Tag: Storytelling

Old Tom and the Old Tome

Old Tom and the Old Tome

I've just released my first eBook. It's a short story called Old Tom and the Old Tome. Here's a plot synopsis:

Old Tom is a mercenary. In his youth, he fought for Mordred in the war against King Arthur.

But, as his name implies, Old Tom is not as young as he used to be. These days he prefers simple, low-risk jobs.

When a witch asks him to find an old book in the ruins of a school of magic, Old Tom thinks it will be exactly the kind of simple, low-risk job he’s looking for.

He is wrong.

I've released the book under a Creative Commons license; you can download it for free right here on good old corporate-sellout.com in the following formats:

If you like the book, you can send me a donation:


It's also available through these sellers (with more to come; I'll update the post when it's available elsewhere):

This was an interesting project, and I hope it will be the first of many. In the coming days I expect to share some of the Making-Of information -- what tools I used to make it, the learning curve, etc.

Hope you enjoy it!

Essex County is Really Good

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my post about the Humble Forbidden Comics Bundle, I bought the bundle partially because I'd been meaning to read Essex County. And now that I've read it, I can say with confidence that it was worth the $15 all by itself.

Essex County was the breakhout hit for cartoonist Jeff Lemire; he went on to do Sweet Tooth (which is where I first discovered his work and became a fan), and then to become a pretty big name at DC and Valiant. Last I heard he was acting as more of a story architect across multiple titles and less of an artist on his own, smaller work; it's wonderful to see his success but I have to admit I miss his art and his originality.

So I gave Essex County a read. And I haven't read a comic like it in years. I think comparisons to Love and Rockets are inevitable -- it's a character-based work of magical realism focusing on families over generations, with a vibe of loneliness and melancholy, and its setting is an essential component in establishing its tone -- but it's not Love and Rockets. The most obvious difference is in the art: Jeff Lemire doesn't do the smooth, clean lines of Los Bros Hernandez; his work is rough, angular, and jagged. The people in Love and Rockets are beautiful; the people in Essex County are not.

Essex County page

But it's not just Lemire's art that strikes a different tone than the Hernandezes'; it's his setting. Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar may be a small town, but the streets always seem busy, and his later stories (as well as Jaime's) mostly take place in and around LA. Love and Rockets has a huge cast of characters, and it did even in the early days before 30 years of continuity piled up.

Essex County takes place, mostly, in rural Canada, on small family farms. There is one section in the second book, Ghost Stories, which takes place in Toronto; the cast is briefly packed with enough supporting characters to form a hockey team. But, before long, those characters drift away, and while Lou Lebeuf stays in the big city, he finds himself lonely despite the throngs of people around him.

And, to a large extent, Essex County is about loneliness. Lester is lonely because his mother died, he never knew his father, he's moved to a farm to live with an uncle he barely knows, and the other kids make fun of him. Anne is lonely because she works long hours, her husband is dead, and her son barely speaks to her. Lou is lonely first because of his self-imposed exile from his family, then because he goes deaf, then because he outlives everyone he knows, and finally because he gets Alzheimer's. The wide, open, snow-filled spaces of Essex County externalize their loneliness and isolation, but they're not the cause -- at least, not the only one.

These three stories aren't happy, I don't suppose, though they've got moments of happiness. And I think, really, that's what they're about: find those moments of happiness. Find a connection with someone when you can.

Or maybe I'm off-base. Maybe that's not what the book is about at all. For all that it shows that those connections are precious, it shows how fraught they can be. Lou's problems start when he connects with somebody who he shouldn't. Lester doesn't know his father because two people made a connection that they couldn't sustain. Life is like that; it tends to defy simplistic morals.

And that's what Essex County is about, really: slices of life; moments in time. And families, and history.

And hockey. There's a whole lot of hockey. This comic is Canadian as fuck, eh?

Dueling Mega Men, Part 3: Rebalancing Act

As I've indicated in the last two posts, Mega Man: Powered Up has a lot more changes from the original game than Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X. And the changes to Powered Up are usually for the better, while the ones to MHX are usually for the worse.

There's a pretty simple reason for that: Mega Man has a lot more to improve than Mega Man X.

Back in the first post, I described Maverick Hunter X as "a pretty solid remake of an excellent game." Powered Up is the reverse: an excellent remake of a pretty solid game.

The original Mega Man is a classic, but it's got rough edges; it's an amazing first effort but it's got its share of flaws. There's a reason Mega Man 2 is universally considered to be a much better game.

The original Mega Man X, on the other hand, is pretty much perfect. It's exquisitely designed and balanced.

So, rebalancing Mega Man resulted in a better-balanced game, while rebalancing Mega Man X resulted in a worse-balanced one.

Let's start with Mega Man.

Powered Up changes the original game so fundamentally that it actually changes the boss weaknesses.

In the original Mega Man, the order is:
Bomb Man Guts Man Cut Man Elec Man Ice Man Fire Man

In Powered Up, it's:
Cut Man Bomb Man Ice Man Fire Man Oil Man Elec Man Time Man Guts Man.

The change in order does more than just accommodate the two new bosses; it makes for a more natural stage order.

The original game has two logical starting points: Bomb Man's level and Cut Man's. The trouble is, if you follow the order of weapon weaknesses, starting with Bomb Man means you go to Guts Man's famously difficult level second. Starting with Cut Man means you take Elec Man's stage before Guts Man and have to go back later to get the Magnet Beam (though, granted, this wouldn't be an issue in Powered Up, which removes the Magnet Beam entirely).

The weakness order in Powered Up puts the two easiest stages right at the start, first Cut Man and then Bomb Man, and puts trickier levels like Elec Man, Guts Man, and the new Time Man near the end.

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X doesn't change the Mavericks' weaknesses, but it does play musical chairs with the capsules. And that's enough to wreak havoc on the original game's finely-crafted balance.

The most important of the four capsules, the one you need in order to get the other three, is the Leg Upgrade. Here's where it is in the original game:

Chill Penguin Stage -- Mega Man X

It's about halfway through Chill Penguin's stage (the easiest in the game), smack dab in the middle of the path. You literally can't miss it.

Whereas in Maverick Hunter X, not only is it possible to miss it, it's likely. Here's where it is in that version:

Flame Mammoth Stage -- Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X

Don't see it? Let's try that again.

Flame Mammoth Stage -- Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X, with Giant Red Arrow

That's right: the ledge you grab onto to reach the Leg Parts is covered up by the fucking HUD. It's so hard to see that you can walk right past it even if you know it's there.

Contrast with the same location in the original Mega Man X (which, in that game, had the Arm Parts capsule):

  • Flame Mammoth Stage -- Mega Man X
  • Flame Mammoth Stage -- Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X

The original game gives a very clear visual cue that there is something up there. Maverick Hunter X, on the other hand, once again fails to handle the conversion from 4:3 to 16:9, and makes the hanging section almost impossible to see. And if you don't find that tiny ledge, you can't get any of the other upgrade parts -- your mobility, offense, and defense are all severely limited, and the game is much harder. Not fun hard, unfair hard.

