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Messages - Dark Jimbo

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Armitage has never clicked with me. Not to mention he's been an old man for over thirty years, now! Wouldn't he be well into his 90s? Luke Kirby is something quite special. Only wish it had run for longer.

Love it or loathe it, Revere still stands unique in comics - even among the oeuvre of John Smith, there's not really anything else quite like it. A fascinating experiment, and probably the apex of Simon Harrison's comic work, too. Quite a legacy for a thrill that barely scrapes 100 pages.

By contrast, the Samantha Slade stories are a fairly tired and uninspiring reboot of a classic thrill that saw one of the truly great prog artists bow out on a really sour note (even if it was his own fault). A tarnished legacy all round.*

*It wasn't all bad - Stim! (in particular) and Casino Royale are great stories, that absolutely encapsulate the fun, thrill and whimsy of the original. And then Grant and Gibson stopped caring again,

Announcements / Re: 2000 AD - The Ultimate Collection
« on: 28 April, 2022, 09:44:12 AM »
...it looks like The 2nd Mean Arena volume also contains John Smith's Slaughterbowl... Seems they decided to go with a future sports theme instead.

Huh. That's interesting. Bit annoying, too, as I fancy having Slaughterbowl in hardback but I'm not really interested in Mean Arena.

Film & TV / Re: Last movie watched...
« on: 27 April, 2022, 12:51:59 PM »
I've never watched The Rockateer, but the poster's design aesthetic turns me off. I just don't like Googie. See also: The Jetsons.

Interesting side note: George Jetson was a 40-year old father in 2062, meaning he's born this very year.

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 26 April, 2022, 02:41:38 PM »
Scorpion Swamp

I’ve played this one before, somewhere back in the mists of time (I know because I found two old maps of the swamp in my handwriting tucked inside the front cover) but I honestly don’t remember anything much about the book, or how I did; except that when you make your choice of which three wizards to serve, I always went with Poomchukker (because his name made me laugh). So I’m essentially embarking on a new adventure, with two of three wizards unplayed and no idea of the ending…

Playthroughs 1, 2 & 3
Well, these go laughably badly. My first adventurer is Skill 8, Stamina 19 and Luck 11. That’s right – Skill 8. Sigh. Anyway, my first decision is which of the three characters – good wizard Selator, evil sorcerer Grimslade and neutral trader Poomchukker - I’m going to serve on my meanderings through the swamp. I’ve been serving the forces of good for six gamebooks now, and I’m not going to lie – the idea of cutting loose and being evil massively appeals. So it’s off to the Spooky Castle™ of Grimslade I go. My magic Ring immediately warns me that he’s evil. Well, yes. That’s why I’m here. He enquires how I plan to get through the swamp, and as soon as I mention the Ring he starts an incantation. In retrospect, I was clearly meant to stop him, but I naively assume he’s weaving a protection spell for himself, standing idly by and watching as he summons a Skill 16 DEMON. Skill 16! Against Skill 8! It goes as well as you might expect – although I amaze myself by getting two hits in before I go down.

I won’t lie, that left a bad taste in the mouth, so I choose to serve, respectively, Selator and Poomchukker for my next few attempts. Both abortive playthroughs follow the same path – in my fourth clearing I meet evil sorcerer THE MASTER OF SPIDERS. First I try to talk to him. He has a spider bite me. I die. Next I cast a friendship spell. It doesn’t work, but he fakes friendship long enough to have a spider bite me. I die.

Playthrough 4
Right. I am done, done, done with evil wizards. From now on, I’m just going to kill on sight anyone who looks even the tiniest bit like Ming the Merciless. This time I roll up my first halfway decent adventurer of Skill 10, Stamina 24(!) and Luck 8. No deliberations this time, I choose good wizard Selator immediately. I’m instantly rewarded for my good judgement (this time, anyway. Ahem…) with an increase of +2 to my initial Luck score. Selator wants a berry from Titan’s last remaining Antherica bush, rumoured to grow deep in Scorpion Swamp. Seems simple enough.

