The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us title screen
Copyright Telltale Games.

A One-Page Review Game Review

The Wolf Among Us is the first Telltale game I have played. Their games are a modern form of the old point-and-click variety, a genre that I enjoyed in my younger years. I was a huge fan of LucasArts. But one thing that Telltale brings to the table is choices that affect the story. So, when I interact with characters or choose to investigate certain places over others, the story alters based on my choices.

TWAU is set in the Fables comics universe that was created by Bill Willingham. I was a huge fan of this series. In the game, you take control of Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby investigates the murder of a prostitute named Faith. What is particularly interesting in this game is the exploration of the seedy side of Fabletown and learning about Fables that fell between the cracks. Not everyone was a prince or princess. Some Fables were trolls or woodsmen or Grendel. A mysterious man known only as the Crooked Man has started an organization that provides for, and controls, Fables that can’t afford the Fabletown services—in particular, those that can’t afford the glamors that allow them to pass as human so they don’t have to go to the Farm.

Basically, TWAU is a noir exploration of the seedy underbelly of the Fables’s world.

Bigby gives Collin a cigarette.
Copyright Telltale games

For the most part, I enjoyed the game. I liked how Telltale introduced new characters who were based on urban myths, such as Bloody Mary and The Jersey Devil. I loved when Bigby finally tuned into his full, Big Bad Wolf form. And there were plenty of moments when I agonized over decisions I had to make. But at times I didn’t find the game too engaging. I would have enjoyed just watching and not playing, or even reading the story if it was a comic. Sometimes I forgot I was playing a game, and realized I had to answer a question or dodge a punch. (Be warned: don’t ever let your hands drop off the keyboard, just in case.)

Overall, I wanted more gameplay and exploration. The Wolf Among Us, however, is a well-made game, and a well-told story. It just wasn’t quite my thing.

Final Rating: 7/10


First Time For Everything: Planet Comicon

A photograph of the exhibitor and vendor hall.

My friend Nick has been trying to get me to go to Planet Comicon in Kansas City for the last couple of years. Money has always been tight and the con typically fell on inconvenient weekends during the school year. This year, however, events aligned for me to go: Nick paid for my ticket, the con fell at the end of Spring Break, and Sylvester McCoy came. This last on is a big deal. Living in the Mid-West, specifically Springfield, Missouri, Doctor Who-related celebrities are rare. The closest con for a Doctor Who appearance is Chicago TARDIS, and that is an eight-hour drive. The trip is not economically feasible for me.

Kansas City, however, is about a three-hour drive, and I know people in the area, which allows me to keep the costs down.

Planet Comicon was my first big convention. Springfield has a few, but they are small (but growing). I was nervous. The semester has been busy and intellectually challenging. I have had some significant questions about my education and career this year, culminating in a trip to the local Career Expo which made me realize that I don’t want to pursue certain careers in the technical writing field. I’m not sure software documentation is part of my future. After a few hours at the expo, I was in a panic, questioning why I ever returned to school. Is this what it will be like at a comic convention?

Thankfully, no. Planet Comicon was a lot of fun. I went with Nick and a couple of his friends, and while I spent most of my time wandering the booths and attending the panels alone, I felt refreshed by the eagerness and excitement of the attendees. (I feed off energy in crowds, and the Career Expo had an energy of mild desperation, which really messed with my emotions.) I felt largely accepted and enjoyed some of the brief interactions I had with creators such as Jeremy Haun, Greg Rucka, and Alex Grecian. I hope to go back next year, maybe with more writing under my belt and more of an idea of how to start networking with creators. They currently are where I want to be.

mccoy1As mentioned earlier, Sylvester McCoy was one of the celebrity guests. I couldn’t afford to get his autograph, but his panel was extremely fun. He walked the crowd, answering questions from the audience as he went along. I had a seat near the aisle, which enabled me to get a few pictures. He told some wonderful stories. He told about meeting Matt Smith while filming the 5(ish) Doctors Reboot. “He bounded up to me like an Afghan hound, all limbs and excitement, and licked me on the face.” He discussed the changes to Doctor Who while he was on the show, explaining that he was only going to stick with it for three years, but signing on for four because he was told the show would be cancelled if he didn’t stay on. It was cancelled anyway. He expressed his displeasure at his Doctor’s regeneration. And he played the spoons. I’m thrilled that I got to see him so soon after watching his era in its entirety for the first time.

