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.

(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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Arcadia Issue #3 From MCDM – Review

Arcadia Issue #3 from MCDM

Hello dungeon creatures and crawlers, it’s me Slick Dungeon. Is it time for me to gush about how amazing MCDM studio’s Arcadia magazine for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is? Let me check my watch. Yep, it’s that time. The third issue of the super awesome Dungeons & Dragons magazine Arcadia by MCDM is out! I took a look at all the articles and want to give you my hot takes so far. If you don’t know what Arcadia is and you want to learn more about it before reading about issue #3 you can start at the beginning and check out my post for issue #1 here.

This magazine has proven to be overwhelmingly popular and in my opinion is one of the best returns on investment in any D&D product out there at the moment. One thing I love is that in every issue so far there has been at least one adventure you could use as a one shot with your gaming group. This issue is no exception and I hope that trend continues.

I also want to reiterate that I have no association with MCDM in any way whatsoever, I just think that their products are top notch and worth every penny if you love playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. That being said, if you want to pick up the first, second or third issue of Arcadia you can do it here. If you buy them together you can get them discounted as a bundle for $6 a piece instead of $7.

Arcadia #3 Announcement

Alright, enough about me telling you how to buy the awesome stuff, let me review the awesome stuff. Once again, there will be some spoilers as to what is in the issue but I won’t give too much away. To get the full story you definitely need to buy the magazine. Also like last time I will give each article a grade.

The artwork

What can I say? I don’t think this magazine would work half as well as it does without the absolutely fantastic artwork involved here. For three out of three issues I have to give this an A+. the images are interesting and strange and somehow combine both the modern and old school feel of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s incredible how good this stuff is. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this cover art by Justin Gerard. If this doesn’t spark your imagination for about a million campaign adventure ideas, I don’t know what will. If you want to check out more of Justin’s artwork check out his website here. Again, I don’t have any affiliation with this artist, I just think it’s super cool.

Arcadia #3 Cover artwork by Justin Gerard

Article #1 The Dreamkin

The Dreamkin gives us three new ancestries based on dreams in one way or another. There are Lucidlings who are the offspring of aberrations, Sandspeakers who can enter the dreams of others, and Somnians who are dream architects and can craft illusions and assume nightmarish forms.

All three of these ancestries are strange and interesting and if you happen to have someone in your party who can cast sleep, I think any of these beings could play a major role in a campaign.

While they are strange and wonderful ancestries, they are going to be of limited use in certain types of campaigns. If you are in a setting where there are no aberrations, a Lucidling isn’t going to work. If you have a campaign where most of the monsters have high wisdom, the Somnian’s Nightmare action is going to be much less effective.

If you are playing a campaign involving Stone Giants who can’t really understand the difference between waking and sleeping, these ancestries could be majorly fun to play.

While these ancestries are situational for the most part they are quite well designed and I personally would love to play a Somnian at some point.

All in all this was a fantastic article and if you are looking for a completely new ancestry, this is it. I give it a B+ for a normal campaign but an A+ for a campaign in which dreams and dreaming feature heavily.

Article #2 – Ten Spells You Need in 5e

There are a lot of us out there who love playing 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons who also remember some great old spells that used to be in the game. This article takes ten of those classic spells and updates them for this newest edition.

I’m always a sucker for a good spell that can be used to give a magic wielder advantage. Not all spells are created equal however and some can give a player or Dungeon Master a decidedly meh feeling.

Not all of the spells here are winners but there are enough of them that I am excited about for this to be a solid offering in the magazine. I think my favorite might be Attract Metal. I can see that used in conjunction with Heat Metal from the Player’s Handbook to be a deadly combo an armored foe won’t be able to escape. I also like Rainbow Recurve which is a lot like Chromatic Orb with a power up. Glitter Dust, although neat, is not one I’m that keen on as there are other existing spells that give the same effect but if you love the idea of glitter bombing an enemy, it’s perfect for you. Another of my favorites is Walking Dead. If you’ve ever felt like you needed your campaign to have a Weekend at Bernie’s session this spell is exactly what you need. Entertainment gold right there.

The spells here are diverse enough that Bards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Sorcerers, Wizard and Warlocks all can use at least one of these spells. The Wizard benefits most here which makes sense because… Wizard.

While I like a lot of these spells some of them do feel a bit simply re-skinned so for this article I am giving it a B- overall but there are some good spells here so it’s kind of a pick and choose what you love here.

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

Article #3 – Aces High New Rules for Aerial Combat

I’m usually pretty cautious about articles that claim they will make the use of written rules easier and then have tables with a bunch of modifiers in them. Sometimes authors make the mistake of creating a new rule set that is simply different from the original but no less difficult to manage.

If you’ve ever done aerial combat in a campaign you will know that the rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are confusing and fairly difficult to adjudicate and sort of slow the game down. (At least that has been my experience) And if you have a player who is into airplanes, zephyrs and the like, they’re sure to tell you how this combat you’re running is nothing like a real dog fight in mid-air would be.

