Book Review – The Ravenstones: Gains and Losses

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SUMMARY

The alliances in Aeronbed and Vigmar have shifted, the battle lines redrawn. Old enemies become friends of convenience, former confederates hunted down. Can bears and lions become true allies? Can old prejudices be overcome? Is true reconciliation possible?

Eirwen and Fridis have been reunited, but their lives are filled with conflict and challenge. Eirwen must lead the Heimborn bears against their panther overlords. Fridis embarks on her quest to unearth the truth about the Ravenstones, starting with her former bodyguard Raicho, the peregrine falcon, and then to uncover the mysteries of Manaris.

Ammarich begins to doubt Adarix, who has abandoned the wolf pack’s ambitions and committed his life to supporting the polar bear. The lioness Olwen seeks to rejoin her kin in their northern sanctuary. Her panther friend and confidant, Eisa, chooses to stay with Eirwen and Heimborn’s bears, but he must prove himself to the suspicious clan chiefs — or die. And Vigmar’s security chief, Vulpé, the fox, is on the hunt once more, but now it’s the magic gemstones he’s after.

In Volume 4 our heroes face new trials. The stakes are higher, the challenges bolder, the treachery more outrageous and the threats to survival even graver.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Eirwen and Fridis have come a long way since the events of the first book in this series. Fridis continues to discover secrets about the magic gems she and Eirwen discovered. Eirwen continues to grow and understand his role as a leader. All the while the world is at war and plots, complications and battles are changing the political landscape at every turn.

As always in these books there are alliances, betrayals, surprises and plenty of action to keep the reader interested. At times it can be difficult to keep track of all the characters as there are so many in the story. There is a handy dramatis animalium to help the reader keep everyone in mind at the beginning of the book.

The work here by C.S. Watts is extremely ambitious and impressive on a large scale. The different factions vying for rule or supremacy or in some cases simply to survive are reminiscent of the politics in the Game of Thrones series. The Ravenstones books are certainly more suitable for children but that does not make this story any less complex.

It’s been a great ride so far to see how the characters grow and change, constantly needing to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. And while Eirwen and Fridis are the stars of the series there are plenty of other characters Watts is able to make the reader care about. In particular Olwen and Eisa who were featured in the last book are enjoyable and interesting to read about.

There are still more books in this series to come and they are all great reads. If you want a story with a focus on not just fighting but politics behind fighting and plenty of character growth and development, do yourself a favor and pick up the Ravenstones books.

If you are an epic fantasy fan and have read The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or if you love Watership Down these books are for you.

TV Review – Ash vs Evil Dead (Episode 1)

Bruce Campbell in Ash vs Evil Dead

Hey internet it’s me Slick Dungeon. I wasn’t sure if I was going to review this series because I didn’t know much about it but I got through all of the Evil Dead films so thought I would give this one a chance. There are spoilers below for the first episode so fair warning. Groovy? Groovy.

The show begins with Bruce Campbell tightening a man-girdle while the song Space Truckin’ plays in the background and… I. Am. On. Board. For. This! I can’t think of a better way to start an Evil Dead series. This gets right into the comedy by showing Ash picking up a woman at a bar and telling an obvious lie about his severed hand. He has a moment while he is uhh… having an intimate moment in the restroom… where he sees the face of a Deadite. He hasn’t seen this in the last thirty years and can’t figure out why it happened.

He goes back to his trailer and realizes he read the passage from the Necronomicon while he was high and, you know, unleashed Hell on earth yet again.

We see a pair of police officers investigate a house where there is a demon and one of the officers ends up shooting her partner. She’s not sure if she is crazy or really saw what she thought she saw. This part of the show gives us the best chance for horror since it’s pretty unlikely Ash will die and we are not yet attached to these characters. There’s a decent amount of gore and scares here but it still seems to have a sense of fun.

We switch back to Ash who is still working in a big box store but now has lackeys who basically cover up his poor work ethic for him.

To keep from giving too much away, I will just say Ash has gotten himself and some of his coworkers into trouble and he’s going to need to get them all out of it.

So far, the show has kept the same mix of fear and fun you find overall in the Evil Dead film series and I feel like this is a much more natural follow up than the remake of the original film was. I’m excited to see how the rest of the series plays out.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Top 5 Horror One Shots for Dungeons & Dragons

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Hey all, Slick Dungeon here. I hate long intros to top 5 lists so we’ll get right into it. These are my five favorite horror one shots for Dungeons & Dragons.

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5. The House of Lament from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft

Spirit Board from House of Lament

The House of Lament is a highly customizable haunted house adventure made for a party of 4-6 1st level characters who will advance to 3rd level by the end. The idea is pretty simple here, there is a house that is not at rest. The party will be lead there by whatever adventure hook you want to come up with (if you decide to do a longer campaign in Ravenloft you’ll definitely want to incorporate the mists somehow). Once the part is there they will meet some friendly NPC’s who are trying to figure out why the house is haunted and want to shut it down. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers but the players get to conduct a few seances with the help of a spirit board that leads them to clues about why the house is haunted. For the DM there are several scenarios this can take so you may want to pick which spirits are haunting the house ahead of time. The goal is for the players to go through the house and help or in some cases defeat the spirits and put the house back at rest. Whether or not you turn this into a longer campaign is up to you. Right now you can only find this adventure in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. I have a full review of that book here and I highly recommend picking it up. Also handy are these handouts you can find on the Dungeon Master’s Guild Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft: The House of Lament DM Resources Pack and Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft: House of Lament Props & Handouts. Because it’s so customizable it can be a bit difficult to run for a newer Dungeon Master so be sure to read through before playing.

4. The Haunt

The Haunt

The Haunt is another haunted manor style campaign. It can definitely be run in about 3-4 hours or less, depending on how many obstacles you put in your players way. It’s made for a party of 4th-5th level characters. There are several good scares in here and some unique monsters to fight. The first one you can adapt to play with kids if your kids are okay with somewhat scary happenings but be forewarned that the sequels get pretty dark pretty fast. If you are into that sort of thing there is a great special hardcover edition you can get for $54.95 but I would still recommend starting with the first one and seeing how you like it. The original The Haunt is on the DM’s Guild for just $6.95. There’s a very well thought out back story and reason for the strange events in the adventure and when I played this with my gaming group they were all in on the frights.

3. Death House

Death House One Shot Adventure

Death House is a one shot adventure that was printed in Curse of Strahd but also was released online for free. You can download it right from the image above at the cost of nothing. While there are some issues with it, this does work great as an introduction to Curse of Strahd but I think it’s more fun to run as a stand alone adventure as a horror one shot on a dark Halloween night. This is yet another haunted house adventure. It’s for first level characters who could go up to level three by the end. It’s got a great moody introduction with a couple of very memorable kids involved. The back story is pretty twisted but you could definitely make a few adjustments and run this with kids. My party really liked the exploration aspects of this one because there is a lot to find in the house. When I ran it this only took 2-3 hours but your results will vary.

2. Tomb of Horrors

Tomb of Horrors

Full of deadly traps and vicious monsters, Tomb of Horrors has long been considered one of the most difficult adventures for players, even skilled and experienced ones. Gary Gygax wrote the original module because he felt players were feeling too sure of themselves surviving an adventure and pulled this out to warp their perceptions. The most current version (the one you can use for 5e) can be found as a standalone adventure on D&D Beyond or you can purchase the book of collected adventures Tales From the Yawning Portal and find it there. Personally, I like getting the book because there are several other fun adventures adapted from older editions included but you do you. This is a pretty complex dungeon with lots of tricks to figure out so it can be a challenge to players. But if you love survival horror, this is an excellent adventure to play. There are a variety of monsters here and there are tons of traps so starting around 14th level is probably a good idea for your party but if you want to make it really nasty you could start at lower levels.

1. Curse of Strahd

That’s right, you can play this entire campaign as a one-shot adventure. It takes a fair amount of tweaks and adjustments ahead of time but it’s doable. It’s definitely a longer game sessions but Curse of Strahd is a blast to play in a single evening. It’s also easier to keep the mood going for just one night rather than multiple nights. There is great article on D&D Beyond that tells you exactly how to do this. You do have to have the campaign book obviously and you’ll need the Tarokka deck, whether you print that yourself or just buy a deck. A one hour timer is also very helpful. This adventure still remains the best example of gothic horror you can find in Dungeons & Dragons and that makes it extremely well suited to an evening of horrific fun on a dark Halloween night.

Do you have any favorite horror one shots you’ve run? Let me know it the comments and Happy Halloween month!

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – Evil Dead (2013)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey dungeon crawlers, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another Evil Dead movie. This time it’s the 2013 remake (or reimagining as the cool kids like to say) of the original film The Evil Dead.

There will be spoilers ahead so put your chainsaws away and go watch the movie first. You’ve been warned.

The original movie definitely had its problems but still managed to rouse a bit of a scare. In the remake some of the plot issues are fixed but we trade any of the fun for all of the terror. There is not much humor here which is a little weird for this franchise.

The movie kicks off with a father lighting his daughter on fire because she was possessed by something. If you’ve seen the original movies you know by what and we can tell this is going to be a difficult world to survive in.

From there we see a group of friends who go to a cabin in the woods. In this version the main focus is on David and Mia who are brother and sister. There is a much more reasonable explanation for them being at this cabin than in the original. Mia is set to go cold turkey kicking a drug habit with her brother and their friends as support. The cabin actually belongs to David and Mia and this is a remote enough setting that the drug recovery is a reasonable idea.

There are still some plot holes and I have some questions about this movie but I’ll get into that in a bit.

There are a lot of elements from the first movie that reappear here. There is an evil book, there is lots of bloody gore, there is a shotgun and chainsaw, people have to cut their own hands off, you know, the usual for an Evil Dead movie.

One by one the friends do things that don’t make tons of sense, are possessed by demons from Hell and go on to kill one another. There are even several lines in this one that first showed up in the original.

The makeup and special effects here are far superior to the first film so the gore feels pretty real and the terror level is fairly high. Things go as you might expect, it’s the worst night ever for basically everyone in the movie. I don’t want to give away a lot more than that as far as the conclusion but I sure had some questions about the setup here.

  1. When they first go into the cabin it smells bad. Only Mia really notices this but at a certain point David kicks away a rug and finds a cellar (it’s unclear if they knew that was there or not) and there is a huge smear of blood on floor under the rug. I think at that point it’s reasonable to decide to find a better recovery location for Mia. But I guess blood splatter is cool for a recovering addict? Come on people, make some good life choices here.
  2. I get that if you see this blood splatter you might go down to the basement. It’s pretty clear no one else is there and it’s been years since David and Mia were at this cabin so someone could have broken in years ago. But then they go below and there are just a bunch of dead cats hanging from the ceiling. They talk about how they should go out and bury the cats. Bury the cats? Dude, what? That’s a crime scene! Call the cops. Why don’t they call the cops? Even if Mia stays there for recovery, the cops might want to know who is picking off the local pets.
  3. Also in the cellar they find the classic items from the original movie. There’s a book wrapped in a plastic back tied up with barbed wire, a shotgun with a box of shells and I believe I saw a recorder of some kind there. They never play a recording in this one (unless you count end credit scenes) but Eric one of the friends there who is also a teacher immediately opens the book. I mean, here’s all these dead cats and some object wrapped in barbed wire that you literally have to cut through to open the book. Why would you do that? Why? This is also police evidence!
  4. When he opens the book it’s full of notes about how you shouldn’t read this book. So dude decides to, ummm… read the book? Again, why? It’s time go y’all.

The rest of the movie seems fairly reasonable to me and they do close some holes the original film had. While this one is not at all as fun as the original it’s still a decent horror film overall. But without Bruce Campbell as a main character a lot is lost here. The least they could have done was cast a young Ash but I guess they didn’t want to go that route.

I’m curious to see how the sequel to this one is and if they bring some of the humor back. I hope they do because it would have improved this one.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Learn to Play Call of Cthulhu by Yourself for Free

Alone Against the Flame

Hey horror rpg fanatics, Slick Dungeon here and I want to tell you how you can learn to play Call of Cthulhu 7th edition for free, on your own time, with nothing to bother you except the terror of your own imagination.

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Last week I named in my Top 5 Horror Tabletop Roleplaying Games post Call of Cthulhu as the number one horror RPG. I realize I haven’t talked much about this game on my blog but I have played and enjoyed it quite a lot.

However, one of my favorite ways to play this game is not with a gaming group at all but inside on a dark and dreary night with low lighting all by lonesome. I find this increases the scare factor considerably and luckily Chaosium has published several scenarios (what you would think of as an adventure or one-shot in D&D) where you don’t need a GM. You pretty much just need some dice, some paper, and something to write with.

While there are some options to purchase items in this post, if you just get the Alone Against the Flames and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules PDF’s you don’t have to pay anything to learn to play this game. I recommend starting there before getting your wallet out for anything else. Of course, if you’re like me you may be hooked and want to buy some further scenarios and rulebooks.

The way I learned to play the 7th edition of this game was with a scenario called Alone Against the Flames. To play the scenario you will need the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules. You can get the PDF of both of these for $0. If you’re willing to spend just a bit of cash you can get a softcover edition of both of these books for $11 and $10 respectively. If you decide to pay the higher price, be sure to select the option that gives you both the PDF and the softcover. When you select the softcover you get the PDF for free so take advantage of that.

Personally, I recommend the softcover for Alone Against the Flames just because it’s easier to write in a book than on printed out pages that fly all over the place. I think it’s less essential for the rules but it can be nice to have a book to flip through.

Alright so what exactly is this scenario and why should you play it? That’s an excellent question I have asked myself. Here’s the answer. This scenario is set in the 1920’s in America, the classic setting for most of the CoC scenarios. This gives you a good feel for the tone of the game and the encroaching cosmic horror you will be facing off against.

In many ways it is like a choose your own adventure book but at the same time you will be building a character and learning how the rules of the game operate. Truth be told, as much as I love Dungeons & Dragons, I wish they had something like this. It can be hard to learn a new rule system in front of people so having an adventure (or scenario in this case) you can play to get a feel of both story and mechanics is extremely valuable.

I don’t want to give away spoilers for the scenario here but suffice it to say your character will end up somewhere that is not friendly and things are not at all what they seem.

I definitely recommend playing this alone because it just makes it more fun. It’s pretty easy to scare yourself but when you play with someone else there isn’t the same amount of terror you can feel. However, if you really want to play this with someone else, you definitely can. One of you would need to be the Keeper (Game Master) and the other the player. The scenario will still walk both of you through the rules and gives a great intro story.

Watch out for the ancient ones

If you do play this there are also some great follow up scenarios, although you are going to have to pay for those. To play them you would need the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Keeper’s Rulebook. You can also get this on drivethrurpg as a PDF but it’s going to cost you $27.95. If you’d rather have a hardcover you’ll need to go to the game publisher Chaosium’s website where you can get it for a heftier $54.95. While it’s costlier I do recommend the hardcover for this since it’s a book you’ll likely reuse.

The follow up scenarios are Alone Against the Dark another solo scenario which takes you to the year 1931 where you will travel from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica. It’s guaranteed dangerous, meaning the scenario is going to be more challenging than Alone Against the Flames but if you have played that scenario, you’ll have a much better idea of how to survive this one. You can get this one for $6.95. Then there is Alone Against the Frost for $9.99 but this one can be used with the starter set if you have that. Here you go into the Canadian Northwest Territories in the 1920’s. this time they give you a character to play rather than one to create. Finally there is Alone Agains the Tide for $6.95 which can also be used with the starter set. In this one you take on the role of an investigator traveling to a remote lakeside town where strange things are happening. This one has a pre-generated character but you could also use one you have made yourself. All of these are pretty fun scenarios to play by yourself or with one friend. All of them are also good introductions to how to play the game. If you play all of these you’ll definitely understand how it works and maybe you’ll be inspired to play a live game with others or even become a Keeper.

My recommendation is to play at that time of night when you hear bumps and creaks at home and think, “what was that noise?” and answer, “It could be anything.” It makes it a lot more terrifying.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – Army of Darkness

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Alright you primitive screwheads, listen up! I’m Slick Dungeon and this is my BOOM STICK! Otherwise known as my review of the third film in the Evil Dead film series. There may be spoilers ahead so fair warning before you read on.

While the first two films in this series could arguably be called horror or horror/comedy, this one turns into a comedic action film with some bits of horror. We pick up where the second film left off, sort of, with Ash having been dropped in the past by supernatural forces he has not yet defeated.

He is immediately surrounded by an army of knights who take him captive. They try to throw him into a pit with a demonic creature but thanks to Ash’s modern weaponry he defeats the evil there. Then he demonstrates how his shotgun works and says the immortal words, “This is my BOOM STICK!” which to this day is still one of the greatest lines in film.

The rest of the movie is this sort of odd mash up of Monty Python and body horror. There’s a scene where Ash is attacked by tiny versions of himself and a scene where a whole full sized Ash grows out of his shoulder.

This separated Ash soon becomes king of the army of deadites who will unleash Hell on earth if not stopped. Ash just wants to go home but in the end of course he helps to stop this army. Why is he able to do so? He works in the home wares section of a big box store and has several books in the trunk of his car (the car came with him through the time portal) so he’s able to construct elaborate explosive devices. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds but there is no denying the fun factor when watching this movie. That’s not to mention how his shotgun appears and disappears all through the movie and that we never really see him re-load it but he blows away tons of monsters with it.

The action plays out as you might expect with big battles, bits of romance, and Ash getting to return to his own time in the end. None of it’s particularly believable but it’s downright enjoyable.

With almost any other movie or movie franchise this silliness would bother me but Sam Raimi leans so hard into the ridiculous and Bruce Campbell is so good at hamming it up that I can’t really say there was anything here I didn’t like. It’s goofy and weird and still has parts that can gross you out but it’s 100% worth watching.

I’m really curious how the 2013 version of Evil Dead compares so I’ll be reviewing that next.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Book Review – Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft

Classic Dungeons & Dragons back in print! - Available now @ Dungeon Masters Guild

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here. I don’t usually review D&D books on this site although I do post a lot of D&D content. I wanted to review Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft because I have not been this excited about a Dungeons & Dragons book in a long time. I’m going to give a brief review of the sections in the book and give you my overall opinion of it, as well as a tip or two on how you can use this book to amp up your own horror campaigns. I’ll likely do further posts on content in this book as well because it has given me a lot to think about so watch out for those.

(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)

Also, I know this is not the most recent book Wizards of the Coast has put out but I am not reviewing the most recent one because I don’t have it yet and Van Richten’s Guide fits a lot better with the month of October because, uh… Halloween of course!

So let’s get into it.

chapter 1: Character Creation

This chapter gives several new character options. There are lineages, subclass options and backgrounds. Some of these are going to be familiar with those who follow unearthed arcana. You can create a Dhampir which is basically a vampire who can walk in daylight (think Blade from Marvel for reference), a Hexblood, basically a character who has made a bad deal with a Hag and now has some cool powers but is in debt to the Hag, and a Reborn which is pretty much Frankenstein’s monster although that’s not the only way to play it.

While those lineages are cool, the stuff I really like in this chapter is the dark gifts and the backgrounds. They give several options that can allow your players to really lean into horror if they want to. If there is a horror character or trope you want to play, you can probably find it in one of these backgrounds. Dark gifts are serious powers you gain but at a cost, be it physical, mental, or spiritual.

In addition to all of that, this chapter gives us a Horror Trinket table with lots of horror related objects players could find or have. If I was running a Ravenloft campaign I would probably drop a lot of these trinkets in odd or unsettling places for my players to find.

Chapter 2: Creating Domains of Dread

This chapter is really cool. If you’ve ever played Curse of Strahd you know that Strahd Von Zarovitch is a vampire cursed to live in his own domain, subtly tortured by his own past, destined to see horrors of his own making come to pass over and over again. Well guess what? You can make your own dark lord! This can be anything from the most twisted soul you can imagine, say a barber who is out for revenge and likes to cut throats while singing, to something much less frightening but still fun like an old man who is trying to keep those meddling kids out of his amusement park. I love this idea. They walk you through how to create this dark lord of your own realm and then they tell you how to create the domain they are trapped in. There is great advice on how to tie this dark lord’s actions into the domain so it’s sort of their own personal version of Hell but everyone there just sort of endures it because they don’t know any different.

