Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Warren Ellis' Desolation Jones: An Appreciation

I am going to talk about Desolation Jones today. What is Desolation Jones? I hear you asking. Simply, it was a six issue mini-series published by the late, lamented Wildstorm Comics in 2005, written by Warren Ellis and with art by J.H. Williams III. We're not going to talk about the follow-up that Ellis was unable to finish in this and focus on the mini that was completed. If you click the link above, you'll find out how to buy it through Amazon.com, hopefully earning some affiliate credit for me.

First off, if you are a fan of the Burn Notice television show and you like comics I think you should check out Desolation Jones. The high concept of this comic is similar: spies broken by their jobs, or unable to interact normally with others because of agency experiments, are given a choice...die or move to Los Angeles. Yes, an interesting choice. However, in this comic Los Angeles is a secret open-air prison for former intelligence agents to are too important to kill but in too bad of shape (mostly psychologically) to still undertake missions regularly. Behave and stay within the city limits of L.A. and the former agents can continue to live.

Enter Michael Jones, former MI6 operative and survivor of the Desolation Test. I don't want to go into the Desolation Test in too much detail because the unveiling of it, and it's effects on Jones, are an important part of the story. Let's just say that, from what is revealed it wasn't a pleasant test, not that many things called Desolation are often pleasant. After the test Michael is give the choice by his government: we kill you, or you move to America and L.A. Michael chooses life (much like in the Wham song) and moves to Los Angeles, where he sets himself up as a private investigator to the former intelligence set. Some of this sound familar?

The story of this miniseries is an investigation into Hitler porn that Michael is hired to undertake. In true noir style, however, it quickly turns into much more. While well-written, keep in mind that Desolation Jones is not always a high minded comic. After all, this is the comic that gave us the quote "Everything goes better with bukkake." As Ellis often does in his comics, this story is a weaving of the high brow and the low brow. One of Ellis' throwaway ideas in this mini (which was going to be expanded in the unfinished follow-up) is the concept of supermodernism. Within the narrative of the comic, Ellis has Jones describe the concept as "The fact that we don't build places just to live in anymore. We build places to go through. To wait in. To be transient." As an aside, with my game designer hat on, Supermodernity is something that I think all game designers should learn something about. It is a fascinating concept that I think could inform a lot of designs in modern/SF worlds.

Jones is a detective very much in the Sam Spade/Mike Hammer mold. I don't think that the choice of the name Michael for the character is entirely coincidental. Jones solves this mystery with a mix of brutality and logic (even though Jones says repeatedly that he is not very smart) that would have fit well into any 30s L.A. noir story.

Williams art in this miniseries is on the cusp. This book was done in between his work with Alan Moore on Promethea and before he worked on the Seven Soldiers material with Grant Morrison. In Desolation Jones you can see glimpses of William's upcoming work on Seven Soldiers and Batwoman as well. This mini is very much a snapshot of an artist who is just about to come into his own, and his collaboration with Ellis on this really brings the characters and the world to life.

This comic is not for everyone. I will admit that. The themes are very adult, and there is a lot of violence and brutality in the book. It is, however, two creators that are really on their game, coming together and creating something bigger and better than what they could have done on their own. If you like crime stories, espionage stories, detective stories, noir, or even mild science fiction and you are willing to read it as a comic book then this is the miniseries for you. But mostly, I think this should be a required reading for those who are fans of Burn Notice and are looking for a comic book to fill in the time before we get new episodes. By the way, Burn Notice fans, let me know if anyone else thinks there is a commonality between the characters of Robina and Fiona.

Monday, January 09, 2012

New Year, New Game Indie Bundle

Because not just the big boys want you to play some new games this New Year, a group of small press and independent publishers and designers have banded together like a Justice League of Independence to offer to you some of their games and supplements at a reduced price. Why? Because they like you, and they want to get their stuff into your hands. While everyone else is speculating about D&D 5e today, we want you to pick up some neat new games that are not undergoing edition wars.

I should mention that my Open Core game is part of this bundle, but that is one of the reasons why you should pick up this bundle.

The bundle goes live shortly after this post goes up, so don't be surprised if some internet glitch causes a problem with the link below. Just take a deep breath and try again.

Here is what will be the link for this Bundle: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/prodPuct_info.php?products_id=98293&affiliate_id=1082

And now, some PR fluff to entertain you with, since I know that the link above is all that you really care about... (Have you clicked it yet?)

New Year, New Game Indie Bundle!

Looking to get your game on with some fantastic titles? It's a New Year and we have some great new games for you that scratch a variety of gaming itches from small press, independent publishers and designers. 