And if you do know the Leg Parts are on Flame Mammoth's stage, there's another problem: nobody in their right mind would pick Flame Mammoth's stage first.

It disrupts the entire stage order. Do you start with Chill Penguin and then end with Flame Mammoth? That makes the game a whole lot more difficult, going through seven stages with no capsule upgrades.

No, the best option here is to base the stage order around the capsules, not the bosses' weaknesses. Take out Chill Penguin first, then Flame Mammoth, with maybe a stop-over at Storm Eagle along the way (he's a relatively easy boss and Flame Mammoth is weak against his weapon, and it also makes Spark Mandrill's stage easier; on the other hand, it's got all the shitty vertical parts I mentioned in my previous post, and they're harder without the Leg Parts).

The other three capsules are rearranged too. Chill Penguin has the Head Parts instead of the Leg Parts, Sting Chameleon has the Arm Parts instead of the Body Parts, and Storm Eagle has the Body Parts instead of the Head Parts.

The Head Parts are damn near useless in the original game, and they're not any more useful in the remake. In the original game, they protect you from falling rocks in one section of Sting Chameleon's stage, and are also necessary to reach the Arm Parts capsule in Flame Mammoth's stage. Maverick Hunter X is much the same, except that in this case you need them to reach the Body Parts capsule in Storm Eagle's stage. Chill Penguin's stage -- which, again, is the easiest level and, in the original game, the best one to start with -- has gone from having the most useful of the four upgrades to the least useful. Storm Eagle's stage, on the other hand, ends up with a much more useful upgrade than it had in the original, and one more reason to hit that level earlier in this version of the game than in the SNES version.

The change to Sting Chaemeleon's stage probably makes the most sense of the four, though it removes the nice sense of symmetry the original game gives you of defeating a suit of robot armor to gain an armor upgrade.

If you follow the stage order implied by the capsule locations (ie fight Storm Eagle and Flame Mammoth early), then that means Sting Chameleon will be the last of the eight stages. Getting the Arm Parts right before the Sigma stages, or right at the beginning of the Sigma stages, matches the original game, where if you started with Chill Penguin you'd end with Flame Mammoth, and get a chance to get the Buster Upgrade -- and if you missed it, you'd get it on the very next level.

Which brings us to another change.

In Mega Man X, midway through the first Sigma stage, Zero confronts Vile, and sacrifices himself. If you didn't get the Buster Upgrade from the capsule, Zero will give it to you.

Maverick Hunter X changes this in two ways. First, it moves the battle to the third Sigma stage instead of the first. Second, instead of Zero giving you a Buster Upgrade that's identical to the one you would have gotten from the capsule, he gives you a different Buster Upgrade.

It's an interesting idea, but I don't think it's a very good one, for two reasons.

The first is that it messes up the narrative structure. There's a reason Zero dies, and passes the torch to X, in the first Sigma stage in the original game: it changes the atmosphere of the rest of the game. It establishes a sense of loneliness and isolation that lingers through the end. Nobody else is going to help you; you're humanity's last hope. And you've done what Zero said you'd do all the way back at the end of the first stage: you've become stronger. The student has become the master.

In Maverick Hunter X, on the other hand, you spend most of the Sigma stages playing catchup. Zero's gone on ahead. Even at full power, X is playing second fiddle, right up until the end.

Which brings us to the gameplay reason why it doesn't make sense to kill off Zero right before the end: it's right before the end. I understand the reasoning behind rewarding the player for getting almost to the end of the game without the Buster Upgrade with a cool, unique weapon -- but what the fuck good is it? You've got exactly half a level left in the game at that point, and then four bosses. (And I guess the caterpillar things in the last level, but they're pretty much just there to fill up your Sub Tanks.) The game rewards you by giving you a weapon you'll hardly get to use.

Aside from that, there are other weird little changes. The X-Buster takes longer to charge to its maximum level, and bosses are invulnerable for a longer period of time after you hit them.

And then there's stuff like this:

  • Spark Mandrill Stage -- Mega Man X
  • Spark Mandrill Stage -- Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X

In the original game, when Spark Mandrill's stage goes "dark", it's just a transparency effect; you can still see where you need to go.

In Maverick Hunter X, the lights cycle off and on; the platforms go from being completely illuminated to being completely invisible. This, combined with the reduction in height, makes the section a lot harder, the timing a lot trickier, and makes it damned difficult to get through this section without getting clipped by the fireflies that whiz through it.

In fact, this section seems to be taking a cue from the Mega Man Xtreme version of the stage.

Spark Mandrill Stage -- Mega Man Xtreme

(It may look like the platforms are visible in that screenshot, but I assure you that if you play the game on authentic Game Boy Color hardware, you can't see shit.)

Basically, the game's full of changes, great and small. And most of them are for the worse.

All of this stuff, all of these changes, the reordering of the Capsules and the Sigma stages and Zero's death scene -- I think they actually could have made for an interesting game, if they were only on Hard Mode. The way I see it, Normal Mode should have kept everything where it was in the original game (with some changes, of course, to accommodate the screen height), while Hard Mode could have jumbled things around and created a legitimate challenge for experienced players. Think of it like the original Legend of Zelda: the Second Quest is neat, but it would have made a pretty crummy first quest.

Instead, Hard Mode gives the bosses some additional attacks (that's good!) and ups the amount of damage all the enemies do (that's cheap and lazy).

And then there's Vile Mode, which makes for a pretty great addition but can be overwhelming in the sheer number of options provided. Vile gets a total of 45 weapons, and while it's great to have that kind of versatility, it also means it takes a lot of time testing out all those choices and deciding which ones fit your play style -- and it also makes it a lot harder to figure out which weapons are effective against which bosses. If you're X, you can swap weapons on the fly and keep trying until you find one that works; if you're Vile, you can only equip three weapons at a time, and if none of them do the job, you have to start the level over if you want to try other options.

Plus, when you're Vile they move the Heart Tanks and Sub Tanks around, and while the save screen has a counter for how many you've got, it doesn't tell you which ones you've gotten. Okay, I've got seven out of the eight Heart Tanks; guess I get to figure out which one I'm missing.

(Also, I sincerely hope the decision to make every fucking stage use the same music when you play as Vile was an accident. Giving him is own theme music on the first stage is fine; reusing it on the next eight is not.)

To summarize three long posts, it's really easy to recommend Mega Man: Powered Up. It's thoughtfully and exquisitely redesigned, and good enough to be considered the definitive version of the game, even before you get into all the extras like the many playable characters and the level design toolkit.

Maverick Hunter X isn't bad but it's a much harder sell. Play the SNES game first; it's better; it's that simple.

But if you've played the SNES game already, forward and backward and side-to-side, and you're interested in trying out a new take? Then I'd recommend you take a crack at Maverick Hunter X. But remember going in that things are going to be different, and sometimes maddeningly so.