I took a look at the rules in the DMG and compared them with the ones written in Aces High and I have to say, the Aces High rules win by a huuuuuuuge margin here. If you buy this issue of Arcadia and are intimidated by the tables found in this article, don’t be. These rules add a lot of excitement and verisimilitude to the game. I think it does help if you have read some of the war rules for Strongholds and Followers to have a full understanding of how these rules work but it’s not strictly necessary.

And while the rules are super helpful, one thing that really pushes this article over the top is that there is a sample encounter using these rules right in the article. It’s a nice little test you can use at your own table and if you hate these rules and prefer the DMG, you won’t have wasted too much time on it.

Usually in Arcadia there is at least one article I say is worth the price of admission. In the previous two articles I would say those were the adventures given. This time I have to give that honor to this simplified and more exciting rule set for aerial combat. This article provides a solution for a problem a lot of DM’s run into and actually makes the DM’s life just a little easier. For that reason I give this article a full A+.

Article #4 – A Diamond in the Rough

A Diamond in the Rough is a roleplay and intrigue adventure for 3rd-level characters. It’s essentially a mystery about who or what is thieving from a family of nobles.

Reviewing this one is a little tricky because I don’t want to give anything away in case anyone plays this as a player but I still need to describe it so people can know if they would be interested in the adventure.

Reading through this one it reminded me of a game of clue (but about theft rather than murder) with a Dungeons & Dragons twist to it.

The adventure has three parts, a solid map with 12 locations and has at least 2 suggested conclusions. There are several NPC’s that I could see being used not just in this adventure but showing up from time to time in a full campaign.

I’m not sure how coincidental it was that a mystery came out in Arcadia the same month that Candlekeep Mysteries was released but this does feel like it would be at home in a campaign full of mysteries.

There are suggestions for ways to make some of the clues either easier or harder to find for players which I think is important for an adventure like this as no two gaming groups are going to be alike in how they solve a mystery. I do think this adventure takes a bit of DM skill in order to navigate it successfully however. It’s got a lot of potential and I think could be great for those groups who love a good mystery. If you’re not into having mysteries at your table this is not for you but I think you could still pull an NPC or two out of here for use at your own game.

While I like the concept and the NPC’s here quite a bit some of this adventure feels a bit predictable. I think it will be on DM’s to adapt and there will need to be some work put in here.

For this article I am giving it a solid B.

Overall

MCDM is batting a thousand with these issues. It’s clear that the effort and care put into each article is thought about and cultivated until they have the best product they can deliver. I was a little late in reviewing this issue this month but I don’t think I will let a month pass me by where I don’t buy this magazine as long as they keep making it. I think with enough time and issues an entire campaign could be worked out just using articles and adventures from Arcadia. I’m tempted to try to string something together myself already and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are DM’s out there who already have.

Once again, if you haven’t picked up Arcadia, I don’t know what else to tell you other than if you play 5th edition it is one hundred percent worth the money.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Old School RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

The Gods Themselves – #BookReview

Hi everyone, Slick Dungeon here and I finally finished reading a book recommended to me by a friend. This crosses off one of my book challenges for the year. If you’ve read this or if you are following along with my reading challenge this year let me know your thoughts in the comments. This time I read The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov.

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

In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands: an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by the aliens. But even free energy has a price. The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of the Earth’s Sun—and of Earth itself.

Only a few know the terrifying truth—an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant of a dying planet, a lunar-born human intuitionist who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun. They know the truth—but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy—but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to Earth’s survival.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Gods Themselves is set in the far future when humanity makes a breakthrough in contact with other universes. It seems that there is a parallel universe that is able to exchange materials with us giving us what seems to be an unlimited amount of energy that can propel our society forward forever.

As nice as that sounds, doing things come at a cost. Science could investigate and find out the answers of whether or not this energy is dangerous to us but the prospect of all the energy at our fingertips is too tempting to question for those who benefit from it.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first section we learn about the existence of a parallel universe and how one scientist took credit for the discovery although he really didn’t understand it. A young scientist looking to investigate further discovers there are major flaws, including the destruction of the universe, that will happen if no one does anything about the problem. It’s not easy for him to go against popular opinion and there is a good part of him that just wants to prove the man taking credit for the discovery is wrong.

In the second section of the book we go to the parallel universe and learn about three creatures who learn about the energy transference. It’s very alien and reads like something far removed from humanity but is still extremely relevant to the situation.

The third part takes us to the moon where the scientist who learned of the danger is now doing work. He realizes that not only does he need to point out the danger of the free energy, he needs to come up with a comparable solution. This is no easy task but he is as determined as can be.

Every time I read Asimov, I am blown away by how good he was at predicting what the future would hold. This book feels as on point to our current world problems as can be. I think the best example is a quote from the third section of the book. Our hero is speaking to a woman on the moon who doesn’t understand why people on Earth would ignore potential danger from the free energy source.

“But why should they want it, if it means death?”

“All they have to do is refuse to believe it means death. The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.”

If that doesn’t sum up everything from climate to politics to health care, I don’t know what does.

That’s not to say that everything in this book is perfect. There is a reason in this review I didn’t name the characters. As far as personality and character development they are all fairly forgettable. The situation is intriguing and engrossing and that is enough to make this worth a read but the characters are not what sells the story here. Secondly, the characters that do have a strong personality are the ones in the parallel universe and they seem to just be forgotten about by the end of the book. It would have been nice to have a little more wrap up with them.

