Thor Retrospective Part One: “Thor” by J. Michael Straczynski and “Latverian Prometheus” by Keiron Gillen

I decided to tackle the first title in this series, simply called “Thor” in several parts. It does not make sense to review the book as one 36 issue whole, because it has several distinct arcs. Three writers tackle the series so I have decided on a breakdown roughly following that. I’ve included Gillen’s “Latverian Prometheus” arc along with Stracynski’s because it basically cleans up and caps off the story Stracynski started before the series moves on into the “Siege” event book and accompanying arc in “Thor”.

Where to being? Well, Stracynski’s arc is a “rebirth” of sorts for Thor, and if you want to get technical is the third series with Thor as part of the title. Our titular hero has been out of commission for about three years, dying in Ragnarok at the end of “The Mighty Thor” book that ran between 1998 and 2004. Then, he’s back. No real explanation as to how, because such things are unnecessary. Not only is this comics, it is also myth, and so Thor returns because it is time for him to return.

 

Returning to the story is Thor’s original mortal host Dr. Donald Blake, along with the staff that serves as his foil for Mjolnir. Both staff/hammer and Doctor are deposited upon Earth in the most unlikely of places, the fictional town of Broxton, Oklahoma. Thor then proceeds to raise Asgard above some wide-open spaces near Broxton. This is not an entirely new concept, as I remember for a time in earlier stories Asgard could be found floating above New York City.  What is different about Asgard’s new zip code is that the citizens of Broxton are not exactly used to superheroes and gods residing in their backyard. They aren’t used to their apartments getting blown up by Dr. Doom, or having Spider-Man or the Fantastic Car zipping by during a morning commute. This setting provides soil for some of the more enjoyable and poignant moments of Stracynski’s arc, which I will talk about later.

Much of Stracynski’s work on the book is concerned with reestablishing Thor and the rest of the Asgardians after Ragnarok. Thor discovers that his friends and fellow gods are residing in the bodies of mortals, waiting to be called back. He resurrects Heimdall, the Warriors Three, and Baldur personally, and with much fanfare and danger to himself the rest of his kin. Loki included of course, although he looks a bit different after his rebirth.

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Thor’s wandering of the world in search of his friends also serve to inform the resurrected hero about what has gone on in his absence:  mainly the superhero Civil War, the death of Steve Rogers, and the fact that some of his former friends (Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Reed Richard) created an abomination from Thor’s DNA known as Ragnarok. When Tony shows up early in Thor’s quest and tells Thor he has to register or else, it doesn’t go well to say the least.

 

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The big take away is that Tony and Thor figure out a way for Thor and thus all of Asgard to avoid being tools for the U.S. government- giving Asgard and all its residents diplomatic immunity. This like many things Straczynski sets up become important later one.

Along with the skill of penciler Oliver Coipel (who really doesn’t get used enough in comics) the first part of this new Thor arc has some absolutely gorgeous action sequences. That isn’t what I enjoy the most about Straczynski’s writing though. Like Gaiman or Morrison, JMS is one of those writers who really understands and puts mythic resonance and cycles to effective use.

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While Loki is clearly the villain of the arc, there is no grandstanding, no ultimate confrontation. The conflict comes from Loki pulling strings, and calling in favors. Putting a word in the right ear, and acting on plans that take millennia to bear fruit.

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I won’t reveal what happens just in case you are a decade behind on your Thor reading, but let us just say that much of what happens in this arc is inspiration for the Thor series of films as well, and worth reading if you want a little background. This idea of mythic time and the relationship between man and the gods of Asgard all come to a head after JMS leaves the reigns to Kieron Gillen for the “Latverian Prometheus” arc, so first let’s talk about that relationship.

Most Marvel comic stories seem to take place in New York City/ State. We occasionally see them go to one of their other fictional earthly locals, such as Madripoor, the Savage Land, Wakanda, Latveria, Kun’ Lun… or space. Marvel characters go cosmic a lot. For JMS to place so much of his Thor story in a podunk place like Oklahoma seems strange at first, until you realize what he is doing- laying an oddball backdrop for very regular people to deal with divinity. As the citizens of Broxton will point out time and again, these Asgardians are not the divinity they are used to dealing with either.

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It is an interesting relationship to say the least.

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The glue of the Broxton relationships is between Bill the diner owner, and Kelda, a storm goddess made up for the comics but is an excellent character nonetheless. Bill and Kelda meet on the streets of Broxton and quickly strike up a relationship, one that seems more convincing than any of the page time shared by Thor/Blake and Jane Foster or Sif.

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Bill and Kelda’s relationship also pretty much carries the “Latverian Prometheus” arc. It is only three issues so there is not a whole lot to talk about, but there are some great moments.

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Basically Loki strikes a deal with Doctor Doom (because who did you think would show up in an arc with Latveria in the title?), to allow the Asgardians a more familiar climate for a homeland. Things quickly go pear shaped, as Doom begins experimenting on the new locals to bring to life his own Destroyer Armor and learn the secrets of the Asgardian’s immortality (which I guess if Doom ever read a book he would know but ok). The resulting fight between the forces of Doom and Asgard end just about as quickly as they being, as again we’re just talking three issues. Still, “Latverian Promethues” serves as a decent short arc, with a lot of action that perhaps readers of the JMS run thought was lacking. It also serves as the flashpoint for the following “SIEGE” event. My thoughts on that story as soon as I’ve finished re-reading that arc!

In short, JMS’s “Thor” is very much worth your time. While I think it was likely frustrating to read in a monthly format, if you have the trades or get all the individual issues like I did and just read it in binge mode, it works incredibly well. Despite being forced into that “One More Day” malarkey, JMS can write a great comic. If you want to read some Thor comics to prepare for “Thor: Ragnarok” I highly suggest starting with this one. To detractors, “I SAY THEE NAY!”

