bad when there is a killer on the loose. While no one at the camp seems to know this is the case, there are some rumors of bad things that happened way back around World War II. We get to know the campers a little, most of them are not really surprising stereotypes. There’s a jock, a kid who is an online gamer, one who’s addicted to social media for the fame and influencers on there etc.

It’s not too far into the film we get the first real hint of something bad out in the woods. And soon students go missing. The audience knows what happened because we get to see the death before the other characters find the body. The film progresses like most of these where one by one people get picked off.

But, there is enough originality here to make this one stand out. While the film leans into the horror tropes, it does a decent job of twisting them just enough at the right moments to make it fairly disturbing. While not everyone is going to be impressed with the makeup and the look of the killer you can’t deny it’s an original take, even if it is a bit mashed up with other types of horror.

There are enough characters we come to care about for this to be worth watching if you want a pretty enjoyable horror film that’s never quite breaking entirely new ground. I may be a little biased because my favorite type of horror is films like these but I found it pretty entertaining overall and it’s nice to see a horror film that’s not American give it a go.

If you like stuff like Friday the 13th, the Fear Street films or any movie about campers who are in danger from lethal killers, this will be right up your alley.

Slashingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Flash Fiction Friday – Distracted Driving

Happy Friday internet people! It’s been a few weeks since I posted one of these. Hope you like it and let me know what you think in the comments!

Distracted Driving – By Adam Wright

Kevin’s pickup truck rattled down the highway. The black asphalt and white stripes on the road whizzed by in front of his eyes in a rhythmic pattern. He stretched his arm across the passenger seat and let out a yawn as he stretched.

He was singing along to some eighties song he’d heard a million times before. The name escaped him. Something about a movie he’d never watched. A glance at the clock told him it was near midnight. Another hour on the road would get him home. All he had to do was stay awake. 

A sip of coffee might be nice but then he’d need to pull over to pee. No way he’d be able to bring himself to keep driving after. Better to hold it.

His eyes were getting heavy when he saw a flash of white in front of his eyes. It was a barefoot woman in a white dress. She was beautiful with raven hair draped down her shoulders. She was in the middle of the road but when Kevin’s headlights shone at her they seemed to go through her, as if she wasn’t there at all.

Slowing the truck to a crawl, he wiped his eyes and opened them again. There was nothing there. Kevin convinced himself he was just seeing things when a voice rang out next to him.

“Jesus, Deep Blue Something? That band was old when I was still alive. Update your taste.” 

Kevin turned to see the woman from the road in his passenger seat. He yanked his arm back and opened his mouth. 

“Don’t scream. I’m so damn tired of screaming. Just get used to it. I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to.”

“You’re a…?”

“You’re driving late at night in an old truck on an open road. What did you expect? Yes, I’m a ghost. Happy now? Do you have a cell phone?”

Kevin tried to talk but a squeak came out.

“It’s not a complicated question. I know your truck looks like it’s from the 80’s but people don’t operate without cell phones anymore. I’m hoping to catch up on the news a little. Maybe watch some Tik-Tok videos. Where is it?”

Kevin pointed to the glove box.

“Can you take it out? I’m not solid anymore. Just start up whatever your favorite social media is. I’ll take anything. Hell, even if it’s NPR. Just hit play on something for me.”

“Uh… are you trying to haunt me? Did I do something to you?”

“Nope. Not trying to haunt anyone. Anytime one of these rickety old ass trucks show up out of nowhere, BOOM, I’m in it.”

Kevin jumped at the sound of the word BOOM.

“Don’t be so jumpy. I’m harmless, promise. I’m just bored as hell. The phone, can you?”

“Why are you here?” Kevin was twenty four years old but his voice cracked as he spoke as if he was fifteen.

“Do you want the long story or the short one? Short one’s easier.”

Kevin watched as a car drove towards his truck, the headlights flashing in his eyes for a brief moment.

“Uh.. short one?”

“I died, hoped to get revenge against my boyfriend. It didn’t work out. Now I’m here. Like, forever I guess.”

Kevin stared at the open road. He didn’t make a move toward the glove box.

“Fine, you want the long version. You’ve heard of the asphalt strangler? Yeah, turns out that asshole was my boyfriend. I had no idea. I found some gritty evidence in his truck one day and, well, you can guess what a dude called the asphalt strangler did to me. I swore with my dying breath I’d get revenge on him and next thing you know, I’m on this highway looking for trucks. Can’t help it.”

“But didn’t…”

“Yeah, that’s the part that didn’t work out. The asphalt strangler died of a goddamned heart attack. Can’t get revenge on a guy who is already dead and in hell can you? You’d think that would be the end for me but, oh no, here I am, night after night in random trucks with random dudes. Most of them are poor conversationalists too. Not like you though. I like you.”

“Thanks?”

“Seriously dude, the phone, like now.”

Kevin kept one eye on the road as he pulled the phone from the glove box. He looked away for the briefest of seconds. 

The world moved in slow motion as another truck slammed into the driver side door. Kevin felt himself tumbling, and saw his phone fly into the air.

“This is your fault, I’ll get you for this,” he spat the words at the woman in white.

The world went black.

Kevin opened his eyes. He was seated in a pickup truck, not unlike his own. There was a woman dressed in white next to him.

“What happened?”

“You wished for revenge. Welcome to the party.” The woman in white turned to the driver. “Do you have a cell phone?”

Book Review – Lightblade

Lightblade Book 1 by Zamil Akhtar

Note: This review was made possible by an advanced copy provided by the author Zamil Akhtar. Check out all of his books, including Lightblade and an incredible cosmic horror series called Gunmetal Gods here.

SUMMARY

In three days, Jyosh will slay the God Emperor, or die trying.

But first he must train his lightblade skills. While asleep. Each hour of sleep equals a day in a lucid dream, plenty of time to master the essential lightblade techniques and hopefully get skilled enough to defeat the monster who enslaved him and beheaded his parents and sister.

When Jyosh awakens to learn that the God Emperor has surrendered to an even crueler foe, a mysterious lightblade master who can summon divine dragons to burn whole cities, he’ll face a trial by fire against forces far more frightening than he could ever dream.

That is, if he’s not still in one.

Star Wars meets The Matrix in this progression fantasy adventure inspired by Indian and Persian mythology, featuring dragon gods, energy sword duels, ancient floating cities, and shared dream exploration.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Lightblade, the latest book from author Zamil Akhtar makes me wonder if there is anything this author cannot pull off. I’ve read all of his cosmic horror books and found them thrilling and fascinating. I was excited when I heard he was going to attempt a progression fantasy but wasn’t quite sure if the story would live up to my expectations.

I’m happy to say, the book surpassed all expectations I had and kept me constantly turning pages, immersing myself in this incredibly colorful and vibrant world.

Jyosh is a laborer at a camp where he spends his days using the green light in his world to create machine parts for an emperor who he has vowed to kill. Unfortunately for Jyosh, he has no combat training, and doesn’t possess a red crystal which would allow him to create a lightblade, an energy weapon which may have a chance at destroying the emperor.

What Jyosh does have is a modified dream crystal which will allow him to train in his sleep. In this world an hour of sleep is equal to a day in the dream. This may just be enough time for Jyosh to hone his skills and seek his revenge. But, there is something different about this training program.

Jyosh is going to have to figure out what he needs to do to survive and figure out what is dream and what is reality or he may lose everything he holds dear.

While the author makes the comparison here to Star Wars meets the Matrix, and that is certainly true, I was most reminded of Inception with this book. There are also fantastic creatures, some amazing illustrations, and tons of action.

If you like futuristic fantasy with elements of Indian and Persian mythology, you. are going to absolutely love this book.

Book Review – Doctor Glass

Doctor Glass by Louise Worthington

Note: This review was made possible by TCK Publishing who kindly granted me a review copy. Find out more about all their books by clicking on their website: https://www.tckpublishing.com/

To get your copy of Doctor Glass click on the Kindle preview above or click the link here: Doctor Glass: A Psychological Thriller Novel

To read more of Louise Worthington’s books check out her website: https://louiseworthington.co.uk/

SUMMARY

Psychotherapist Emma-Jane Glass has prioritized work over leisure for far too long. She does whatever it takes to help her clients, and it’s bordering on professional obsession. When she publishes a controversial article about unstable mothers murdering their children, an anonymous letter arrives on her doorstep:

I will expose you.
Then, I will mutilate you…
Wait for me.


After she is abducted into the night, Doctor Glass finds herself at the mercy of a dangerous sociopath. But being a relentless doctor of the mind, she feels an urge to help her fragile captor, even if it might shatter her sanity—and her life. It becomes a game of survival, and only one mind can win.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emma-Jane Glass is a therapist who is not afraid of taking on controversial positions and challenging patients. She has a small practice where she does her best to treat patients with kindness, empathy, and understanding. She will also go the extra mile to help those in need whenever she can. Not everyone in the community appreciates her views on unstable mothers who murder their own children. After she writes an article on the subject she unknowingly puts herself in danger.

Doctor Glass is an intelligent, empathetic, and caring clinician. When she starts receiving threatening notes and letters she will need to use all of her professional skill to understand who might be threatening her and why.

Lucy, the nutritionist and longtime friend of Emma-Jane who has an office next to the psychologist has her own patients and circumstances to deal with. But when Emma-Jane seems to go missing, it is up to Lucy to see if she can find out what happened.

The book is part thriller, part mystery, and part exercise in human understanding. The beginning of the book ratchets up the intensity immediately. While parts of the story waver, for the most part this is a page-turner.

Emma-Jane Glass is a fascinating character in not only how she deals with others but how she deals with her own traumatic experiences. There were times in the story where it seemed like some more sensible choices could have been made but overall it’s a believable story with a lot of intense emotion.

There is a side story involving Lucy which some readers may not enjoy but it does contrast nicely with what Emma-Jane is going through with her own patients.

If you like tightly wound psychological thrillers where the protagonist has to user their own wits and experience to get out of serious trouble, you’ll enjoy this book.

The first installment of The Glass Minds series has strong potential to carry the story forward and become a reliable read for enjoyable psychological suspense thrillers and I look forward to reading more in the series.

Marvel 616 Review – Strange Tales #107

Strange Tales Issue 107 Photo Credit: Marvel

Here we have one of the first grudge matches of the Marvel 616 universe. On the cover you can see it is Namor vs. Johnny Storm, an epic match up of fire against water. This type of story will become a regular staple of Marvel comics but this one does have some unique features.

The issue starts with Johnny Storm coming home from school to see the rest of the team has had a meeting without him. This is definitely a boys club because Reed remarks how they were working on the notes for their next Fantastic Four adventure and, “Sue was nice enough to type them up for us!” It’s a little ridiculous that Sue Storm has one of the strongest powers in all of Marvel with her ability to become invisible and create force fields but she’s seen as what amounts to as a secretary even by her own team.

Anyway the team, especially The Thing, kind of antagonizes Johnny, reminding him of quitting the team in the last issue. Johnny then decides he’s tired of being treated like a kid and decides to set his sights on winning a fight with a foe single handed. His idea is to go after Namor all alone and beat the Sub-mariner.

He shoots out of his apartment and flies to the sea. His flame dies out and he has to land on a boat. He tells everyone on board who he is but they all think he’s just some stowaway. After the waters get foggy, Johnny is able to light the way for the boat and the sailors realize their mistake.

Johnny sky writes a challenge to Namor just above the surface of the water and Namor gets it. He’s none too happy with Johnny. The pair duke it out going back and forth as to who looks like they might win. Namor uses the power of a puffer fish to save himself at one point, while Johnny goes supernova underwater with his flames. Namor is able to hypnotize Johnny at one point and gets the upper hand. It doesn’t last long though and Johnny is back in the fight.

Johnny is able to flame on while he’s under the water. His powers are still rather loosely defined at this point in the 616 so this kind of thing happens often where it seems like he shouldn’t be able to use his powers but does anyway. Eventually Johnny traps Namor in an underwater cave and gets away.

Exhausted, Johnny meets the same boat he helped earlier, and they give him passage on the ship.

Of course, Namor is not stuck for long and he breaks out. He assumes Johnny has left since he doesn’t see him around anywhere and figures he would have flown back to the continent by this point. Namor is somewhat relieved as the fight has gone out of him a bit. He also realizes Johnny is much stronger than Namor thought. Add that to the fact Johnny is not fully grown and Namor understands what a powerhouse of an ally he could be.

Namor imagines the two of them joining forces to beat the FF and holding the entire world in their hands.

A lot of this issue is just typical fighting for the sake of fighting. But the end with Namor contemplating what could be seems like it could be the foundation for a What if? story.

This was the first real one on one grudge match with Johnny and Namor but it won’t be the last. I also think it’s interesting how Namor was minding his own business and Johnny decides to start a fight. That’s not typically a hero move but it seems to work out in this case.

Up next on the reading list we’ll be sticking with Johnny Storm and the rest of his pals as he and the team meet The Hulk in Fantastic Four #12!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #106

Strange Tales Issue 106 Photo Credit: Marvel

In the pages of The Fantastic Four one of the more common storylines is for one member or another to leave the team. There have been times when this lasted a while but most often it is resolved in an issue or two at the most.

Strange Tales stars Johnny Storm in his own adventures but the rest of the FF have shown up here and there on several occasions. In issue 106, it’s advertised as a guest appearance for the Fantastic Four. There’s nothing unusual about this appearance but it does show Marvel is trying to tie a superhero universe together. One of the best ways to do this is to use the team that kicked off the 616 universe as much as possible.

It’s been a little confusing in Strange Tales for Johnny to live in Glenville but show up consistently at the Baxter building in the pages of The Fantastic Four as if he is living there. Johnny and Sue seem to be sometimes living in Glenville and sometimes at the Baxter building as well.

This issue starts off with Johnny zipping around an obstacle course Reed has created for him. Next a visitor arrives at Johnny and Sue’s Glenville home, asking to see The Human Torch. This should be surprising because Johnny has tried to disguise his identity in Glenville. This never made sense considering the FF are publicly known figures but Johnny tries to keep a secret identity anyway.

Johnny gets home and ditches his costume in an alley. (Side note here to mention a lot of Marvel heroes really do seem to think hiding their costumes in an alley is a great strategy.) Even as he is doing this, people are pointing out the Human Torch usually arrives home around this time.

As Johnny enters his home he is greeted by Sue and one Mr. Zante who knows Johnny is the Torch. Johnny is utterly shocked by this revelation but Sue admits “All of Glenville knows of your dual role!” This is one of the first times (but far from the last) when Marvel subverts expectations about secret identities not only to the reader but also to the character hiding a secret identity. This is similar to a future event involving Mary Jane Parker and Spider-man but to be clear, this type of revelation happens first in Strange Tales 106 with Johnny Storm.

A big question in my mind would be why Sue lets Mr. Zante in without knowing anything about him but she does. Johnny feels a bit embarrassed about everyone knowing his secret but Sue assures him everyone was just respecting his desire for privacy. She then leaves saying, “Now I’ll leave you two alone for your man talk!” Yeah, not exactly the most progressive of eras in publishing but it is what it is.

It turns out this Zante is an acrobat and thinks Johnny and he should team up and form their own super team called “The Torrid Twosome.” Not a name that would go over well now but might have made sense at the time. Zante recalls a bunch of adventures the Fantastic Four had and highlights all of Johnny’s biggest contributions. He tries to convince Johnny that Reed Richards is exploiting him because Reed keeps most of the money for research rather than paying Johnny more.

Johnny races over to Reed and starts to complain, going so far as to demand a salary. There’s a silly tussle with The Thing because, of course there is. In the end Reed says no, stating the money really does need to be used for research. Again, one of the biggest foes the FF face truly is money. It causes all sorts of problems for the team.

Johnny leaves the team and flies out of the window telling them he’s going to be part of the Torrid Twosome. When Johnny calls up Zante to tell him the news we get the first real impression Zante is up to no good. He thinks to himself, “By the time he learns the truth–It’ll be too late!”

Johnny next designs a rather ugly green and orange outfit, complete with beret made out of unstable molecules. Sue tries to convince Johnny not to join up with Zante but he just keeps going on and on about his new outfit.

Zante shows up the next day and tells Johnny there is a man stuck in a bank vault. The plan is for Johnny to melt through the vault and free the bank teller. The Torch flies through and melts the door to find no one inside. Zante follows and shoots Johnny with a liquid asbestos gun. He just wanted Johnny to open the vault so he could steal the money. As if that wasn’t enough, Zante shoots Johnny in the arm with a regular gun as he makes his escape.

The police attempt to catch Zante but because he’s an acrobat they have a pretty hard time of it. But when Zante gets to his getaway car it goes nowhere thanks to The Thing hanging onto the bumper to keep it from moving. Soon Reed and Sue show up to pitch in. They have him caught and all but arrested when Johnny comes out of the bank and demands the FF leave Zante for him.

There’s a bit of a chase but Johnny has a bum arm so it takes a bit longer than normal for him to catch the criminal. He ends up melting the pavement right under the guy’s feet, making it impossible for Zante to walk. Johnny then admits he never truly believed Zante but he had to string him along to find out what he was up to. The issue ends with Johnny back on the team and this time tossing away his Terrible Twosome costume in the same alley where he had been hiding his Fantastic Four uniform. With that, everything is back to normal and the FF can operate as whole team once again.

Next up on the reading list, we’re sticking with Johnny Storm for another story as we catch up with The Human Torch in the pages of Strange Tales #107!

Entropy – Book Review

Entropy by Dana Hayward

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

DESTINATION MARS! The Lunar Republic is on the run…

Life on Earth is dying from a mysterious cause, and President Kim bets her future on an obscure, young scientist whose theory can only be tested from outer space. The year is 2066, and the race is on against the Chinese to establish a viable lunar colony before the 100th anniversary of mankind’s first step on the Moon. Yet, the Moon is only the first step, the springboard for the permanent settlement of Mars.

“Entropy” is set in the near future where technology has evolved to an astounding degree. Human nature, however, has not; this futuristic novel reads like an expose on our own times.
“Entropy” is much more than a science fiction thriller; it is a running commentary on the times that we live. A dystopic, postapocalyptic, hard science depiction of epic space travel, colonization, and new beginnings for the human race: Entropy is a blockbuster, written by a new voice, waiting to be discovered.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been nearly one hundred years since humans first landed on the moon. The earth is dying and chances of survival both for the environment and humanity are getting slimmer by the minute. The world is not completely devoid of hope as a newly elected President Kim decides to shoot for the moon once again. There is a group of bright scientists, explorers, and military personnel will begin a lunar colony. As this is being established a young scientist has a theory the thinks may explain what is happening on Earth and find some solutions to keep humanity going. It won’t be easy and with a rival colony established by the Chinese government it will be a test of time, will, and deep thinking in order to move forward.