Mega Man ® 1989 Capcom Co, Ltd
Mega Man X ™ and © 1993 Capcom Co, Ltd
Mega Man Xtreme © 2001 Capcom Co, Ltd
Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X © 2006 Capcom Co, Ltd

I took all the screenshots myself, and tried to get them all at native resolution with no filters.
I used the following emulators:
SNES: Snes9x
Game Boy Color: Libretro with the Gambatte core
PSP: PPSSPP

Mmm, Forbidden Comics

Modified from a post on Brontoforumus, 2015-09-23.


In honor of Banned Books Week, the latest Humble Books Bundle is made up of banned and challenged comic books.

It's not just a good theme, it is, in terms of quality content for your money, the single best collection of comics I have ever seen. I've got a couple caveats about the presentation, which I'll get to in a minute, but it's well worth the price of admission, whatever tier you choose to donate at.

Pay more than the average and you get Heartbreak Soup.

Heartbreak Soup is my all-time favorite comic. Your mileage may vary, but as far as I'm concerned, the list of Greatest Comics of All Time goes Heartbreak Soup, then Maus, then that Spider-Man arc where he has to lift the rubble off him as Doc Ock's underwater base collapses. (No, Watchmen is not in my top three.)

The bundle also has the first volume of Bone. Bone is phenomenal; it's an all-ages adventure story in the classic mold, with influences from Walt Kelly to Carl Barks to Don Martin; it's funny and it's gorgeously drawn. You should definitely get it if you haven't read it yet; it's at the first tier so it can be yours for a penny.

The bottom tier's also got Maggie the Mechanic, which is the other Love and Rockets vol 1. (Heartbreak Soup is the first volume of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories; Maggie the Mechanic is the first volume of Jaime Hernandez's Locas stories.) Maggie the Mechanic is great too, but for my money it's not as great as Heartbreak Soup, or as the other Locas stories that followed. (The Death of Speedy is widely regarded as the best Love and Rockets story; it's in vol 2 of Locas, which is not included in this bundle.)

Bottom tier also has The Frank Book. Jim Woodring's work is beautiful, surreal, wordless, and incredibly detailed. I have six pieces of comic book art hanging on my walls. One is a Quantum and Woody poster signed by Christopher Priest; one is an Uncle Scrooge print signed by Don Rosa. The other four are Jim Woodring prints that my uncle gave me for my birthday after using them in a museum exhibit.

There's some other stuff in there that I don't know as much about. I like Chester Brown but I haven't read The Little Man; I like Jeff Lemire but I haven't read Essex County. I suppose they're probably both pretty great based on their respective cartoonists' other work, but I don't know them.

And The Boys is in there. The Boys is not for me; I'm not a Garth Ennis fan. But if you like the sound of a bunch of asshole superheroes being taken down by a group of regular guys led by somebody who looks exactly like Simon Pegg, you'll probably dig it.

To summarize: it's a great bundle. It's worth buying for Heartbreak Soup, Bone, and Frank alone; I bought it mostly because I'd been wanting to pick up Frank, Essex County, and Information Doesn't Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow (available as an audiobook in this bundle; the only item that isn't a comic book).

So. Great bundle. But. As I said, there are some caveats with the format.

The first of which is, you're probably going to be reading these on a tablet. And some of these comics just don't look as good on a 10" screen.

I was especially worried about The Frank Book given the detail of Woodring's work; this stuff's meant to be read at 8.5"x11" size. But I was surprised to find it actually looks great on my tablet. The full-size book would be better, but it also costs $35 and weighs 3 pounds. And that's the paperback version.

Bone looks fantastic on my screen too.

Surprisingly, of the books I've thumbed through, the one that suffered most was Heartbreak Soup.

Part of that's to do with the ratio. The pages of Love and Rockets are shorter and wider than standard comic book pages.

  • Bone page
    Bone
    Scaled to 325x500
  • Heartbreak Soup page
    Heartbreak Soup
    Scaled to 405x500

So on a 6:10 screen like my tablet's, you're left with some major letterboxing and a picture that is uncomfortably small and looks a little jaggy, and text that can be hard to read. (If, on the other hand, you have a tablet with a 4:3 screen, like an iPad, I imagine the Love and Rockets -- and the other more square-ish comics in the collection -- will look a lot better, and you'll have the opposite problem with the more traditionally-sized comics in the set.)

Perfect Viewer also seemed to choke on the file a bit; after the first few pages, it started pausing for long periods of time on each page turn. At first I thought it was due to the file size (the CBZ version is 675MB), but The Frank Book is even bigger and Perfect Viewer didn't give me any trouble with it. So I don't know why it doesn't like Heartbreak Soup, but it doesn't.

In short, Heartbreak Soup is my favorite comic, but my 10" tablet is most definitely not the best way to read it. Again, your mileage may vary; you may have better luck on an iPad, as noted, or if you're cool with just reading it on a desktop computer monitor, it looks great on my 27" 2560x1440 screen. But if you're looking for comics to read on a widescreen tablet, well, there are still a lot of great books in this set that totally justify the purchase, but don't buy it just for Heartbreak Soup. All that said, though? It's still a great damn comic, it doesn't look that bad on my tablet, and if you don't want to look for it at your local library or pay full price for the paperback version, well, it's still worth a read.

There's another one I looked through that I have a visual complaint about, and unfortunately, it's an important one and the granddaddy of all challenged comics: Crime Does Not Pay.

Crime Does Not Pay is a classic. It's the first and most successful of the 1940's-'50's-era crime comics that led to Senate hearings and, eventually, the Comics Code and most of the industry going out of business. But, aside from simply being popular, controversial, and lurid, it's just plain good, with superlative work from the likes of Charles Biro, Bob Montana, and George Tuska.

It's also public domain. You can find most of the series for free on Digital Comic Museum (though if you can spare a donation to keep the site up and running, that would be swell too).

Given that, it's damned disappointing that Dark Horse did such a shoddy job on the colors.

  • Crime Kings splash page
    Digital Comic Museum
  • Crime Kings splash page
    Dark Horse

The first image is a scan from one of the original 1950's printings of the comic. It's not pristine; the colors bleed, and if you look closely you can see right through the page to the panel grid from the opposite side. And there are marks on the left side of the page where the staples were.

But despite those flaws, it looks better than the second image, from Dark Horse's restoration. The colors in Dark Horse's version look garish.

And it's down to the paper stock. The scan looks the way it's supposed to, because those colors are supposed to be printed on newsprint. The background is supposed to look a little gray or tan, and the colors are supposed to soak in and blend together.

Dark Horse's version looks garish because they kept the original four-color printing process but put it on high-quality, glossy paper (or the digital equivalent of same). The colors look wrong.

But, in Dark Horse's defense, it could have been worse -- at least they didn't re-color it. Have you seen what they've done to their Conan reprints? Photoshop gradients everywhere. The horror. The horror.