God of Thunder Retrospective: Introduction

Good evening, or day, or whenever it is you are reading this. Do you have a moment to talk about the Lord? No not that one, with the Cornerstone churches and The Watchtower and a decisive grip on American culture whether people follow Him or not. No, I’m talking about the Lord of Lightning, the Sultan of Swing. The God of Thunder. I’m talking of course, about Thor.

Marvel’s Thor to be specific.

Recently I got tipped of that the Amazon Kindle store was having a massive sale on Marvel collections. It has been a long established goal of mine to try and own every Thor comic in existence. This weekend I got closer to that goal, and I now possess every comic with “Thor” in the title printed in the past decade.

I will go on the record of saying that at first, I never really liked Marvel’s Thor. I didn’t really get acquainted with the Norse gods until I first read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and American Gods. Thor to me was the traditional Norse version- rather a redhaired, red bearded drunken lout. Marvel’s Thor, with his golden locks and limitless nobility- he never really interested me.

Several years after reading Neil Gaiman’s work, I became a Heathen. I began learning about and worshiping the Aesir,Vanir, and other assorted beings. I took Odin as my personal patron. Still no real love for Thor. That came much later on. It took losing my job, becoming more aware of the plight of the working poor, and the first Thor movie for me to truly love Thor.

I had a really good job in 2012, and then all of a sudden I did not. It made life difficult. I lost an apartment, a car, and almost the good will of everyone in my family and friend group. One of the only things that got me through was my spirituality, of which Thor had suddenly become a huge part of.  Because you see, Thor? Thor is the god of the working man. Thor cared about the normal men and women of Midgard. Those who labored in the fields and the factories. On the boats and the storehouses. That was where I worked now. All of a sudden I understood what it was he stood for.

Then I thought back to the 2011 “Thor” film and realized how truly Thor-like Marvel’s version of the god was. Here was a boisterous soul, full of murder, mirth, along with the desire to defend what he loved against the forces of evil and chaos. I began buying Thor comics shortly after that. I haven’t stopped since. Despite the many differences between Marvel and Mythological Thor, I don’t make much difference between the two. Whether I’m reading The Poetic Edda or a random issue of Thor, I consider both devotional material. The Thor comics where inspired by the myths, the comics inspired Neil Gaiman, who then wrote the materials that originally inspired me. Much like the idea of Ragnarok itself, it is a cycle.

Over the next few blog posts I am going to offer you a retrospective review of the last decade of Thor comics. Every major series ( not including guest appearances or Avengers stuff), the numerous EVENT books that seem to have coalesced around him, and maybe even the movies. You’ll also get a hefty amount of my bias as a Heathen and practicing magician.

I hope anyone reading this enjoys.

You Are Not A Viking

               Hey everyone. It has been a while. I know. Originally when I started this blog, I swore I’d update it at least every two weeks. I know, I know. There existed the best of intentions, the promises, the blood pacts. I’m festering in boils as we speak. What can I say, work got in the way? I work a lot, to continue to pay rent, and eat food, and feed the three fluffy carnivores who have somehow come to reside in my house. What I would give to set off on the open sea, spray in my beard, sharpening my axe to better bury it in the skulls of my enemies when I hit shore. Then I return home a chest full of gold and head full of mead. There is only one problem. I’m not a goddamn Viking, and neither are you.

            Yes you. I’m talking to you. You- Alt-Right blogger who played Skyrim a few hundred times and only ever picked a Stormcloak Nord because you wanted to commit virtual genocide when you couldn’t in real life. Yes I’m talking to you, fitness nut who eats paleo and does extreme obstacle courses and reads self-help books that are basically instruction manuals on toxic masculinity. Finally, yes, I’m even speaking to you fellow Heathens, even those of you who spend your weekends creating your own leather and woolen kit, with expertly recreated weapons from real blacksmiths. You’re not Vikings. I don’t care if you know how to use a sword, axe, spear and bow. Ultimately, you’re still an accountant named Ryan who is wailing on several other guys named Bob, Rick, and Dave in a local city park, to really no end, because they are also CPAs, school teachers, and insurance agents for whom this is just more exciting exercise and not training for anything practical. It’s not practical, because you’re not going to board a ship, sail across the sea and pillage a random coastal settlement. Unless you boarded a ship, sailed across a body of water, and sacked and razed a Christian monastery lately, you ARE NOT A VIKING.

            Being a Viking was a temporary occupation at best, and a hobby at worst. Viking was a verb. Check out the Wikipedia article on Vikings and you will find it basically means to “row” or “rowers”.  Yes, once they got there, they indulged in the killing, raping, stealing and drinking of mead. But mostly— rowing.  It took a lot of rowing to get anywhere in that time. Which was probably one reason they arrived looking so incredibly badass—because all that rowing, sunburn and bleaching of hair probably would make one look like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. When the “Vikings” weren’t rowing across some gods-forsaken grey ocean, they spent much of their time mainly farming, blacksmithing, boating building, etc etc. Also, farming in places like Sweden and Norway, Denmark and Iceland? It was tough. The land was one where you scratched out an existence, supplemented your diet by fishing and hunting game. The whole act of raiding was done as much to find new, more arable lands as it was to kill a bunch of women and children and steal all their stuff. This lead to the Heathen occupation of England, Ireland, Far Faroe, and spurred the expeditions back into continental Europe, creating cultures like “The Rus” who would eventually found “Russia”. Still the question begs— have you good sir, traveled across the ocean with nothing more than some wood and cloth, fought against the locals wherever you landed, and brought back spoils and gold? If you haven’t, you’re not a Viking. Sorry, but you just are not. You’re still Ryan the Accountant, not Ragnar the Unkillable.

