Reality is the playground of the unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, the Supernatural, Swords, Sorcery, and Star Stuff

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The Dresden Files: Hair Of The Dog


"Everything smells of food. You smell of food"
- Heather
Over on the Butcher Block, Fred Hicks makes a valid point that much of the nerdfury over the television series of The Dresden Files comes from fans' knowledge and love of the books, whether consciously or not.

Even a relative newbie to the Dresdenverse such as myself is probably guilty of this; picking holes in the show for what it's not and not critiquing it for what it is. That said general media reaction, as far as I could see, to the first two episodes pretty much stayed in the "okay, not great" and "nothing to get excited about" camps.

That is, until tonight's werewolf tale: Hair of The Dog. A clever spin on the traditional lycanthrope saga - making the werewolf the target of a 'serial killer' trying to break their own curse. Sharp writing, some inventive non-combat magic from Harry and a believable supernatural twist that suggested (finally) to the audience that they are only seeing the tip of The Dresden Files iceberg.

The one thing I do think the show is still missing - and this isn't based on my limited knowledge of the books per se, but rather my love of current televisual trends (such as in Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes) is any hint of a metaplot or story arc for the season; although there is a suggestion at the end of this episode that Heather the wolf-girl will return - which would be awesome as the chemistry and dialogue between her and Harry lit up the screen.

This is the first genuine A-grade episode of The Dresden Files and I hear next week's is even better ...

Big Shout Out To The Home Team!


The unsung heroes of the comics industry in this country have be the guys and gals at Panini Publishing in Tunbridge Wells - just down the road from where I live now and, of course, where I lived for many years before moving to Tonbridge. I even worked in the same building as their offices for a week... but that's a story for another time.

Every month they produce a huge number of anthology titles - with distinctive cardstock covers - collecting Marvel (and DC) tales old and new.

Back issues are usually easy to find at Tonbridge market in the "three for £1" section of the magazine stall (don't quote me on that price, I haven't been for several weeks), but current issues line the shelves of all major newsagents - something American import comics no longer do - making them a lot of people's only ready access to superheroic fun and frolics.

The latest issue of The Avengers Assembled included the last two shocking episodes of Brian Micheal Bendis' Disassembled storyline (when Wanda's madness is revealed by guest star Dr Strange), as well as a light-hearted Simpsonsesque tale called The Roots of All Evil, from Marvel Double-Shot #2, and a three-page biography of Magneto's daughter, Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.


The Panini team - best known for their football stickers and albums - help bring my passion to the masses and so I say: "HeroPress salutes you!"

Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer - TV spot #1

I loves my superhero flicks and I loves the Fantastic Four! Can't wait to see this ...

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Hef to Wed Holly?

As my regular reader (i.e. Rachel, my fiancee) will know one of my big heroes is Hugh Hefner; so much so that, like him, I enjoy passing the day dressed in my pyjamas. Only he can get away with it because he's the boss of a massive media empire and has all his needs catered for at The Playboy Mansion. I do it because I'm currently "between jobs" and can't be bothered to get dressed some days.

Anyway, while some people's attention was on who was picking up the gongs at the Oscars the other night, a hot rumour was going round of an impending wedding between Hef and his main girlfriend, Holly.

There's surprisingly little gossip about this on the Internet so far, but apparently it will feature in The Girls Next Door, Hef's reality TV show ... a new series of which starts this weekend in the States.

Coincidence?

Given that Hef's still married (I think), I suspect - as do others - that this is just a bit of spin to draw in more viewers (as if the prospect of scatily-clad Playmates wasn't enough!)

Pick Of The Pods: Midnight's Lair

There are a couple of major factors that make Midnight's Lair one of the first podcasts I listen to, whenever Erik and Luc produce a new episode.

First, I get the impression that this Canadian duo had similar roleplaying experiences to me growing up, as the major campaigns they have spoken about echo ones that me and the HeroPress crew enjoyed - namely Villains & Vigilantes and The Fantasy Trip. Neither of these were ever exactly mainstream systems, so clearly our tastes are going to overlap somewhere.

But the clincher was Midnight's Lair's decision to host the Gaming Ether, a mini-segment produced by Troy Holaday, which is about using the tropes of "old time radio" in role-playing games, such as "cliffhangers" and "descriptive atmosphere". This is not only superb gaming fodder but also quite inspirational for creative writing in general.