"It could have been worse" isn't a great defense, though. When it comes right down to it, I'd rather read the Digital Comic Museum version, even if I can see the grid lines from the other side of the page.

The only problem is, the Dark Horse collection contains issues #22-#25 (don't let the numbering fool you; #22 is the first issue -- in those days it was common, when a publisher canceled a comic and started a new one, for the new series to continue the old series' numbering with a new title), and Digital Comic Museum doesn't have #23-#25. So while you can download DCM's superior version of issue #22 (and #26, and #27, and lots more, on up through #147), if you want to read #23-25 then you're stuck with the Dark Horse version, and you'd better be prepared for a hell of a lot of eye-searing bright yellow.

There are plenty of instances of publishers doing reprints of old comics right -- either by using newsprint or by scanning or photographing the original printed pages -- but this isn't one of 'em, and that's a shame.

But, all that grousing aside, this bundle? If you have never read a comic book in your life, this has three that I would rank as Absolute Must-Read, in Heartbreak Soup, Bone, and Frank. It's got one of the legitimate most important comics of all time in Crime Does Not Pay, even if I've got some gripes about the presentation and you might be better off grabbing a scanned version from Digital Comic Museum. And aside from those, it's got several more that may not be quite so high on the must-read list but still rank as Great.

If you like good comics, you should get it. And if you don't like good comics, you should get it anyway, because maybe you just haven't ready any comics this good yet.

The bundle runs for five more days.

My Favorite Episodes of Millennium

So, as in my previous post of favorite X-Files episodes, this is a list of my favorite Millennium episodes. And, as with X-Files, I haven't finished watching the whole series yet, so I'll plan on updating this post as I go and adding more favorites as I get them.

Monster-of-the-Week Episodes

Season 2, Episode 6: The Curse of Frank Black

A pleasingly spooky, wonderfully minimalist haunted house episode where the true ghosts are loss and isolation.

While it's my favorite episode up to this point in the series, I can't recommend it as a good place to start, because it's not quite as standalone as I'd like; it relies on threads from Pilot, Lamentation, and The Beginning and the End. But you should watch those anyway; they're not just important, they're also good. (See below.)

Season 2, Episode 7: 19:19

The show gets back to the Revelation cultist arc, combining a take on the Chowchilla bus kidnapping with -- because it is 1997 -- Twister. (I was also inclined to blame a popular 1997 film for what I'm going to call the My Heart Will Go On remix of the theme song used as background music throughout the episode, but 19:19 aired a month before Titanic or the single came out, so we can chalk that up to coincidence/something in the zeitgeist.)

The ending is a goofy little bit of deus ex machina, and Lara Means is used as more of a third-act plot device than a character, but the pacing is good and the cat-and-mouse between Frank and the villain-of-the-week is engaging.

Season 2, Episode 9: Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense

While it doesn't quite live up to Jose Chung's From Outer Space, Chung's second appearance is a lot of fun, and a great showcase for Charles Nelson Reilly. While it lacks stop-motion kaiju and its unreliable narratives aren't quite so twisty, it reuses a lot of the devices from that first outing and does a great job of maintaining its tone.

Mythology Episodes

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Introduces the series: Frank Black, his wife and daughter, the Millennium Group, and his police contact Bob Bletcher. Frank having a family immediately sets him apart from Mulder and Scully over on the sister show. We also find out that he's a former FBI agent who had a breakdown and has since moved back to Seattle, and that he's got some kind of minor psychic ability to see what happened at a crime scene. The show also establishes the eponymous Millennium Group and vaguely intimates that it's involved in investigating some kind of Satanic apocalyptic cult, but then the show goes episodic and we get a bunch of forgettable serial killer episodes, and really don't get any development on that idea until episode 13.

Season 1, Episode 13: Force Majeure

I think it's pretty clear, looking at season 1, that Carter and company didn't originally intend for this show to take place in the same universe as X-Files, because they cast a lot of actors who had appeared on that show to appear on this one in completely different roles -- this episode, for example, has Terry O'Quinn, CCH Pounder, Brad Dourif, and Morgan Woodward. All of them are excellent, but it's a little jarring.

Anyhow, this episode finally picks up the Millennium Group/Doomsday Cult thread from the pilot. We get the prediction that the world will end on May 5, 2000, and a sinister old man who's breeding clones to survive the coming apocalypse.

Season 1, Episode 14: The Thin White Line

We get a good hefty chunk of Frank's backstory, and some cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who he put away during his time with the FBI.

Season 1, Episode 15: Sacrament

Introduction of Frank's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew; first signs that Jordan may have inherited Frank's psychic ability.

Season 1, Episode 17: Walkabout

This one gets off to a really strong start, with an in media res opening, the other characters not knowing what's happened to Frank, and Frank himself suffering from amnesia and not remembering what's happened to him the past few days.

The last act doesn't quite live up to the setup, but the beginning is strong enough to make for a pretty solid episode.

Season 1, Episode 18: Lamentation and Episode 19: Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions

Another episode where Frank has a run-in with a killer he's faced previously and a potential copycat, this episode features a threat against his family and the death of a recurring character.

And then the second part, despite centering on Frank's quest to find the killer, appears to be completely disconnected from the first part. He matches wits with someone who may or may not be the Devil, someone claiming to be an angel, and at the end of the whole thing there's no resolution and we're left with way more questions than answers.

To put it another way, 19 episodes in Millennium finally feels like a Chris Carter show.

Season 2, Episode 1: The Beginning and the End

(While this technically picks up from season 1's finale, you can skip that episode; it's basically a middling monster-of-the-week episode with a cliffhanger ending. That cliffhanger ending is re-presented, in its entirety, at the beginning of this episode.)

This is a status-quo-changing episode where a lot happens (even if it relies too much on narrative monologues to establish that a lot is happening): Peter gets fleshed out a little as a character, we finally get a few more hints of just what exactly the Millennium Group is, and the Polaroid Man plot finally gets a resolution.

Season 2, Episode 8: The Hand of St. Sebastian

Peter Watts, Cheryl Andrews, a little more history on the Group and signs of internal struggles.

Season 2, Episode 10: Midnight of the Century

The most thorough look to date at Frank's -- and Jordan's, and Lara's, and, we learn, Frank's mother's -- gift, and the toll it has taken on his family over three generations. It's a low-key, talky one, a Christmas episode structurally and thematically similar to the Halloween episode that had recently preceded it. It's an episode about loss and estrangement and family, and it sells the human element effectively, with spare dialogue delivered impeccably by the cast.

Season 2, Episode 12: Luminary

The show literalizes the metaphor of the season arc, by putting Frank out in the wilderness, alone.

Perhaps surprisingly, separating him from the rest of the cast makes for an excellent opportunity to explore other characters' relationships with him, Catherine and Peter in particular.

We also see more of the Group than we've ever seen before, and they don't come across very well. It makes something of a striking contrast between Frank and Mulder: they're both former FBI profilers, and they're both being manipulated by a shadowy conspiracy, but where Mulder seeks to fight and expose the Syndicate, Frank is trying to join the Millennium Group. Though with this episode, he doesn't seem to be trying very hard.