Entropy is hard science space exploration at its finest. It is engaging without becoming overwhelming. And while much of the science is still fictional, it is recognizable enough the reader of this era can relate to it. The events on Earth influence those on the lunar colony and vice versa. Geopolitics are not just window dressing here as they are important to the story.

There are also some military skirmishes but they don’t bog down the point of the story and are overall believable. Perhaps the one improvement which might be made is with the evolution of a wandering group who has some conflict with the government. While it’s still believable in the context of the story it was not always apparent how it related to the larger story but it does pay off enough in the end.

Although the story is about Earth literally dying, the reader comes away from the book more hopeful than they did going in.

If you like science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke, books like To Be Taught If Fortunate, or shows with deep thought and strong science such as The Expanse, you’ll find a great read in Entropy by Dana Hayward.

Jason X – Movie Review

Jason… in space…

Hello horror fans! It’s Friday the 13th once again and I’m here to review the outright weirdest of all Friday the 13th movies, Jason X. There will be spoilers in this review but at this point either you have seen this thing or you’re never going to. Still, you’ve been warned.

Jason Voorhees has been through a lot. He’s gone from a little boy who died in tragic circumstances, to the murderous maniac separating campers from their limbs in Crystal Lake, to the big apple New York City, and then all the way to hell. He’s been coming back from the grave for more in nine films and Jason X as the title implies is the tenth film.

The movie starts with a couple of people trying to cryogenically freeze Jason’s body. There’s a scientist there who wants to learn from the regenerative properties of Jason’s cells. Already we can tell this is a terrible idea and things just get worse from there. The woman who is in the first scene is able to trap Jason into the cryogenic chamber and starts the mechanism to freeze him. She leans against the wall and Jason just stabs right through the wall and the woman.

The movie flashes forward centuries and Jason is on a spaceship for, well, reasons I guess. Humans apparently don’t learn anything because the ship captain wants to profit from Jason. Also, the woman who was stabbed by Jason survives because of the modern science and the fact that she was also frozen. That way the crew can have one person to warn them Jason is bad news.

Her warning does not work. As you can imagine, Jason goes on a killing spree destroying every person who gets in his way. Also there’s some attempts at showing off cool (for the time) special effects and pseudo-scientific sounding language so we know it’s the future.

I’m not going to spoil the whole thing but I’ll say the deaths in this one don’t feel that imaginative, other than Jason, I can’t remember a single character name, and Jason is never truly done so people make really bad mistakes.

I do have some questions though.

  1. Why is this in space? I mean, I know there is a behind the scenes reason we have this movie. There were some licensing issues getting Freddy v Jason going and audiences still wanted more out of the franchise. They wanted to go for space horror like Alien or Predator but it so does not work.
  2. What machete is strong enough to pierce through six inches of steel? Forget studying Jason’s cells, just grab the machete cause that’s some serious stuff.
  3. This movie is missing someone warning people that the place they are in is cursed. That hardly counts as a Friday the 13th movie in that case.
  4. There are legends about Jason still known on this space ship in the future but only one dude knows what a hockey mask is. The sport was apparently banned in 2024 according to the film. So, did this movie predict the future? We’ll only know in 2024.
  5. Also, at one point there was reference to the “Microsoft wars” which were apparently violent. Again, is this movie actually predicting the future?
  6. Also, why is this in space? Do they not have local campgrounds in the future?
  7. I get what the film makers were going for here but the strength of Friday the 13th films has always been they were made for a small budget in a recognizable location. It’s certainly possible they could have made a good space horror film but it seems like these people never watched a good space horror film.
  8. There’s a part where they fool Jason with a Star Trek like holodeck and they don’t think to use it until really close to the end. I mean, come on, you have super modern technology and you aren’t even using it. What were these people thinking?
  9. There’s an android just like in Alien who looks human but of course this one is a woman, you know, so they can make a gag. And again it’s not until the end of the movie she’s used to try to stop Jason. Why didn’t the android think of this earlier??
  10. Why is this in space? Look, I can take a lot of ridiculous things in horror movies but Jason in space? I just can’t.
  11. Jason was in Hell at the end of the last movie. How did he get out? Seriously, did someone go down to Hell and dig him up? This needs an explanation.
  12. Also, and maybe I have asked this before but, why is this in space??? It doesn’t add anything to the movie.
  13. This is the tenth movie and we were totally expecting to see Freddy in this one because that’s what film 9 promised us. Why wasn’t Freddy here? You’ll just have to wait to see what happens with that until the next Friday the 13th.

Whatever happens in the next movie it can’t really get worse than this one. I’m not sure if this one is my absolute least favorite Jason movie but it’s in the bottom two for sure. I’m going to need a refresh on the Freddy movies before Jason meets Freddy though so you can expect some reviews of those films on here. Until then, don’t let any black cats cross your path!

Spacily yours,

Slick Dungeon

Hey Book Lovers Want to Earn $25?

Man walking in library

As many of you know, I write reviews on the website ReedsyDiscovery. I love this website because it’s full of independent authors who write great stories. It’s also got all kinds of resources for writers, editors, reviewers and just about anyone who might have anything to do with independently publishing books.

They’ve just started a program where when you write your first review on their site, they will give you $25. No joke, you can earn $25 for your first review.

You will need to qualify to be a reviewer. If you’ve ever done a book review on your blog, goodreads, YouTube, or anywhere else you can publish book reviews publicly, you’re likely to qualify. There’s plenty of genres and books to choose from too.

If that all sounds good to you, and you’re a fan of books and, you know, money, this is a great way to get $25. And as a reviewer you may earn tips, be able to compete in occasional contests, and get access to hundreds of free books. All you need to do is click this link and sign up. If you qualify, you’ll earn $25 for the first review you write.

It doesn’t cost you anything other than time to sign up and I can attest to it being a great experience for me as a book lover.

So, sign up now and get posting those reviews!

I can’t wait to see what you’re reading!

Flashbang! Volume III: Available Today!

Flashbang! Volume III Available today May 10, 2022

Hey internet people, I’ve got an exciting announcement for you. Today May 10th the
third volume of FLASHBANG! is available for purchase on DriveThruFiction.com.

What is FLASHBANG! and why are there three volumes you ask? This is part of a workshop run by the Storytellers Collective. A group of writers was given a prompt a day for the month of February. Then each writer wrote a flash fiction story based on that day’s prompt. At the end of the month the writers chose their best work and submitted stories to be published in this anthology. Editors then curated the anthology. This was the third year this workshop has run so this is the third volume.

Why am I so excited about this? There are over 50 authors who have contributed to this flash fiction anthology so there is going to be at least one story here any reader would love. And I happen to have written one of those stories. Mine is the first story titled The Librarian. But don’t buy this book just for my story. Buy it to support independent authors and to have something great to read. Each story is a thousand words or less so even if you don’t have a lot of time to read, you can take a few minutes, enjoy a story and go on with your day.

For $4.99 I would say you’re getting a great value. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

Purchase your copy here or at the banner above. I hope you’ll give it a chance and let me know what you think of the stories once you have read them.

And if you would like to read the story I wrote for the second volume of Flashbang!, titled Space Walk, get it here.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

(Note that if you do purchase through any of the links at this post I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Adam Wright

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Tales to Astonish #40

Tales to Astonish Issue 40 Photo Credit: Marvel

Tales to Astonish always features a few stories but with the consistent use of Ant-Man as the featured character on the cover, the book basically belongs to him. Hank Pym has gone on several adventures as a costumed super hero and so far things have worked out fairly well for him.

The police see him as someone they can rely on, he’s getting paid by the government to invent new products, and in general, the public likes him. When you are this set up for success there has to come a point where you fail. Of course, as one might imagine from reading the cover, Ant-man is not actually going to fail. After all, what hero does? In the end the good guys and gals will win out.

This particular story reads very much like an old episode of Scooby-Doo.

It starts with Hank in his lab creating a gas mask made of unstable molecules. Sharp readers of 616 comics know unstable molecules are used in all kinds of things for superheroes. The Fantastic Four have costumes made out of these molecules so they can wear clothes and still use their powers. It was a way of explaining why Sue Storm could be invisible without removing her clothing, why Reed can stretch and his clothes don’t rip and why Johnny Storm’s clothes don’t burn up the instant he flames on. It’s also why Hank can shrink to the size of an ant and his clothes still fit him. It seems Stan Lee hit on what he thought was a good scientific sounding (but not actually scientific) reason to explain all sorts of things.

Anyway, this gas mask Hank invents shrinks to the size of the wearer’s head which I guess is something the government is looking for.

Next we see some security guards who can’t seem to remember what just happened. Their armored truck is gone and it seems a villain known as The Hijacker has struck once again.

Howard Mitchell, who owns the Mitchell Armored Truck company is furious at his guards and wishes he could contact Hank as he says, “Only the Ant-Man would be clever enough to catch the Hijacker!” Of course, ants are everywhere and it is no surprise Hank Pym does pick up on this message. He has a watch which picks up signals from the ants telling him to don his cybernetic helmet to find out what is happening.

From the background of the panel we can see Hank has a very sophisticated computer system set up. There are tape reels and everything plus lots of switches so you know it’s modern technology. Hank narrows down what sector of the city the ants are signaling from and hops into his costume and launches himself from his catapult. I’m still not certain how the catapult could be so accurate as to get Hank around corners but we’ll just let that go for the moment. He lands on a pile of ants, after nearly missing them, and makes his way to Mitchell’s office.

Mitchell gives Ant-Man the rundown of what has been happening and asks for help. Henry first asks Mitchell to announce one of his trucks is going to make a huge shipment. Mitchell reluctantly agrees and then Henry asks Mitchell about his, “primitive art” asking if it is Inca in origin. Mitchell answers, “I spent some time with the Indians in the jungle! But that’s unimportant now!”

Occasionally, (well sometimes frequently actually) you run into some pretty bad stereotyping in old Marvel comics. We probably do need to look at these through the lens of the time they were written in but this still does not excuse much of what shows up on the page. From the art being called primitive and drawn very stereotypically to the ridiculous false mysticism which will later be mentioned in the issue, these things are hard to read. But, as far as this goes, this issue is one of the milder instances of harsh stereotyping and not nearly as problematic as some of the characters which will show up soon in the pages of Iron Man. That being said, for the plot of the story, knowing Mitchell has Inca statues and was in the jungle for a year is key to the end of the book.

As Hank leaves he tells Mitchell, “Don’t Worry! Whoever he is– however he operates– the Ant-Man will defeat him! I promise you!”

The next day the guards are loading up the truck and very relieved when Ant-Man shows up. Before the shipment can leave, however, Hank says he is in great pain, likely with appendicitis. The guards are upset but can’t blame the poor guy because it could happen to anyone, including Ant-Man.

Hank rides off on an ant but Mitchell decides to proceed with the delivery. Thus, Ant-Man leaving the scene is, “The first time the Ant-Man’s ever failed anyone!” according to one of the guards. Soon the armored truck comes upon a moving van stalled and in the way. The guards think about getting out to help but before they do the back of the van opens and a huge magnet is used to pull the armored vehicle into the moving van.

The Hijacker appears and lets out a gas grenade, knocking out all of the guards. But, surprise, Ant-Man was only faking his appendicitis and snuck onto the armored vehicle. He uses a catapult and a model airplane to do it and he’s sure to put his gas mask on.

There’s a bit of a chase where Hank ends up in the ignition of the car and then ends up on the engine block. Unfortunately for him, the Hijacker thinks to blast the horn as loud as he can, making Hank grab his ears. It takes a bit and an editors note explaining once again how Ant-Man still retains his human strength when small but Hank pulls out some engine wires to kill the horn.

With the help of some ants, Henry Pym is able to jump onto the Hijacker’s gas mask and tear it open. Once the Hijacker falls to the ground unconscious, Hank pulls the mask off to reveal… It’s Howard Mitchell. Hank suspected Howard as soon as he saw the “primitive art statues” and knew Mitchell had spent time in the jungles of Peru. Apparently, according to Hank Pym, “the Indians there have an ancient vapor, the inhaling of which causes a lapse of memory!”

This explains why Ant-Man had to fake appendicitis. He needed to convince Mitchell he wouldn’t interfere, therefore allowing Mitchell to commit the crime Hank suspects him of.

While this twist is not very original and it’s ridiculous in a lot of ways, this will not be the last time strange things are blamed on mysterious vapors coming from any number of jungles in the Marvel 616 continuity.

Mitchell was losing money at his company and thought he could make it back by stealing it from his own customers. As Tony Stark might say, “Not a great plan.”

This prompts the guards to realize Ant-Man has not actually failed and one of them says, “Mister, even when that guy fails, He wins! That’s the Ant-Man for you!”

Something to mention here is this attitude is completely different than the public has for most of the rest of the heroes in the 616. The Fantastic Four are sometimes beloved figures but they also have a contingent of serious detractors and the public turns on them frequently. The Hulk is almost never seen as a real hero, even though he does things which are notably heroic, often things similar to what Hank Pym does such as stopping communists from stealing secret plans. Spider-Man is anything but loved at his debut. Probably the only hero who is also popular at this point of the 616 universe would be Thor. The majority of people who have seen him in action do appreciate Thor but so far Ant-Man would be polling best with the public in the fictional version of the 616 universe.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking in with The Human Torch as he stars in Strange Tales #106!

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Nightcrawler – Movie Review

Nightcrawler 2014 Film

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello internet people, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m here to review one of the hidden gems on Netflix, an old Jake Gyllenhaal movie from 2014. Fair warning there will be some spoilers ahead so if you haven’t watched the movie yet, pick up your video equipment, rush through traffic and go watch the movie before reading the review.

Nightcrawler is a tightly paced, tense, psychological thriller of a film. The whole premise is pretty dark and there is an overall sense of creeping dread through it. Some viewers may find it too intense not for the blood (although there is some) but for the relentless nature of the intensity of the film.

The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a thief who finds a way to make some real money by filming bloody footage of newsworthy events and then selling the footage to news channels. The people who do this are apparently called nightcrawlers and the goal is to get the news footage before anyone else and sell to the highest bidder. Lou sort of stumbles on this profession but takes it up immediately.

He sells his footage to Nina, a news producer played by Rene Russo. Bill Paxton also stars as Joe Loder, a rival nightcrawler. Rounding out the cast is Riz Ahmed who plays Rick, a man Lou employs to help him navigate to crime scenes and take footage with him.

Throughout the film, Lou presents as a definite sociopath. He’s out for his own ends, not concerned with the health or welfare of anyone else, and has no trouble walking right past ethical lines.

The movie already starts pretty intensely but as Lou makes more and more reckless choices it gets downright uncomfortable. Even if you don’t like the rest of the film, Gyllenhaal’s performance is gripping. He gives off just enough of a villain vibe without being cartoonish and we’re still always able to relate to what he is trying to do even if we know he is going too far.

If you need a good thriller to watch, you can find this one on Netflix right now. If you haven’t seen it do yourself a favor and put it on your watch list. But maybe skip eating anything while you watch it.

Thrillingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #11

Fantastic Four Issue 11 Photo Credit: Marvel

There were times when the early Marvel 616 comics could get a bit out there and experimental. Issue eleven of the Fantastic Four is one of these instances. There are two stories in the issue. For some reason the second story, the “B” feature, if you will, is listed in the Complete Marvel Reading Order is listed as happening first. I’m not sure if there is an actual story reason for this but I’m going to go through the features in the order listed on the website. Both stories do some sort of groundbreaking things and the end of the issue has a major tease which helps propel Marvel 616 into a more unified universe.

The second story in this issue is called The Impossible Man! It’s about an alien who lands in what is described as a “hobo jungle” where a bunch of vagabonds are having dinner. The green skinned alien with the pointy head asks for some food but is told he needs to pay for it with cash. The alien asks where to get cash and is told you have to ask for it at the bank. Not realizing what that means, the alien transforms into an airplane and pops into a vault at a bank. This freaks out the bank attendant enough for him to leave and the alien grabs some money. The cops immediately arrive on the scene and start firing at the alien but he turns to steel and the bullets bounce off of him.

The police realize this is more than a match for them and they can call the Fantastic Four to come help deal with the situation. They hop in the Fantasti-car and find the alien chowing down on a bunch of food in a restaurant. The FF demand to know what the deal is with this guy and he tells them he comes from “the planet Poppup!” The evolutionary processes on Poppup are so swift the inhabitants can change themselves into anything whenever the need arises to survive the constant attacks from predators and environmental hazards.

This idea of constant evolutionary change is actually a precursor to what we will see when mutants are revealed in the pages of The X-Men in the future. For now it’s a bit of a silly joke and an excuse for Jack Kirby to just draw whatever he wants to.

After his little backstory the Fantastic Four tell him he can’t just take money from a bank and it escalates into a skirmish pretty quickly. The alien, who is dubbed The Impossible Man by The Thing is able to evade capture by changing forms whenever he is attacked and negates all four of the member’s powers. Individually and collectively the team is not able to do anything to stop The Impossible Man.

Reed Richards is no slouch though and he has some ideas on how to deal with this guy. After Impossible Man does a few stunts and some major property damage, Reed tells the police and all the world to simply ignore the Impossible Man.

The Impossible Man first came to Earth because he was bored of his own planet. Reed figures giving him the silent treatment might just be enough to get this guy to leave. It takes a while but it works.

If you were to think of something else in comic books to compare this to, The Impossible Man is the analog of Mr. Mxyzptlk in DC comics who comes around to harass Superman every once in a while. Impossible Man is not quite as fun as Mr. Mxyzptlk but he showed the Fantastic Four are able to use their heads instead of their powers when needed. Also, for a while in the issue the world started to think Reed Richards was a coward but he didn’t seem to care. Instead, he just sticks to his plan, never bothering to explain his strategy or solution to anyone. This is a very typical Reed Richards move which sometimes lands him in hot water.

The last panel of this story teases a major milestone in Marvel 616. It tells readers to come back to read a “surprise-packed full length thriller– The Fantastic Four meet– The Hulk! Don’t miss it!”

This is the first major crossover from one Marvel 616 book to another. There were always suggestions and rumblings, including some pretty solid evidence in the way of newspapers and dialogue that these characters existed in the same reality. But to have a major Marvel character appear in the Fantastic Four will be a landmark event.

The first story in issue eleven of The Fantastic Four is in some ways much more interesting than the “B” story. While most issues of the FF deal with supervillains in some way or another, this one shows us a slice of life for the superheroes in a story titled, “A Visit With the Fantastic Four.”

Stan Lee proves once again here that Marvel is not afraid to try new things in comics. He breaks the fourth wall a bit when the FF meet some fans who are eagerly awaiting the next issue of a comic book magazine called The Fantastic Four. We also meet an important figure in the annals of Marvel history, Willie Lumpkin, the mailman who delivers mail to the Baxter Building for the Fantastic Four. In time he will become an important figure to the series who plays integral parts in multiple stories. Willie even tries to join the FF in this issue, telling Reed Richards that he doesn’t have any super powers but he can, “wiggle my ears real good.”

