Saturday, April 29, 2017

Beginning Monday, May 1st
The Crapbox is going DAILY!!
to bring you an exclusive
 (but not all-inclusive)
 look at

Starting Monday, check back here for a scattershot look at 
the history, characters, and adventures
 of one of Marvel's most 
altered teams 
(that got popular because of a tree and a racoon.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Kid's Stuff, Part XXX: Legends of Baldur's Gate – Tyranny of Dragons #1

Butt-kicking for goodness!

"Part 1"
Writer – Jim Zub
Art – Max Dunbar
Letters – Neil Uyetake
Colors – John-Paul Bove
Edits – John Barber
October 2014

I know I didn't buy it until after the sequel was out. And by that I don't mean "Tales of the Sword Coast" expansion, either. I mean the actual real deal with the Roman numeral after its title and everything.

So, yeah. I was an extreme latecomer to the game.

And by "game" I mean Baldur's Gate, BioWare and Black Isle Studio's darling. A top-down isometric role-playing puzzle and fighting game that became 40+ hours of my life (and I would gladly give it 40 more if the thrills were the same). It was AD&D without the hassle of inviting people over or cleaning up afterwards.

It was fun. Immense fun.

Combat was amazing. The game used a newly developed software called the Infinity Engine to conduct battles. Fights took place in real time, with the player being allowed to pause them at any moment and issue orders to individual party members. Spell casting, ranged weapons, hand-to-hand melee…everything true to the AD&D 2nd edition rule set running under an understandable interface that made gameplay fantastically enjoyable.

And since BioWare was the developer, the storyline of the game was hugely involving. Set in TSR's Forgotten Realms campaign world, you traveled up and down the Sword Coast around Baldur's gate, discovering the source of magic that is making iron rot. In pursuing the solution to this Iron Crisis, you meet up with up to 25 non-player characters from whom you can choose five to accompany you.

Of all those companions, none will catch your attention more than Minsc. Vaguely Russian and obviously off his rocker, you meet Minsc early in Baldur's Gate. He's a decent level Ranger who provides good muscle, a healthy tank for close up fighting, handy with arrows as a ranged weapon, and LOTS of humorous commentary.

Most of that last item is due to "Boo," Minsc's familiar who happens to be a hamster. Minsc carries Boo around and he addresses the rodent more than the converses with his party members. He classifies Boo as a "miniature giant space hamster," although that really just makes him normal hamster-sized. Boo has all the attributes and attacks of a regular hamster, which is to say…none.

In a 2001 interview, BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka stated that among the titles the company had completed, Minsc was his favorite character.

I'm sure you'll agree with him shortly.

Because you see, Legends of Baldur's Gate stars Minsc as it kicks off a new series of adventures along the environs of the Sword Coast. And it all begins like this…

In the better part of town, a young lady is being pursued by two demonish gargoyles. We are just introduced to her, so what they seek from the girl is unknown.

After a few moments of struggle in their first encounter, we note a few things. Firstly that the girl is actually not human, but is instead a moon-elf. Next, she has spunk and cunning, using her wits to get out of her pack and avoid being captured. Third, the creatures do intend to capture her, as they appear more interested in carrying her off than in slaying her on the spot. And lastly that these are true gargoyles whose stone-like skin aren't easily penetrated.

We also see that the book is fine with throwing levity our way, even in the middle of the deadliest of confrontations. Good, because that is the only real way to write a book with Minsc in it.

Luckily for Delina she happens upon two members of the Watch, the guards who patrol Baldur's Gate's streets at night. Luckily for Delina…

…but not so luckily for the members of the Watch.

Her flight backs her into the tents of the town market, located in the middle of an immense square several blocks wide. And at the center of that square is a statue of Minsc, the hero of Baldur's Gate.

A statue soon to be covered in the blood of innocent merchants, by the looks of things.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Delina falls back on her weapon of last restort: wild magic. She looses her spell only to have it curve back on her and hit the statue of Minsc.

And this is where the fun REALLY starts!

That bit of wild magic…

…brings the statue to life.

Along with Boo! (Go for the eyes!)

Heck! Minsc gets better as a comic character than as a game NPC. Check this out:

With a cry of "Evils prepare for the Losing!" Minsc is off like a shot, swinging his sword (and missing), but still showing the amazing durability we all loved him for in the game. He apparently doesn't realize that isn't Neera behind him or else he wouldn't have so casually handed off Boo to just any old moon elf.

