Monday, October 31, 2011

Mighty Samson

Mighty Samson
No longer blonde & no eye-patch,
but still kicking post-apocalyptic butt
...sort of...
Mighty Samson isn't as well known as Magnus: Robot Fighter, but he is a major-league pugilist par excellance whose stomping grounds are the irradiated and jungle-infested ruins of N'Yark some 500 years hence, give or take a millennium or whatever now that the title has been re-booted by Jim Shooter, just like Turok, Magnus and Doctor Solar have been Re-Shooter-ized.

To quote from the Dark Horse site:
Five hundred years after the end of the world, amid the ruins of a once--great city scourged by mutated monsters, marauders, and savage subhuman predators, the primitive N'Yark tribe ekes out a meager, fragile existence. But from among them rises a champion, gifted with prodigious strength--a warrior who can strike dead the most fearsome beast and stand alone against an army. Singlehandedly, he holds at bay the ravaging barbarian hordes of Jerz, thwarting the dark ambitions of beautiful, ruthless Queen Terra. At stake is the future of the world. Mighty Samson is the last, best hope of humankind.
For the first time in a quarter century, Mighty Samson returns to comics, reimagined by legendary writer Jim Shooter and illustrated by Patrick Olliffe (Untold Tales of Spider--Man, Spider--Girl, 52).
* This bonus--sized first issue includes the very first Mighty Samson story from 1964!
Publication Date: December 15, 2010
Format: FC, 48 pages
Price: $3.50
You can find the online version of the first issue of Mighty Samson (from 1964) at the wonderful Gold Key Comics blog. Yeah, it is kind of dated in some respects, but it is a lot of fun and it predates Thundarr, Kamandi, and most of those other post-apocalyptic Neo-Barbarians by a comfortable margin since Kamandi appeared in 1972, and Thundarr was an Eighties-thing. And it's a lot of fun, mostly because it doesn't take itself too seriously. At least the original series didn't waste time on such things as quasi-Biblical allusions like the re-boot does. But then, Mighty Samson always was a title that has been plagued from the get-go with cliches, thread-bare tropes, and dialogue that would make Ed Wood wince. But the painted covers were always kind of cool and very much in keeping with the Gold Key Aesthetic. And the core idea of a circus-style strongman running around in the weird wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world is just begging to be realized as something more than a parody of some mentally-stunted buffoon with Steve Reeve's biceps and none of his acting ability. Ouch.

Unfortunately, the new and not-so-improved Mighty Samson does not feel all that improved. Jim Shooter did a decent job on the recently rebooted Magnus, but with Mighty Samson it feels jumbled and rushed and confused. It could have been so much better, and Shooter really could have brought this character to life similar to how he has recently handled Turok, but instead this time out it looks like he dropped the ball.

And that's a damn shame.

Unlike most modern post-apocalyptic (post Mad Max, really) settings & stories, Mighty Samson wasn't a cynical anti-hero. He was a powerful force for right that backed it up with his considerable might. Mighty Samson was about a noble not-so barbarian who was trying to make the impossibly screwed-up world he inhabited a better place. He helped people. He defended the weak. He was a one-eyed Lone Ranger in a loincloth, eye-patch and without the revolver or even the horse. A D&D player would easily recognize Mighty Samson as a paladin. And he was a good example of how a paladin would operate in the post-apocalyptic nightmare world that is so often the domain of rogues, thieves, cut-throats and mutants.

The original Mighty Samson reminded me a lot of Andre Norton's Daybreak 2250 more than any other literary source. Though there are some major differences, the two works had a similar feel to them. Very clean-cut, very Fifties-esque. Most definitely: Safe For The Workplace.

Norton's protagonist mostly had to worry about mutant rats. Mighty Samson had an incredibly varied menagery of mutant creatures to fight each issue, and many of them didn't even have any tentacles.

My advice is to skip the reboot. Go back to the original. It wasn't broken, so much as it was--and is--very much a product of its time and probably ought to stay that way. Not everything is suited to being updated.

Look Ma--no tentacles!
Some Mighty Samson Links

Hmmm...blue-skinned flying winged-people...Almuric? Nope. It's Mighty Samson.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moving Forwards (Revised: 11/22/2011)

After 13 years of using Netherwerks as an online identity and the name for our rpg-oriented studio, we've decided that we are going to let the domain name lapse and move on. Three Netherwerks/Netherworks are two too many. We wish the other Nether-folks the best of luck in their endeavors. We've never interacted with any of them, but we do know that they have very good taste when it comes to selecting a name for their studios.

