Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review--Swords of Rome, Vol 1: The Conquerors

Swords of Rome, Volume 1: The Conquerors is an historical graphic novel chronicling the rise of the infamous Nero.

In this volume, the Emperor Claudius is about to divorce the avaricious Agrippina (his fourth wife--and niece), write Nero out of the will, and name his 14-year old son Britannicus heir to the Imperial Throne. 

But Agrippina, Nero's mom, beats Claudius to the punch and poisons him at a banquet, before the orgy commences.  The will conveniently disappears, thanks to Agrippina's minion Pallas, and Nero is sworn-in as the new emperor, thanks to some hefty bribes to the Praetorian Guard, the Senate, and various sycophants.

This, along with some well-placed murders of minor conspirators, secures Nero's position among Roman society.

Just when Agrippina feels she's the true power behind the Imperial Toga, Nero begins to assert himself, and rebel against his mother's wishes.  While taken down a peg, Agrippina is not out and schemes a way to re-insert herself into Nero's life through the prostitute Acte he's smitten by.

Got all this?

I hope so.

I had to troll Wikipedia conduct extensive historical research in order to boil the plot down to something resembling a bite-sized synopsis.

There's a couple of sub-plots involving imperial friends & relatives, senators, gladiators, slave girls, Praetorian Guardsmen, more prostitutes and a witch. 

Readers would benefit greatly if there were a Cast of Characters pages and scene-breaks ("Meanwhile, back at the Lupanar..."), to better understand who's-doing-what-to -whom. There is a footnotes page at the end of the book, which is more interesting than helpful.

Other than these quibbles, along with some bending/omitting of some historical facts, Swords of Rome, Vol 1, is an outstanding book.  It's a graphic novel version of I, Claudius

The story arc is a yardstick authors from Machiavelli to George R. R. Martin base their work on.

Nero is initially depicted in sympathetic light, who feels more comfortable with his doting aunt Domitia than his own mom.  There's a touch of foreshadowing about his fascination with fire, then Nero cuts the apron strings immediately upon the sudden death of Britannicus, thanks to poison administered by one of Agrippina's minions.  (Historically, Nero himself may have been behind it).

The lavish artwork pays close attention to historical detail.  Clothing, arms & armor, along with architecture are accurately portrayed in every panel.

Now if you've seen I, Claudius; or read any of the Game of Thrones novels, nothing in Swords of Rome, Vol 1 won't shock you.  However, the material is definitely for mature readers, due to the violent murders and assassinations, along with sexually explicit scene, which border on an "X" Rating.

Speaking of ratings, I give Swords of Rome, Vol 1, half a point shy of 5-stars because of it's lack of character reference page.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Comic-Con Staying Put, Uh, Maybe?

(Image by Steve Breen)
Today was the last day for this year's Comic-Con International: San Diego

For years this con, deemed to be the biggest & best of the comic book conventions, has been held in California's second-largest city since 1970.

So it came as a surprise when I stumbled across the above cartoon Steve Breen posted on the Comicon's first day. 

(In case you have aging eyesight like I do, I used a magnifying glass to read what was printed on the redhead's skirt.  It reads:  Bigger Cities).

When I tried to investigate further, the only articles I've come across were posted in 2010 and 2012.  

I guess with nothing posted recently, it's safe to assume Comicon will remain in San Diego forever.

Uh, Right?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review--Praetorian

It's 2009, and Special Agent Kasandra Rodriguez of the FBI, is on the trail of a serial killer whose modus operandi is to decapitate the victims, and carve arcane symbols on the each victim's chest, while leaving no trace of the severed heads.

Soon Special Agent Rodriguez realizes she's in over her own head.

About 2,000 years over her head.

She seeks the aid of Professor Julian, an expert in ancient languages, only to find out he's more than just a mild-mannered scholar.  Julian is one of four Praetorian Guardsmen, who've been made immortal by Jesus Christ, and charged with protecting mankind.

As it turns out, these Praetorians have been trying to stop this "Judgment Killer" for the past 20 centuries.

Praetorian, obviously isn't the first story about immortals: Highlander, the film and the series come to mind. 

Nor is this the first story about someone made immortal by Christ:  Casca, the Eternal Mercenary has been alive and kicking since 1979.

 I've never read any of these books, only the back cover synopses.  As a writer and "cafeteria Catholic," I felt it was out of character for someone who preached we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), to turn around and curse one of his executioners. 