Erik and Luc also frequently break up their shows with interviews. These usually take the form of chats with their old Gamesmasters about various long-running campaigns they have all taken part in and are not only a source of interesting anecdotes but are packed with useful - and proven - gaming advice. Too many shows, I believe, offer idealised (often opinionated) and untested advice off the top of their hosts' heads whereas at least this advice comes from practical experience.

These days their shows are centred around a Main Event (a theme, a genre, a TV programme etc) with an in-depth review of a single game related to this "main event"and supplemented with Hidden Treasures- such as weblinks to support material.

I must warn you though: every show ends with a segment called Cruel Humour where an old joke is given a "gaming-related" makeover (to the theme of the episode; e.g. a space-based story for a sci-fi episode). These are often very groan-worthy jokes! Although to be fair, I have borrowed a couple and inflicted them on Rachel ...

Monday, 26 February 2007

The Dresden Files: the unaired pilot (Storm Front)

As we all know from Peter Jackson's stunning adaptations of the Lord of The Rings trilogy to the big screen, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs - that is, you can't transform a beloved book into a film without making some changes to the story.

But how many broken eggs are too many - before you end up not with a tasty omelette but just a sticky, eggy mess?

Through the magic of the Internet I have managed to see the 107-minute rough cut of Storm Front, the unaired pilot for The Dresden Files.

As a rough cut most of the major effects sequences were missing - replaced with captions or temporary effects - which meant the giant toad demon from the book was just a big, bald bruiser who wouldn't have looked out of place as a demon on Charmed.

On the positive side the episode featured dreamlike cinematography and fast cuts that gave it a unique look, and the story at least hinted at some of the elements of the Dresdenverse that have been missing from the aired episodes - from Harry's cat to the disruptive effects his magic has on modern technology. There's even a cheeky cameo from the Blue Beetle (Harry's battered VW from the books) in an early garage scene, but that probably won't be enough to stave off much nerdfury - although it did give me a geeky fanboy smile.

And, as in the novel, Harry ends up dating Susan the reporter - but where is she in the episodes that have been shown on Sky One, if these were supposed to follow?

Familiar elements are heavily outweighed by the changes. The Big Bad's motives are totally different, and had I not just read the book Storm Front I might have almost found his actions understandable (if not acceptable, of course!) The spectacular climax of the book is also sadly missing.

Jim Butcher's complex, interwoven, multilayered plot has been grossly simplified and streamlined to such an extent that - along with all the character changes - you can't help but wonder sometimes why the programme makers didn't just start from scratch with their own hero and his own universe! It also makes me worry how these 107 minutes (a two hour time-slot) will be cut down to an hour - for screening later in the show's run - and still maintain plot integrity.

On the evidence of the two, 'monster-on-the-week' episodes so far shown, it almost looks as though The Dresden Files is too big and ultradetailed an entity to be squeezed down into an episodic TV show. However, I'm still optimistic - I have it on good authority that the show picks up in the next two episodes ...

Happy Birthday, Nick!

Yesterday, at Cavalier, while studying a small display of dinosaur figures that had caught Nick's eye, the conversation turned to the trashy - but enjoyable - nonsense that is Primeval ... and very quickly moved on to the scene in the previous week's episode where S Club's Hannah had danced around in her underwear.

"It was very brave of her," said Nick, "because she must have known that it would have immediately been all over YouTube."

And he was right!

This one's for you, birthday boy ... happy 40th!


Sunday, 25 February 2007

Six Of The Best with: FRED HICKS


Fred Hicks, of Evil Hat Productions, is co-lead developer of the forthcoming Dresden Files RPG – along with Rob Donoghue. Both have been playing roleplaying games for 20 years. They authored FATE: Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, which won several awards at the 2003 Indie RPG Awards, including Best Free Game of the Year and Best Support, and the hugely popular Spirit of the Century, a Pulp game set in the 1920's, which uses the FATE system, as The Dresden Files RPG will.

Fred is also the creator of Pace, a quick diceless RPG, and the cult favourite Don’t Rest Your Head.

He runs the Jim-Butcher.Com website and mailing lists, as well as hosting the excellent Butcher Block podcast about best-selling author Jim Butcher, his work (particularly The Dresden Files) and associated topics (such as the role-playing game).


Here Fred talks to HeroPress about The Dresden Files RPG...


(1) Was The Dresden Files RPG always destined to use your own FATE system and, if not, what other systems did you seriously consider before hand?


