Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Question Time II: Back By Popular Demand

Matthew E asks: "Have you read _Bandette_? What do you think?"

I do not read books that glorify Crime or the Crime Lifestyle.

theotheradamford asks: "I have a couple-few:

- What did you think of Rebirth (a little obvious I know), or more broadly the circumstances around the leak?

- Another kind of obvious one, but dovetailing on your recent blah, what do you think comics blogging will look like in the next little while? Is podcasting the new blogging? Would you ever podcast about comics?

- I would love to hear your thoughts, if any, on Green Lantern: Mosaic."

I answer your first question at length here, as a matter of fact. There is the possibility of me doing something more long-form for the AV Club about the actual titles they've released to date - but it's been such a busy few weeks I am desperately behind and need to catch up before I could say anything at all.

The next one is complicated. Comics blogging, as I (and possibly you?) think of it, is basically dead. There will always be single-proprietor websites offering commentary on every little thing, and recently the number seems to have stabilized after dropping pretty drastically. Group blogs, especially ones sponsored by larger sites, became the next big thing, but who knows how much more juice they have them. Together, the two types of blogs don't really resemble the world of blogging of a decade ago - it's far more streamlined, with far less interblog chatter. Individual writers are more or less left alone to follow their personal whims and interests.

(Come to think of it, I was actually one of the pioneers of using my personal comics blog for slightly more formal essay and op-ed writing, so if you want a culprit for comics bloggers turning inward and engaging less and less with any kind of "community," I'm as guilty as anyone.)

More and more people with interesting things to say find themselves tossed into professional or semi-professional status, where they use some kind of early attention as a writer as a way to gain entry into some facet of the industry. This type of move almost always leads to a precipitous fall in productivity as a comics blogger (unless the job is specifically one that includes writing about comics), if not just a hard stop altogether. I can understand the reticence not to want to write about comics online when you draw a paycheck from a company that works in the field. There's also the more quotidian fact that if someone used to write about comics for fun they might not want to spend their free time writing about them anymore if they also spend their work time thinking about them. They probably have lots of non-comics hobbies to fill the time.

I admit I feel a little bit of this last one myself. No one is ever going to accuse my writing for the AV Club of redefining the face of comics commentary, but it's fun, remunerative, and occasionally I even get to say something of merit. (Not that almost 3,000 words on the soundtrack to Batman Forever isn't worthy of merit.) Sometimes after I fulfill my commitments to the site, I just don't want to write even more about comics for free.

And this is the problem with comics blogging, in its classic form: you make no money doing it, your audience is minuscule compared to what you get at even a middle-tier pop culture site, and your only satisfaction comes from the work itself. Blogging was big for a while as the hot new nerd hobby, but that was a long time ago. I still talk about comics a lot on Twitter, which you guys probably know. I love Twitter. But Twitter is showing its age, too. I have a Tumblr which I never update, and I never bothered with Instagram. I don't know what Snapchat even is.

All of which is to say: Twitter isn't going anywhere, even if the clientele and business model might change as the platform evolves. Same for blogging: there will always be "bloggers" paid and amateur, but what they may look like in just five short years from now is impossible to say. For all we know, the next evolution in micro-blogging is just about to sweep the internet and I'll find my greatest ever success as a writer using Hurkle-Durkle.

Podcasting? I tried that a couple times a few years ago. I didn't really know what I was doing and even though I got some good feedback I was dissatisfied with the experiment. But the format didn't go away (which I didn't see coming), and actually seems to be sticking around for a while, so . . . who knows. We'll see. Sometimes the future brings us strange and unexpected gifts.

And Mosaic? I think I read part of an issue, which I should remedy at some point. But do you remember how bad the Green Lantern books were at the time? There is a reason why the series was given a hard reboot with Emerald Twilight, and that's why I passed on giving the spinoff a chance. I think in hindsight Mosaic was a few years ahead of its time: it's the kind of book you could imagine seeing shelved next to Starman and Chase more easily than the company's frankly uninspired early 90s midlist. But I'll put it on The List (it's a very long list).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Question Time

Ryan Howard asks: "Based on the recommendation of Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, I picked up the two-part LOTDK story Masks out of a quarter bin. What are some other underappreciated LOTDK issues to buy this way? My annual con retailers have that series in droves. Alternatively, what are some other ridiculously cheap and easy to find comics issues that have been unjustly forgotten?"

Ah, an easy one!