Another fantastic feature of this chapter is the overview and breakdown of different types of horror. They go over body horror, cosmic horror, dark fantasy, Ghost stories and a host of others. They even give some recommendations of what monsters from the Monster Manual work well within each genre.

Chapter 3: Domains of Ravenloft

Here is where the meat of the book can be found. This chapter gives a deep dive into Ravenloft as a whole and then gives a deep dive into several of the domains of dread.

There are seventeen domains they fully flesh out and give several pages on. They start with Barovia and I will say if you are playing or have played Curse of Strahd this section is still worth a read because there are some great tips on ways to change it up and surprise your players. In addition to those seventeen domains they also give twenty-two domains the short treatment where it’s a paragraph or two but it leaves your imagination running wild.

My favorite one out of these shorter ones is the last train leaving from Eberron where a mysterious passenger shows up, holds the train up and demands to be let on and kicks a bunch of other passengers off so they can have their stuff loaded. No one on the train knows it but they did not make it away from the explosion and they’ve all been dead traveling with this person who caused their deaths. I really want to make a campaign out of that.

Out of all of these domains there was really only one or two where I didn’t quite get it and wasn’t that interested in running as a horror campaign. All the rest have huge potential for a great setting for part or all of a fantastic campaign.

The chapter also highlights some of the natives you can find wandering the mists of Ravenloft, including Van Richten himself, the Vistani, and some characters sure to be familiar with those who love older editions of the game.

chapter 4: Horror Adventures

This chapter is very helpful to Dungeon Masters because is gives some solid advice on making sure people can enjoy a horror campaign without suffering actual trauma. Safety is always a concern when running horror because while it’s fun to be scared in an imaginary way, it’s never good when someone’s actual trauma or phobias are triggered. They give some standard advice about safety tools such as having a session zero (which I think you should have no matter what kind of campaign you are running) and subtle ways players can signal the DM that a line they are not comfortable with is getting crossed. I think though, the main thing to take away, is you should always keep your lines of communication open and make sure people are having fun.

There is also some advice on ways to set the mood for horror. If you already watch a lot of horror or have played these types of campaigns you might not get as much use out of this advice as others would. Still, it’s got some good reminders about setting the mood but also making sure the game is accessible to all. There is also advice on how to talk to players after an intense session.

They go over the use of props and handouts as well but for that, it really depends on what your gaming groups like. A lot of groups love handouts but not every group does and it sort of depends on what kind of handout you are talking about in the first place. I know if I get a handout that’s supposed to be a handwritten note and it’s illegible, I would much rather someone had read me the text to begin with.

The end of the chapter has an adventure that can be used as a way to get a party entered into the mists of Ravenloft, after which you can have them land wherever you want. It’s a solid adventure that is balanced for four to six characters starting at level one who advance to level three by the end. I don’t want to give spoilers away here but you could definitely use some of the NPC’s found in here as a springboard to a larger adventure.

Technically there already is an adventure like this called Death House that pairs with Curse of Strahd so if you plan to go into Barovia, you may want to use that one instead.

Chapter 5: Monsters of Ravenloft

This chapter is exactly what it sounds like. There is a bestiary here with stat blocks and all that good crunchy rules stuff you need for a game. There are some new takes on old monsters which are interesting and sound fun. But there are some absolutely fantastic new monsters in here as well. Let me just say that the Bagman is going to haunt my players dreams without a doubt.

There are monsters that are terrifying and ones that are silly which is great. You could absolutely run an Invasion of the Body Snatchers style campaign but it could also just as easily be a Little Shop of Horrors campaign based around the plant creatures they give here.

There is also the ridiculous like Brain in a Jar perfect for lovers of old weird movies and definitely surprising to those who don’t watch them.

In Summary

Dungeons & Dragons has a long history of horror campaigns. Some of the oldest modules out there have less to do with finding treasure and more to do with facing your character’s fears. In all those years there has never been a book as good at getting down into how to think about, create, and run horror campaigns as Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. While it’s not perfect and there are some sections which could have been a little more robust this book is absolutely worth the money. Even if you actually love running other RPG’s like Call of Cthulhu there is still some great advice in this book you could pluck out and use.

I’ve always loved playing horror campaigns, or at least campaigns with a few horrific elements here and there, but with this book I feel like I have been given a whole new arsenal and way to think about these campaigns. If you are a horror fan and a Dungeons & Dragons fan you should pick this book up.

Also, if you want to run campaigns more on the spooky but not scary side, you can definitely do that with this book. You may have to make adjustments based on how intense you want things to be but there is enough flexibility in the domains of dread that you can definitely do it.

In future posts I plan to break down and dive much deeper into the sections of this book and not only talk about them in general but also about how you could use this book with kids if you are running a game with younger players. I’ve got a few other ideas in mind as well but I’ll get into those in future posts.

For now I hope you liked my review and I’ll see you next time.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – The Evil Dead II

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello out there internet people, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review the next in the Evil Dead series, The Evil Dead II.

Just a warning before we get too deep into this review, if you have not seen the movie yet, I may lay some spoilers out below. You’ve been warned.

In some ways this is not a sequel. A lot of the beginning of the film is very similar to the first but Sam Raimi actually fixes a lot of what I saw as problems with the first movie. We still have a couple driving to a remote cabin in the woods. This time though, it’s just a couple, not five people together and they are sneaking into the cabin rather than going there because one of their friends knows about the place. A car crosses a bridge to get there, just like in the first movie but this time the bridge seems sturdy. The cabin itself doesn’t seem all that menacing from the outside. In general the actions of the characters seem a bit more logical here, although logic only extends so far in any horror film.

As Ash, the main character (played by Bruce Campbell) is poking around he discovers the cellar. It’s really only at that point things get creepy. He finds an ancient book and a recording of a professor who is trying to decode the language in the book. You can probably guess a lot of what happens from here. Evil spirits are summoned, Ash tries to escape to the bridge but only after he has had to murder his girlfriend, and finds out the bridge is now mangled and bent and there is no way across.

At the same time, the daughter of the professor who owns the cabin is on her way there to give more pages of the ancient book, the “Book of the Dead” to him. In those pages are the means to defeat the evil that is pursuing Ash and everyone in the forest.

Lots of gore and action happen and we even get to see Ash with his famous chainsaw hand and shotgun holstered on his back.

I know it probably shouldn’t have but the ending surprised me a bit and I think that, in addition to some of the fixes of the problems in the first film, is what makes me like this one a lot more.

Sam Raimi definitely put Bruce Campbell through the wringer on this one. He gets dumped in mud, soaked in blood, lashed at with tree branches and just generally has the worst night ever. I can’t imagine all of the filming was fun for him but it worked out to be a pretty solid film.

I’m looking forward to the next movie to see where exactly they take it from here. I know some people have more love for the first film than the second but my vote is for the second in this franchise.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Dungeon Master Tool Review – Scary Stories to Play in the Dark

Spooky Stories to Play in the Dark

Hi all, Slick Dungeon here. I was messing around in the DM’s Guild recently because I was thinking about writing something with advice about running horror campaigns for kids. It can be both super fun and a difficult challenge all at once.

Imagine my surprise when I came upon some creators who already did this for adapting games from famous horror books suitable for kids 8-12 years old.

I’ll still be giving my take on this sort of thing later this month but Thomas and Rachel Kolar have basically knocked it out of the park in a nutshell with this little supplement.

The authors give general advice on running games involving horror with kids, give some solid examples of horror kids are reading (both old and newer), and give general advice on how to increase or decrease the horror level on your campaigns.

They take films or books you are likely familiar with, give a bit of advice on how to adapt so the players are the stars of the show but shouldn’t be overly traumatized by the scary things that can happen, and give an excellent list of recommended reading.

The best part? It’s 100% free on the DM’s guild. I will say though, that the Kolar’s obviously put some time and effort into this so if you can please support them by giving them a few cents for it.

Also, they have a more in-depth guide that I plan to check out myself called Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps: Genres of Horror for only $0.99! In this one they go through how to run games with kids 8-12 using the Genres of Horror section in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. That makes two ideas I was going to post about they thought of before I did!

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – The Evil Dead

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey horror fanatics, it’s me Slick Dungeon. Happy October and I hope you are having lots of fun frights this month. Today I decided to give a watch to a movie I have never seen but had heard a lot about.

The Evil Dead is an independent horror film that kicked off the careers of both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. There are a few reasons I had never watched this before. First, a lot of people have told me how great it was and I was afraid it might be a bit overhyped. Second, because it has an NC-17 rating it used to be harder to find. With streaming services abounding, the second issue is not such a problem but I do think the movie gets a bit more credit than it deserves. It’s still a good watch, it’s just not as legendarily frightening as some people may lead you to believe.

If you haven’t seen this and want to give it a try before any spoilers, stop reading here and watch first, then come back and read away. In other words, there will be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

A group of five friends head out to a cabin in the woods for a little rest and relaxation. When they get there they discover the place is rundown, there are chains everywhere, and they promptly discover an old book and some recordings that claim demons can be summoned from Hell and the only way to stop them is, “bodily dismemberment.”

As you might imagine, they have a terrible night and are definitely not going to recommend this Air BnB to anyone else. People get possessed, friends have to kill friends, ancient books are tossed into the fire to stop the whole thing and the end leaves you guessing as to whether or not there will be a sequel. Spoiler: there will be.

For the time, I think the makeup and special effects might have been pretty good. When compared to what we can do today, a lot of it seems a little silly. Even so, I can’t hold that against the film. I think it’s a solid first film to set up a franchise on, however there are some things that didn’t make sense and I have a few questions here.

  1. The characters start out driving along a lonely highway and have to cross a rickety bridge to get where they are going. The car breaks through a part of the bridge but they are able to get over it in the end. At this point, I think it would be reasonable to say, hey how about we go back and spend the night in town instead? Why didn’t they do that?
  2. Scott, the guy who apparently rented the place, or knows about it or whatever, says he had never been there and that it might be run down. They arrive and everyone but Scott just stands there looking at the cabin as Scott unlocks it. Why didn’t anyone either help to unload bags at that point or go into the cabin with Scott? Also, they are staring at the place like they are afraid of it. Why didn’t they leave?
  3. Once they are inside the cabin it seems the motif is animal heads, animal skulls, and rusty chains. Umm… who decorates like that? This interior designer should really be fired.
  4. Fine, they cross the bridge, they make it to the cabin, they go inside the cabin and they plan on staying. Not long after that, one of the characters goes down into the cellar and they discover a shotgun, an old burnt up book that seems to have depictions of demons and a recording of a professor who basically says he summoned these demons into the woods. Hello? Time to leave! Anyone? Anyone?
  5. Next a woman goes out into the woods because she hears voices calling to her. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers but once she is in the woods, unspeakable things happen to her, and it’s by far the most uncomfortable part of the film. She arrives back to the cabin bloody and scratched up, clearly injured and understandably upset. She demands to go home but everyone seems to think she is the unreasonable one. What the heck people? Even if you don’t believe the trees came alive and attacked her, she’s clearly injured. Can these people really not take a hint? At the very least deliver some first aid!
  6. Of course when they do decide to try to leave they are unable to as we all expected would happen. I think this would have made sense a lot earlier in the movie. The whole thing would seem more sensible if once they first crossed the bridge they tried to go back and the way was blocked at that point. Why didn’t Sam Raimi have that happen instead of these ridiculous choices first??

As much as those things mentioned above bugged me, I still overall liked the movie and I’ll check out the sequels, especially since I believe they become more comedic as time goes by.

For now I will just leave you with this. If your friends ask you to go to a cabin in the woods for the weekend, ask to see pictures of the place before you go. If the pictures include rusty chains, skeletons of any kind, broken bridges or anything demon related, tell them to have a nice weekend on their own because you need to spend that time re-reading through the terms and conditions of every app you have on your phone.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Top 5 Horror Tabletop Role Playing Games

Storytellers Vault

Hello internet, it’s Slick Dungeon here. I hate when people go on with long intros in their top 5 lists so I will get right to the point. These games are fun to play if you like horror. Check ’em out!

(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)

5. Vampire the Masquerade

Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition

Most people think the world is how it seems. Nothing supernatural or strange happens to most of us. Until you are turned into a vampire and enter a complex, violent world full of political intrigue, horror, and most of all a never ending hunger that cannot be ignored. The fifth edition of Vampire the Masquerade is the most current but this game has been around for decades. The idea of it was that players could get to be the monsters. This one is definitely not for children and comes with a warning that it’s for the mature. If you play this game with your gaming group, make certain everyone understands what lines they would not want crossed while playing. It can be a ton of fun to play a bloodsucker in the night who not only has to control their hunger but also needs to keep from ticking off the much older, much badder vampire who doesn’t want them around. It’s a surprisingly complex game but the rules are pretty quick to learn and it has endless opportunity to touch on themes of horror, death, and what it truly means to live. You can get the core rulebook as a PDF from the Storytellers Vault for just $25.

4. Alien: The Role playing Game

Alien: The Role Playing Game Starter Set

In space and on your tabletop no one can hear you scream. Watching Alien was one of the first times in my life when a film experience truly terrified me. The tabletop RPG is great at evoking the same feeling. I recommend dipping your toes in with the starter set which comes with the rulebook, a scenario to play and 5 pre-generated characters plus a bunch of supporting materials like maps, markers and cards. You can get it on drivethrurpg for just $20. The rules take a minute to get used to but if you are an experienced role player, you’ll catch on fairly quickly. This one is also not recommended for kids but if your kid loves watching scary movies like I did, you can always adapt it a bit and make it more action-oriented and a little less graphic. It is pretty heavy on the body horror so if that is not for you, well, you’re probably not an Alien fan in the first place. One thing to note is that the starter set does not involve the Xenomorph, the most well known of the creatures from Alien. Some people complain about this but when they do I remind them that Ripley doesn’t really go toe to toe with the queen until the end of the movie, so it makes sense not to just pull that out right off the bat.

3. Dungeons & Dragons: The Curse of Strahd

I know, D&D is it’s own RPG but when it comes to 5th edition there is no horror campaign that surpasses Curse of Strahd. What’s great about this book is how flexible it is. While it touches on dark themes and can be as scary as Vampire the Masquerade if you want it to be, you can also make it a bit goofy and silly making it a good one for kids. Just read ahead before you play with kids so you aren’t caught off guard by the hags who cook children or anything along those lines. While it’s definitely on the pricier side, I really like Curse of Strahd: Revamped. This gives you the book, maps, a super cool stat block for the big bad guy, a tarokka deck to use in the adventure and some gothic postcards that perfectly capture the feeling of Barovia in the domains of dread. This particular campaign is super fun to both DM and to play in.

2. Kids on Bikes

Kids on Bikes

The Goonies, E.T., Stranger Things, what do they all have in common? There are kids. They are on bikes. As simple as it sounds this is the perfect set up for a horror themed RPG. It’s set in the days before your mom could text you to make sure you were safe or you could google who died in the creepy old mansion before you enter it on a dare. The rules are very quick to learn and the game play starts right up. You can sort of ratchet the horror level to what you like as far as fear goes so this is good with a group of kids or adults. You can get the core PDF for just $10 on drivethrurpg. Another really interesting aspect of this one is that you co-create the town as you play and it has powered characters who can be influenced by both the GM and the players. This makes things go from predictable to unpredictable very quickly.

1. Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu

There is a reason this RPG shows up at the top of everyone’s horror list. There is no better game at setting the mood for terror and delivering abject horror to your players. While it’s most often set in the 1920’s America, you can actually place this game in virtually any time period. The game is based on Lovecraftian stories and creatures but it does incorporate more than that if you want it to. This is another one where I recommend first getting a little taste with the starter set. You can get the starter set on drivethrurpg for just $6 at the time of this posting. In there you get an intro book, a rule book, three starter adventures, five pre-generated investigator sheets, some blank investigator sheets, and player handouts. In total you get four different adventures in one box which is more than I can say for any other starter set I know of. The theme of the game is cosmic horror but it touches on all kinds of terrors. Your characters aren’t wizards and barbarians who don’t ever truly feel threatened because they can just heal after combat. Instead you are human investigators, susceptible to all the pain and damage a human can take and your job is to take on strange, alien creatures from deep in the cosmos, all while hoping to retain whatever sanity you have. This is a game where some kids can handle it and some can’t. If you play with kids who grow super attached to their characters, this game is not recommended because they are extremely likely to die. Also, one thing I do like about this game is that they make several solo adventures (one of which is included in the set) so even if you can’t get your gaming group together, you can still play.

Well, Happy October everyone! I hope you liked my list. Did I miss your favorite horror game? If so, let me know in the comments! Also, if you have played one of these, how did you like it?

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Book Review – Disciple of Vengeance

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.

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SUMMARY

Betrayed and left for dead, the only thing keeping Janis alive is rage. Rage at the enemies who slaughtered his family, at the wizard who sold them out, but most of all at himself for letting it happen.

Now it’s too late.

His body spasms. His memories leak away. In his final moments, a presence approaches him. It’s alien but powerful, driven by a hunger he’s never known. “Give me life within you,” the nameless one offers, “and I will give you your vengeance.”

Janis will go from prince assassin to fugitive sorcerer as he hunts the people who killed his family. He’ll battle mercenaries, cultists, gods and wizards in a magic devastated world to unravel a conspiracy that goes far beyond the treachery of one wizard.

He fuels his success with a diabolic power that will force him to ask what he sold his soul to, and to wonder what it really wants.

All he knows for sure is that there’s no going back.

Vengeance is only the beginning.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Janis is dead. But this doesn’t have to be the end of him. An alien presence approaches him and promises to give him the power for vengeance. The pact seems worthwhile but all things come at a cost. Upon awaking, Janis has no memory of who he is and a new kind of hunger is inside of him. Janis knows he wants revenge but he’s not sure at first on whom or why.

The story unfolds in a series of actions sequences and flashes of memories reminding Janis of who he is and what he has lost. He has a few friends and can tap into an incredible power but reaching his ultimate goal may be harder than he imagined.

The book comes in on the shorter side at around 40,000 words which leaves the reader wanting a bit more from the story. However, in the short time of the book a lot is accomplished. An interesting and complex magic system is established well and the world feels rather robust and lived in.

Because Janis starts the story with no memory of himself it was at times difficult to get full context of who he is and what the purpose of his actions were. Still, the story is ultimately satisfying and enjoyable. It’s well worth a read, it would just have been nice to have a little more background and a little more story altogether.

If you like series such as Elric of Melnibone by Micheal Moorcock and Bloodstone by Karl Edward Wagner you’ll enjoy Disciple of Vengeance.

Book Review – A Death Most Quiet

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

A Death Most Quiet details the riveting criminal investigations of Captain Edward McCuen as he leads the NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit on a relentless pursuit of three elusive serial killers.

With the help of his team, McCuen follows a trail of mysterious murders alongside an eccentric mathematician named Anselm Winterbottom, who McCuen has secretly leveraged as an investigatory consultant. The two men have a turbulent friendship, and it soon becomes clear that Winterbottom’s ultimate aim is far from altruistic. While their alliance is tested, a crime reporter seeks to uncover the true identity of the man who is helping McCuen.

As the hunters become the hunted, this three-part crime thriller delves into the dark corners of human nature, murder, and madness, staged amidst the landmarks of New York City, and the cultural treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ed McCuen is a New York Detective who is willing to do whatever it takes to stop criminals from killing in his city, no matter the cost. He has solved his share of cases and seen his share of action but on occasion there are cases that pop up that even he can’t solve. In those situations he teams up with Anselm Winterbottom, an eccentric mathematician who has seen his own share of tragedy. Winterbottom’s mind works like no one else’s and he can find clues others miss. When McCuen asks for Winterbottom’s help on three unusual cases, secrets are revealed, lives are lost and saved and both McCuen and Winterbottom have to ask themselves what doing the right thing really means.

