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Showing posts by: tim callahan click to see tim callahan's profile
Mon
Jun 17 2013 12:00pm

Three Hears and Three Lions Poul AndersonWhen Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax published his now-classic Advanced D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979, he highlighted “Inspirational and Educational Reading” in a section marked “Appendix N.” Featuring the authors that most inspired Gygax to create the world’s first tabletop role-playing game, Appendix N has remained a useful reading list for sci-fi and fantasy fans of all ages.

In Advanced Readings in D&D, Tor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode take a look at Gary Gygax’s favorite authors and reread one per week, in an effort to explore the origins of Dungeons & Dragons and see which of these sometimes-famous, sometimes-obscure authors are worth rereading today. Sometimes the posts will be conversations, while other times they will be solo reflections, but one thing is guaranteed: Appendix N will be written about, along with dungeons, and maybe dragons, and probably wizards, and sometimes robots, and, if you’re up for it, even more. Welcome to the second post in the series, featuring a look at Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson.

To celebrate this awesome new series, Tor.com is giving away five gorgeous sets of D&D dice from Chessex. Check out the sweepstakes post for more information on how to enter!

[Read more.]

Wed
Jun 12 2013 12:30pm

Superman Unchained #1What a weird coincidence! A brand-new Superman comic debuting in comic shops and on your favorite mobile devices the same week as Zack Snyder’s big-budget Man of Steel hit theaters. And the comic is written by Scott Snyder—who is completely unrelated to Zack Snyder, actually, so, yeah, that part is a coincidence.

But the first part isn’t. Superman Unchained #1 is not just poised to take advantage of the excitement around a big splashy Hollywood production, it’s a comic that’s positioned to deliver on the same task: reclaiming Superman.

Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained isn’t tied to the movie in any way, and even though the early plans for the comic included using the words “Man of Steel” somewhere in its title, this isn’t set in the cinematic universe. This is Snyder and Lee doing their take on Superman in DC’s New 52. And it’s off to a strong start.

[Read more.]

Mon
Jun 10 2013 12:00pm

Weird Tales Red Nails Robert HowardWhen Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax published his now-classic Advanced D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide in 1979, he highlighted “Inspirational and Educational Reading” in a section marked “Appendix N.” Featuring the authors that most inspired Gygax to create the world’s first tabletop role-playing game, Appendix N has remained a useful reading list for sci-fi and fantasy fans of all ages.

In “Advanced Readings in D&D,” Tor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode take a look at Gygax’s favorite authors and reread one per week, in an effort to explore the origins of Dungeons & Dragons and see which of these sometimes-famous, sometimes-obscure authors are worth rereading today. Sometimes the posts will be conversations, while other times they will be solo reflections, but one thing is guaranteed: Appendix N will be written about, along with dungeons, and maybe dragons, and probably wizards, and sometimes robots, and, if you’re up for it, even more. Welcome to the first post in the series, featuring a look at a seminal story by Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard.

[Read more]

Wed
Apr 24 2013 10:00am

The Sandman Reread Neil Gaiman Endless NightsIn his Introduction to The Sandman: Endless Nights, Neil Gaiman writes about an encounter he had in a hotel lobby in Turin, where he was asked to tell the story of Sandman in less than 25 words. “I pondered for a moment,” he says, and then he delivers the essence of his highly-regarded series like this: “The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.”

That’s a powerfully succinct statement, yet filled with thrilling ambiguity, for Gaiman never answers his own implicit question, since while the Morpheus we knew and grew to love does “die,” to be replaced by a new incarnation of the Lord of Dreams, Dream itself never dies. And what does the Sandman choose, anyway? Does he chose to change—and one aspect of his change is his transformation into the Daniel-white-haired-Dream persona with a more sensitive touch? Or does he find himself incapable of change, and that is why “he” dies, only to be reborn as a new version of not-quite-his-old-self?

[Read more]

Wed
Apr 17 2013 11:00am

The Sandman Reread Neil Gaiman The Dream HuntersYears after Neil Gaiman had concluded the Sandman series, after all the epilogues and Death-sequels, after Dream joined forces with his gas-masked Golden Age namesake, and after the writer had moved on to such things as the work that would become American Gods and the English-language dub of Princess Mononoke, he was asked to return to his comic book creation to commemorate its tenth anniversary.

Inspired by Japanese folklore he had discovered while working on the Studio Ghibli Mononoke adaptation, he decided to recast an ancient fairy tale from our world and place it in the realm of Sandman. He wanted to retell the story “in his own way,” according to the afterword printed in Sandman: The Dream Hunters.