The simple answer is that there was a lot of good stuff published in Legends of the Dark Knight over the book's almost-two-decades of existence. Even poor storylines still held some interest by virtue of the fact that most of the run had decent-to-great art. Even a terrible story like "Venom" still had Trevor Von Eeden on it, and that's more than enough reason to give it a recommendation. (It's still bad, though.)

Truth be told, I was never a regular reader of the book. I checked in periodically if something looked good - or, just as often, surreptitiously read it off the shelf. But there are still a few highlights I can recommend.

Kevin O'Neill appeared in the book a couple times, accompanied by Bat-Mite. Long before Morrison reintroduced the guy during R.I.P., Alan Grant and O'Neill were the first to smuggle the Silver Age imp into the post-Crisis universe, in LOTDK #38, and later in a stand alone one-shot called Mitefall, a pseudo-parody of the "Knightfall" storyline. Both of these were also recently reprinted in a thick paperback alongside the World's Funnest one-shot and a handful of other Bat-Mite (and Mxyzptlk) tales, and which is definitely worth buying

With issue #50 the series dropped its "Year One" conceit entirely by allowing the book to use Batman's real rogue's gallery. Issue #50 is a Joker story - and you guys know how I feel about Joker stories - but it's actually really good, one of my favorite featuring the character. It's another Dennis O'Neil joint, but this time with Bret Blevins, easily one of the most underrated artists of the last thirty years. I'm going to totally surprise you and recommend another Joker story, from a little over a year later - "Going Sane" by J.M. DeMatteis and Joe Staton, beginning in #65 and running for four issues. This one usually makes an appearance on any list of the best Joker stories, and it's also one of the few times to my knowledge that DeMatteis has written Batman. DeMatteis is underrated like Blevins, although in DeMatteis' case it's even more unforgivable as he has maintained a reasonably high profile in the industry throughout his entire career.

Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy later returned to the book with a direct sequel to their earlier "Prey," which just beats out the uneven "Gothic" as the best story in the book's early run; "Terror" ran for five issues beginning with #137. I'm going to completely ruin any credibility I have by finishing up by recommending yet another Joker story, "The Demon Laughs," which ran from #142-145. It's not a classic for the ages but it does have the Joker vs. R'as al Ghul, with art by Jim Aparo, and a story by Chuck Dixon. Dixon is a guilty pleasure, I suppose you'd say, and he wrote a lot of Batman in the 90s.

As for the rest of the run, at this point my sketchy knowledge runs out entirely. I know the book was published until 2007, but i don't even remember seeing it on the shelves. It looks like they were still publishing good stuff right up until the end - Seth Fisher had an arc in the book's second-to-last year, I see, and even up to the very last issue they had the likes of Christos Gage and Phil Winslade teaming up on a Deadshot story. And oh yeah, issue #200 had Eddie Campbell writing a Joker story for Bart Sears.

While it may not always have worked, LOTDK is still the gold-standard for these kinds of rotating-creator anthologies. No other character has ever been able to sustain this kind of book for long periods of time. Certainly, much of that has to do with the fact that Batman is Batman - but still, the attempt was made for a surprisingly long time to keep the book special. This was slowly eroded later on in the series' run when it began to tie-in with the Bat-books frequent crossovers throughout the 90s and early 00s - kind of hard to sell a book as an exclusive monthly event when you're selling part 178 of "Knightsend." But the commercial license afforded by putting Batman's name on the cover did allow creators to do some interesting stories which would otherwise never have had a home. It's a rare issue of the series that doesn't have something to offer.

As to the implied question of whether I'll ever return to write more about the series? We'll see. Long-time readers know that old features have a habit of resurfacing at the oddest times. I admit that I got bogged down in Mike W. Barr and Bart Sears' "Faith," wherein Batman enlists a street gang to help beat people up. I could have told you that was a bad idea, Batman, but you didn't listen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I suck, AMA

It's been busy and I've been lazy, but rather than just allow this blog to go gentle into that good night, it's time to shake things up. After consulting with Mike Sterling, he got through - is getting through - some similar blog-related blahs recently by opening up the comments section for Qs for him to A. That seems like a good idea to get the "juices" "flowing" again. So pop into the comments and ask away. Just don't ask about the return of X old feature - it'll either come back or it won't, depending on the whims of Zephyrus, as with all things.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Monday Magic

In which Tim explores the world of Magic: The Gathering one
card at a time, courtesy of Gatherer's "Random Card" button.