All in all, I highly recommend reading this book. I tend to recommend Asimov to anyone though so take that as you will.

If you are doing my book challenge this year and need to read a book recommended by a friend, you can consider me a friend who recommends The Gods Themselves.

To conclude, I think I will just leave a little Asimov gem here which was his dedication for the book.

“To mankind, and the hope that the war against folly may someday be won after all.” – Isaac Asimov

Scientifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Slick Dungeon’s 2021 Challenge Check-in!

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here, hoping March was an amazing month for you and that April will be even better.

(Note that there are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase anything through these links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you)

In January I put out three challenges for this year, one for books, one for movies and one that combined books, movies and role playing games. I wanted to take today to see if anyone has done any of the challenges and update everyone on my own progress.

As a reminder, if you complete any of the three challenges and talk about it on your blog, I will review anything in that category that you want me to and post that review on my blog with a link to your blog.

Don’t worry if you haven’t started, each of my challenges is only 12 items long and there is still plenty of the year to go.

In case you want to participate and still need the challenges, just take a look at this post and download yourself a neat little PDF or three.

Now, the moment you have all been waiting for, how did I, Slick Dungeon do on my own challenges in March? Let’s find out.

Challenge 1: Book Challenge

For the second month in a row, I did not make my book challenge. I am going to try to make reading a bit more of a priority for April. I make no promises though because I am a pretty slow reader. That being said below are the books I intend to read this month for my challenge.

This is a book recommended to me by a friend and I am about two thirds of the way through it so hopefully I will be reviewing it soon. That was the challenge from way back in February but this month is the month I will get this done!

For March the challenge I wanted to take on was a book you swore you would never read. I haven’t quite finished it but I am close. I am reading none other than Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I definitely have some thoughts about it and I’ll be sure to let you know what those are so stay tuned.

Challenge 2: Movie Challenge

My challenge this month was to watch a movie that scares me. I remembered being terrified by the film Phantasm when I was a kid and wanted to revisit it. If you want to check out my review of it, take a look at this post.

Challenge 3: Read-Watch-Play Challenge

This month for the Read-Watch-Play challenge, I did one of the play challenges. I had a little trouble getting a group together so I went with a solo campaign called The Executioner’s Daughter. Check out my review for it here.

Well, that’s it for March. Let’s hope I will be able to complete all the challenges in April. Here’s what I am going to be attempting.

  1. A book recommended by a friend (left over from February)
  2. A book you swore you would never read (left over from March)
  3. A book that has a BIPOC author or protagonist
  4. A movie with an ambiguous ending
  5. Read a book with a quest

Good luck to the rest of you out there and if you have decided to participate, feel free to let me know how it is going in the comments!

If you would like to download any of the challenges you can do that on the original post or right below.

Challengingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Book Challenge
Movie Challenge
Read-Watch-Play Challenge

The Executioner’s Daughter: Dungeons & Dragons Solo Adventure Review

The Executioner’s Daughter, Part 1 of the Tribunal Trilogy by Ashley Warren

Hey Everyone, Slick Dungeon here. If you are like me you love playing Dungeons & Dragons. Also, if you are like me, you can’t always get a group together to play. So what do you do? Find a solo adventure you can play by yourself. I found myself in this situation recently so I decided to play The Executioner’s Daughter by Ashley Warren who writes some fantastic RPG material you can purchase on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

(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)

What’s a solo adventure for Dungeons & Dragons you say? Simple. It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure book but where instead of making decisions you roll up a character sheet and roll some dice to find out what happens.

These types of adventures have become increasingly popular in the last year for obvious reasons. Never let the lack of a group stop you from enjoying your favorite TTRPG. Now, on to the review.

The Executioner’s Daughter is an adventure meant for a 3rd level character. This can be played by one person alone or is easily adapted to have a Dungeon Master and a single player.

The adventure is rich with detail and has some pretty cool twists and turns. I chose to be a 3rd level Aasimar Paladin because I had never played that race or class before. I found the combat challenging (mostly because I somehow managed to roll really well against myself and really poorly for my character). I will say that the adventure tends to lean toward the good side of alignment but you can play as whatever you want.

The setting is a place called Soldra that has a history of fighting dragons but at a price. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory here but basically Soldra has survived for years by sacrificing a young woman from the city every year to Bahamut the dragon god. Things must be going relatively well because there hasn’t been a dragon attack on the city in years. The ceremony where this selection happens does not go as planned this time and that is where your character comes into play.

Conveniently, all of the stat blocks you need to play are included right in the module so there’s no awkward pausing to find something in the Monster Manual just to continue playing.

While it is a bit odd rolling against yourself for combat, I got used to it pretty quickly.

The artwork is high quality and it helps to make the adventure feel truly immersive.

There are some drawbacks to the module. First, if you have never played D&D before, this could prove challenging because the module assumes you know how to make a 3rd level character. Since that’s outside the scope of what the module is trying to achieve, I don’t hold it against the creator. I just thought it would be fair to warn anyone who might purchase this that it’s not for totally inexperienced players.

