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Hugh Likes Comics: Batman Damned

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Batman Damned #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Drawn by Lee Bermejo
Published by DC Comics

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The Skinny: It’s not bat-shaped. Disappointing.

“Batman Damned” is an absolutely gorgeous perfect-bound comic presenting some high test Azzarello nonsense. After an as-yet unseen grueling fight in which he has sustained a critical injury, Batman wakes to find himself in the care of smart-ass magician John Constantine. His wounds are healed, but he has no memory of the events, and someone has killed the Joker. Batman goes searching or answers, but he may not like what he finds.
Published under the DC Black Label imprint, this oversized and perfect bound comic is for mature audiences, and it is reflected in the writing and the art. Batman’s brush with death leaves him shaken and out of sorts, and sparks recollections of his father’s past, which is of course more sinister and tawdry than previous incarnations. He is also having dreams of a mysterious, demonic girl, leading to a crisis of faith for Batman. Did he break his one rule? Did he kill? And did he really make it out of the river himself?
Lee Bermejo’s art carries the weight in this comic. Gotham is an atmospheric watercolor hellscape that has never seemed more sinister.Angles are subtly off. Building loom. it’s all very engaging. Azzarello’s story is almost an annoyance by comparison. Narrated by Constantine in a slew of gothy cliches about angels and devils, the nature of redemption, blah, blah blah. It would all flow together nicely if the central figure weren’t Batman, and we weren’t seeing him from the outside. Batman’s central trait, his real super-power if you will, is that he’s prepared for whatever situation he finds himself in. This book where he fumbles around in madness feels off. Consider last year’s DC Metal, in which Batman kidnaps the space devil, albeit in a diminutive form, in order to try and travel back in time. This is a very different take on the character, and what we get of him is kind of thin and insubstantial. Azzarello lets the reader’s preconceived notions do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
In the end, in spite of the high quality production values, “Batman Damned” will be best known for its controversial nudity. In one scene, upon returning to the Batcave shaken and distraught, Batman removes his costume, only to have a vision of it loom over his nude form. It’s a nicely done scene, but Bermejo neglects to fully shadow in Batman’s crotch in one panel, giving the reader a semi-obscured view of his genitals. Uproar and controversy has already ensued, and digital versions have already updated to obscure his bat-junk, as will future printings. This makes the comic a bit of a collector’s item.
In the end, this is an absolutely gorgeous illustrated Batman story, although the story itself feels a bit lacking. You can find it at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