While this book is a murder mystery it would be more accurate to say it is three murder mysteries in one book. The mysteries are all inventive and leave the reader guessing as to who the perpetrator is and whether or not they will be caught.

At the same time, the book does a nice job taking the reader into the emotional journey of both McCuen and Winterbottom as the two of them come into inevitable conflict. While it would not be fair to give major plot points away in a review, I can say the answers in all three mysteries surprised me and had me guessing all the way until the end.

It could be argued that the character of the crime reporter was a bit underdeveloped but this is only a minor complaint. It was difficult to find plot holes in the mystery and the pages keep turning to find out the conclusion.

If you like Sherlock Holmes but with a modern spin or books by authors like Harlan Coben consider giving A Death Most Quiet a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Book Review – Aurelia And The Enemies Of Pity

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.

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SUMMARY

Prepare yourself for a spectacular, page-turning, and mind-blowing fantasy fiction novel that will take you on a one-of-a-kind trip filled with intense fights, amusing and swift dialogues, and vividly graphic imagery – precisely the way good fantasy fiction novels should be.

REVIEW

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Aurelia is an Akkadian which means she has powers that help her to reshape the very environment around her at will. She is thrown into a war that rages all around her and must learn to control her power without destroying everything around her. She is aided by her friend Nadia and several mentors.

While the book has potential and the plot could lead to some interesting places, the technical issues in the writing make it difficult to follow. The reader’s head spins a bit from the amount of head hopping and abrupt changes in past or present tense, sometimes right in the middle of a paragraph.

The world built here is intriguing and the mix of magic with some more modern weaponry can be exciting. However, the plot was difficult to follow and understand and it would have been nice if some more background had been given to both the characters and what was causing the war. It was not always clear who was fighting whom or why they were fighting in the first place.

While the book overall was not for me, I did think Aurelia was a memorable character and she has the potential to have an interesting series. It would be nice to see a bit more background and context in the next books and to have a little less confusion about what is happening and who we are supposed to be focusing on in each scene.

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #6

Fantastic Four issue #6 Photo Credit: Marvel

By the sixth issue of The Fantastic Four they were a certified hit in the comics publishing industry. The books actually were flying off the shelves and although many of these issues still end up tossed in the trash once they have been read, there are some collectors out there who realize it might be more fun to hang on to these comics.

Because the book was such a hit, the action has to ramp up as much as possible every issue. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already introduced to incredibly strong and sophisticated villains, Namor, who pre-dates the 616 universe and Dr. Doom who is the first of the greatest original villains in 616. So what could be more exciting than having those villains work together? The first real villain team up that matters happens in this issue and it is a formula for success.

At the start of the issue we see bystanders observing Johnny Storm and debating about whether or not The Fantastic Four are real. The bystanders are shocked to find out Invisible Girl was in their midst the whole time as she suddenly appears.

We follow along as she goes into the Baxter building and passes through some security measures devised by Reed Richards to keep others out. We even get a neat little diagram of the building. This will be something featured several times in these comics and as a comics reader, it’s always aa little fun to be let in on the secrets.

The family is worried because Dr. Doom has not been seen since last issue and surely he is up to no good. But before the issue gets down to business, we see Reed Richards stretch his way over to a hospital to talk to a fan. There he gives an explanation to why his costume stretches with him. “…it is woven from chemical fibers containing unstable molecules that shift in structure when I affect the change!” This must have been a good enough explanation for most folks because they stick with that for a long time.

Meanwhile, The Thing gets a letter from the Yancy Street Gang calling him out to fight. I think this is the first mention of them but they become a huge part of Ben Grimm’s life so the letter is significant in Marvel 616 history.

Out in the ocean, Sub-Mariner is frolicking with a group of porpoise and Dr. Doom is flying above the waters, on the search for aa worthy partner. He knows the FF and Sub-Mariner have fought before and he seems like an ideal partner but of course it’s all destined to go wrong.

As the two talk we get to see a little more of the background of Namor and why he hates the surface world so much. His home city of Atlantis was destroyed when an H-bomb test hit while Namor was away. In other words, he has justifiable reason to hate humans. Stan Lee was very good at humanizing certain villains and Sub-Mariner may be the best example of that. We also learn that Namor has feelings for Sue Storm and we see that Sue has a picture of Namor hidden away so there is some mutual attraction there.

Soon Doom explains his plan which involves a gadget that can use magnetism to life incredibly heavy objects. Namor is on board with plan and off and running (or i should say swimming) to New York City. There, a crowd is amazed to see him and we have bystanders referencing stories they have read about Namor, once again establishing Marvel comics as a thing in the Marvel 616 universe.

Namor easily barges into the Baxter building to have a chat with the FF but of course they don’t want to listen. Except for Sue Storm that is. While they are checking out his story, the whole Baxter building gets lifted into the air by Dr. Doom.

Namor was promised Sue Storm wouldn’t be hurt but when the building rockets toward space, he realizes Doom has betrayed him. The villain team up is now over and Namor is going to have to help the Fantastic Four. Namor is consistently a great frenemy of the group who will do the right thing but only at the last moment or at the behest of Sue Storm.

One by one each member of the FF tries to stop the rocket but to no avail. Well, to be fair, Sue Storm didn’t try anything because, well, Stan Lee was not exactly great at giving equal time for female heroics. And the Thing does realize his strength isn’t going to stop a rocket so he just tries to bash Namor.

Conveniently there is a water tower in the building so Namor can power himself up enough to stop Doom. This also establishes the fact that Doom mentions earlier in the issue, Namor is one of the few people who could put a stop to Doom’s desires of global domination.

This confrontation ends with Doom launched onto a meteor but we all know he is coming back at some point.

It’s hard to overstate the complexities that early issues like these set up not just for the FF but for all of Marvel. The way that villains are multifaceted and complex makes for great reads even in comic books and they still work in modern culture. I think it’s why the MCU is such a successful franchise. We can relate to everyone, even the villains.

Next up on the reading list we’re getting micro once again as we go back to Tales to Astonish #35 and check in on Ant-Man!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk #3

The Incredible Hulk #3 Photo Credit: Marvel

For two issues we have seen how the Hulk can be a major threat to the population. He is a big, unstoppable, rage machine. On the other hand, mild mannered Bruce Banner is well aware of what he becomes and knows he needs to take precautions to keep the innocent safe. To this end, Bruce has built a nearly indestructible bunker under the sea to keep the monster in at night. But we all know, nearly indestructible is not actually indestructible.

Rick Jones is the only one Bruce trusts enough to make sure Hulk stays in all night and will be there to let Bruce out in the morning. One thing Bruce perhaps didn’t consider was how close to a military base his reinforced bunker was.

General Ross, who is going to be an antagonist of Bruce’s for the whole series, has sent his men to find Rick. It’s well known that Rick and Hulk have a connection and Rick is just the bait Ross needs.

Ross appeals to Rick by telling him Hulk is the only one who can test a rocket for the government. In the days this issue was written, comics writers were not allowed by the Comics Code Authority of America to write anything that might be considered “unpatriotic”. So of course, Rick brings the Hulk along. But not until after Hulk has smashed out of his unbreakable bunker and pounded his way through a group of tanks.

Hulk ends up in the rocket and is launched into space. This is not the first time he was launched into the stars but this does mark the first time he was tricked and sent there to get rid of him. What do you do with a big, unstoppable, rage machine who can break through a bunker made to withstand an atomic blast? Send him to space. This solution will be tried over and over in Marvel 616. It never works for long.

While the ship is in space it gets close enough to the sun that it’s like daylight which brings out Bruce Banner. Then he is immediately hit with rays of radiation. As a story device, this was so it did not have to be night for Hulk to come out. It also loosely ties in to the events of Fantastic Four #1 as these could be the very same rays Reed Richards and company collided with.

In addition, these rays psychically link Rick Jones and Hulk when Rick touches a control to bring the ship back. This is very convenient for the Ringmaster part of the issue later but does come off as fairly silly.

Once Hulk is back he smashes his way through the army and nearly kills Rick. Lucky for Rick he figures out the whole psychic link thing and is able to command the Hulk to go back to his bunker. Why the army isn’t waiting there, since earlier in the issue the said they had the area under surveillance, is beyond me.

The next part of the issue gives us the third telling of the origin of the Hulk. We get to see a tiny bit more of why Rick was there but it’s pretty much the same story from the first two issues. There was a bomb test, Rick was there, Bruce saved his life but the gamma rays created the Hulk.

We are next introduced to The Ringmaster. This is a character that actually shows up in a lot of Marvel 616 books but his first appearance was in this issue. He’s capable of hypnotizing large crowds to be immobile at which point he and his crew of circus performers simply rob the town of all its goods.

Hypnotism was like magic in the 60’s comics and pulp fiction stories. Basically it could make anyone do anything and it was an easy story device.

Well, the Ringmaster comes to the wrong town because this time Rick Jones is in the crowd and he can control a big, unstoppable, rage monster named the Hulk. It’s no match between these circus clowns (pun absolutely intended) and the Hulk. Still, it seems Ringmaster and his crew can hold up a little longer than the army does against the Hulk.

All in all, it’s a fairly standard Hulk issue but it does do a few important things. It shows that Ross is not going to stop hunting the Hulk and he is willing to use dirty tricks to do it. Rick is one of the few people Hulk might actually take orders from, even when not hypnotized. And, we get to see that the Hulk can’t quite fly, but he can leap so far, it’s pretty close to the same thing.

Next on the reading list, we’re going back to ol’ stretcho himself, Reed Richards to check in on the family in Fantastic Four #6.

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Read more about Hulk on Amazon

Book Review – Olwen and Eisa

Olwen and Eisa by C.S. Watts

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

Volume 3 in the saga of The Ravenstones, introduces the reader to our protagonists’ enemies, the big cats of Aeronbed. The courageous lioness, Olwen and the insightful panther, Eisa must chart a dangerous path through life. Olwen, has received the gift of a prophecy, but she must figure out its meaning and learn how to benefit from that knowledge. Eisa, cut loose from his kin and comrades, comes to her aid.

Eirwen, the polar bear, has accepted the charge to lead the bears of Heimborn in revolt against their oppressors. His road to victory will require every ounce of patience, cunning and ingenuity he can muster. Although he must confront a determined and vicious enemy, often it’s his own side presenting the greatest obstacle to success.

Fridis, the Eider duck, left behind in Vigmar’s capital has set herself lofty goals, ones that require a trip to the southern reaches of the empire. While the trip opens her eyes to the mysteries of the magic Ravenstones, it also brings threatening and heart-wrenching news. The reach of her enemies may be strong and ruthless, but she will not be denied.

REVIEW

The third volume in the Saga of the Ravenstones series introduces us to new characters and gives the reader a peek into what has been going on with the enemies of Eirwen and Fridis, the main characters from the first two books. We get to see how the big cats of Aeronbed see the conflict and there are some unlikely allies made.

The book does still continue the story of Eirwen and Fridis but it allows the reader to see the whole picture and it sheds light on some of the events from the first two books in the series.

The big cats of Aeronbed (lions, panthers, and the like) have been at war for about as long as anyone can remember. The panthers have been oppressing the bears of Heimborn and don’t consider them to be a true threat. What they don’t realize yet is that a certain polar bear has come along to change the situation. Some of the panthers want to take extreme measures against both the bears and those who rule in Aeronbed.

This military maneuvering and political intrigue make unlikely allies out of Olwen, a lion and Eisa, a panther. They must depend upon one another for survival and to prevent utter disaster on all fronts of the war.

Meanwhile, Fridis has been exiled and is learning more than she thought possible about the magic stones she and Eirwen discovered. She may have been kept away from Vigmar but she is not without allies.

Don’t let the fact that this series has talking animals in it fool you. This story is every bit as complex, intriguing and interesting as some of the best fantasy series around. In fact, the plot twists and turns are downright Shakespearian at times. The story will keep you guessing and continues to surprise and delight.

If you love sweeping epic fantasy series like Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or The Shannara series you will get a thrill out of The Ravenstone Saga. This is not a series where you can skip around though, so make sure you read the first two in order to get the fullest picture of the series.

Book Review – Calamity

Calamity by Sam Winter

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

When society collapses, who will you choose to save?

The United States, reeling from an infectious disease, has reached a tipping point. Society’s collapse is imminent. The rabies variant virus is decimating the southern states and the National Guard can no longer contain it. In response, the heavy hand of the government initiates extreme and violent measures to quarantine half the nation.

SWAT Officer Derrick Hart and his best friend, Army Ranger Brandon Armstrong, are at the tip of the spear trying to keep it all together as society loots, riots, and revolts against the government. Hundreds of miles lay between them and their family as another city falls to the vicious infected hordes. These two brothers in arms must choose between their duty and the ones they love.

When the country they once served becomes the oppressive force that now threatens their lives, Derrick and Brandon must fight together if their loved ones stand a chance at survival.

When the country collapses, who will you let die?

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is a virus let loose in the southern part of the United States. Those who are infected become mindless, violent killing machines and spread the infection to others who come into contact with them. As the country tries to keep the contagion in check, extreme measures are taken to stem the tide of the so-called “rabid”. Borders are put in place along with military and police check points and only the privileged few are allowed to escape to the safer parts of the country in the north.

In the middle of all this are two friends, one an Army Ranger, the other a Police SWAT Officer. They’ve made a pact to always look out for one another and they know they can rely on each other to survive the worst catastrophe imaginable. But even Brandon Armstrong and Derrick Hart could not have predicted how bad things were about to get. In order to get those they care about to safety, they are going to have to risk everything.

The book is fast paced with plenty of action and leaves the reading wanting to turn the next page. There are shocking and surprising moments in the book. However, it does read like many zombie books that have come before it. That’s not necessarily a criticism, the parts of the book that make it good are the parts that make all zombie stories of this type good.

One thing the author does notably well is highlight what a likely government response on both a local and national level might actually look like in this type of scenario. In addition the author takes into account what some fringe elements of society might do in reaction to those actions and overall, this gives the book a well thought out and realistic dynamic.

On occasion it can feel like the author is slightly overreaching with the amount of characters juggled here but in the end it all balances out nicely. The end comes together in a natural fashion and has an excellent set up for the sequel in the series.

If you like zombie stories like World War Z, The Walking Dead or Slow Burn: Zero Day, you’ll be sure to find something you enjoy in Calamity. Better news is that this is a series so if you do enjoy Calamity there is more story to find. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday – #MovieReview

Happy Friday the 13th everybody! Slick Dungeon here to review yet another in the Friday the 13th film series.

Jason has been through a lot at this point in the film series. He’s been drowned, shot, stabbed, burnt, thrown through several windows and endured the dance stylings of Crispin Glover. He’s also killed tons of people but there is one thing he has never done. Gone to Hell.

The title of this film is Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Huge spoiler here – it’s not the final Friday at all.

Anyway, I sat down and watched this one and while it is not the best in the series it isn’t the worst either. There will be actual spoilers in the review below so if you haven’t seen this and really care about that sort of thing watch the movie first.

The film starts in classic Crystal Lake fashion. There is a woman who is alone in a cabin and getting ready to take a bath. Guess who shows up? Yep, Jason himself is back. He goes in for the kill but the woman escapes and runs out into the woods where… a whole task force of FBI agents shoot him with all the firepower they have and then blow him up just to finish the job.

Waiting in the woods observing all this is a bounty hunter named Creighton Duke. He knows this won’t be the end of Jason but he seems to know how to stop the guy.

Jason’s body (what is left of it) is taken to the morgue for an autopsy. But his still beating heart seems to hypnotize and possess the guy doing the autopsy. And Jason is out in a new body free to kill again. Not only that, he can actually switch bodies through a gross version of CPR.

Back in Crystal Lake, there is a waitress who we find out is Jason’s sister. She has a daughter who also has a daughter meaning Jason has three living relatives.

Well, you can probably guess what happens. Jason hops from body to body killing everyone who gets in his way, including his sister. But his niece and her daughter are still alive and the remainder of the movie is about protecting them.

It plays out like most of these movies do where there are tons of chances for Jason to get all murder-y, for people to run around in the woods, for the police department to mess up yet again, and in the end for Jason to be seemingly killed.

Most horror fans like this one for the very last scene of the film. After Jason has sunk down into the earth, presumably where Hell is geographically located, an iconic glove with blades on the fingers comes out to grab the hockey mask. Yep, Freddy has the mask now and Jason is in Hell with him. Do I smell a crossover coming? Yes. Yes I do.

Now that you have the plot there, I had a few questions and comments about this one.

  1. For most of the movies Jason was unstoppable but wasn’t really a supernatural demon or anything. I’m not sure this helps the movie so why change that? Just so we can acknowledge Jason belongs in hell? I think we knew that from (checks notes) all the killing he did.
  2. In the first scene Jason is easily caught by the FBI team. Now, I am not saying Jason is the smartest killer around but for decades he has been able to kill a group of people before they even figured out he started killing anyone. He hides the bodies in places that will throw them into shock and then strikes. So why in this one would he not have seen the FBI agents? It’s where Jason lives and kills best and with all the people and equipment they had there, there is no way Jason would not have noticed.
  3. The Jason movies have been fairly enjoyable slashers up to this point but this one becomes more of a body horror movie and seems to go for the gross out more than the jump in your seat sort of scare. Bad call filmmakers.
  4. Creighton Duke is set up as the guy who knows how to kill Jason and at the beginning you would be forgiven for thinking this movie would be about him. But what does this guy do? First he watches Jason not actually get killed. Then he does an interview where he says he knows how to kill Jason for a price. Then he goes to Crystal Lake, immediately gets himself put in prison and spends most of the movie there. We are never given his backstory as to why he knows how to kill Jason or why he might have it out for Jason in particular. (I mean other than just objecting to all the killing Jason does which is reason enough) So here is my question. Who is going to pay this guy for all that? He has to be like the worst bounty hunter of all time. He pretty much does nothing except give away a secret and hand someone a dagger. Other than that, no point to this guy.
  5. Also, the last time we saw Jason he had been changed into a child because of nuclear waste in a New York sewer. I realize we don’t get a lot of explanations in this series but uh, could you tell us how he came back?
  6. Since when did Jason have a sister? Perhaps somewhere in the last 8 movies that could have been mentioned. Or you know, the police could have gone to the sister and said, hey do you know your brother is a murder machine? Anything you could do to stop him would be great.
  7. There are a few scenes at the Voorhees home. This place is huge but it’s been empty and deserted for years. But from the outside it looks like it has been really well maintained. I really want to know, was someone paying for the landscaping of the yard for all these years or is someone just cutting that grass for free?
  8. Also, inside the house there is an unexplained book that looks like it’s some kind of magic book to call demons or something. Who exactly was reading that? It wasn’t Jason’s mom and I don’t think it was his sister or niece. My money is on the landscaper.
  9. It has been NINE movies now, NINE and they only tore down the cabins at Camp Crystal Lake recently. Like, this town is asking for it. Why does anyone live here???
  10. So Jason is supposed to go to Hell but we just see him sucked into the ground by a bunch of dirt hands. Couldn’t we have gotten at least one scene of him in Hell? This is worse than when Jason went to Manhattan and only spent like ten minutes there.
  11. The twist of Jason having a sister was pretty lazy writing and then using that to be how Jason had to be killed was also pretty lazy writing. I am starting to get the feeling people don’t watch these for the plot. Am I the only one thinking that here?
  12. Okay so Freddy grabbed the mask! Freddy grabbed the mask! We’re going to see Freddy and Jason fight each other right? Right? That’s the next movie right?
  13. The next one is Jason in space? But Freddy is there right? No? Oh man, Friday the 13th is not my lucky day.

I’ve only got a few of these left to review and I do actually think the series holds up pretty well after nine films, so that’s saying something. Remember if you are camping this weekend, they already tore down the cabins in Crystal Lake so you can’t stay there. Although, I do hear there is a landscaper who might have a place you can crash at.

Slashingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

RPG Review: Stealing Stories for the Devil Free Primer

Stealing Stories for the Devil by Monte Cook Games
Huge Discounts on your Favorite RPGs @ DriveThruRPG.com

Hello internet people, Slick Dungeon here. I came across a tabletop RPG title on DriveThruRPG.com that I wanted to review. I’ve read the free primer for the game which you can get here at the cost of absolutely free.