In any case, we've kind of out-grown the Netherwerks brand, and we feel that it is high time for a change, so we're taking this opportunity to re-evaluate all of our outstanding commitments and re-assess all of our ongoing projects. We're at a good spot to refine and reinvent our studio from the ground up, to reinvigorate our enthusiasm, and to restructure our various internal processes so that things flow more smoothly. We'll be taking some time to prune-away a good bit of the digital dead wood we've accumulated and getting our proverbial ducks in a row. There are a LOT of little (and some not so little) changes to attend to over the next few weeks, so bear with us as we shut down some of our online mad scientist experiments that have become dead ends or distractions. There are also a bunch of things that need to be moved around a bit in order to better revitalize our core endeavors. It is time to re-focus on the stuff that really matters most to us.

You can find most of the old Netherwerks content at Hereticwerks.

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Big Idea: 100 Year Starship

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has set-up ('seeded') the The 100 Year Starship™ Study. This is nothing less than a direct and concerted effort to "develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible." 

Yep. The folks at DARPA want us to start researching how to actually build starships and go boldly forth into the cold void of space and start colonizing planets. According to the About page, this study owes its origin to a desire to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general populace. But not just rekindling a sense of wonder will be enough. They seek to encourage people to seriously begin to ask "Why Not?" and they intend to encourage people to not just consider this stuff, but to get busy with research and development focused on the challenges inherent in long term, long distance space travel with an emphasis on making it technologically achievable and economically viable.

Being DARPA, the military applications of all of this renewed 'sense of wonder,' and 'Why Not' asking will be the real emphasis and goal, but any number of the 'useful, unanticipated consequences' of this research  could lead to tons of life-improving and even life saving advances, not just new ways to blow enemies to tiny bits. It sounds like a think-tank for science fiction authors, but it is really a lot more than anything quite so prosaic as that.

It could also lead to some rather startling discoveries since this project explicitly seeks to address some questions such as:
  • How do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more?
  • What models have supported long term technology development?
  • What resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of "new worlds?"
DARPA is supported in this effort by NASA Ames Research Center, who will act as the execution agent on DARPA's behalf.

You can find out more at the 100 Year Starship site: http://www.100yss.org/index.html

This is a real study, backed by DARPA and NASA and taking place right now.
They are trying to figure out how to make all that funny Buck Rogers Sci-Fi stuff about traveling to the outer reaches of space and back again to actually work.
Considering how short a time it took the DARPA Grand Challenge Contest to produce viable working models for driverless vehicles...this study might be able to spur some similar advances that could bring about some results much earlier than a century out from now. Maybe we won't have to wait 100 years for a prototype starship.

Who knows where this study might lead...

The most recent Press Release is below:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                            October 2, 2011
Public Symposium Focuses Attention on Future Scientific Challenges
The 100 Year Starship Public Symposium wrapped up today in Orlando, Florida. The event
promoted a compelling dialog among academia, business, the public and government about
issues related to long term, long distance exploration. The event was convened with the intent
that the knowledge gained would be directly relevant to the Department of Defense (DoD).
“We achieved our objective,” said David Neyland, DARPA Tactical Technology Office
Director. “Discussions at the event were both rigorously technical and profoundly thought
Symposium attendees were exposed to presentations such as “Nuclear Thermal Propulsion,”
“Combined Imaging, Power Generation and Distribution, Propulsion and Communication
Subsystems” and “Pulsar Navigation and Maser Navigation.” Not only were attendees able to
hear from industry luminaries, they were encouraged to share their own ideas.
Neyland continued, “For DARPA, our mission is the warfighter, and the scientific advances that may come out of an aspirational goal such as what we’ve started here could lead to advances in defense. Energy innovations could mean our soldiers don’t have to carry 45 lbs. of batteries with them in theater. If we can innovate food production for long-term flights, we can generate food at forward operating bases even in harsh environments. And of particular interest to me, the event’s discussions about metamaterials and propulsion have direct relevance to next-generation DoD platforms.”
By tapping new audiences, the DoD will benefit from fresh insights that can help it solve some
of the most profound challenges in supporting and protecting men and women in uniform.

-ENDMedia with inquiries, contact DARPA Public Affairs, DARPAPublicAffairsOffice@darpa.mil 

Sir Arthur on Predicting the Future

Arthur C. Clarke. 1964.
The future is more likely to be unbelievable...
...and already all around us...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Mole People (1956): Courtesy of Google Video

Here, for your viewing pleasure is the movie The Mole People, which for some reason is available in its entirety. The introduction alone is worth sitting through once. The rest of the movie...well...that's a matter of taste and expectations. Don't expect a lot and you'll be pleasantly lulled to sleep. Expect a lot and you might as well watch something like The Monolith Monsters...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Monolith Monsters (1957) Courtesy of Veoh

So here's another classic B-movie from the Fifties. This time the monster is some sort of extraterrestrial / meteoritic gravel that grows really, really big (becoming rough-hewn even cyclopean monoliths...) and then fall over and crush things too slow to run out from under them.