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Fiction: The King is Dead

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The King is Dead

On the night of his fifteenth birthday, Gep’s father took him to see the king. His father was the Minister of State, and he was thus afforded this great honor. The royal family were very rarely seen in public. He was taken through one of the twenty-seven gilded gates of the Impassible Palace, and they made their way through the cyclopian maze of buildings in the dead of night, meeting no one.
His father ushered him down a long staircase, a flickering lamp the only light as they descended far below the earth. Finally, they came to a golden door. The room within was alcoves. Each contained a plinth on which rested a skull on a red velvet cushion. The last in the line wore a bright golden crown. Gep’s father said nothing, waiting for him to reach his own conclusion. It was a common test, although the circumstances were never this ghastly before.
“The king is dead!” Gep shouted. His father frowned and tilted his head. A sign that he was partially correct, but had missed something.
“Not so loud, boy. You are a man now. It is past time you were inducted in the mysteries.”
“How long, father?” Gep managed at last. His shock was overwhelming. His family genuflected at the royal portrait of King Rekir IV every morning with great ceremony. And now, he was staring at the king’s crown on the empty, grinning face of the skull.
“Him?” his father asked in a casual tone he’d never heard before. “A bit more than three years. He still has another seven or eight years in his reign before he’ll be murdered by his jealous brother. Of course, the royal guard will sniff out the truth of the matter, and not long after presiding over a lavish funeral, he will be tried, and his virtuous son will take his place. That is as far as the omens have worked things out.”
“But who rules the country?” Gep asked, still staring at the empty eye sockets. His father sighed. He’d hadn’t had this much difficulty when he was the lad’s age, but then, he hadn’t been quite so reverent as Gep. That was going to be a double-edged sword.
“The ministers, of course.”
“But how can a kingdom run without its king to oversee it?”
“The ministers have always run the government. They simply no longer do so at the whims of an inbred madman.” The boy flinched, as though he expected divine wrath to settle on his father that very moment. Nothing happened for a long while.
“How long has this been happening?” Gep asked, looking back at the long line of skulls. His father smiled.
“A very long time. My father inducted me in the conspiracy when I was your age. And his father before him, and so on.” Gep was silent for a while, as he worked on the implications.
“But how? Why hasn’t someone noticed before now?”
“Let me show you something,” his father said. They took another winding path up and down through the palace. They emerged on a balcony overlooking a vast, empty square. A building on far side was covered in scaffolding. It was being torn down, or remodeled, or rebuilt. It was impossible to see beneath the fabric. There was always some work being done in the Impassible Palace.
“You have never seen the king, or any of the royal family. Everyone knows they exist. They read the newspapers, they hear the gossip, they see the portraits and pay their respect. But they are apart from common concerns, protected by layers of guards. They are shrouded in a maze of bureaucracy as thick as these walls. They are kept alive in story alone, in chance encounters and the barest hints. In a few days, a palanquin will be brought to this courtyard. The workers will stop, and they will bow to their king. A hand might emerge, the barest hint for any brazen or bold enough to look up from the stones. And they will tell that story, and they will believe in the king who approved their work and graced them with his presence.
“So there is no king,” Gep said, almost dejectedly.
“Not at all, boy. There is a king, and he’s better than a flesh-and-blood ruler. Flesh and blood is fragile. It’s weak. It goes mad, it makes unreasonable demands. It drains the treasury. It exhausts the country in vanity and pointless struggle. But an idea? An idea is immortal as long as someone believes it. And the citizens believe very strongly. They work hard for their lord, and they are happy and prosperous.”
“But who leads them?” Gep stared up at his father with fear in his eyes. Behind him, the shadows were being chased away by a rising sun.
“We do. The ministers keep the country working in the king’s name.”
“But how do you agree?”
“Come with me, Gep. It is time for you to see what I really do.” The Minister lead his son up to a tower, a group of men and women were waiting for him. They ignored Gep and immediately began argue with his father about a dozen matters of state. He cleared his throat and brought the meeting to order. Each in turn presented their business. They sat at a mahogany table in fine robes and determined the fates of millions. Gep watched as they worked for and against each other, and he understood. He smiled as the sun rose over the Impassible Palace, and his suddenly rosy future as a head of state.
Afterwards, the minister of finance spoke to the boy.
“What do you think of our conspiracy, young man?”
“I am overwhelmed, sir. I don’t understand how people can be ruled by an idea.”
“People are constantly ruled by ideas, and it is important to remember that ideas can replace people quite easily.” Gep didn’t understand the threat for a long time.

Cover image by Loizeau shared under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives License.

Podcast: CCRC42 – Dungeons & Dragons S1E7

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Join the full compliment of Chrononauts as they journey through A Prison Without Walls!

Click HERE to download the Commentary Track!

And you can watch the full episode of Dungeons and Dragons along with us HERE!

This podcast was originally posted at Skinner.FM on Monday, September 10th 2018.

Podcast: “The Waiting Doom” on The Melting Podcast!

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Hello listeners and readers!

Have you heard the latest Freelance Hunters story on The Melting Potcast?

Well, wait no longer, because you can hear it, and all the rest of their excellence from their fourth anniversary show HERE!

When Joachim catches a stubborn cold, Glory takes him to one of her friends for treatment. While Joachim complains about Riverfolk medicine, he’s more concerned about his fellow patients!

Thanks to A. F. Grappin for lending their considerable narration talents to this story! Go and check out The Melting Potcast for more great podcast fiction!

Hugh Likes Video Games: Dead Cells

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Dead Cells
Published by Motion Twin
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny – A challenging Rogue-Light platformer that respects its roots.