I’m going to give a review of the primer and let you know who this game is for and what the pros and cons of it are in my mind. Before I get into the review I want to make sure it is understood what exactly I am reviewing.

I will only be reviewing the free primer from DriveThruRPG. This game will be released via kickstarter and if you are interested in it you can learn more about it by watching the video below. I have no affiliation whatsoever with Monte Cook games or this product. I want to give a fair and objective review for what I can based on the primer.

I also have not had the opportunity to play in a game session yet but if I do, I will give a more full review of the overall game. But first I’ll need to find a group of liars to play with. (We’ll get into that more in a bit)

Stealing Stories for the Devil Kickstarter

If you don’t know, a tabletop role playing game, or RPG for short, is a game where you gather a group of friends and play through a scenario in a cooperative storytelling style. There are many of these games on the market, the most famous of which is Dungeons & Dragons. But there is a treasure trove of other RPG’s that can be just as fun to play.

Most of them have a rule set you use to help craft the narrative and typically there is one person who leads the story along, usually called a game master.

Stealing Stories for the Devil is similar in most aspects to these games but does have some stand out differences. Whether you enjoy these differences or not depends on what kind of player you are and how comfortable you are with a bit of improvisation.

What is it?

The game has an interesting premise. You are from the future. Somewhere around the 39th century. You boarded a ship where you expected to be put to sleep and woken up years later in another universe. Instead the ship with its preprogrammed artificial intelligence ended up on Earth in the 21st century.

Aboard the ship there were two types of people, sleepers and scions. Sleepers as the name implies slept as expected. Scions are actually the descendants of people who originally boarded the ship but for some reason did not go into stasis as expected.

There’s a lot more background to this in the primer but it boils down to this. Both sleepers and scions can affect reality, reshaping it to fit their own narratives. Sleepers do this through advanced technology while scions do this through natural ability.

When a Scion or Sleeper does this, they steal a little bit of the reality they are in and lie to the universe to make it do what they want. Therefore the player characters in this game are all called Liars.

There is a Game Master for this game who leads the narrative but unlike most other RPG’s there is a lot more freedom for the players to influence what happens in the game. After all, they are lying to reality so they get to say what should happen. The world is not without its obstacles though, as the GM must then think of ways to challenge the player characters to keep the story interesting.

How does this game work?

There are some similarities to most RPG’s. You get to choose some traits your character is good at and you have to choose some detriments your character has. Unlike most RPG’s the designers leave this extremely open ended and up to interpretation. While they give several examples of traits such as agile, fast, etc. they also encourage the group to come up with their own traits. This makes the game exceedingly flexible to fit a scenario you think would be fun.

In the primer there are three types of Liars. These are Planners, Plotters and Schemers. I won’t go into too much detail here on what those things mean but you can think of them like character subclasses. They add a bit of different flavor to your character and depending on what you think would be cool to play, you choose which type of Liar you want to be.

You also get a bit of starting equipment based on if you are a scion or sleeper.

Once you have your group of liars together and have a Game Master, you just need a quick read of the rules and you are ready to play. There is surprisingly little math involved in this game and even the defined terms are not necessarily absolute.

That doesn’t mean there is not structure, it just means the players really do get to star in the game.

DriveThruRPG.com

The game is about heisting reality so the players and Game Master come up with a scenario where something has gone wrong with reality and it is up to the players to fix it. There are three acts to each game session. Game sessions can be their own one shot adventures, can be a series of 12 sessions that aadd up to a “season” or an ongoing campaign that can last as long as the players and Game Master want it to.

Each session is broken up into three acts. In the first act, the players get a mission briefing and together map out a location where the players will be performing a heist on reality. The Game Master might say something like, you need to recover a key that unlocks a safe deposit box from a bank. The players then might say, the bank is in the center of the city and we are going to sneak in at night. Then the Game Master could reply, while no one is around at night there are security cameras everywhere and the police do tend to drive by on occasion. Play keeps going like that until the mission briefing is over.

Act two is where the bulk of the game play takes place. This is where the characters act out their actions and the Game Master gets to put obstacles in their way. There will also be twists and turns placed in the scenario by the Game Master. The action plays out until the GM decides the act is over and then the players head into act three.

Act three is the climax where the players ultimately find out if they succeed or fail in their mission.

Along the way the Game Master can ask for players to make dice rolls to see what direction the story takes.

Who is this game for?

If you love improvisation in your role playing, I cannot think of a more interesting type of game to play. You literally get to bend reality in this game as if you were in the movie Inception or The Matrix or something like that.

The game reminds me of elements of Cyberpunk and Shadowrun but with a far looser rule set. You won’t have to roll a lot of dice or do much math at all. It’s quick to read through the primer’s rules although I am sure there is a more robust rule set in the full game.

However, if you are the type of player who really relies on rules and having a bit more set structure on whether your character succeeds or fails, this is not the game for you. In other words, if you like your rules crunchy, skip this one.

Final thoughts

While I have not played this game yet, I really like the premise and I think it opens up huge possibilities for crafting epic stories. I do tend to like a bit more structure in my games but this is one where I think having fewer hard rules will benefit the game. It uses its own system and it is very flexible.

There are players out there who really do love the rules aspects of tabletop games and those players would do well to stay clear of this one.

I can’t speak to how well the twist and mission cards work in this game but I like the idea of some random elements being introduced outside of the player’s control.

I will say I don’t see a huge difference between scions and sleepers since they both change reality and I am not sure how it would matter which one you played. I do think the planner, plotter and schemer all have unique flavors and I think it would be pretty easy to decide which one you want to be. Personally, I really want to play a plotter because it sounded really cool to me.

The primer gives a decent look into the game, enough that giving it a read will let you know if you are interested in backing the game on Kickstarter. The full game comes with a whole lot more and I think it has real potential to be a fun game.

In my opinion if you like games full of improvisation and don’t want to take on a bunch of math in order to play, this is the game for you. Also, it helps if you enjoy heist movies.

If you have read the primer or played the game I would love to hear from you. How was it? Let me know in the comments.

Fictitiously yours,

Slick Dungeon

(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)

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Journey Into Mystery #84

Journey Into Mystery #84 Photo Credit: Marvel

Journey into Mystery #83 introduced us to Dr. Donald Blake and his alter ego, the god of thunder himself, Thor. In that issue, Thor found himself fighting off an alien invasion just in time. The follow up is much more earth bound as he must fight against a would be world ruler who goes by the name The Executioner.

The story is only 14 pages long but it does manage to recap what happened last issue and then immediately shows us Don Blake in his capacity as the kind and caring doctor. We also get to know about his burning love for his nurse Jane Nelson. Jane feels the same toward Don. Donald Blake assumes Jane can’t feel anything for him because he is “lame” (the writer’s words not mine). The real reason Jane isn’t falling for Don though, is because he never shows anything other than a professional interest in Jane. This is a dynamic that will be set up for years to come in the pages of Journey. And because comic books are serialized and soap operatic in their plots, this dynamic is stretched out for far too long. This issue does keep it to a minimum though. Later on Jane’s last name will be changed to Foster and she is a character who is portrayed as a love interest for Thor in the MCU films.

Dr. Blake finds out that there is a pro-communist leader who is a ruthless warlord in the fictional area of San Diablo. He immediately volunteers to travel there to help any injured and do his part as a good doctor. Communists and communism were a significant threat in the minds of Americans in the early 1960’s so this plot fits in perfectly with the sentiment of the time. While it’s an over the top exaggeration, it’s pretty clear in this story that The Executioner is a stand in for Fidel Castro.

On the ship to San Diablo Don worries that Jane will be in danger once they get there. The whole damsel in distress plot was one that was overused in comics already at this point so it’s pretty obvious Jane will be in trouble and Thor will have to rescue her.

Before that happens the ship is attacked by airplanes. Don Blake is able to change into Thor and readily defeats them. I would say this is just an excuse to show off some of the amazing artwork Jack Kirby was capable of. I have no problem with that though, because the artwork is amazing and any excuse for it is fine.

To get back onto the boat Thor has to change back to Blake and be rescued. Just like Lois Lane falling in love with Superman, the first glimpse of Thor for Jane leads to instant attraction.

The next few panels sets up The Executioner as the villain by showing him send off his failed pilot commander to the firing squad.

Once on land, Blake and Jane are attacked again. This time Blake is able to defend by tapping his magic cane on the ground twice in order to call wind, rain, lightning and thunder. The rules of the cane that turn Blake into Thor are somewhat established here but those rules do tend to change as the series progresses.

The storm Blake calls only temporarily saves them and soon he has to turn into Thor to stop enemy tanks. He defeats most of the enemies and sets free the Americans who were under threat, except for Jane Nelson. Even Thor wouldn’t be fast enough to stop the enemies without allowing Jane to die so he hides and turns back into Blake.

Blake is captured and Jane agrees to marry the executioner in order to save Don. But Blake taunts the executioner enough that he is able to get his cane back and immediately changes back to Thor. With a couple of tricks using his hammer, Thor is able to save Jane and allow the army of the executioner to realize he is a coward only interested in money. His own army shoots him to death.

Interestingly, there will be a character called The Executioner who is an Asgardian but he has nothing at all to do with this executioner. Also, we never hear about San Diablo or the armies fighting there again in all of Marvel 616.

The end of the issue sees Jane fawning over Thor and his rescue while inwardly lamenting that Dr. Blake was not brave and adventurous in the moment. If this seems like a Superman and Lois Lane dynamic, that’s because it was intentionally set up that way. The formula may be old at this point, but it works.

Next on the reading list we go back to ol’ jade jaws himself in The Incredible Hulk #3.

If you’ve been enjoying these posts and want to read some comics yourself, click on the link below. Note that I am an Amazon affiliate and will get a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Read more about Thor on Amazon

Movie Review – Fear Street Part 3: 1666

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here to tell you about the third and final film in the Fear Street series Fear Street Part 3: 1666.

Fear Street Part Three has a big task to accomplish. It not only needs to answer the questions of how Sarah Fier came to be the cause of the horrors of the first two films, it also has to conclude the first film in the series.

While the first two would be considered traditional slasher horror films, with some supernatural elements thrown in, the third movie is a traditional supernatural horror with some slasher elements thrown in. Just like in the first two, there is nothing here that is going to truly surprise a horror film fan but that does not make it a bad movie. It’s got a reasonable and enjoyable plot. I would say the plot twist was somewhat predictable but maybe that is just because I do tend to watch a fair amount of horror.

In this film we find out the origins of Sarah Fier and why Sunnyvale and Shadyside seem to be opposite sides of the same coin. There is more to the story than the towns suspect and some of the characters portrayed in the first two films are seen in a new light. After we see the origins of the curse ruining Shadyside, we are thrust back to 1994 where the major characters there have all the knowledge they need to stop the killings from continuing.

The supernatural part of the film does rest on some overdone horror tropes and that brings the film down a bit in my opinion. However, it redeems itself a bit in the 1994 segment of the movie.

I don’t want to give away the ending because these movies are worth watching, especially if you have seen all the other horror on Netflix and need something new to watch. There is just a little edge of goofiness as well that is reminiscent of the Goosebumps series but it never goes so far as to ruin the movies.

Overall, I think the series pulls off a neat trick with the backwards chronology but it’s still not a groundbreaking new series. While I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these films, if they stopped here I wouldn’t be sad about that either.

If you like some bloody fun and want to watch 3 movies in a row to satisfy that itch, you could do worse than Fear Street.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Book Review – The Augur’s View

The Augur’s View by Victoria Lehrer

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 First Book of the New Earth Chronicles: The Triskelion, On Winged Gossamer, Tall-ah Earth A Visionary Science Fiction


EENA hasn’t survived Solar Flash of 2034 to be detained under the thumbs of remnant Landlords and Social Engineering minions. Three Mountains Community beckons, and though retrievers hunt down escapees from townships, she clasps the Journey of Man pendant and heads for the secret community where the Lakota Elder MATOSKAH awaits her and others.


At the summit of Quartz Mountain, the discovery of a portal to Ancient Mu offers a great boon to the community. Giant birds, once ridden by humans fly over the savannah. Eena bonds with the Augur, Cesla, and she and GAVIN patrol the skies over Three Mountains watching for the approach of rovers and military scouts.


Eena hasn’t come to Three Mountains to escape, but to regroup. Determination to thwart the Landlords’ enslavement of the “workers” in the townships prompts a scheme for a weaponless society to take back their power.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It’s the future and the world has undergone a cataclysmic event. Solar Flash burned out most of the world’s electronic capabilities and infrastructure. In the power vacuum that follows the United States government is converted to the Union of the Americas of the World Federation. The UA is an authoritarian regime that does not respect individual rights or life choices but will keep the streets safe from bands of criminals if you fall in line with them.

In this new world there is a place that is a bridge between time and Eena has discovered it. Through this portal there are giant creatures, including birds called Augur’s who can bond telepathically with humans. These creatures will be key in the fight to bring freedom back to the world. But, the small community that knows about the Augurs could be discovered at any time as the world outside closes in.

The Augur’s View does a nice job of blending fantasy and science together. There are scenes that feel magical and interesting and ones that bring the scientific to the forefront. Overall it is a good read with an interesting premise. The heroes have a large challenge before them, especially since they prefer to cause as little bloodshed as possible. That some of the heroes are not simply out for revenge was a refreshing and enjoyable aspect of the book.

However, the cast of characters is large and there are times where the author head hops a bit much and keeping everyone straight can be a bit challenging. The events occurring are clear but it is sometimes not as clear who should be the focus of the scene.

The story is dystopian and fits in well with other books such as The Hunger Games series but with a bit more fantasy thrown in. This is the first in a series so if you enjoy it there is more story to read. If you need a book with a bit of future science fiction fantasy rolled up into one this is worth reading.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Journey Into Mystery #83

Journey Into Mystery #83 Photo Credit: Marvel

Journey Into Mystery started out as a horror anthology series published by Timely comics. It had a measure of success in the 1950’s but it evolved into a science-fiction and fantasy book some time after Timely’s successor, Marvel took over. Most of the stories up to issue #83 were forgettable.

Then, in June of 1962, issue #83 hit the stands and the magazine would be forever changed. The cover has the month of August as the release date but as often happened in comics at the time, the release month printed did not align with the actual release date. The cover showcases a powerful figure whirling a hammer so fast we can’t see what it is. The font boldly proclaims to have “The most exciting super-hero of all time!!” And it says in the upper left corner, the words that would bring in one of the most famous Marvel characters of all time, “Introducing… The Mighty Thor!”

The actual story is only 14 pages long but it does a lot of heavy lifting. Thor as we all know is the god of thunder from Norse mythology. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ran with that idea but had their own take on and personality for the character they would show in their comics.

The first story starring Thor is a bit silly and a bit strange. To put it into context I will have to tell you a little bit about Dr. Donald Blake.

The average person who may or may not be a comics reader still knows who you are talking about if you say the names Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, or Bruce Wayne. But if you say Dr. Donald Blake, a lot of people, even those who do read comics would be forgiven for not knowing who that is. Dr. Donald Blake is the mild-mannered alter-ego of Thor.

In the tradition of comic books at the time, all heroes had a secret identity and a heroic persona. In Marvel comics in particular these secret identities always had some flaw. It could be physical, emotional or mental but there was always some flaw. Dr. Blake has a heroic heart. He wants to save people and he has dedicated his life to medicine to do so. But he is also what the comic book calls “lame”. That’s as in the original definition of lame, meaning you have difficulty walking. Probably not a term we would use now.

Dr. Donald Blake finds himself on vacation in Norway when an alien craft full of “stone men from Saturn” land. It’s immediately clear they are a threat and want to take over the earth. Luckily for humanity, the good doctor overhears these creatures and tries to go get help.

Unfortunately for him, Dr. Blake is discovered and chased down by these aliens. He has no chance of running away so instead he hides in a cave. And it’s a good thing he did. In the cave is a stick he can use for a cane. But this is no ordinary cane. As soon as Dr. Blake taps it on the ground, he is turned into The Mighty Thor. From here the fantastic artwork of Jack Kirby simply leaps off the pages.

We get to see Thor as you would want to see him. A figure of power and confidence who can wield a magic hammer that proclaims, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… Thor!”

In the early pages of Thor’s debut it’s hard to tell if Dr. Blake simply has the power of Thor or is in fact the Thor when he changes. But it doesn’t matter because the star of the comic is once again, the artwork.

With the power of the god of thunder it’s no sweat to scare off a few aliens. And much like Superman can turn back into Clark Kent at a moment’s notice, Thor can revert to Dr. Donald Blake, thus saving the world but saving himself all the unwanted attention of explaining who he is or how he does what he does.

In the last panel of the story there is a teaser ad for the next issue of Journey Into Mystery telling us that Thor will appear regularly in its pages. Thor is misspelled as Thorr right on his own hammer in this panel but the sentiment is still correct. Thor and most of his supporting cast go on to appear regularly in Journey Into Mystery. Essentially, once Thor appears here he basically takes over the comic. It sells well enough that Thor doesn’t even get his own name in the title of the series until issue #104 when it becomes Journey Into Mystery with The Mighty Thor.

With the introduction of Thor in the pages of 616 continuity we now have three of the five original founding members of The Avengers. It will take some time before that team is formed but those heroes would have a lot less muscle without the god of thunder at their side.

Next on the reading list we follow along further with Thor in Journey Into Mystery #84.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Amazing Fantasy Issue #15

Amazing Fantasy Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel

In June of 1962 the fifteenth issue of Amazing Fantasy (formerly titled Amazing Adult Fantasy) was released. There were four stories and an editors note in the issue. The only story that matters in the issue is the first one. It’s called Spiderman and was the launch of a world wide phenomenon readers would come to love up to this day. The story involved a smart teenage science major who was often bullied by his peers. The boy had a doting family who loved him dearly and he appreciated them. Then, one fateful day, a radioactive spider bit the teenager and the world changed. Not just for Peter Parker but for the world of entertainment.

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created one of the most iconic and memorable characters of all time. Spider-man was for decades, hands down, no question, the most popular character Marvel ever created. It would take a mutant with adamantium claws and a bad attitude to knock him out of first place. Still, even now, Spider-man is a top tier character and the favorite of millions of people. And it almost didn’t happen.

According to Stan Lee, his editors didn’t want him to write a book where a teenager was the hero. They didn’t think that would sell well. But they allowed him to write a shorter story and put it in an anthology book that was maybe going to be cut from their lineup anyway. Turns out, people loved a story about a teenage hero.

What makes Peter Parker stand out from other heroes of the day are not his powers but his flaws. He’s a teenager capable of making mistakes. Mistakes that have serious consequences.

In the first appearance of Spider-man we see Peter picked on and made fun of for being a kid who is more into science than dances. We see him bitten by the spider that transforms him and gives him powers. We see Aunt May and Uncle Ben dote upon him. We see Peter show off his powers and become a known costumed hero through his feats of strength in a televised wrestling match. We even see him invent his iconic web-shooters.

All of those moments are important and significant. But the one moment from this issue that matters the most is the one moment when Peter does nothing. He lets a crook get away with money that doesn’t belong to him even though Peter could have stopped the criminal. This lack of action causes the death of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben. The crook goes on to murder Ben and when Peter discovers it was his fault his uncle died, he learns “with great power there must also come — great responsibility.”

The guilt of that moment makes Peter place the world upon his shoulders. He must do right because if he stands by and does nothing, people could die. His heroics are born not out of vengeance or out of the need to prove to the world how good or powerful he is. No. Peter becomes a hero because it is his responsibility. This will be a driving force in his comics to this day.

It can’t be overstated what a groundbreaking issue in the world of comics this first appearance was. Between Lee’s story and Ditko’s art an icon was born. One that is here to stay. There will be many, many more issues of this character for me to review. Not all of them are great but this first one matters to the world of entertainment in a major way. We see it portrayed over and over again in comics, books, television and film.

One of the moments I hate seeing most in anything Marvel is the death of Uncle Ben. At the same time, I know it’s one of the most necessary moments in all of comics. I’ll endure that moment over and over again because what comes after is so compelling.