The story shows off a few secrets of the Baxter Building. The FF have special belt buckles which can send a signal to their personal elevator allowing them and only them access to their apartments at the top.

The team then spends some time opening their fan mail. The Thing gets a gag gift which is a boxing glove extender that punches him in the eye. He’s not real happy about it. Thing is convinced it’s from the Yancy Street Gang who we already know he has some beef with but this is the first time Thing has really called them out by name.

Reed gives Thing a serum and he once again turns back to the human form of Ben Grimm for a while. We then get a few flashbacks from before the heroes flew into the cosmic rays. We find out Ben and Reed were college roommates. Reed is the smart one but Ben was the football star. Reed made a name for himself by winning lots of prizes in the field of science and it probably didn’t hurt that he was the son of a millionaire. Ben becomes a marine fighter ace pilot and gets nationally known as a hero for it. It’s also revealed Reed worked underground for the O.S.S., the first independent U.S. intelligence agency.

While Reed was at the front of the war he would dream about the girl he left behind, Sue Storm. As soon as Reed brings this up Sue is conflicted. She has some mixed feelings due to her emotions about The Sub-Mariner. Reed gives her some space but of course, he’ll bring this up again in later issues.

After returning from the war, Reed decides, “We’ve got to reach the stars before the reds do!” and the fateful events are put into motion which result in the first team of superheroes in Marvel 616 continuity. This origin will get refined over and over again in later issues but this one shows us why Reed was so eager to have Ben pilot the spacecraft. He was a famous war hero pilot so it made sense and Reed knew he could trust Ben.

It’s ultimately Sue who convinces Ben to be the pilot. She and Johnny have agreed to come along and implies Ben is afraid to go. Ben is not one to back down from a challenge so he decides to go.

The rest of the flashback is the standard rehash of how they hit cosmic rays and got their powers using panels we’ve already seen several times in these first eleven issues.

Sue then tells Reed and Ben she’s been getting letters saying she isn’t contributing enough on the adventures of the team. Ben and Reed reassure her she is vital to their success and we get some more re-used panels of several times Sue has helped the team get out of different situations.

Ben suddenly turns back into The Thing. The serum lasted longer this time but nothing seems to be permanent with curing him. An alarm goes off and the team rush into the spaceship they kept as a memento of their adventure on Planet X. Turns out it was just a surprise birthday party for Sue. Still, small gestures like this show this team is more of a family than a superhero team. The story concludes with Willie Lumpkin complaining about his heavy mail bag full of comic magazine heroes and letters to the editor pages.

While you could argue this story isn’t super interesting, it does show more sides to the characters than most comic books at the time were showing. For all we know about Clark Kent in the pages of Superman there wasn’t ever just a story about him having a day with friends where no actual fights break out. This kind of storytelling is what makes Marvel stand out from the competition.

Make no mistake, no matter what you think of the story and issue itself, this is an immensely important moment in the history of Marvel 616 and comics in general. It just begins to scrape the surface of what superhero storytelling could be. There will be more slice of life stories to come but this is truly the first.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be shrinking down once again to catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #40!

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Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone – Book Review

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone by J.T. Michaels

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

The Great War ended a century ago. Peace reigns across the eight countries. Epic tales of heroic men and women of those times are recounted in song and story. Yet, history seems to have forgotten a young battlefield healer, Tessa Marlise…

Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Chartron has just enrolled at the Navale Academy of Eagleon, his mind set on becoming an electrician. A chance magical encounter binds him to the trapped soul of Tessa Marlise. As Jimmy struggles to deal with this shocking development, murder and mystery unravel in the academy. Caught in the middle of everything, Jimmy realizes that a larger evil is afoot and that only two things can stop it: himself and the ghost in his head…

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jimmy Chartron is a hard working, sixteen year old, boy. He’s been accepted to the Navale Academy where he wants to learn to be an electrician. He also works on the docs. But a chance encounter with a bit of magic pairs him with a ghost named Tessa. Tessa is stuck in Jimmy’s mind and the two of them have to find a way to work together to keep Jimmy safe, unravel a mystery, and quite possibly save the world.

The book is a bit of a mix of Harry Potter and futuristic technology. At the same time, it’s got a unique feel to it and manages to tell an original story. While the relationship between Jimmy and Tessa is the main narrative there is a wide cast of supporting characters and J.T. Michaels does a good job of balancing the action with the characters.

Parts of the story do feel like something you may have read before but there is enough of an original spin here to keep the reader interested. It would have been nice to have just a little more of the background of the war which ended a century ago. But I believe this could easily be expanded upon in future installments of the series.

There is also a well thought out magic system in use here that feels like a good blend of traditional ideas of magic with a bit of technology thrown in for good measure. And there are some unique creatures populating the landscape as well.

This definitely feels like a book with good series potential where the stakes and action can rise in the future.

If you like fast paced adventure books starring adolescents such as Harry Potter, Septimus Heap or Rick Riordan books you will enjoy Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone.

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Choose or Die – Movie Review

Choose or Die

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey horror fans, it’s me Slick Dungeon! I’m back to review another creepy film. This time I watched Choose or Die and I’m here to give you my hot take on it. Do be warned there will be mild spoilers so if that kind of thing kills your ’80’s nostalgia, go watch the movie first and come back here to read the review.

Alright, for those of you who are still with me, let’s get into it. Choose or Die is about a cursed video game. Think Ring but instead of a video tape it’s an old copy of a text based game you might have found for computers in the 1980’s. While I think Ring is a fair comparison there are some major differences so even if you’ve seen Ring it doesn’t mean you can predict what will happen in Choose or Die.

The premise is pretty simple. A man finds an old copy of a game called CURS>R. It seems to be a game where there was the potential for prize money that is still unclaimed to this day. Beat the game and you might win $100K dollars. Whether or not the company which produced the game will pay up is anyone’s guess.

About three minutes into the movie things get pretty weird and bloody. While playing this game, the man who bought it at a clearance sale is asked to choose between a face and a tongue. See, his wife and son are loudly arguing upstairs. While the choice is a little weird the guy chooses “his tongue” and seconds later, the wife is cutting her own son’s tongue out, seemingly unable to stop herself. It’s a pretty disturbing scene and there are a few scenes like this so if you don’t like a bit of gore in your horror this is probably not for you. However, this is by far not the most bloody movie I’ve ever scene.

Next we see Kayla, who seems unconnected with the events of the game in any way, going about her day. She’s a wannabe computer programer who is played by Iola Evans. Her best friend, Isaac, played by Asa Butterfield is also an aspiring programmer but happens to be in love with Kayla. Kayla’s home life is pretty rough. She lives in a sketchy neighborhood, her mother is essentially checked out of life, and her little brother died at a tragically young age.

Isaac finds a copy of CURS>R and pops it into his computer where he hears the voice of Robert Englund start talking about the game. That’s right, good ol’ Freddy Krueger himself is in this. Well, his voice is anyway.

Kayla takes the copy of the game and starts playing it late that night in a cafe. Very quickly she realizes the game itself is affecting reality, and not in a good way. As you can imagine, the terror increases and Kayla and Isaac have to figure out a way to beat the game without doing major damage to themselves or others.

I don’t want to give too much away so we’ll just say it’s like a lot of movies where there is haunted technology. But, the end does come with a bit of an interesting twist making it worth staying for the end.

Some of the effects are not stellar here and it relies a bit too much on jump scares and silly tricks at times but it’s still a fun watch. While there are better horror movies on Netflix this one isn’t bad and it kills a bit of time if you just need a good fun horror movie. Just don’t look for anything super original here.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Journey Into Mystery #89

Journey Into Mystery Issue 89 Photo Credit: Marvel

Thor in all his thunderous glory has fought other dimensional beings, his own brother Loki, and even a group of communists. Until issue 89 of Journey Into Mystery he hadn’t fought the mafia. But that is exactly what he does here.

The issue opens with Thor returning to the office of his secret identity, Dr. Donald Blake. Dr. Donald Blake is a successful surgeon who uses a cane to walk around. He’s not much like the god of thunder so no one suspects their connection. When Thor flies back there are some patients waiting in his office so he decides to fly into a mannequin store, dress one up like Thor (I don’t know where he got the materials to dress it up either) and toss it through the sky toward the ocean where it will land without harming anyone. (I suppose it might annoy Namor though) This ruse is enough to give Thor time to get back to his office and transform before the patients are any the wiser.

We then get another recap of how Dr. Donald Blake stumbled onto the magical stick that allows him to transform while he was on vacation in Norway. We also get the rundown yet again showing Blake is in love with Jane Foster but convinced she could never care for him. Meanwhile, Jane loves Blake but he won’t take any initiative so she thinks he is uninterested. And then she daydreams about polishing Thor’s hammer and ironing his cape. Seriously, I am not making that up. This is what the men who made these comics thought women would imagine in their heads. Yeah… so anyway…

When we switch back to the present moment there is a shootout just outside the office of Dr. Blake. Turns out a mobster named Thug Thatcher was arrested and immediately his men shot at cops and helped him escape. Unfortunately for Thug, he was hit in the shoulder in the crossfire.

Blake was just a little late in telling Jane to go home for the day so now the two of them are stuck in the office while the gunfire happens. If Blake turns to Thor he gives away his secret identity. As fortune would have it, two of Thug’s uh… thugs… realize they “…gotta fetch him a sawbones!” and notice a handy doctor’s office in the vicinity. And yes, you guessed right, it was Blake’s office.

The mobsters take Blake captive and make him treat their boss. Blake does so because he has a duty to treat an injured person not because he was told to. In the process they do take his cane which means he can’t easily turn into Thor. Thug is fixed up and tells his boys to “Take care of the good doctor.” Seems Thug doesn’t want Blake squealin’ to the cops. But even with his cane out of reach, Blake has one trick up his sleeve.

Perhaps in his head is more accurate. He decides to use all his concentration to call out to the Norse gods. Odin, up in Asgard hears the call and sends a wave of force that targets the man who is holding Blake’s cane. The cane is dropped and Blake grabs it, turning himself into Thor. The mobsters are understandably confused as to where the doctor went but Thor tells a very thin lie that he tossed Blake to safety.

It’s now mob bosses versus the literal god of thunder. You can probably guess who wins. Thor blows hurricane force winds at them and wraps them up in a sheet and tosses the sheet into a tree. A couple of the thugs try to escape in a car but Thor throws Mjolnir through a bunch of trees which trap the car and the mobsters.

Still, not everyone has been caught. Thug and his loyal girlfriend have managed to escape while the tussle was going on. It seems the girl loves Thug and he knows she’ll never leave him even if he is a terrible, terrible person. Thug comes up with the plan to capture Blake, knowing he and Thor seem to turn up in similar locations often. Good luck with that, Thug!

Thor goes back to Blake’s office to untie Jane from when they first snagged Blake. Thug has decided Jane is just as good a hostage as Blake would be. Since Thug has a gun to Jane, Thor puts the hammer down, knowing it will expose his secret at the end of sixty seconds.

Thinking fast, Thor decides to use “his super-developed vocal cords” to throw his voice across the room, impersonating the police. I know, I know, this sounds really silly but you have to put this in some context. Thor is the closest thing Marvel has at this time to Superman. He’s got a lot of the same powers, flight, strength, gale force winds for breath, and he even has a mild mannered alter ego the way Superman does. Superman at this time had the super power of super-ventriloquism so Marvel is just kind of following suit here. It’s yet another power for Thor to use in the moment when he needs it to be forgotten about soon.

This ruse is enough to fool the gangster and Thor kicks his gun away and gets his hammer back. He then uses it to make a mighty updraft to get Jane Foster to safety. Thor rushes out the window behind her to make sure she is safe. The gangsters shoot at him but to no avail. Thug uses the opportunity to try to escape. His girlfriend, Ruby, begs him to stay and “take your medicine” going so far as to say she’d even wait for him. But Thug is a dumb Thug and just tells her to shut up and get lost. He then shoots at her. I don’t know about you but if I have the god of thunder after me, I’m not wasting bullets. Anyway, Thor blocks the bullets for her so she’s fine.

Thor pounds his hammer on the ground four times, causing lightning to hit the cables of the elevator Thug is on. He then gets onto the steel girders but Thor melts those. I don’t know why Thor doesn’t just fly up and get him but I guess they needed to fill some panels.

Thug finds a bucket of hot rivets and threatens to dump them onto the crowd. Thor promises he won’t try to capture Thug. The girder gives way under Thug and Thor flies up to save him.

As Thor comes down, Ruby swears she still loves Thug and doesn’t want to see him fall. The cop next to her says, “Don’t worry lady– Thor’s got him! But a crumb like that sure don’t deserve anyone as loyal as you!” Well said nameless officer, well said.

Turns out the steel girder Thug was standing on was faulty because it was steel from his own racket where he was selling sub-standard steel for buildings to make his illegal money. So he kind of captured himself.

Thor then asks Odin to erase all memory of Thug Thatcher from Ruby’s mind so she will be “Free to find one who will be worthy of her!” I know of a nameless cop who just might be interested.

The end of the issue has a little tease for the next Journey Into Mystery where Thor will fight the wonderfully named “Carbon-Copy Man!” I’m guessing it will be more of an interesting fight than this was.

To put this issue in some context, it does have a few notable things in the story. It seems it is getting easier for Thor to call to Asgard whenever he needs to. Also, the love triangle between Blake, Thor and Jane Foster continues and will do so for a fair amount of time still. Finally, with the introduction of things like super-developed vocal cords, Thor is rapidly becoming unbeatable in his own book. It’s clear he needs to be pitted against folks who have super powers, not run of the mill mobsters. We’ll get to that point but not for a while yet.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be getting cosmic once again with the famous Fantastic Four in issue 11 of the series!

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More Than Evil – Audiobook Review

More Than Evil
More Than Evil by Bill Richardson

SUMMARY

A supernatural entity that has been imprisoned in the Earth for millennia is released in a small town. It quickly spreads, leaving a trail of blood and carnage in its wake. Harlan is the local sheriff, and he is in a race against time to save the woman he loves, his town, and the rest of the world from this horrifying evil. 

More than Evil is a relentless story with a different kind of monster. It manages to feel both fresh and familiar at the same time. If you like high-octane action and nearly unkillable creatures, then you’ve come to the right place.

This audiobook features a 3D soundscape filled with music and effects. Richardson is a film and TV producer and uses his years of experience to make this audiobook feel like a movie for your ears. Horror is the perfect genre for this kind of rich sound design but rarely gets it. The atmosphere created by this treatment takes an already great story and elevates it to a whole new level. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Harlan is a small town sheriff in Appalachia. He and his best friend are on poor terms after Harlan starts a relationship with his best friend Andy’s wife. One day in the mines of the small town, Andy is seething in his anger over the situation. A mining accident occurs and unleashes an inhuman evil upon the town. Now Harlan has to figure out what is happening and how to save his town, his friends, and his family from being torn apart by ravenous undead creatures with an insatiable bloodlust.

There are many elements of this audiobook similar to other horror stories but this doesn’t entirely detract from the story. It should be noted to any squeamish readers/listeners there is a lot of blood and gore here so if that is not your thing stay away. If you have a stomach for some blood and guts though this is a fun listen.

I thought the sound effects would potentially detract from the story but I did find these to be well done and overall added to the story with only a few moments where having the sound effects were a bit of a distraction.

If you like shows like The Walking Dead, movies like Night of the Living Dead or books like World War Z you’ll have a good time listening to this. While it’s not perfect there are plenty of decent scares, twists and inventive turns here to keep you awake at night as you listen.

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #105

Strange Tales Issue 105 Photo Credit: Marvel

In Strange Tales #102 Johnny Storm met the supervillain known as The Wizard for the first time. He laid a series of traps but Johnny evaded them eventually and with a little help from Sue Storm he was able to trick The Wizard into thinking he had psychic powers. It wasn’t very wizardly for someone who claims to be smarter than anyone considering it’s pretty public knowledge that The Human Torch hangs out with The Invisible Girl.

Despite his less than perfect debut, The Wizard is back for round two with ol’ hothead. The issue starts with a brief recap of the events from issue 102. Then we’re shown The Wizard in prison. He’s been a model prisoner just so he could get placed to work in the prison hospital where there are a bunch of chemicals within reach. He concocts a mixture that is capable of eating through a wall and he proceeds to make a man sized hole in the prison. The guards assume he escapes out this hole but while they are busy looking around for him, The Wizard, who was simply hiding, waltzes right out of the cell door the guards left open for him.

The Wizard sneaks onto a train and heads in the direction of his estate where he observes police looking for him. It’s exactly what he expected and he’s smart enough to have created an electromagnetic force field to keep people out.

While The Wizard is smart, he’s dumb enough to challenge The Human Torch to battle and Johnny gets word of it on the news. He’s not about to give up on a challenge and the opportunity to show up an escaped convict. Sue Storm is not comfortable with the idea though and tries to talk Johnny out of it.

Johnny whips up a fire made double of himself to fool Sue while he goes and takes on The Wizard. The only trouble is his double can’t talk or respond to Sue. She calls up Reed Richards and Ben Grimm but they basically tell Sue to leave it to Johnny because “He has to grow up and stand on his own two feet sometime!” So, yeah, showing not a lot of concern for Johnny’s safety here.

The Human Torch makes it to The Wizard’s estate where he is let in but the police are still kept back. If I was a villain inside of an estate with an impenetrable force field the last thing I would do is to let my rival super hero in but that’s exactly what The Wizard does. His ego is just too big to allow him to do the sensible thing here.

He does have a pretty big rocket launcher though and he fires it at Johnny. The Torch just melts it. Next The Wizard tries to drop Johnny into an asbestos-lined dungeon. Of course, Johnny flies so that backfires. Next up is nerve gas but Johnny stops that with a wall of fire to insulate himself from the gas. I’m really not clear on how the physics of that would work but we’ll just assume it does.

The Wizard boldly claims he was simply testing Johnny when an alarm goes off. Someone else entered the house. He can’t see anything on his security cameras and figures it has to be The Invisible Girl. At least he learns from his mistakes. He goes to the room Sue is in and sprays the air with a special spray he made which reveals where she is. I mean, paint would have worked fine, but sure a special spray, why not? In the room she is in some walls come up and trap Sue. The Wizard then plants a device in the wall and heads back to check on Johnny.

Turns out the device in the wall is an explosive and if Sue can’t escape in five minutes, well, that’s the end of her. The Wizard offers to let Johnny into the room if he flames off. Of course Johnny is going to take that offer. And in a classic villain blunder, The Wizard has placed two heroes in the same deadly room, increasing their chances of escaping.