The module is text heavy and does seem to assume a couple things about your character. Mostly it assumes that you want to get in on the action somehow. Since it would be a pretty boring adventure without getting involved, I can’t really hold that against the module either. But due to this it can feel a little bit like thee outcomes are inevitable.

Overall, including the time it took me to make a character, this adventure took me about 2 hours to play. I am sure some people will go faster and others will take longer.

So, what’s the cost of this little adventure and is it worth getting? I have good news for you. This is a steal at only 99 cents. It’s technically a Pay What You Want title on the DM’s Guild but I paid the full price and I think it was worth every penny. If you are interested and want to buy it, click on one of the links to it above or click this link here.

Not only did playing this fill my time and give me a couple hours of fun, it also crossed off one of my challenges for my read-watch-play challenge. To check that out take a look at this post or download the challenge here for free.

I should also mention that this is part one of a trilogy. I plan to play all three and review them on this blog so if you are interested, stay tuned and I will let you know how they go. I feel like there is a lot of story potential in this first one so I am looking forward to the next adventure in the series.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Phantasm – #MovieReview

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hey horror film fanatics, it’s me, Slick Dungeon. Today I am going to review the first film in one of the weirdest and most unique horror franchises ever, Phantasm.

This is part of my film challenge for the year and it checks off the box, watch a movie that scares you. If you want to participate in the movie challenge you can download it right here. If you want to check out all my challenges for the year, check out this post.

Phantasm sits in an unusual place in horror. It’s a slasher film but it’s also a sci-fi film. When I was a kid, I remember watching this and being terrified. I wanted to revisit it to see if it held up and was as creepy as I remembered. I am going to give some spoilers below. This is a movie that a lot of people have not seen so I won’t give away anything too major but if you are interested in seeing it I would recommend doing that before you read the review. You’ve been warned.

In a small little town in the 1970’s a man is murdered by a woman in the middle of a cemetery. The victim is Tommy who is friends with Reggie and Jody. Jody and his little brother Mike are the stars of the film, although all of the characters shown have important roles to play. Tommy getting stabbed to death in the cemetery at the beginning of the film might be the most normal thing that happens in the whole movie.

Mike sees the tall man who runs the cemetery pick up Tommy’s coffin all by himself and load it into a hearse. The Tall Man is played brilliantly by Angus Scrimm who has a face and demeanor that is sure to be memorable. Unlike other slasher villains, The Tall Man doesn’t need a mask to be terrifying. It’s all in his face.

Soon Mike is telling his brother strange things are going on at the cemetery. There are odd sounds, creatures that may or may not be resurrected bodies and floating spheres of death that can come flying at anyone who is poking around the cemetery.

In one sense this plays out like a normal slasher film. People are at risk of death and have to escape the situation and try to kill the killer. The interesting thing about this film is the tone is utterly menacing and although the reveals at the end might seem to be odd to viewers, for the most part they work. The movie also views somewhat like an art film. There are parts that no matter how many times you watch them, they don’t quite make sense. In the end it doesn’t matter. The effects don’t hold up that well and as an adult it’s pretty easy to see how they made the scares happen. But there is no mistaking the menace in The Tall Man. And the silver death spheres are still frightening in my opinion.

If you are not a horror fan I don’t think it’s necessary to seek this one out. But if you like horror and you want something that is a little more surreal than normal and something that isn’t just your standard killer invades a home type of horror, consider checking this one out. Even if it doesn’t scare you at all, I guarantee there will be something here that you will remember long after viewing.

If you have watched this one, especially recently, let me know what you thought of it in the comments.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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#31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1 – #BookReview

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

Imagine immersing yourself in a world of unimaginable horrors for a month. Now imagine doing it every year for 16 years. Horror critic Robert J Gannon does it ever year. The #31Days challenge is to watch and review a different horror property–film, TV series, book, game, play, etc.–every day for the month of October.

In this newly revised and expanded collection of essays, Robert J Gannon celebrates the horror genre with a focus on film and television. #31Days features 65 essays and reviews covering everything from Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” series to the anthology horror show “Masters of Horror.” This non-fiction collection follows the spirit of Sketching Details, Robert’s long-running entertainment media criticism website. Horror deserves the same level of respect and analysis as any other genre. Robert J Gannon has built a career out of analyzing and sharing a passion for genre fiction–horror, sci-fi, and fantasy–and he’s ready to show the world in his debut non-fiction collection.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Every year Robert Ganon spends 31 days in October consuming and reviewing different types of horror media. His most recent critical reviews are collected in #31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1. These reviews focus on film from a wide range of horror history with everything from the Phantasm series to Death Note and even has a healthy smattering of documentary and reality show material he has reviewed.

Horror fans will be glad to know that Ganon does a good job of avoiding major spoilers in any of his reviews. Another thing many fans of horror will appreciate is the content warning he gives for each review. This makes it much easier to know if a particular show or movie might not be right for you.

Most of the reviews are objective and Ganon clearly knows his history of horror and what does and does not work well in a visual horror story. He does tend to lean towards films and shows that can be a bit experimental. If you are a horror fan who has seen everything under the sun you will likely appreciate some of the more rare findings he speaks about. For fans of more popular films and shows, Ganon has several of those in there as well so anyone who does like horror is bound to find at minimum one thing worth watching.