Next on the reading list is Journey into Mystery #83 where we will meet a god of thunder who wields a hammer like no other.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Fantastic Four Issue #5

The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel

There are some villains so memorable that they define the heroes they fight against. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Batman without The Joker as his arch-nemesis. What would Superman be without the deadly threat of Lex Luthor? In the fifth issue of The Fantastic Four, the villain that will be the biggest threat, the most dangerous rival, the most influential villain against Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, is introduced. He will come to define the team in many ways and will be a significant presence in the Marvel 616 continuity permanently.

The beginning of the issue starts with some mystery as to whom Dr. Doom could be and what he wants. However, he hates the group from his opening panels.

Once we enter the FF’s headquarters, we get another nod to the Marvel 616 universe containing Marvel comics as we see Johnny Storm reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk. Marvel isn’t the first company to have made what we now call Easter eggs, but they have always been masters of it.

Right from the outset, Doom is a threat. He starts off the issue by trapping the team in their Baxter Building headquarters. He tosses a net that is electrified and fireproof. Johnny can’t burn through it, The Thing can’t break it, and Reed can’t stretch past it. Doom demands Sue Storm be given to him as a hostage. Reluctantly, the team agrees to let Sue go to prevent Doom from causing harm to anyone.

Before that happens, Reed takes us on a flashback to his college days and reveals that he knew Victor Von Doom in college. At that time, Doom was obsessed with both science and the supernatural. He tended to conduct science experiments that were forbidden. During one of these experiments, Doom was disfigured and has covered his face ever since. We don’t see what the test was, but it’s evident it was not an innocent one. Doom gets expelled but continues looking for secrets in black magic and sorcery.

As soon as Reed realizes who has trapped them in the building, he understands what a threat Doom is. Doom’s demands are somewhat strange. He takes them back to his fortress and demands that The Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic and The Thing all travel to the past to get the treasure of Blackbeard, the pirate. He gives them forty-eight hours to bring back Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Doom obviously wants something inside the chest but he doesn’t phrase the request that way.

The story gets a little silly as the three heroes have to disguise themselves as sailors. They even equip The Thing with a black beard. There’s a bit of fighting, and soon it turns out to be the case that The Thing is Blackbeard, the pirate. This means the group is not actually stealing anything from anyone. Also, The Thing considers staying because he is seen as a regular, if intimidating, human in this era. Ultimately, the group does go back, and they do present Doom with Bleackbeard’s treasure chest. Since Reed is the smartest man in the world, he puts chains into the chest, thus fulfilling Doom’s request of getting the treasure chest but not giving Doom the ability to increase his powers. Doom tells the group the gems belonged to the ancient magician Merlin, which sets up the possibility of magic existing in the 616 universe. Johnny is also pretty quick to realize the gems are at the bottom of the sea and could be deadly in the hands of the Sub-Mariner.

Doom is outraged that he has been tricked, and a fight breaks out. We find out here that Doom is an intelligent foe. He has created a robot replica of himself, so he is in no danger of harm from the three heroes. This is the first instance of a Doom-bot showing up, but it will be used over and over to fool heroes in the future consistently.

For all his intelligence and arrogance, Doom is not infallible. He forgets about Susan Storm, and she destroys his machinery and frees the rest of the group from the room Doom has trapped them in. The group escapes and manages to force Doom out of his own fortress. He makes his escape with a rocket-powered jet pack and flees in order to fight another day. The issue sets up Doom as a repeat threat, and he will certainly deliver on that threat in years to come.

Next on the reading list is Amazing Fantasy #15 (A story), potentially the most significant Marvel comic book ever to be printed. This is the one that introduces us to a certain teenager who has quite the reaction to a little spider bite.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Amazing Adult Fantasy Issue #14

Amazing Adult Fantasy #14, Photo Credit: Marvel

Only Marvel in the 1960s could have published a comic book that advertised giants on the cover while also boldly stating at the bottom that it is, “The magazine that respects your intelligence.”

Amazing Adult Fantasy is an anthology comic book that would feature several stories on various subjects. The next issue will lose the word Adult from the title and gain perhaps the most compelling character in all of the Marvel 616 universe.

For this issue, the essential story is the second one. On the Contents page, the story is mislabeled as, Man in Space, but is actually called, The Man in the Sky! This little story is vital to a specific corner of the Marvel 616 universe. This is a landmark story because it introduces something not seen before in the pages of Marvel. This story is the birth of mutants.

The story deals with Tad Carter. His father, Brad Carter, was an atomic scientist. Through his work, he absorbed small amounts of radiation, not enough to affect him but enough to change Tad. This is why mutants will be called “the children of the atom.” Like with The Hulk, the power of the atom is awesome and overpowering. It is capable of changing the world for good or bad.

In this story, mutants are only vaguely defined, and it seems they could have a vast range of powers. Tad can move objects with his mind. He can read the minds of others. Tad’s impulse is to help humanity, to teach them how to do the things he can. He proves to some friends that he can read minds. The crowd turns on him and, for the first time, hurl the insult, “A mutant!” Tad still tries to convince the group that he wants to help them even as they call him a freak and attack him. Tad finds himself lifted off the ground and flying in the air. And as he is pulled away, a voice calls into his brain. This voice reassures Tad there are many so-called mutants in the world and they have power humans never dreamed of.

It’s here it is established that mutants are the next great stage in the development of man. When Tad asks why mutants do not reveal themselves, he is told, “Because people fear those who are different! And humans try to destroy those whom they fear!”

Thus sets up the future for what will become The X-Men. While not explicitly stated, it’s almost certain the voice Tad heard was that of Charles Xavier. The philosophy that mutants should help mankind despite their hatred is the guiding principle Charles lives by. At this point he is still wanting to wait to reveal mutants to humanity until the world is ready to welcome them. He wants to wait until “…mankind comes of age!”

Stan Lee has said the reason he came up with mutants was because it got too difficult to keep thinking of different kinds of accidents and situations that would cause someone to have powers. If he could just say that someone was a mutant, he didn’t have to go too much into the origin of the powers. Interestingly, this situation and the way Lee wrote it enabled the creators to speak on issues of civil rights and racial injustice without ever having to use those words. A generation of children would grow up thinking it was unfair for a group of people to be assumed to be dangerous or evil just because of who they were. Many of them knew this to be the case because they read the pages of Marvel 616 comics that featured mutants. This story is the beginning of that. It’s incredible how important a small story in an anthology comic book could become to entertainment and to our understanding of the world.

Next on the reading list is Fantastic Four Issue #5 where we will be introduced to one of the greatest Marvel 616 villains of all time.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk Issue #2

The Incredible Hulk Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Incredible Hulk Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel

The second issue of The Incredible Hulk helps to expand out the Marvel 616 universe. For the first time, more than just superheroes become aware of aliens that might threaten Earth. To be clear, there were plenty of Marvel stories involving aliens before this issue. Still, as far as 616 goes, the public becomes aware of these invasions thanks to the rather forgettable enemy of the Toadmen. These aliens want to invade earth but first want to know how advanced humanity is scientifically. They capture the most brilliant scientific mind they can find who happens to be Dr. Bruce Banner. Now, I think there is an argument that perhaps they should have set their sights on Reed Richards, but this is Hulk’s book, so Bruce is the target.

The issue starts with establishing that the Hulk is known to the public and he is considered a menace. Townsfolk run and hide when they see him coming, they gasp in horror at his appearance. Speaking of his appearance, he is now green like we all think him to be. Hulk does some property damage as truckers plow into him and law enforcement attempts to capture him. They are not successful. The only person that might have a chance at quelling his rampage is Rick Jones. We are treated to a flashback to the previous issue which reminds us how Bruce Banner was changed by an accident involving a Gamma Bomb test. Rick managers to get Hulk away from the crowd and he changes back to Bruce Banner.

Bruce is smart enough to realize he needs to barricade himself every evening to keep the Hulk from going on a total rampage against humanity. He has found a cave with a huge underwater outcropping that he can barricade with a ten-foot thick solid concrete wall. He expects Rick to let him out every morning but more importantly, make sure the Hulk stays in at night. Before they can get set, the Toadmen teleport Bruce and Rick to their ship.

There they tell the pair that the Toadmen are masters of magnetism (a power that will be used to great effect in the pages of The X-Men) and unless Bruce tells them what they want to know they will destroy the earth. This does seem a little backward since they already have the power to threaten the earth. The Toadmen realize Rick is not necessary to their plans so they send him back home. Unfortunately for the Toadmen, they go to the dark side of the earth, and at this point in the series, Bruce changes to Hulk at night. He easily overpowers the aliens and on the tenth page gives us a hint of what horrors could be expected if Hulk’s rage is truly unleashed as he says, “With this flying dreadnaught under me, I can wipe out all mankind! Now the Hulk will be the hunter instead of the hunted.”

Back on earth, General Thunderbolt Ross is ready to shoot down the spaceship. Rick tries to warn the base Bruce is on board but he’s too late. Bruce Banner survives the crash and Ross assumes he is a traitor to the country. While Bruce is imprisoned the Toadmen decide to attack. The world is now aware there are intelligent species from space that have made contact with the earth. This moment is the reason that in 616 continuity, it’s unusual for people to be surprised aliens exist.

Soon Bruce changes back to the Hulk and breaks through the prison walls. Hulk declares Ross to be his enemy as he smashes through the army base. He makes it to Betty Ross’ house and the General is forced to attempt to save her. He wants to try tanks but Rick convinces Ross to let him try reasoning with the creature. Hulk is not having it and knocks Rick down. For the first time, he grabs Betty Ross and leaves the house. Betty tries to ask him why he is doing this and why he hates humans. Hulk’s answer is, “Look what men have done to me!” and goes on to declare, “…now the Hulk will fight back! On my own terms!” This sets up the pattern of the comic for years to come. Humans misunderstand and hound the Hulk until he has had enough and turns on them. He doesn’t harm anyone that we can see but he does do plenty of property damage.

A well-timed attack by the Toadmen allows Hulk to transform back to Bruce Banner at dawn without Betty seeing. He goes from green to gray to his normal human skin tone. Bruce acts quickly and uses one of his Gamma inventions, a ray gun, to stop the aliens. Again we see atomic energy as both blessing and curse here. Bruce defends the planet and even Thunderbolt Ross has to admit that this one time Bruce cleared his own name. He’s still suspicious of both Banner and Hulk though.

At the end of the issue, Hulk is imprisoned for the first time in the cave that Bruce will come back to over and over.

This issue is fairly typical of The Incredible Hulk. The villains are never able to truly outshine the star of this book. Hulk is such a force in and of himself that villains almost feel unnecessary here. The series will continue in this manner for years, although Hulk does get some key moments outside of his own book soon as well.

Next on the reading list is Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 (B Story). (This title will eventually be shortened to Amazing Fantasy).

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Tales to Astonish Issue #32

Tales to Astonish #32, Photo Credit: Marvel

There is one story from this issue of the anthology Tales to Astonish that can be considered important to 616 continuity. Although, if you skipped this one, it probably wouldn’t make much difference. Still, Marvel counts this one as in continuity and there are a couple of things of note here.

The story that counts in 616 continuity is the one called The Girl in the Black Hood. This story is about a full grown woman, not a girl. This sexist titling is unfortunately common during the 1960s Marvel era. Nevertheless, the story is about a woman named May Dusa. She is a photographer who takes amazing pictures but never lets anyone see her face. A small time crook plans to rob her and get a good look at her face. In a twist that will surprise no one now but might have surprised some seven year old kids in the 1960s, the woman has snakes for hair and is Medusa.

It’s the kind of short, somewhat silly type of story that frequently appeared in Tales at the time and I can’t blame the creators for lack of cleverness. They were cranking out a huge volume at the time and not all stories can be winners.

There are two things I think are important here. First, Don Heck who will go on to do the Iron Man series is the artist and this is a nice example of his work. Secondly, the story takes place in the 1920s. Like the Sub-Mariner appearing in The Fantastic Four established the 616 timeline back to the 1940’s this issue takes us back to the 1920’s so we know 616 is at least that old.

To me it is not clear if this “May Dusa” is the prototype for Medusa that will appear in the pages of The Fantastic Four and other books or not. This story may set up the Gorgons but if so, I am not sure how this story accomplishes that. There is still plenty of reading to go though, so we’ll see when we get there.

Next on the reading list is The Incredible Hulk #2.

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk Issue #1

The Incredible Hulk Issue #1, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Incredible Hulk Issue #1, Photo Credit: Marvel

There are a few moments in the Marvel 616 universe that are pivotal moments. These moments change the world. One such moment is when four individuals attempted to explore space but flew threw cosmic rays and became four of the most fantastic people on the planet. Another is when a teenage science student attends a science lecture and is bitten by a radioactive spider. There is also an incident in which a young boy will save someone’s life by pushing a stranger out of the way of being hit by a car. This will make the young boy go blind but will also give him heightened senses that allow him to do the most death-defying daredevil stunts ever seen.

A key moment in 616 continuity that is constantly revisited is the moment when Bruce Banner tests a Gamma Bomb for the first time.

On May 1st, 1962, while the country is still worried about nuclear attacks from the Russians, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby unleash a man/monster upon the world who will go on to become one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time.

The issue establishes several essential characters who will not only feature in The Incredible Hulk but will become vital to the entire 616 universe. The events of the day are not in question but the moment Bruce becomes the Hulk will be revisited over and over. Context will be added, small details will be changed. But the basic premise will always remain. Bruce Banner was testing a new kind of bomb. Just before the test was about to happen, a teenager drives out to the testing field. Bruce races to the scene and saves Rick Jones’ life. This will alter the destiny of everyone seen in this first issue of the comic book.

General “Thunderbolt” Ross will dedicate his life to hunting down the Hulk. Betty Ross, Bruce’s love interest will wonder what the connection between Hulk and Bruce is. It’s almost as if she feels the change in the world as in one panel she says, “I feel as though we’re on the brink of some fantastic unimaginable adventure!” Rick Jones will feel he must repay Bruce by protecting Bruce and the Hulk at all costs. This will lead him to eventually connect with most of the Marvel 616 heroes at one point or another.

To this day, things from this first issue continue to be explored in Marvel 616. Hulk appears gray in this issue instead of his iconic green which leads to an epic story arc which will attempt to explain the different shades of color Hulk sometimes appears in. In one panel Lee writes the name given to Bruce Banner’s other self is, “A name which is destined to become–Immortal!” And now, there is a comic book with the title of, The Immortal Hulk, proving Lee to be correct.

What Stan Lee wanted to create with the Hulk was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide style character who would look like a man in human form but change to something akin to Frankenstein’s monster when he changed. For all of Lee’s boasting about The Hulk being a new character unlike anything we had ever seen before, he was truly just an amalgamation of Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster. At least, at the beginning. Somewhat more original was Lee’s take on the Dr. Jekyll side of the creation.

Bruce Banner was working for the good of the world. His G-bomb was going to be something that could defeat the Russians in the cold war and protect democracy. He was an intelligent scientist who had to coexist on an army base with a General who wanted results. Bruce had to be smart enough and tough enough to know who he could give information to and who he had to hide it from.

The only reason Hulk came into being is from Bruce’s altruism. Hulk is born out of a need to help someone else at a great cost. Much like the accident itself, which was no fault of Bruce’s, Hulk has been misunderstood in his pages since the beginning of the comic book.

In this first issue, Bruce, only changes form at night. This will evolve as the series goes on but Bruce does know he cannot allow Hulk to endanger anyone’s life when he changes.

There is an antagonist in this issue in the form of an Iron Curtain operative by the name of The Gargoyle. Like a good majority of Hulk’s enemies, Gargoyle seems insignificant in comparison to the epic rage and drama of the Hulk himself. The Russians are responsible for the test going wrong in the first place. This idea let Stan Lee tap into the fears of the country at the time. The Gargoyle is the leader of the ring of Russian spies responsible. For all his intelligence, The Gargoyle has been hideously deformed. Even his allies fear him. He quickly understands The Hulk could change the cold war in favor of the Soviet Union. He smuggles Rick Jones and Hulk out of the country and behind the Iron Curtain after shooting them with a special chemical to make them compliant. Little does The Gargoyle know that Hulk will change mid-flight back into Bruce Banner. Still, The Gargoyle is no dummy and he realizes he has in his clutches the leading atomic scientist from the U.S. of A,

What turns the issue and changes the story again is Bruce’s altruism. Despite Rick Jones’ protesting, Bruce offers to cure The Gargoyle. The procedure will make The Gargoyle into a normal man once again. It will be at the cost of his intellect but The Gargoyle is comfortable with that. The reason The Gargoyle is what he calls a freak is because of nuclear testing. The Gargoyle, like many of The Hulk’s enemies to come, is a reflection of The Hulk himself. Banner does help Gargoyle and in return, Gargoyle sends Bruce and Rick back to America on his ship.

This issue is memorable for a myriad of reasons. From Kirby’s kinetic artwork that has The Hulk performing amazing feats from crushing guns, single-handed to breaking through walls to the soulful nature of Betty Ross this issue masterfully sets up the corner of the Marvel 616 universe that has to do with atomic energy. Like the splitting of the atom itself, The Hulk is a force to be reckoned with. Used for good it can save humanity. Used for ill, it could be the death of the world.

In my mind, the question of the day readers must have had after this first issue is, “What will we do if the Hulk turns against us?”

It would have been a frightening thought for a kid living at the dawn of the atomic age during the cold war. Thankfully, for us readers, we can still read about the exploits of The Hulk and will continue to do so for decades to come.

There is one other thing I need to note here. With the introduction of Henry Pym in Tales to Astonish #29 and The Hulk’s triumphant yet troubled entrance, we now have 2 of the founding members of The Avengers solidly established in 616 continuity.

Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #32 (D Story).

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Tales to Astonish Issue #30

Tales to Astonish Issue #30, Photo Credit: Marvel
Tales to Astonish Issue #30, Photo Credit: Marvel

Tales to Astonish is an anthology book and several characters make their debut for the 616 universe in the pages of these comics. In issue 30 there is a character appearance that will come to be important many years later. It is not The Thing From the Hidden Swamp. That Thing from the hidden swamp is not The Thing from the Fantastic Four either. The story we care about is also not the “Gorilla-man” who is shown on the cover either. Neither of those stories contributes to 616 in any way thus far.

The final story of the issue, the one we care about is called Quogg. This is an oddball story about a three-time loser who is a criminal. He is committing crimes somewhere near an African outpost. While looking for shelter he is told by the people of a native village he should not go past a fence in the jungle because Quogg lives there. The thief decides the perfect hideout would be behind that fence so he lies to the natives and tells them he won’t go in there. The next thing you know he is jumping the fence and sees a hut where he can take shelter. He builds some perimeter defenses and plans to live in the hut. Unfortunately for the thief, it turns out the horrible monster Quogg is the hut and the man is now trapped.

This story is almost completely irrelevant to 616 but Quogg will make a return way off in the future in Monsters Unleashed #3 in 2017. Until we get to that issue, you can forget about Quogg, he is not very important.

We are about to encounter a significant force in the Marvel 616 Universe though.

Next on the reading list is Incredible Hulk #1.

Movie Review – Fear Street Part 2: 1978

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here to tell you about the second film in the Fear Street series Fear Street Part 2: 1978.

This is the second film in a trilogy of movies based on author R.L. Stine’s series of books. These movies are much more mature than his better known Goosebumps series. So far, the films have been call backs to some of the better slasher films horror fans already know and love. I will be giving some mild spoilers for parts 1 and 2 in this review so before you take a bloody axe to my blog, watch the movies first if that sort of thing matters to you. You have been warned.

The second film in the trilogy is one I really want to like more than I do. My favorite type of horror to watch is slasher films and I have a strong affection for the teenage camp counselor variety of slasher film popularized by the Friday the 13th series. Fans of that series will definitely find a few easter eggs and references to smile at in Fear Street Part 2. But, if you’re like me, it may only make you want to go back and watch the originals.