I'm not making it up.

Just add water...

RPG Brainstorming: Underground Playground

You Tube continues to provide a lot of fun resources for re-thinking stale old tropes or for incorporating real world stuff into fiction and games. A lot of the actual and factual is ten times more unbelievable than anything made-up. If you can look past the breathless proponents of various agendas and whatever theories, and just examine the ideas involved in some of this stuff, it starts to provide all sorts of great fodder for developing any number of scenarios and adventures for just about any style of paper-and-pencil RPG. Case in point, let's take a look at this documentary 'Underground Species and the Hollow Earth.' It'll make a nice appetizer for the Hollow Earth and related post(s) coming up shortly.

Part One:

Aside from the 'Sky God(s)', UFO-nauts, and all that stuff, the actual and very real underground city carved out of the soft stone of Cappadocia is quite interesting. Whether these chambers were built as a refuge against invaders or to hide-out from disastrous environmental events, to escape from warring extraterrestrials, or something even more plausible, they really are down there and this is something that could be brought into an RPG setting from deep antiquity to far future, and it could easily be adapted to alien worlds as well.

The connection to the American southwest caught our attention. Do these underground cities have some so far unexplored/unexplained connection to that gigantic Krell-inspired secret base overseen by the Tic Toc Corporation?

The Native American myths/tales/accounts of living underground, warring aliens, ant-people, snake-people, etc. are also quite intriguing...

You don't need the UFOs to make this work, but you get them lumped-in anyhow as a sort of bonus.

Part Two:

Bingo! Now we get Conspiracies, aliens living underground and doing vivisections of unwary visitors, government cover-ups, and more. Pure RPG gold! But the Southwest isn't enough--we also get the Andes to go investigate at Erich Von Daniken's behest. Hall's actual-factual 1976 expedition had 100 guys including an American astronaut, and they went down into those caves looking for golden artifacts of possibly alien origin...they didn't find the golden treasure, or did they? The Metal Library is too good an idea not to use it. And then there are all those dead explorers...what if some disreputable necromancer was digging them up to interrogate their corpses about the truth of these treasures, 'failed' expeditions, etc.? Creepy, weird and just pulp-enough to be a lot of fun...

But wait, there's more! Elongated skulls. There 'might' have been some sort of connection between the old cultures of South America and ancient Egypt, with the space aliens forming a trifecta of cool, pre-historic weirdness that could easily lead into Churchward's Lemuria, Donnelly's Atlantis, Cayce's Bimini, Blavatsky's Root Races, Velikovsky's whole Worlds in Collision thing, Sitchin's Annunaki and more. Plus you get humans or proto-humans or hybrids with elongated heads...

What Fun!

Part Three:

Cenotes in the Yucatan. A cave like no other. Mysterious underground temples out in the jungle, some submerged underwater. Broken columns with strange inscriptions deep under water leading to massive underground temple complexes...now that's cool!

Stalactites sharp enough to slice through flesh. Cold, dark, hordes of bats, the whole trip through the chambers to Xibalba sounds like a megadungeon entrance...

A 'Road to the Stars' could be interesting. It may or may not be clear that anyone has arrived from outer space, but it is a rather intriguing reference that could easily inspire some extraterrestrial shenanigans for those elongated skull people, and other, possibly competing human-related and non-human parallel civilizations...

And then we get to the North Pole and the Hollow Earth. Yay! (about time...)

Edmund Halley took this theory seriously. It explained how the magnetic poles could shift. Then he went farther, speculating about multiple nested spheres and who might be living down there.

John Symmes gets a mention, but they gloss over the good Captain so we'll return to him in another post.

Verne's novel 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' gets a nice nod. But Verne's fictively-useful notion of extinct life forms surviving deep down below in the hollow earth is cool (Burroughs made it a central part of his Pellucidar series), but eventually dry geology lectures and the allure of dinosaurs down below loses out to advanced ray-gun wielding psychically-empowered technological civilizations with flying saucers that got all the publicity and coverage in pseudoscience and fiction. The producers of this video really gloss over a lot of stuff at this point, missing out on Shaver's derro, glossing over the Mt. Shasta channelers and other folk who claim to be in communication with telepathic beings living deep within the hollow earth, missing out on the non-epic that is Gene Autry's The Phantom Empire...and they miss out on the Vril and all those connections as well...and instead leap ahead to Admiral Bird and Operation High Jump...an actual, real-world expedition that bears a lot of similarities to At The Mountains of Madness...

All in all, a nice bit of brain candy for developing loads of RPG stuff. Just keep your salt shaker and tin foil hat well within reach...