We had a strong suspicion we'd end up using it, in part because the Dresden Files RPG project came about because Jim came to *us* to ask us if we were interested in working on the thing, after we'd won some awards at the first Indie RPG Awards several years back for the version of Fate we have out for free on the web.

As it turned out, his agent had heard about it and thought Jim might like us to get first crack at the rights to do the RPG. And when it came down to it, there were a few other systems we could have considered, but none which we were as familiar with as we were with Fate, for reasons which should be obvious.

One of my co-authors, Rob Donoghue, recently posted an article over on the RPG's website about "So Why Fate?" which gets a bit deeper into the things you're asking about, here -- so I'll leave it at that, and point you over to that site.

Anyway, once we knew we wanted to do it with Fate, we knew we needed to give Fate a massive facelift. The core was good, but we'd been adding and changing things about it incrementally, enough so that it pointed at the need for some ground-up rethink.

So we started a little side-project to help prototype that out, to get the ideas out in the field and tested. It was supposed to take much less time than it actually did, but the result was our current flagship product, Spirit of the Century which has been getting raves all over. So we think we're on to something. It's also given us a proven core that we can use (and modify!) in The Dresden Files RPG, and has given our fans a way to get a preview of what kind of system will be driving the game. We're very proud of it.


(2) How advanced is the development of the RPG? Do you have any memorable stories or character from your own playtesting?


Well, *reasonably* advanced. The core system is established and playtested, thanks to the Spirit of the Century game that I mentioned earlier. Now it's a case of creating specific adaptations for the Dresden Files universe to modify that core system.

We're still hashing out the magic system stuff, and once that stuff's cemented, then we'll finally be able to get around to "statting up" all of the various characters from the books. We're also in process on creating some non-system-focused advice on how to make the game feel as much like the books as possible.

The "funny" thing about all this was that we got pretty far along this path once before during the simultaneous development of both Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG. We did some local playtesting, dug in deep, did some massively strange and crazy things to the Fate core system. Then we realized that it stunk. So we nuked it from orbit and started over again. *That's* part of why it's been so damn long.

Our first pass didn't work, and we knew it. So we took a step back, took a breather, and dove in again with more clarity about our mission. Spirit of the Century is the first effect of that process, and really, it's a lay-up for the big spike of the Dresden Files RPG.

We had a set of "pre-generated characters" that we took to a convention or two as a playtest scenario -- Evan Montrose, whose wizard father just got killed in the vampire war and who has inherited a house with dark secrets in its basements; his ogre faerie butler; his slacker martial artist college buddy; and his college buddy's shapeshifts-into-a-mouse girlfriend. That was a fun bunch, and we'll probably end up doing new versions of them once we've got the new system mods in place.

But that playtest still gave rise to a memorable set of playtest characters. We had an apprentice wizard to Ancient Mai whose father was a Baltimore mob boss; a guy who got the actual Lady Luck to fall in love with him -- and got death-cursed by a jealous spurned lover for his trouble, thus eating up all of his good luck on a daily basis just to stave off the curse; the changeling daughter of Jenny Greenteeth; a guy who was the "Knight" of a dark and strange power who talked to him by way of an ancient mask he kept hidden in a box; and a pizza delivery guy who happened to be able to shapeshift into a raven. Fun stuff.


(3) When is the Dresden Files RPG due to hit the streets?


Every time we state a date, we miss it. But I'll say this much at least: we're targetting the later half of this year.


(4) How much input is Jim Butcher having in the development of the game?


About nine novels and two short stories' worth. He's going to get a chance to approve it before it goes to press, and may even contribute some original story vignettes to sprinkle throughout the book.


(5) Where does the game fit in the chronology of the Dresdenverse, and as Jim continues to write more Dresden Files books will you be producing supplementary material or online updates for the game?


We're going to accommodate events up to White Night, and at least part of what's in there. We'll definitely be looking at doing online updates, but we have a goal to make this be a very stand-alone book, one where you can pick up the latest bit of Dresden Files fiction to arrive on your doorstep and easily create the characters from it in your own game.

We're not big fans of the "periodical" style of RPG production that the big RPG publishers tend to do -- that's just not where the market is headed, we think, and we feel like we'd be doing the fans a disservice by delivering anything less than the whole kit-n-kaboodle in a single book.

But I say "accommodate events" because really, the game's set in whatever time period you want it to be. There's no "metaplot" going on, besides from the Dresden Files novels themselves, and that only holds true up to the point where people decide to *diverge* from the novels for their own set of events.