Punctuate (Unhinged, 2004)

One interesting aspect of Magic is that the game's immense success has allowed it a great deal of freedom to do weird and interesting things. This is arguably less true now, at a moment when the game is experiencing record-breaking sales and popularity, than it was in the game's first decade. Magic is selling now better than it has ever sold, and if part of that comes from what feels - occasionally, to long-time players like myself - like an increasingly conservative bent in the game's R&D, well, one simply cannot argue with results. (Also, keep in mind that even if I keep my hand in, I'm far from the most enfranchised, or typical, player. My perception of a creeping sameness in the product over the last few years is solely my own dissatisfaction, no different from, say, what you might expect from any kind of pop culture franchise whose fanbase is old enough to measure its history in decades.)

Something Magic used to do that they haven't done in quite some time is go full-in for laughs. In 1998 and again in 2004 Wizards of the Coast released two wholly comedic sets - Unglued and Unhinged. These sets were printed with silver borders, which you can see above. Normal sets are printed with black borders. Early sets also came with white borders, for various reasons, which were eventually mooted once it was decided that black borders looked better. (There have also been, briefly, gold bordered cards, used I believe for non-tournament legal reprints of championship decks. Pokemon does something similar, but Magic's tournament product sold poorly and was discontinued.) People don't like buying cards they can't legally play, which has also been a problem with the silver bordered sets: for obvious reasons they aren't legal in normal tournament formats like Standard, Modern, or Legacy. They're a niche product, then, constructed for kitchen-table players. Now, if that sounds dismissive - it's not. "Kitchen-table" - or lunchroom table, or game-store casual, or whatever you want to call it - is by far the largest "format" in the game.

A "problem" Magic suffers that its cousins in the world of kitchentop RPGs do not have is the existence of the tournament scene. The world of ultra-competitive players and wannabe grinders can act like a vacuum, squeezing a lot of the air out of the discussion of the game - this despite the relatively small percentage of players who will ever achieve success on the tournament circuit. A lot of writing about Magic online takes it as a given that the main audience for Magic is people who fancy themselves buddings pros, and therefore examine every new development with a ruthlessness that, supposedly, speaks to their experience and expertise as competitive players. Players like that have no use for a silver border set like Unhinged. There are a lot more people who play the game infrequently and casually than seriously and competitively - as with any long-running game, I believe - but the people who play it intensely, frequently, and with possible professional aspirations set the tone for much of the discourse.

Still, the Un-sets sold well enough. The problem, according to Mark Rosewater - the man responsible for both Un-sets - wasn't popularity but overprinting. In the decade-plus since Unhinged the game has had a lot of success targeting niche products for audiences outside the normal crowd who buy each regular Standard-legal expansion. The success of alternate formats like Commander, and Wizards' success in selling speciality product directly to that audience, speaks to the company's ability to identify and target multiple demographic niches within the larger demographic of Magic players. Lots of people buy Magic cards. Enough so that there are products aimed specifically at high-ticket collectors who will pay for exclusive reprints, and products aimed at people who exclusively play the Commander format, and oddball releases for unique formats like Planechase, Archenemy, and Conspiracy. The conservatism that occasionally appears in regular Standard-legal expansions does not extend to alternate formats which Wizards of the Coast has invested heavily in supporting.

Rosewater, despite the game's current success, has been trying unsuccessfully to get another Un-set off the ground pretty much since the last once was printed. Even given his track record - and if you look at the history of the sets he has personally spearheaded, he is responsible for a huge part of the game's current prominence - he hasn't succeeded yet. Although I personally am not playing much Magic now - due a combination of time factors and the fact that the Windows emulator on my Mac laptop went on the fritz and I haven't had the wherewithal to devote the afternoon to fixing it* - a new Un-set might actually get me to go back to a gaming store, even if just for an afternoon. Stranger things have happened.

*Magic: The Gathering Online is still only available for Windows. The reason why this is so in the year 2016 is apparently due to bad decisions made when they first began coding the game a decade and a half ago. They have repeatedly maintained that it is basically impossible that the game could ever come to Mac. Which is . . . what it is. Nerds, being nerds, have written a lot about the problem, if you care to look for it.

Friday, April 01, 2016


It's been a busy couple weeks here! Last week the AV Club posted my article about the Batman / Superman bromance, in recognition of a certain "motion picture" which dropped recently. Also, I wrote a piece on anti-Communist paranoia in early Marvel Comics for their "Cold War" theme week.