If you don’t happen to be a fan of the Phantasm film series you may want to skip those reviews as he does go through every single film. However, in my opinion, and Mr. Ganon’s that series is majorly undervalued by media critics at large and is worth a viewing. He sums up its place in film history very well.

One other thing that is refreshing about these reviews is that they are at times intimate and personal. One of the stand out reviews is about a documentary that was made touching upon the homophobia surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Stree 2: Freddy’s Revenge. It’s not often that you find such thoughtful criticism of horror in general and it’s a great touch here in #31Days: A Collection of Horror Essays, Vol. 1.

Fans of horror would all do well to give this book a look. You’re not going to like everything in it but if you are a fan of horror at all there is something here for you. If Mr. Ganon decides to put out another book for next October I will be getting myself a copy to see what in the world of horror is worth my time.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS REVIEW CONSIDER BUYING ME A KINDLE BOOK BY MAKING A ONE TIME DONATION

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Slick Dungeon’s 2021 Challenge Check-in!

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here, hoping February was an amazing month for you and that March will be even better.

(Note that there are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase anything through these links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you)

In January I put out three challenges for this year, one for books, one for movies and one that combined books, movies and role playing games. I wanted to take today to see if anyone has done any of the challenges and update everyone on my own progress.

As a reminder, if you complete any of the three challenges and talk about it on your blog, I will review anything in that category that you want me to and post that review on my blog with a link to your blog.

Don’t worry if you haven’t started, each of my challenges is only 12 items long and there is still plenty of the year to go.

In case you want to participate and still need the challenges, just take a look at this post and download yourself a neat little PDF or three.

Now, the moment you have all been waiting for, how did I, Slick Dungeon do on my own challenges in February? Let’s find out.

Challenge 1: Book Challenge

Ack, this one is the one I failed at this month. I did get a book recommended to me and I have started reading it. It’s by one of my favorite authors Isaac Asimov and is called The Gods Themselves. I’m about half way done so there should be a review for it in the next week or two here. In case you want to get it for yourself, check it out below.

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Assimov

Challenge 2: Movie Challenge

My challenge this month was to watch three films by the same director. I went with 3 early Alfred Hitchcock films. Challenge completed on this one woohoo! If you want to know what I thought about the movies check out the posts for them below.

  1. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
  2. Rich and Strange
  3. The Secret Agent

Challenge 3: Read-Watch-Play Challenge

This month for the Read-Watch-Play challenge, I did one of the watch challenges. I chose to watch (well re-watch) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While I love the book and I enjoy the film well enough, I think there is considerable room for improvement in the film. Check out my review for it here.

Well, that’s two out of three for February. Let’s hope I will be able to complete all the challenges in March. Here’s what I am going to be attempting.

  1. A book recommended by a friend (left over from February)
  2. A book you swore you would never read
  3. A movie that scares you
  4. Play a Dungeons & Dragons one shot adventure

Good luck to the rest of you out there and if you have decided to participate, feel free to let me know how it is going in the comments.

Challengingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – #MovieReview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey all you dungeon dwellers out there, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review another movie for one of my 2021 challenges. This time I watched a movie with a dragon in it for my read-watch-play challenge. If you don’t know what that challenge is or you want to play along you can find all the details here. I decided to go with one of the most famous dragons of all time, Smaug who appears in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

If you have read this blog much at all you will know that it is no secret I enjoy fantasy. My favorite fantasy author of all time is J.R.R. Tolkien. I love the writing and the world he builds. Every time I read something of his I feel immersed in it and I am wrapped up in the story whether it is humorous, adventurous, whimsical or dramatic. To me it’s the kind of work that I would always want to see on film, after I have read the story.

I have to preface my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by saying I don’t hate this movie. My review might sound that way but it’s more accurate to say I hate parts of this movie. There are some wonderful things here that are hard not to like. Matin Freeman makes the perfect Bilbo with just enough attitude to make the character work. In my mind no actor will ever replace Ian McKellen as Gandalf and it brings my heart joy to see him reprise his role for this series. And the look of the film is gorgeous and it’s easy to believe the characters are standing in Middle Earth.

I like the opening although I have mixed feelings about having Frodo appear at all in this but the way that Peter Jackson connects the films is more or less fine.

I love the “Good morning” conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo and it plays out almost exactly like the book. I like the way the dwarves come to Bilbo’s door that plays out almost just like the book. I like the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum that plays out almost just like the book.

However, there is a lot in this movie to dislike. There are random character threads that were thrown in for no reason, there is a goblin antagonist that just feels tacked on, there are times when the film takes itself far too seriously and no one who made the film seemed to realize that since The Hobbit is 1. a single book and 2. much shorter than the Lord of the Rings books we did not need to stretch this out into three films.