If players want to put together a set of wizard characters who are going to get out there and stop the vampire war singlehandedly -- we don't want to get in the way of that. If folks want to rewind the clock to Storm Front and play out events fresh and new from that point, more power to them.


(6) Obviously Jim's books are canon, but will any aspects of the TV show have any influence on the RPG?


Not much, no. This is a novels focused game. We might offer a brief commentary on how to change things so that they suit the magic reality of the TV show, but the two things are such different beasts that we'd end up with a pretty incoherent game if we tried to accommodate both.

That Cavalier Attitude ...

The wargames season has begun, as always, with our own local con, Cavalier, hosted by the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society. But this year, having obviously outgrown the school where it had been held for a millennia, it was decided to move to a new venue: Tonbridge's Angel Centre, a convenient 15 minute downhill hobble from my flat ... which meant Rachel didn't have to play 'nominated driver' and could spend the morning in bed watching Hollyoaks!

I arrived dead on 11 and met up with Nick by the ticket booth. The first thing that struck me, with the sports centre's high ceilings, was the absence of claustrophobia that had become a signature characteristic of Cavaliers' past. The main hall housed the traders and, except for a few corners where punters hovered, were all easily accessible.

There were a couple of games set out in this main room, but the bulk were squeezed into a sideroom with the bring'n'buy, where the more familiar tightness and lack of oxygen returned.

Nick and I both felt that while the standard of games this year was as good as ever, there were no "wow", stand out displays, which was a shame.

The big discovery of this year's exhibition though came in the traders' hall where I was introduced to AT-43, the pre-painted sci-fi miniatures game from the sickeningly talented French design studio of Rackham.

Truly this game is a thing of beauty - and the salesman's well-rehearsed pitch helped - and I came away with a hefty box of figures, rules and scenery. All the money I had allocated for Mongoose's prepainted near-future game (which wasn't represented here at all) went on this elegant monster of a game instead.

If I took anything away from today - besides an AT-43-sized hole in the my wallet - it was an agreement with Nick that we really need to get down to tabletop gaming again. We've been very slack in recent months, which probably explains why we haven't been able to settle on a new system or era to focus on. Now we just need to find a time when both of us are free!

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Close Encounters of The Spooky Kind ...

This isn't a set from the latest Oriental horror flick or the location of a particularly spooky Live Action Role-Playing game, but an image from a wonderful website of derelict Japanese buildings.

The hauntingly beautiful, yet poignant and inspirational, pictures range from abandoned train stations, hospitals and homes to tower blocks, fairgrounds and factories.

Being in Japanese, the website isn't immediately user-friendly to us non-Japanese readers, but there are three or four main files (listed at the top of the page) of various sites - mainly in rural Japan - and then clicking on one of the main images opens a second page with about half a dozen pictures. In most cases the buttons at the bottom of the page either take you back to the main page or to additional pictures of the location you are looking at.

And speaking of the mysterious East, reminds me of my own Chinese ghost story I recounted on an old blog last Halloween:

Several years ago I went to visit Paul when he was working for an English-language newspaper in Beijing, China. He was staying in a big, one-bedroom flat in a tall tower block, so I was sleeping on a makeshift (but comfortable) bed in his lounge.

Alcohol usually played a large part in making sure I had a good night's sleep ... but one night I awoke with an "invisible person" sitting on my chest; pinning me down. I couldn't move!

I have no recollection of what happened later but talking to Paul the next day I discovered I wasn't the first person this had happened to and there was the usual urban myth circulating about someone jumping to their death from one of the flats ... but no-one could ever say which one.

Later I read about the phenomenon of 'sleep paralysis', which (basically) means your mind has woken up, but your body is still asleep so you can see and think - but not move; but at the time I was as convinced as I've ever been that I had come face-to-invisible-face with a ghost!!!

From Wikipedia:
In Chinese folk culture, sleep paralysis is referred as "gui yà chúang" (鬼压床), literally: "Ghost press bed": 鬼: ghost, 压: press, 床: bed. The belief is that a spirit or ghost is sitting or lying on top of the individual while they were sleeping, causing the sleep paralysis. This is thought to be a minor body possession by the forces from the dead, and usually doesn't cause any harm to the victim.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Factotum (2005)


Oh, the ignomy! I seem to remember reading something last year about Factotum being released and the next time I come across it is in the bargain bin at Blockbusters!

