Comics on the Brain

Let's hear it for the other superheroes

One of Comics on the Brain's little pleasures in the comic book world is the idea that not every superhero gets to save the world. Not every villain plots to empty out Fort Knox either.

Instead, we totally dig the little heroes and villains that eke out their existence in the shadow of Captain America, Superman and Batman. These are the characters that really make us think. We wonder about what's happening in their lives while Spider-Man has his sixth documented adventure of the month.

What are they doing? What trials are they facing. Since you don't see them too often, are we to presume their lives are just too busy to put on their costume? Is Armadillo at his kids' soccer games? At work, moaning about bills to pay? Is Jocasta lending part of her computing power to H&R Block, just to earn a little extra cash?

  Or are they the ones who spend their days helping people get their cars out of the ditch? Not too heroic, but helpful enough.

And the villains? Maybe we don't see them much because they wised up and realized that putting on a costume/uniform/armor gets them into more trouble than its worth. It's like a license to get your ass kicked. Maybe they purposely use their powers in a way to fly under the radar of the Fantastic Four and Avengers.

Maybe some of the obscure heroes and villains more like how Booster Gold was once presented: Doing some really big work, but keeping it hush-hush so they can keep on doing it.

What ever the case, lets hear it for the little guys and all the little things they do. Sure, Marvel and DC are making fun of you. Sure, they are ignoring you, but you're still in our hearts.

Keep fighting the good fight, fellas.

Looking for a comic about the Irish sport of hurling? Look no further

The Comics on the Brain staff writes plenty of blogs across the interwebs. Yep, we're experts at a lot f things.

One of those is developing into a nice cross-pollination effort between this blog, which we use to talk about comics, games and show off our various creations, and one of those other blogs. At Hurley to Rise, we talk about the amazing sport called Hurling, which is an ancient Irish field game that's a little bit like lacrosse mixed with soccer.

We've been writing about hurling (and its related sports in the Gaelic Athlethic Association) for years now and just recently we hatched a deal where we might be able to merge our love for that unique aspect of Irish culture and our love of creating comics.

The proposal is to create a two- or three-page comic strip that will be featured in a gaelic sports magazine. As a quickie rough sample, we created a few quick panels to show off the game.

As you can see, we mixed our Downward Spirals teams and our Redlighter comic into one world where they all play hurling.
Keep watching this space for more updates.

An Iron Man sketch

The other day, Comics on the Brain sat down to draw everyone's favorite armored Avenger, Iron Man. We finished our pen-and-ink sketch a few hours later, as seen above.

The great thing about Iron Man is that his armor has so many variations that he's a lot of fun to draw. Beyond his original yellow armor and his familiar Bronze Age armor, there's still a bazillion different variations.

Where does this one lie in the samples below? Somewhere between Models 29 and 30.

Trucker pulps: 'Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie' and the pulp formula

In a few hours we used to count as "therapy time," Comics on the Brain sat down and watched the TV movie "Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie: Lady Truckers."

We didn't watch the 1979 extravagnza of CB culture for no particular reason either. As you may recall, a few years ago we uncovered the existence of a series of trucker-themed pulp magazines, and we openly wondered what exactly you could write so many truck stories about.

With that in mind, we steeled ourselves for an hour-and-a-half of awfulness featuring the likes of a remarkably cute Annie Potts, Harry Dean Stanton and Kim Darby.

You can watch the whole thing over on Netflix if you want, or you can check out the trailer right here. Whichever you do, you'll definitely agree just how cute Annie Potts is.

Despite the cornball delivery in the trailer, "Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie" turned out to be ... well, OK. It wasn't great by any means. There was a lot of confusing parts, as thoroughly detailed in this review on youtube.

But beyond the mediocrity of the film, it did clue CotB in on just what kind of story threads you could expect to exploit when you're writing a trucker pulp story.

  • THE FINANCES: Your trucker should always be struggling to make ends meet. 
  • THE MAN: The trucker is a rebel, a free ranger. People try to make him follow the rules, but he doesn't. 
  • THE LAW: In some way, whether because of debts owed, loads being hauled, a terrible mixup or rules being broke, the trucker is often on the wrong side of the law, despite his heart of gold. 
  • THE VEHICLE: A trucker's Superliner is his lifeblood. He worships it and would never allow it to be harmed. He may be late on his payments, but if it gets a scratch, he stops everything to buff it out.
  • THE CB: The CB is the secret link the trucker has to the world around him. He can use it to get help, get info or get something off his chest. That last bit is particularly important, as it allows for story exposition and character development. 
  • THE TRUCKERS: Every trucker has a sacred bond with his fellow truckers. When one needs help, they all come running. 
  • THE LOAD: Whatever you're hauling is everything. If you can't get your load to the receiving dock on time, you aren't a trucker. 

