Jessica Jones, Iron Age Noir, and Sawbones

Here at Blackfall Press, we love all things superheroic. And, of course, the Marvel Comics/Netflix series have been no exception.  Daredevil really left quite the impression on us–particularly Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk and Toby Leonard Moore as James Wesley.  When Jessica Jones landed on Netflix, we knew instantly that we’d spend the weekend binge-watching.

So…we did.  Two evenings later, we finished the series and we’re still debating whether we like Daredevil or Jessica Jones better!

You see, both Daredevil and Jessica Jones stand as exemplars of what makes the Iron Age of Comics so great:  flawed heroes struggling with difficult circumstances, nuanced, complex villains, and setting that drips atmosphere from every pore.  Hell’s Kitchen is every much a character in Daredevil as Foggy Nelson or Karen Page, which provides an unparalleled tone among the current television superhero offerings.

Marvel Comics/Netflix's "Jessica Jones"  (Image is copyright the original IP holders)

Marvel Comics/Netflix’s “Jessica Jones”
(Image is copyright the original IP holders)

It’s that atmosphere in setting that struck me, specifically, in Jessica Jones.  At its core, the comics that inspired Jessica Jones–particularly Brian Michael Bendis’ phenomenal Alias series–have their roots in noir-style private investigation more than spandex-clad superheroics.  Certainly, while classics of Marvel’s stable showed up in Alias, the focus of the series lay in Jessica’s own investigations, which relied more on stake-outs than on super-hearing.  Further, like the hard-drinking private eyes of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, Jessica spends much of her time as a woman apart, holding the world at arm’s length, hoping to keep from harming it…and to keep from having the world harm her any further.

Honestly?  I was pleased most of all that showrunner Melissa Rosenberg chose to uphold the tradition of maintaining Jessica’s inner monologue:  a staple of pulp detective fiction rooted in the first-person perspective.  So many of the great Iron Age comics have utilized this trope, from Rorschach’s journal in Watchmen, to Batman’s brooding narrative in The Dark Knight Returns, to the awe-struck narration of the appearance of The Avengers during Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.

CSW_10So, where does this leave Cold Steel Wardens?  Well, of course, CSW is no stranger to the private-investigator archetype and our forthcoming Rogues’ Gallery serves as something of a love letter to this pulp-inspired trope.

Allow me to introduce the not-so-humble narrator of CSW: Rogues’ Gallery:  Sawbones.

Sawbones, better known as private investigator Joe Bryson, is one of our convention-favorite characters.  We’ve always billed as something of “the bastard love-child of John Constantine and Kitty Pryde.”  A chain-smoking ex-paramedic, Sawbones put his paramedic and police training to good use, especially when coupled with his ability to phase through inorganic matter. After all, it’s so much easier to find evidence when you can simply walk through a vault wall and take it!

Having worked the mean streets of Smoke City for years, Sawbones has assembled stacks of police reports, psychological profiles, photos, and other evidence into a series of case-files on the various metahumans, mobsters, and menaces that roam New Corinth’s darkest alleys.  Naturally, these pieces of evidence come coupled with Sawbones’ own notes on these  ne’er-do-wells.  The vast majority of Rogues’ Gallery, as such, comes from Sawbones’ perspective–we wanted to build a setting book that a CSW GameMaster can literally hand to their players and say, “Here.  These are the files you find.”

Look for CSW: Rogues’ Gallery to hit Kickstarter this coming spring.  And, as always, keep your eyes peeled here for more info and sneak previews!


Four dwarves. One tomb. Countless undead.

Dwarven Defenders (Concept Art--Sonya Green--11-2015)

Thanksgiving’s right around the corner and here’s one thing to be thankful for:  you don’t have to defend your ancestral tomb from barrow-wights!

This is some phenomenal concept art for Dwarven Defenders, done by the wonderful Sonya Green!


Happy Halloween! Here’s a Rogue’s Gallery Treat!

hellion1 copy


No tricks here, friends!  Just a treat for you for this Halloween:  a preview glimpse of our forthcoming Cold Steel Wardens book, CSW: Rogues’ Gallery.

Unlike most “monster manual”-type rpg books, Rogues’ Gallery is written from the perspective of an in-game character, the cynical, phasing, private-detective Sawbones.  Do keep in mind, this is preview material and is subject to change, as we’re in development and revision.  Regardless, here’s Sawbones’ view on He11ion!

Street Identity: He11ion (also, Hellion)

Civilian Identity: Simone Kirkman

Sawbones’ Narrative:

The first time I met He11ion, she shot me in the face.  

Granted, I was kind of sneaking up on her, trying to figure out who the pistol-packing looney-toon was that was prowling around St. Ignatius, but she whipped around and unloaded four rounds into my head.

Remember how I said that the whole ‘phasing through bullets’ thing was easier said than done?  Yeah, well…let’s just say that I’m glad that I had all that practice.  Otherwise, yours truly wouldn’t be able to write all this down.