Dead Cells is a Rouge-Light action platformer in the mould of Castlevania, and while it nails the atmosphere, and critics aren’t wrong, this indie Switch game reminded me a lot more of early classics like Castlevania III and Rondo of Blood than Symphony of the Night and its descendants.
The game nails the spooky atmosphere, set on a crumbling prison island suffering under a despotic tyrant and a mysterious plague. The player controls a characters called ‘The Prisoner’ who, due to his understanding of alchemy, cannot die, and is attempting his escape. Each death sends him back to the beginning of the game to try again. Between levels, the player can spend special drops called Cells on unlocking randomly generated weapons, increasing the player’s ability to carry potions, or other goodies.
The levels themselves are randomly generated and huge with some parameters. They each have an overall design structure, and have multiple paths that are gated behind runes you unlock by beating certain bosses. Because you are always moving forward, these alternate paths unlock on subsequent attempts. It’s an elegant use of the rogue-like structure, making some abilities random while also giving the player a sense of progression.
The stylish pixel art and maze-like levels are fun, and the combat feels is fast paced and challenging. Some of the really good items between levels cost a lot of souls to unlock, but you’ll be dying plenty of deaths, so it doesn’t feel like the player will miss anything by winning too quickly.
Dead Cells is a tough-as-nails, tongue-in-cheek Rouge-Light action platformer. you can play it on Steam or the major home console of your choice. It does some fun things with the subgenre and looks gorgeous, and if like me, you are still smarting from the lack of new Castlevanias, it makes for an engaging and addictive substitute.

Fiction: Angel of Secrets

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I am aware of the moment of coalescence, of incarnation. It is the point where I cease to be a facet of Creation and am embodied. I was at once everywhere, and thus, nowhere. I was a part of the grand design, as significant and invisible as Air, Gravity, and Love.
Now I hang suspended above the ground, formed and held in this reality by concentric rings of mystical runes inscribed in stone. A lone figure, small and so fragile, kneels below me, reverent in his supplication. I need no unearthly knowledge to be certain that every detail is perfectly executed. I would not be here otherwise.
My wings are still. I do not need to beat them here. My feet will never touch the base clay. I am here for a purpose, and I will fulfill my function, although in this moment, before the bargain is struck, even I, with my wealth of infinite information, do not know if it will for good or ill. I open my mouth, and my voice, full of power and majesty, issues forth, nearly unbidden by my own will.
“I am Raziel, the Angel of Knowledge and the Keeper of Secrets. There is nothing that is not known to me. I will answer one question, mortal. Think carefully, for not all wisdom is meant for human ears.” My voice reverberates through the chamber, and when it dies away, the figure slowly, cautiously raises his head. He is not the first sorcerer to seek out my knowledge, and though they risk their souls to secure it, I have been known to grant this wisdom. Even I do not understand the whims that govern my actions at times. I am myself merely the instrument of a greater power, after all. I wait in anticipation, although I remain perfectly still. I wonder what this human will ask of me.
In ancient times, philosophers asked of me the very building blocks of reality and the shape of the heavens. I told them, although their planet would not have the science to understand the answer for thousands of years. I have been asked many questions, whose answers shook the foundations of empires. My every utterance may shape the future of humanity.
Finally, in a soft voice, the sorcerer makes his request. And I blink at him.
“I beg your pardon?” I say, certain I somehow have misunderstood him. He repeats it, perfectly exact. He embellishes the request with a vague threat, as though the form with which he has caged me is held in his sway. I cross my arms.
“Access to the infinite knowledge of creation, and that is your question?”
He emphatically agrees that it is. I sigh. A promise is a promise.
“Fine. The item you seek is hidden in stage one dash three. At the end of the level, there will be a turtle standing on a suspended white block. Defeat the creature and crouch on platform until you fall through. You will now be in the background of the level. Proceed to the right, and the whistle you seek will be yours. I trust this answer is to your satisfaction.”
My knowledge shared, I can feel the spell unravelling, and I return to the fabric of Creation from which I came. My last thought before my sense of self dissolves into selfless awareness of all creation is, ‘Lousy wizards can’t learn to look this stuff up online?

Photo copyright Catherine Todd, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 license.

Podcast: NP22 – Lecturing the Unconscious

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NP22

Welcome to Nostalgia Pilots! Tonight, Hugh and Jurd discuss Gundam Wing episode 22, “The Fight for Independence!”

Click HERE to listen!

This week, fans get the Septum family drama nobody asked for, Nichol guns for a promotion in the most Oz way possible, and you can dress Zechs up, but you can’t take him anywhere. Plus, Wu Fei runs out of gas, Lady Une finds a zesty chip mixed into her bag of cool ranch, and all the other pilots are on vacation this week!

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