If your trucker story touches on each of those ideas, and manages to throw in a decent plot as well, then you've got yourself a genuine story of the long-haul life.

ED-209: RoboCop's awkward big brother

One of the best parts of the "RoboCop" franchise is, without a doubt, the many appearances of ED-209. You remember that robot, don't you? It's the one where the senseless murder of an Omni Consumer Product executive was attributed to a "glitch"  in the Enforcement Droid's programming. 

The robot on chicken legs is somewhat akin to the AT-ST walkers in "Return of the Jedi," and often equally comical. In the original "RoboCop," he famously had trouble with stairs, for example.

But comedy aside, ED-209 is definitely a great looking robot. It has a sinister countenance  thanks to its eyeless sensorport, the Popeye-sized forearms that are packed with firepower and the fact that it's just-bigger-than-a-human stature made it truly intimidating to any citizen that crossed its path. 

But ED didn't start out so fierce. The early drawings of ED-209 looked a bit different. It had an even more comical pop-up head that made it look like a Star Wars Pit Droid mounted on the "Aliens" power load lifter. 

Once ED-209 made it to the screen, another level of awesomeness was revealled. ED wasn't some sort of pansy C-3P0 with a polite English accent. It had a deep thundering voice meant to add another layer of intimidation. Along with commands to "Drop you weapon" it could roar like a 3-ton lion or squeal like a stuck pig. Both of these unsettling features just added to the awesomeness that was Omni Consumer Product's go-to robot. 

And sure, RoboCop was totally kick-ass, but he had all that humanity jammed inside. ED may have had its glitches, but it did exactly what you told it to do — you just had to watch out for too-literal translations in those commands.

Over the years, there have been a few attempts to make ED-209 toys, including the ED-260 from Kenner and most recently, the ED-209 from NECA. If you're hankering for that NECA product, check out this great (and highly informative) review of ED-209.

But beyond those two key products, there was one other ED-209 bit of awesomeness, a model kit produced in 1989 allowed hobbyists to build their own ED.

Way back in the day, Comics on the Brain actually owned this kit and found it incredibly hard to work with. Not that we were expert vinyl kit builders at all. We had never even attempted building anything like that. 

The kit came with assembly instructions for its two or three dozen rubbery parts, all of which were tossed inside a plastic bag. 

It seemed simple enough. Grab some touch-up sandpaper, some glue, some paint and throw it all together.

So that's what we tried

For a few hours one day a few decades back, we worked at smoothing out the mold tabs and lines on the kit until our X-Acto Knife slipped and hacked a giant slice out of ED's arm. We didn't want to ruin the $70 kit any further, so we stored it away never to be seen again.

Still that doesn't diminish our love for ED-209. The robot is one of the great little bonus features in the original franchise. Something to always look forward to in every installment.

Get Bill Peet's stories behind the stories

Comics on the Brain has mentioned before how much we love Bill Peet, a children's author in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, if you didn't listen to our advice then, go now to your library and check out five or six of his books and read them. Do this right now.

Not only are they funny, but you'll love the art that Bill Peet provides. In fact, it will probably seem very familiar to you since he worked for Walt Disney Studios for so long and his mastery is evident on a number of its famous movies, including "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty." Later, he actually helmed the production of "101 Dalmations," "The Sword and the Stone" as the screenwriter and "story man." Though uncredited, he was also key in developing "The Jungle Book" for Disney

We ran across an extra special book by Peet one day in Books-A-Million. "Bill Peet An Autobiography,"is  his own narrative of growing up in Indiana before moving West to California were he went to work for Walt Disney.

In it, the author explores his childhood, including his rocky relationship with his father, and through his story we see where his thematic interests developed. You can see Peet's wild-eyed wonder for all things natural, for example. There's also the farm life in Indiana, the energy of the circus and the allure of locomotives.

Once Peet left school in Indiana, he visited California for a Disney try-out where he's one of the last to survive the process. From there, he worked his way up through the Disney Studio ranks, eventually forging a relationship with the head honcho himself.

While Peet never implies that he was anything other than a worker that Disney admired, you do get the idea that Disney felt some sort of kinship with Peet. It's particularly interesting to read the story of Disney's discovery that Peet came to work one Sunday.