My Favorite Episodes of The X-Files

So awhile back I started re-watching The X-Files. It's available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (that last one's an affiliate link), and now available in a very nice HD remaster. (Apparently the entire series, except the pilot, was originally filmed in widescreen, so the remastered episodes aren't cropped, they're actually expanded -- except, again, the pilot. And also seasons 5-9, which aired in widescreen the first time, but now they're also in HD.)

I'm also working my way through Millennium (which is not available in any format other than DVD and illegal download), and I'll watch Lone Gunmen when I get to that point in the chronology.

And I got to thinking, you know, I should make a list of what episodes are worth watching -- since, let's be honest, there are a hell of a lot of them that aren't.

Now, X-Files episodes are generally broken down into two categories: mythology episodes (the continuity based ones that deal with the overarching plots about aliens and a massive government conspiracy) and monster-of-the-week episodes (the standalone, one-off episodes). Generally speaking, I like the monster-of-the-week episodes better; they have more variety in both content and tone, they're often a lot of fun, and they don't string you along with the idea that they're building toward some kind of grand resolution. (Spoiler alert: there is no grand resolution; the writers are making the mythology up as they go along.) But, on the other hand, there are mythology episodes I really like, and they're fun in their own way despite the continuity being a hodgepodge and a mess.

So I'm going to split this up into two sections: monster-of-the-week episodes and mythology episodes, and in my next post I'll tackle Millennium episodes. (So far every Millennium episode I've liked has been a mythology episode.) And I'll plan on keeping these posts updated as I work through the series, so expect more episodes to be added, and a post added for Lone Gunmen when I get around to it.

Lastly: I'd be remiss if I didn't link to Monster of the Week: The Complete Cartoon X-Files, a webcomic by Shaenon K Garrity which goes through the series one episode at a time and lampoons them. (Most of them. Some are so good that she plays them straight.) Oh, and if you want a really thorough breakdown, you could give Kumail Nanjiani's X-Files Files podcast a listen too.

Anyway, on to the actual recommendations.

Monster-of-the-Week Episodes

I thought of putting mythology first, but the monster-of-the-week episodes are easier to get into for a casual viewer, so I'm going to put those first. These episodes can, generally speaking, be watched in any order and without any knowledge going in besides "Mulder and Scully are FBI investigators who look into paranormal stuff; he's a believer and she's a skeptic."

Season 1, Episode 3: Squeeze

Introduces stretchy bad guy Eugene Tooms, probably the most memorable of the show's many Monsters of the Week, and one of the few to get a second appearance.

Season 1, Episode 8: Ice

An episode in the "People are trapped in a remote location and start turning on each other" mold.

Season 1, Episode 20: Darkness Falls

A good race-against-time episode with killer insects, albeit with kind of a disappointing ending.

Season 1, Episode 21: Tooms

Tooms's second and final appearance; first appearance of Walter Skinner.

Season 2, Episode 2: The Host

Darin Morgan plays a sewer monster called Flukeman, with some of the best monster makeup in the series; first appearance of Mr. X.

Season 2, Episode 20: Humbug

First episode written by Darin Morgan; first episode explicitly written as a comedy; features circus folk. X-Files is always a little uncomfortable when it deals with anybody who's different (be that ethnic minorities or people with disabilities), and I feel a little bit of that here, but I think it also comes across as a celebration of its guest stars.

Season 3, Episode 3: DPO

Giovanni Ribisi plays a slacker teenager with lightning powers who hangs out in an arcade (where the Sonic the Hedgehog music is inexplicably playing even though that is not an arcade game). Jack Black plays his sidekick.

Season 3, Episode 4: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

Okay, here we go. If you only watch one episode of X-Files, ever, it should be this one. It's pretty much perfect in every way, and it won two Emmys, one for writer Darin Morgan and the other for guest star Peter Boyle.

Boyle plays a lovable but curmudgeonly old psychic who can see the moment everyone around him dies.

I think I'd give a slight edge to Jose Chung's From Outer Space (also written by Darin Morgan) as my all-time favorite episode. But this one is more accessible.

Seriously, if you haven't seen Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, you can skip the rest of this list until you've seen it. It's not just X-Files at its best, it's TV at its best.

Season 3, Episode 11: Revelations

Gets into Scully's Catholicism a bit; it's the second religious-themed episode where the leads reverse their roles and she plays the believer against Mulder as skeptic. (The first is Beyond the Sea; it's down below in the Mythology section.)

Season 3, Episode 12: War of the Coprophages

Another episode written by Darin Morgan. It has what may very well be the dumbest premise of any episode (people are being killed by swarms of cockroaches, which turn out to be alien robot cockroaches sent to observe us), but Morgan's script is sharp enough to overcome it. This one's got some of the funniest dialogue of the entire series.

Season 3, Episode 13: Syzygy

Mostly fun for Mulder and Scully being really bitchy toward each other. Guest starring Lisa Robin Kelly and (briefly) Ryan Reynolds.

Season 3, Episode 20: Jose Chung's From Outer Space

The final episode written by Darin Morgan (though he did a rewrite on Quagmire; see below). As noted above, I think this one edges out Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose as my favorite. It's got unreliable narratives within unreliable narratives, men in black played by surprise guest stars, stop-motion kaiju, and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Season 3, Episode 21: Avatar

Skinner episode.

Season 3, Episode 22: Quagmire

Lake monster episode. Mostly forgettable, except for a scene where Mulder and Scully get to talking while they're stranded on an island; that scene was written by Darin Morgan.

Season 4, Episode 2: Home

Okay, I'm going to say it: Home is overrated.

It's impeccably directed (by Kim Manners), and it's possibly the most memorable episode of the whole series. But it's memorable entirely because of cheap shock value.

I think it's one of those episodes you've just gotta watch once, and it will stick with you. It blew me away the first time I saw it. But when I came back to it 18 years later, I was a lot less impressed. (So okay, maybe this one shouldn't be on a list of my favorites. But it's definitely a must-watch episode, so I'm putting it here anyway.)

Season 4, Episode 5: The Field Where I Died

This one's got a few plot holes (how can the Cigarette Smoking Man be a reincarnated Nazi prison guard if he was alive during the Holocaust?), but it's got some great character moments for Mulder, and showcases Duchovny's acting range in a way that most of the rest of the series doesn't.

Season 4, Episode 10: Paper Hearts

Mulder matches wits with a child molester who he helped put in prison. Potential retcons to the story of Samantha's abduction, but then no they don't pan out and that's why this isn't under Mythology Episodes.

Season 4, Episode 11: El Mundo Gira

The Chupacabra episode!

Season 4, Episode 12: Leonard Betts

One of those "Nice unassuming man who starts killing people because he has a weird power" episodes. Also, foreshadows Scully's cancer.