The first encounter of note (I meet the MASTER OF WOLVES, but exactly nothing happens) is a gaggle of SWORD TREES. They’re a Ronseal enemy if ever there was one – a whole bunch of trees, waving swords. Huh. The natural thing to do seems to be to let a Fire spell take care of them, but it’s totally ineffective, so I wade in with my own sword. They aren’t as fearsome as they look, but… they are already starting to grow back. So I have it away on my toes, and flee West. In the next clearing is a DIRE BEAST – an enemy so fearsome, so foulsome, that artist Duncan Smith was forbidden from depicting it, lest he warp a generation of impressionable minds. (He would take his revenge years later, after adding an Iain to his name, when he ushered in sweeping cuts to disability benefits and Universal Credit). The beast proves less fearsome than the erstwhile Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, though, and eventually I manage to slay it without much trouble. The only exit is East, so I head back into the Sword Tree clearing and – oh, fiddlesticks. The bastards have already grown back. I hack them to matchwood for a second time and flee North, hoping not to have to come back this way again.

I use my Friendship spell to placate a wounded UNICORN, and to be honest I’m expecting a reward, a clue or perhaps an ally for a future battle. Nothing happens, and I suspect that’s yet another spell wasted. Further North still, and I find myself overlooking the mighty Foulblood River (great name, Steve!) This stymies further progress, and in looking for a way across I run into a THIEF. He seems an affable sort, but my Ring says otherwise – so I’ve no compunction in cutting him down. His corpse has curiously little to loot – just a red cloak – but I take it anyway. Fording the Foulblood soon afterward, I plunge straight into some quicksand. I survive, but only by shrugging out of my trusty leather armour and abandoning it to the swamp – lowering my respectable Skill of 10 to a lowly 8! This could be the worst thing that’s happened to me since entering the Swamp, particularly as in the next clearing a GIANT looms above the treeline.

My ring isn’t warning me of danger, so I swallow down my trepidation and hail him in a friendly fashion. Surprisingly, he bursts into tears. Erm… The giant’s upset because he’s lost his prized red handkerchief (you’d think he’d keep crying to a minimum, then…) ‘Does it look something like this?’ I ask, whipping out the red cloak I took from the thief. He’s overjoyed; I think I’ve made a friend for life, here. Perhaps I should find this all a bit silly, but it’s actually a curiously sweet encounter in a series known for a ‘chop heads off, ask questions later’ mentality. If this was an Ian Livingstone book I’d already be bathing in his blood! He says he thinks he saw an Antherica bush due North of here, so I duly head off to investigate. And sure enough, there it is – guarded by a brace of WOLVES. Unusually, I kill one of them during the initial text preamble, without having to roll for Luck or Skill or anything, leaving me only one to deal with – and even with my lowered Skill of 8 he doesn’t present a challenge. And then there’s nothing to do here but walk over to the Antherica bush and pluck a berry. Nothing happens. Was that it? Was a single wolf really my final boss?

The thing is, of course, that I’ve now got to get back out of the swamp in one piece… But having killed or befriended everyone I met on the way here, it’s a fairly easy stroll back, with only a bite by some leeches and a third encounter with the bloody Sword Trees to speak of. And then… that’s it. Selator thanks me, we have a cup of tea and… the end. It’s all curiously subdued, but then, I suppose I wasn’t trying to save Titan from destruction or anything this time. To be honest, it’s just nice to still be on my feet for once. I need to take the wins as they come. Pass the sugar, would you, Selator, old chap?

The Verdict
Seventh gamebook’s a charm – finally I get a win! The series has gotten comfy lately, so it’s nice to have a book which tries to innovate and shake things up a bit, but not everything works the way I suspect it was supposed to.
The three wizards/missions is a great idea, and rewards replayability; but to say Selator’s mission fizzles out at the end is an understatement, and Poomchukker’s (mapping the Swamp) is something you’ll end up doing whoever you serve. I should give Grimslade’s mission another go and see how that plays. It’s great to have the spells back (last seen in Citadel of Chaos), but they seem a bit of an afterthought, not hugely affecting the gameplay (or at least not on this playthrough).
Scorpion Swamp itself, as noted earlier by Barrington, is hardly the no-go zone that it’s made out to be in the blurb. Lots of the encounters seem a bit safe, a bit tame. And I don’t think the art helps here – it’s perfectly good, occasionally more than that, but something about it’s a bit… I don’t know, twee?