I think I can sum up my main objection to this movie in a single word. Whimsy. If you read the book, it is chock full of whimsy. There’s a bit of adventure in there and a good dose of humor but whimsical is what the book is. That’s something that is nearly impossible to film. It’s hard enough to capture comedy at all but whimsy is elusive anywhere other than in a book. And in a book it’s still pretty hard to find. There simply is not enough whimsy in this film. There are moments of it, like when the dwarves are tossing dishes around in Bilbo’s house, although to be honest, even that feels a bit forced. The best example is Gandalf asking Bilbo, “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?” The exchange establishes that Gandalf does not play by the common set of societal rules. The fact that Bilbo sort of goes along with it shows he has the potential to change but hasn’t done so yet. Then in the book he goes on this magical journey with colorful characters and it’s simply a great time all around. We didn’t need a tragic backstory overemphasized with dramatic music and helicopter shots to convey the feeling of the book. In fact that fights against the feeling of the book.

The film is still watchable, I just have to set aside the fact that it strays from the book so much. I understand that some people think that might be biased because movies can be better than books. In this case, I am not of the opinion the film is superior to the source material. I just don’t understand some of the choices that were made in the filming and it feels kind of like a manipulative money grab for anyone who was a fan of the Lord of the Rings films. I would have much preferred a shorter, more whimsical film that wasn’t trying to pull in an already established audience. I hope that at some point the perfect film adaptation of thee book is made but until then this is the closest we can get. You do have to slog through two more movies to get the whole story but again, it’s the best adaptation available.

If you decide to watch this movie or re-watch it if you have already seen it let me make one small suggestion. After you do so, go read the book and get swept up in the beloved children’s classic that will have a place in my heart forever.

Whimsically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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The Secret Agent – #MovieReview

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Hello out there internet people, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’m back to review the third film from my film challenge for this month. This is the third movie in a row I have watched from director Alfred Hitchcock. If you want to play along with the film challenge you can find it here.

There are going to be a few spoilers below so be forewarned.

Secret Agent is a film from 1936 that stars Madeleine Carrol, Peter Lorre and John Gielgud. It’s about a soldier who has returned home only find out that his obituary is all over the newspapers. The reason? England needs him to spy on and kill a German spy so that the war effort can succeed. He agrees to the task and sets off to complete his mission. He is surprised when he gets to his destination to find out the war office has assigned a female spy to pose as his wife. The soldier, his wife and a Mexican general played by Peter Lorre all have to find the spy and finish him off. The catch? The female spy falls for the soldier for real and doesn’t want him to murder anyone.

The premise sets up a complicated moral dilemma that is interesting to watch play out. Does the soldier save thousands of lives for his country or does he lose the woman he loves? As always, Peter Lorre, is fascinating on screen and makes the film much more enjoyable to watch.

This is one of Hitchock’s earlier works but it’s the kind of film he would go on to make over and over again. It’s great fun and I would recommend watching it if you have not. It’s not the best Hitchcock movie ever made but it is still very good.

If you haven’t seen this one put it on your to watch list, you’ll thank me.

Praisingly yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Rich and Strange – #MovieReview

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Hey everyone, it’s me Slick Dungeon back to review another movie for my film challenge. Don’t know about my film challenge? Get the details here. This month I am watching three films by the same director. Today, I am reviewing Rich and Strange directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is also known as East of Shanghai.

The film is from 1931 so some of the techniques and themes are a bit old fashioned. There is still ample use of text cards despite the fact that this is a film with sound and dialogue. I wouldn’t consider this by any means one of the best of Hitchcock’s films and apparently audiences of the day were not too keen on it either as it was somewhat of a flop.

I would be derelict in my duty if I did not warn you that there will be spoilers ahead but this has been around since 1931 so you have probably had time to watch it since it was released.

The movie centers around a couple named Fred and Emily Hill. The two have been married to one another for the past eight years. Fred is bored with his life and wishes he had more money. Emily is relatively happy but would, of course, like to see more of the world.

Their wishes are granted when they receive a letter from a relative who wants to give Fred an advance on his inheritance so he can enjoy himself now, rather than wait until sometime in the future. Suddenly the couple have some money and they decide they want to go on a cruise to “the Orient”. That’s the film’s term, not mine, just fyi.

As soon as they set out Fred becomes seasick. He is stuck in bed for days on end and Emily makes a friend in a Commander Gordon, who anyone can see would be a better romantic fit for her than her husband. They flirt a bit and get to know one another but don’t go too far with it.

As soon as Fred is up and about again, he falls head over heels for a “princess” who happens to be on board. It’s pretty obvious she is just after some cash but Fred doesn’t see it that way.

The film chugs along with our opposing romantic partners, all the while forgiving Fred for his indiscretions, but essentially punishing Emily for hers despite the fact that a. she actually loves the man she is getting to know and b. she doesn’t take it anywhere near as far as Fred does. If you think I am exaggerating, here is a quote from the movie,”If a woman can’t hold her man, there is no reason why he should take the blame.” This is said to Fred by the “princess” who is just after his money but it’s hard not to get the impression that the whole film believes this.

The princess makes off with Fred’s money and he and Emily become stranded. They have to rent a much cheaper boat to return home. That boat has some sort of off screen accident and Fred and Emily are locked in their cabin to work out their differences.

Another boat passes by after Fred and Emily are able to escape their cabin and they get on that one. They make some really cringy racist remarks towards the people on that boat who happen to be Chinese and then make it home where I assume Emily is stuck to suffer through Fred’s inevitable future affairs and never be allowed to love for herself again.