Just like the "tank" we remember him as in Baldur's Gate the game, Minsc wades right in and handles all the damage meted out. Of course it's only their turn in the round because when Minsc gets his…

…that's one down….

…and none to go!

Unfortunately their troubles don't end with evil stone demons this night. The Watch appears and mistakes the blood on Delina's outfit from the guards as her doing. Minsc is no help, but very entertaining as his dizzying perspective on all this is highly amusing.

Delina is forced to Color Spray the guards and make off with Minsc, who has mistaken her for Neera from the game. 

Scenes like this one prove how well they've captured the goofy goodness of Minsc from the game. He's the same addled person you would quest all over with for hours on end while he threw out humorous quips. He is also the PERFECT character to use in this storyline.

And speaking of that, what IS this storyline, anyway?

Ah! A missing person's case. Those can be fun. Especially with the buddy cop pairing we have in these two as our main characters. The only thing is, they can't find Delina's brother from the inside of a Baldur's Gate jail cell. And since they've lead themselves down this dead-end alleyway, it appears that's highly likely.

If only someone would rescue them…

Yay! The Calvary arrives in the form of these hooded guys who backstab the guards from the shadows with their small daggers and short swords doing quadruple damage and ….waaaaait just a minute. Those guys are…

Unfortunately that is where we leave off at the end of issue one. It is brief, but oh so worth the admission price.

Sadly I want more. More of the story. More of that good old-school gameplay. More AD&D. More Minsc.

I can state that as a credit to what BioWare created and what IDW, Zub, and Dunbar brought back to life. For those of you like me, HERE is the link to purchase the NEW ENHANCED EDITION Baldur's Gate game, for Windows, Mac, Linux,Android or iOS devices.

Yeah, I'm getting my copy too.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Badger #42

So silly, so entertaining, so satisfying

"Tall Tale"
Writing – Mike Baron
Pencils – Ron Lim
Inks – Paul Abrams
Letters – Bill Oakley
Colors – Ray Murtaugh
Editor – Rick Oliver
December 1988

Mike Baron is another of those authors that I discovered by doing the Crapbox. And by discover, I mean realize I've been reading for years but just not really paying attention. There are points in your comic buying years where you pick up titles because you like the characters, become caught up in their adventures and then once satisfied, you put the issue away without seeing who made it possible.

Or you get caught up in the art and forget the contribution of the writer, even though the collaborative effort really is what makes the story so good.

Sadly I did this with Mike Baron for many years.

Which is a shame. He's a double Eisner-winner for his Nexus series (alongside Steve Rude) and I've enjoyed his revamps of Wally West/Flash and Punisher ongoing back in the late 80's. I should have given him more credit.

I still might be able to "share the love." Just hop over to his site,, and you can find a complete list of all the books he's worked on, plus any upcoming titles.

Why? Well, let me throw this issue of Badger at you as an example of how much fun Mike Baron can pack into a story.

First some background on Badger, Baron's crazy Deadpool style hero. Badger is Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam vet with a mental condition. He is an exceptionally trained martial artist who is walking the land acting as a self-styled crime fighter. Also he can talk to animals in a Dr. Doolittle type manner. When he isn't wandering the byways of America on the back of his bison, he shares the abode of Ham the Weather Wizard in a castle in Wisconsin.

Yes, Ham was a mental patient too.

How does that opening grab you? To me, it sounds like a license for mayhem and craziness. I'm pretty much correct. This issue opens with Badger and his bison Lamont checking out a smoke column issuing from the forest near Ham's castle.

Badger has that "stream of consciousness" thing going. I have a feeling if you're a fan of Deadpool, this should fit right up your alley.

While putting out the fire, Badger comes across a pack of cigarettes and jumps through mental hoops like a Cirque Du Soleil performer to arrive at this being accidental and careless smoking as the cause. Smokey the Bear should have a word with that young smoker.

Badger instead chooses to continue his journey, whereupon he happens by a tollbooth operated by the parks department. They inform him of a local legend that Badger doesn't think is all that. Some guy by the name of Paul Bunyan.

And upon entering the wooden bridge who should Badger meet?