            This is not to say that you may not be a Heathen. These are really two incredibly different ideas. All those farmers, blacksmiths, fishermen and their wives and children were all still Heathens, or Norse pagans, Asatru—whatever your preferred nomenclature might be. They still believe in the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, Wights and other assorted creatures of the culture. I also do not question that YOU- heavy metal band member, school teacher, warehouse foreman, construction worker, at home father- are Heathen. You believe in the gods, observe holidays, engage in the beauty that is the house-cult, and if you’re lucky you get to do all this while engaging in a Tribe of likeminded people who you support and support you in turn. These are all good things. We should revel in the fact the we have been called to follow and honor The Gods and assorted beings, and our ancestors. We should embrace such ideas as Tribe, and being self-reliant, and maintaining our personal strength and wealth. Absolutely none of those are bad things. The problem with our culture, as far as I can tell, is we attempt to understand it almost solely through the lenses of the Viking Age, a time where our biological and spiritual ancestors fought their way across the known world. They raped and pillaged, and oppressed and killed their way to fame. We no longer live in a culture where such things are acceptable, and I feel that constantly exalting and clutching our hammers like old Southern ladies at the idea of losing our “masculinity” by not being testosterone driven fucktards is one of the main things holding us back from being taken seriously. Well, that and the whole Nazi thing.   Image may contain: 1 person, beard and text

            Yeah I said it. Heathenry has a toxic masculinity problem (also a Nazi problem).. We’re currently a subculture/ religion that focuses on getting drunk, jockeying for position, and subjugating women- at least as far as public perceptions are concerned. I cannot count the number of Heathen/ Heathen inclined women I’ve met who will have nothing to do with the greater Heathen community because most of their experiences with us involve “moving on them like a bitch” or trying to collect them into some faux polyamorous situation where the man gets to have sex with whoever he wants while the woman gets to lovingly play the role of thrall or sex slave. This basically puts us at the level of your average biker gang, but with runes and Mjolnir tattoos instead of skulls and chains. That brings me to another thing we have in common with a lot of biker gangs.

            We’re incredibly racist. While I can understand the concept of Tribe, and the constantly shifting inner, outer circles that comprise a Heathen’s life and priorities, I must say, I’m glad I’ve remained a solitary up until now. So many Heathens I’ve met seem to be particularly of the white male variety, which I am.. However too many of those Heathens that I’ve met think that the white male variety are the only people who deserve to be Heathen. Judging from what I know about our ancestors, this simply was NOT the case. Look at any volume on Norse magical practices, and you will find that the Heathens of yore were a very pragmatic and open lot. Spells and prayers appeal to Thor and Christ in the same verses. Charms guarding against both trolls and devils. These are a people who traveled all the way to Byzantium and carved their runes into the Hagia Sophia. If you think they didn’t exchange ideas and beliefs along the way, you are naïve. The Norse were traders and merchants, and given the fact that there are records of blonde and blue eyed Native Americans near the places where they made landfall in the America’s, I don’t think they cared too much about ‘mixing the races’.       

            I very much feel that while our contributions to culture at the moment are realized as the show Vikings, games like Skyrim, and the ongoing adventures of The Mighty Thor, we have so much more to offer. Heathen’s can recreate the concept of the extended family, opting to keep their loved ones and close friends close, creating communities that support each other. Heathens can show that people of the European diaspora can connect to concepts of ancestry and identity without the poisonous “whiteness” that characterizes American culture, and many other disparate European cultures aside- while also creating a religious community with all comers, so long as they are willing to worship The Gods. On a more complicated level, Heathenry allows us interact with the spirits of lands that are not ours, but eventually shows that we can forge a relationship with the earth our homes and apartments and businesses rest upon. This aspect of our culture should not be overlooked, because it is that relationship that will ensure that we remain extant for many centuries to come, giving our worship to the Aes and Van that will help prolong The World.

             

Flash Fiction Challenge: Sincerely, Your Mortician

To Whom It May Concern (The De Rais Family):

            You may not know this, but I See and Know all. It’s not hard. All of you practically tell me your secrets. A week before our meeting with your Aunt Nora, you come into my office and tell me. “Under no circumstances are you to speak with Mr. Bellweather, he has had many scandals, and is not to be trusted.” So, of course I obey these wishes, and Mr. Bellweather is put on the non-admittance list from my office. While I know ours is a small town, and I hold two very divergent yet related positions, it is the least I can do.

            There is the insistence that we provide no less than four dozen bouquets of African Lilac, as this was the flower that was in bloom when your Aunt Nora’s husband Ephraim proposed to her, on safari in Tanzania. I regretfully inform you that this particular flower is in bloom only after what we would call in the Northern Hemisphere the Winter Solstice, and being that it is July, the flower proves terribly difficult to procure. I have included with this missive a photograph of some very beautiful lavender that we are able to get our hands on, and I hope that will suffice, as you and I both know that your Aunt Nora is not going to be able to see them anyway.

            Before moving on towards any more negative news, I would like to illuminate what we can do to accommodate your Aunt’s very specific instructions:

         Exactly six hundred and sixty-six red candles can be provided. We get them wholesale and the cost to should come out to exactly $333.

         The ninety-nine supplicants, anointed with Oil of Abramelin. Yes, we can provide this, however our small town is not entirely acquainted with your family’s particular faith and so we have had to hire outside talent. It appears that after a cursory internet query, we have found enough to fill the necessary positions and all are willing to participate for the chance of personal spiritual illumination. Nevertheless, we are a business and have assessed a finder’s fee of $100.