So he took versions of the old Japanese story from the likes of Reverend B. W. Ashton and Y. T. Ozaki and pulled in some of the familiar Sandman components like Dream’s raven and a brief cameo from a pair of famous Biblical brothers. Sandman: The Dream Hunters ended up as a prose story retelling of that foreign tale, with the great artist Yoshitaka Amano (who you may know from such character designs as Gatchaman anime and the Final Fantasy video game series) providing sumptuously painted illustrations.

That’s how the story goes. But it isn’t actually true.

[Read more]

Wed
Apr 10 2013 11:00am

The Sandman reread Sandman Midnight Theatre Neil GaimanFor 70 issues in the mid-1990s a sort-of-Sandman spin-off detailed the pulpy adventures of one Wesley Dodds, aka the Golden Age Sandman, in a series by Matt Wagner and Steven Seagle and (mostly) Guy Davis called Sandman Mystery Theatre. That series recast the original Gardner-Fox-and-Bert-Christman-created DC Comics Sandman as a plump amateur detective who would hone his skills on the city streets while trying to maintain his relationship with the lovely and whip-smart Dian Belmont.

I have my collection of the series bound in two customized hardcover volumes, if you’d like an indication about how much I enjoy Sandman Mystery Theatre.

[Read more]

Wed
Apr 3 2013 11:00am

Sandman Reread Death: The Time of Your Life Neil GaimanOh, if only Chris Bachalo could have drawn this entire story.

Death: The Time of Your Life is the name of the three-issue series—and, of course, the collected edition—by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, and Mark Buckingham that provided yet another view of that most enchanting and delightful member of the Endless: Death herself.

Like Gaiman’s first Death miniseries, this one centers around a character coming to terms with life, and Death plays a vital supporting role.

Gaiman collaborated with Bachalo on that earlier Death mini, from 1993, but Death: The Time of Your Life, from only three years later, shows Bachalo in peak form. By then he had honed his skills and developed a style that was uniquely his. Unfortunately, he drew only half of this second series before his inker, Mark Buckingham, stepped up to pencil the second half of issue #2 and all of issue #3.

[Read more]

Wed
Mar 27 2013 11:00am

The Wake, Sandman volume 10The tenth and final collection of the original Neil Gaiman Sandman run, entitled The Wake, collects the four-part title story arc plus two other epilogues, respectively called “Exiles” and “The Tempest.” So it’s an epilogue and then another epilogue and a final epilogue. (If we leave out the follow-up stories by Gaiman written elsewhere.)

That’s a Peter Jackson Lord of the Ringsy kind of way to wrap it up, isn’t it?

But if you’ve sat through the extended editions of Lord of the Rings, you know that the endings upon endings feel properly paced and well-deserved. The same is true for Neil Gaiman and Sandman. Though it sometimes feels as if the entire second half of the series is about saying goodbye, “The Wake” and the two single-issue stories that follow are earned and resonant. And while they may not be strictly necessary—I think you could end your reading of Sandman with The Kindly Ones, drop the book, and strut away like a champ, though that would be weird and unnecessary unless your name is “Neil” and “Gaiman”—the stories collected in The Wake provide closure to the larger story and additional flavor to the Sandman mythology.

[Read more]

Wed
Mar 20 2013 11:00am

Sandman Reread The Kindly Ones Neil Gaiman DreamThe collected edition of The Kindly Ones begins with a short story written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Kevin Nowlan, and I think that’s a mistake. The story was originally published in Vertigo Jam #1, and I’m sure the story fits between World’s End and The Kindly Ones, and was published around that time, and all of that is just fine, but it’s not the best way to start reading “The Kindly Ones” as a story arc.

Gaiman and Nowlan are great, sure, and it’s a nice little story about a dreamer.

But as a massive thirteen-part opus, “The Kindly Ones” deserves, in a collection with its name in the title, to get the spotlight from the first page.

[Read more]

Wed
Mar 13 2013 11:00am

Sandman World's End reread Neil Gaiman Tor.comThere’s a scene in Sandman #56, the last of the six issues collected in the World’s End trade paperback, that provides a grim context for the Chaucerian tales presented within the book. We see—through the eyes of the characters looking out at the night sky from the tavern at the end of the world—a spectral funeral march, with Desire and Death of the Endless sorrowfully trailing behind.

The rest of the story arc is divorced from the ongoing saga of Dream and his impending doom. But with a title like “World’s End,” even the single issue short stories bode something far different than they did in previous anthology-style arcs. Titles like “Dream Country” or the collection called Fables and Reflections implied a kind of somnabulistic reverie, even if some of the stories were tinged with melancholy. “Worlds End,” though? That’s not a hopeful pairing of syllables.