Also, of course, my weekly reviews of new comics continue apace. This week I looked at the actually quite good Batman #50, while last week I spent some time on the, er, not quite so good Beverly.

And on top of all that, we also inaugurated a new feature, certain to take its place among all the other infrequently recurring features on this blog - Midweek Mixes. Give it a look, why don't you?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Midweek Mixes

On the Floor of the Boutique, Vol. 1
Mixed by Fatboy Slim

In the rush to write premature obituaries for the compact disc, more than a few important things carry the risk of being forgotten. Like any medium the CD has its share of weaknesses, but more than a few strengths as well. (This is opposed to the cassette, whose only real strengths at the time were its size, portability, and recordability, the first two eventually eclipsed by smaller and more portable formats with far greater fidelity, and the third finally superseded by the spread of CD burners at the tail end of the nineties.) The CD had the advantage over cassettes in terms of fidelity and longevity (tape fidelity decreased with every play), and over vinyl in terms of length, size, and again, longevity. The question of fidelity in regards to compact disc sound quality in relation to vinyl is complicated by a number of factors, some of which are simply too technical for all but the most committed audiophiles. But for many listeners, the "warmth" and "personality" (grating pops and clicks) they ascribe to vinyl is actually distortion based on old media and poor equipment. A new vinyl record pressed from analog master tapes is indeed excellent, but will degrade every time it is played and requires expensive equipment to be properly appreciated.

Not so for the humble CD. I can go to my closet and pull out a twenty-year old CD and it will sound the same - just as good or bad as its mastering - as the day I bought it, even if I've played it every day in the intervening time. I don't need a particularly elborate piece of equipment to enjoy the sound. I don't own an expensive stereo, which surprises some people. I listen to music on my computer or in the car, or on headphones. Contrary to what someone like Neil Young would have you believe, humans do not possess super ears. There are only so many frequencies we can hear, and any attempt to increase fidelity beyond these frequencies is quixotic, unless your goal is to play Steely Dan for your dog.

The story goes (possibly apocryphal, but it's too good to let go) that the reason why early CDs were 74 minutes long was so that one disc could hold the entirety of Beethoven's 9th. The length was soon expanded to 80 minutes when engineers figured out there was another six minutes to be had on the disc's surface. What is important here is that I think - and perhaps this is just me - 80 minutes is probably the upper limit for most peoples' attention span when it comes to sitting down and listening to any single piece of music. Maybe it's because we've been conditioned by the length of the CD to think so, but 80 minutes is a long time. Long enough for a medium-length car ride. Long enough for most symphonies. Anything longer and you need an intermission.

Mix CDs popped up in the mid-90s as a response to the growing popularity of electronic music, and particularly the rise of celebrity DJ culture. Any faceless producer could compile an anthology, but only a DJ could make a mix. It's an odd phenomenon, on its face: you're buying a CD by an artist composed primarily of other peoples' songs. You're making an investment in the curatorial instincts of a disc jockey. Maybe it was a live recording of a night out, complete with flubbed transitions and crowd noises, maybe it was a studio creation precisely constructed on Pro Tools. Maybe, like Kiss Alive, it was a clever amalgam of both approaches. While a few pioneering electronic acts had always performed live, for most DJs and producers the DJ mix was the closest they could get to an actual live album, a relatively easy revenue stream rock and pop acts had been exploiting since 1963 when James Brown dropped Live at the Apollo. (The Orb's double album Live 93 was an early outlier, as a "live" album by an electronic act, something many at the time mistakenly believed to be a contradiction in terms. The Orb, being the Orb, had some fun with the idea.)

1998 was a good year for Fatboy Slim. You've Come A Long Way, Baby was the kind of pop crossover album American record companies had found somewhat elusive in the midst of the "electronica" push of 1997, which yielded only two real superstar releases (The Prodigy's Fat of the Land and Madonna's Ray of Light), alongside a number of respectable-if-not-blockbuster imports like the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk. Much of America was perfectly comfortable accepting house and techno as the new default soundtrack for video games and movie trailers, but for most artists that did not translate into sales. Fatboy Slim was the nom de guerre of former Housemartins bassist Norman Cook, who had made a career for himself in the early part of the 90s as a remixer and house music producer using a number of aliases such as Pizzaman and the Mighty Dub Cats. On paper, Fatboy Slim was just another in a long line of disguises for Cook, one concocted for the specific purpose of producing music in the style of the newly ascendant "big beat" genre, a stupid name that was essentially invented to describe the peculiar hybrid of acid house and hip-hop pioneered by the Chemical Brothers on their 1995 album Exit Planet Dusk. (Fatboy Slim's first album was called, appropriately, Better Living Through Chemistry.) The Chems' sound was expansive, stylistically catholic, and defined by a potential for pop crossover.