There are a few sort of funny moments in the film but most of what makes this interesting at all is that it is a Hitchcock film that is not a suspense or thriller film. It’s kind of a film oddity but unless you are a Hitchcock completist or really love romance films from the early era of film making, I would say this is skippable.

For my third Hitchcock film I will be reviewing Secret Agent so be sure to come back to check that out.

Historically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Arcadia Issue #2 From MCDM – Review

Arcadia Banner from MCDM

Hello dungeon creatures and crawlers, it’s me Slick Dungeon. Guess what? The second issue of the super awesome Dungeons & Dragons magazine Arcadia by MCDM is out! I took a look at all the articles and want to give you my hot takes so far. If you don’t know what Arcadia is and you want to learn more about it before reading about issue #2 check out my post here.

Even more exciting is that this magazine seems like it has the green light to go through issue #6 so there is going to be a lot of 5th edition goodness you can get your hands on. Matt Coleville summarizes what is in the issue in the video below. The release schedule does still seem to be tentative so I can’t say when issue #3 will be available but if they stick to the schedule it should be sometime in March.

I also want to reiterate that I have no association with MCDM in any way whatsoever, I just think that their products are top notch and worth every penny if you love playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. That being said, if you want to pick up the first or second issue of Arcadia you can do it here. If you buy them both you can get them discounted as a bundle.

Arcadia #2 Announcement

Alright, enough about me telling you how to buy the awesome stuff, let me review the awesome stuff. Once again, there will be some spoilers as to what is in the issue but I won’t give too much away. To get the full story you definitely need to buy the magazine. Also like last time I will give each article a grade.

The artwork

I can’t review this magazine without mentioning the artwork. For the second time in a row, the artists have blown me away with their handiwork. The creatures depicted are cool and weird and all of the artwork is evocative and interesting. As if that were not enough, the adventure that is included in the magazine has useable maps for Dungeon Masters to use in their game. This month I am giving the artwork an A+ again.

Article #1 Subclasses of the Season

Have you ever wanted to play a character who had a subclass based on a season? Well, now you can. There are four subclasses for four different spellcasting classes. There is a winter themed subclass for wizards, a spring themed subclass for bards, a summer themed subclass for sorcerers and an autumn themed subclass for warlocks.

You’ll have to excuse me a little bit on judging these because I tend to be the DM more than the player and I tend to play a barbarian or druid so I can’t say with certainty how awesome these would be for players.

I found the winter subclass to be the least interesting because it seems to mostly rely on using rest time or downtime for the bonuses to work. That’s going to be somewhat dependent on how your Dungeon Master deals with short and long rests. It’s still a really cool idea, it just excited me the least of the four.

On the other hand, the autumn subclass for warlocks seemed amazing to me. I have never really wanted to be a warlock but I might reconsider that with this.

Now, because there are four different subclasses for four different spell casting classes this could be a little hit and miss. Some people are going to love one subclass more than another and if you love the subclass but you really don’t want to play a bard, that makes it a little difficult to give this an A.

Still, the variety here is fun and I am sure a lot of people are going to find something they do love here so I give this article a B+.

Article #2 – The Periodic Table of Elementals

Let me start objectively and without bias here. I freaking love this! As a dungeon master, I have had the experience of running a campaign with lots of elementals in it and they tend to get repetitive. While you can come up with creative ways to use them, at a certain point, the players know what’s coming and tend to be able to strategize well enough that elementals, which should be challenging, are a bit of a walk in the park. Not anymore.

Author Mackenzie De Armas has come up with what are called Nova elementals. These are elementals based on things other than just fire, earth, air and water. Things like lithium and potassium combine to make an elemental called a Comburo, precious metals like gold and copper make up what is called a Conducere elemental, and there are two others that I will just let you buy the magazine to know more about.

As cool as those are on their own, and they are cool, that’s not even my favorite part of this article! This article has alternate rules that allow the elementals to work together, powering one another in varying ways, that is just amazing. If your players have confronted elementals over and over again, they are not going to see this coming at all. I think it will make for a more interesting scenario for both the dungeon master and the players if you use this.

The price tag for this magazine is worth this article alone so I give this one an A+.

Article #2 – The Well of the Lost Gods

The Well of the Lost Gods is an adventure scenario for 4-5 players at 8th level. Much like the adventure scenario in the first issue of Arcadia this scenario is a combination of magic and a bit of technology. I think it would be best suited for a setting like Ravnica or maybe Eberron but since there is a dimensional portal in it, you could literally drop this anywhere in your game. It’s got two full maps with an interesting set up and both would make for a good dungeon crawl. There is also a bit of a hook to get started although, depending on your campaign, you might need to make adjustments so it doesn’t seem too forced for the characters to investigate.

The scenario includes two NPC’s you can play and has six new monster stat blocks. While I wish there were illustrations for all the new monsters, you can only pack so much amazing art into one issue. They do have one illustration for a CR 10 monster that is sure to leave players gasping when the Dungeon Master reveals it.

The adventure itself is more complex than the one in the last issue but since both have to do with technology and magic, I could easily see the two being tied together to make more of a campaign. I will say that the adventure seems potentially deadly but then again, what’s the fun in having no chance of death in Dungeons & Dragons? Do take caution before you use it n your game though to make sure your players could be a match for it.