Once The Wizard is safely away he lets Johnny know if the temperature increases in the room by a single degree the bomb is rigged to go off. Johnny heats up just his hand and fires a small flame at the mechanism for the bomb. He melts the hammer that would hit the bell to cause the chain reaction of the explosion. It melts fast enough the bell is never triggered. Thus, Johnny is free to flame on once again without risking death. But the bomb is about to go off so he melts the wall as fast as he can. He gets lucky and exposes the bomb.

Then, in one of the more ridiculous parts of the issue, Johnny creates a “catapult of flame” which launches the bomb through the roof of the house and into the air where it can explode harmlessly.

After all that, Johnny is ready to grab The Wizard. He heats up the air vents to trigger the sprinkler system. And the floor gets wet enough The Wizard slips and falls. He draws some kind of gun but Johnny does what anyone would expect and… yeah… he… um… makes a saw out of flames and carves the roof above The Wizard so the ceiling falls on him to knock him out. A little silly but we’ll just go with it again.

Sue switches off the lever keeping the forcefield up and by the time the police enter The Wizard is being held by a flame lasso. Sue tells Johnny if The Wizard is smart “…he’ll stay in prison where he’s safe!” so we all know he’s going to break out again. Torch has to have some kind or rival in his own book so it makes sense.

Back at home Sue admonishes Johnny for going against direct orders. The issue ends with a little sibling rivalry as Sue throws a pillow at Johnny for making a joke about her help in the whole thing.

The issue is pretty interesting and does sort of expand Johnny’s fire powers even more. More importantly, it continues to set up The Wizard as a recurring villain who becomes a staple in the foes of not only Johnny but all of the Fantastic Four and several other Marvel heroes.

Next up on the reading list we catch up with the god of thunder once again in the pages of Journey Into Mystery #89!

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Book Review – The Scepter of Amon

The Scepter of Amon

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

Kill the treasure-hoarding monster, find the ancient artifact, and deliver it to the wizard. Every adventurer knows the drill. But what if that adventurer is a troll?

The wizard has run out of heroes to send after the Scepter of Amon, so he picks Kevrin, a troll who desires to be human. He is powerful, resilient, and just a little bit scared of fire. A simple magical disguise allows Kevrin to interact with other humans, but can Kevrin fit in? He can’t read. He doesn’t understand sarcasm. And he has no idea what a scepter even looks like. But since the wizard promised to turn him into a human if he is successful, he has all the motivation in the world.

Can Kevrin trust his new friends if they find out what he really is? Can he trust the wizard? Will he find what he is really looking for? Or will he eat his horse the next time he gets too hungry?

The Scepter of Amon is told in a classic fantasy setting and is the first book in the Hero’s Path trilogy.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Most adventuring stories, and most adventurers have something in common. They go on a quest to kill a monster, get some treasure and come back for a reward. Kevrin has set out to do these things as well. But he’s no common adventurer. He may look human but he’s actually a troll, more comfortable eating raw meat from a fresh kill than dining on cooked steak, stronger than most men, and unsure of what a scepter looks like even though he knows he is supposed to bring one back. Kevrin never fit in with the other trolls and he wants more than anything to be human. If he can complete his quest he may just get his wish.

The Scepter of Amon is a fantasy adventure with pretty intriguing twist. What if the adventurer was a monster? The story puts a lot of the standard fantasy tropes on their heads and makes for a fun read. The adventure has a fair amount of action, a smattering of romance, and a bit of a murder mystery in it as well. Kevrin is most certainly a memorable character who lives in the readers heart long after the story has been read.

While the story itself is well written and full of adventure it would have been nice to see more female characters in the story. The woman who is in the story is well developed and doesn’t just belong in the background, it just would have been better if there were more female characters at all here.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it comes to a nice conclusion while still leaving the reader eager for the next installment.

If you play Dungeons & Dragons you will especially relate to this book. Even if you don’t but like fantasy adventure books like Lord of the Rings, The Crystal Shard or even the Discworld series you’re going to find something here you like. It’s definitely worth reading.

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I’m Writing a Book! Here’s How You Can Follow Along

Hello out there internet!

Let me get right to the point. You probably know me on this blog as Slick Dungeon but my real name is Adam Wright and I have a bit of news to share.

I’ve decided to take the big leap and write a book! It’s an epic fantasy book and I want all of you who read this blog to be able to jump into the action early. I’m still writing the first draft but if you want to read the first chapter as it is now, you can join me on ChapterBuzz. Just click on this link to check it out!

If you join my fan club, you’ll get access to some exclusives in the future such as a prequel chapter to the book, early notification of when it will be published, and any other cool stuff I can think of between now and then.

If you like books like The Wheel of Time series, Lord of the Rings or The Sword of Shannara series, I’m hoping you will like my book.

It’s called The Man of the Daggers. Here’s a little blurb about it.

Feran Stormweather is a dark mage. His family has held off the forces of the Army of Radiance for generations. After Feran sacrifices everything he holds dear to keep his people safe he must go into hiding and becomes known as The Man of the Daggers.

This is still the first draft of the book so plenty may change but I’d love for you to follow along as I go through the challenge of writing the book. I took on the 365 Day writing challenge on ChapterBuzz so I would have a deadline to hold myself accountable. I’m hoping some of you will choose to share in this journey with me and maybe even find you enjoy the story.

Also, if you do like it, feel free to share it, post it etc. to spread the word.

Again, you can read the first chapter already by clicking here and if you click on the ChapterBuzz image above you should be able to join my fan club there if you so choose.

Thanks as always for reading and if you do read any of my book I would love to know what you think.

Sincerely,

Adam Wright

Flash Fiction Friday – Radio Hour

Happy Friday everyone! I’m back with another Flash Fiction story for you. When I was a kid my dad used to tell me about listening to old radio shows. One of the most popular of those was a show called The Shadow. This story was inspired by listening to one of those episodes. After the story, I’ll also point you to a great YouTube channel where you can actually listen to old archives of these shows. Hope you like the story and let me know what you think in the comments!

Radio Hour – By Adam Wright

Agnes adjusted the knobs on the radio, sailing past the static, twisting and tuning until the sound came in clearly. The large wooden box was still new but she had gotten used to sitting next to it every evening while she knitted. She looked out the window and saw the stars were out, the moon hanging low in the sky.

There was an advertisement, something about what kind of coal to buy. It reminded her she needed to tend the fire so she poked at it a bit, letting the warmth grow. She settled back in her chair and picked up her knitting needles. 

A narrator began the program. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” 

Agnes picked up where she had left off, her long fingers moving deftly as what was once a ball of yarn grew into the beginnings of a scarf. She would need it for these cold nights when the fires grew low. 

On the program, the hero was some kind of hypnotist. Listening to the sounds coming through the airwaves she was able to picture everything that was happening. The sounds of a door closing, a phone ringing. The radio was a marvel. Like living inside a book. She didn’t mind the story was a little silly, she just wondered how they were able to make it seem so real.

Soon the hero was in a battle for the control of his own mind. A rival hypnotist nearly got the better of him but the hero won out in the end. She smiled to herself as the next program began. It was a dance program. You were supposed to find a partner and waltz right from the comfort of your own living room. Well, when she got herself a partner she might just try it. For now, she was content to listen.

She glanced out the window again but this time it wasn’t the stars she noticed. There was the shape of a man. He was standing in the hedges peering in. Agnes froze. The man moved closer to the window. Like the hero on the program before, Agnes was determined to keep her head about her. 

The man must not have seen Agnes because he started to slide the window open. She saw something in his hand. It was black and heavy. A gun. She waited until the man had crawled halfway inside the room. Before the man could react she moved forward, knitting needle in hand and jabbed at his eye. She hit it. The man looked at her with shock as he stumbled back out of the window. 

She knew she should have been afraid but she wasn’t. She phoned the police station to let them know about the intruder. When they caught the man they asked Agnes how she had kept her cool during the whole affair. Her answer was simple. “I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.”

Want to Hear some Old fashioned Radio?

If you do, check out this YouTube channel called The Late Late Horror Show. They have a bunch of great stuff for late night listening.

The Shadow Knows on The Late Late Horror Show YouTube channel

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Tales to Astonish #39

Tales to Astonish Issue 39 Photo Credit: Marvel

While The Fantastic Four, Thor, and even The Incredible Hulk chug along nicely with their stories in the early days of Marvel 616, Ant-Man has sort of struggled to gain footing in the pages of Tales to Astonish. His powers are pretty interesting and what he does with them can be intriguing but he hasn’t gained a real nemesis and his stories are fairly run of the mill superhero stuff. Which leads us to issue 39 of Tales to Astonish where things get rather strange. That’s saying something for a guy who has insect based powers but the issue here really demands a lot of suspension of disbelief.

As you can probably tell from the cover, the story involves an oversized beetle with an attitude problem. Right there it seems the issue will be different, which is not a bad thing, but the story, unfortunately, doesn’t really live up to its potential.

The issue begins with Henry Pym, as usual, monitoring the activities of the insect world. He can see there is something brewing, something “strange– and dangerous!” He does the logical thing and hops into the Ant-Man suit to go investigate. We see him launch out of his secret catapult and there is a handy note to the reader telling us “Although unnoticed by other eyes, the building which houses Henry Pym contains many secret devices for use by an ant-sized human!”

After being catapulted onto a pile of waiting ants Henry rides an ant into the sewer. He finds hundreds of insects gathered together. Out of all those insects he notices there is a beetle glowing strangely and all the other insects seem to be paying attention to it. Luckily for us, Pym’s helmet can pick up mental telepathy which the beetle is using to communicate with the insects.

We get the standard explanation of strange stuff in the early Marvel 616 stories. This beetle has been accidentally exposed to radiation due to “one of mankind’s atomic experiments…” Radiation and radioactivity are pretty much magic in these comics and can do anything the writers and artists want. To be fair, it was the time of the cold war and atomic exploration so there was a lot of fear around it. The reading audience at the time probably had an easier time believing this could happen than we do now. Turns out the radiation gave the beetle human level intelligence on top of the mental telepathy.

This beetle wants to organize the insect world to rise up and become masters of the world. After all, they number in the trillions. Henry realizes he needs to stop this. Before he can get to the Scarlet Beetle a bunch of body guard beetles knock Hank out cold. The Scarlet Beetle is smart enough to realize he should use the growth gas Ant-Man has to become bigger.

A little later Henry wakes up without his helmet or his vials that help him change size. The Scarlet Beetle takes the opportunity to go on the attack. He has termites cut down telephone poles, taking out human communication systems. Several groups of insects steal boxes of dynamite from the most unobservant military guard in existence. Meanwhile the Scarlet Beetle has some of the more deadly spiders bite key politicians to take down the government systems in place. The only insects not participating in the nefarious deeds are the ants, who are loyal to the Ant-Man.

For a beetle, this dude is shockingly organized and well planned. Honestly, he seems like he has it together more than The Wizard did when he first attacked Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch. Now that the Scarlet Beetle has had his minions wreak enough havoc he appears on the scene himself. He takes down television stations while his other insect pals go right for the police. The police are desperately hoping Ant-Man shows up at this point.

Luckily for humanity, the ants find Hank’s helmet and realize there is something wrong. They use their sense of smell to find Ant-Man and get him out of the ditch he is stuck in. Ant-Man comes up with a plan involving the ants. One of the text boxes reads, “After giving his ants their instructions, the tiny avenger goes into action…” This is sort of interesting considering Henry Pym will be one of the founding members of The Avengers soon.

Hank uses honey ants to slow the beetles, beats away grasshoppers with an ice-cream pop stick, and gets a group of ants to bring a bunch of DDT. For those who may not know, DDT was a type of insect repellant that was fairly commonly used in the 1960’s. In fact, it was used so much it turned out to be harmful to humans, and for the most part is no longer used. Back then it was everywhere though. The DDT does the job but the Scarlet Beetle remains. Hank’s plan is to go into a toy store. He hops in a toy car to outrun his enemy. Then he grabs a lance from a toy knight and chucks it right at the container of reducing gas the Scarlet Beetle is wearing. The beetle is reduced and Henry places him inside a balloon to take back to his lab.

Henry is able to counteract the radiation and remove the human intelligence the Scarlet Beetle has. There’s not really a thought of what an ethical dilemma this might be but since the bug is just a bug again Henry lets him out in his backyard.

The issue ends with the police wondering where the heck Ant-Man was in all this, never realizing it was Henry Pym who saved them.

I think this issue might have been intended to create a repeat villain for Hank. I’m not sure if that ever did happen but Ant-Man by this point does really deserve a true nemesis. It’s going to be a while before we get there so we can expect more odd and zany stories that don’t exactly age well from the pages of Tales to Astonish. This was definitely one of the less believable stories but it helped to keep Ant-Man popular enough that people were still reading the book.

Next up on the reading list we’ll see how the rematch between The Wizard and The Human Torch shapes up in Strange Tales #105!

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How to Play Call of Cthulhu Part 2 – Creating an Investigator

Cthulhu Rises

Introduction

Hello everyone, Slick Dungeon here. Last time I gave you a brief introduction on getting started with the horror themed tabletop role playing game Call of Cthulhu. If you missed that post check it out right here.

In this post we’ll go over how to make an investigator for the game in five steps. There will be a little bit of math involved but most of the steps are fairly understandable. I’ll also give you a guided tour of the character sheet and go over a couple of alternate methods people use for creating their characters.

In order to go through the process of character creation we’ll also need to define a few terms on the way. A lot of them are self-explanatory but we’ll go through everything so you have a thorough understanding of what each term and step means.

I’ll also provide you with some links and resources to help you get started with your own character. We’ll start by defining exactly what an Investigator is and what that means in Call of Cthulhu.

What is an Investigator?

In most contexts the word Investigator brings to mind the image of a sleuthing detective such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot trying to find the answer to a mystery. Maybe it makes you think of a police procedural show such as CSI or Wallender. While these types of characters can inhabit the world of Call of Cthulhu, Investigators are not limited to police and detectives.

Investigators come from a huge variety of backgrounds. They have different personalities and occupations, hopes, interests and dreams. In short, people from all walks of life can be an Investigator in Call of Cthulhu.

What ties all these people together in this game is that they have seen or will soon see a peek into the unknown. They have pierced the veil of our ordered world and can see there is something lurking in the background. And while they may not understand exactly what that is, they know it’s malevolent and hungry. The difference between a normal person and an Investigator is that they know the truth and plan to do something about it.

In game terms an Investigator is a character a player controls in a scenario. The scenario can be run by a Keeper of Arcane Lore (Keeper for short) or if you are playing a solo adventure the narration of the adventure acts as your Keeper. Since our Investigators are characters I may use these terms interchangeably at times.

Because you’ll be spending a long time inhabiting this character, whether you are playing alone or with a group, you’ll want to take a good amount of time thinking about who your character is, what kinds of things they have experienced, and how they might behave in a number of different circumstances.

Some people love to have a really well thought out character before they put anything on a page and others like to be informed of who their character is as they play along. Either way there are some basic things you’ll need to know about your Investigator.

What You need Before you Start

Before we even get started with making our Investigators you are going to need a few things. My first recommendation is that you grab some scratch paper and a pencil with an eraser. You’re also going to need some six sided dice. (That’s the kind you find in a Monopoly game) I would suggest you get at least 3 of those but you may want to grab as many as six of them. You should also have a percentile die and a 10 sided die. If you don’t have a percentile die you can use two 10 sided dice just make sure you are consistent with which one is the tens place and which one is the ones place.

If you are like me and are occasionally mathematically challenged a calculator can be good to have on hand as well.

If you have all of those things the next thing you will want is a character sheet to fill out.

The character Sheet

Whether you are playing the classic version of the game set in the 1920’s, a modern game set in today’s era or in the dark ages or wild west you are going to need a character sheet. This series of posts is concentrating on playing the classic version but for the most part the steps of character creation are the same.

You may be wondering how to get a character sheet. There are a few ways to do that and your preferred method may depend on how you are playing. If you are playing strictly online a great resource is The Dhole’s House. You can sign up for free and save Investigators online. They also have resources for handouts, older versions of the game, and allow you to use several different methods for creating your character. If you are playing with a group, be sure to clear it with your Keeper before using any alternate methods of character creation.

If you are playing face to face with pen and paper there are two great resources you can use. I like to use the sheets you can find on drivethrurpg.com. They don’t cost anything and they cover most versions of the game you are likely to play. Plus that website has lots of other supplements you can get for playing whether you are a player or the Keeper.

Finally, you can go directly to the source of the game and get character sheets for all of the versions of the game at Chaosium.com.

The best thing about all of these sheets is that you can use the auto-calc function on these which helps with some of the math here.

Step 1: Generate Characteristics

Our Investigators are characters so what we are going to start with is finding out what characteristics make them up.

Call of Cthulhu has a set of rules defined by dice rolls and numbers on your character sheet. Every Investigator has a set of eight characteristics, with numbers associated with them, which create the foundation of the character. Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Upper Portion of a 1920’s Classic Era Investigator Sheet

Up above you can see there are spots to put an Investigator’s name, Birthplace, Pronoun, Occupation, Residence and Age. While these are generally self-explanatory, hold off on entering Occupation or Age at this point. If you have a name, birthplace, residence and pronoun picked out feel free to fill those in now. And if you have a nifty portrait you’d like to use for your character feel free to put that up there in the corner.

What we need to look at in depth here are the eight characteristics. We’ll go over what they are and how to determine them. Now is the time you are going to want to pull out your scratch paper, pencil and dice.

STRENGTH – STR

STR stands for Strength and is just what it sounds like. It’s how strong you are. It will help determine things like how much your Investigator can lift, if they have the strength to hold on to the side of a building and how much damage they do in hand-to-hand combat. If your Investigator is at 0 Strength they are an invalid, unable to get out of bed.

Roll 3d6 (three six sided dice) and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under strength.

CONSTITUTION – CON

CON stands for Constitution. This represents how hale and hearty you are. It’s your overall health and factors into things like resisting poison or surviving an attack. If your Investigator is at 0 Constitution they are dead.

Roll 3d6 and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under constitution.

DEXTERITY – DEX

DEX stands for Dexterity. This determines how quick, nimble, and flexible an Investigator is. This is used to find out things like if your Investigator can outrun an opponent, dodge out of the way of a falling object, or accomplish some delicate task that takes a lot of coordination. This number also determines who goes first in combat. If your Investigator is at 0 Dexterity they are uncoordinated and unable to perform physical tasks.

Roll 3d6 and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under dexterity.

INTELLIGENCE – INT

INT stands for Intelligence. Intelligence is what it sounds like. It’s how well your Investigator learns, remembers things, analyzes situations etc. This number is also important for a couple other reasons. It determines your number of Personal Interest points (we’ll get into those later in this post) and is used for both Idea rolls and Intelligence rolls during the game. We’ll get into those in a later post. If your Investigator is at 0 Intelligence all they can do is babble and drool.

