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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Top of the Pile: KODT, Dork Tower, Conan, Ex Machina

by Ken Newquist / May 25, 2007

Gaming comics top the pile this week as my copies of Knights of the Dinner Table #125 and Dork Tower #36 arrive, augmented by the sword and sorcery (though mostly sword) of Dark Horse Comics' Conan #39.

Rounding out the picks in this pile is the latest issue of Ex Machina, which sees a mysterious future time traveler arrive in New York and tease Mayor Hundred with the secret of his machine-talking powers.

Knights of the Dinner Table #125

Knights of the Dinner Table tops the pile this week, and not just because my regular "Summon WebScryer" column is in it. KODT's in the middle of a multi-issue story arc in which the Knights find themselves in the middle of a full-on "Hackmaster Players' Advantage Coupon War". Coupons are horribly broken, often-vindictive player tools that were one of the worst mistakes Hard 8 Publishing ever released, and nearly destroyed the game when player after player brought their coupons to the table … and brought down the hellish counterstrike of the notorious Game Master coupons.

The first Coupon War nearly destroyed the game and left everyone terrified of starting another one … but apparently not terrified enough. The entire storyline makes for a great read, with players scheming against players, and the game masters conspiring to unveil an artifact-level coupon designed to end the war before it can begin.

The whole storyline reminds me of my own group's greatest gaming debacle: the Great Treasure Accord. The Accord was an attempt to come up with a system to fairly distribute treasure by giving people picks that carried over from session to session. It ended up as convoluted system of "Swaggies" so complicated that it's become the butt of a running campaign joke … the nervous kind of joke that ends with "and let's never do that again".

Dork Tower #36

It's been a while since I last read Dork Tower. The comic's changed somewhat -- it's now in color, and there's less supplemental comic pages than before -- but the geek angst is the same as ever. As far as I can tell, the main story hasn't moved significantly forward. Matt remains infatuated with Gilly, but hasn't actually caught up with her yet (I seem to remember a mad dash to the airport, but I'm fuzzy). Meanwhile, in a step backward, Ken and his girlfiend Sujata have broken up.

This time around, the comic guest stars Wil Wheaton as a gaming convention guest-turned-organizer. Matt's girlfriend (or is it fiancée?) Kayleigh and Sujata who have been bemoaning their geek relationships have a Tiger Beat moment with Wheaton, which makes for a nice juxtaposition of the normal geekiness found in the comic book.  It's an amusing story, and a fun read, but  I just can't sake the sense that this title is going swiftly no where. So please -- John Kovlaic, for all our sakes … have Matt dump Kayleigh once and for all and ask Gilly out!

Conan #39

Every month I think about dumping Conan, and every month I keep it for same reason: the great art and the solid, over-the-top fantasy sword play.  This issue is no different, and sees the Cimmerian hacking and slashing his way through an undead-filled dungeon in search of a fabled tree of life that will save the population of a nearby village, who are quickly dying after their lands were poisoned.

Conan offers are refreshingly un-politically correct reason for doing this -- he's not interested in saving the village, and he views the men of the village as being weak for not taking on the challenge themselves. No, he's in it for the adventure and the challenge, and it's nice to see a hero whose motivations haven't been socially sanitized by groupthink.

Ex Machinia #27

Ex Machina almost always lands near the top of my comics pile. This issue builds on the mystery of #26, as a time traveler shows up in New York City and struggles to make sense of what he's seeing. By issue #27 the time traveler has figured out where in time he is … and what the nature of the timeline is. He's now attempting to reach Mayor Hundred for reasons unknown, using technology similar to Hundred's ability to talk to and command machines.

Ex Machina is exerting an influence on my proto-thinking regarding my upcoming Mutants & Masterminds campaign. While their won't be any time travel, the look and mysterious motivations of the time traveler and Hundred's one-time confidant and tech wiz Kremlin will probably find expression in the form of The Maker, an anti-corporate, anti-intellectual property rights activist inspired by the most extreme essays and philosophies you'll find in MAKE Magazine.