Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Nine Alignments of Guardians of the Galaxy

On our poll of what we should do for an alignment grid, the top result was the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, I tried to come up with one for the MCU, but that is a tough nut to crack. A lot of characters, so how to pick?

I didn’t pick yet. Instead, I did one just from Guardians of the Galaxy. I hope you enjoy.

The Nine Alignments of Guardians of the Galaxy

For more of an explanation of alignment grids (and for several examples), please check out this post. And if you have comments on this one, or ideas for a Marvel Cinematic one, let us know in the comments below!

Summer of Sandman: Favorite Characters

Gaiman’s Sandman series has some of my favorite comic book characters. Even those who appear briefly in the comics tend to be memorable—sometimes, actually, they are the most memorable.

What we arrive at in the Sandman series is almost a character study of Dream of the Endless, but it’s as much told through the other characters as by Dream himself, perhaps even more so. We see how dreams themselves, and their embodiment in the Sandman, reflect and refract the world around us, how they change things.

And from the beginning there is a sense of interconnection. The first few comics in the series have large jumps in time and in place, but there is the underlying thread of what being without dreams–without Dream, who is imprisoned–is doing to humanity and what Dream’s isolation is doing to him.

Many characters, in particular each of the Endless, have their own fonts for speech bubbles, and this adds an approximation of a tone of voice to them–something particularly indicative of the emphasis on characters in the series. It is the characters who are at the forefront of the comics. And so, here are some of my favorites:

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

1. Sandman, of course.
Sandman has many names–Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros . . . And he is many things. By turns loving, brash, quick-tempered, melancholic, and intelligent, Dream is a complicated hero of a complicated story. We see the character change dramatically over the course of the comic series, and it’s both beautiful and tragic.

2. Delirium.
Another of the Endless, Delirium is a later incarnation of her earlier self, Delight; she is the youngest of the Endless. Much of what Delirium says seems like nonsense at first—stream-of-consciousness at best, completely losing threads of conversations at worst. But there is a wisdom in her, for all that. If we listen, she has much to tell us.

3. Death.
Death is the second eldest of the Endless—only Destiny is older. She is the antithesis of traditional Western embodiment of death, and a welcome change. She’s so kind! She’s funny and a little bit dark, but mostly Death is nurturing and long-suffering, here with us until the last thing dies and she locks away the universe, her job done.

4. Destruction.
Ok, so I’m trying very hard not to fill my list with the Endless, but they’re great characters! Destruction is one of the Endless, but he abandoned his post and his realm sometime around the seventeenth century. When we do see him, he’s taken up painting and has a talking dog named Barnabas, and he seems quite happy. Destruction gives us a very, very different picture of being Endless.

5. Mad Hettie.
Mad Hettie is one of a few characters who, though mortal, are incredibly long-lived. She was born in the early 1740s, thus she would’ve been 247 during the events of Preludes and Nocturnes. She survived by hiding her heart from Death, and she’s quite a clever old tramp.

6. Hob Gadling.
Hob is another of the extremely long-lived mortals. He and Dream meet once each year in a tavern for drinks. Hob doesn’t die—because Hob just doesn’t. He simply decided not to, and Death spares him at the request of Dream, whose annual meetings with Hob become the stuff of legend.

6. Matthew.
Matthew is Dream’s raven, chosen after he dies in his sleep and decides to stay with Dream. Matthew is sometimes crude and often incredibly irreverent, but he has an under-lying streak of loyalty to Dream so strong that he would’ve died for him.

7. William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is—well–Shakespeare. He appears in a few of the Sandman comics, most notably the acclaimed “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespeare made a deal with Dream: inspiration in exchange for two plays. We see what that costs him–and what it pays him.

8. Johanna Constantine.
Johanna is a mortal, and an incredible one. It is she who steals Orpheus’s head from its resting place for Dream—and ends the French Reign of Terror in the process. She goes looking for the Devil and the Wandering Jew, who are said to meet in a tavern once a year, and finds Dream and Hob Gadling there. Probably related to John Constantine, but either way, she’s fantastic.