In all, Planet Comicon was a great introduction to the fan-convention world. I look forward to checking out a few of the local cons in the upcoming year, and I look forward to going to Planet Comicon again next year. Maybe one day I will be able to make the great pilgrimage to the Gallifrey Convention.

Sylvester McCoy answers a question from an audience member

Orson Scott Card and Superman

Yesterday I talked about The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Doctor Who story that has developed a reputation for having racist undertones. It has been criticized because The Doctor, who normally refutes intolerance of any sort, exhibits potentially racist attitudes in the story. How apropos that DC Comics is now being criticized for hiring Orson Scott Card, who stands against same-sex marriage, to write a Superman story. Superman is a character who stands for truth and justice and would—according to the critics—oppose Card’s personal views on same-sex marriage. Many people believe he shouldn’t be writing for this character. Card is a Mormon, and the Mormonism church is strongly against same-sex marriage. He spends time and money supporting the National Organization of Marriage (he is on the board of directors). This organization works to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Many people are calling for a boycott of this comic. Others are calling for Card to be fired outright. I have even seen editorial pieces which call Card a horrible person and a failure as a human.

This bothers me greatly. I certainly advocate a boycott. By all means, people should speak with their money. They should also dialogue with one another about the situation. But what I find a bit troubling is the idea that a creator cannot write a character if said creator does not share a particular worldview, especially when we haven’t yet seen what he will write. As a writer, I would take it very seriously, when writing for an established character in an established universe, to be true and faithful to what that character stands for—whether I agreed with it or not. If I perceived something I was writing for the character would appear contradictory, I would be sure to back it up by referring to previous examples and portrayals. And if people didn’t like how I would use the money I made from the project, I would completely understand if they didn’t read the work. But the problem is that Orson Scott Card is acting according to what he believes—just as people who oppose him are acting according to what they believe. And yes, those convictions lead him to say hurtful things and to take actions (and fund organizations) that discriminate. But we have a tendency in America (and in the Western world) to say “you may believe what you want, but don’t act on those beliefs in the public sphere.” Unless, of course, these are mainstream beliefs or adhere to a certain cause. But if we truly believe something, if we are truly passionate about it, we will be compelled to act. Penn Jillette is an atheist, but he has more respect for Christians who evangelize than those who do not. His asserts is that if you are convinced non-Christians are going to hell, you have to hate those non-Christians to NOT evangelize to them. And I tend to agree. Being passionate about a belief leads a person to act. Card is acting based on what he believes; people who want Card off this Superman book are also acting based on what they believe. But what I desire to see is more respect on both sides. And truthfully, Card will not change his mind if he is made a martyr, which firing him before he writes will do. Suffering for one’s belief is a religious tenant, and blacklisting Card will make him a martyr. The real goal should not be getting him fired; the real goal should be changing his mind and heart. You cannot do that through anger-driven persecution (as he will undoubtedly see this attack).You change him by showing him more respect and more love than he shows you. Remember, at stake here is not the image of Superman, it is the dignity of human beings—both the persecuted LGBT community and Orson Scott Card. If this is truly the present-day civil rights movement, we would do well to look at Martin Luther King Jr. and his guidance in confronting prejudice. He wrote, according to A Martin Luther King Treasury, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” (173).

Noir City

The Jacket, a character from the forthcoming comic Noir City.
An illustration of The Jacket, one of the characters in Noir City. The Art is by Allen Byrns. (Source: The Noir City website. Copyright 2012 by Noir City.)

I have been reading comics off and on since high school. Currently, most of my “fun money” (the term my wife and I give to our personal entertainment budget) goes to the DC Comics titles Batman, Batman Inc., Action Comics, and Dial H. As you can tell, I’m a fan of Batman, but there is no end to the titles I would love to read beyond these four. And what I would really love to do is support more independent titles. Well, one of my friends has given me the chance, and I want to pass the info along to any of the readers of Edwardian Adventurer who also read comics.

