• magisterrex Retro Games


    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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    Got a game or product you want reviewed? Send me an email! Will review board games, PC games, video games and accessories (Xbox 360 or Wii, but also new releases for classic systems - you know who you are!)
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Obsolete Comic Review: Justice League of America: Crisis on New Genesis

A few years ago I wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Internet. Below is the recovered review from 2011.

Justice League of America 183-185: Crisis on New Genesis

With the excitement surrounding the new Justice League relaunch as part of the 52 lineup, sometimes it’s easy to forget about how many versions of the DC Comics superteam we’ve read over the years.  Everyone has a favorite: the Grant Morrison/Howard Porter JLA relaunch in 1997; the Keith Giffen/Kevin McGuire Justice League (later Justice League International) series in 1984; even the original Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky Silver Age years.  I’ve liked them all, and perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but when push comes to shove, it’s the Dick Dillin years that I remember most.

Dick Dillin started out in Fawcett Comics (the home of Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese), but eventually left for Quality Comics, where he penciled the popular Blackhawk comic, which chronicled the adventures of a team of “Ace” fighter pilots.  (Quality Comics was also the home of Plastic Man, Quicksilver -aka Max Mercury – and the Freedom Fighters…but I digress.)  In 1956, Quality Comics ceased operations, leaving Dick Dillin without work.  As DC Comics had already purchased the rights to most of Quality Comics’ characters and catalog, Dillin approached DC looking for work, and he was put right back on Blackhawk.  There he stayed, until the title was canceled, and after a bit of this and that, was given the Justice League of America assignment.

blackhawkdickdillinQuality Comics’ Blackhawk (Dick Dillin, artist)

Dillin stayed on the Justice League book from 1968 to 1980 for all but six issues (from #64 to #183).  He was a perfect fit for a comic based on the greatest heroes of the DC Universe.  Dillin-drawn heroes looked heroic.  When they were shown in action, Dillin drew them in such a way that the reader had a sense of speed and purpose.  Even a panel showing the heroes drinking tea at a social gathering looked like anything could happen (and frequently did).  Of course, Dillin also had the benefit of penciling great stories; during his tenure he worked with Gardner Fox (briefly), Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, and Len Wein.  He drew the return of the Red Tornado, the reintroduction of the original Quality Comics’ Freedom Fighters (“Crisis on Earth X!“) and Fawcett Comics’ Marvel Family into the DC Universe (“Crisis in Eternity” featuring the title bout of Captain Marvel vs. Superman!), crossovers with the Justice Society of America of Earth 2, even the murder of the first Mr. Terrific (during one such JLA/JSA event).

Justice League of America #64 (1st Dick Dillin)Justice League of America #64 (1st Dick Dillin)

Those JSA/JLA meetings were usually memorable, with unique heroes such as Dr. Fate making appearances, as well as Golden Age versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash.  Usually the villains faced were dangerous enough to bring grief to the multiverse, requiring a combined effort to repel, such as Mordru (“Crisis in the 30th Century!“) or the Injustice League/Secret Society of Super Villains.   Dick Dillin penciled them all, but it was in his last issue that he was able to tackle the most dangerous villain of the DC Universe, the Lord of Apokolips, Darkseid.

Justice League of America #183Justice League of America #183 (Last Dick Dillin)

Darkseid was the creation of the great Jack Kirby, and had been originally introduced as part of Kirby’s Fourth World concept he brought to DC Comics in the early 1970s.  However, by the end of the decade, Darkseid’s essence had been scattered to the cosmic winds (in the classic 1978 Adventure Comics #460), and was presumed deceased.  Of course, in comics, no one is ever dead, and even if they are, death is merely a stopgap to the next big storyline.   Which brings us to the three issue arc, “Crisis on New Genesis” (issues 183-185).

Justice League of America #184Justice League of America #184

This story was epic in the traditional sense of the word.  The heroes of Earth One and Two gathered once again for their annual party, only to find themselves shanghai’d onto the strangely depopulated New Genesis.  Off to solve the mystery went Earth One’s Superman, Green Lantern, Firestorm, and Batman, as well as Earth Two’s Wonder Woman, Huntress, Power Girl, and Dr. Fate.  Along the way they found a most unhappy and unwilling-to-be-disturbed-without-consequence Orion, the ever-enigmatic Metron, the Granny Goodness Home For Orphaned Youth graduate Big Barda, and the God of Escape, Mister Miracle.  Eventually the investigation took the heroes to Apokolips, where they discovered that the Injustice Society of Earth Two (the Fiddler, the Shade, and the Icicle) had been subjugated by the spirit of Darkseid, and are were using their powers and technology to bring the dark lord to life.  Now the group had two objectives: find the missing New Gods and prevent the rebirth of the greatest villain in the DC Universe.  But it got worse!  It turned out that Darkseid’s plan included bringing Apokolips into the physical space of Earth Two, which would utterly destroy that Earth. Yikes!