"Bill Peet An Autobiography" is meant for young readers, and is especially appropriate for kids interested in art. Still we recommend it to anyone with an interest in Disney history or illustrators in general. Further, if you don't believe CotB on just how good this book is, then note that it was a 1990 honoree for the Caldecott.

Our chief complaint with the book is a minor one, it doesn't talk much about Peet's life after working with Disney. We would have liked a book-by-book breakdown of his works. He certainly talks about several of them along the way, but it would have been nice to learn the backstory of every one of them.

The highlight of the book is that every page is illustrated with a scene directly related to the text above or below it, and if you love Bill Peet's art (or the Disney style in general) then this is a perfect book for you. Aside from those picturesque Indiana farms, you get a glimpse at the Disney studios back in the day and some intriguing samples of his animal-centric character designs.

And if there's one thing to love about Bill Peet, it's the way he draws his animals.

Bill Peet An Autobiography
Written and illustrated by Bill Peet
ISBN: 978-0-395-68982-0
ISBN: 0-395-68982-1
190 pages
Sandpiper Houghton Mifflin Books

Quick RPG combats: Make hit means something

As RPG game players, the Comics on the Brain staff has still been playing the good old Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition rules (and the slight upgrade found in Pathfinder). As such, we're pretty darn familiar with those rules and we tend to pick out little faults here and there.

One of those faults that still aggravates us is the terrible amount of real time it takes to adjudicate a combat encounter. A battle that lasts just two or three minutes inside the game can take hours to resolve at the gaming table.

With that in mind, we started to toss around an idea on how to speed up combat. The genesis of it was from the D6 System supplement called Psibertroopers. In that system it was called the Chesspiece Goon System, in it all but the most important badguys would fall unconscious after a minimal fight.

In particular, I thought about how movies and television portray combat. These combats usually only involve one hit, whether it be a knife into the heart, the snap of a neck or single bullet hit. Whether these hits result in death or unconsciousness is unknown.

We even tried it when we GMed a game once. As long as a player character hit an opponent with a substantial hit, we counted them out. But that made it a little too easy. The PCs were wiping the walls with the goons, who had little time to react.

So we thought some more and now we want to try this model, which could really help a d20 or an online game zip through combat. We present it here in d20 terms, but those terms and the numbers associated with them could be adjusted for any variety of combat-heavy games.

While we're no d20 mechanics wizards, here's what we came up with:

Damage Saves

Once a successful hit is determined, follow this to tabulate the effect.

The basic formula: The character rolls a die to represent his resistance to an opponent's weapon, which also gets a roll. In short, we call it Character Side vs. Damage Side.

Those two terms are defined this way:

  • Character Side (1d20 + ECL + Fortitude Bonus + Wound Modifier) 
  • Damage Side (10 + damage inflicted in one hit)

Results:  If the Character Side total is higher than the Damage Side, then the character continues to act as normal, except a penalty vs. further Damage Saves. If the Damage Side is higher than the Character Side, the character collapses into unconsciousness.

Wound modifier:  For each successful hit after the first, the character has a -1 to his Character Side total. Eventually these wounds will mount up, causing the character to collapse. The object is to make your opponent's wound modifiers pile up first.

Healing:  An wounded person heals one wound modifier plus his character level per 8 hours of rest.

Magical healing: Cure Light Wounds removes one "-1" wound modifier. A Cure Serious Wounds removes two "-1s". A Cure Serious Wounds removes four. A Cure Critical Removes eight.

Unconsciousness: Attacking an unconscious person can kill them. To determine whether they are killed, a successful "to hit" roll must be made. Once that's determined, use this formula for damage: Character Side (ECL + Fortitude Bonus + Wound Modifier) vs. Damage Side (as above).

Regaining consciousness:  An unconscious person becomes conscious according to this formula: 1 + wound modifier = Number of hours until reviving.

Experience: Rendering a person unconscious means they are defeated. Full experience should be awarded.

Minor Neccesary Adjustments: Magic Missile strikes are counted as one hit. Raging Barbarians can't die if they fall unconscious and their Rage stops. Toughness feat removed. (additions welcome.)

Terms defined: If you're not a d20 fanatic, here's some explanation of some of those terms:

  • Cure (fill in the blank) Wounds — A healing spell that allows an injured person to instantly feel better and return to combat.
  • ECL — Effective Character Level, which is a very basic power ranking of a character. If you run on a pool system, you might have to go with a percentage of that number.
  • Fortitude Save — This is a "test" made against a character's physical well being. Not a Strength check, but more a test of their overall health.
  • Magic Missile — This is a low-level spell that automatically hits its target, but does very minor damage.
  • Rage — In Dungeons & Dragons, some characters get a little more powerful when they activate this special ability that represents a "berserker" attitude.
  • Toughness Feat — A special ability that gives characters a little more health and wound resistance than other characters of their power level.