Noir City is a comic written by Cody Walker and R.G. Valerius with art by Allen Byrns. As you would expect from a comic with “noir” in the title, the eponymous city is a dark place. Crime is high, morale is low. There are promises of superheroes and pagan gods, and the murder of a superhero from a previous age. The resolution of this murder will determine the fate of the city.

Noir City is being funded through Kickstarter. If you are unfamiliar with this site, it basically serves as a fundraising site for creative projects (comics, movies, music, technology, etc.). You can chose to donate however much you wish. Funding of Noir City starts at $1 and goes as high as you feel you can commit to. If the project doesn’t reach its minimum reserve, you pay nothing. One of the fun things about Kickstarter are the incentives. Each fundraising campaign has tiers of support; each tier has unique incentives. In the case of Noir City, you can get original artwork, exclusive members-only content, ad space for your business or website, or even a customized RPG session run through Skype.

I encourage you to visit the Noir City site. Check out the art and read about the story. If you feel inclined, pledge some money. I’m excited for Cody (who I have known for a few years) and I want to see this project succeed. Plus, it helps support independent artists and illustrates how new media is changing the paradigm of entertainment.

The Noir City Kickstarter campaign can be found here.

The official Noir City website can be found here

Meanwhile, Across the Web….

For context, I graduated from high school in 1998.

Cover for The Freedon Nadd Uprising #1. (Source: Wookieepedia. Copyright by Dark Horse Comics.

I was a Star Wars nerd in high school. I liken my Star Wars fandom to keeping the Doctor Who flame burning during the gap years. A handful of writers and artists kept the story alive. Timothy Zahn wrote his wonderful Thrawn trilogy. Dark Horse Comics released Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi, both written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy (former) and Chris Gosset (and a handful of other artists for the latter). Between Zahn and Veitch, both sides of the Star Wars coin were explored: military science fiction and mythology. In their own way, each author was completely faithful to the spirit of Star Wars while still providing their unique take on the universe. They set the groundwork for the expanded universe.

In 1999, the prequels were unleashed and everything changed. The richness of Star Wars was crushed for me. I don’t wish to spit on anyone’s prequel fandom; I just don’t like the prequels. I have occasionally revisited the original trilogy, and I cannot purge Episodes I,II, and III from my mind. There was a better way to tell the story.

Aaron Diaz, creator of the marvelous Dresden Codak web comic, would seem to feel the same way. He is an extremely busy man, but one of his pet projects is something he has christened Star Wars 1999. The premise is to tell the story of Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker using the source material available in 1997. This is primarily the original trilogy of films, but secondary material would be from Dark Empire and Tales of the Jedi. I would love to see this concept come to fruition in the form of a comic.

2011 Book Review Part 3

It wasn’t my intention to group similar books together, but it seems to have worked out that way.  Thus, this will be the comic post because I read quite a few graphic novel collections this year.

Alan Moore is one of the most highly-respected writers in the comic medium.  He has also gained an infamous reputation for slagging off virtually everything in the comic industry that isn’t his.  And whether or not you agree with is criticism of the modern comic industry, there is no accusing the man of being a hack.  Alan Moore has done much to influence the comic industry and propel it beyond escapism into postmodernism and philosophical territory.  This year I read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the first time.  Of all his work that I have read (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, and that Green Lantern story that has fueled most of Geoff John’s run), League may well be the most fun.  I enjoy the concepts of British Victorian Adventurers forming a secret league to fight evil, specifically evil that threatens the British Empire.  Not only was the first collection a fun read, it has made me curious about the other characters that I have not read, from Fu Manchu to H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon.  I also can’t help but wonder if Moore was influenced by Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family, or if he came up with this similar but distinct idea on his own.  Regardless, linking together these similar examples of adventurers is a fascinating exercise and the world Moore created is a fun conceptual playground.  His use of the Invisible Man is a bit disturbing, however.