Praetorian differed from Casca on this principle of divine grace:  The immortal Romans were all accomplices in Christ's crucifixion, and yet were later forgiven by Him when he rose from the dead.

Despite the tie-in to Christian beliefs, I'd be surprised to find this novel in the Christian Literature Section, due to the graphic violence depicted in the story.

While I found Praetorian somewhat predictable, it was still a satisfying 3-star read.  I figured out who the killer was, and how the story should end; but I wasn't sure about the motivation behind the killings.

My only quibble is--it was unlikely that any of the Praetorian Guard took part in crucifying Christ.  Their primary duty was to safeguard the Caesars--when they weren't assassinating emperors they were displeased with, or selling the Imperial Throne to the highest bidder.  It's most likely the legionnaires stuck on execution detail that first Good Friday were from Legio VI Ferrata.

But hey.  No matter what legion they were originally assigned to, having some Roman soldiers kicking bad-guy butt in the 21st Century is a pretty cool concept, no matter how the story's told.

The artwork reminded me of illustrations you'd find in Heavy Metal magazine--minus the partial, or "full-monty" nudity.

The final page hinted at more stories to follow.  Unfortunately, Outlaw Entertainment, disappeared from the comic book scene near the end of 2009, after releasing several promising titles. 

The only on-line presence remaining of Outlaw Entertainment is a dormant Facebook page, and a single comic trailer advertisement.

You can find used copies of Praetorian in bookstores, or on-line, and often for $5 or less.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Studio's First Restaurant Review

This being a wargaming and writing blog, I never thought I'd be doing a restaurant review.  That is, until my sister Roxanne (aka, Rox of Spazhouse) and I went to eat at AFK Elixirs & Eatery

AFKE&E, opened a few months ago, and is associated with The AFK Tavern in Everett, WA.

We discovered AFKE&E last week during Rox's visit, thanks to my friend Daryl, who works for Wizards of the Coast.  Which by the way, is just a few blocks away from AFKE&E.

So with highly placed recommendation in mind, we stopped-in for lunch.

Normally, themed restaurants tend to be heavy on the theme and light on the eats & elixirs.

Not so with AFKE&E--who's clientele aren't known for their normalcy.  Gamers want good food, and lots of it.

Rox had The Hatchling, and I ordered the Cucco Panini.  Both came with more tater tots (Hatchling) and French fries (Panini) than either of us could finish off.  Rox washed down her meal down with a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster...

...which she must have liked since she took a picture of it. 
I'm not a drinker, so I can't comment personally on the quality and quality of AFK's alcohol-based elixirs. (You can see my "muggle cola" in the background).
Of course a good meal at AFKE&E is only part of the experience.  Rox and I spent several minutes taking pictures of the sci-fi/fantasy decorations adorning the tavern.
Here's Rox next to a stand-up of her "Tenth Best Friend."
I had a bunch of photos I was planning on including in this post, but I lost my camera somewhere between the tavern and home.  I'd love to blame my loss on too much Gargle Blasters, but I was sober, and Rox's chauffeur for this outing.

Anyway, lost cameras aside, AFKE&E isn't just a place for geeks & gamers to eat & drink.  It's also a refuge for gamers to game.  Events are posted regularly on the AFKE&E's Facebook page.

Their website is currently under construction, and from reading other reviews; this isn't the only teething problems this new restaurant has had, or may still be having. 
Rox and I had a solid 4-star experience.  But to be honest, since we haven't actually seen each other in several years, we were focused on catching up on "life, the universe and everything."  So if anything was amiss, we didn't catch it.  Our elixirs and eats arrived in a timely manner, and our waitress Nikki was professional and pleasant. 
Reviews on sites like Yelp are however, awash with "critical hits and fumbles," regarding every aspect of the tavern.  Comments on Foursquare are about 80% positive, while on Trip Advisor and Urban Spoon, it's a 50/50 hung jury. 
The only difficulty I experienced occurred when I tried calling the tavern back to inquire about my lost camera.  My initial salvo of phone calls, at about 6 PM, went to voicemail.  A couple hours later, I tried again and got one of the staff members.  The following day, shortly after 11 AM, I contacted Nikki on my first attempt.  She remembered us, even after three days, but didn't recall seeing a camera left behind.  (I didn't realize my camera was missing until a couple days later when coming home from work).
So there you have it.  The next time you're feeling adventurous for your next meal, give AFKE&E a try.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Reviews--Tankies/Firefly and His Majesty