Roll 2d6 and add 6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under intelligence.

SIZE – SIZ

SIZ stands for Size. This averages your height and weight into a single number. This is how big your Investigator is and is used to check if you can do things like squeeze into a tunnel or see over a fence. This number also helps determine your Hit Points and damage bonus and build. If your Investigator has 0 Size they have disappeared into nothingness.

Roll 2d6 and add 6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under SIZ.

POWER – POW

POW stands for Power. Power is your force of will. This should not be confused with strength which is a physical feature. POW also helps to determine what your sanity is in the beginning and if you have any magic points. We won’t get too much into detail on either of those in this post but we’ll talk about them in future posts. This is one category where if you lose points in POW it’s unlikely you will get them back in the game. If your Investigator has 0 POW they walk around in a zombie-like state without purpose.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under POW.

APPEARANCE – APP

APP stands for Appearance. Appearance is what it sounds like in that your physical appearance is a factor here. But it also includes your personality. In some games this would be called Charisma. In other words someone could have a hideous scar but be enough of a charmer that they still have a high number in APP. This number is mostly useful in social encounters. If your Investigator has 0 APP they are not only terribly ugly on the outside, they are also an incredibly unlikeable person.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Appearance.

EDUCATION – EDU

EDU stands for Education. Education again is much what it sounds like. It’s the formal schooling your Investigator has undergone. It is also the formal and factual knowledge an Investigator has. This means your Investigator could possibly have no formal education but have enough self-learning to still have a high EDU. However, this is different than Intelligence so try not to mix these up. If you have EDU of 60 your Investigator has graduated High School. 70 would mean at least some college and 80 or over would be graduate level. EDU also helps determine Occupational skill points. We’ll get into those later in this post. This is also used for the Own Language skill which we’ll go over in a later post. Finally, EDU is used when making Know rolls which we’ll talk about in a later post. If your Investigator is at 0 EDU it would mean they were like a newborn baby or someone waking from a coma without much memory.

Roll 2d6+6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Education.

LUCK

I realize this doesn’t come next on the character sheet but we’re going to do Luck first because there is less math here than in some of the other attributes. Luck is important in this game and can sometimes get you out of serious scrapes. You’ll want to roll high here. We’ll get more into how luck is used in a later post.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Luck

AGE

Age is how old your Investigator is. No surprises there. However, unlike some games, age actually makes a difference in your other attributes. Most of the reason for the scratch paper is due to the fact that what age you choose for your Investigator influences several other numbers. You can play an Investigator aged anywhere from 15 – 90 years old. There’s a huge variety of physical and mental differences in this age range so the game has laid out some rules for age. You may want to look at how this changes your Investigator before you decide on their age. The breakdown is below.

15-19: If you choose this age range, deduct 5 points among STR and SIZ. The way the rulebook reads this can seem confusing. What you are doing here is deducting a total of 5 points from STR and SIZ. This means you could deduct 2 from STR and 3 from SIZ if you want or 4 from STR and 1 from SIZ. As long as it adds up to a total of 5 points deducted from those categories you should be good here. Once you have done that, roll twice to generate a Luck score (see above) and use the higher score. This will now be your luck score.

20-39: If you choose this age range you are going to make an Improvement check for EDU. To do this, you are going to roll your percentile die. This means if you have a D100 and a D10 go ahead and roll them at the same time. If you have two d10’s roll both of those but remember which one is the tens place and which one is the ones place. If your result is greater than what your EDU currently shows you get to roll 1d10 and add that number to your EDU. This is your new EDU score. If your result is lower than your current EDU score the number does not change. For example, if my Investigator had an EDU of 40 and on my Improvement check I got a 50 I would then roll 1d10. If I got a 4 on that roll, my EDU is now 44. On the other hand if I rolled a 30 in my Improvement check, my EDU remains at 40. One final note is that EDU cannot exceed 99.

40-49: If you choose this age range you are going to do a few things. First you are going to make two Improvement checks for EDU (described above). Follow the same steps both times. If you are successful both times your EDU improves each time. If you are unsuccessful both times your EDU remains exactly the same. If you have one success you improve it by the result of that success. Whatever results you end up with is your new EDU score. Next you are going to deduct five points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 5 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 5 points deducted. Next deduct 5 points from APP. What can I say, the world belongs to young people and the rest of us are just living in it.

50-59: If you choose this age range you are going to make three Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps three times and record your new EDU score. If you have three failures, apparently you didn’t pay much attention in school. Next you are going to deduct ten points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 10 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 10 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 10. The wrinkles are starting to show.

60-69: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. I hope you didn’t fail all of these checks but if you did maybe you should have spent more time reading and less time listening to that new-fangled radio. Next you are going to deduct twenty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 20 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 20 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 15. You’re getting into the “get off of my lawn” phase of your life.

70-79: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. If you failed all four of those checks I guess you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Next you are going to deduct forty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 40 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 40 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 20. Looks like people are a bit concerned for your health and start to wonder if you should, “be checked into the home” at this point in your life.

80-89: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. If you failed all those checks you’ve been too busy with life to learn from books so who needs it anyway? Next you are going to deduct eighty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 80 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 80 points deducted. The body is still holding up but it’s not what it used to be. You will then need to reduce your APP by 25. Sure, you may not be the hot date you once were but at least you’re still around.

For any ages outside of these ranges you’re going to need to consult with your Keeper. I suppose there could be a 99 year old Investigator but this life is hard so it might be time to think about retirement.

One word to add here is that although you do get some penalties for being in the higher age range categories that does not mean an older person makes a poor Investigator. Not everything is physical in this game and being highly educated can come in very handy especially when you need to research something about a monster you have heard is roaming around town. I would say the majority of people play in the age ranges of 20-49 but it’s really up to you and how you see your Investigator so go with what feels right to you.

Once you have decided what your Age is write that on your character sheet.

At this point it’s safe to start writing numbers into your character sheet. Take your final totals for the eight characteristics we went through and put those in now. You’ll see that there is also a spot for half and fifth results of those numbers. For the moment feel free to leave those blank as I’ll have a handy little cheat sheet for you from the rulebook below.

HIT POINTS

Hit points, like in most tabletop role playing games, is how much health you have. You can gain or lose these points depending on what happens in the game. Typically in Call of Cthulhu you are much more likely to lose Hit Points than gain them. In general it’s better to have more hit points but the cosmic horrors coming for you can crush a large man as easily as small one so be warned.

Add your CON and SIZ together then divide the total by 10. Round down any fractions. Write the total in the Hit Points section of the character sheet.

SANITY

For just a moment we are going to skip over Magic Points. In the Sanity box write your POW score. You’ll see that there is a spot for Starting, Current, and Insane. Your POW score goes in the Starting section. We’ll talk about the ways you lose Sanity and potentially go insane in another post.

MAGIC POINTS

Your Magic Points equal one fifth of your POW. If you want to do the math and fill that in now go ahead. Otherwise you can take a look at the cheat sheet from the rulebook below. Your Magic Points go in the spot that says Maximum.

HALF AND FIFTH VALUES

To determine your Half and Fifth values do the following. For half values divide the percentage value by two rounding down and add that in the half box for each characteristic. For fifth values divide the percentage value by five rounding down and enter that into the fifth box for each characteristic.

I’ve found this chart in the Keeper’s Rulebook to be invaluable in figuring this out.

Handy chart for calculating half and fifth values

Of course if you are using an online character sheet with auto-calc you don’t have to worry about this at all as the math is done for you.

Congratulations, your top portion should now be filled out. But before we move onto the next step I want to bring your attention to another section of the character sheet.

Somewhere on your character sheet you should see the fields for Move, Build, Dodge and Damage Bonus. Let’s determine those scores now.

MOVE

MOVE is the distance your Investigator can move in one round. This usually comes into play during combat or chase scenes. There is a formula for determining Move.

If your STR and DEX are both less than SIZ your move is 7.

If either your STR or DEX is equal to or greater than SIZ or if all three are equal your move is 8.

If your STR and DEX are both greater than SIZ your move is 9.

There are some penalties to move based on Age.

If your Investigator is in their 40’s take 1 point away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 50’s take 2 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 60’s take 3 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 70’s take 4 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 80’s take 5 points away from move.

Write your MOVE score on your character sheet.

BUILD AND DAMAGE BONUS

BUILD AND DAMAGE BONUS relate to how much damage your Investigator can do in combat in relation to their size. The Keeper’s Rulebook has a little chart for us to use here.

Build and damage bonus chart from the Keeper’s Rulebook

Use the chart above to fill in your Build and Damage Bonus on your character sheet.

DODGE

DODGE is just what it sounds like. It’s your ability to move out of the way when you are about to be hit with something. The baseline of your DODGE score is half of your DEX score. However, you may want to leave this blank for the moment as you can user Personal Skill points to increase this number if you choose to do so. We’ll talk more about Personal Skill points later in this post.

Whew! After all that work, Step 1 is complete. It’s time to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Determine Occupation

Your Investigator is going to have something they do as a day job. There is a really wide range of occupations to choose from available in this game. There are far too many for me to list out and go through in this post. However, if you have the Keeper’s Rulebook or the quickstart guide you should be able to find occupations listed there. The Investigator’s Handbook has the most extensive listing of occupations so you may want to look there if you have it.

You’re going to want to choose one occupation. It’s best if you can find an occupation that you think suits your character. For example, a 70 year old is not likely to be an Acrobat. Also, a 15 year old is unlikely to be an Antiquarian. I’m not saying there are no cases where this is possible, it just would be less likely to fit a character. For the purposes of this post I am going to select an occupation for an Investigator I might make and show you how we use it. It should also be noted this is how an Investigator makes their living but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a job in the traditional sense. For example, criminal is an occupation you can choose but it’s not like your Investigator is going to write that on their tax form. There are also many occupations here that do conform to a normal job. For example, doctor of medicine is an actual occupation and one your Investigator can have.

When I think about what occupation to give my Investigators I usually have a few factors in mind. First, I want the occupation to suit my character’s personality. If I have an Investigator who is a strict rule follower, criminal is not going to be a good occupation for him. Second, there are bonuses associated with each occupation you can find in your source material. There may be some occupations that might not make sense for the campaign I am in even if they suit my character and give good bonuses. For example, if I am playing in a 1920’s era campaign where my very intelligent Investigator is looking into the unknown I would not want to choose the Hacker occupation even though it would give several good bonuses. Finally, if I am playing with a group of people I would probably not want to choose the exact same occupation as someone else in my group. While you could have two Police Detectives in your group it might be more beneficial to have on person be a Police Detective who has contact with law enforcement while another player is an Antiquarian who is very knowledgeable with research.

For my example I am going to say I am creating an Investigator named Bob Wilkes. He’s in his early 20’s and is connected to the mob. He’s had a revelation after he went to toss someone in the Boston Harbor and saw something he can’t quite explain come up out of the water as he did it. He’s still a tough guy but he’s trying to make some amends. That doesn’t mean he won’t use his mafia connections to his advantage, however.

To me, the occupation that makes the most sense for Bob is Criminal. Listed below is the description of that occupation from the Keeper’s Rulebook.

CRIMINAL—one interpersonal skill (Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, or Persuade), Psychology, Spot Hidden, Stealth, plus four specialisms from the following: Appraise, Disguise, Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith, Mechanical Repair, and Sleight of Hand.

Credit Rating: 5–65
Occupation Skill Points: EDU × 2 + either DEX × 2 or STR × 2

I’ll make note of what some of these things mean as we move into Step 3. Once you have chosen your Investigator’s occupation you are ready for Step 3.

Step 3: Decide Skills and Allocate Skill Points

On your character sheet you should see a list of skills that looks something like below.

List of Skills on the Investigator Sheet

You will see check boxes next to the skills. For the moment leave those blank. Those will be used during game sessions but not during character creation.

OCCUPATIONAL SKILLS

Next, you should see in the occupation you selected a list of skills you can choose from, a credit rating range, and a formula which tells you how to calculate how many occupation skill points you have.

In my example I get a few skills to choose from for an Interpersonal Skill. My choices are Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate or Persuade. I decide I want Bob to be a bit of a tough guy so I choose Intimidate and I write that on my scratch paper.

Next, I get to write down Psychology, Spot Hidden and Stealth.

For the next group of skills I have to choose four out of the seven skills considered “specialisms”. I can choose from Appraise, Disguise, Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith, Mechanical Repair, and Sleight of Hand.

I decide Bob is a bit of a scrappy fighter who knows how to get up to no good when he wants to. I choose Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith and Sleight of Hand.

For the most part Skills are what they sound like so usually you can choose what fits with your idea of your character.

There are a few things to note here. One, no skill can start at above 75. You may be able to increase that skill during play but you can’t start any skill that high.

Additionally, no character can add points to the Cthulhu Mythos skill. The game assumes your character hasn’t really been exposed to this, even if, as in the case of my character, they have seen something strange in the past.

Next I will calculate my total Skill Points I can spend. To do this I use the formula given by the occupation. In my case it is EDU × 2 + either DEX × 2 or STR × 2.

Here are the stats I rolled up for Bob so far.

Bob Wilkes Characteristics

As you can see Bob’s EDU is 65. His STR and DEX are both 70. So what I do to determine my points is EDU = 65 x2 = 130. DEX = 70 x 2 = 140. 130 + 140 = 270. This gives me 270 points to split up among the eight skills I have based on my occupation. I can allocate those numbers however I want as long as no skill goes over 75.

We’ll get more into what each skill is for and why you may want to increase those in a later post. For now, just split those in the way that seems most reasonable for your character. For example, if I wanted Bob to be really good at getting into locked places, I might put a little more into his Locksmith skill than I do in his fighting skill.

Before you actually write in your totals on your character sheet you may want to write them down on your scratch paper. For one, this allows you to think about how you may want to balance your character, but also you’ll need to choose some Personal Skill points as well.

PERSONAL SKILLS

People are made up of more than just their professions. They also have hobbies and interests and things they just happen to know about. Your Investigator gets to allocate points for these types of interests as well. These points can, in fact, go into the same skills you used for your Occupation if you so choose. But again, you can’t start any skill over 75 and you can’t use Cthulhu Mythos as a personal skill.

To determine how many Personal Skill points you get, simply multiply INT by 2. For Bob, his INT is 40 so he gets 80 points to use.

At this point, go ahead and fill in all of your skill values for Occupation and Personal Interest skills. Again, if you are using the auto-calc sheet, the half and fifth values will be calculated for you, otherwise you can use the handy chart above.

You may be wondering how these skills numbers are used in play. We’ll talk about this in a future post but for now just know if you have a higher number in a skill, you are more likely to succeed when making a check during the game.

WEAPONS AND FIREARM SKILLS

Just a quick word about weapons and firearms skills. Your occupation may or may not have given you the option to choose a particular type of firearm skill. Even if it doesn’t you can still choose to spend personal or occupation skill points in these categories. However, you’ll probably want to speak with your Keeper to make sure any particular kind of weapon is appropriate for your campaign. If your occupation didn’t give you a firearm specialization, you get to choose what that is. For example, for my Investigator Bob, I decided he would be more likely to have a handgun than a rifle so that’s where I put my points for firearms.

CREDIT RATING

There can be a huge range of Credit Ratings in this game. Investigators can be penniless drifters to swanky debutantes. The more points you have in your Credit Rating, the more comfortable a lifestyle your Investigator leads. Bob has a range of 5-65 for his credit rating. This is because a Criminal could be a small time, street-hustling thief all the way up to the leader of an organized crime family.

You’ll want to decide how much you want to put into your Credit Rating based on who your character is and what they might be doing in life. Bob is still fairly young and not likely to be on the highest end of his CR so I decide he’ll live within an Average Credit Rating. For the 1920’s this is from CR 10-49. I give him enough points to have a CR of 30. To find out exactly what your CR is, you can look in the Keeper’s Rulebook on page 47 for a table that will show you what assets and cash your character has.

For Bob, with CR 30 his cash equals CR x 2 so he has $60 on hand. His assets are CR x 50 so his total asset worth is $1,500. And his spending level for an Average CR is $10. This means Bob can get by with spending roughly $10 a day and he is unlikely to go broke. How closely this is monitored will depend on your Keeper and how they wish to track money in your campaign. In most of the games I have played in, money was not a huge factor unless there was some significant financial component within the campaign. For example, it can be hard to stay at a luxury hotel to spy on a nefarious gentleman if you happen to be a penniless drifter. There are probably ways to do it but paying for a room next to the gentleman is unlikely.

Once you have your skill points allocated you are ready to move on to the next step.

step 4: Creating a Backstory

This is my favorite part of character creation. You’ve probably already thought a little bit about your character just from choosing an occupation, allocating skill points, and thinking about what kind of scenario you might be in. Here in step four is where you flesh out the background of the character and give them a bit of life.

This is also the step where I can give you the least relevant advice. Each Investigator is an individual and who they are is truly up to you.

On your Investigator sheet you will see a few different sections under background. The ones to think about first are Personal Description, Ideology/Beliefs, Significant People, Meaningful Locations, Treasured Possessions, and Traits.

These are categories that both inform who the Investigator is as well as ties them into the world they live in.

The best advice I can give you on any of these categories is to try to be as specific and personal as you can. You may know your investigator has a son. In that case, think about who the son is, what their name is, and how they act toward your Investigator. Is the son resentful of an absent father or does he play baseball with his pops every Saturday and want to be just like him? As you can see there is a huge variety you can choose and it’s what helps to make the game interesting.

The six categories listed above are the most important to your Investigator. The reason for this is these are the people, places, and things that can tie your Investigator to the mundane world. This is how your Investigator maintains their sanity. These personal connections can save an Investigator from madness. Alternately, the loss of some of these things may drive your Investigator to madness on an accelerated scale.

The Keeper’s Rulebook has a few random tables you can roll on for each of these categories as well if you are stuck for ideas.

Just to make sure we know what each of these categories means I will list a quick description of what they are.

Personal Description

This is what your character looks like. I always think it’s fun to come up with a description first and then see if I can find an old stock photo that fits what I have in my mind. You can do this any way you like. Just make sure to have some kind of description here.

Ideology/Beliefs

This is how your character thinks about the world. Do they answer to a higher power? Are they analytical and precise? Perhaps they live for money and will do whatever they can to get more.

Significant People

Who is important to your Investigator? This can be a friend, lover, colleague, neighbor, child, parent or any person that just has a strong connection to the Investigator. Think about who this person is for your Investigator and maybe a little bit about how their relationship is now. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone they are currently in regular contact with. An ex-spouse could be a significant person even if it’s been decades since the Investigator last saw them. Or maybe they have a sister who they hang out with all the time and this is the person they feel closest to. Make it your own.