Spurred on by the premiere of Once Upon a Time, I decided to revisit a series with a similar concept.  Bill Willingham’s Fables comics series by Vertigo likewise deals with fairy tale characters in our world, but that is where the similarity ends.  While the characters in Once Upon a Time have forgotten their pasts due to the curse enacted by The Evil Queen, Fables shows a group of exiles forced out of their homeland by a mysterious adversary who has been conquering the fable world.  The collections Legends in Exile and Animal Farm set up the two primary mundane world locations, the Fabletown ghetto in New York City and The Farm in rural upstate New York.  The city location houses the human fables, The Farm houses the non-humans.  These two collections lay the groundwork for the series.  It is quite imaginative and a lot of fun.  The first collection reads a bit like a television pilot.  It is the weaker of the two.  Animal Farm, however, finds its footing quickly as Snow White and her sister Rose Red must put down a rebellion led by the Three Little Pigs.  Animal Farm also introduces regular series artist Mark Buckingham, who is just brilliant.  If you don’t like the typical comic art cliches of men with six-pack abs and women with busts larger than their heads, Buckingham is your artist.  His characters look realistic and are realistically proportioned.  A warning, however: As Fables is a part of the Vertigo imprint, it is meant for mature readers.

The most-represented author on my reading list for 2011 was Grant Morrison.  I read six of his books this year.  You can probably tell I am a fan.  For Christmas I got the first volume of New X-Men: The Ultimate Collection.  In this title, Grant Morrison turns his deconstructionist eye to Marvel’s X-Men and attempts to re-imagine them for the new millennium.  Not all readers enjoyed what he did, but I feel he breathed new life into characters that were growing stale and uninteresting.  It seems that The X-Men were not developing beyond their 1980s archetype portrayal, and Morrison was not satisfied with this.  He changed their costumes.  He shook up Scott and Jean’s marriage.  He introduced a score of new mutants who couldn’t possibly pass as human.  And he introduced the idea that humanity was dying out, slowly being replaced by homo-superior and that a new race was evolving from homo-superior, one that would be more powerful than the mutants that humanity feared.  There is a wealth of interesting concepts here.  But with Grant Morrison, there always is.

The second Morrison book was volume two of his run on Animal Man.  It is a bit hard to review this work as I haven’t read volume one.  I found this one in a used book shop and bought it for fear of it not being there on the next visit.  Animal Man was one of the works that catapulted Morrison to stardom and it is well written.  The central concept seems to be about comic characters becoming self-aware as their Silver Age past is re-written for the darker modern era.  Suddenly faced with two sets of memories, sentience starts to dawn.  I’m eager to finish this series one day.

Finally, we have Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, all four volumes of which were a birthday gift.  Outside of his work on Batman, this may be my favorite Grant Morrison project.  He revives the long defunct Seven Soldiers team by bringing together seven very different, some forgotten, heroes to fight a race f ofuturistic insectoid scavengers known as the Sheeda.  The Sheeda ravage the earth every few millennia to supply their own society with technology and sustenance.  Then they allow humanity to rebuild for the next harrowing.  The four volumes were collections of seven miniseries with bookends and the pieces of the plot were scattered across the various books, often given out of order.  This is a series that rewards multiple readings.  Each hero encounters his or her own pieces of the puzzle and no more.  The reader must do the work of putting everything together in the end.  Each hero is even ignorant of his or her own place in the team as the Sheeda attack any gathering of seven for fear of the prophecy that would usher in their destruction.  Thus, the Seven Soldiers of the title are working as individuals with no knowledge of one another, their actions guided by a mysterious group of men that exist just outside of reality.  I’ve given away enough of the plot, but there is so much more that I haven’t even touched.  If you enjoy high-concept fiction and don’t mind putting effort into piecing together complicated plots, you will probably enjoy this series.

Fables Book One: Legends in Exile

Created and Written by Bill Willingham

I’ve mentioned it in my reviews of Once Upon a Time and Grimm, so I figure it is time to talk about Fables in more detail.  I couldn’t help returning to the first story arc, the pilot if you will, after watching the premiere episode of Once Upon a Time.  The two stories are quite different.  While both involve fairy tale characters leaving their world for ours, the motivations and narratives couldn’t be more distinct.  Where Once Upon a Time is a quest to reawaken the characters to their true nature so they can break a curse, Fables sees characters from both fairytales and folklore in exile in a small ghetto in New York City.  They remember who they are and where they came from.  The basic premise is that they have lived in our world for centuries after being compelled to flee from a being known only, as of book one, as The Adversary.