A few months ago, my friend Joe and I discussed comic books.  We agreed that, with few exceptions, like Spider-Man for me, the superhero comics were our least favorite.
I leaned mostly towards war comics.  My reading ranged from the two-fisted tales of Sgt. Rock and Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos...
(Image from DC Wikia) the supernatural with The Haunted Tank, and Weird War Tales.
(Image from Comic Vine)
Not very realistic stuff to be sure, and when I discovered wargaming, my sporadic comic book collecting took a back seat.
Then a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a couple of issues of Garth Ennis' Battlefields
First up is Tankies
In this story, an inexperienced crew of a Churchill Tank loses it's commander and figure they've done their part for King & Country.  That is, until hardcore veteran, Corporal Stiles, takes over.  The not-so-merry band then spends the rest of the story trying to catch up with their regiment, while not getting "brewed up" by prowling Tiger Tanks.
In the sequel, we find the indomitable Corporal Stiles commanding a new Sherman Firefly, with a new crew.  This time, while passing through the American sector, the Firefly crew take a detour from rejoining their regiment, and stalk an even greater menace-- a King Tiger tank.

Both story arcs follow a similar trajectory:  An allied tank with an inexperienced crew vs. an experienced German crew manning a tank with a better gun and thicker armor. 
While it may seem redundant, both stories reflect the tactical reality GIs and Tommies faced from the moment they tried breaking out of the Normandy Beaches to VE Day. This was a common theme in a lot of war movies I watched with my dad.  Later, I would see this played out repeatedly in all the Western Front wargame I participated in. 
Despite such repetitiveness, Garth Ennis tells both stories well, and far more realistically than the war comics I read in my youth.  There's a hefty dose of humor in the finale of Tankies, while the ending of Firefly and His Majesty is intense.  Notice, I didn't say the ending was happy.
There are some graphic depictions of violence, like when an armor piercing round ricochets around inside a tank, but I didn't find it gratuitous.  Instead, the artwork done by Carlos Esquerra, and John Cassaday (for Tankies only), illustrate the horrors of war.
Since these novels came out four-five years ago, there's literally only a few copies left on at the time of this posting:  One copy of Tankies and two copies of Firefly and His Majesty.   You might be able to find issues on sites like E-bay, or in used bookstores, like Half Price Books.
I give both stories a solid 4-stars for memorable story telling.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Zero Chemistry Couples

(Promotional Image for Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones)
It's been a long time since I posted anything about writing, mainly because I've been working on gaming projects, and finishing-up some post-Enfilade material.  While working on said projects and material a few days ago, this article on bad movie couples caught my attention.

I've only seen three of the "Bottom 17" mentioned in this article.  Two of them, Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Matrix (the first movie only), I didn't mind so much.  But by far, the worst couple chemistry has to be Padme and Anakin Skywalker.  Even in Star Wars: The Clone Wars...

(Image from Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
...these two are fingernails-scratching-the-chalkboard painful to watch. 
In fact, similar "Mismatched Pair" lists I've read, gave Anakin and Padme First Prize as the most cringe-worthy couple on the silver screen.
While I could go on and on about these two Star Wars-crossed lovers,  the point I'm really trying to make here is this:  On-screen/screenplay romance can be difficult to portray in a genuine fashion.   It's very easy to fall into stereotypes, tropes and clich├ęs. 
One of the leading writing mantras is:  Write what you know. 
And since I know very little about romance, I'll stick to honing my craft writing stuff like this...
(Image by Kai Lim)
...before attempting to conjure-up anything like this:
(Image by Isabella Morawetz)
I'm in no hurry to usurp Anakin and Padme from their high throne. 
Oh, it's not that I'm shying away from the sizzling stuff, though.  I just need a ton bit of help when it comes to writing romance. 
So while I'm working on my military-style mayhem, I'll do my romantic research on the side.  At any writers conference I attend, if there's a Sex & Romance Workshop of any type being offered--I'm there--in the front row. 
I also follow such blogs as the Romance Magicians, and I've actually become a fan of Jane Austen-based web series, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
I'll just be sure to run any romantic ramblings by my writing peers first...
...The Studio will now return to its regularly scheduled Anakin & Padme bashing:
(Image from: Georgette's World )