         We have found about the town several Runes of Ng’Ralthur, however the instructions given by your Aunt are vague and slightly maddening, and give no insight as to how we are supposed to utilize them.

         Seven hundred and eighteen copies of the Invocation to Babalon, printed on velum in blood ink. Please understand that velum is very hard to come by, and the blood ink is a perpetual work in progress. We cannot provide an estimate at this time, seeing as we will use the most expedient sources of velum and blood as they present themselves. An invoice shall be sent after the fact.

         We have contracted with the local bakery to provide as many baked goods and sandwiches as they can provide between now and the meeting.

We offer a wide variety of containment seals, in pentagrams, heptagrams, and hexagrams both standard and unicursal. Which would you prefer for keeping out the unwanted ghouls and bloodsuckers, who will inevitably turn up?

 

Now we must address the unfortunate subjects of what we shall not be able to provide:

 

On the subject of your Aunt’s familiar. No it cannot attend. You know it’s diet, and you know why that would be disastrous to the proceedings. PLEASE, make alternate arrangements.

 

We also cannot accommodate nor condone the ritual sacrifice of the 99 supplicants at the meeting with your Aunt. This would allow her to break the barrier between the current timeline and the one in planning, and would put a severe damper on our plans to provide a feast of ten-thousand corpses at the waking of our eldritch lord Nepheranduram. Long has Nepheranduram laid claim on our quaint town of Howard Texas, and We- the Howard-Phillips family- have honored that pact since our ancestor brought back its effigy from darkest India in the year 1881. We would appreciate in providing services for your Aunt and family that you respect the claim our Lord has over this town, and do nothing to disrupt the proceedings of our continued operations here. We would remind you that the fall equinox is sooner than you might realize, and that in taking the time to provide these services we are setting back our time table considerably.

THAT said we are perfectly amenable to you providing your own effigy of whatever barbarous name it is your family worships, so long as it is taken away from our facilities at the end of services rendered. Anything left behind at the end of the service will be subject to a cleaning/ refitting charge. We must keep the integrity of our facilities intact.

The service shall start at precisely four o’clock sharp. We will have ushers to guide family and important personages to their seats. Programs and copies of the Book of Mad Abu-Alrehzed shall be distributed. As in accordance with your Aunt’s wishes, a chamber music arrangement of Dead Can Danse’s most popular hits shall be played. Prior to the eclipse, all will have thirty-three minutes to come forward to meet with your Aunt Norma and say any words they wish. The exception of course being those that occur in the 72nd verse of the 93rd verse of the Book of Abu-Alrehzed, which is enforced by municipal ordinance.

To end this missive, I know your family had asked for the particulars of the autopsy. Being as this is one of the positions I hold, I see no reason I should not kill two birds with one stone as it were. Your aunt suffered an acute pulmonary embolism, triggered by the plant Monk’s Hood. Good thinking really, and a smart move had your Aunt Norma been anyone else than she was. Normally Monk’s Hood is impossible to detect, and flushes out of the system with digestion. However your Norma was afflicted with diabetes, and the plant was introduced to her system between meals. With no absorption to occur, the Monk’s Hood was was easily detected by a simple toxicology report,as well as my assistant Caliban, who is a necrophage. It would occur to me we should also place some of invoice for the placement and training of another assistant, but Caliban was strictly an off the books kind of employee.

I hope this letter and outline of the proceedings of your Aunt’s funerary proceedings is both straightforward and comforting to the De Rais family in it’s time of need. Please do not hesitate to ask my staff or myself for anything that might provide further easement. Also, as I said I know and see much more than you might think, so why not petition someone who is already in the know? May the Dark Lord Nepheranduram judge us all when His Time Arrives ( roughly Sept 21, get ready).

Sincerely,

Your Mortician

Robert E. Howard-Phillips

When Will We Rage?

Hey guys, let’s talk about werewolves, politics and the Apocalypse! If you’re confused don’t worry, I’ll explain as we go. With everything going on this week(past couple weeks now it took me a bit to finish), one bright spot has been the announcement that the new White Wolf Publishing has announced their paring up with video game developers to create a game based on Werewolf: The Apocalypse for PC and consoles. This is fantastic news, because I firmly believe the world needs more werewolves. Bear with me!

The other week I wrote about Vampire: The Masquerade, and clearly I’m still in that mode. Werewolf was the second gaming line to come out of White Wolf in the early to mid-90s. It is also the game that made me a roleplayer. Not Vampire, not D&D, or Shadowrun—any of which really would have been perfectly suited for a kid who grew up on a diet of Interview with a Vampire, Reboot, and Tolkien novels. No, it was Werewolf: The Apocalypse that crept into my life in middle school through the RAGE collectible card game, and when I received the 2nd edition core rulebook for the rpg itself for Christmas in 1998 opened me up to a whole new world of imagination and savage horror. I would later go on to fall in love with Vampire, Mage, the Aeon/Trinity game line, and Exalted, but like your first love, I cannot help but reminisce and revisit Werewolf. Now it has been over twenty years since I discovered the World of Darkness through my favorite furry eco-terrorists, and they seem more relevant than ever before.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse was created out of the nineties when people at least appeared to give a shit about the world around them. If you were too young to remember, this was the heyday of Greenpeace, Save the Whales, protests at the WTO in Seattle, outrage over the Exxon-Valdez tanker spill, outrage over poaching in Africa and clear-cutting of the Amazon. Oh, and Captain Planet, that was a thing too. While I don’t think that righteous anger has gone away, it certainly seems to have been drowned out amid the flood of reality TV, 24 hour news cycle, and Twitter. What Werewolf did, at least for me, was serve up all of that outrage and concern for what was happening in our world on a wooden trencher. It also gave me a way of dealing with it, even that was through a blatantly fictional lens.