This film finds us following Ziggy and Cindy, two sisters who have grown apart for reasons revealed later in the film. The story of what happened in 1978 at Camp Nightwing is delivered to us via flashback. We’re getting the story because the characters from Fear Street Part 1: 1994 have found the only survivor of the tragic murder spree at Camp Nightwing.

There are two vastly different towns in the Fear Street trilogy. Sunnyvale is a calm, safe place full of brightness and promise while Shadyside is dubbed the “Killer capital of the country.” Everyone knows Shadyside has been cursed by a witch and no one can get out of the town easily or safely. That doesn’t stop the two towns from being rivals.

In the first film the rivalry plays out at a football game, in this one it’s the “color wars” at camp. Basically a big game of capture the flag is going on between the two towns teenagers. This means there are tons of kids and teens running around in the forest after dark. The perfect setting for a low budget slasher film. (This isn’t low budget but they want you to think it is)

Since this is a slasher film, we know some murder is gonna happen. It doesn’t take long for the first murder to occur and we are left to watch the gruesome killings from there. Unlike a lot of slasher films, in this one we know who the killer is and even why they are doing it before the carnage really gets going.

We have all the usual characters and actions from most slasher films. There are stoners, nerds, teenagers who follow every rule, and we even get the requisite pranks gone wrong. I’m guessing you know who survives and who doesn’t. I sure did.

The main question is how one of the sisters will survive. We know she does because she is telling the story. The movie also gives us more background on the witch who has cursed the town. It seems there may be a way to stop the curse and with the characters from Part 1 learning the background, more of the puzzle is solved. We won’t know how right they are until Part 3 though.

Like virtually every camp slasher horror film there is a twist at the end but it was the most obvious twist possible in my mind so it really lost its oomph when it was revealed.

Also, it was clear from the beginning that there was way more than one survivor of this tragic night. This makes the impact of the story we are told feel much less important than it could have.

If you love slasher films you’d probably do better to watch an original. However, if you have seen all of those and want something a little more fresh and a little different, this one is serviceable. I’ll be sticking around for Part 3, mostly to see if they tie everything up well in the end. If they do then the reverse chronology angle might be a neat trick. I still don’t think it will put this above classic horror films but it’s a least trying something newer.

Fearfully yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Tales to Astonish Issue #29

Tales to Astonish Issue 29, Photo Credit: Marvel
Tales to Astonish Issue 29, Photo Credit: Marvel

There is only one story in this issue of the anthology series Tales to Astonish that matters in Marvel 616 continuity. This is the story shown on the cover, that of the Space Beasts in When the Space Beasts Attack.

The story centers around a group of aliens who seem like they can overpower Earth easily. Their weapons can disintegrate buildings and tanks. Everything seems like it is going the alien’s way when it is discovered that the alien weapons only work on non-living material. The humans realize this and fight back. All in all, this would be a very forgettable episode in 616 continuity but it will come back to be relevant.

However, it’s going to take a lot of patience to know why. The Space Beasts will not appear again until the pages of The Punisher #12 in 2009. This is the one and the only reason this story is relevant so there is not much to say on the subject here.

When we get to that one, I will be sure to link back to this post to remind you who these guys are but it’s going to be a while before we get there.

Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #30 (E story).

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #4

Fantastic Four Issue #4, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #4, Photo Credit: Marvel

In the fourth issue of The Fantastic Four, the Marvel 616 Universe gets a whole lot bigger and a whole lot older.

The start of the issue finds Reed, Sue, and Ben arguing over finding Johnny Storm who abandoned the team at the end of the last issue. There is a flashback to the last issue to set the scene. The three remaining members of the team split up to search the city to see if they can find Johnny. And while Kirby’s artwork has heavily hinted that this story is placed in New York, Lee’s text finally confirms it in this issue. This issue also establishes that every member of the Fantastic Four is famous across the country. Although some people at this point still think Reed and company are made up, thus implying people in the 616 are reading about Reed in Marvel comics.

Despite Ben and Johnny constantly bickering, or maybe because of it, they know each other well. The Thing knows Johnny will be working on cars in an old garage and he confronts Johnny. In this scene, Johnny demonstrates that he can control his powers effectively because he can have his heat at the right temperature not to ignite the gas where he is. Also, in this issue, for the first time, Johnny says his famous catchphrase, “Flame on!”

Also, once again, The Thing changes back to human form albeit for only a little while. This further establishes Reed Richards could find a cure for him. It’s something Reed is going to work for years on to no avail.

After Ben and Johnny have their fight, Johnny goes to the neighborhood known as The Bowery and finds lodging for the evening. Here we get another meta-reference in Marvel 616. Johnny is reading an old comic book from the 1940s about The Sub-Mariner. The Sub-Mariner is a character Timely comics, the predecessor of Marvel debuted in 1939. He is Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Aquaman. Making this reference even more interesting is the fact that Sub-Mariner used to be one of Timely’s top three characters, the other two being Captain America and the original Human Torch. It’s perfectly fitting then that Johnny Storm, the most famous Human Torch is the one to find Sub-Mariner. Sub-Mariner is in a cheap hotel along with Johnny but seems to have lost his memory. The crowd at the hotel turns on Sub-Mariner but Johnny steps in to defend him. He then shaves Sub-Mariner and realizes this is the Sub-Mariner.

With the introduction of this character to Marvel 616, or maybe more accurately, re-introduction, the universe can now be dated back to at least 1939, although the Sub-Mariner’s adventures from that time period do not necessarily count in 616 continuity.

Johnny Storm knows Namor’s (aka Sub-Mariner) power comes from the sea. Johnny does what he thinks is the smart and merciful thing and tosses Namor into the sea. Namor certainly gets his power back. He quickly discovers his underwater home has been destroyed by Atomic testing.

This is a theme that will come back again and again in 616 stories. Atomic energy drives both good and evil depending on who uses it and how it is used. This is extremely relevant considering the cold war that continues for decades. Atomic energy is so important in these stories that the mutants in the X-Men comics will be given the title of, “Children of the Atom”. Sub-Mariner was able to give voice to those who could see the dangers of Atomic energy in the world at the time. Sub-Mariner will also become the most powerful and famous “frenemy” of The Fantastic Four.

After realizing his home is destroyed and the surface world is responsible, Namor calls upon a gigantic sea monster to attack the city and get revenge. At this point, Johnny signals the rest of the team by writing a giant 4 in the sky. This isn’t the first time the team has been signaled in the sky, but it is the first time that Johnny does it.

The team converges to stop the threat. This allows The Thing to strap a nuclear bomb to his back (again with the Atomic energy as both hero and menace) and enter into the mouth of the giant sea creature known as Giganto. The Thing has to fight a couple of creatures inside Giganto but he makes his escape.

While Johnny, Reed, and The Thing have some success fighting Namor, it’s The Invisible Girl who saves the day in this story. She is able to steal the horn Namor used to call the sea monster. Namor catches Sue while she is invisible and she decides since she is caught she might as well drop the invisibility. Namor falls in love with Sue Storm instantly. This sets up the first real rival to Reed Richards for Sue’s affections. Namor tells Susan if she will be his bride, he will give up his anger towards the human race. Sue Storm, of course, is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the world. Namor realizes that she is consenting not out of love or attraction. He thought he was offering her marriage as an extension of honor and quickly rescinds the offer, although it is clear he still finds her attractive.

The team has to fight Namor to save the world. Johnny, realizing Namor’s power is bound to the water, creates a vortex of air that lifts Namor away from the water so he is weakened and deposits him far out into the sea. Namor again swears he will have his revenge and the setup of a decades-long relationship between him and the Fantastic Four has been set.

While the events described above are truly enough to be of major significance to the 616 universe, there is one other detail in this book I have not yet mentioned. Sprinkled throughout the issue every few pages is what surely must have been a mysterious yet exciting tease for something to come. Every few pages we see a question. “Who is the Hulk?” And we are told, “You’ve never seen anyone like the Hulk!”

To this day we are still trying to get the true answer to the question “Who is the Hulk?” The statement is a little less true but we’ll get into why that is when Hulk finally makes his 616 debut.

But before we get there we have a couple of short Tales to Astonish stories to discuss.

Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #29 (A Story).

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #3

Fantastic Four Issue #3, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #3, Photo Credit: Marvel

The third issue of The Fantastic Four introduces us to a few things that will come to define the team in the future. We are introduced to the Fantasti-car, a flying car that can separate into four sections and is docked at the top of a towering building in the city. While it is not named in the issue, this tower will be what is later known as the Baxter Building, and Reed and the team own it. Reed, the genius that he is, is able to build a dock on the roof that will hide the car so that no one knows who lives there. Also, Sue Storm designs the first costumes for the team. While Sue and Reed’s uniforms make perfect sense for them, Ben can’t stand most of his and The Thing goes on to fight mostly in the blue bottoms of the uniform. Johnny is shown in his costume but of course, it is not explained in this issue how this costume does not burn up when he flames on.

Also, we see the bickering between The Human Torch and The Thing increase. The antagonism gets so bad that by the end of the issue, Johnny Storm quits the team. This is the first time in the 616 universe anyone quits a superhero team but it will most certainly not be the last.

The issue itself deals with a rather forgettable villain by the name of Mister Miracle. He seems to be able to do all kinds of miraculous feats including taking a punch on the jaw from The Thing and making a movie monster come to life. Reed Richards figures out that Mister Miracle is simply an excellent hypnotist who can make a crowd think he is doing the things it looks like he is doing. Forgetting the fact that this is not at all how hypnotism works, we do get some scenes where the team gets to show off their powers. There is also another flashback to the origins of the team. This is the third issue and the third time we see the origin of the team. Lee and Kirby did an excellent job of making sure that no one could forget how this team started. We also get some hints of conflict to come. Ben is jealous of Reed for the fact that Sue is in love with Reed. Ben and Reed both blame Reed for the accident that gave them all powers. Reed tries to look on the bright side that at least they can help humanity but Ben would trade it all away to be normal again.

Once again, this issue is different from other comics on the stand at the time because the team fights among themselves. Ben sees his powers as a curse rather than a blessing. And with Johnny walking away from the team, Reed realizes Johnny would be a huge threat if he turned against the Fantastic Four. Other comics at the time were not posing the question of what would happen if one of their own turned against them. This is a uniquely Marvel trait and it works on so many levels that it becomes a staple in comics from then on. At one point or another, every member of the Fantastic Four will walk away from the team. They do come back but with this issue, the reading population would be left to wonder if Johnny was really serious and if he might even become a villain. It was groundbreaking in the fact that a hero could become evil and groundbreaking that Reed recognizes this as a fact.

While the most important things in this issue are more to do with the visual aesthetic, the costumes, the building, the radio transmitter the team uses to communicate, and the fantasti-car, the dynamic of the team arguing with one another is what propelled the universe forward. The story was not afraid to have conflict not only with the villain but with the team members. I can’t overstate how important this is to Marvel 616 comics. It’s what defines them. It’s so effective that in Marvel movies and movies like The Incredibles they don’t work if the team doesn’t argue with each other at some point in the movie. Next on the reading list is Fantastic Four #4

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Tales to Astonish #27

Tales to Astonish #27 Photo Credit: Marvel
Tales to Astonish #27 Photo Credit: Marvel

Tales to Astonish is an anthology comic book that has tales of terror, aliens, horror, and superheroes. This issue has four comic stories plus one prose story. There is a story about an alien trying to conquer a planet, a story about a mean jockey who learns his lesson thanks to a talking horse, the story of a cursed mirror, and the prose story tells about a boy who accidentally creates an unbreakable bubble.

There is also one more story. The first story is the only one that matters in 616 continuity. That is the first story that stars Henry Pym called The Man in the Ant Hill. This character will go on to fame as one of the founding members of The Avengers and will also have some extremely disturbing moments as in the future he abuses his wife. This troubled background is probably one of the main reasons Henry Pym is not the Ant-man used in the Marvel movies and instead, we get the much more likable Scott Lang.

Anyway, this story does introduce us to Ant-man, although before he has a suit and cybernetic helmet. A seemingly mad scientist, Henry Pym has created a solution that can shrink anything. This is a major triumph for Henry because the scientific community has thus far seen him as a crackpot. Henry imagines using his formula for military purposes like transporting an entire army in a single airplane. But first, he must test it on a human.

As any good mad scientist would do, he immediately uses it on himself. He is shrunk down to the size of an ant. He goes outside and realizes he can’t get back to get the antidote to his serum. Henry finds himself near an anthill and is attacked by several ants. He ends up in a pool of honey but a friendly ant pulls him out of it.

A group of other ants is about to attack when Henry finds a matchstick and uses a rock to light it. He then makes a lasso and climbs his way out of the anthill. But before he gets to the top a single ant attacks.

To me, this is the best part of the issue. Henry realizes, “But I have one advantage! A human brain…”

At this point, I am thinking, yes, he is a smart scientist he must have some intellectual way out of this dilemma. Then comes the next panel where Henry Pym proudly proclaims

“…which has learned the art of Judo!”

He throws the ant over the side and makes his escape.

A fortunate circumstance occurs and Henry encounters the ant who helped him before. The ant lets Henry get on his back and he makes it up to his serum and can grow to full size. Henry decides to destroy his serum and never let any human use it again. The story ends with Henry lying to the scientific community, saying he was wrong about his theories and notes that Henry Pym never steps on an anthill again in his life.

So what is significant about this story? Of course, Henry Pym will rise to become Ant-man. We also see a few things established about him. He has a temper, and this will become a theme for him. He is not highly respected in the scientific community although he is right. This is another theme that tends to follow Henry. And, we see that he has a relationship with ants. Almost as if he can communicate with them. This will be essential to his character in the future.

While this could have been a throwaway one-off story, it is significant in 616. Mostly, in the future things will be added to Henry aka Hank Pym, including the ability to grow large as well as small and a love interest. Ant-man, unlike in the movies, in the universe of 616 is a founding member of the Avengers and the universe does not move forward without this little story. Tales to Astonish will also, in the future introduce several other heroes so we are not done with this title yet. Not by a long shot.

Next on the reading list, we go back to Reed and company with Fantastic Four #3.

Movie Review – Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here back to review another film. This time I watched Fear Street Part 1: 1994.

This is the first in a trilogy of films based on books by author R.L. Stine most remembered for his Goosebumps series of books. Fear Street is not a kids series and although elements of it might be considered “Goosebumps grows up” it’s got a distinctive slasher feel to it.

The interesting part of the series is that we will get three installments in reverse time order. We start in 1994 but in the next part we’ll be jumping back in time to 1978 and the third installment will bring us to 1666.

I may give some spoilers in this review so if you want to watch the movie before you read this go for it. Otherwise you’ve been warned.

The story focuses on a group of teenagers in a small town consistently plagued by murders called Shadyside. Their neighboring town is called Sunnyvale where it seems the streets are always safe and no one ever snaps and goes on a killing binge.

The opening scenes place us in a mall where there is a killer on the loose. It works as well as about any typical slasher film opening but there is nothing exceptionally surprising about it. Next we move to Deena Johnson a teenage girl who is heartbroken that her relationship has recently ended. Her brother is obsessed with the local legend of the witch Sarah Fier. There’s even a little rhyme to accompany the legend.

Considering this is a teen horror film, you can probably imagine a lot of what happens from here. Killers are on the loose in the town, teens have to figure out how to survive. Not everyone makes it to the end, adults don’t believe what is happening and buckets of blood are spilled.

The story was interesting enough to keep me watching and it left me with some nostalgia for some of the better slasher films but I’m not sure this one makes it up there with those. Still, it’s compelling enough I will definitely watch the next installment to see what happens. Or I guess what happened might be a better way to put it since the chronology is backwards. I’m not sure how well the whole thing will tie together but if it does, I may end up revisiting this film once I’ve seen the rest.

For now, I would say if you love slasher films, love music from the 1990’s (they put practically every song from that decade in this) or even if you enjoy shows like Stranger Things or Supernatural you’ll probably enjoy this. Just don’t expect it to be overly original.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #2

Fantastic Four Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel

While the first issue of the Fantastic Four birthed the Marvel 616 universe, issue two began to refine it. The issue starts with what looks like each member of the Fantastic Four committing a crime. The Thing destroys an oil rig. Susan Storm steals a diamond worth ten million dollars. Johnny Storm destroys a priceless statue and Reed Richards turns off all the power in the city. Of course, our heroes didn’t do any of these things. This is the work of the Skrulls from outer space. They are a group of villains that will be vital in the years to come. Skrulls are even in movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so they are still relevant.

These aliens are shape-shifters who through their natural abilities and with a little help from technology fake the crimes described above. The Skrulls wish to invade earth but because of the now-famous Fantastic Four, they know it will be no easy task. They have to stop these four humans before the invasion. They plan to get the authorities after the FF and then once they are dead, enter the planet with no resistance.

Newspapers show headlines of the Fantastic Four as declared enemies. Two of the papers will be staples in Marvel 616. They are the Daily Globe and the Daily Bugle. They become much more important in other series but this is where they are established in 616 for the first time.

The FF have hidden out in an isolated hunting lodge and are trying to figure out just what is going on. The Thing is angry and lashes out. It seems like he is full of anger and could become a danger to the human race if his power goes unchecked. Reed of course, still blames himself for Ben’s condition. We are treated to a flashback of the origins of the FF. This will happen over and over again in the early issues. It makes sense because so often these comic books were thought of as disposable. This gave the benefit of filling up pages, reusing artwork, and allowing new readers to understand the whole story.

While Reed is musing about the past, a group of soldiers captures the group. They are separated and put into cells. Sue Storm turns invisible and escapes. This is the issue that Johnny Storm meets his own kind of kryptonite – asbestos. Yep, that’s right. In those days asbestos was seen as a somewhat miraculous substance because of its ability to fireproof a room. It was not yet seen as the dangerous substance it is and so it appears in a lot of comics alongside Johnny Storm. Despite being put in an asbestos-filled room, Johnny finds an air vent and can escape through that. The group gets into a helicopter and escapes.

Back at a hideout of theirs, the FF argues about how to figure out who is impersonating them. Johnny and Ben fight with each other and this further establishes the dynamic that will exist between the two characters for years to come. Johnny goes to where Reed has assumed the next impersonation will happen. The FF captures the aliens and decides to go aboard the Skrull ship to tell them that Earth is just too hard to capture. Reed Richards shows the captain of the Skrull ship pictures of what he says are real pictures from Earth. This is where we get the first Marvel 616 meta-reference. Reed shows pictures from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. These are both titles that Marvel produces. This means that Marvel comics do exist in the Marvel 616 universe. Reed effectively tricks the Skrulls on the ship but there are still four of them left on Earth to deal with.

On the way back, the ship passes again through cosmic rays, and Ben Grimm for a moment is turned back into a human. Alas, this is only temporary, but it does establish that there could be a cure for Ben’s condition. Reed will dedicate a lot of his life going forward to figuring out that cure.

Once they land the army is ready to take the FF into custody once again but Reed promises to explain the situation if they go back to his apartment. Of course, the Skrulls attack and the army sees that the Fantastic Four are innocent. Reed and company defeat the Skrulls and the only problem left is to decide what to do with the aliens from outer space.

Reed hypnotizes them and tells them they have to change into what he says for the rest of their lives and they are good with that as long as they get to have a peaceful and contented existence. So what do they change into? Cows.

This is a significant and important development in years to come, so way down the line when I have reviewed a lot more of these, don’t forget that there are Skrull cows.

I’m guessing Reed didn’t tell the Skrulls that beef is one of the most popular foods in the country.

The issue ends with a pin-up page of The Thing. Probably a lot of kids did rip this page out and pin it up. That means that any issues with this page intact are going to be much more valuable than those without.Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #27.

Book Review – The Outsider

The Outsider by Stephen King

Hi everyone, Slick Dungeon here back with another book review. This one kept me up late at night trembling in fear as Stephen King is still the master of horror.I just found out that this one is actually an HBO series so I’ll be reviewing that as well once I have watched it.