When pulps spotlight the villain

A lot of pulp magazines feature a dashing hero as the main image. This is the sort of guy with a full head of hair, a chiseled chin and looks that could make him a great used car salesman. 

Other pulps go for the exact opposite. 

Every hero pretty much looks alike, but the villains and the mooks? They can have scars, disfigurements, missing body parts and maybe even a pair of beady eyes. 

That's what caught Comics on the Brain's eyes on this issue of Black Mask from December 1941. 

Even if this guy is the hero (maybe Ed Jenkins, in fact), he doesn't look like one. He looks like the tough guy on the cell block. He's got the knife gash across his cheek. 

Heck, he's so slippery he's not even willing to look us straight in the eye!

Just add up the elements that make this cover a great one, it makes for an incredibly compelling cover.

You've got: 
  • The craggy faced villain.
  • The easy to identify jail setting.
  • A blazing gun.
  • The great Black Mask logo.

Covers like these show us what the hero is up against. They show us who we need to be worried about.

This issue of "Black Mask" features an Ed Jenkins story as it's big draw. The character debuted in 1925 and his adventurers continued on until a 1961 feature length novel. 

 Written by Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason, Ed Jenkins was "a loner and a fugitive, a master of disguise and a con artist supreme, a self-confessed 'outlaw, desperado and famous lone wolf,' working both sides of the law, pitting cops against crooks, and all in the name of his personal gain. Make no mistake. Jenkins is ultimately looking out for only one person: himself. He's only five foot seven-and-a-quarter (Gardner's exact height, in fact) but he's plenty tough." 

Sounds like a great character for a "new pulp" revival, or even a comprehensive reprint!

The secret origin of the Gorillaz?

The other day, Comics on the Brain sat down with Netflix to watch the greatest episode of "Amazing Stories," the "Twilight Zone"-like series from the 1980s.

"Amazing Stories," of course, got its name from the incredibly popular sci-fi pulp magazine, so CotB was eager to revisit the show.

The episode in question was, of course, "Family Dog." Not that there weren't a few other good episodes, "Mummy Daddy" and "The Mission," being prime examples.  In fact, "Family Dog" proved so popular that it spawned its own series, as seen in the video above.

Anyway, "Family Dog" was directed by future animation great Brad Bird and features the story of a pint-sized dog struggling to survive living with humans, namely the Binford Family. The dog is particularly troubled by Billy Binford, the trouble-making son. Billy likes to shoot toy guns at the dog and torture it in general.

As we watched the episode, we were suddenly struck by a certain familiarity. Billy in particular really looked like someone. And after a while, we realized just who it was — the Gorillaz lead singer and keyboard player — 2-D.

The Gorillaz, in case you didn't know, are the cartoon rock band known for the hit "Clint Eastwood" and a number of spectacular animated videos.

So, from now on, this is our position: Billy Binford grew up, moved to England in the 1990s and helped to form Gorillaz into the greatest cartoon super-group since Josie and the Pussycats.

Sounds like a good story to us, and we're sticking to it.

Anyway, CotB is now ready to firmly defend this position for no other reason other than we say it is so.

2-D is Billy Binford. Live with it.

Halflings: The cartoon characters of D&D

Comics on the Brain loves role-playing games. There's nothing more fun than sitting around a table with some buddies and delving into an imaginary world where life and death is decided by the role of a die.

These sorts of adventures might seem boring to some — especially the generation that has amazingly sophisticated video games that allow you the customization at the level that the we enjoy on tabletop games.

There's even a level of interactivity in the new games.

But somehow tabletop games offer something a little more. There's the game in the mind's eye that is shaped entirely by the person playing it — unlike those video game players who rely on someone else's imagination.
When CotB plays Dungeons & Dragons — or any other RPG — we like to construct our vision on paper.

The images, drawn with a ball-point pen, and can be seen around this post are what we did as we were playing a halfling wizard a few campaigns ago.

We tried drawing a new image for every game session. Sometimes those sessions went well, sometimes they went bad for our little spell-flinger.

Of course, these are very cartoony and D&D often isn't but come on — it was a halfling.

They see the whole world as a cartoon.