Yup. And it looks like both of them are ready to throw down. Sad that everybody can't just be friends. But after they exchange a few choice words, this ensues…

…which leads to some breakage of things…

…and both of our weary, freaky firefighters taking a dunk in the drink with their prospective mounts.

However ,their disagreements soon disappear as they bond over their mutual hatred of the person setting the fires. After sharing some of Paul's barrel full of beer, Badger and Lamont take off toward town.

Note the odd, jokesy kind of way Badger talks. The most popular off-beat character of the time was The Mask, and while I don't think either character is based off the other, I do believe there was a common "vibe" that there was a correct way to do "wacky superhero" that both writers were channeling. It was the 80's, 'nuff said.

Badger makes it to town and parks his bison at the nearest bar. Once inside we have some silliness and then what would come off these days as a very un-PC way of insulting someone. That is, if being homosexual was deemed as being a put down at all, which in the 2010's it isn't. 

The implied sexual slur due to the word choice is unforgivable, however.

Badger makes short work of "Homophobic Mr. Clean" here and then gets word that this COULDN'T be the firebug as he is the guy who founded the town and hates going into the forest. Badger makes a call to Ham only find he is still unreachable.

Given the chrome-dome's standing in the community, Badger is forced to leave the city limits by the sheriff, so he heads back to Bunyan's woods for a nap, only to again cross paths with the once 100 foot tall woodsman. They get to jawing on why he's lost so much height and how Bunyan hopes for the glory days to come back.

As the guys bed down for the night, our firebug makes his appearance again, his careless tossing of matches creating a whole new set of problems for our heroes.

As morning comes, Badger gets word from a passing crow that something is up. He races to the top of the highest ridge only to find himself, Paul Bunyan and a host of animals (and the lady in the tollbooth) trapped by the forest fire.

Badger makes off to find Paul, who has drunk himself to sleep on thoughts of the glory days. Waking him seems to take a bit of effort.

But in showing him the fire, we get Ron Lim doing a nice two-page spread. The art in this is really amazing and out of all the Badger books that have fallen my way, Lim's stuff sells the kooky adventurer the best.

Anyhoo, a plan is hastily cobbled together and while Bunyan-Babe chop down tons of wood Badger instructs the beavers.

Within moments of comic panels, we have this giant bridge ready to deploy across the gap. Looks like a few animals have decided to bite it a bit early as we can see them lemming off the cliff there and their dead carcasses piled up below.

Guess they couldn't wait.

Once dropped though, Badger gives Paul a bit of the ole middle finger with this well-placed bit of signage.
Once all the hordes of animals cross (and possibly the toll booth attendant. The comic doesn't really show.) Paul and Badger have a bit of a disagreement over who should go across the bridge first.

With that decided, you'd think the worst of it would be over. Not the case as the two still tussle a bit while crossing the bridge. Unfortunately this just points up the fact that these two and bridges are not a safe combination.

Luckily, Badger's weather manipulating buddy Ham comes through, ending the threat of burning to death by fire. However…

Badger comes up with a ludicrous idea and before you can say "hang hoofs," the foursome are off surfing the wild waves of Wisconsin.

While also stealing ninja turtles' catchphrases, apparently.

In an odd twist of fate (what hasn't been in this book), they happen upon a motorcyclist in need of rescue who turns out to be none other than the careless firebug they were looking for.

Love that Lamont is seen sitting on the fire-starter guy in that final panel.

Badger and Paul part ways. In the final page, Paul turns in the fire-starter, only to find out he is the son of the town founder. Paul even gets in the final joke.

With that wrapping up this issue, I have to admit to a huge amount of admiration for the title. Maybe it was crazy at a time when crazy was okay in comics. I mean Mask, TMNT, Cerebus and many other titles weren't strictly serious titles. They took the best of the weird ideas and melded them into great entertainment.

I feel Badger does that too. Mixing tales of escaped circus rhinos, jump-rope dimension hopping, and the most odd-ball race across the Australian outback you've ever seen, a typical Badger issue was entertaining. In these days of striving for more realistic takes on everything, we might do well to look back at what Badger accomplished and why it was so enjoyable. Perhaps imbuing some of our current stories with that same energy and wit is what will really give the industry the shot in the arm it needs to survive.