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review 2020-03-09 21:34
8-Bit Theater, Entire Series by Brian Clevinger
8 Bit Theater Vol. 1 - Brian Clevinger

'8-Bit Theater' is a sprite comic (a comic using video game 'sprites' as characters instead of unique creations) based off of the original 1987 'Final Fantasy' video game for Nintendo. It follows Black Mage, Fighter, Thief and Red Mage (helped along by the exasperated White Mage) as they trade-in on orbs 'lukewarm' with destiny to get in on a quest to become Light Warriors and defeat Chaos.


This was, in my opinion, the King of Sprite Comics, which, is not a whole lot of praise to be honest. Sprite comics are looked down upon in world of web comics as lacking in artistry and being plagued with lazy jokes and storytelling. I mean, this is true, but '8-Bit Theater' was a lot of fun and I ended up following it all through high school. I was pleased to discover before graduating college that it had been given a conclusion. There were so many of these comics back in the day that I used to follow, and I'm sure there are many more out there, but I don't think any of them reached the scare-quoted 'stature' and longevity that '8-Bit Theater' enjoyed.


In total, '8-Bit Theater' was made up of 1,224 comics, a drawn epilogue, and dozens of guest/holiday comic one-offs. Brian Clevinger has made several other comics that have been given actual acclaim, but this is the only one I really loved.


Now, since a stray comment reminded me of the 'armoire of invincibility' joke, I ended up re-reading the whole series. A lot has changed for me since the high school computer lab. The comics are rife with dated, classic 'nerd' sexism and mild homophobia - nothing truly toxic, after all, White Mage and Princess Sara are among the smartest characters in the series, but still it effected my enjoyment. Clevinger also used a lot of wordy, rambling humor that made many strips an exercise in patience as Red Mage or Fighter babbled on for eight panels to end in yet another face-palm sigh of exasperation from Black Mage.


'8-Bit Theater' in its ~8 years of publication created a rich world of insider jokes and was my first introduction into the many tropes of gaming and fantasy in general. This was a great experience and got me to play my first video game in almost a decade. I'd never played the first Final Fantasy and borrowed the upgraded edition of the game on PSP from a friend. So, an old time-waster inspired me to give up a whole weekend on a thirty year old video game. Fun!


But, whatever, its still pretty damn funny. It also helped that it brought back some great memories of laughing at these panels with my friends clustered around the same monitor in the computer lab. "Ye be facin' THE CLAW!" If we'd had smart phones back then, I don't know if we would have gotten anything done in high school.

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review 2020-03-06 21:27
The Killing Song, Dragon Below #3
The Killing Song - Don Bassingwaite,Don Bassingthwaite

With the binding stones in hand, Dah'mir heads to Sharn to twist more kalashtar into service of the Master of Silence. To save innocents from madness he must be stopped. At the same time warnings have to be given to the orcs of the Fat Tusk to prevent Dah'mir's return to the Bonetree Mound if he succeeds in Sharn. Singe, Dandra, Ashi and Natrac head to Sharn, while Geth, Ortrac and the Dhakaani hobgoblin Ekhaas head overland back into the Shadow Marches.


Splitting storylines in books is always tricky (and breaks a D&D house rule - you never split the party!). Its hard to sustain action more than one direction without resorting to cliff-hangers and/or leaving a thread hanging for a hundred pages. Bassingthwaite keeps things interesting and rolls more interesting characters into the mix.


Up until now Bassingthwaite has avoided Sharn, but he does the city justice and with his portrait of the kalashtar district and its ways provides another look at an 'other' community in the Eberron world. I won't spoil anything, but all in all this was a spectacular finish.


A new adventure begins with these characters in Bassingthwaite's follow-up trilogy 'The Legacy of Dhakaan', first volume: 'The Doom of Kings'.