Justice League of America #185Justice League of America #185

Could the combined efforts of the Justice League, the Justice Society, and the New Gods locate the missing inhabitants of New Genesis, prevent the destruction of Earth Two and prevent Darkseid from making his triumphant return from “death”?  Well, duh, of course they would, but it was the elegance of the process that made the issues so fun to read!  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin was only able to draw the first issue of this titanic struggle.  Dillin suffered a fatal heart attack after completing issue 183, and had to be replaced by George Perez (who turned out to be an able replacement, and one of the few artists capable of coherently drawing multiple villain and hero stories).  It was unfortunate that after penciling so many DC Comics heroes and villains, Dillin was never able to draw the arguably greatest DC villain of them all in more than just a quick flashback sequence.  Regardless, the three issues arc is among the best Justice League stories of all time, and well worth a read!

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Obsolete Comic Reviews: Where Were You The Night Batman Died? (1977)

A few years ago I wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

Batman 291-294: Where Where You The Night The Batman Died?

The miniseries within an ongoing comic book series has been a comic book mainstay ever since publishers learned that invested readers were more likely to purchase subsequent issues. Having enjoyed tremendous popularity for so long, Batman has been a character that has seen many stories in many formats, including many variations on the miniseries within the series theme.  Sometimes these story arcs were designed to bring a new creative team on board for a short time to let them explore that particular comic book universe without a long-term commitment (such as Jim Lee’s run on the Hush storyline in Batman); sometimes the story arc introduces a new key character into the mythos (such as Jim Starlin’s Ten Nights of the Beast), and sometimes the story is just too good to tell in a single issue.

It can be argued that the very first Batman miniseries within a series came in 1977, with the “Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” storyarc, which ran from issue #291 (September, 1977) to #294 (December, 1977). The premise was straightforward: the Batman was missing, and feared dead, and the entire Gotham City criminal element claimed that they were responsible. Having had enough of the claims from those clearly improbable to be the slayer of the Dark Knight, Gotham’s underworld gathers for a trial by jury to determine whose story story was false and who was really responsible.

The Testimony of Catwoman

Batman 291: The Testimony of Catwoman

Just a cautionary note: there are going to be spoilers throughout this article. However, these comics are now 40 years old, and if you haven’t read it before, it’s unlikely you were waiting for just the right time to pull out your back issues and spend some quality time with Batman. Consider this fair warning, regardless.

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Batman 292: The Testimony of The Riddler

Each issue, a major villain pled his or her case to the court that he or she was responsible for the death of the Batman. The first three villains to present their case were Catwoman, the Riddler, and Lex Luthor. (Why Luthor was included rather than some other Bat-villain may have been influenced by the Superman movie hype that was just ramping up.) Upon the conclusion of their testimony, the prosecutor, Two-Face, finds a falsehood in each villain’s story and debunks their claim. Finally, the Joker takes the stand, and his outlandish tale of easily besting the Batman in hand-to-hand combat, upon which he accidentally killed him, and, as a joke, poured acid over the Dark Knight’s face and fingerprints to prevent identification of the body, turns out to be truthful. But there are more surprises yet, as the Joker is mistaken: the body was not the Batman’s, and somebody at the trial is not who he seems.

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Batman 293: The Testimony of Lex Luthor

Where Were You The Night The Batman Died?” was written by David Levine, who used one of his pseudonyms, “David V. Reed,” with pencils by John Calnan and inks by Tex Blaisdell. Levine had recently returned to writing Batman, as he was a ghost writer for Bob Kane in the 1950’s (co-creating Deadshot along the way, and credited as the writer of some of the best stories of the era, including “The Joker’s Utility Belt”). The story is well-crafted – a genuine mystery – and riveting to the end. There are some very cute storytelling techniques in play, such as showing the Joker in the last panel of each of the three issues leading up to his testimony (the third issue shows only his chilling laughter), foreshadowing what is to come. As for the art, the pencils are quite serviceable, though not spectacular, perhaps owing more to the quality of paper than the actual artwork.