[Read more]

Wed
Mar 6 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: Death: The High Cost of LivingOutside of the Sandman series proper, as the dark but sophisticated corner of Karen Berger’s DC Editorial offices became Vertigo Comics, a troop of writers continued the tales of some of the less prominent members of the Neil Gaiman comics, with titles like The Dreaming and Lucifer and Merv Pumpkinhead, Agent of D.R.E.A.M. (Yes, that last one is a real comic, and it was written by Fables scribe Bill Willingham.) But that would all happen after Sandman ended, as a way to sustain the franchise while Neil Gaiman moved on to become a fancy-pants novelist and screenwriter. Gaiman produced a few Sandman-related books in the years after the series concluded, and, of course, he’s slated for a return engagement with the character in the fall of 2013, but, in total, more issues of Sandman spin off comics were written by people named neither Neil nor Gaiman than were produced in the entirety of the initial run of the series.

However, and this is a big however, DC and Vertigo kept their hands off the Endless. That was reportedly part of Gaiman’s deal with DC, perhaps to the extent that he co-owns those characters and no one else can do anything with them without his permission, or maybe just as a way to keep Gaiman happy in the hopes that he would one day return to write the characters and bring a gigantic fanbase along with him. (Which, as it seems, has worked out according to plan, if the online gushing about new Gaiman Sandman issues next year was any indication of the fanbase’s gigantism.)

So Dream, Destiny, Desire, Delirium, Destruction, Despair, and Death…well, maybe not Destiny as he’d been around awhile already, but the others…they are Gaiman’s alone to write, except when he loans them out to others to play with, like he presumably did for Jill Thompson’s Little Endless books or that time Paul Cornell had Lex Luthor face down Death in Action Comics a couple of years back. So the first guy to get a crack at a solo Death story was, of course, Gaiman himself, who wrote the three-issues of Death: The High Cost of Living just in time for it to become the first original series ever released under the Vertigo banner.

[Read more]

Wed
Feb 27 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: Brief LivesMaybe it shouldn’t have taken so long, but by the time I reread the seventh Sandman collected edition, Brief Lives, I realized that the first four years of the series, at least in their trade paperback incarnations, follow a three-fold cycle. It goes like this: quest, aid, and potpourri. Then repeat. Those probably aren’t the super-official terms, and Neil Gaiman may have his own morphological constructions in mind, but the pattern remains true nonetheless.

The first story arc was Dream’s quest to retrieve his implements of power, the second was largely Rose Walker’s story with Morpheus in a pivotal supporting role, while the third was a collection of single-issue stories outlining different corners of the Sandman universe. The cycle repeats with the next three story arcs, as Season of Mists sends Dream on a quest to rescue Nada from Hell, while the follow-up primarily focused on Barbie’s fantasy world, and the Fables and Reflections once again gives a variety of short tales which involve the world Gaiman has created.

Quest. Aid. Potpourri.

[Read more]

Wed
Feb 20 2013 12:00pm

A reread of Neil Gaiman's Sandman on Tor.com: Volume 6, Fables & ReflectionsLike the Dream Country collection, the sixth volume of Sandman trade paperbacks, titled Fables and Reflections, is an anthology of single-issue stories written by Neil Gaiman, set in the realms of Morpheus.

Fables and Reflections is a wider-ranging collection than Dream Country, compiling stories a bit out of sequence from their original release order. We get, for example, some stories in this volume originally released before A Game of You, some immediately after, and then others, like “Ramadan” from Sandman #50, that came out a year after the others. That makes it a more eclectic batch than we saw in Dream Country, and, I would argue, a less successful grouping. Some of the stories in this volume are very good, while I found others difficult to read through this time. Not all of them have aged well, and while Gaiman was surely fond of exploring different facets of his dream-time mythology, and pulling from histories and other books and stories to do so, he’s not great at making it all equally compelling. Such is the nature of anthology-style collections, even ones with a single author.

[Read on]

Wed
Feb 13 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: A Game of YouI haven’t done an exhaustive analysis of the topic, or seen anything substantial written about it, but more than a few astute readers of early-to-mid 1980s fantasy fiction and American comic books have likely connected Michael Ende’s The NeverEnding Story to the end of the Bronze Age of superhero comics and the transition to the Modern Age. The simple version goes like this: Ende’s novel, about a fantasy land being destroyed by the encroaching “Nothing,” must surely have inspired Marv Wolfman’s conception of Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which a wave of Anti-Matter threatened to destroy the fantastical DC multiverse and all of its inhabitants.

The parallels may merely be a coincidence, but the stories are parallel nonetheless. And both The NeverEnding Story and Crisis on Infinite Earths tell of the impending death of a universe populated by expansive imaginations.

[Read more]

Wed
Feb 6 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: Season of MistsAbout 16 years ago, for one school year, I was hired to tutor a teenager who was creative and artistic but wasn’t particularly inclined to do any of his homework for class. I could guide him through his math work, and I remembered enough Latin to help him with that, but it was really in his writing assignments that I could see his growth, as I worked with him to turn his ideas into somewhat refined arguments. He was a good kid, and he worked hard for me, even though he was rarely interested in the topics he had to tackle for homework. And when we got off track, and conversations meandered before getting back to work, he’d talk about his drawings and the characters he would create.