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Without delaying it any longer, here is Werewolf: the Apocalypse in a broadly painted nutshell. Werewolves are a separate, supernatural race of shape shifters. They were created by the literal spirit of the world- Gaia (hey remember Captain Planet?) to be her greatest warriors and protectors. Called the Garou, this race could be born of wolf or of man, or by union between Garou, although this is expressly forbidden as those offspring are born physically or mentally twisted. Garou divide themselves into various tribes, often reflecting or connected to various human cultures, and are given roles in Garou society based upon the phase of the moon when they were born. At some point they go through a first change and discover they are werewolves, and get inducted into Garou society and their Tribe, if they are lucky enough to make it that long. Garou society is ultimately organized around one thing- protecting Gaia, the mother of all things, from a spiritual force of corruption and entropy called the Wyrm.

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                The Wyrm is at once a possible discreet being and multi-headed allegorical beast. It is part of a Triat of manifest concepts, the Wyld (chaos-creation), the Weaver (order-structure and pattern), and the Wyrm itself is the destructive returner, where creation then begins anew. Or, rather it used to be. Accounts differ, but basically the in-game setting-story states the Wyrm goes off the deep end and now lusts for the destruction of all things. Being a universal force it has no end of minions it can create or turn to its cause of destroying the prison of existence. It has corrupted spirits called Banes, corrupted humans called Fomori, it even has its own corrupted werewolves, a tribe called the Black Spiral Dancers. Yet for all that, its greatest and most inexhaustible resource is US, the human race. The Fomori the Wyrm can corrupt are evil on a metaphysical level, but humans don’t need any spiritual fuckery to commit horrors. They just need the promise of a little money and comfort. This is something the game lore makes very clear—that evil cannot be completely attributed to the efforts of the Wyrm, but it certainly feeds off of it. To further drive home that point the game designers created an Uber-corporation, called Pentex.  Pentex is a conglomerate of multiple companies that all sound familiar, such as King Breweries, Endron Energy Company, RED News Network and O’Tolley’s Restaurants. Each is headed by an executive team that is undoubtably in the employ of the Wyrm to use capitalism and resources to rape the Earth and spread misery among the people who live there. But for every Fomori middle manager cackling as he dumps chemicals into the water supply, the true insidiuous nature of Pentex corporations is that they’re made up by people willing to ignore environmental regulations, screw each other over for a promotion, and power trip on their “lesser” when they climb up a rung on the corporate ladder.

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The Garou, the “heroes” of the game aren’t beyond this either. Make no bones about it, the Garou are monsters. They jockey among each other for dominance, be it elder versus pup, Tribe versus Tribe. They can become addicted to human flesh, they have the mindset of religious extremists when it comes to the taint of the Wyrm, and in the distant past have even commited wholesale genocide against the human race and other races of shapeshifters in the name of Gaia and their pride.  The first is why human instinctively fear werewolves, to the point of going catanoic in the face of a fully shifted Garou. The second genocide of all the other were-races, is why the Garou have basically failed at their mission. They thought they could go against the enemy alone, and systematically destroyed or alienated every single one of their allies each of which played a vital role in Gaia’s survival. Replace this with “terrible and antagonistic phone calls” and it’s a stretch, I know, but worth considering.

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One of the Garou’s distinguishing characteristics, Rage, is so palpable and all-consuming that even the least angry Garou is a Friday afternoon commuter in Los Angeles who has just received a tax audit from the IRS, who’s on and endless office text chain they can never leave. It is also notable that Rage is a mark of the Wyrm itself, something that makes the Garou powerful and vulnerable to further corruption all at the same time. This is illustrated ad nauseum by the White Howlers tribe (ironically the subject of the never released first W:TA PC game), who charged into the heart of the Wyrm’s realm, over confident in their Rage and emereged as servents of the Corruptor itself.

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At this you may be wondering what my point is, or why it is I believe the world needs what are, by all accounts, a warrior race of genocidal fuckwads. The Garou are supposed to be a safe guard against universal destrution and ultimately they have failed, and they pretty much know it. I think the very same thing occurred with Americans these past few months. Secure in our superiority, strength and system, we charged in blind and allowed the Wyrm to creep in and corrupt us. Only instead of slavering bat-eared mangy Black Spiral Dancers, we have Steve Bannon, although I’m hard pressed to see any difference.

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The Garou may at times be consumed by Rage, but their other defining characteristic is Gnosis, which equates to knowledge or understanding on a holy level. They are in tune with the natural and spiritual worlds in a way that most humans take a lifetime to attain. The mission of the Garou is not something they choose, it defines them utterly and completely. They do the job because it is their birthright duty, and part of that is because they completely and utterly fucked themselves and the world up to put them in this unvenviable position.  That sounds a lot like Americans right now. That’s why I say we have to be Garou. We need to be werewolves. We need to turn into insatiable flesh-rending murderbots, hell-bent on protecting the world from an evil that is, while not our creation, certainly our own-fucking-responsibilty. Each of us has our own claws, fangs, and its already been proven we can summon up a hell of a bark. So, aim for the moon and fucking howl. Physical and spiritual healing can only begin after we hunt down and rip the still beating heart out of this nuclear charged hate-filled Wyrm.

When will you Rage?     rage

A Posthumous Review of Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines

2017-01-12So, I took a day off work for mental health purposes, and began faffing around on my new laptop, something I haven’t had a whole lot of time to do, mainly because of that whole “work thing”. After a hearty breakfast of waffles, sausage, and eggs I reactivated my Steam account, curious to see what would run on my new machine. I was very pleasantly surprised to find I had purchased a copy of Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines about five years prior. I booted the game up, made a new character, and then got sucked into the virtual World of Darkness until about 3 pm.