The Adversary came upon the Fablelands slowly, conquering outlying regions one at a time.  Before many of the inner kingdoms realized that his plan was total domination, it was too late.  He conquered and enslaved.  Many Fables found their way to our world and upon the discovery of The New World (America), they started a colony.  This colony, now a small ghetto, is presided over by King Cole (mayor of Fabletown) with Snow White doing the bulk of administration.  Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf . . . get it?) is a detective in employ of the city.  He has taken human form, and option given to all non-human Fables.  It is required of all who live in the city.  Those who refused the enchantment were relocated to The Farm, an isolated piece of property in upstate New York that has enchantments that discourage visitors.  A general amnesty is offered to all Fables upon acceptance into the community.  All crimes committed prior to exile are forgiven. Just a note, despite the amnesty Bigby isn’t allowed on The Farm due to unpleasant encounters he had with some of the tenants prior to the exile.  At the moment both communities live in peace, but King Cole and Snow do worry from time to time as the peace is contingent on the various Fables continuing to abide by the agreements they have made.  It could all fall apart in short notice.

Now that the backdrop is in place, the first book deals with the murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister.  Her wrecked and bloodied apartment is discovered by her boyfriend Jack (the subject of all the “Jack Tales” you may have heard).  Bigby is brought in to investigate, Snow tagging along much to his annoyance.

In many ways, Legends in Exile is similar to a television pilot.  The story is primarily concerned with introducing the concepts described above, while introducing the myriad characters that populate this world (well, Fabletown at least.  The Farm isn’t visited until Book Two).  Character dynamics are explored throughout the investigation, and the tension between Snow and Bigby is signposted quite clearly.  He is drawn to her, something that is explored in the back-up short story.  And while the investigation is interesting enough, the writing and characterizations are still a bit rough.  At times, Snow seems even more hard-nosed than later portrayals.  Perhaps that is down to Lan Medina’s artwork.  This is the only story arc Medina illustrated.  He was replaced by Mark Buckingham as the primary artist, and I prefer Buckingham.  His style suits the story, alternating between whimsical and serious.  Legends in Exile, while compelling in concepts, still hasn’t found its stride.  Fear not, however, as that will be achieved soon enough.

Following the five-part collection is a short story by Willingham entitled A Wolf in the Fold.  It tells the story of Snow White’s first meeting with The Big Bad Wolf while still in the Fablelands.  This story is prose with illustrations, and its writing is much stronger than that of Legends in Exile.  I was a bit concerned that I was mis-remembering how good Fables was as I read Legends, but A Wolf in the Fold reassured me.

Part of the fun of this title is identifying the legends and fairytales that are peppered throughout, both obvious and not-so-obvious.  In the obvious camp we have Boy Blue, The Frog Prince, Beauty and The Beast, and a flying monkey from Oz.  One of the more subtle references is to Aslan and Narnia, which Willingham could only imply as both are still under copyright.  A Wolf in the Fold even references Vlad Tepes, if I’m not mistaken.  There’s also a fun reference to both Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Bullfinch (of Bullfinch’s Mythology fame) on the first page if you pay attention to street names.  There’s a lot on the page to reward the eagle-eyed.

So, while Legends in Exile may not be the strongest offering of the Fables series, it is still a good read and it is essential to start at the beginning.  It only gets better.  If you are apprehensive about comics because you don’t like superheroes or you feel they are just for kids, this is a good starting point.

Content Note: Fables is published under DC Comics “Vertigo” imprint.  Vertigo comics are meant for mature readers, meaning they can often deal with adult concepts or themes.  They also may include strong language, graphic violence, nudity or sex.  Fables: Legends in Exile does have some strong language and one sex scene though there is no actual nudity.  It definitely isn’t for children.