Season 4, Episode 13: Never Again

A Scully-centric episode where she gets a tramp stamp of the Millennium logo and almost hooks up with a guy with an evil Bettie Page tattoo.

Season 4, Episode 20: Small Potatoes

An episode written by Vince Gilligan and guest starring Darin Morgan as a shapeshifter. The highlight of the episode, far and away, is a scene in which he shape-shifts into Mulder and then channels De Niro in Taxi Driver. This is probably Duchovny's finest performance in the show's entire run, and shows he's really got some serious comic chops; everything from his delivery to his body language to his facial expressions is brilliant.

Season 5, Episode 5: The Post-Modern Prometheus

So before I go and recommend this one, there's one caveat I need to get out of the way: this is an episode where two women are drugged and impregnated without their consent, and then the ethical implications of this premise are barely acknowledged.

And it's a shame that this episode has that ick factor hanging over it, because aside from that it's a delight. Carter handles both the writing and direction on this one, and it's an homage to classic monster movies, beautifully filmed in glorious black-and-white and guest-starring Seinfeld's John O'Hurley as its mad scientist. It delivers what its title promises: both a Frankenstein pastiche and postmodernism. It's weird, it's melancholy, it's funny, it's got Cher on its soundtrack, and there's more than one moment that feels like a Mel Brooks homage. If its morality is a little muddy, I'm inclined to be charitable and chalk it up to the episode's heightened reality. The plot doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, but it's not supposed to; it feels like a dream and it prioritizes style over substance. And it is stylish as hell.

And man, that ending is beautiful.

Yes, there is a gap here.

I am still working my way through old X-Files and deciding which episodes to put on this list. However, I am also watching new episodes. I will be filling in the rest of seasons 5-9 as I go, but in the meantime here's one from season 10.

Season 10, Episode 3: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Darin Morgan's still got it. A roaringly funny monster mystery guest-starring Rhys Darby, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tyler Labine, featuring Morgan's usual narratives-within-narratives and Mulder's midlife crisis. X-Files at its absolute goddamn finest -- and a pleasingly standalone episode, though longtime fans will enjoy a couple of callbacks to Clyde Bruckman and a nice tribute to the late, great Kim Manners.

Mythology Episodes

These aren't necessarily the most "important" mythology episodes, the ones with plot details that play out through the rest of the series (though some of them are); they're just the ones I like. And anyway, even if you do watch all the mythology episodes expecting them to eventually make sense, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.

There are some spoilers down here, including character departures.

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Season 1 is a little rough but I love it despite (or because of) its flaws. There's a lot of stuff the show gets right right from the beginning, and the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is at the top of the list.

Season 1, Episode 2: Deep Throat

A fun guest appearance by Seth Green and lots of Area 51 stuff.

Season 1, Episode 10: Fallen Angel

Mulder's got fanboys! Introduces abductee Max Fenig, who's something of a template for the Lone Gunmen.

(Max also shows back up in a two-parter in season 4, but it's not on this list because it's boring.)

Season 1, Episode 13: Beyond the Sea

Guest appearance by Brad Dourif; death of Scully's father; first time Mulder is the skeptic and Scully is the believer.

(You could argue that this one's not a mythology episode because it doesn't deal with the aliens/conspiracy arcs, but I'm putting it here because it establishes a lot of Scully's background that is referred to throughout the rest of the series.)

Season 1, Episode 17: EBE

First appearance of the Lone Gunmen.

Season 1, Episode 24: The Erlenmeyer Flask

This is one of those episodes where everything changes, except that it doesn't; everything snaps right back to status quo in season 2: the X-Files get reopened, Scully goes back to being a skeptic even though she's seen an alien fetus in a jar, and while Deep Throat's departure is made out to be a big deal, Mr. X takes over and fills the exact same role in seasons 2 and 3 (after which he's replaced by Marita Covarrubias, who still pretty much fills the same role). Regardless, this one's exciting, and a lot of stuff happens; we've got human/alien hybrids, the Crew Cut Man assassinating people, and the departure of Deep Throat.

Season 2, Episode 5: Duane Barry and Episode 6: Ascension

Scully's abduction and Krycek's betrayal, two plot points that continue to come back up for the rest of the series. It's also got a guest appearance by CCH Pounder.

Season 2, Episode 8: One Breath

Scully's return. She spends most of it in a coma dreaming she's in a boat, but the rest of the cast really gets a chance to shine. There are some great scenes between the Smoking Man and Skinner, Mulder and Skinner, and Mulder and the Smoking Man, and some excellent moments from Mr. X and Frohike too.

Season 2, Episode 16: Colony and Episode 17: End Game

More hybrids; Bounty Hunters; clone colony; first return of Samantha; first appearance of Mulder's father and revelation that he was part of the Syndicate.

Season 2, Episode 25: Anasazi, Season 3: Episode 1: The Blessing Way and Episode 2: Paper Clip

Some really cringe-inducing stuff with Native Americans, but aside from that it's the first appearance of Teena Mulder, and more on Bill Mulder's history with the Syndicate. And there's some Lone Gunmen stuff and a Nazi scientist.

Season 3, Episode 9: Nise and Episode 10: 731

Mulder investigates an alien autopsy video; Scully finds an alien abductee support group (and the first hint that she may have cancer).

Season 3, Episode 15: Piper Maru and Episode 16: Apocrypha

First appearance of black oil; return of Krycek; some more stuff about CSM and Bill Mulder.

Season 3, Episode 24: Talitha Cumi and Season 4, Episode 1: Herrenvolk

More hybrids; more Bounty Hunters; more clone colonies; first hints that the Cigarette Smoking Man may be Mulder's biological father; departure of Mr. X and his immediate replacement by Marita Covarrubias.

Season 4, Episode 7: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man

A lot of fans hate this one, and I guess I can understand the perspective that it demystifies the CSM in a way that makes him less interesting.

But I don't agree, and I love it, because it's so deliciously over-the-top. And the reason it's over-the-top is that it's all unreliable-narrator stuff; this is CSM's backstory filtered through his own fiction, published in a porno magazine (whose staff changed some of the details), and then related to Mulder by Frohike.

Basically, it's a tall tale, which ties the Cancer Man to the Kennedy and King assassinations and every other alleged government conspiracy of the twentieth century -- and all because he couldn't get his short stories published.

Season 4, Episode 8: Tunguska and Episode 9: Terma

Return of Krycek and the Black Oil; Mulder and Krycek go to Russia.

Season 4, Episode 14: Memento Mori

This is the "Scully Has Cancer" episode. It's loaded up with Chris Carter purple prose monologues. It's also got the Lone Gunmen, clones, and a callback to that episode where she met the other abductees.

Season 4, Episode 22: Gethsemane

The script is generic cliffhanger-finale fare (though the first act has some nice bits with Mulder, briefly, expressing skepticism), but it's got some truly gorgeous mountain shots that make a great argument for the widescreen HD remaster, some of the coolest creature effects of the series, and some great dramatic work from Anderson. But don't get too excited when you see "John Oliver" in the credits; it's not the John Oliver you're (probably) thinking of.