There are probably a few reasons for that. One, I’d been feeling myself go into a depressive episode over the past week or so. Two, my Xbox 360 died sometime before Thanksgiving and I’d not played an actual video game in about three months. Three, I love almost anything to do with White Wolf/ Onyx Path’s World of Darkness properties. Four? V:TM – Bloodlines is a goddamn masterpiece of video game rpgs, even thirteen years later.

Jeez, is it really thirteen years old? I suddenly feel incredibly old for just having spent about five hours playing as an immortal bloodsucker.

If you have never played or heard of Vampire, I’ll give a very brief rundown. Vampire: The Masquerade is a table top role-playing game that hit the market in the very early 1990s. 1991 if I am not mistaken. It took the gaming world by storm, and not just because it was targeted at the kind of people who’d like to pretend to be beautiful immortals, and the goth/alt crowd in general. Vampire was a new kind of rpg, one that had a huge emphasis on the character one played and the story those characters inhabited. In its earliest envisioning, the game was far less about having interesting powers, picking up weapons and fighting one’s enemies than it was about telling a harrowing and soulful tale about being one of the Damned. One initially picked from seven clans of vampires, called Kindred. Each had unique abilities and weaknesses to set them apart, but also lent tragedy and nuance to your character when wielded as storytelling tools. Perhaps your character could be a captain of finance acquired by the Ventrue clan, the blue bloods of the Kindred world. Now able to use his vampiric mien to dominate any business deal he could be a part of, only never to truly enjoy the fruits of the wealth he amasses. Maybe your character started as a beautiful socialite, turned by a cruel scion of clan Nosferatu, and cursed to never be seen by humanity again lest she tear down the fragile Masquerade the Kindred uphold with her very presence. Throw in the themes of each Kindred having to wrestle with their inner monster, called the Beast, and balance their need for blood with a fragile ideal of Humanity (as in “oh the”) and you had a game so intimate you could even spend hours examining the human condition via vampirism with just a game runner and one player.

The game also gathered an intimidating amount of lore through it’s (un)life-span, starting with its own twisting of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and ending with multiple sects of Kindred fighting against each other, humanity, their own progenitors, you name it.

Whether the scales of the stories were small or epic, people resonated with the game and it became a smash hit that spawned four separate editions (1st, 2nd, Revised, and 20th Anniversary edition. A fifth if you count Requiem, its cousin in the now available Chronicles of Darkness line of games). A newly minted ‘Fourth Edition’ is now in the works. The game’s influence can be seen in the influx of vampire media we’ve seen over the past few years, probably starting with the Blade franchise and reaching its apex with the long running HBO show ‘True Blood’. It’s no secret that the writer of the books that show was based on is a longtime fan of Vampire, and by the shows fifth season one must wonder if the writers are holed up at their desks with bargain bin copies of Vampire: The Masquerade source books (Vicissitudes is not a common word).

You may be wondering– how the hell do you make a video game out of this? I’m not sure how they did, but they did. Vampire: The Masquerade -Bloodlines takes the core ideas of Vampire and makes a game you can sink hours into. Set in Los Angeles, you start the game out as a just Embraced (turned) vampire. Props to the game designers for going with that, as it allows them to scale both the game objectives to your relatively weak stats and get away without having to provide the V:TM core rule book with the game just to know what the heck is going on. It has a nice way of making things feel new again, even to someone who has read most of the books cover to cover.

Another beautiful point of design is just how the game is played. It rewards you for engaging in and developing other skills besides combat. Most missions have multiple ways of completion, and often, you are rewarded with more loot and more experience for NOT going into to every situation like a blood-gorged spree killer. A lot of how they accomplish this is by cleverly engaging the different Kindred Disciplines into play. Some of them buff your stats in or out of combat, making investigation, stealth, or hacking/lock picking more viable options. On an even more genius level, they allow for social Disciplines to be used as dialogue options. Need to get into the blood bank to follow up on a lead, but your attempts at persuasion fall flat? If your character has the Presence or Dominate abilities, you can buff your Persuasion skill or straight up command the NPC to let you in like the Dracula in training that you are. Even combat situations play out better with a little thought to what your Disciplines can bring to the table. I re-learned this the hard way today trying to free a plot character from a maniacal serial-killer surgeon, who lead me to Final Death with a severed arm several times before I got wise. I eventually triumphed through a combination of buffing my stats, turning invisible, and making strategic strikes. Not only did I win, but I felt damn clever to boot.

If I have one complaint about the game, it is that the graphics do not look as good as I remember, but for a game over a decade old they still hold up well. Heck, the faces of the NPCs I talk to still seem impressively expressive, even compared to some games today. The voice cast is great too (is that Bender Bending Rodriguez I hear in the tones of Smiling Jack?). The need for updated graphics is really the only pitfall and the community has some patches for that or so I hear. The environments are varied, there is a good amount of replay value as each clan has a different playstyle to experience, and I love the moody soundtrack of Lacuna Coil and Ministry echoing out of in-game sound system. If you have never experienced the World of Darkness at all, V:TM-Bloodlines would be a pretty good introduction. At $20 on Steam, it’s well worth trying out, and you don’t need a gaming group to get started!  If you are a fan of White Wolf and you haven’t played Bloodlines yet… well I don’t know why. Go play it!