Dragon Below


Previous: 'The Grieving Tree'


Next: 'The Doom of Kings'

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review 2020-03-01 20:24
The Grieving Tree, Dragon Below #2
The Grieving Tree - Don Bassingthwaite

After the climactic fight with the dragon Dah'mir, Singe, Geth and Dandra retreat to Zarash'ak to recover. With them for the long haul now are the half-orc Natrac who has his own secret past, and the young orc Gatekeeper druid Orshok. Best of all is the former Bonetree hunter Ashi who transformed from a leading stooge into an ally to the cause. Bassingthwaite has a tendency to treat all of his characters as opportunities, they serve a function to the plot, but at any time a casual encounter with an NPC turns into an important character. It makes the reader pay attention and adds depth to the world and the story.


I loved the time spent in the 'City of Stilts', Zarash'ak is the unofficial capital of the independent territory of the Shadow Marches. The story also leads on to the nation of Droaam, a nation of monsters. A clue in the oral tradition of the Bonetree people points the party into that nation to get ahead of Dah'mir's plans to free the powerful Daelkyr Master of Silence from its ancient prison. The threat of the Daelkyr and the close proximity of various planes of existence - some defined by elements such as air or fire, others by concepts such as dreams or madness - is well expanded upon.


Geth and Singe are beginning to trust each other, but their mutual past comes back to haunt them and there are secrets that must come out if their mission has any chance of success. Look out for new, unexpected allies. I don't want to spoil things, but I was especially impressed with the chilling development of the Lyrandar ship's captain as he's drawn further into the madness of the plane of Xoriat.


Give me ancient ruins and prophecy any day, this is still some of the best fantasy to come out of Eberron.


The Dragon Below


Next: 'The Killing Song'


Previous: 'The Binding Stone'

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review 2020-02-25 20:53
The Binding Stone, Dragon Below #1 by Don Bassingthwaite
The Binding Stone - Don Bassingthwaite

Eberron is celebrated for its urban settings, magically infused technology and the sentient construct Warforged. There are other layers to the setting, however, and Bassingthwaite takes full advantage. There are elemental-powered ships, and Sharn is a known location, but the story delves into the deeper lore of the ancient Hobgoblin empire that predates human civilization by thousands of years and the extraplanar struggle that destroyed it.


The first volume of the 'Dragon Below' trilogy starts in the rural nation of the Eldeen Reaches. Dominated by forest and governed by druids, it held itself apart during most of the Last War once it had established its independence. The action continues in another neglected area of Khorvaire: the Shadow Marches, the marshy homeland of most orcs.


This is one of the most interesting Eberron series yet. On top of the little-used settings, Bassingtwhaite has a great party of characters - the shifter Geth on the run from a shameful secret, the fighter/wizard Singe who has been seeking him out, and the Kalashtar on the run from a sinister cult. Everyone has secrets. A great fantasy that highlights the diversity Eberron has to offer.


The Dragon Below


Next: 'The Grieving Tree'

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review 2020-02-17 21:12
Taint of the Black Brigade, Abraxis Wren #2, by Paul Crilley
Taint of the Black Brigade: Chronicles of Abraxis Wren, Book 2 - Paul Crilley

When a routine protection job in Wroat goes wrong and Lyra is set up as a murderer, there's only one person she can turn to: Abraxis Wren. 


Lyra and Wren have a complicated history and neither of them wants to see the other. However, Lyra is desperate to clear her name and Wren has had no interesting cases since the 'Night of Long Shadows' so they set off with Torin to investigate.


This time around Crilley's humor was better, not quite as shrill, and the author made a real attempt to soften Wren's edges. There were moments of reflection and compassion from him towards starving children, for example - when no one was around to see it - and the history of his and Lyra's relationship revealed a lot about his character.


A sequel to 'Night of Long Shadows', part of the 'Inquisitives' series of standalone Eberron novels, this showed a lot of growth for the writer. The mystery itself was a bit eh, but I liked the riddles, even if only one was solvable by the reader.


Abraxis Wren


Next: 'Chronicles of Abraxis Wren' (Comic Book)


Previous: 'Night of Long Shadows'

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