For this article I am giving it an A. I would have bumped it to an A+ if there were more images to go with the stat blocks but it’s easily worth a read and I definitely want to build a campaign around this.

Overall

Once again this issue has impressed me. The quality did not degrade from the last issue in any way. And while I can’t say that this issue is better than the first, that’s because the first issue was so incredibly good. To have matched the quality is quite the feat here and if this continues, this is going on my must purchase list, with the hope that someday MCDM would put out a full hardcover anthology book that I would gladly pass my money over for.

For now at $7 an issue, it’s a steal. And if you bundle the two for $12 that’s an even better deal. If you love D&D, I am here to tell you, you gotta get this, it’s great.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog – #MovieReview

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hey out there all you people hidden by the fog, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I have a film challenge for the year going and this month I am trying to watch and review three films by the same director. After debating about what director I should watch, I realized there is only one absolute master director and his name was Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve seen all of his most famous films but I must admit I haven’t seen a lot of his very early work. Well, his early work that survived anyway. The man was prolific. The first one I could get my hands on was The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. It’s also just known as The Lodger depending on what continent you live on but either way it is a Hitchcock film and you can see his fingerprints all over it.

I’m not sure if this is needed considering the film is from the 1920’s but there will be some mild spoilers ahead. If you can’t stand someone talking about the most basic plot elements of a silent film that is nearly a hundred years old turn back now. You can always read this after you catch up on pre-depression era films.

The Lodger is a silent film from 1927 directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. In the streets of London in the late night fog every Tuesday a murderer has struck. The killer has gone on a streak of murders, specifically targeting young women with blonde, curly hair. The film centers on a small inn where there are rooms to let. The family has a daughter named Daisy who happens to have blonde, curly hair. They also have a good friend who is a policeman interested in Daisy in a romantic sense. Joe, the police man, is determined to catch the killer and then sweep Daisy off her feet.

Everything is fine until a mysterious stranger shows up to rent the room. He’s got more cash than most, seems a bit odd about the pictures in the room he is renting and locks a bag up in a dresser. The remainder of the film is a guessing game. Is the lodger the killer who is doing suspicious things to hide his guilt or is he an innocent man who just looks guilty? To get the answer you’ll have to watch the film.

One thing I will say is that even in a silent, black and white film, Hitchcock knows exactly how to build suspense. He’s probably one of the few early directors who can make a game of chess look utterly menacing. He knows how long to hold the camera on a subject’s face so that we think we know but aren’t quite sure what they are thinking.

In the era this was made I would think this would be considered masterful filmmaking. For modern audiences it is going to be easier to catch on to what is happening but that doesn’t make this any less important to film history.

If you are a fan of suspense, or Hitchcock himself, and don’t mind silent films this is worth watching. It does run a bit on the long side for these types of films and it still has the sort of strange shots where people are talking but we have no idea what is said that was common in silent film. There are plenty of text cards to tell us what is being said, more or less. You’ll be able to glean the plot just fine assuming you are able to sit through a silent film.

If you want to watch The Lodger it’s streaming on HBO Max at the moment.

The next one I will be watching for my challenge is Rich and Strange from 1931. It’s billed as a romance so that should be interesting.

If you want to participate in my film challenge you can get all the details in this post.

Silently yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Saw II – #MovieReview

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Hey everyone, it’s me Slick Dungeon back to review another film in the Saw franchise. The sequel is back with some surprises and plenty of gore once again.

That’s right, the world’s most deadly escape room host, Jigsaw, is back and he wants to play a game. If you find yourself waking up in one of his cleverly engineered scenarios, it’s a good bet you are in trouble and you darn well better play by the rules if you want to win. And survive.

The huge reveal and surprise at the end of the first film is nearly impossible to beat. I didn’t expect a surprise as large as that one in the sequel and I saw one of the twists coming from a mile away. But, the movie still contained enough surprises and interesting death traps to be worth a watch. And there was at least one twist I simply did not see coming although in retrospect, it probably should have been obvious. I think the original is superior in most aspects although, I thought that the performance of Donnie Wahlberg was really solid in this. I liked how the series expanded out a bit too, having a full police force trying to catch the guy before more innocent people die.

The majority of the film has Jigsaw face to face with a police officer who is trying to save his son. I don’t want to give away much more than that because these films are all about the plot twists and I would hate to ruin that for anyone. It did make me wonder for most of the film how in the world the killer might escape to continue the series and by the end the film delivers a satisfying answer to it.

Some of the film felt a bit formulaic already because we had seen it the first time around. There were layers to it though and we get a little more background on who Jigsaw is and what he is all about.

It’s also still full of gorey and bloody imagery and there is one scene that I think will stay in my head for months. I don’t want to spoil anything but if you say the words syringe pit to me, I am going to shudder with horror.

While I am giving this film the same star rating as I did Saw if I had to choose one over the other, I prefer the original. I think both films are clever and if you are a horror fan, I do think this is a series you should explore. They both surprise and horrify enough to keep the viewer’s interest if you have a strong stomach. The original just feels a touch more… original. I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it from here but I have my doubts they will be able to outdo the original. However, they sure have surprised me more than once in this series so who knows?

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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