 

 

2016, Super heroes, and Personal Responsibility

( note this is an as of yet unpolished post and right now I just want to get these thoughts out for people to see and digest)

Basically all I’ve been seeing online these past few days, other than roughly two million pictures of Carrie Fisher, is the endless wave of posts bemoaning 2016 and/ or how people can’t wait for it to end. While I can understand this sentiment, I want to remind everyone (almost maliciously but it is for your own good) that Death is not going to take a break at the stroke of midnight on January 1st.  The idea that 2017 is instantly going to be a better year just because it is no longer 2016 naively gives a sense of sentience to what is just an arbitrary set of 365 days that refreshes eleven days after the winter solstice.  

I understand the desire for this, trust me I do! When we view 2016 by the broad strokes of celebrity deaths, minority abuses by the power structure, a Trump Presidential Win, 2016 looks like a very bad dude. That isn’t even going into some of the more heinous yet strangely more ignored crap that is going on, such as the DAPL pipeline fight, the destruction of Aleppo, and the insidious rise of white supremacist movements all over the Western World (and the even more insidious idea that they’re just normal people who we should respect and try to get along with. I’m sorry, but no.) It is also worth noting that 2016 had more superhero movies than any year so far, eight in fact, and that is just counting the output by Marvel and Warner Bros. Also, even more related media if you count Star Wars (still basically super heroics in space), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, DC’s television properties, and Marvel’s Netflix offerings.  

I strongly believe the online discourse surrounding 2016 and the veritable glut of superhero media to be related. Not in the idea that the studio execs are diviners that looked into a crystal ball several years ago and said, “Wow this one is going to be a doozey, better get some 4-color inspiration on the screens for everyone!” The connection these two things have is personal responsibility and mortality.

As social media either reveals or convinces us that the world is heading towards perpetual garbage fire status, escapism becomes seemingly more prevalent. Reliance on media escapism is not a new thing—there was point in time where people in the 1800’s decried the indigent youth and women of the time of reading too many novels.  A time where reading the newspaper was destroying family time and community discussion! That sounds familiar doesn’t it? So really, it isn’t the amount or prevalence of media or devices that is worth commenting on. What is, is that we seem to be using these devices to ingest a lot of super hero media, and that I believe is a reflection of our current times.

Don’t color me wrong here, I love super heroes. I am an avid comic book collector, to the point where my mother still feels the need to make little jabs about it here and there. I’m glad these characters are really cementing themselves in our modern consciousness and that comic books in general are selling better. I do however think the rise of the super hero is telling us something about us as a society, as is our constant focus on celebrities kicking the bucket.

 

That something being- we’re all afraid of dying. Much of our year has been focused on people dying. For some people those dying have been contemporaries, for others of us those people were childhood inspirations, and for others those people were legends. It is as if every day we’re being forced to yet again confront our own mortality through the deaths of seemingly immortal rock stars or the face of heroes who never change when we watch Empire Strikes Back for the 400th time. Facing your mortality is scary stuff, especially when we have entire industries we interact with every day that basically tries their best to force us to deny or ignore that mortality.  

Enter superheroes. Superheroes are immortal in the best way possible.  In their universes Death really never has the last laugh. Death is a minor reprieve for most of the cape crowd, and the revolving door of the afterlife is ever turning. Wait a few short months and your favorite character is sure to return, usually in a spectacular miniseries. Many are immortal within the context of their universes as well- godhood, youth extending serums, and healing factors all do their part to explain why our heroes can punch Hitler in the face 80 years ago and still be around to entertain us in 2016. Their existence on the page itself also occurs in kind of stasis. Heroes get costume changes, gender changes, new secret identities, new powers all the time in an attempt to keep things interesting, yet always end up returning to their ageless iconic appearance.  These are characters that have been around longer than some of our grandparents, and they’ll likely outlive most of us as well.  Even super hero universes conveniently avoid the repercussions of their saviors’ actions.  New York, Metropolis, Star City—these places get rebuilt off panel, exactly the same at the beginning of every storyline.

No wonder in a year that when our princes, princesses, Goblin Kings and Potion Masters die, we look to our aliens, super soldiers, and mythological heroes to fill the void. Our superheroes give us more than just a way to aspire to immortality, and avoid thinking about mortality. They unfortunately, through that very escapism we’re seeking, provide us with a way to avoid responsibility.  Super heroes, through their daring do and gadgets and powers, show us a world where one person can make a huge difference.  That one person need never be us. How can it be us? We don’t have the powers. What can we do?

Well for a start, we can stop giving a 365 day period of time around the sun the psychic weight that we have, as an excuse to not confront those things that make us feel uncomfortable and helpless. Blaming 2016 for everything horrible, as if the stars contained within this calendar year have been arranged to put us in the equivalent of a year-long Mercury Retrograde, is not helpful. It is fun, perhaps. However, demonizing the year is really only a way to lump everything together and avoid taking a good, serious look at the individual events and trends that have made this year seem so shitty, and forcing ourselves to do something about them. We’re creating a new boogey man in place of some of the very real ones that already exist, ones that aren’t going away when the Avengers, Justice League, or even our darkest fantasies like the Punisher burst through the skylight in a hail of glory, bullets, and zero repercussion violence. It’s also worth pointing out that in their respective universes, Lex Luthor was elected POTUS at least once, and Norman Osborn was given control of all the resources of the U.S. Government, S.H.I.E.L.D, and a boat-load of super heroes that complied with that ever controversial “Super Hero Registration Act”. In fact, there was even an ongoing story line where Norman Osborn created his own “cabinet” of Avengers, if you’ll allow me the comparison. In Dark Reign he drove the good guys underground and created his own Avengers full of super villains masquerading as Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hawkeye and Captain Marvel. In real life we have Donald Trump appointing oil execs to the Environmental Protection Agency (Marvel’s evil megacorporation Roxxon is a direct reference to Exxon by the way), a general who believes in conspiracy theories to head up his intelligence affairs, and a woman who literally seems to hate public education to the department of the same name. Oh, and in the recently reborn and revamped Valiant Comics universe, Vladimir Putin is an in-canon supervillain. If this isn’t life imitating art and art reflecting our current cultural fears, I really don’t know what is.