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

Batman 294: The Testimony of The Joker

This miniseries featured cameos from virtually everyone in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery active in the 1970s. The Mad Hatter, the Spook, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Signalman, and Mr. Freeze filled the six-person jury. As already mentioned, Two-Face served as prosecutor, and the ancient Rās al Ghul sat as judge. In addition to the defendants (Catwoman, the Riddler, Lex Luthor, and the Joker), there were several cameos, some for only a single panel, which included the Cavalier, Killer Moth, the Cluemaster, Captain Stingaree, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and even the Getaway Genius. Two notable villains missing from this villainous assemblage were Deadshot and the Penguin, the former perhaps because he was booked for a run in Detective Comics #474 (December, 1977) by Marshal Rogers and Steve Englehart, and the latter because he had just had a run-in with the Dark Knight in issue #287 (March, 1977), and was serving his time. (An interesting cameo is that of Sean Connery, complete with beard, cap, and diamond-tipped staff. Is it homage to the actor’s iconic status in the 1970s? Or was it meant to be someone else, akin to the Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee cameos that would show up in certain comics?)

The bottom line is this: the DC Universe has rebooted and retrofitted itself many times since these issues were published, yet these stories can be slotted into whichever retcon the Batman mythos is subjected, as nothing that is presented is truly out of cannon (excepting, perhaps, the purple power-suited Lex Luthor). This is the mark of a classic story, and one which needs to be on any Batman fan’s “must read” list.

Obsolete Comic Reviews: The X-Men vs. The Avengers 1987

Back in 2012, wrote a series of Obsolete Comic Reviews for a website that has since itself become obsolete. The good news is that nothing is truly ever lost on the Al Gore Superhighway. Below is the recovered review; hope it pleases!

When I first heard about the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men twelve issue miniseries from Marvel Comics, my first thoughts were something along the line of, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”  Marvel being Marvel, the ad copy reads that this series “brings together the most powerful forces in comics for a super hero war like you’ve never seen before and will never see again“…but perhaps my memory is a bit sharper than those Marvel advertising hacks, as I can recall a miniseries that brought the X-Men and The Avengers into conflict, the 1987 four-issue limited series, The X-Men vs. The Avengers.

xmenavengers1

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #1

The limited series’ story revolved around Magneto and his past, and opened with the remains of his former space fortress, Asteroid M, falling down to Earth.  While out on a leisure time excursion with the X-Men, Magento hears a radio report of The Avengers in action as they attempt to dispose of those pieces that threatened populated areas.  So begins a four issue arc of Magneto’s pondering self-doubt of who he is: the villain of his past or the hero of his present.  Will he suffer a Dantesque fall from grace to match Asteroid M’s fate?  Or will he face his past and accept the judgment and consequences for his actions?

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #2

Interspersed between panels of his brooding are the reactions to the Master of Magnetism by the various heroes he encounters.  The Avengers seek to capture Magneto to bring him before the World Court to stand trial for crimes against humanity.  The X-Men consider a human court predisposed to judge against such a well-known mutant, and so protect their former foe (and current ally) from the Avengers.  And the Soviet Super Soldiers are a wild card that seek to capture Magneto and return him to the U.S.S.R. to stand trial for his crimes against the state (for destroying the city of Varykino and sinking a Soviet nuclear submarine).  As Magneto is a polarizing figure, everyone involved has an opinion of who and what he is and stands for, and it all played out during The X-Men vs. The Avengers.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #3

The first three issues of the miniseries were written by Roger Stern, with art provided by Marc Silvestri.  However, the Marvel editorial board did not agree with the direction Stern wished to go in the final issue (which was to show Magneto as an unabashed villain), and changed the plot against his wishes.  Rather than staying on, Stern stepped aside and the final issue was written by Tom DeFalco.  Stern stated that DeFalco had nothing to do with the editorial decision, but did not name the editors involved.  Perhaps it’s not that difficult to generate a hypothesis on who was responsible, as the editors of the book were Mark Gruenwald and Ann Nocenti.  By this point Gruenwald was an Executive Editor and the man in charge of Marvel Continuity (the “Continuity Cop”).   It seems improbable that the “Continuity Cop” would permit such a departure from the accepted Marvel Canon for Magneto, and because of the respect his fellow editors had for Gruenwald, I doubt if anyone would have championed Stern’s story.  (It’s also interesting to note that Stern was fired by Gruenwald from writing the ongoing Avengers series shortly thereafter…but I digress.)  Regardless, Stern did not finish the series.