(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

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is discovered in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens—Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon have DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying details begin to emerge, King’s story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A man can’t be in two places at the same time. Everyone knows that. Detective Ralph Anderson knows that too. He has a slam dunk, ironclad, so obvious it couldn’t be more clear case on his hands. Coach Terry Maitland, respected citizen of Flint City, coach to many of the town’s young little leaguers was placed at the scene of a crime more horrendous than any in Flint City’s history. It’s the kind of crime he would never be suspected of. Still, sometimes people snap and Anderson is sure that’s what happened. He can’t let killers walk the streets of his city so he had Maitland arrested in front of the whole town to send a message to anyone else who might want to commit crimes in this neck of the woods.

But Maitland had an ironclad alibi. Even so, DNA evidence should prove without a doubt who did the crime. A man can’t be in two places at the same time. It’s not possible.

I don’t wish to give too many spoilers here but as you might guess with a Stephen King novel, there is more to the story than what it seems. Not all of it natural.

The book is gripping and horrifying, especially in the earlier parts. Strange things happen to innocent people and there is something evil lurking in the shadows.

One thing to note is that there are some characters from the Mr. Mercedes series. If you want to read everything in order, don’t pick this one up first. But even if you do, they mostly mention things from the other books but don’t go into great detail. The Outsider stands on its own but there are mild spoilers from the other series. I hadn’t read the Mr. Mercedes books before reading this one and it just made me want to go back and read those.

The one weak point of this book, like many of Stephen King’s books, is the ending. While still horrifying and thrilling, once the monster is confronted head on, it loses some of its power. There are a few things I couldn’t entirely believe or that weren’t as wrapped up as one would hope.

Still, if you are a fan of horror and of Stephen King, this is a great book to add to your reading list.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four Issue #1

Fantastic Four Issue #1 Photo Credit: Marvel
Fantastic Four Issue #1 Photo Credit: Marvel

Let me set the scene for you. The year is 1961. The cold war is raging and it’s unclear who is going to get to space first, the United States, or The Soviet Union. At this time, Americans are obsessed with the idea of space, what might be out there, if we can get there, and what might happen if communists get there first. There is more than a hint of paranoia in the air and the ideal value at the time is the nuclear family. Some groups are constrained by society to an unacceptable degree including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.

In comic books, there are heroes and certainly teams of heroes. Some heroes have all of the same types of powers that the Fantastic Four have but none of them will enjoy the enormous success that Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, and Sue Storm will.

On the eighth day of November, a comic book that will change the entire entertainment industry forever is released. Most people will read this issue and throw it away after. There will be some mothers and fathers who will throw away their kids’ comic books after they have been sitting on the living room floor for too long. Some of those stacks will include the first issue of The Fantastic Four. This will turn out to be an unfortunate decision for the people who lost this issue because it is a majorly significant event in comic books. This issue is the birth of the Marvel 616 universe. This is where superheroes begin to grow up.

Now imagine, not knowing any of this, and reading the issue. What is in it? Why is it important? I have some answers for you.

Stan Lee, the writer, Jack Kirby, the artist, and Christopher Rule, the inker come together to create what will become known as “the first family of superheroes”. Technically this nickname is incorrect. There had been families of superheroes before. Superman and Supergirl are related. There is the Marvel family in DC comics that includes Billy Batson as Captain Marvel (no not that one and we’ll get into this in a later review) and his family. The nickname will mean something closer to “The First Lady” or “The First Gentleman” as it relates to the American presidency. And this first family has something that no other family in comic-dom has at the time. Arguments. That’s right. They don’t all get along and they don’t all revel in the enormous power they come to wield and that is what makes them different and appealing. Their power to disagree makes this comic book more appealing and more successful than Stan, Jack, and Christopher could have expected.

Another thing that sets this book apart is the dynamic and appealing artwork of Jack Kirby. The action virtually leaps off the page at you in a way that no other comic book at the time could achieve. From the monster like appearance of The Thing to the frenetic energy and boyish exuberance in The Human Torch’s flight, Kirby incredibly engaged the reader.

As far as what happens in the issue the story itself isn’t anything we hadn’t seen in comics before. There were threats in other comics dealing with atomic energy. There had even been strange villains who had chosen to make their lairs underground before. But the way the story is executed is revolutionary in the world of comics.

We start with the citizens of Central City (later to be Manhattan) seeing a mysterious message in the sky that simply read “The Fantastic Four”. This is a message sent out by none other than Reed Richards. He is signaling Susan Storm, Benjamin Grimm and Johnny Storm. One by one we see each of them using their marvelous powers. Susan can turn invisible. Ben is massively strong and does some property damage on his way out of a clothing store and in the street heading towards Reed. Johnny lights on fire, melts a car, and streaks into the air. He has to defend himself from the military and accidentally melts a couple of government planes. He does make sure the pilots are safe before leaving the area though. A missile is launched at Johnny and just when it looks like there is no escape, the fantastically stretchy arms of Reed Richards wrap around the nuclear warhead to stop it. Reed now has the team together and tells them they must stop a threat to the world.

All this might be standard fare in other comic books. With a different creative team, that might have been the entire story, other than to deal with the bad guy. But Stan Lee makes the smart decision to tell us the origin of the Fantastic Four in flashback form. And here is where a lot of the Marvel 616 universe begins. Reed wants to fly a spaceship to outer space. Ben Grimm is against the idea because there are cosmic rays in the atmosphere that no one has studied or understands. Sue Storm, who also happens to be Reed’s fiance, comes to Reed’s defense and immediately tells Ben they have to go through with the flight “unless we want the commies to beat us to it!” and calls Ben a coward. Ben is of course no coward and changes his mind. Sue is along for the ride because she is Reed’s fiance and Johnny comes to protect his sister.

This little scene sets up a lot of the family dynamic. For years, Sue will demure to Reed. For years, Ben will be seen as stubborn and will on occasion blame Reed for his troubles. Johnny is always impulsive and hot-headed. And Reed will consider himself the leader of the group due to his superior intellect.

As you might expect, the cosmic rays do affect the group. Their ship crashes and they are all transformed. Susan sees Ben turn into a rock-like creature that she calls a “Thing”. Johnny gets hot under the collar, and then all over and declares himself, “The Human Torch”. This is not the first character in comics to be called by that name but Johnny Storm will be the most memorable. Susan suddenly disappears. She dubs herself “The Invisible Girl”. It’s a sign of the sexist times that although she is a full-grown adult woman, the name Invisible Girl instead of Invisible Woman was given to her. The only name that doesn’t make a lot of sense is that of Reed Richards. He dubs himself the egotistical moniker of “Mister Fantastic.” This does not describe his powers or appearance in any way. This kind of arrogance does define Reed as a character in years to come. He is the smartest man in the world and is well aware of that fact which can at times lead to a rather inflated ego and some poor decision making.

No one on this team asked for their powers. Ben wishes it had never happened. Johnny is thrilled he can fly and at his new powers. Sue doesn’t seem to say a lot about her powers one way or another. Reed doesn’t seem too troubled by his newfound ability to stretch in incredible ways.

Someone or something is threatening the entire world. The FF go to an island to investigate. A fight with a monster separates the party. Johnny and Reed fall into a tunnel after a cave-in. They have been imprisoned in a land filled with blindingly bright diamonds by a man who calls himself The Moleman.

The name is silly and his powers are that of a mole, more or less. He also controls and releases the monsters that have been fighting on the surface world. We learn that he is evil because humanity hated him for his appearance and he wants his revenge. Moleman will become a repeat villain who harasses the surface world more than once. Also, this starts a trend in 616 in which a large number of individuals have powers relating to or caused by animals. Spider-man will be the most famous of these but there is a large catalog of this type of character in the Marvel comics.

Of course, using their fantastic powers, the Fantastic Four defeat Moleman. He is buried underground thanks to Johnny’s causing a rock slide. The team hopes they have seen the last of him, thereby ensuring that he will return.

This first issue does a lot of heavy lifting to establish things in Marvel going forward. Some things change and are wrong. For example, the city is called Central City instead of just placing the team in New York City like they will become known for. All in all, though, it’s an incredibly compelling and dynamic issue and if you read it, it’s obvious why it is seen as the birth of the Marvel universe.

Next on the reading list is Fantastic Four #2

I’m Going to Review Every Marvel 616 Comic in Order

Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Spider-man Photo Credit: Marvel
Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Spider-man Photo Credit: Marvel

Hey nerds. Yes, that’s right, I am calling you a nerd. If you read the title of this post and knew what it meant, that makes you a nerd. Welcome to the club, we could use a lot more nerds in the world. I’m Slick Dungeon and I have decided to take on a huge task for myself. I want to read and review every single one of the Marvel 616 comics.

For those of you who don’t know, Marvel 616 is what most Marvel comics fans think of as the “real” or “main” universe Marvel is set in. There are a ton of Marvel universes out there. There is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a Spider-verse, there are spin-off and not in continuity universes, there is the Marvel Ultimate Universe… well, you get the idea.

I am a lover of comic books. I’m not just a Marvel fan, I like DC comics, independent comics, superheroes, horror, action and all kinds of comic books. If you know comic books at all and anyone walks up to you and says they intend to read all of Marvel 616 the first thing you should say to them is, “Why would you do that?!” A few more questions should pop into your head too and I will cover some of those below.

Why would you do that?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these books are not worth a read, I am just saying there are a lot of comics on that list. Do you think I am exaggerating? Well then let me put some numbers in front of you because I did look into just how many comics there are. Someone in this Quora digest post asked how long it would take to read all of Marvel. Some friendly people did the math. Here’s a little snippet:

“The first issue of The Official Index To The Marvel Universe suggests that there are 32,000 comics in the last 70 years. Let say you spend 15 minutes reading one comic book; it would take you 480,000 minutes or 8000 hours or 333 days reading non-stop to finish all of them, theoretically speaking.

If you have school or work or/and diffrent(sic) hobbies, it would take longer. I myself started reading Marvel comics in 2012 and I’ve read about 3000 issues, which is one-tenth of the total. You get the idea. ‘Nuff said!”

Now here is the real kicker, that answer was posted in 2014. There have been seven more years worth of publishing since then.

So again, why would I do this to myself? Is it even possible to review every issue? What if there are ones I can’t find? Do characters like Conan the Barbarian count because he technically appears in some 616 books? Does that mean you then have to read all the Conan books for this to count? Why are you going with Marvel instead of DC? Is this the only thing you are going to read from now on? What will your reviews be like? Are you going to do a star system or rank them in some way? How do you decide which ones count as 616? Is there a list to go off? Those are all good questions and for the most part, my answer for now is, we’ll see when we get there but I will answer some of them in this post.

Believe it or not, I do have some answers. First off, the numbers above seem to include all of Marvel, not just 616 so the number is a little smaller than it seems. It’s still huuuuge, it’s just not quite as huuuuuge.

What I want to do is take a deep dive into each of these issues and put them into context. I love the medium of comics and I don’t think they can be read in a vacuum. You can’t read the origins of The Fantastic Four and The Hulk without understanding the cold war and the space race that was going on at the time. The X-Men are best understood as a commentary on the civil rights movement and The Amazing Spider-man is notable for being the first comic book to use a teenager as the main hero. I feel like all of these things are fascinating and I want to take a long look at the whole Marvel universe and see if I can’t bring some understanding to it.

The way comic books are published, they are both influenced by and influence the time they exist in. Partly because when they were originally made, they were meant to be tossed after reading, comic publishers had to be as up to date on current events as possible. As time went by, comics themselves started to influence culture. Do you know what was sent along in care packages to G.I.’s fighting in World War II? Copies of Captain America. That led to soldiers wanting to read comics back home and helped the medium grow and passed along the hobby of reading these books to a new generation.

I want to take a look at the good, like the groundbreaking and pioneering artistry of Jack Kirby, the bad, like the complete retconning of Spider-man in his Brand New Day story arc, and the ugly, like the rampant sexism and lack of diversity from the earliest issues of 616 and deconstruct as much of it as I can. I am as interested in the origins of Daredevil as I am in what happened to Asbestos Man (yes this is a real character that exists in Marvel comics) in the Marvel 616 universe. I want to know it all.

I’ve always been fascinated by history and the history of comic books I find to be especially appealing so I am going to give this my best shot. I know there is a real possibility I won’t ever finish reading, let alone reviewing every single issue but I’ll give it the ol’ college try. And believe it or not, I do have a bit of knowledge on the subject. Certainly, there are people who know more about history and people who know more about 616 than I ever will. But I do believe I can bring some value to those interested in the two topics who would like to know more.

Now to answer some of my own questions.

Is it even possible to review every issue?

The short answer? Probably not. There are going to be issues that I miss that I will have to circle back around to if and when I can. Plus there are new stories published all the time that would count so to get completely caught up is a Sisyphean task and I doubt I can fully accomplish it. I am sure as Hulk gonna try though.

What if there are ones I can’t find?

If they are completely out of print I am probably out of luck because they would be difficult (although not impossible) to track down. The good news is that we live in the digital age so the majority of them are accessible.

Do characters like Conan the Barbarian count because he technically appears in some 616 books? Does that mean you then have to read all the Conan books for this to count?

My opinion on this is as follows, the comics in which Conan appears in that are within 616 I would have to read. I would only go back to read all of the Conan books if it was vital for me to understand what is going on in the issue I am reading.

Why are you going with Marvel instead of DC?

While I love DC comics and am a huge fan of Superman, Batman, and The Flash, in particular, this comes down mainly to pricing. I have a Marvel Unlimited subscription which gives me access to tons of Marvel content. It will be a very long while before I have to go outside of that app to get a Marvel comic that counts in the 616 continuity. I don’t have a DC Universe subscription and even if I did, the ordering of the DC Universe is a lot more confusing than Marvel is if you start from 616. I’m not saying I would never try to do this for DC but it would be a much greater challenge both time-wise and financially.

Is this the only thing you are going to read from now on?

Absolutely not. I will still read plenty of other books and comic books. A lot of it will still show up on this blog. I can’t live without reading other things. Also, I am sure that there will be times when I just need a breather and will have to step away from Marvel for a while. I will also continue to do my movie reviews and RPG advice and all the other stuff I do on this blog.

What will your reviews be like? Are you going to do a star system or rank them in some way?

For each review, I am going to give a summary of what happens in the issue, point out anything significant that happens, like the debut or death of a major character and try to give some thoughts on the issue and anything relevant that might have been going on at the time in the world that would relate. You won’t see a star system because I think tastes in comics are personal. One person might love everything The Blob does while someone else only has eyes for Wolverine. Sure, there will be some that are not made as well or have stories that are just filler and don’t matter to the whole Marvel universe but I don’t think those are necessarily less interesting. I mean, Marvel has villains whose main villainous tool is a pot of paste. To me, Paste-pot Pete is as vital to these comics as Thor but no one is ever going to think he is a great villain. I don’t want to knock off stars and try to figure out where that stuff fits. By the same token, I am not going to do what I consider to be a gimmicky “All Marvel Heroes Ranked” kind of review. I always wonder who gave the author the authority to rank those anyway and a lot of people are going to disagree with any list like that I could write. You also won’t see anything like, “10 Things About Matt Murdock’s Powers That Make No Sense”. When it comes to comic books, I like to revel in the absurdity of it all. To make a long answer longer, you can expect a thoughtful review about each issue that I read with whatever context I can add to it and that’s pretty much what each one will be. I probably won’t be doing my quirky intros and sign-offs with these, other than for this post either. I want to come at these from a critical angle and do them justice.

How do you decide which ones count as 616? Is there a list to go off?

This is probably the most difficult decision I had to make when deciding to do this. First of all, there are several ways you can look at Marvel continuity. You could consider it in a chronological manner where the earliest events in the cosmos are read first and we are reading about entities such as The Living Tribunal or Galactus. While that might be an interesting approach it did not seem right to me. Second, there are a wide variety of websites that put 616 in some kind of order, be it publication date, character appearances, or some other method. The majority of Marvel comic book fans can agree on one thing when it comes to 616. The start of it is with the first issue of The Fantastic Four written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. It’s a groundbreaking issue that broke the mold on comics at that time and changed storytelling in this medium forever. Therefore, I wanted the first issue I reviewed to be that one so I wanted to choose a list that began there.

I thought about using the list from The Comic Book Herald which is a great website and has some handy quick start guides but didn’t seem to just list everything in order for 616 so it was not quite what I was looking for.

I looked at a few other sites too but the one I settled on had exactly what I needed. The Complete Marvel Reading Order is just that. It begins with the first issue of The Fantastic Four and that is where I wanted to start. It also has the added benefit that if there are comics with multiple stories in them, such as Journey Into Mystery or Tales to Astonish and some of those stories don’t relate to 616 they won’t be listed. This should shave a fraction of my reading time off and when we are dealing with a list this massive I will take whatever help I can get. So if you want to follow along with me that is the list I will be going off of.

So what do you think? Am I starting a pointless fool’s errand or do you think this could be worthwhile? Let me know in the comments and Make Mine Marvel!

Marvelously yours,

Slick Dungeon

Movie Review – The Wind

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here. I’m back with another film review. This time I watched the 2018 film The Wind starring Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zukerman, Dylan McTee, Miles Anderson and Martin C Patterson. It’s a slow horror film with lots of tension building and a bit of mystery to it.

Caitlin Gerard is the main focus of the film as Lizzy Macklin. The story centers around a couple who has moved out to the prairie in the late 1800’s. Life out there is tough enough but it’s even more difficult when there might be something whispering in the wind. Something that doesn’t want you there.

If you love quiet horror and don’t mind a bit of a slow build this is a solid film. There are points that drag a bit but not so many that the viewer will be totally tuned out by them.

The film jumps back and forth in time with Lizzy recalling interactions with her new neighbors, Gideon and Emma played by Dylan McTee and Julia Goldani Telles respectively. These flash backs start revealing a larger horror and as the film goes on there is a satisfying reveal to the situation. I don’t want to spoil too much of the film but I will say the setting and the small cast of characters works very well to bring intensity to the situation and the drama ratchets up nicely.

I’m not sure the time jumping was strictly necessary and I think I would have given this film another star if there wasn’t as much of it. As far as the performances go all the actors deliver but Caitlin Gerard is exceptionally believable in her role and Julia Goldani Telles really shines every time she is on screen.

If you are looking for a suspenseful and intense film with a good amount of horror this is worth watching. But if you need more action or a faster pace, this one is skippable. It’s definitely not the worst horror film on Netflix but it’s also not the best. If you’ve seen everything else, give it a go.

Windily yours,

Slick Dungeon

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An Interview with Zamil Akhtar Author of Gunmetal Gods and Conqueror’s Blood

Conqueror’s Blood by Zamil Akhtar

Hey internet people, it’s me, Slick Dungeon! Even in my dusty old dungeon I occasionally find a gem or two that shines brightly. Even better, occasionally an amazing author will drop by and let me chat with them for a bit. Today I was able to interview Zamil Akhtar, an author who earned from me not one, but two, five star reviews. He’s written Gunmetal Gods and the follow up to it Conqueror’s Blood. You should all check out his books and give them a read if you haven’t. Thanks Zamil for joining me and let’s get right into the interview!

Slick: You’ve described your first book as “Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights”. I’d say that’s quite an accurate description, although your books are more than a simple mashup of two books. They have their own feel and characters but are reminiscent of both of those worlds. What appealed to you about merging these worlds?

Zamil:  Whenever I would read A Song of Ice and Fire or watch Game of Thrones, I’d be mesmerized by the worldbuilding. It was one of the first fantasy worlds that to me felt both real and wondrous. I knew that it was mostly inspired by English history, and so as a writer desired to do something similar but based on Middle Eastern history. Whenever writing a fantasy story based on the Middle East, Arabian Nights is a great place to start for inspiration because it has so much lore. So I brought the politicking, wars, and historicity from Game of Thrones and then took the fantastical elements like djinns and simurghs and general feel of the world from Arabian Nights.

Slick: Your first book was mostly told from the point of view of two men who were set on a path to war for various reasons. Your second book is told from the point of view of two women. What made you decide to go that route? Did you find writing from certain perspectives easier than others?