Meaningful Locations

I think this one is obvious but it’s any place that is extremely significant to your Investigator. This could be where they live or work. It could be a place where a significant event happened to them. It could even be a place they want to go to but haven’t yet they feel a strong connection to. If your Investigator loves everything French and wants with every fiber of their being to visit Paris for the first time ever, this can be a meaningful location to them. It can be really fun to have locations that are in your campaign be significant to your Investigator. Of course to do this you’ll need to have an idea from your Keeper where your campaign may take your party.

Treasured Possessions

Does your character have a lucky rabbit’s foot? A set of loaded dice? A locket with a picture of someone important in it? Maybe they own a car they spend every free hour working on and putting their soul into. These would all be treasured possessions. Whatever it is that is important to your Investigator should go in this category. Sometimes having this possession with them can bring them back from the brink of insanity as they think about the world.

Traits

I don’t know how other people decide their Investigator’s traits but the way I look at this is how would someone else describe the Investigator. Would everyone in the room see your Investigator as menacing? Generous? A talented musician? A bad dancer? Whatever the case is be as specific as you can but also try to make it recognizable to other people. Your Investigator’s traits are probably something other Investigators are going to notice.

Key Background Connection

Once you have all of the six categories listed above written out, it’s time to choose your Key Background Connection. There is one entry out of these six that is the most significant to your Investigator. This is the one thing your Investigator feels they can never lose. This can be a place, person, possession, ideal or belief. Whatever it is go ahead and underline or highlight it on your sheet because this connection is extra special.

In games of Call of Cthulhu your Keeper can sometimes take away connections your Investigator has. Your Investigator might lose their Treasured Possession for example. Or perhaps a Significant Person dies in the course of the game. However, your Key Connection cannot be taken away without the Keeper allowing you to make a dice roll of some kind to save it. The way I like to think about this Key Connection is this is the one thing your Investigator simply can’t lose without becoming a broken individual. If they lose this, they lose everything. And, if it does happen that your Investigator loses their Key Connection permanently they may lose their sanity for good. So choose wisely.

Other Backstory Categories

You’ll notice we have not yet talked about Injuries & Scars, Phobias & Manias, Arcane Tomes & Spells, or Encounters with Strange Entities.

While your Investigator may start the scenario with a few scars or a fear of spiders, there is also the possibility they may end up gaining some of these things during game play. If you put anything in these categories do discuss this with your Keeper first. The Keeper will likely be fine with your Investigator having a scar across their cheek but may not be okay with your Keeper having Arcane Tomes & Spells or one of the other categories above. We’ll talk more about these things in a future post.

Additional Details

If you haven’t already filled out the sections for Birthplace, Gender, Name and added a Picture, now is the time to do so.

After that it’s on to step five!

Step 5: Equip The Investigator

Your Investigator may or may not have stuff at the time of creation. The better your Credit Rating, the more likely you do have stuff. You don’t usually have to keep a super detailed itemized list of what your Investigator owns but if they have anything significant like a car or a weapon you’ll probably want to write that down. It’s also possible your Keeper will let you purchase a number of items for your Investigator depending on the scenario. In the Keeper’s Rulebook there are equipment lists on pages 396-400 and a weapons table on pages 401-405. Take a look at these lists and tables before deciding how to fully equip your character.

That’s really all there is to this step. It’s a pretty easy one but it can be fun to figure out what your Investigator might have and why. Just remember having a pistol is not going to help a lot when the Old Ones awaken and decide to destroy the planet.

Alternate Investigator Creation Methods

The process I described above is the most common way of coming up with an Investigator but there are a few other ways you can do it. While I am not going to give an in-depth explanation of each of these I will describe what they are briefly.

Start Over Method

Sometimes you just roll terribly and you end up with an Investigator who has very low scores. Some Keepers will allow you to re-roll everything if you end up with three or more characteristics under 50.

Modifying Low Rolls Method

This is somewhat similar to start over. In this case, if you have three or more rolls lower than 10 you can roll an additional 1D6 and share the extra points among the lowest roles before multiplying by five.

Choosing Where to Place Rolled Characteristics

For this method you roll for your characteristics but you don’t assign them to each characteristic specifically at first. You would roll five rolls of 3D6 and three rolls of 2D6+6. Multiply each of these eight results by 5. Then you just decide where to put the numbers. This is a fairly common method and a lot of Keepers allow this but be sure to ask first before doing it.

Point Buy Method

I recommend this for more experienced players than beginners. This is because beginners will not always know the best place to put their points. For this method, you start with 460 points you put anywhere you want in the eight characteristics as long as it is within the 15-90 range. It is always recommended that INT and SIZ have a minimum value of 40. Of course if you speak with your Keeper there may be exceptions to this.

Once you are a more seasoned player this is a common method of creating an Investigator and can save some time in the character creation phase.

Quick Fire Method

This one gets a little technical and I don’t recommend it for new players. Basically you get an allotment of values to place in your characteristics and do a kind of accelerated version of everything I listed in the basic method. If you have an experienced Keeper who can help you with this method it may be worth doing. You won’t have any extremely low numbers with this method but you also won’t be rolling exceptionally well either. You will have a well balanced Investigator but it does limit a little of the fun you might have while making your character. If you want to use this method be sure to ask your Keeper first. If you are a Keeper using this method, you can find detailed instructions for it on page 48 of the Keeper’s Rulebook.

Heights of Human Potential

You’re not likely to use this for your first game but I’ll just make a note of it here. While you normally cannot have a skill exceed 90 with this method you can add up to 9 more points to reach maximum potential in a skill. This isn’t exactly an alternate method, more like an optional rule, and it can be used with any method of character creation. I’ve never played in a game where this was allowed but if you play often enough you may come across this. Rules for it are on page 48 of the Keeper’s Rulebook.

Optional Rule: A Cap on Starting Skills

This is technically an optional rule and not a creation method. But, most Keepers will use this rule. This caps your starting skills at 75. The idea behind this is to make sure nothing your Investigators are facing will be too easy for them. After all, if there is no challenge, there is no fun in playing a game. Unlike the Heights of Human Potential rule, this is one I would recommend new Keepers and players use. If you don’t use it, there is still the chance of failure on your rolls because you will sometimes have to roll the half or fifth values. And if you ever roll a 100 that’s always a failure. This is an optional rule I like but that doesn’t mean you have to use it at your table.

In Conclusion

By now you should have a complete Investigator sheet which will allow you to play in a scenario for Call of Cthulhu. I realize it can seem like a lot to go through but if you go one step at a time you’ll get there. One of the best bits of advice I can give you about doing this is to play with someone who has played before and have them go through it with you. There is a fair amount of pre-work that goes into playing. For a player, the bulk of this is in creating their character. The Keeper has a much bigger job as they need to prepare for the entire scenario or campaign. The Keeper should also take a close look at all of the player’s Investigator sheets to make sure everything makes sense and fits within the parameters of the campaign.

While we’ve done a bit of the pre-work here, we have not yet gotten into gameplay. Before we get entirely into how a play session works we’ll touch on it briefly in the next post. Next time I will be taking a deep dive into Skills. I’ll tell you what they are and how they are used in a game session.

If you have made an Investigator for Call of Cthulhu before I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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Flash Fiction Friday – The Fate of the World Rests in Your Hands

Happy April everyone! It’s the first of the month and a Flash Fiction Friday. I decided to play around with second person point of view for this one. Read to the end and let me know what you think in the comments!

The Fate of the World Rests in Your Hands – By Adam Wright

As you check your mail, you notice a letter and you stop in your tracks. Your armor jingles slightly as you move toward the table, the links clattering together. Looking down you notice the parchment on the tray is fresh and it appears to be written in the script of the King’s handwriting. His intricate seal holds the contents in place. It has been months since you were home and now, already, you are called to serve again.

You know you must answer this call. It could be anything from an invitation to dine with him, to an order to go back into the marshy fields, wading your way across miles of broken bodies, and leading more men to their doom. Before you pick up the letter you remove your helmet. Your gauntlets are removed by your trusty servant Roric. He moves to assist with the rest of your armor but you wave him off; this letter is too important to wait.

You tear open the seal, breaking through the wax depicting a lion holding a shield. The letter is long and a feeling of dread washes down your core, leaving you with beads of sweat trickling down your face. You think again of the restless nights, trying to defend against all enemies. You think of the cold nights you have spent, stirring at the slightest sound, always coiled to react in case your next action might become your last. You think of the stench of battles, the sound of steel clashing against steel, the sound of screams and pain. You think of all the crimson blood you have seen wash past your feet. You are not sure you can do this again.

You skim through the letter, past the initial greetings and compliments the King is so fond of using. Looking through the words you start to wonder if the King has gone mad. He is ordering you not only to take on another battle but to lead men into battles they are surely outmatched for. A thousand years and a million souls would not be enough to defeat the enemy. This is not a question of if men will die, but if any, at all, will survive.

The men you have been fighting, if indeed they can be called men, have an army so large that it cannot be numbered. Your spies have returned with reports they are performing rituals and acts that would summon creatures from the depths of Hell itself. The few spies who have returned have come back barely retaining their senses. Most of them have died by their own hand shortly after returning. And the King wants you to bring the fight to the enemy.

The letter tells you that you have one night to prepare. Only one. Your men need more rest. Immediately you start to think about who you should ask to fight with you and who you should let stay. You think of the men who might have come home to find themselves new fathers. The men who have returned to find a mother or father has passed while they were away. And of the men who are now so injured a return to battle is not possible for them. You decide how many of them you will let stay home. The answer is none.

This fight has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. It predates you and it predates your King. This effort might all be wasted. The battle will never cease. Yet the things you have seen give you pause. Creatures that could not be named, leaping from shadows, tearing with jagged claws and razor teeth. Shadows that looked like nothing more than simple darkness reaching out in physical form to wrap hands around throats until men were lifeless. You are asked to return to this. To stop this before it comes home to take your wife, your child, your mother and all those you care for. You know you must answer the call. You know you must put soldiers, warriors, mages, spies, even rogues and barbarians in harm’s way.

If anyone but your King had asked you to do this, you would refuse. Roric waits patiently for any reply you care to make. Initially you want to reply the King can damn himself to Hell. To tell him he should be the one to lead these men into battle. It should be his horse to travel all the miles you must be carried. You think of telling him what horrors will await him if he was to find his own courage and bring his own might into battle.

You give yourself a moment. You take a deep breath. You are about to craft your reply. Roric has a quill in his hand before you even ask for one. As you realize there is only one reply possible, you will fight the forces of darkness no matter the cost, a visitor approaches your door.

A woman in a forest green gown holds a paper in her hand.

“What is it?” you bellow.

“My Lord, a notice from Zack, er, His Grace the King, has arrived for you.” She gives a slight bow.

“I know, I have just read it. I am preparing my men as fast as I can, however the night is short and we are to march to battle soon.” You expect this reply to be enough and for the woman to leave. Yet she remains.

Dumbfounded, you stare at her. What could be so important she would interrupt your preparations? And the gall of this woman, addressing your very King by his first name as if he were some commoner. You wonder if she too might be a spy for the enemy. However, you wait patiently, for she must have some reason for being here. 

“Well, out with it. Why are you here?” you demand.

“Well, it’s like this Alex, er, I mean, my Lord. Zack, er, His Grace, the King, says we have to postpone.”

“Postpone? But he has just ordered me to attack. Why would we postpone? We don’t have much going for us but a renewed attack might be enough of an advantage to save us all. I was not overly fond of the plan at first, but it has its merits.” You wait for an answer.

“It’s just that the rain has come down so hard the road is washed out and now the state troopers are saying everyone in the area has to head home for shelter. Zack says we can reschedule, to say three weeks from now? The Live Action Role Play committee says we have to go due to safety concerns but we can call this one a draw since the allotted time hasn’t technically completed.”

You stare at the woman for a moment. You want to explain to her all that is at stake. All that is necessary to save the world from the forces of darkness. Just as you are about to refuse to leave, you realize you need to get your parking validated or you will be charged for an overnight stay even though it is only six in the evening. 

You decide the battle must wait for three weeks and plan to watch for an email from Zack… er, His Grace, the King to confirm the details.

Slick Dungeon’s Quick and Dirty Guide to the Oscars

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here. The Oscars are about to start soon and I have watched each and every best picture nominee. I’m going to give you my take on them all and tell you what I think will win best picture and what should win best picture. Definitely don’t make any bets based on my picks because I am notoriously bad at guessing what the heck the Oscars will actually do. Also, I am only going to touch on the best picture nominees here and not go into best actor etc. because I have not watched every performance nominated so I would just be guessing in the dark on some of it.

Ready? Here we go.

Nightmare alley

Out of all the nominees for this year, I think this film is the most deserving. It’s an unforgettable story with superb acting and the closest to a perfect film in the whole list. I don’t think it will actually win but it would be my choice.

Don’t Look Up

If Nightmare Alley does not win this would be my next pick for best picture. It has major star power as you can see from the picture above. It’s about a relevant topic and feels almost too close to home. It’s entertaining while still being kind of depressing. Just the kind of thing the Academy Awards loves. I think there are solid odds this will get picked.

Dune

Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Timothee Chalamet.

Okay, this is great film. I loved it and it’s a decent adaptation of the first part of the book. But it’s not exactly a full story and it’s science fiction so that’s working against it. I don’t believe this will win for best picture and I’m not sure it should. But, in my mind there will be a good chance that Part 2 does when that comes out. They didn’t give Peter Jackson best picture on Lord of the Rings until the third and final film came out so no way Dune wins for part one.

Drive My Car

I would actually like to see this win best picture if Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up are not chosen. This is a hugely ambitious story with superb acting and it tells the story of human connection on a deeper level than any of the rest of these nominees. I expect it will not win best picture but I can’t imagine it not being awarded something. My guess is for screenplay but we’ll see. If you haven’t watched this, block off three solid hours of your time and watch it. It’s really good.

Belfast

This could win out of left field. If the Academy wants to go a little more “artsy” with their pick it might make sense to choose this one. While it’s a good film and worth watching, it’s not the best one on this list. Again though I think it is going to win something. I would not be surprised at all if it got Best Director.

Licorice Pizza

Look, I hated this movie but for some unexplained reason it is a critical darling. I think it’s just a disjointed mess of a movie and I can’t really get behind it in any way. And since I’m pretty bad at picking Oscar winners they will probably go with this one. If they do, I think it’s a shame. I liked the acting here but the story barely counts as a film.

The Power of the Dog

Can you buy Benedict Cumberbatch as a cowboy? Can you buy the backdrop of New Zealand as Montana? Neither can I. This western doesn’t feel very western to me but I will admit the end is shockingly good. You have to pay pretty darn close attention to the film for it to make sense though. I don’t think this is actually going to win.

West Side Story

This movie is fine. It’s not good, it’s not great, it’s just kind of there. I don’t think this would have been nominated if anyone other than Steven Spielberg had been involved. You’re probably better off watching the original here but if you love musicals you could do worse than this one.

King Richard

Watch this one for Will Smith and Jon Bernthal’s performances. It really should have been more about Venus and especially more about Serena Williams but Will Smith does do a great job here. Other than that, this is virtually every sports movie you have seen before.

Coda

This is clearly the most heartwarming of all the Oscar nominees. If you watch this you will only go away feeling good. There should be more movies like this and it’s great to see realistic representations of the deaf community here. It’s not going to win, not because it’s a bad movie at all, there is simply just too much star power behind the other films on the list. I highly recommend watching this but no way this gets chosen for Best Picture.

Well, that’s it. Now, I will say, if I could have my pick of all the movies that came out to get the Best Picture award I would choose Spider-man: No Way Home. It was hands down the most fun I had at the movies in all of 2021 and in my mind it was totally deserving of being at least nominated. Ah well, being a huge comic book nerd is tough sometimes.

Anyway, we’ll see what happens tonight. What are your picks? Do you know of any movies you wish were nominated? Let me know in the comments!

Predictably yours,

Slick Dungeon

Dune – Movie Review

Dune (2021)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello film fanatics, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m here to review the last of the Oscar nominees. This time it’s the sci-fi space epic Dune. Be warned there will be spoilers below so if you care about that sort of thing, button up your stillsuit and watch out for sand worms as you head back to the theater to watch the film. Then ride your ornithopter back here to read the review.

For this review I am going to start with the obvious. Nothing, not any media translation ever, will be better than reading the work of brilliance that is Frank Herbert’s Dune. If you have not read that book and you like science fiction at all, you are doing yourself a disservice. So be sure to read that.

Still, for years and years people have attempted to do a decent translation of the text to film. It had an older version that was… well… it’s a little dated and odd if you watch it now but it was a thing. This new version starring Timothee Chalamet tells the first half of the book. Well, not quite the first half actually but it tells the beginning of the book.

The film looks fantastic. And the acting here is extremely good. While there are definitely parts of the book left out of the film entirely, it covers enough of the story that you can get a basic picture of it.

The pacing is a bit slow but so is the novel at times. The book was never about the action but more about politics and deeper meaning.

It’s fairly hard to summarize a plot for the book but if you want to know the basics, Paul is a young man who is set to inherit a lot of wealth and privilege from his father the Baron Leto. Leto has been given a planet to rule over by the Emperor of basically everything. This planet is a desert planet which has an extremely valuable resource called spice. The spice powers interstellar travel and is a bit of a hallucinogenic when ingested. Paul knows his fate is wrapped up in this planet because he sees visions of his future. Paul’s family has a bitter rivalry with a rival house called the Harkonnens who have had to give up the Dune planet to Baron Leto. Everyone expects Leto to fail, the emperor included.

There’s a whole lot more to summarize but if I get too much more into it I am giving away important plot points.

One thing I found somewhat frustrating with this film was the sound quality. There were times when the music in the background literally overwhelms what the actors were saying, making it hard to understand certain parts.

But I will say as far as Dune adaptations go, this is the best one so far. I don’t think this is going to win best picture because they never give that to a sci-fi movie but it’s worth watching, especially if you do like the books.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Licorice Pizza – Movie Review

Licorice Pizza

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hey film lovers, it’s Slick Dungeon here. I’m back to review another Oscar nominee. This time I watched the 1970’s era comedy/drama/romance Licorice Pizza. There will be spoilers for this movie below so if you care about that run on back to the theater and watch the film before reading the review.

Ever since Boogie Nights Paul Thomas Anderson has been making films about people on the fringes of society doing odd and eccentric things. A lot of times those films work and make for good viewing although they do tend to have an excessive runtime. Usually in those films, by the end, things add up to a story that makes some kind of sense.

Licorice Pizza on the other hand is a confusing, jumbled mess of a movie which does not add up to a decent story. The basic plot is about Gary, a fifteen year old actor and entrepreneur who is in love with Alana Kane, a 25 year old woman. The movie is supposed to be about an innocent and heartwarming love affair. I’m sorry but a 25 year old woman dating a 15 year old is… child abuse. That’s just a fact and it’s emphasized over and over and over in this film that there is this age gap. If the genders were swapped this would be a film about a man stalking a child.