9. Thessaly.
Thessaly is the last of a long line of witches. She is cold and proud, and very very old—older than her Grecian name belies. Thessaly and Dream had an affair that happened off-page and ended very badly, apparently. Thessaly always seems in control of her situation and is an incredibly powerful character.

10. Rose Walker.
Rose is a mortal woman, the granddaughter of Unity Kincaid, one of a group of characters who fell asleep for the duration of Dream’s captivity. Rose is a dream vortex, and she’s also revealed to be the grandchild of Desire, who was trying to trick Dream into killing a family member.

11. Gilbert.
Gilbert is a portly fellow who is actually a place. He’s Fiddler’s Green, a dreamland that wanders out of the Dreaming in the absence of Dream. He helps Rose Walker during her quest to find her brother. He’s a lot like G.K. Chesteron, and that works to his advantage.

12. Lucifer.
He’s just…Grand. He also looks like David Bowie, and that’s rather fantastic. Lucifer is an enigmatic character, and when he abandons Hell, all bets are off. I haven’t yet read the comic spin-offs with his character, but they’re on my list.

13. Barnabas.
I’m ending this list with the talking dog, yes. Barnabas is Destruction’s companion, but he becomes Delirium’s protector and companion. He is sarcastic, perceptive, and loyal.

Marvel’s Daredevil – Review: Season 1, Episodes 7 to 9

Daredevil

Thank you for joining me for the third part of my reviews on Marvel’s Daredevil. This time I will be looking at episodes seven to nine. If you need to catch up, here is a link to part 1, and part 2.

Episode 7 – Stick

Finally, we got to meet Stick, who opened the show with a violent introduction to his world; chasing down something he referred to as ‘Black Sky’ (which turned out to be on route to New York City).

stick

Nobu was connected to the shipment, and met with Leland briefly to ensure everything was in place. The moment Nobu left, Matt took advantage of Leland’s vulnerability and confronted him about Fisk. Leland, who can be slippery, managed to get the jump on Matt; tazering him before making his escape. Of course that only happened because Matt was distracted by the sound of…well, Stick!

I didn’t expect the men to get all sentimental over the reunion, Stick is hardly the warm and fuzzy type. But he barely took a breath before he began criticising Matt about his life choices; how badly he’s dealing with things, his shit-hole apartment, the distractions (women/furniture/silk sheets).

When Stick finished toying with him (after a brief scuffle), he helped himself to a beer and told Matt about Black Sky, or all he needed to know at least – which wasn’t a great deal. Matt agreed to help as long as Stick promised not to kill anyone. He had a few words to say about Matt’s inability to cross that line, but made the deal.

matt and stick on the docks

And then promptly broke his word. It turned out Black Sky was a child, which was shocking enough, until Matt understood Stick’s intentions were to kill. He managed to intercept the arrow, though he failed to prevent Nobu from escaping with the child.  He was a little busy dealing with the mess Stick left behind.

Stick was waiting for him when Matt arrived back at the apartment. He pushed Matt as cruelly as he’d done in the past, which led to a brutal battle of wills. The fight was evenly matched (Matt had learned a trick or two), though they were both a little worse for wear (as was Matt’s furniture).

Later in the episode, we saw Stick sitting before a mystery figure. This was a reference to the Ninja cult, The Hand, which means the story could develop further next season.

the hand

Continue reading

The Flash – Season 1: Overview

bannerThe season finale of the Flash was outstanding; the perfect ending to an entertaining first season. Barry Allen first wormed his way into our hearts when he made a guest appearance in Arrow as the somewhat goofy forensic scientist from Central City. It’s no wonder he got his own show; the first thing you noticed about the character is his inherent goodness and, like Oliver Queen, his belief in justice. Add in the self-deprecating humour, his keen intelligence and strong moral code and it makes a winning combination. Holly wrote a review of the first episode, and you can find it here.