Zamil: The idea for the sequel was to show a different side to war. While the first book is viewed from the perspectives of fighting men and generals, the second book takes the perspective of those not fighting the wars directly but rather causing them. I wanted to tell a more layered story that focused on politicking, intrigue, and mystery. The two women who are the main characters of Conqueror’s Blood just grew out of that idea naturally, as did the harem setting and all the factions involved. I found writing Zedra most challenging because motherhood is a huge part of her character and not having children myself I don’t have those direct insights.

Slick: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you have a routine or do you just sit down when inspiration strikes?

Zamil: When I’m working on a project, I try to write every day, no matter what. It’s like a car battery — if you don’t use it, it goes dead and then it’s difficult to jump start. So I will write as soon as I wake up and have my coffee ready. Normally I’ll aim for a minimum of 2500 words a day, but when I really get going I can hit 7000 words a day.

Slick: That’s an impressive word count!

Slick: When I first read Gunmetal Gods it reminded me of a book I read recently and loved, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. Would you say that book was an influence on your writing? And do you have any book recommendations of other authors that you really enjoy?

Zamil: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is one of my favorite books. It’s the book that taught me how to describe food. It’s the best prose writing I’ve ever experienced and I’ve never felt so transported to a different world since reading it. Saladin Ahmed is doing great things with Marvel but I still wish he’d write a sequel. There are too many other authors I could name, but I’ll just plug Suzannah Rowntree who is also writing Middle Eastern fantasy. Her book A Wind from the Wilderness, which is about a Syrian boy from the 7th century who time travels hundreds of years into the future to the time of the First Crusade, was a SPFBO finalist in 2020.

Slick: I’m still waiting for the sequel to Throne of the Crescent Moon too. I’ve added Suzannah Rowntree’s book to my TBR list and I hope others check her out as well.

Slick: One of the things that stands out to me in your stories is when we see an intensely personal moment where a character has a personal connection with another and moments later we can be seeing the most terrifying gods and creatures coming almost out of nowhere to just do what they want. How do you balance the personal stories with the cosmic powers in your books? Do you find writing one type of scene more enjoyable than the other?

Zamil: The scenes where characters interact tend to come more naturally to me than the cosmic horror scenes, but I enjoy writing both and I love contrasting them. I think even right now, a giant space monster could appear over earth and just start destroying our cities — it’s not impossible because we don’t know what’s out there in the insanely vast cosmos. Then you would realize how insignificant that argument you just had was…which is what I want the characters to reflect on.

Slick: Well, now I’m picturing a space monster come to devour us… To be fair, if that happened, I would be much less concerned with meeting a deadline at work.

Slick: While Conqueror’s Blood is a direct sequel to Gunmetal Gods, I didn’t feel like a reader had to have read the first volume to enjoy this one. Why did you decide to switch from the more expected route, where we might be following along from the point of view of Kevah and his journey?

Zamil: I knew from the time I was writing the ending of Gunmetal Gods that the sequel would not have Kevah as a main character. I wrote Gunmetal Gods to function as a standalone, so Kevah had a resolution to his story by the end and thus couldn’t be the driving force for the next book. As a writer, I also enjoy doing something different with each book, so I suppose readers should expect the unexpected going forward.

Slick: Kind of like expecting a giant space monster to start destroying our cities. I’m looking forward to being surprised by your writing in the future.

Slick: Do you have plans to continue this series of books and if so do you have a guess as to when the next volume might be ready?

Zamil: I will definitely continue it. I am aiming for an early to mid 2022 release for Book 3.

Slick: Some of the creatures in your book kept me up late at night with horrible images in my head (that’s something I enjoy by the way). Is there a source of inspiration for the gods and other beings in your book or do they just come from pure imagination?

Zamil: I love watching, reading, and writing horror. My brain is also full of terrifying images from all the horror I’ve consumed throughout my life, and this is something I enjoy too. Cosmic horror is my favorite sub genre, so I’m inspired by the likes of Lovecraft, Jinjo Ito, Stephen King, and others. Growing up in the Middle East, I would hear so many stories about djinns and all the things they would do, some of it being quite benign and others horrific, so that thread also inspires me.

Slick: While there are several characters from the first book that show up in Conqueror’s Blood most of them play a more minor role here. Are there plans for those characters to be featured more prominently once again in later volumes?

Zamil:  Right now I’m in the planning stages for Book 3 so many things are up in the air, but I do love the Book 1 characters and want them to feature prominently. Since my books are about half the length of a typical Song of Ice and Fire novel, I have to be careful how I balance characters so that there are not so many on the page that they all feel insufficiently developed.

Slick: Are there genres outside of fantasy or dark fantasy that you enjoy either reading or writing about?

Zamil: I love science fiction. Right now I’m reading the Three Body Problem series and it’s blowing me away with so many awesome ideas. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to write a hard sci-fi novel as they seem to require a tremendous amount of research and I was never the best at science in school.

Slick: You and me both as far as science goes!

Slick:  What’s one bit of writing advice you would give to aspiring authors?

Zamil: Early on, look to identify the problems in your writing and fix them. Seek criticism from others, have a thick skin, and don’t take things personally. This is how you get better.

Slick: That seems like sound advice to me.

Slick: If people would like to find out more about you and your writing, where should they go? 

Zamil: My website ZamilAkhtar.com is a good place to check out my novels and short stories.

Slick: I’d recommend everyone go there and sign up for your email newsletter as well. I’m on your list and you tend to send out some great content about other authors as well as information about your own books. It’s worth it for sure.

Slick: How can people get a copy of your books?

Zamil: My books are available on Amazon. You can check out my author profile here.

Slick: Any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?

Zamil: Thank you Slick Dungeon and everyone who took a chance on a new author and read Gunmetal Gods. It’s not even been a year since I released it, but what was once a hobby is now a driving force in my life. I hope to bring more awesome stories to the Gunmetal Gods series and other series I’m planning in the near future!

Slick: When you do, I’ll be right there ready to read what you release and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me and I hope we can talk again on your next release.

Well, there you have it folks. go out and get Zamil’s books and try not to think about giant space monsters coming down to destroy our cities.

I bet I can guess what you’re thinking of right now!

Fantastically yours,

Slick Dungeon

(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)

Conqueror’s Blood – #BookReview

Conqueror’s Blood by Zamil Akhtar

SUMMARY

The Kingdom of Alanya is home to mystic warriors and mischievous djinn, vulgar poets and vain philosophers, soaring simurghs and scheming shahs.

Little do the people know that a power struggle between an ancient sorceress and an upstart sultana threatens to bathe the sands in bile and bones. A bloody cauldron boils, and primeval gods laugh whilst they stir it.

As warhorses charge, arrows shower, and cannon shots brighten the night, all must choose a side.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s a tall mountain to climb when you set out to write a second novel. A first novel can grab readers’ attention and generate a lot of buzz if it is good. A second novel has to meet the expectations set out in the first book and then exceed them. Some authors are better than others at achieving this.

Zamil Akhtar’s first novel, Gunmetal Gods showed us a world of armies, magic, terrifying and strange creatures, and personal stories about men whose struggles would change the fate of the world. That book focused on Kevah and Micah who would become entwined in events that shaped history and changed the two of them forever.

The follow up to that book, Conqueror’s Blood is told from the alternating perspectives of Zedra and Cyra, two women who are the center of events that will change a kingdom. Zedra and Cyra are friends and both are connected to the throne of Alanya. Zedra wields more power than one would imagine and she has the power to bend events to her will. Yet Cyra may be stronger than she knows. What the two women do will decide not only the fate of themselves, the ones they love, and the kingdom they call home but also may be the deciding factor in the fate of humanity.

While it’s not strictly necessary to have read Gunmetal Gods in order to enjoy Conqueror’s Blood the reader will have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the events in the current volume if they have read the first volume.

The book is an immensely enjoyable read full of deep characterization, a world that feels complete and alive, creatures that are magnificent and terrifying, has tons of action and political intrigue which will keep you up reading late into the night.

If you love fantasy books like Throne of the Crescent Moon or the Game of Thrones series, Zamil Akhtar is a must-read author. It is a tall mountain to climb to write a second novel. Lucky for readers, Akhtar has laced up his climbing shoes, checked his gear twice, made a plan and carried it out all the way to the summit.

Take my advice and read both Gunmetal Gods and Conqueror’s Blood. The only drawback is there is not yet a third volume. And when there is I’ll be eagerly reading through it.

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Flashbang! Volume II – Available Today!

Flashbang! Volume II Available today June 9th

Hey internet people, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’ve got an exciting announcement for you. This Wednesday June 9th the second volume of flashbang! is available for purchase on DriveThruFiction.com.

What is flashbang! and why are there two 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 second year this workshop has run so this is the second volume.

Why am I so excited about this? There are 41 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 titled Space Walk. 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.

(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.)

Fictionally yours,

Slick Dungeon

Re-Post: Gunmetal Gods – #BookReview

Hey all, since the sequel to this book, Conqueror’s Blood (Gunmetal Gods Book 2) is coming soon and I will be reviewing an advanced copy I wanted to re-post my review of the original. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Gunmetal Gods do yourself a favor and check it out.

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.

SYNOPSIS

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kevah was once a hero who did the impossible. He killed a magus and his legend was born. Ten years later he is old and leads a life averse to warfare but his time will come again. Meanwhile, Micah the Metal has been on a conquest for his faith. He has conquered much of the world and now he comes for Kostany, the city that Kevah lives in. He will stop at nothing to achieve his victory.

When an author is bold enough to name a book Gunmetal Gods, they better deliver the goods with a huge, epic story that is an absolute page turner full of amazing battles, intense political intrigue, and surprises at every turn. That is exactly what author Zamil Akhtar has done.

The parallel stories of Kevah and Micah intertwine and intersect in surprising ways as the world moves with them and around them. As the book progresses, the reader only becomes more engaged in the story as the cast of characters grows.

Battle scenes are fascinating in this book with the combination of swordplay, magic, and technological advancements in the early development of guns. They are vividly described and utterly thrilling to read.

The book is full of well realized characters, a deep culture that is well thought out, incredible creatures and amazing beings that turn the tide of the story and everything else you would want in a fantasy tale. This book easily stands with the best of epic fantasy fiction.

If you love sweeping epics like the Game of Thrones series or Throne of the Crescent Moon, drop whatever else you are reading and pick up this book. It’s as bold as the title and it delivers on all fronts. Remember Zamil Akhtar’s name because if he keeps writing like this, he will be the next well known epic fantasy author to have a global fanbase.

Fantastically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Dawn of the Dead vs. Army of the Dead – A Two-Fisted Double Feature Film Review

Welcome back dungeon crawlers, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’ve been a bit busy this last month so haven’t posted as much as I would like but I’m back to review a pair of zombie films by the same director. My favorite movie monster (and the one I’m actually afraid of) is zombies. There are a million zombie films, shows, books and comic books out there so if you’re a zombie fan, there’s plenty of content to choose from. Zack Snyder has directed not one but two zombie films and although they are not directly related, they are both zombie films so I decided to watch them back to back to see if either one is worth watching. I’ve got my opinion on which one is the one to watch but there will be spoilers for both so you have been warned.

Dawn of the dead

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dawn of the Dead is a “remake” of the incredibly memorable and hard to find on streaming film of the same name. The original was directed by the king of zombies himself, George A. Romero. That film was groundbreaking in its use of the zombie film to make commentary on society and consumerism. In many circles the original film is considered to be one of the best if not the best zombie film ever made. I’m not sure I would go that far on the original but if you have not seen the original and you like zombie films, do what you need to in order to get your eyeballs on it, because it is worth watching.

The Zack Snyder directed remake released in 2004 is not what the original was by a long shot. It’s full of zombie action and gore, stars several of the original cast members in cameos and has a fantastic soundtrack. In other words, it’s all gloss and no substance. I can’t recall a single character name after watching it. There are definitely memorable scenes and I did enjoy the film as a whole but this is no transformative movie going experience. I’m not saying every zombie film should be an in-depth character portrayal that reflects the soul of our world back to us. I’m just saying it would be nice if the film didn’t feel like a ninety minute movie trailer where the best thing about it is each scene delivers a little more shock than the last.

Like the original, the central plot of this film is a group of people from different walks of life end up in a shopping mall at the end of the world and must rely upon one another if they want to survive. Because of some assumptions on the part of the characters there is a lot of conflict and it’s just as likely some of these people will die because of humans as they will from the zombies. The goal for the group is to survive and figure out how to escape the mall without losing their lives in the process.

There are some stand out stars in the film and as always Ving Rhames shines in his role. It’s entertaining to watch him blast zombies with cold hearted proficiency and be realistic enough to want to leave everyone because they are likely to get him killed. Of course he stays with the group.

There are plenty of plot holes in the film but I don’t really think that’s what makes this film disappointing. Rather, I think the problem with it is that it is in no way a new idea when it comes to horror or zombies or… anything. It might as well be a series of vignettes of what someone thinks might be needed to get audiences into theaters to watch a film. It does that job but barely. I’ve certainly seen worse zombie films but I have absolutely seen better. If you’ve seen every other zombie property under the sun and just need a little zombie fix, this film is serviceable, just don’t get too excited over it.

Now that I’ve laid out my feelings on Dawn of the Dead that leads me to….

army of the dead

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Army of the Dead is an original film directed by Zack Snyder made for Netflix. It’s a heist film inside a zombie film and has a star line up including Dave Bautista, Tig Notaro and Ella Purnell.

It’s the end of the so-called “zombie wars” and there is only one hot zone left. Las Vegas is still teeming with the infected but the city has been walled off and is scheduled for nuclear destruction to finally rid the world of zombies.

In the opening sequence we see how the zombie infection originally spread and we see scenes of our cast of misfits kicking zombie butt. It’s a glossy sequence with an Elvis Presley song playing over it but in less than five minutes establishes a large cast of characters quickly and is done well. Soon we meet our heroes who are all living mundane lives again, despite their life saving actions during the zombie wars.

Scott Ward is making a living flipping burgers when a mysterious man offers him a job. There’s still a ton of money left in the Vegas casinos and if Scott and his team can recover it, they will be rich, no taxes to be paid on their earnings.

This sets up the heist adventure and allows the movie to have the required “getting the team together” scene. In this film, I really liked how that played out. Usually with these things there’s at least one character who has to think about it and is barely convinced to come despite all the good reasons for doing it. In this one everyone jumps at the chance and the sequence ends up not only being funny but unexpected.

I don’t want to spoil too much of this film but suffice it to say that there being zombies in the hot zone of Vegas where the characters need to be is not nearly the only threat. It turns out there are smarter, faster, and armed zombies here who have an army.

Things go awry and the team is going to have to try to escape.

Unlike Dawn of the Dead there are several quiet character moments. Some of them do seem rushed but overall I felt like I got to know at least a few of these characters and could understand why they were in the movie. And the way Tig Notaro played her character is going to go down in zombie film history as the perfect way to deliver dry, dead pan humor that works in a zombie film. She actually gets some of the best lines in the whole film.

Now, the idea of a heist film inside of a zombie film is not one hundred percent original, there have been other films that do something similar. The idea of smarter, faster zombies is not new either. But there is enough new or mashed up here that the film feels like an original idea. The action is good albeit predictable and it adds up to a really fun ride.

While this film may not be as worth watching as the original Dawn of the Dead it is absolutely worth watching.

If you’re trying to decide on Snyder’s zombie films go with Army of the Dead.

Do you have a favorite zombie film? If so, let me know what it is in the comments.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Heir to the Darkmage – #BookReview

Heir to the Darkmage by Lisa Cassidy

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.

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SUMMARY

Ambition drives her. Danger thrills her. But magic always has a price.

Twenty years have passed since the Darkmage was destroyed and the war between mages ended. For Lira Astor, the single living heir to the Darkmage, escaping her name is impossible. People still fear what is long dead, and they see in her the rise of another dangerous mage with deadly ambition. Desperate to claw her way free of her grandfather’s shadow, to make her own name amongst the world of mages, Lira is willing to do whatever it takes. Even if that means joining the secretive rebel group looking to restore his vision.

Survival is a lesson Lira learned early and often, yet when she is abducted and held prisoner in a deadly game of cat and mouse, she finds herself facing a nemesis she may be no match for. Forced to band together with unlikely allies who challenge everything she believes about what it means to be a mage, she will have to rely on every bit of ruthlessness she possesses.

Because the war may only just be beginning…
…and Lira Astor intends to come out on top.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Imagine being the heir to the most hated and feared mage ever known. You’d have to grow up with everyone knowing your name and what your ancestor did. Everyone hates and fears the name of Lira Astor’s grandfather and though she has never met the man, people have judged Lira based on her lineage alone. She grows up on the streets learning to survive with her wits and not much else.

When she is finally accepted to mage school life gets a bit more comfortable, although Lira still has difficulty trusting anyone considering her painful past. She’s learned to place surviving above all else. This will come in handy when she and several other students are mysteriously abducted and face life-threatening challenges. To top all of it off, she’s agreed to do a job for the organization that wants to restore her grandfather’s vision. She’s going to have to rely on all her instincts to survive and perhaps do the one thing she swore never to do again in her life–rely on others to help her.

Heir to the Darkmage takes on an interesting premise. What if a student at a magic school was a relative of the worst kind of mage there was? Lira can’t change who she is or who she is related to but that doesn’t stop most people from judging her without even knowing anything about her.

The book moves back and forth in time to the days when Lira is left alone on the streets to fend for herself and to the dangerous situation she currently finds herself in. Overall, the book works very well and is quite entertaining. It was occasionally distracting to hop back in time or go forward just at an exciting moment but it’s still engaging enough that it is very much worth reading.

Fans of fantasy books with mysteries and action at their core will love this book. There are strange creatures, powerful mages, and life on the mean streets. This was my first read of a Lisa Cassidy book but now that I have read about Lira I’m much more likely to check out some of her previous books. If you’re a fan of hers already, I think you will enjoy this one. Even if you are not, I think this is a good entry point as it doesn’t leave the reader feeling like they need to read any previous books to fully enjoy this one.

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Children of Jade – #BookReview

Children of Jade by Morgan Cole

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

Driven by the fear of losing the woman he loves, Annuweth Sandaros has betrayed his family and united himself to a conspiracy that has plunged the Empire of Navessea into civil war…a war that has cost the lives of some of his sister’s loved ones.

Determined to bring her brother to justice, Marilia Sandara pursues Annuweth and his allies with the same relentless tenacity that has made her a legend on the battlefield. But as the bodies begin to mount and Navessea begins to crumble, she will be forced to reckon with the price of her vengeance.

A story of love, loss and redemption, Children of Jade is the highpoint of The Chrysathamere Trilogy…and also a Last of Us style revenge saga that stands on its own.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Marilia Sandara is a respected strategist, military leader, and legend in her own time. She never expected the betrayal of her own brother and now she wants to bring him to justice. She’s lost friends, family, and good people who have fought for her cause. At every turn, she is surrounded by enemies and the odds are never in her favor. Even so, she is on a quest for vengeance and may go too far. Is she truly seeking justice or just looking for revenge?

Annuweth Sandaros has committed an act of betrayal of his own sister. But even Annuweth isn’t sure who to trust and what consequences his own actions have. He’s at risk of losing the woman he loves and choosing the wrong side in his fight. It seems like he is on the edge of either gaining everything he wants or losing everything that matters.

Children of Jade is the third book in the Chrysathamere Trilogy. Like the books before it in the series, this book has everything you would want from an epic fantasy book. There is a ton of action, a complex network of characters, a rich and developed world, and deep emotions. Although there are characters who do bad things, they all have their reasons making the world feel rich and complex, and vivid.

While this is the third book in the series, the author Morgan Cole, puts a nice summary of the previous books at the beginning. This is helpful to the reader who is new to the series and is helpful to someone who has already read the books because quite a lot of story has already happened and it can be difficult to remember all of it.

The twists and turns are surprising and unforgettable. The series overall is phenomenal and this book is no exception.

If you like sweeping epic fantasy where choices can be morally gray, there is a large cast of characters, and don’t mind extremely vivid descriptions of bloodshed, especially in battle, this book is one hundred percent for you. Fans of Game of Thrones or Throne of the Crescent Moon are sure to find something to love here. This is one I have to say is a must read.

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