Gary is no prize in the movie either as he pesters and badgers Alana relentlessly. There is a back and forth of the two of them getting jealous over who they are hanging out with which just seems unhealthy.

And to be honest with you I can’t even understand why half of the scenes are in this movie. There are scenes where Gary is selling waterbeds in a really strange side plot, only to call it a side plot is to give it too much credit. Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper both show up out of nowhere, do insane things with their characters and then just kind of disappear from the movie.

It feels more like a series of random vignettes that don’t make much sense than it does a cohesive film. The acting is fine but the story is just bad.

And nowhere in the film do they explain why it is called Licorice Pizza. If you feel the need to watch a Paul Thomas Anderson film, go watch Boogey Nights or Magnolia. Those are not perfect films but at least you can understand what is happening by the end.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Belfast – Movie Review

Belfast

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hello out there film fanatics, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m nearly through all the Oscar films but not quite done yet. I watched Belfast for this review. Be warned there will be some spoilers below so if you care about that go watch the movie first and then come back here.

Belfast tells the story of Buddy, a young boy growing up on the street of Belfast, Ireland in 1969. For the most part his life is fairly idyllic. He has friends and neighbors who all know him and care about him. His father works in London but comes home on weekends to be with his family. And Buddy’s grandparents are kind and caring and help to raise him along with his mother. Buddy also has an older brother.

While life is good and most people seem to get along, this changes rapidly once conflict starts between Catholics and Protestants in the country. The streets of Belfast succumb to civil unrest and violence breaks out. Buddy’s family is left with the dilemma of whether or not they should leave Belfast and everything they have known to flee to safety. Their whole lives are in Belfast so it’s not an easy decision.

Buddy has a couple of things that help him to forget some of the horrible things going on around him. He loves going to the movies and watching television to escape. It’s only when Buddy is watching these things that we see color in the movie, everything else is shot in black and white.

I won’t go into too much detail over what the family decides but there is tension between Buddy’s mother and father as his mother realizes they will be treated like outsiders if they move away from Belfast.

While the movie is fairly engrossing and tells a very personal story, it doesn’t do a great job of telling the backstory of why trouble breaks out in the first place. Also, while Buddy is Protestant, we see some of what happens to the Protestants, but there is not much time spent going into the violence done to the Catholics at the time. This makes it feel a little lopsided.

It’s a great character film and Jude Hill has an exceptionally good performance as Buddy that is totally worth watching. The film is also star filled with Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan rounding out the cast.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – Don’t Look Up

Don’t Look Up

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey all, this is a re-post of an Oscar movie review. When I posted it this was before it was nominated but I still stand by what I said here. Enjoy the review!

——

Hello out there internet people, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another movie for you. I watched Don’t Look UP on Netflix. Fair warning that there will be spoilers below so if you haven’t seen it and want to, have a look first and then come back here.

Stop me if this sounds familiar. There is an impending global crisis, almost certain to wipe out all life on the planet. There is solid, irrefutable scientific proof of this event. However, due to political considerations, a distracted public, and enormous financial interests on the part of the wealthy, the clear reversal of this problem is completely ignored. The wealthy get to come up with alternative solutions more friendly to them at the cost of everyone else. Don’t Look Up is a disaster comedy that hits way, way, too close to reality.

The whole film is an obvious allegory for climate change but really it could apply to any number of impending global crises we have going on now. The film is chock full of big name stars, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill.

While the subject matter of the film would make anyone who believes in science uncomfortable, there are laugh out loud moments that are impossible to ignore. As usual Leonardo DiCaprio puts in a fantastic performance but the lines that keep sticking in my mind in this movie come from Jonah Hill and Jennifer Lawrence. There’s also a really funny sequence involving a four star general and some snacks that cracked me up.

It’s also a very American film. The basic premise is straight forward. There is an impending comet heading toward Earth, large enough to be an extinction level event that will wipe out not only humans but a good chunk of the planet itself. The science is solid and the group of scientists who discover the comet have to go convince the president to do something about it. But, political times being what they are, the president is more focused on her poll numbers than committing to a real solution. Because of this inaction there is a wide swath of the population that simply doesn’t believe a comet exists at all. Soon people are on both sides of the issue, the media doesn’t want to cover it because there are stories that get better ratings, and the scientists are trying to get people to understand doom is actually impending.

All in all it is a brilliant film, if a bit on the nose. If you watch it, I promise there are laughs to be had but don’t go in expecting this to be a feel good movie. It’s just so close to the surface of reality it’s genuinely frightening.

Disastrously yours,

Slick Dungeon

Nightmare Alley – Movie Review

Nightmare Alley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hey there film-o-philes, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review yet another Oscar nominated film. This time I watched Nightmare Alley. Before you step right up to view the review do be warned there will be spoilers below. So if you care deeply about such things go on down to your local picture show and take it in with the other rubes before you continue on to the big show review below.

Nightmare Alley is about a drifter named Stan Carlisle who finds himself working for a traveling carnival. Along the way he picks up the tricks the show men and women use to draw audiences and make a quick buck. Stan is gifted at conning the public and making a show out of it.

He learns some routines he can take on the road with a woman named Molly as his partner. They put on what amounts to a psychic show which is no more than Stan just reading people’s body language and Molly giving verbal cues to help Stan look like he is psychic.

Soon he meets a woman named Dr. Lillith Ritter. She has connections to some fairly influential people and Stan gets the idea to run a con on these people. I’m not going to tell you what happens from there because you need to see it for yourself.

The film is utterly brilliant. It has a great setup and an extremely satisfying payoff. Bradley Cooper puts in a masterful performance as Stan and Cate Blanchett is amazing as always. Add to that Ron Perlman is in the film and the star studded cast is quite impressive. Oh, and did I mention Willem Dafoe is in this also? Cause he is and he is amazing. The movie looks gorgeous as well.

There’s a bit of blood here but it’s not overly gory. And while this might be considered to be horror by some I think it’s closer to a psychological thriller.

So far, out of all the Oscar nominated films I have seen this is the one I think should win. But to be fair, I have not seen them all yet and I could be surprised. I still think this deserves five stars though because I honestly don’t see how it could be improved. Guillermo Del Toro proves once again he is a master storyteller and this film is well worth watching.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Power of the Dog – Movie Review

The Power of the Dog

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hello out there fellow film lovers, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review yet another Oscar nominated film. This time it’s The Power of the Dog. Be warned there will be some mild spoilers below so if you care about that, turn your horse around, trot on over to the movies theater and see the film then ride your way back here for the review.

The Power of the Dog is a western set in the 1920’s starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons. Cumberbatch plays Phil a tough and mean cowboy who learned ranching from his fabled mentor Bronco Henry. Plemons plays Phil’s brother George. George marries Rose played by Kirsten Dunst.

Phil is very menacing and let’s just say his presence does not bode well for Rose or her son Peter. Peter is considered to be somewhat of a “sissy boy” according to Phil and he relentlessly antagonizes the boy at the start of the movie. Peter is almost grown but he still seems to fear and loathe Phil.

I won’t go into a lot more detail here so I don’t give away the whole film but the ending is worth sticking around for as it’s the best part of the whole movie.

While this is a decent film and fairly enjoyable, I really don’t think it’s Oscar worthy. Perhaps it is just me but I couldn’t quite buy Cumberbatch as a cowboy. I love him as an actor and I think he makes a great Dr. Strange and an absolutely brilliant Sherlock Holmes. But with this film, his western accent really seems forced and just doesn’t work.

Dunst and Plemons both play their parts very well and I found all of the other characters believable. I just never found myself really seeing Cumberbatch as the cowboy he was portraying.

If you love westerns this is a good one and even if you don’t the ending is worth sticking around for but I can’t rate this above average for a movie.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Drive My Car – Movie Review

Drive My Car

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey film fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another Oscar nominated film. The big awards ceremony is tomorrow so I’m doing my best to get through all the movies before then. Buckle up for this one because I’m reviewing the Japanese film Drive My Car. Be warned that there will be spoilers ahead so if you care about those things make a u-turn, go back and watch the movie and then come back here.

If you do watch this movie, buy the extra large popcorn because it’s got a very long runtime of three solid hours. The movie is about Yūsuke Kafuku an acclaimed theater director and actor who is married to a screenwriter named Oto. Early in the film it’s established that Oto loves Kafuku but she has affairs with other men. Kafuku doesn’t confront her about it but Oto seems like she might confess one evening. Only, Kafuku comes back home to find Oto dead of a brain hemorrhage.

The story skips to two years later when Kafuku agrees to doing a residency in Hiroshima where he will put on the play Uncle Vanya with a multilingual cast from several different countries. One of the cast members is a young man named Takatsuki who in all likelihood had an affair with Oto.

While at this residency, a driver named Misaki Watari is assigned to drive Kafuku to and from his rehearsals due to some policies of the theater. Watari is about the age Kafuku’s daughter would have been if she had lived.

The film is about all the connections these people have to one another, most of them through tragedy of one kind or other. As the film progresses Watari and Kafuku have a deeper and deeper connection.

I can’t say much more without giving a lot of the film away. What I will say is that the movie has a quiet brilliance to it. It’s not paced like most western films are and there is definitely a lot of dead space in its three hour run. However, that’s clearly an intentional choice and overall works for the film.

I’m not sure if it is deserving of the best picture but it certainly deserved to be nominated and there are impressive performances here from the cast.

If you like long, somewhat slow dramas this is a great film to watch. Just realize you’ll be dedicating a good chunk of time to it.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Flash Fiction Fridays – The Letter

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday! I hope you enjoy the story and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!

The Letter – By Adam Wright

Jim Targus held the envelope pinched between his thumb and forefingers. He held it as far away from his face as his arms would reach. Even at that distance it was still easy to read the bold block letter typescript on the front.

THE BUREAU OF EXISTENTIAL AFFAIRS.

He had waited most of his twenty one years of life to receive this letter. Days spent dreaming and imagining what the future would be. The paper felt rough on his fingers. He took a deep breath, folded it up into neat fourths and stuck it into the back pocket of his jeans.

The sun was bright and Jim squinted as he looked down the street of his suburban neighborhood. No one seemed to be out but there were sprinklers spraying the lawns of a few houses. Cars wouldn’t be arriving home from workplaces for hours. Jim loved the quiet summer weekdays. He hummed softly to himself as he walked to Angela’s door. She’d want to know he had received it. They’d made a pact to share it if either one of them got it. Jim wondered if Angela had received hers yet. 

Her house was one of those newer models, the kind with the alarm that told the occupants who was at their door before they even arrived. It was all some complicated algorithm that predicted people’s movements. Jim had never quite grasped the science of it. The house was yellow with green trim. Angela and Jim agreed it was the worst color combination imaginable for a house. They had spent hours trying to convince her father to repaint. Jim smiled at the memory.

Even though everyone inside would know it was him, Jim went through the exercise of knocking on the door anyway. He supposed it was habit. They wouldn’t have minded if he just entered but Jim’s mother always insisted on manners.

Angela came out to the door and Jim, as always, was struck by her raven hair and dark brown eyes. Eyes the color of coffee with just the right amount of cream. Soft eyes. Caring eyes.

“Why hello, stranger.” Angela threw her arms around him as if they hadn’t seen each other yesterday.

Jim hugged her back and let her scent wash over him for the briefest of moments. Then he stepped back and gave her his best grin.

“Hiya, Angela, how ya doin’?” Jim gave her a mock salute and she saluted back with a laugh.

“Why, I’m fine, Jim. What brings you all the way out here to my neck of the street?”

Jim held up his left hand in a signal to wait and then with his right he pulled out the letter.

“Is that?”

“It is. Have you gotten yours? You remember our pact, now.” 

“How could I forget? I think we were five when we started that lemonade stand and you started telling me how you were going to get to go to outer space once you got your letter.”

“That we were. And I still remember how the lemonade took hours to wash out of my hair when I told you no girls were allowed on my spaceship. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”

Angela didn’t say anything. She just smiled and gave Jim a little punch in the arm.

“Did you get yours?” he asked.

“I’m afraid not. Are you going to open yours or are we waiting for mine?”

“Well, I’m not sure. Do you want to be the first person to see what a famous outer space explorer I’m gonna make? Or should we wait and be the first couple to be accepted to the program at the exact same time?”

“The Bureau’s pretty strict about these sorts of things. You’re supposed to open it the instant you get it. You know that. I hope you haven’t jeopardized your chances.”

“Okay fine, I just wanted you to be here for the big reveal. You know, I’d be lost without you. All those years studying together. What a lunkhead I would be without you.”

Angela rolled her eyes. She looked pointedly at the envelope.

“Alright, alright, hold your horses.”

Jim tore across the top of the envelope, ripping the paper in jagged lines. He pulled out the folded piece of paper inside. As he was about to unfold it and read it, Angela touched his hand. She looked at him with those coffee brown eyes. Jim could feel alive inside those eyes. He could live forever as long as she looked at him.

“Wait there a second. Let me go get something first, okay? Promise me you won’t read it without me?” she asked.

“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Jim gave another mock salute. 

Angela disappeared into the house. Jim heard her footsteps pad up the stairway. The paper felt heavy in his hands. Surely, it would be fine to open it. Angela would never know he had read it without her. What was the harm? The rules were supposed to be strict but how would they know when he read his?

Jim read the words.

We regret to inform you that your existence is not essential. You will be erased from this existence shortly. Please stand by.

The truth hit Jim’s mind like a thunderclap. He was not needed. For anything. There would be no Angela, no outer space. Just nothing. He watched as his hands began to fade away, the paper dropping from his fingers and fluttering to the ground.

As Angela came to the door, clutching her letter, she burst outside. She knew she had wanted to show the letter to someone. She was proud of the proclamation on it.

You have been deemed essential and will be allowed to pursue your desired career of space exploration. Congratulations.

She looked outside but there was no one standing there. Why had she come out here? She looked down and saw a piece of paper fluttering in the wind. It looked like a letter.

“Is anyone out here?” she asked.

No answer came.

King Richard – Movie Review

King Richard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hello film fanatics, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another Oscar nominated film. This time I watched the Will Smith movie about the world’s two most famous tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard. Fair warning there are some spoilers below.

The main reason to watch King Richard is for the Oscar worthy performance put in by Will Smith. The film tells the story of the struggles Richard Williams faced and overcame in order to get his two girls on the professional tennis circuit before they became two of the best known athletes in the world.

The film tells a story of a family and a man who go from the streets of Compton, CA to stardom and riches in the pro tennis world. In a lot of ways this film mirrors any other inspiring sports story movie. We cheer for the Williams sisters to grow into their potential and hope for the best for them. What’s unusual in this story is that the focus is not on the athletes themselves but rather on their father and first coach.

The choice to have Richard Williams as the focus makes some sense because he mapped out the lives of his kids before they were ever born. While it might be considered borderline abuse to have a comprehensive career plan for a kid before they have even touched foot on the planet there is no denying that most of Richard Williams’ plan worked. Whether that made for great lives for his daughters or not is up for interpretation in my opinion.

The story is inspiring, however, it truly glosses over some of the worst aspects of Richard Williams, in some cases leaving just a line or two in the movie to make any inferences about some of his more negative qualities.

The third act of the film really reminded me of Rocky. Just a quick warning but I am going to drop a Rocky spoiler here. In the film Rocky the whole point of the movie is not for Rocky Balboa to beat Apollo Creed. Rather, it’s to see if he can last a whole fifteen rounds with his opponent. In the last act of King Richard we see Venus Williams first pro match. No one thinks she can actually win but it remains to be seen if she can hold her own against the number one ranked player in the world. Spoiler alert if you didn’t know, she is able to hold her own but does lose the match. Even so, what she did was unexpected in tennis at the time.

Another criticism of the movie here is that while it is about both Venus and Serena the main focus other than Richard really is Venus here. This is despite the fact that the way they were raised it was almost inevitable they would be pitted against one another constantly.

Sometime I would like to see the actual story of the Williams sisters from their perspective rather than from their father’s. It does a bit of a disservice to all they have accomplished.

Another positive in this film though is the performance of Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci. He puts in an Oscar worthy performance with plenty of subtle nuance to his character.

While I don’t think this should be the favorite for best picture there are stellar performances here worth watching. Just remember as you watch that this story is not a complete story and it’s told from the somewhat biased perspective of Richard rather than the actual athletes who have done so much.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

West Side Story (2021) – Movie Review

West Side Story (2021)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hey film fans, Slick Dungeon here. I’m back to review the next pick on the Oscar list, West Side Story from 2021. There will be some mild spoilers in this review so if you feel strongly about that go watch the movie first and come back here for the review.

West Side Story (2021) is the film that dares to ask what if Romeo and Juliet was set in New York amidst a couple of gangs of street thugs who not only look tough but are also really good at choreography and harmonizing with one another. It answers this bold question with a resounding… meh.

The plot is basically Romeo and Juliet through and through. The songs might have been innovative at the time they came out but now they don’t really land. The film looks good but it doesn’t have any real substance.

I don’t have anything against musicals, in fact I like a lot of them, and I don’t have anything against West Side Story the musical. But watching this updated version felt wholly and completely unnecessary. While the acting and singing and dancing are all fine here and the cinematography is fantastic this still felt seriously outdated. Not to mention the fact that there is an old version of this musical which everyone is always going to think of as the best version of this musical.

If you’ve never seen West Side Story or never read Romeo and Juliet maybe the events in the film will come as a surprise to you but I guarantee you, you have seen this story before. The songs are passable but still feel like they come from a bygone era of both theater and cinema and don’t exactly resonate in today’s era.

If we are going to nominate a musical with something to say that might resonate with a current audience, I think In the Heights would have been a far better choice.

If you are a huge fan of musicals and have been just hoping for a decent remake of West Side Story this will serve you well. Anyone outside of that audience can really skip this one and be none the worse for it. Maybe go watch Tick, Tick… Boom! or even Encanto instead. Those are far more innovative films and in my opinion more worthy of Oscar nominations than this one.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

CODA – Movie Review

CODA

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello film fans, it’s Slick Dungeon. This week is Oscar week and since I am a total and complete unabashed cinephile I am going to do my best to review as many of the best Oscar nominees as I can. These reviews are in no particular order they just happen to be the ones I’ve seen most recently. The first one up is CODA. Be warned for these reviews will contain some mild spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie go watch it first and come back here if you care about spoilers.

CODA is about Ruby Rossi, a child of deaf adults. She lives in a fishing community in Gloucester, Maine with her parents and her brother who is also deaf. Because the rest of her family are deaf, Ruby is often called upon to interpret for her family, even when it may not be convenient for her. She also loves to sing. This is hard for her family to understand since they can’t hear her voice.