Since the Flash began we’ve watched Barry adapt and grow into the delightful hero he is, and yet his powers aren’t the thing which makes him special. It’s his desire to help people, to always see the good, and his almost selfless outlook on life. He’s struggled with personal demons; the loss of his mother, and the knowledge his father is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This injustice is part of what drives him, and even when he’s developing his skills or fighting crime, his mother’s case is never far from his thoughts.

flash

During the show we’ve witnessed Barry come head to head with a variety of meta-humans (with a little help from his friends). Characters like; Weather Wizard, The Mist, Multiplex, Blackout, Girder, and Peek-a-Boo, to name but a few. And who can forget Leonard Snart, aka, Captain Cold, who was extremely entertaining.

We’ve shared in Cisco’s excitement when he created a name for each villain, and cheered when Caitlin got Ronnie back, even if she had to share him with Martin Stein as the pair became Firestorm. Then there is Barry’s relationship with Iris West; an unrequited love which pulled at our heart strings because at the root of it all, they are best friends.

Continue reading

Hellboy vs Cthulhu: A Storytelling Moment (and Stuff)

People play different games and they play for different reasons. Sometimes simply because they’re competitively-natured, sometimes it’s just to kill some time, sometimes to be entertained, and sometimes to be social. (These aren’t mutually exclusive reasons.)

Recently, my wife and I were over for dinner with friends, and we decided to play a game of Munchkin Cthulhu.

Our friends’ names are Chooch and Viv; I’m telling you this to make this anecdote flow. Allegedly.

At least one of those names is definitely a nickname. That would be Viv. Chooch might be a nickname. He looks like a Viking, so let’s just roll with this, shall we?


Everyone here knows how to play the basic set of Munchkin, right? If not, for a full introduction please check out Wil Wheaton’s YouTube episode of TableTop, where Wil plays the game with the lovely Felicia Day, the lovely Sandeep Parikh, and the legendary Steve Jackson – the creator of Munchkin.

MunchkinGame

If you don’t have 28 minutes to spare, I’ll give a super high level breakdown. It’s as if you were playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons (or the equivalent) but without a map or character sheet. Everyone starts at level 1. Each turn someone kicks down a door in a dungeon (not literally, a “door” card gets turned over and then the player might fight a monster.) Winning fights against monsters results in gaining combat levels and treasures for the player.

First person to level 10 wins. Often, everyone else in the game tries to prevent this from happening.

It’s GREAT FUN! (In this context, munchkins are not residents of Oz nor the delightful donut-holes that can be purchased at a specific donut shop, but refer to people who play non-competitive games in an aggressively competitive manner.)

We were playing the Cthulhu version of the game (Munchkin comes in many many different genre versions) so we weren’t elves or dwarves, fighters or wizards.

MunchkinCthulhu

This was Lovecraftian. (I hope I don’t have to explain Lovecraft or his literary creation, Cthulhu.) This version of the game includes 1920’s tommy guns, mystical tomes, and tentacles.

The particular gaming session with our friends was a typical Munchkin run: some easy fights, some empty rooms, some running away from Things Men Were Not Supposed To Know, some team-ups when it was mutually beneficial, and many occasions of trying to make the current player’s combats go badly.

Along the way, Viv, my wife Lisa, and I were turned into cultists (a character class.)

CultistMunchkin

We didn’t realize what effect this would have at the end. We cultists were just happy to have a +4 combat bonus.

Soon Chooch, Viv, and Lisa were all at level 9, so the game was close to being over since one of them was bound to win a fight sooner or later and hit level 10. (I was level 6 or something, so it was very unlikely that I was going to win.)

It was Chooch’s turn, and when “kicking open the door” to start his turn, he opted to play a monster from his hand to fight. This wasn’t some easy creature. This monster was Cthulhu.

CthulhuMunchkin

The issue was this: if Chooch fought Cthulhu and won, he wins the game. All of us cultists would lose. (It didn’t matter that we were cultists, we’d lose if we were professors or monster bashers or investigators.)