But he didn’t read comics. They just weren’t part of his life.

On my last day of tutoring, as the school year came to an end, I gave him a copy of Season of Mists, the fourth Sandman collected edition.

[Read more]

Wed
Jan 30 2013 12:00pm

The Neil Gaiman Sandman reread on Tor.com: Dream CountryThe third Sandman collection, Dream Country, is the shortest of them all, pulling together only four issues of the series, all of which tell self-contained stories set in Neil Gaiman’s darkly fantastical universe.

The Dream Country stories expand the domain of Sandman even further, bouncing from genre storytelling about genre storytelling to the secret history of felines to the supernatural mystery behind one of Shakespeare’s beloved plays to the sad life and beneficent death of a forgotten superhero.

The first chapter, “Calliope,” from Sandman #17, tells the tale of frustrated writer Richard Madoc, who ominously begins the conversation on page 1 with the words, “I don’t have any idea.” He’s referring to the disgusting, mysterious ball of hair held out for him by a collector, but Gaiman’s use of “I don’t have any idea” as the opening line provides a statement about the character and the story. It’s a story about ideas—the age-old question: where do your ideas come from? Here, they come, as they did for the ancient poets, from the muses, specifically the one known as Calliope.

[Read on]

Wed
Jan 23 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: The Doll's HouseI mentioned last time that “The Sound of Her Wings” was originally reprinted in both the first and second Sandman trade paperbacks, and that’s true, and it is the story in which the series fully comes to life. But there’s another reason why the original trade of The Doll’s House began with that story: The Doll’s House, collecting the second story arc of the series, was actually the first collection printed.

In the days when not everything from DC Comics was guaranteed a collected edition, someone at DC clearly thought that the first half-year of single issues wouldn’t be as appealing to the bookstore market as the stories that made up “The Doll’s House” arc. It wasn’t until later that Preludes and Nocturnes came into print, and that’s when “The Sound of Her Wings” slid back as an epilogue to volume 1, rather than a prologue to (what would become) volume 2.

Because, as it stands now, The Doll’s House collection has a prologue of its own, in Sandman #9, “Tales in the Sand.”

[Read more]

Mon
Jan 21 2013 4:00pm

The All-Time Top 10 Best Comics Written by Alan Moore

Tor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated the next twelve months more than a year to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the 65th and FINAL installment.

After sixty-four weeks, here we are: the end of The Great Alan Moore Reread. Last week I talked about Moore’s legacy in the comic book industry—and the world—so we don’t need to rehash the where-we’ve-come-from-and-where-we’re-going speech again. But instead, let’s talk about the best of Alan Moore’s comic book work. Looking at his career, what would I designate as the capital-b Best of the Best? What ten comics would be the ultimate incarnation of Moore’s genre-bending, highly-influential comic book scripting?

I’m glad you asked!

[Read on]

Wed
Jan 16 2013 12:00pm

The Sandman Reread: Preludes and NocturnesIf you read comics long enough, or with any kind of sustained attention, you’ll notice that some series start off strong, with clear, powerful opening issues that define everything that will follow. Others don’t grow into themselves until a few months, or a few years, into the run, when the creative team kicks away the specter of influence and begins to tell their own stories.

Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s most prominent comic book creation, doesn’t become itself until issue #8, the final chapter in the Preludes and Nocturnes collected edition.

Readers will find plenty to enjoy in the opening half-year of stories, but the Alan Moore influence is strong and anyone who goes back and rereads Moore’s legendary Swamp Thing run (as I, of course, have done, in public, not-so-long ago) will see the template Gaiman follows for his opening Sandman story arc: the ponderous DC-mystical-rich questing, an old corporate property revised for a new age, hitherto untold mysteries of the past, superheroes as creepily-colorful background characters, and a deep literary heft with words and sentences that are far more lyrical than the usual mainstream American comic book fare.

[Read more]

Mon
Jan 14 2013 4:00pm

The Great Alan Moore Reread: The Alan Moore LegacyTor.com comics blogger Tim Callahan has dedicated the next twelve months more than a year to a reread of all of the major Alan Moore comics (and plenty of minor ones as well). Each week he will provide commentary on what he’s been reading. Welcome to the 64th installment.

When I kicked off this whole Great Alan Moore Reread thing, in the final days of October 2011, I laid out my plan, and my purpose, and added, about Alan Moore: “He has certainly written dozens of amazing, transcendent comic books. But he’s also written some terrible ones, too. At least, that’s my memory of his work.”

[Read more]