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

The X-Men vs. The Avengers #4

Stern’s absence was not the only one from the final issue: the talented Marc Silvestri, who would later go on to success as one of the seven founders of Image Comics in 1992 with the Top Cow imprint, only managed to pencil the first three issues.  Between the third and fourth issue, Silvestri was tapped to draw the Uncanny X-Men, and since that series was the engine that kept the Marvel money machine chugging along, Keith Pollard picked up the pencils for The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  It’s a bit of an odd situation when both the writer and the penciler of such a small limited miniseries move on before its completion!

There is a lot to recommend in The X-Men vs. The Avengers.  A good story, lots of action with believable conflict and motivations for those involved, and with only four issues, it does not feel artificially extended.   As part of the trilogy of VS. miniseries Marvel released at the time (Mephisto vs… and The Fantastic Four versus The X-Men were the other two), this is a recommended journey into late 1980s comic book storytelling.  Thumbs up!

The Best Classic Board Games – Personal Preference (1987)

There are games that rely on the roll of the dice and the luck of the draw as they are about strategy, moving tokens around a game board, drawing cards, paying money, and trying to have the most loot.  Then there are games that rely on your knowledge of people and events, which tend to be known as “party” games, perhaps because there are less little game components to lose during a drunken gaming bacchanal.  Of party games, there are two broad categories: those that test your knowledge of trivia, and can be played by any group, whether they are acquainted or not, and those that focus on players answering questions that deal with how well you know your fellow gamers, which means they are best played among friends.  Personal Preference, a classic game first published in 1987, is one of the latter.

Personal Preference Box

Game play in Personal Preference is relatively simple: during their turn players draw four cards from the category box corresponding with the game board space that their token is on.  Each card has a single item, either from the “FOOD & DRINK”, “ACTIVITIES”, “PEOPLE”, or “POTPOURRI” categories, and are placed on the game board for the other players to see.  (For example, drawing four cards from the “FOOD & DRINK” category box might net the player the following: “Beef jerky”, “Chocolate chip cookies”, “Garlic”, and “Pumpkin pie”.)  The player then ranks those cards in order of most to least favorite, using the four color-coded Preference Cards, placing the Preference Cards into a secret envelope hidden from the other players’ view.

At that point the other players attempt to guess the secret order of the Preference Cards, placing their special Preference Tokens on the game board in order of what they think the secret ranking is.  Once all players (or teams!) have committed to their preference guesses, the secret order is revealed.   Correct guesses move the corresponding player’s token further along the game board, while incorrect answers can move their tokens backwards.  The winning player or team is the one that manages to guess correctly enough times to move their token all the way to the FINISH square.

Personal Preference was originally published in 1987 by Broderbund (yes, the software company) in the United States, and Playtoy Industries in Canada, but was actually designed by Donal Carlston, Ph.D.  Dr. Carlston is currently a professor in the Psychological Sciences department at Purdue University, and his university bio explains much of the origin of Personal Preference:

“Primary research interests are in person perception, impression formation and social cognition. The current focus of this work is on the origin, organization and use of different kinds of mental representations of people and events.”

I connected with Dr. Carlston back in 2010, and he graciously consented to an email interview, but his schedule never permitted him the time to respond to my questions, which were fairly innocuous:

1. A 1988 review of your game stated that it was designed to further familial social bonds. Would this be an accurate statement, and what was your original purpose in designing the game? Was this game an example of your research or was it an academic aside? How did the idea for the game come about?,,

2. Do you have any favorite anecdotes of your time as a game designer that you could share?,,

3. You are also credited for being a designer for the board game, Lode Runner, based on the classic computer game. Did you design other games, and have you considered returning to the industry? Do you have any advice for those that may wish to pursue a career as a game designer?

However, it’s been four years since the attempt was made; even I am willing to give up on receiving an answer after this much time has passed! This blog entry has been waiting in the queue all this time…it’s time to let it free!

Personal Preference Contents

Christmas ReBlog: The 12 Days of Retro Gaming

12 Days of Retrogaming

I just read a wonderful Christmas-related retrogaming post from 2011 that I hadn’t seen before, all thanks to the magic of google! It’s called 12 Days of Retro Gaming, and it’s worth a read!