Matt Dillon takes the lead role as Henry Chinaski - the literary alter-ego of the great writer Charles Bukowski - in this episodic series of scenes from Bukowski's semi-autobiographical works about his struggles to become a published author while battling with the demon drink, gambling, women problems, poverty and an inability to hold down a job.

This isn't the first big screen adaptation of Bukowski's life and work, but his streetlevel lifestyle was better captured in 1987's Barfly - with Mickey Rourke taking the Chinaski role - if for no other reason than Rourke looks like he's lived "the life" while Matt Dillon, no matter how great an actor he is, still looks too handsome to have endured the hardships described.

And that's really the main problem with this gently ambling, European arthouse-paced flick: Chinaski/Bukowski's zero responsibility lifestyle almost looks appealing; there is no lasting sense of the suffering or "going without" that are key factors in Bukowski's tales.

The DVD also included a strange, sepia-tinted short film based on a Bukowski poem about going to the dentist. And like Matt Dillon's voiceover in the main feature, this is peppered with Bukowski's great imagery and turns of phrase, but neither can beat cracking open one of his books.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Book Of The Month: Storm Front (Book One Of The Dresden Files)

Growing up I cut my literary teeth on a mixed diet of high fantasy, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, swords & sorcery, and science-fiction topped off with a garnish of hardboiled detective fiction in the shape of such classics as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon (which I couldn't follow, but still enjoyed).

In later years this hardboiled sweet-tooth paved the way for James Ellroy's 1950s tales of corrupt policemen and brutal murders (White Jazz, The Black Dahlia, LA Confidential) and Charles Bukowski's down-and-dirty stories of life on the street.

I list this pedigree as an illustration of why I was surprised that I hadn't encountered Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden any sooner - as he seems to tick all the boxes. And to top it off Jim Butcher sounds like a neat kinda guy: he's a role-player and comic book fan who lists fencing as a hobby (I used to fence, but have, sadly, had to give it up because of my illness). A fellow geek!

Storm Front is clearly an example of a writer still learning his craft, but for the few rough edges, the multiple plots (double homicide by black magic, supernatural drug dealers and a missing person) all converge into a fantastic, visual climax when Harry fronts off against the Big Bad.

It's also a compelling read - you really want to know what's going to happen next - and an easy one to boot; no long rambling complex sentences or pretentious pontificating for Jim Butcher, but genuine Chandleresque punchiness.

This is pure pulp fiction - with all the right ingredients; an urban fantasy with a disheveled hero who happens to be the 'best at what he does' but it doesn't always work out for the best. Along the way Harry has problems with women and regularly gets a beating from multiple bad guys, monsters and goons, his apartment and car get thrashed, but he always comes through in the end.

Storm Front was an enjoyable read that made me hungry for more insight into Harry's world. So I have already jumped ahead in the series to book five - Death Masks - as this is a fan favourite and will report back when I've finished that.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The Dresden Files: The Boone Identity


Another B-grade episode. The Dresden Files hasn't exactly hit the ground running on TV, with part of the problem being that Harry's literary world is one of noir detective work; multiple plot threads interweaving to a clever resolution. An hour of TV isn't enough to do this kind of story justice in a self-contained manner.

So instead, we get episodes like The Boone Identity, a pretty standard and predictable X-Files-ish body-hopping story. There was some subtle uses of magic, sarcastic asides from ghostly Bob and great character stuff between Harry and Murphy the cop, but outside of that, nothing overly original.

Obviously for budgetry and story reasons, the TV writers can't slavishly mimic the world Jim Butcher has created on paper and he has addressed most of these in the Butcher Block podcast and seems happy with the alterations.

One change though that, I don't think, has been brought up is Harry's interaction with technology. In the books, a key side effect of magic is that it causes modern technology to go on the blink, which I always felt was a nice touch. However, in the TV show he uses telephones all the time without any problem and even stood next to a person using a computer this week without causing it to go haywire. It's a little thing, and certainly not worthy of Internet nerdfury, but kinda niggly.

I'm still waiting for this series to really fly...

Legends of Steel and The A-Game...


Legends of Steel (LoS) is a solid little Swords & Sorcery roleplaying system invented and written by my good buddy Jeff Mejia, author of Broadsword, a mini-swords & sorcery game, which is soon to be published by Deep 7 for their 1PG system.