While this episode is the first of a three-parter, I don't recommend the other two parts; they are boring as fuck. All you really need to know is that Mulder isn't dead and Scully doesn't have cancer anymore.

Season 5, Episode 3: Unusual Suspects

The first episode to focus on the Lone Gunmen as its main characters (with Mulder in a minor role and Scully not present at all) tells their origin story and would eventually lead to their own spinoff. Written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Kim Manners, and for some reason guest starring Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch. (Which I guess puts X-Files, Lone Gunmen, and, by extension, Millennium in the Tommy Westphall Universe.)

Fanboys Miss the Point

The plan was that this would be my last Ken Penders post for awhile, because this is not the All Ken Penders All the Time blog. Sometimes it is the Long Rambling Post About the Past 20 Years of Web Design blog.

However, the post wound up running long, and had a nice natural break in the middle, so now it's going to be two posts. There will be at least one more Penders post after this one.

But while Ken Penders is the focus, these posts aren't just going to be about Ken Penders. I intend to make a few unflattering generalizations about anti-creator fanboys in a minute here, and you may be interested to read them even if you don't care about Penders, Archie, Sega, or Sonic. If you like my posts about creators' rights, this is one of them, and the next one will be too.

So what brought me back to Ken Penders, anyway?

Well, awhile back I was looking at my site stats, and found a referral from a DeviantArt post titled A Summary of ACP Vs. Ken Penders, posted in a group called Save Archie Sonic, which is dedicated to petitioning Archie Comics to bring back all the Penders-created characters that it wrote out of the series. It was a pretty old post by the time I saw it, but at any rate it flatteringly linked to my previous Penders coverage.

And the second comment down, by a guy named CMAugust, had this to say:

The rest of this guy's articles on the subject are great too, well worth reading. On another cool note, this is the same fan who got the first online letter printed in the comic, way back in issue 40.

Holy God, what a thing for somebody to remember after all these years.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it: the most obscure and inconsequential piece of Sonic the Hedgehog trivia ever. And it's me.

CMAugust went on to say:

Oh yeah, and if you check out his stories about other comic book people tagged under "creators rights," you'll find that whenever there's a creator vs publisher court case, the fanboys will dump on the creator every time. Sad but true, most fans only care about whether their favorite characters are featured month after month and attack anyone who rocks the boat. No matter who it is.

This is a depressing but entirely accurate observation. I will be coming back to it in my next post.

The third reply down took rather a different and less coherent tack. Somebody posting as THEATOMBOMB035 wrote:

where do we stand? same as last time
Penders is a greedy prick who doesn't deserve the right to even be remembered in the Sonic world after what he is done
he is now a living reason why we exist and why we must stand as are own group of Freedom Fighters
Penders, you are a shame to Sonic fans everywhere

It's the third line that really got me. The part where he compared the fanboys -- the people calling the guy who created or co-created a raft of their favorite characters "a greedy prick" -- to the Freedom Fighters.

And this got me thinking about something I've thought of often before.

The fanboys in these stories -- the ones who insult Jack Kirby's family, or Jerry Siegel's family, or Joe Shuster's family, or Marv Wolfman, or Gary Friedrich, or Jim Starlin, or whoever -- are, invariably, fans of a certain type of fiction. Specifically, these are fans who are extremely passionate about stories where a ragtag band of underdogs strives against impossible odds to defeat an evil empire that is far bigger and more powerful than they are.

And they sure like those stories, but they really don't seem to understand them.

Here is a guy, right here, who looked at Sonic the Hedgehog -- the story of a scrappy band of Freedom Fighters squaring off against an evil empire to regain control of their homeland -- and then looked at Archie v Penders -- the story of a lone cartoonist squaring off against a multi-million-dollar corporation to regain control of his own work -- and thought that in this analogy, the people siding with Archie were the Freedom Fighters.

I just don't get it, man. I don't get how you can be so passionate about a work of fiction while simultaneously failing so utterly to understand its message even a little bit.

Speaking of utterly failing to understand a message, I also found my Penders coverage linked from a comments thread under a piece of fan art called Bunnie's Choice. A user named AlcyoneSong said,

yeah its just sad, because the whole comic has had a reboot due to Penders lawsuit.

And then he linked to my Ken Penders coverage.

My Ken Penders coverage which contains the following passages:

And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around.

and

If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

Emphasis in originals.

I mean, for fuck's sake, maybe actually read the thing you're linking to before you describe it.

There was a time in my life where I would probably have gone to the trouble of signing up for a DeviantArt account just so I could argue with year-old posts misstating the basic facts of the case and the content of my posts. Fortunately, I'm past that now, and content to merely criticize them in really long blog posts.

More from Busiek on that Final Fantasy Comic

For those of you just joining us by way of a link from Kurt Busiek or CBR, welcome. I guess I should probably figure out something interesting to say so you'll feel like sticking around for a bit. For what it's worth, I've written quite a bit about Final Fantasy over the years, and three posts I wrote about FF7 back in 2011 (the first on mods for the PC version, the second on iconic images, and the third a general look back on the game) are pretty consistently the most popular thing on the site.

In lieu of me saying anything interesting, I'm going to quote a little bit more from Kurt Busiek on the unfinished Final Fantasy comic, in the comments section of the Robot 6 article on the subject.

I will also add that if the book came out, I don’t think that Final Fantasy fans would be particularly happy with it. It was 1991, and I was a workmanlike-but-not-particularly-noted writer. Dell Barras was a workmanlike artist, and, well, the covers were gorgeous.

But I don’t think I really started to make strides creatively as a writer until VAMPIRELLA: MORNING IN AMERICA (late that year) and the industry didn’t notice ’til MARVELS in 1993.

So, while I barely remember the details, I expect it was a workmanlike story that made sense but wasn’t particularly memorable, with workmanlike art and great covers.

And heresy upon heresies, I changed things (with Squaresoft’s permission). I thought it was so odd that the manly heroic lead was named Cecil and his loyal buddy was named Cain (really? You name the loyal guy Cain?) that I suggested maybe they needed Americanized names, and Squarest agreed. I don’t remember what I changed them to, but Squarest liked them enough that they asked if I’d be interested in a staff position making the games more American-appropriate. We never talked much about it, because I wanted to freelance. But I bet fans devoted to the game wouldn’t have liked the changes, especially not from a current POV, looking back.

What can I say? I wasn’t particularly a Final Fantasy fan — I’d played their first US game a little, and the second wasn’t even done yet.

He adds, in a later comment, that the bible he'd been given didn't even mention that Kain spends half the game betraying Cecil, and talks a little bit more about the original (FF1-based) outline he wrote.

(If he had been involved in localizing the game, I'm willing to bet it would have been better than what we initially got. But he'd have still been contending with cartridge space limitations and weird Nintendo censorship.)