The "problem" for Cook, if it can be called that, is that Fatboy Slim soon became a lot more famous than any of his other aliases. Fatboy Slim was in reality an modest and slightly goofy guy who was far more comfortable hiding behind the decks in a DJ both than on center stage. "Fatboy Slim" didn't exist, and this tension was obvious from the fact that Cook continued to produce remixes and occasionally perform under his real name at the peak of Fatboy Slim's popularity. There was, to be fair, no indication that You've Come A Long Way, Baby would be as popular as it became, but for a while there it was simply ubiquitous. You couldn't throw a stone in a movie theater in 1999 without hitting a movie that either used a Fatboy Slim song in the trailer or prominently on their soundtrack. "The Rockafeller Skank" was a weird anthem for a dance craze that never existed, but for a solid year the song was everywhere. You probably still remember the hook.

But before You've Come A Long Way, Baby, Cook dropped On the Floor of the Boutique. The Big Beat Boutique was the house club for Brighton-based Skint records, Fatboy Slim's label. The On the Floor of the Boutique series tapped out after two more entries, one by big-beat also-rans the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars and a third by label head Damian Harris under the name Midfield General. Both are good - I listen to the second disc a lot more than I've ever actually listened to the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars' actual albums, for instance - but the first release is the best.

Like any mixtape, different mix CDs are designed for different purposes. Some are more intimate affairs, some educational. On the Floor of the Boutique represents, with eighteen years' hindsight, a kind of historical artifact - anyone wanting to understand the "big-beat" sound outside the context of Chemical Brothers albums could do a lot worse. Skint mainstays like Cut La Roc and the unjustly forgotten Hardknox show up, alongside a pair of Fatboy Slim tracks (the excellent "Michael Jackson" and, of course, "The Rockafeller Skank" at the disc's climax). But there's also a bit of history, beginning with Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache," one of the most frequently sampled songs in the history of hip-hop, similarly important to the industrial and hip-house sounds that converged in "big beat." The Jungle Brothers show up with a remix of their 1988 track "Because I Got It Like That," a welcome inclusion that also highlights the debt owed by contemporaneous British electronic music to late 80s and early 90s hip-hop, particularly Public Enemy and the Native Tongues groups.

More importantly, though, it's just a good mix. Listening to it again in preparation for this I was reminded again of just why I played the album so many times back in the day. Although it wasn't released in the United States until 1999, I ordered it from the UK soon after its release, as one of my first orders from Amazon.com. (I don't think it was my first order, but it's impossible to know since I can't see any records of Amazon purchases before 2007.) Like most good dance music, it's a great CD for driving.

A good DJ functions not just as a curator but as a master of ceremonies as well. Even if you're just sitting at home listening to the disc on your computer, it's designed to approximate the experience of enjoying a crowded night out on the dancefloor. I've never enjoyed dancing even though I love dance music - weird, I know - but I have seen Cook DJ once, at the height of his popularity in 1999. He knows how a night at the club should operate. Not every track can be a climactic banger. You build to multiple peaks over the course of a set. "Michael Jackson" comes in at about a third of the way through the disc, and serves as the disc first climax before dropping down into a more reserved mode with DJ Tonka's "Phun-Ky." There's another climax about twenty minutes later with the transition of Aldo Bender's "Acid Enlightenment" into Hardknox's brutal "Psychopath," before falling down again in anticipation of building into the one-two climax of Cut La Roc's "Post Punk Progression" segueing into "The Rockafeller Skank." More than just a live memento or a compilation of good tracks, this is textbook example of how a good DJ maintains the ebb-and-flow of a live dancefloor in real time.

With CDs on the outs and many music consumers either regressing into vinyl fetishism or wholly embracing digital (hope your music doesn't disappear when the cloud drifts away!), the poor mix CD has become something of an afterthought. Just like the album itself, people still make them and people still buy them. But the format is a poor fit for the digital age, where segued tracks in a single mix can't be easily extracted or incorporated into shuffle settings. Listening to a DJ mix requires patience, the conscious decision to sit down and listen to one thing for over an hour. Sometimes, though, it's worth the effort.