Enjoyable, and high replay value, but after four attempts to get to the end, it didn’t really feel worth the effort once I got there. 6.5 combat dice out of 10

Now here's what I call a shut-out! Even Jon Davis-Hunt's Mum would vote for Meltdown Man.

Do you know his dad is/was a message boarder?

No contest. Meltdown Man smashes this (but most syrips would, against Stalag 666).

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 22 April, 2022, 10:13:15 AM »
Continuing publication order from the original run, the later books would run like this:

Eye of the Dragon
Howl of the Werewolf
Night of the Necromancer
Blood of the Zombies
Port of Peril
The Gates of Death
Crystal of Storms
Asassins of Allansia
Shadow of the Giants
Secrets of Salamonis

Shadows for me as well. Should have been part of a UC book, with other Milligan one-offs like Freaks and The Dead. Would have certainly been a lot better than some of the current books everyone’s trudging through.

Yup, that would have been a good book. Shadows, Freaks, Faces, The Dead, Counterfeit Girl - job's a good un.

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 21 April, 2022, 12:06:47 PM »
That's excellent - I've been on a bit of a go slow / not posting in depth writeups in case I spoiled things for others. I found SS quite easy, but that might just be because I was so familiar with it. Look forward to reading your experience!

Both deaths basically due to trying to talk to evil sorcerers, rather than killing them on sight; first Grimslade, who summoned a demon to take my Brass Ring from me, then an insta-death at the hands of the Master of Spiders. I tried to fight the Skill 16(!) demon with a Skill of 8, which I thought was quite heroic... you can guess how long I lasted, though!

Return of The Taxidermist is one of my favourite Dredd-world serials. Take note, all you 'world judge' stories - this is how you develop the universe.

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 21 April, 2022, 10:41:35 AM »
I really like the art - it's almost woodcut-like, very different in style to anything I've seen before, and whilst some of the monsters have a look I can only describe as derpy (that yeti!) it's totally unique and I really dig it.

Yeah, it's gorgeous. Such a shame he didn't do any more books. I'm really looking forward to replaying CotSW.

I've nearly caught you up - had two abortive playthroughs of Scorpion Swamp already. Hopefully I'll manage one this weekend where I last long enough to bother writing it up!

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 20 April, 2022, 01:30:32 PM »
Was on a trip to and from a wedding in Yorkshire this week, so managed to have a good run through [City of Thieves]... we did manage to survive up to the tower of Zanbar Bone.  Then got killed pretty promptly.

I seem to be playing worse now (or having worse luck) than when I used to play these way-back-when. I'd gotten to Zagor, Zanbar Bone and the Lizard King in previous playthroughs (even if I didn't necessarily beat them). I've yet to see a single final boss in this thread...!

General / Re: Sideshow Vote: The Bearded Wonder
« on: 20 April, 2022, 10:54:17 AM »
I did/does slightly bother me that the whole point of Halo Jones is that she's 'ordinary' - and yet there's this idea that someone she will go on to become so extraordinary that her life becomes a subject of study. I guess the point is that that anyone's life can be / is worthy of people's attention, but I worry that each subsequent exploit of Ms Jones would be less engaging.

Maybe the most important line in the Ballad is when the professor quotes Halo - 'Anyone could have done it.' Yes, she did amazing things and became a figure of legend, but the point is that she did it without any special skills, abilities, or superpowers. An antidote to the 'child of prophecy/destiny foretold in the stars/only you have the power...' tropes.

Ah! Worst draw yet!

...I really like Atavar. As a piece of hard sci-fi it really worked. Each ‘book’  felt satisfyingly self-contained and bespoke yet it built to a solid whole. How though will it compete against a modern classic like Absalom.

That basically echoes my own thoughts. I'd only started reading Tooth about twelve weeks before the first book of Atavar started, and I can't tell you how good it was to follow something from the very beginning. It was fun, it was imaginative, it was cool, and I still want a sodding graphic novel of it, Tharg. It's been twenty years! Sort it out!

But - with some regret - I think my vote here goes to Absalom, which is just so damn good.

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