He11ion’s a study in contradictions to be sure.  On the outside, she looks like she belongs in the crowd at a Slipknot concert or working at the Hot Topic in the Miatanka Mall.  Trip pants, ripped up wifebeater tank-top, shoulder holsters, you name it.  But in reality?  She’s every bit the good little Catholic girl that her appearance screams to the contrary.

I won’t get into her past; she’d be pissed if I did, but after we worked together a few times and shared a bottle of Captain Morgan, she opened up a bit.  That girl had a hell of a life as a kid.  It probably fucked her up something fierce, hence the mask, guns, and tendency to wander the streets at 2am, looking for a fight.

He11ion’s quite the pistolero and is fairly good in a scrap, but the church has got its hooks in her something fierce.  She never misses mass at St. Iggy’s, going at least twice a week, plus a weekly trip to Saturday confession.  Her apartment is outright covered in crazy religious books; she calls most of them ‘Apocrypha’–books that were excised from different versions of the Bible over time.  Yeah.  Pretty intense, that.

It all comes down, I suppose, to the pistol she keeps slung across her back.  She calls it the Sangraal, and I’ve never seen a gun like it.  It definitely doesn’t look like the .357s she keeps in the shoulder holsters, and certainly not like anything I ever fired on the academy firing range.

Have you ever seen a gun breathe?

The Sangraal did.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  It looks like it’s made of metal, though it has this ornate carving across the barrel and stock that would make you think it’s a piece of art and not a real gun.  When He11ion picked it up, the damned thing literally let out a sigh.  Barrel moved and everything.  

Look, I don’t don’t truck much with the crazy, wack-a-doo occult stuff that goes in the NC.  I know there are plenty that do:  cultists and street-preachers and worse.  But on the whole?  I don’t think that there’s one big Creator up there and even if there was, I’d probably give him a piece of my mind about making New Corinth such a shithole for his beloved children.  

He11ion claims that after she ran away from home for the fourth time, she ended up living in an alley near St. Ignatius.  It was February, so she was half-frozen and starving to death, when she claims she was visited by Saint Malachi, glowing with streaming light and holding a burning spear.  Apparently, Saint Malachi thought it’d be a great idea to turn her into an “instrument of Heavenly retribution” and handed her the spear, which turned into her pistol as soon as he passed it over.  

The details are a little sketchy from there–He11ion cites a bunch of Biblical bullshit from her books–but she says that Malachi marked her forehead with the Mark of Wormwood, which allows her to detect “unrepentant sin”.  The Sangraal, meanwhile, fires bullets of flaming brimstone, which have to be harvested from the bodies of unrepentant sinners.  The gun holds 11 rounds:  one for each of the “true apostles of Christ.”  Yeah.  I know.  Creepy.  I’m not touching that mess with a ten foot pole.

Since that day, He11ion’s been floating around New Corinth, mainly in North Arlington, Grey’s Park, and Carriage Hill, taking down whomever needs taken care of.  No idea how, but she’s managed to stay off the news thusfar; that’s got to be a lot harder when your sidearm shoots fireballs!  We’ve worked together on a few cases here and there…and I might have made a drunken pass at her.  Yeah, so sue me–Captain Morgan fucks with my head.  Turns out she’s playing for the other team, actually.  No harm, no foul, though; we’re still on pretty good terms.  

In-Character Document: News Article–Aftermath of He11ion’s Escapades

New Corinth Post-Tribune: March 14th

“Rape Suspect Found Dead; Body Burned”

The Miatanka County Coroner’s office is piecing together a strange case this morning as the body of James Ratliff, 34, of Carriage Hill was found in an alley in the suburbs surrounding Adams College.  Ratliff was burned over 85% of his body, though none of the area surrounding Ratliff showed any signs of fire, burns, or destruction of any sort.

Crime scene investigators were quick to note that the cause of Ratliff’s death was, in fact, the fire itself, which would imply some sort of self-immolation or method of suicide.  However, investigators detected no traces of gasoline, lighter fluid, or other combustible.  Medical examiner Paul Arnleif commented that he had “never seen anything like this.  It’s almost as if he just burst into flame on his own.”  Arnleif added that he believed a full autopsy would provide more answers.

This incident comes just four days after Ratliff was released on bail; Ratliff was arrested three weeks ago as the primary suspect in the rape of Adams College student Gennifer Strickland, who was on her way home from a party off-campus.  Strickland successfully identified Ratliff from a police lineup, and his DNA was a 94% match to that found via a police rape kit.  Ratliff was being held on $40,000 bond, which was paid by an unknown benefactor.

Plot Hooks:

The dead, slain by He11ion’s Sangraal pistol, have begun to come back to life, swearing to continue the crimes perpetrated during their lives.

He11ion has a deep-seated fear that the being that called itself Saint Malachi was not actually an angel or a saint.  Rather, the hellfire pistol is, quite literally, the right hand of the devil itself.

What happens with an artifact like the Sangraal falls into the wrong hands?  Who knows how much damage the Sangraal might cause when the user runs out of the ‘living bullets’ that the gun feeds upon?