Availability: Even though I paid like $20 for an import back in the day you can probably find this for under $5 if you have a decent used CD store near you.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday Magic

In which Tim explores the world of Magic: The Gathering one
card at a time, courtesy of Gatherer's "Random Card" button.

Holy Strength (Eighth Edition, 2003)

Meat and potatoes. It's hard to think of a simpler Magic card than Holy Strength here. It was published in the first Magic set - 1993's "Alpha" - and remained a staple of the game's "core sets" for almost twenty years. It was never really a "good" card, per se, although there are definitely certain circumstances when you would want to play it. But it was a familiar sight for multiple generations of players, enough so that it - like many other underpowered staples from the game's early days - was nevertheless a welcome presence.

The concept behind Holy Strength is not just simple, but rudimentary in such a way that it serves as a useful teaching tool. Holy Strength is an Enchantment - that is, a card you can cast that becomes a static ability, one that stays on the board and continues to be in effect unless and until another effect removes or alters it. In this case, Holy Strength provides a small boost to one of your creatures: a +1/+2 boost, to be precise, meaning one additional point added to their strength (the amount of damage they can dish out) and another two points added to toughness (the amount of damage they can survive). Say, for instance, you have one creature on the board - let's go with another relatively weak but sentimentally favored Core Set staple, the immortal Grizzly Bears:

So if you cast your Holy Strength on your Grizzly Bears, your Bears go from a respectable, if not particularly exceptional, 2/2 to a 3/4. That's nothing to sneeze at. Under certain circumstances, as I said, this is a perfectly respectable play. For instance, if you're playing Limited, where your card pool is, um, Limited, and you have to construct a deck out of a random pool of cards, there are times when you'll need that stalwart Grizzly Bear to fill the mana curve on your Green / White Selesnya deck.

But more often than not, if you're playing Constructed - any format Constructed - you will have access to better cards than Grizzly Bears and Holy Strength. Maybe even a card like . . . Anurid Brushhopper.

There is nothing really exceptional about Anurid Brushhopper. It's got a weird ability that you can't imagine using unless you built an entire deck around taking advantage of it - either a deck that needed you to discard a bunch of cards, or needed lots of blinking creatures, preferably both. But what makes it useful for this exercise is its stats - it's a 3/4 for CMC 3, or to be more precisely, for one green, one white, and one generic mana. That's the exact same price you'd pay for a Grizzly Bear with a Holy Strength attached, only on one card instead of two. It's more powerful because it's strictly better - essentially, one card that can do the job of two. If you had a choice between playing one Anurid Brushhopper or a Grizzly Bear with a Holy Strength, you'd be a fool to pick the latter unless there were other circumstances at play.

Magic is a numbers game. The decisions you make while building your deck all contribute to, hopefully, creating some kind of numerical advantage. If you've only got sixty cards in your deck (the minimum for Constructed, which for reasons of maximum efficiency its usually not a good idea to go over), every card has to pull its weight. Every card has contribute to your advantage - and if one of those cards is devoted to giving a small buff to another card, well, that's a very inefficient use of that precious slot. This is why Auras in general - not just Holy Strength, but most Enchantment cards dedicated to boosting creatures - can be a dicey proposition. One card that can't even function unless you have a creature on which to put it is an inefficient use of a card slot, unless the effect granted by the Aura is sufficiently powerful to overcome that weakness. Holy Strength isn't very strong, and even though it's cheap at just one white mana, it's just not worth it in most instances.

But it is cheap, and it is simple, which make it a great card for illustrating certain facets of the game - such as the usefulness (or lack thereof) of Auras, and the importance of card advantage. And if you're playing Limited, and need a cheap white spell to fix your curve - well, there you go. You probably have ten copies of the card stuffed in a shoebox somewhere. Even if you've never played Magic, you've probably got a few copies stuffed in the insulation of your house.

The other interesting thing about Holy Strength is that it's one of a matched pair with another card from the game's earliest days . . . UNholy Strength.

In terms of gameplay, Unholy Strength is slightly better than Holy Strength, inasmuch as black is the color much more likely to play cheap and aggressive creatures that could benefit from the kind of early-game boost a cheap Aura like this can provide. But that's not why it's interesting. Can you guess why this card, of all the 295 cards that made up the first Magic set, caused a bit of a ruckus? In 1993? It may not have inspired a Tom Hanks-starring made-for-TV movie about the hazards of fantasy gaming, but Magic did it's part to upset conservative parents across the Bible Belt, too. (For more information on this topic, check out this longer piece by Magic's own Mark Rosewater.)