The plot of the film revolves around Ruby struggling to have her own life, outside of her family. She connects with her choir teacher Mr. Villalobos who wants to mentor her. Ruby has to contend with life, friends, and her family struggling to make a living in a very difficult industry mostly populated by those who can hear.

I don’t want to give too much away but the film is reminiscent of a number of sports films. Still, the movie has a lot of heart. And the soundtrack here is top notch. On top of that, Emilia Jones who plays Ruby has quite the set of pipes and has a great turn here playing the character.

I would say this film is an Oscar worthy nominee. And it’s really nice to see a film portray the deaf community in a real way without oversimplifying or ignoring the unique issues in that community.

If you like films that will lift you up by the end but might make you cry a little (I’m not crying, you’re crying) this is a great choice. We’ll see how it holds up compared to the other nominees but either way this one is a film worthy of watching.

Awarding-ly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Flash Fiction Friday – A Little More Time

Welcome to my third Flash Fiction Friday! This story was inspired by an old episode of The Twilight Zone. Let me know what you think of it in the comments! Hope you enjoy it!

A Little More Time – by Adam Wright

In the aftermath of the bomb the world was silent. The loudest sound was the crack of his lenses as his heel stepped on his glasses. He could only make out the world in blurs of different shapes and colors.

He had crushed his only reason for living. The books remained stacked on the library steps unread and innumerable. Even so, he kept on living for no other reason than he had nothing else to do. 

Days were spent foraging for food. It wasn’t really foraging. There was plenty of food to be found in local markets, neighbor’s houses, restaurants, almost anywhere. The foraging was guessing what it was he was about to eat. A blur of yellow in a can might be peaches or pineapples. Brown was likely beans. He was never sure until he opened the can. What he didn’t want he left out for the animals. They were few and far between. He supposed there were still plenty of insects but he couldn’t see them.

Days turned into weeks. Then months. Years maybe? He marked them off with chalk in huge hash marks on a blackboard in an empty school. He soon ran out of space but there were still more classrooms. He tried remembering the stories he loved and writing them out on the chalkboard. He was never sure if he got it quite right. They were all a jumble in his head and he would think to check in a book to see if it matched and then remember. He couldn’t read them anymore. Shakespear would have to die along with him.

One evening he watched as a blur moved toward him. It had the vague outline of a man but it didn’t walk like one. It moved faster. The sun was setting so he guessed it was a trick of the light, something playing out on the horizon with his eyesight. Or, more likely, he was finally driven mad from the isolation and boredom.

The next night he saw it again. Closer this time. He walked toward it, hope sparking once again in his heart. If there was another person, maybe they knew some stories. Or a way he could find a new pair of glasses. He could have them guide him all over the city until they found a suitable approximation of his lenses. 

Just as he was about to approach the shape, he felt a pair of hands wrap around him. There was a piercing pain in his neck, like two sharp needles. The hands let go as he turned around. Whoever grabbed him was already gone. He felt dizzy and sank to his knees. The world went dark.

He didn’t know how long he slept but when he woke it was still dark. And he could see! He could read the signs on the store in front of him. He could make out the headlines on the newspaper stand thirty feet away. He could read again. 

He soon learned that the sun burned but the night cooled. He slept while it was bright out and discovered to his amazement that he could read any book he wanted to, as long as it was night. He went through them methodically, one at a time, separated by genre, relishing in the words, loving the way it took his mind to different worlds and places. While he read he could forget almost everything else. He could forget the world was a dead place. He could forget the strange changes to his body, the fangs that now protruded from his mouth that he could see in the mirror. 

It was obvious what he was. He read about it in a book written long ago by Brahm Stoker. Even reading that kept his mind off the one other constant he now had. He had all the time he needed to read but he was going to waste away soon. 

There was a gnawing, constant hunger in his stomach. The cans of food no longer appealed to him. He tried to eat the food anyway but it just made him sick. He spent hours looking for something to eat. Something living with blood pumping through its veins. He couldn’t even find a squirrel or rabbit. 

He had all the books he could ever hope to read and the time to read them. Shakespear was going to die with him anyway. There was no food left, all the humans with their pumping blood had been destroyed in the bomb.

Book Review – Footsteps in the Dark: Short Horror & Sci-Fi Stories Volume II

Footsteps in the Dark Volume II by Joshua G. J. Insole

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

Another collection comes from the three-time Reedsy winner, Joshua G. J. Insole. This second volume of horror and sci-fi explores the dark alleys of the mind once more.

A woman defends house and husband from the home’s eight-legged inhabitants. Two strangers discuss music’s finer points as cannibals try to break into their car. A gender-reveal party goes off the rails as the true nature of the infant comes to light. Thirteen women gather at night to right the wrongs of society. A mother takes shelter in the family treehouse as the world ends around her. And finally—

Wait. Do you hear that?

Footsteps.

Footsteps in the dark.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Footsteps in the Dark is a collection of short science fiction and horror stories, most of them between three and five pages long. It’s a world of stories inhabited by zombies, vampires, wendigos, creepy crawly spiders and other things that go bump in the night. There are also several stories that might be considered more science fiction than horror but even these have a bit of a horror element to them.

The nice thing about a collection like this is there is a wide variety of stories to read and none of them take a huge time commitment. While not every story comes off perfectly, any reader who is a fan of horror is bound to find at least one story here that will stay with them long after reading. For example, Gender Reveal takes a decidedly unexpected turn and the story Ordinary stayed with me long after I finished that story. Another standout in my mind was Homeowner’s Association which gives a new take to how much people are willing to tolerate in their neighbors.

A word of warning would be that some of the stories can get a bit gory so if you don’t have a stomach for that type of reading you may want to skip a few in this collection. If you have a strong enough stomach though, most of the stories are worth reading at least once and added together they make a fine collection for horror fans.

If you like bite-sized horror and science fiction stories this is a great collection to add to your shelves.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #10

The Fantastic Four Issue 10 Photo Credit: Marvel

For the tenth issue of a comic there sure are a lot of firsts in this issue. Right on the cover is the first of the firsts. This is the first Marvel comic (and I believe the first comic ever) to use the writer and artist of the comic as part of the story in the comic. It’s way more metaverse than Zuckerberg could ever get.

The issue starts off in fairly standard fashion for a Fantastic Four comic. Reed Richards is in his lab doing some tests to get a better understanding of how Sue Storm’s powers work. The team then sees the emergency signal in the shape of a 4 outside their window. They figure Ben Grimm must be in trouble since he’s the only member of the team not there. Somehow the lab door has been closed and we see Johnny and Reed try a couple different things to get the door opened. It’s not easy since it’s “nuclear powered” so heat won’t work and Reed has to basically stretch his way all through the building but he’s unsuccessful. Johnny tries again but with a flame concentrated so much it burns without heat. (Yeah I’m not sure how that works either but it’s a comic so I’ll go with it)

The team rushes out the door to head to Alicia’s place. She has now been established as the Thing’s girlfriend. But because the team is famous it’s a bit hard for them to navigate through the crowd. Reed has to stretch through legs to avoid a crowd, Sue has to go invisible after a creepy guy says, “How’s about a smile for one of your fans??” and of course the Human Torch just flies over everyone. They make to Alicia’s to find out Ben had just sent for the crew because he wanted to show them the sculptures Alicia made of some of their past foes. She clearly has talent as a sculptor and we get to see Mole-Man, Dr. Doom, Namor and a few others she has made. Sue doesn’t think Namor should be lumped in with the other ones. Reed very nearly talks to Sue about her feelings for Namor but Sue cuts him off. It seems Reed had the understanding he and Sue would eventually be married but it seems her feelings for the King of Atlantis may be making things a bit complicated.

The next panel is where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby make comic book history. I imagine they did this just to have something to put on the page and to see if it would work but for the first time ever we see the authors of the comic directly addressing the readers of the comic in the story. The panel narrates, “And that, dear reader, is as far as Jack Kirby and I got with our story, before the unexpected happened! But let us show you just how it all came about… our scene now changes to the studio of Kirby and Lee, on Madison Avenue, where we find…” And in the image we see Stan and Jack from behind, with lots of artwork around them. In the background you can see pictures of Hulk and Ant-Man. On Kirby’s art table is a picture of Thor and in his hands Kirby has an illustration of a villain he wants to call “false-face” who just really has a big mustache.

I call special attention to this panel for a few reasons. First, if there was ever any doubt, this firmly places the Fantastic Four right in New York City along with the offices of Marvel. Second, with the drawings scattered around Jack Kirby not only do we have a view of heroes we’ve been reading about, we also, very nearly, have the full Avengers team. And finally, we’ve known Marvel comics exist in the Marvel 616 universe ever since Johnny Storm remembered reading about Sub-Mariner but now we know that Marvel writers and artists also exist in the Marvel 616 universe.

The next panel has Stan lamenting that they can’t use a great villain like Dr. Doom again because he was lost in space. And then we get another first. Dr. Doom walks in to the office of Lee and Kirby. This is the first time we get to see a Marvel character meet a Marvel creator. Lee and Kirby are understandably worried but do want to know how it’s possible Doom survived. Doom says there is an explanation but he won’t give it now. He then takes off the mask he always wears. We as readers don’t ever get to see Doom’s face. We actually don’t see Lee and Kirby’s faces either as they are always shown from behind or with their hands over their faces. But either way, Doom’s face is disturbing to the Marvel men so we know there is some major disfigurement there.

Doom demands they call Mr. Fantastic to discuss a new story. This gives the reader the impression every issue we have read has actually been told to Lee and Kirby and we’re just reading the translation of that story by Marvel. And to confirm that, Reed does get a phone call in his lab from Lee and Kirby. The Thing even complains about how he’s drawn. Reed heads over to the office and as soon as he gets there he is gassed by Doom. Doom tells Lee and Kirby to pass on an address to the other members of the FF where they can go if they want to get Reed back.

Doom relates a rather silly tale to Reed about how he was rescued by space aliens called “the ovoids” who have oval shaped heads. Turns out they had advanced technology and were able to transfer their consciousness from one body to another. Doom being Doom he learns their technology and heads back to Earth. He switches consciousnesses with Reed thus setting it up so the other members of the team will attack Reed in Doom’s body. His ruse works for a time as the three do pummel what they think is Dr. Doom. He pleads with them but at first they don’t believe him. The team tries to think of different ways to keep Doom from menacing them permanently without, you know, actually killing him. Finally Doom as Reed suggests just putting him in a sort of glass cage he has. The other three team members leave, giving Doom a minute or two to gloat.

In the next section of the story there are a bunch of miniature zoo animals causing havoc in the Baxter building. Turns out Doom as Reed stole a bunch of zoo animals to see if he could miniaturize them. In truth it’s a reducing ray which will snap the Fantastic Four out of existence once Doom hits them with it. Doom fools them into thinking this is a good idea which will simply increase their powers. Except somehow, for Ben Grimm it would do the opposite and turn him back to human. The fact the ray is doing two opposite things doesn’t seem to occur to the rest of the group here.

Meanwhile Reed uses Doom’s facemask to break through the glass holding him prisoner. Reed is smart enough to go to Alicia’s apartment knowing she’s able to sense the good in people. Unfortunately for him, Sue is there in invisible form and bashes him over the head. There’s a bit of a fight amongst the group but Ben is just not quite able to smash Reed because in the back of his mind he knows Alicia is right. Johnny gets the idea to make it look like a stick of dynamite is in the room by using a “heat mirage” (yeah not clear how that works either). Reed as Doom immediately tries to shield the others from it while Doom as Reed tries to run out the door. The fact that the team turn on Doom is enough for him to lose concentration and switch back to his actual body.

In the fight that follows Doom accidentally trains his own reducing ray on himself. He shrinks to nothingness before anyone can do anything about it. Well, thank goodness we got rid of that guy. I’m sure there’s no way he could return again right?

This really was a groundbreaking issue in a lot of ways and it started a long tradition of the FF meeting writers and artists from Marvel. It’s a pretty clever gimmick and it’s a lot of fun.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking in on the insects once again as we catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #39!

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Fresh – Movie Review

Fresh

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello horror fans, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another movie for you. This time I watched Fresh starring Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones which is now streaming on Hulu.

Before I launch into the review I need to warn you about spoilers. I can’t really review this without giving away a huge moment in the movie so if you are bothered by spoilers please watch first and then come back here to read the review.

Okay, one last warning because I am definitely going to spoil some plot points here.

Still with me? Okay good. Have you watched The Tinder Swindler and decided dating apps are just not your thing because, well, look at what happened there? Fresh shows us why it’s a terrible idea to meet someone in real life so I think we can all just agree dating sucks.

Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) is tired of dating and sick of dating apps. Along comes Steve (played by Sebastian Stan) who seems kind of awkward but maybe an alright guy. And the best part is Noa meets him in the grocery store where you can find real, actual people without swiping left. She ends up going on a date with him and things seem to be going well.

It’s moving a bit fast but she brings him to her apartment where they hook up. He’s even still there in the morning and seems nice enough. Noa tells her friend Molly about it and the friend is rightly concerned. Steve also doesn’t seem to have any social media presence which might be a little sketchy. Regardless, Noa likes him enough to agree to go on a weekend trip with him to a “surprise location.” Against her better judgement she goes.

She arrives at Steve’s house where they are supposed to stay before going on their trip. They have a little chat and a nice drink and here’s where I am about to drop a huge spoiler so seriously last chance to watch first.

Steve drugs Noa and she wakes up chained to the corner of a room. Steve calmly explains to Noa that he’s going to keep her alive as long as he can but he’s going to sell her meat, slowly, to people who are willing to pay for it.

Turns out Steve is the Blue Apron of cannibals. He traps women, carves them up small pieces at a time, and sends the human meat out in boxes filled with items and trinkets that belong to the women he has trapped.

I’m not going to spoil a lot more of the movie here but let’s just say the rest of the movie is what you might expect. Noa tries to figure out how to get out of the situation and Steve is a psychotic violent person who tries to stop her.

Sebastian Stan puts in a great performance as Steve finding just the right edge of being able to present himself as a nice guy but with menace just under the surface. But Daisy Edgar-Jones puts in a truly masterful turn as Noa who doesn’t just spend her time in hysterics over her situation but is able to be clever throughout (other than impulsively agreeing to go on a trip with a near stranger)

Clearly this movie has a bit of blood and gore in it but I do have a pro tip here. Whatever you do, absolutely do not, watch this movie while you are eating dinner. Trust me.

The ending is believable and interesting and overall the film really works. The only thing that kind of bothered me here was that I don’t think the market for what Steve was doing would be there and as sustainable as the film implies.

But the film does make a pretty strong statement about the state of dating in this era.

If you like movies with a lot of suspense and a bit of gore that tend to be more psychologically disturbing than anything this one is definitely worth a watch.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #104

Strange Tales Issue 104 Photo Credit: Marvel

Allow me to introduce to you the incredible supervillain Paste-Pot Pete! That’s right, he’s the only villain who chooses as his weapon of choice, a pot of paste and a paste gun that shoots out… paste.

Eventually this guy will become known as “The Trapster” but he starts his criminal career with paste. These kinds of stories are why I love Marvel. They have some of the strangest ideas and somehow a lot of them seem to work. In fact, Paste-Pot Pete actually comes fairly close to defeating The Human Torch on his first time out.

One thing you have to say for Paste-Pot Pete is he’s got a lot of flare. Our story starts in Glenville where Johnny Storm is going to school. He’s at the bank and very nearly writes The Human Torch on his deposit slip thus giving away his secret identity. As far as the Fantastic Four goes the idea of secret identities is kind of nebulous. Everyone pretty much knows where they live and that they were four space explorers who got their powers from cosmic rays. Even before the days of Google it wouldn’t have been that hard to put two and two together.

Leaving that aside, in comes Paste-Pot Pete who proudly announces “Meet Paste-Pot Pete… master criminal!” It’s quite an entrance even if you could argue shouting you’re a master criminal is not something a master criminal would do. Then he goes to town on the bankers and security guards. He’s gluing people to walls, gluing guns to guards hips, and rocking an amazing purple bow tie and beret paired with a green suit. It looks like he took some fashion tips from a combination of The Joker and an art student dropout.

Johnny is in the bank but he can’t just burst into flame without giving away who he is. So instead he sends a flame copy of himself to follow the crook. Pete races on out of there, gluing feet to the street as he goes. He even glues a group of police into their own cars so they can’t run out and get him.

Johnny is finally able to flame on and catch up to Pete but not before Pete has broken into a nearby missile base and defeated several armed and trained soldiers by shooting paste at them.

Pete’s there to grab the latest missile and sell it to the highest bidder. He literally captures the missile by shooting it with paste as soon as it is fired. I don’t know what his glue is made of but he mentions that it is super strong and will only last for an hour. Does that remind anyone else of a certain teenager who uses web fluid to swing around?

Pete does get a great line in at the missile base when he flees with the missile saying, “And anyone who tries to stop me will get a taste of paste!”

Of course, Johnny inevitably catches up to the crook. He first tries to shoot flame arrows at the tires of Pete’s truck but Pete’s reflexes are too good and he maneuvers out of the way.

Johnny’s next idea is to burn a ditch in front of the truck but again Pete is too fast for The Human Torch. This time Pete glues some nearby lumber and uses it as planks to get across. For Pete’s first time out, he’s doing really well. He has escaped one of the Fantastic Four three times already which is no easy feat. Johnny is about to just melt the truck as much as he can when he runs out of flame. As that happens, Pete glues Johnny to the missile he’s carting around.

Unfortunately for Pete his glue gets into the housing of the missile and triggers it to fire. Just when it looks like it’s curtains for Johnny he realizes the intense heat of the missile is enough to give him his flame back. He carefully cuts himself out of the glue by flaming on a single finger. Luckily the missile drops into the ocean so no one is harmed. (Although I suppose if Namor hears about it he’s not going to be happy)

Torch catches back up to Pete and this time does melt the truck. Pete gets out alive but Johnny is smart enough to target Paste-Pot Pete’s paste pot. (Try saying that five times fast) Pete is not out of tricks though. There is still paste in his paste gun even when he doesn’t have his pot. He fires glue at a passing airplane and hitches a ride.

While Johnny does recover all the stolen goods, Paste-Pot Pete manages to escape and rendezvous at a boat waiting for him in the ocean. And thus, Paste-Pot Pete enters the annals of Marvel history being one of the few villains who can actually get away from The Human Torch.

Believe it or not, Pete’s character in the future does get to be a lot more complex and interesting. This is a guy who knows how to plan and to be patient which gives him an advantage over other criminals.

I just love that there are characters like Pete in comic books. I would love to see this dude show up and just take on an Avenger or two in the MCU sometime. But until then, we’ll just have to wonder if Paste-Pot Pete is gone for good. (He’s not)

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking up on Johnny and the rest of the first family of super heroes with Fantastic Four #10!

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