A More Detailed Valiant Comics Chronology

Back in October, following my purchase of the Humble Valiant Bundle, I posted A Brief Valiant Comics Chronology making note of the order the comics were originally published in, on the assumption that that's the correct order to read them in.

As I said then:

the short answer is: X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong, Shadowman, Quantum and Woody, Eternal Warrior, Unity, Rai, with Harbinger Wars concurrent with the third volumes of Harbinger and Bloodshot (as their title implies).

Now I can refine that recommendation.

The short version this time is that most of the series are standalone and you can read them in any order you want; the exceptions are Harbinger, Bloodshot, Harbinger Wars, Unity, and arguably Rai.

What follows is a bit more specificity on which books tie into which, plus why the chronology of Harbinger Wars is a bit of a clusterfuck and how the Humble Bundle left out a book that's a crucial lead-in to Unity.

Once again, this list focuses on the books that were included in the Humble Valiant Bundle, and doesn't include more recently-published Valiant comics.


Standalone Books

X-O Manowar vol 1-3

X-O Manowar is Valiant's first and flagship book, but it doesn't tie in with the others until later on down the line. It introduces the Vine, who get a few mentions in the other books, and it leads into Unity, but these first three volumes stand alone.

Harbinger vol 1-2

These first two volumes introduce the lead characters, including Toyo Harada, as well as the Harbinger Foundation and Project Rising Spirit, both of which crop up throughout other series.

Bloodshot vol 1

Bloodshot provides another view on Project Rising Spirit, but it doesn't really matter whether you read this first volume before or after the first couple of volumes of Harbinger.

Archer & Armstrong vol 1-3

The Archer & Armstrong books included in the bundle are completely self-contained and don't require any knowledge of the rest of the Valiant universe. Project Rising Spirit does make a brief appearance, but it's more of a namedrop than anything; it could be any shadowy organization, and doesn't really tie into its use in other Valiant comics.

Archer & Armstrong does introduce the Eternal Warrior, so it's best to read it before Unity. Also, Archer and Armstrong later team up with Quantum and Woody in The Delinquents, but that's not included in the bundle.

Shadowman vol 1-3

Shadowman doesn't cross over with any other Valiant books in the bundle except for a brief reference in Unity.

Vol 3 can almost be considered a standalone book in and of itself as it presents several done-in-one stories that don't really continue from vols 1 and 2, but since it includes the origin of Mister Darque, I think it still makes the most sense to read it last.

Shadowman also introduces Doctor Mirage, who gets a solo series later on; that series is not included in the bundle, but it does have a preview in Rai #3.

Quantum and Woody vol 1-3

The Q&W books in the bundle are standalone and don't cross over with anything else in the Valiant universe. Quantum and Woody later team up with Archer and Armstrong in The Delinquents, but that's not included in the bundle.

Eternal Warrior vol 1

Okay, so this book contradicts all the other appearances of the Eternal Warrior in all the other Valiant books so badly that it is the reason I tried to work out a chronology in the first place. It depicts Gilad as a reluctant warrior who turned his back on the Geomancers in the nineteenth century and has lived in seclusion since; this flatly contradicts both Archer & Armstrong, where he is tenaciously loyal to the Geomancers, and Unity, which shows him as part of a superhero team during WWII.

This is a fine book, but if you're worried about Valiant canon, I think the only reasonable conclusion is that this book isn't part of it.

Eternal Warrior vol 2

In fact, Eternal Warrior vol 1 is so separate from all the other Valiant books that you don't even need to read it before you read vol 2. Vol 2 is set 2000 years in the future and you don't need to read any other books about the Eternal Warrior first, including vol 1 of the same series.

This book occurs in the same future as Rai, but Eternal Warrior takes place on Earth and Rai takes place in an orbital space station, so there's not really any crossover to speak of. I'd recommend reading Eternal Warrior before Rai, but it's not that important.


Harbinger Wars

Bloodshot vol 2

This one almost falls under the standalone category, but its last page leads directly into Harbinger Wars. You'll want to read at least the first volume of Harbinger before you read Bloodshot vol 2; otherwise the last page isn't going to make a whole lot of sense.

The Crossover

Here's where things get dicey.

Harbinger Wars is one of those crossover events that takes place across its own self-titled miniseries, Harbinger, and Bloodshot. As in most crossovers of its type, that means a whole lot of rereading the same events from different perspectives -- Harbinger Wars focuses on Project Rising Spirit and HARD Corps, Harbinger switches between Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation and Peter Stanchek and the Renegades, and Bloodshot follows Bloodshot and his team.

Harbinger and Harbinger Wars manage to line up pretty well with one another, but Bloodshot is paced significantly behind the other two. In both Harbinger and Harbinger Wars, Bloodshot makes it to Vegas and meets up with the Renegades in the third issue of the arc, while in Bloodshot, the third issue is a detour and he doesn't make it to Vegas until the fourth part. If you read the individual issues in the order they were published, it's jarring; they're out of sync.

So, you can either read each trade beginning-to-end, in order:

  1. Harbinger Wars
  2. Harbinger vol 3
  3. Bloodshot vol 3

or you can read the individual issues in the order they take place:

  1. Harbinger #0
  2. Harbinger Wars #1
  3. Harbinger #11
  4. Bloodshot #10
  5. Harbinger Wars #2
  6. Bloodshot #11
  7. Harbinger #12
  8. Bloodshot #12
  9. Harbinger Wars #3
  10. Harbinger #13
  11. Harbinger Wars #4
  12. Harbinger #14
  13. Bloodshot #13

Either way, you'll want to read the first two volumes each of Harbinger and Bloodshot before you read Harbinger Wars.


Unity

Not Included

The Humble Valiant Bundle doesn't include X-O Manowar vol 4, which is something of a problem as that book leads into Unity. At least, at the beginning of Unity, Aric has set up in Romania and has already crossed paths with Gilad; this doesn't happen in any of the books in the bundle and I assume it's in X-O vol 4.

Unity vol 1-2

Before you read this, you'll want to have read the first three volumes of X-O Manowar, the first three volumes of Harbinger (including the Harbinger Wars crossover), the first two volumes of Archer & Armstrong (since vol 2 introduces the Eternal Warrior, who appears in Unity), and, if you've got it, the fourth volume of X-O Manowar (which, as noted, is not included in the Humble Valiant Bundle).


And Finally...

Rai #1-#4

I would almost call Rai standalone, but it does pick up a thread from Unity vol 2, so I'd recommend reading that first. And maybe Eternal Warrior vol 2, since it takes place in the same future as Rai; there's not much overlap between them, but I think the story of Japan-as-space-station gains something if you already know what's going on down on the surface before you start.

KateStory XIX, Now In Progress

It was twenty years ago today...

So today is the 20th anniversary of the first post of the KateStory, a rather silly collaborative story that my friends and I have been making up as it went along since the days of Prodigy and 14.4 dialup.

I've gone ahead and kicked off KateStory XIX over at the Brontoforumus. Feel free to join on in.