Ring in the New Year with 14 PDFs, 10 complete game systems to bring to your table.  The New Year, New Game Indie Bundle also features 1 print and play board game, a guide to conventions and several gaming supplements!

Pick up a new source book for your current system? Grab a few movie tickets and some popcorn? Why not get yourself and your group over $60 worth of games for just $30.66? Hours and hours of engaging and though provoking fun and new game systems to explore.

Hollowpoint from VSCA Publishing

Deluge from VSCA Publishing

Toys for the Sandbox: Apothacary from Occult Moon

Mi Gato se Incendia! (My Cat is on Fire!) by Benjamin Gerber

Argyle & Crew: Adventures in the Land of Skcos and two new scenarios by Benjamin Gerber

Mirkmoot’s Magical Accouterments for Creatures Great and Small by Benjamin Gerber

Shadow, Sword & Spell: Under Pashuvanam's Lush from Rogue Games, Inc.

Conventions for the Aspiring Game Professional by Jess Hartley

Instant Antagonist: The Creepy Cottontail from FR Press

Open Core Roleplaying System Classic from Battlefield Press

Toypocalypse from Top Rope Games

Old School Hack by Kirin Robinson

Kicking Historical Asses from Machine Age Productions

Homicidal Transients from Left of the Moon Games

Total Site Price:                         $50.75
Bundle Price:                             $25.16
Savings off Total Site Price:     $25.59

Go Play Something New!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

My Top Three High Traffic Posts Of 2011

Of the posts that I made last year, three of them rose to the top to be my highest traffic posts for the year. I've never done a post like this in the past. Is this just a big for more traffic? Maybe. My commentary on each follows the link.

The highest traffic post was my repost of the start of the Speak Out With Your Geek Out movement, from over the summer. I like what became of SOWYGO, even if it was a bit rocky at the start. I have to say that I didn't like the fact that a male geek getting "slut shamed" for being a geek (and a championship Magic player) tried to get turned into something for women to be proud of being geeks. Everyone should be proud to be geeks, and I do not like the growing trend of ignoring what happens to men online. Yes, women have bad things happen to them..but I don't think the existence of one bad thing negates the existence of another. As geeks we need to start being nicer to each other...men and woman alike. Kudos to Monica for getting this off the ground and turning it into an event for everyone.

My second most popular post of the year was my post about the D&D With Pornstars people: Fear & Loathing In Gaming: D&D With Pornstars. Controversy (and naked women) gets clicks, apparently. In a way, these two posts are intertwined. There's been a lot of talk this year about gender issues in gaming. Many of them are right on the nose. We do need more women in gaming, honestly we need more people in gaming period. However, I come out on the side of this issue where I think that any coverage of gaming in the mainstream press that doesn't equate it with suicide or Satanism is a good thing. Really, we could use more mainstream attention. Who cares if the people being talked are porn actors? A lot of people online. Many people have spent a lot of time and Twitter and blog posts going on (at length) about how bad for the hobby this article was. Poppycock. I wish I had as much gaming as these people do. I wish most of the "commentators" on this issue had as much gaming as the D&D With Pornstars people, because then they would be more like to be gaming instead of bitching. If you come across this issue of Maxim at a store (not that I condone Byrne stealing of magazines or comics....pfft) or a library (What? I'm sure some library carries this magazine), I really recommend checking it out and actually reading the article.

Oh, I still hate the photo I took.

My number three article has neither naked women nor controversy involved in it. While it's a good post, I'm not sure if it belongs with these other two posts. :) Number three was my review of the OpenQuest RPG, a pseudo kind of sort of retro clone of the old Runequest games put out by Chaosium. It quickly turned into one of my favorite games of last year. If you haven't checked it out yet, you really should. Click that link, read the review, and pick up a copy today.

So, those are my top three traffic generators for the year. Are they my best posts? No, probably not. The SOWYGO post is just a copy and paste job. I am proud of my other two posts, however. I think the writing is good in both. Opinion writing isn't easy. You really need to have more than just an opinion. Anyone can have an opinion. What makes opinion writing good, and what makes people want to read it, is having an informed opinion on something (which means doing some thinking and some research) and backing up that informed opinion. There's a lot of "I think this because I do" writing that goes on among the so-called commentary on gaming online. That's rubbish writing at best, and overly sensationalistic at best. We need to move past that and strive for a level of professionalism in our commentary and blogging about gaming. That should be a New Years resolution for a lot of online gaming commentators.

The usual rules apply. Feel free to comment, but if you can't say something nice...don't say anything at all. I reserve the right to publish, or delete any comments that I feel belong on my blog. If you don't like that, then post to your own blog.