So there you have it folks. We basically have real-life super villains with their fingers on the buttons of power, not just in America, but all around the world. Much like Luthor, Osborn, and Maxwell Lord most of ours seem to be evil capitalists, but that discussion is for another post someday. To start bringing things to a close, my question is- where are the superheroes? Where are the shining exemplars to balance out those who are hell-bent on ruining the world to line their pockets? So far the only super-soldiers I’ve seen are the veterans currently freezing with the protest camps in North Dakota.

I say we do this. Rather than focus on the loss of the heroic artists, can we focus on the things they left behind? These are people who created, inspired, and not at least a few fought for rights we supposedly enjoy today. The supervillains in power seem poised to take those rights away. Are we going to tarnish the memory of our beloved real life heroes by rolling over and being trampled, or are we going to actually emulate our beloved fictions, and like Steve Rogers, punch a fascist in the face?

Stop whining about 2016. Its only here for three more days, and it never had any actual power except that which you gave it. Unlike Dr. Doom, Thanos, or Apocalypse, when it dies, it won’t come back. If we want 2017 to be any better we’re going to have to make it so ourselves.

Get out there and be your own super hero. Or somebody else’s, I don’t care. Sure, all of the big problems of the year past and the one coming can’t be solved by your lonesome. You’re not Superman. None of us are, except in the indomitableness of his spirit and will to do good for others. There are however a thousand little problems, a thousand two-penny villains out there every day that you can deal with.  If you can wake up January 1st and believe in that idea and act on it, you’re already making the world a better place.  May your contributions to our society make you immortal, and make you feel a little better about your own mortality.

Face front true believers!

 

So You May Be Wondering

It started with piece of fake jewelry. About fifteen years ago, some friends and I were out at fixture of the San Antonio urban culture known as “First Friday”. This event included exhibitions of art, live music stages, and street musicians, as well as vendors of all sorts.” A friend of mine who was similarly interested in all things occult and weird had found a silver ring among a bunch of different tacky jewelry at a street cart. It was a masonic ring. Heavily intrigued by the mysteries of these mysterious men, my friend, we’ll call him Drew, took the ring off the vendors hands for about twenty-five dollars. It was not until we got back to my dorm room at Trinity University that we found out we had been had.

“This isn’t a ‘G’ on this ring!” Drew exclaimed, “This is a ‘C’!” Sure enough, in the middle of the square and compass where a G for the Almighty Deity should have been engraved, was most obviously a C.  For what we wondered? We ran through a list of possible correspondences off the top of our heads, not a small feat considering Drew was a Catholic going on Kabbalist and I was miring myself in a strange mixture of Wicca and Hermetic teachings ( hey I don’t judge you for what you do in your spare time).

It didn’t take us long to settle on the astrological attribution of Cancer, although looking back on it now I cannot for the life of me recall why we settled on that.  All the while we’d been discussing the merits and thrills of belonging to a secret society and pondering how we might join an illustrious society such as the Free Masons. I was around twenty or twenty-one at the time, which placed Drew in his last year of high school. Neither of had the slightest clue of how to go about joining the Masons, the O.T.O. (more on that for future posts), or any other secret society. At the time, we figured not knowing how to find them was part of their appeal.  Having no other option, we resolved to start our own secret society, a plan we then declared to everyone present (about 6 of us). Everyone agreed it was a brilliant idea, and formed the core membership of what we dubbed The Sideways Order of the Path of the Crab!

Drew and I fashioned a logo and drew up a mission statement. We even went so far as to create a degreed system of titles as one progressed horizontally along the crustacean course. We were laughably serious about all this. The Sideways Order of the Path of the Crab, a secret society of the pious, philosophers, and pranksters. A pseudo-mystical order and safe lodge of discussion for all of those who looked at life a little sideways. Dreams of smoky wood paneled rooms with a roaring fire and snifters of brandy filled our heads (which being in Texas was highly impractical). Then, in true Discordian fashion, the society we founded never met again. Oh sure some of those people would at times be in the same room together. Drew and I occasionally discussed trying to hook new members, or what our secret rites would be like (our secret handshake was beyond ridiculous). I even remember a very halfhearted attempt to hold a meeting at a local coffee shop. I believe a Facebook group might still exist, although I am probably the only remaining member. Our secret society started with a bang and disintegrated like poorly built sandcastles.

If you’ve gotten this far, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Matt. Welcome to my blog. I dream of being a writer you see. I write short stories, and poems, and random blurbs. If you go through the backlog of Multiversity Comics you might still find me there. I have lived a very storied thirty-three years on this Earth, and while I do not lack at all for things to write about what I find do lack is time. So far I’ve fallen into that trap Charles Bukowski calls “ air and space and light”, thinking that I need conditions to be perfect to be able to sit down and have a productive writing session. This whole blogging thing is meant to be an exercise in writing self-discipline and “getting myself out there”.  So every week, or so I hope, I plan to sit down, find an event in my life, a book or movie that I love, or a stray thought, and write about it. Don’t look for a lot of rhyme or reason to it. That was the point of naming this blog after my little doomed philosopher’s club. You may come one week to find a review or retrospective of some comic book series I adore, or a long form essay or list post about certain things I hate, only to come back to next and think I’ve lost my fool mind ranting about various metaphysical concepts. That’s just the way my brain works. I hope you can appreciate it as much as I do. Oh, and I happen to be a Cancer.