But if Chooch could not defeat Cthulhu, and was caught by the big bad… he’d be killed and his new character would be a cultist.

That would make everyone a cultist. Munchkin Cthulhu has a rule, if all players end up being cultists, all the players lose and the Great Old Ones (or Elder Gods, one of those) win.

Things suddenly got weird. And familiar.

I’d recently re-watched the first Hellboy movie, starring Ron Perlman as the eponymous demon with a heart of gold and a fist of stone.

Hellboy

Hello Hellboy

The movie’s been out forever, so if you’ve not seen it, I apologize for spoiling the ending where the good guys win.

The climax of Hellboy centers around the mad monk Rasputin planning on summoning something equivalent to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods (or Great Old Ones, I don’t want to split hairs.) He’s assisted by some crazed Nazis (as if there are any other kind) and has some leverage over Hellboy which serves to ensure compliance and assistance from the big red devil.

HBAndRaspWe’ll just say everyone is at level 9. Just like Chooch, Viv, and Lisa. (My level 6 movie analogue would be one of the dead critters, probably. I’m not even in this fight.)

Hellboy eventually turns the tables, the summoners are all killed, but there’s a complication. Hellboy has inadvertently caused the materialization of a huge, tentacled, rapidly-growing creature. That can’t be good.

Just like Chooch choosing to play Cthulhu in a bid to win the game or have everyone lose.

monster and hellboy

To deal with this growing threat, Hellboy allowed the nightmare to swallow him along with the belt of grenades he was carrying.

BOOM! Game over. Good guys win.

Speaking of games…

In our game, Chooch numerically could not defeat Cthulhu. Until he played this…

TNTMunchkin

BOOM! Game over (literally.) Good guys win? Well sure, since Chooch wasn’t a cultist, we’ll say he was one of the good guys. (He’s actually a great guy.)

As it turned out, none of us cultists had any cards suitable to help Cthulhu (and had we helped, we would have been risking a fate worse than losing. I think? Maybe?)

And this is why I like to play games. For all of the reasons that were outlined in the beginning, but also I like being told a story.


In ye olde dayes, my dad would eye me skeptically as I was graphing out a dungeon to be a setting for the weekend Dungeons & Dragons game with my buddies.

My dad did like games and he liked playing games with me. Provided that game was Chess.

His view of my awkward teenage chums and me rolling a lot of dice was this: random chance wasn’t interesting or worthwhile. There was nothing skillful about it.

(He also liked playing cards, but even though poker and its ilk are games of chance, they’re also games of skill. But that’s not my point.)

I didn’t have a good grasp at the time on why I enjoyed playing D & D so much and so I didn’t have a good counter-argument for my pop, but now in my wizened and enlightened adulthood, I realize that I wasn’t gaming as an exercise of skill or competition or just to waste time.

I was in it for the moments of storytelling.

Sometimes those moments came from the dungeon master and sometimes from the players. (And sometimes from the dice. I won’t be lying. We teenage DMs and players were clownish noobs when it came to narrative import.)

And even though the particular story being told to me by the events of Munchkin was a story I already I knew (i.e. the climactic plot of Hellboy) it doesn’t change the fact that my imagination was being engaged. I feel that I could have appreciated the story of Chooch, with his backpack of dynamite, fighting an eldritch horror with the fate of the world on the line, regardless of if I’d seen Hellboy or not.

hellboy1

This probably isn’t world-shattering news to anyone. I assume anyone reading this has had similar experiences where the turn of a card or the roll of a die has the emotional echo of a good book’s plot twist or a movie’s big reveal.

I’m sure we all have similar stories to tell.

This post was written by Patrick Sponaugle, who couldn’t possibly be wrong all the time. Hey, do you like Game of Thrones? Pat is my go-to Game of Thrones blogger. Hey, did you like this post? Also a great reason to check out his blog! Oh, and leave your stories to tell in the comments below!