In 1994 my father decided that it was high time to replace that old Commodore 64 (which wasn’t even considered a PC anymore) with a brand new Pentium 90 mhz PC.  I remember coming downstairs on Christmas morning and there it was, a beautiful boxy white machine with a VGA monitor, printer, and took up all the space our wide oak desk could spare.  CD-ROM was brand new and this bad boy came equipped with it and a few initial CDs, including Myst and an Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia.  At that time, however, not every game came in the CD version and many PC gamers were selling off their floppy disc versions of games to upgrade.  It was at this time that I became enamoured with PC gaming and began stopping by the used PC game shop near my part-time job and blowing my money on classics.

Read more by clicking the link HERE

Merry Christmas From…Ral Partha?

Do you remember when companies would take out full-page ads in gaming magazines to wish their patrons a Merry Christmas? No, me neither. Yet that’s just what Ral Partha did in Dragon Magazine #56 (December 1981). How can you not feel more full of holiday spirit after reading that? I know, how about looking at it, too!

Merry Christmas from Ral Partha

All Good Things Come To An End…

Way back in 2001, when I was in between stints of gainful employment, I found a little online auction house called eBay, and began to stock up on some collectibles which had been on my wish list for a long time. After an orgy of collection acquisition, it occurred to me that I could sell off some of my unwanted stuff on that site, and with a little luck, make enough to buy even more of what I wanted.

A few months later, in 2002, I realized that I was making more money than I was spending, and there just might be a business model hiding in my hobby time.  I registered my trademark and began operating as a business, always known as magisterrex.com officially, although eBay’s many labyrinthine rule changes eventually required me to call myself magisterrex Retro Games if I wanted to stay selling there. For many years eBay was a good partner, and I paid my fees dutifully and happily, becoming one of their Power Sellers and staying that way until I left.

2004 is the earliest screenshot Wayback Machine has for magisterrex.com, forwarded to my eBay listings from the http://www.magisterrex.com URL.

Eventually, as the market transformed, I found eBay too restrictive and too little value for the money, and left for greener pastures. Before then, and after, I dabbled in other online venues: Bidville, Bonanzle, Dawdle, iOffer, Overstock, Amazon, eCrater, eBid, and others, with limited success. Some of these names you might not even recall anymore, as they have disappeared from the vast online retail landscape.

Looking fancier in the eBay store by 2005, but http://www.magisterrex.com is still forwarded to my eBay store.

What did work was running my own website, which permitted me much more time to devote to inventory acquisition and listing, rather the artificial emergencies of eBay. I learned how to code in HTML, which was the norm of the day, and put up what now would be an ugly, barely functional eCommerce site…but it did the job. Within a year of moving the bulk of my inventory to the website, sales matched my eBay sales, and two years later blew them out of the water, prompting me to shut down my eBay store altogether.

Here’s the earliest screenshot that the Wayback Machine has of the actual magisterrex.com website, a marvel of HTML.

A few years later my website’s stodgy look prompted me to contact a trusted website designer to bring magisterrex.com closer to the modern age. She designed my robot and overall look of the site, and delivered what, for the most part, you see today.

A new look for magisterrex.com, and a more familiar one for current visitors.

Yet the world continues to turn, and things are changing within the retrogaming community. There are fewer and fewer people who want to have the actual, original games in hand, preferring to purchase digital, virtual versions. The rise of digital delivery has meant that GOG and other sites like it can offer someone a game at a few dollars, send it to them electronically, and no one waits for the mail to arrive. Microsoft offers the same type of product through their Live service, as do Nintendo and Sony on their own networks. This, it seems, is a very attractive process to many people, though I still cannot bring myself to participate.  Unfortunately, original game resellers are soon to be a distant memory because of companies like GOG, as the bills still need to be paid, regardless if no one wants to buy a game that day.

Which brings me to my point.

I’ve had a great run, and I know I’ve mailed out a lot of happiness to a lot of people over the last decade. I’m content with that, but I do need to feed and clothe the children, and provide some measure of a lifestyle beyond the poverty level for my family. So, I have accepted an offer from a company to return to work doing what I did a decade ago. My website will stay live for some time yet, as I slowly clear out my inventory and give people the chance to buy what they want, but eventually I will shutter the windows and lock the doors.

So, a profound THANK-YOU to everyone who has purchased from my store over the past ten years. Because of your patronage, I was able to live out and pursue a dream, which is far more than many others get to do. I’ll still hang around Twitter from time-to-time, as my new schedule and responsibilities permit, and I hope to put up a blog post or two that someone might find of interest. All good things come to an end, and this…this was a great thing. Thanks for reading and remember: keep it retro!