LoS is just going through its first proof-reading stage and I was honoured that Jeff chose me to take part in this. I have just finished a read-through of the 60-page players' guide and sent Jeff my comments. The game is very simple - it's core mechanic is percentile dice against a score rated one to 100 - and solid enough to withstand some serious playtesting (just look at how long Call of Cthulhu, with a similar mechanic, has lasted virtually unaltered while other games have either died or undergone regular re-inventions).

I'd imagine it plays fast and loose, as befits the genre, with an emphasis on over-the-top action rather than navel-gazing and introspection.

"... a man with guts and cold steel in his hand can overcome any
obstacle"

- page 60, Legends of Steel
Jeff is also running the online Pulp era game I am participating in, Swords of Skartaris, where I have taken the role of fiesty Chinese aviatrix Anna Xian who, unfortunately, crashed the airship she was piloting due to a 'supernatural storm' and has stranded herself and her colleagues in the 'hollow earth'.

LoS takes as its main influence the Pulp writings of Robert E Howard - the creator of Conan - as well as great films like Deathstalker and Beastmaster and pulpy TV shows like Xena and Hercules. So, as you may have guessed, Jeff knows his pulp!


It has also stirred memories in me of the game that Nick and I designed back in our schooldays: The A-Game, based on the great TV action shows of the early 80s - particularly the A-Team. We were very proud of it because we felt it captured the flavour just right - namely, no one ever died. There were lots of explosions and people being thrown through the air, but bullets always seemed to hit buildings, walls, water butts etc near to people; so gunfire was a suppressing tool rather than a killing/wounding one.


I even remember drafting a supplement which was basically a list of NPCs, namely characters from shows like the A-Team, Magnum, Streethawk and that ninja one with Lee Van Cleef.

Sadly, as computers were not so easily accessible in those days, all hand/type-written material relating to the A-Game has long been lost to the dustbin of history. However, I do remember at least one playtest with a gang of classmates in our form room - a violent cop show. Their characters eventually became SOU12 (the elite police unit) in HeroPress and some of these still appear in Knight City.

Holiday, Day 3: "You Suck!"


Capybara - it's massive!


Wallabys!

Not all the animals in Alfriston's Drusilla's Park Zoo are real. The one that provided me with the biggest belly laughs during our visit on Monday - on the way home from our holiday cottage - was a large animatronic parrot that repeated back what people said to it ... until someone told it something different to say. A teenager in front of us, with his family, leaned over the low fence and said to the parrot: "Hello." Then he paused, as though thinking what great quote or clever bon mot to say, before continuing: "You suck willy."

The parrot replied: "Hello. You suck willy." There was a gap of about 30 seconds, then it repeated itself as the kid's family hastily bundled him off and I - several feet away - stiffled a massive chuckle and turned my attention back to the wallaby's as Rachel scolded me for "encouraging" the youth.

I'm still in two minds about zoos. I know they are do incredible conservation work and help keep endangered species alive through their care and breeding programmes, but seeing some of the creatures on Monday shivering and curled up against the cold, grey English weather - when their natural habitat is jungle on the other side of the world - one can't help but think of "animal prisons".

There are no lions, tigers or bears at Drusilla's. It concentrates on the smaller end of the scale from penguins, meerkats and lemurs to red-handed tamarins, squirrel monkeys and dung beetles, with its educational focus being definitely on getting children interested about the environment and conservation in clever, fun, interactive ways.

It was cleary working!


Bats!

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Top Of The Pile: Stephen King's The Dark Tower - The Gunslinger Born


"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."
Thus began The Gunslinger, the first part of Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series (of which I've only read the first three. Well, I say 'read', actually Mr King read them to me via the magic of unabridged audio books).

This is the line that got me hooked on these books and is echoed in the first part of Peter David/Robin Furth's prequel comic book from Marvel.

Recently I've found myself anticipating 'big event' comics and finding myself let-down with the finished product, and as the release date of this title drew closer I started to fear that this might be the same. Oh, ye of little faith! It's incredible! From Jae Lee and Richard Isanove's cinematic artwork to Peter David's pitch perfect capturing of the fantasy-Western world of The Dark Tower, this more than does the tale justice.

Once the seven issues of The Gunslinger Born are done, and Marvel sees the monstrous sales it has on its hand, I really hope this team tackle more tales from the life of Roland Deschain, The Last Gunslinger ... perhaps even a graphic adaptation of the whole saga? Although that's probably too much to ask for!

As well as a sneak peak at the art of the next issue, the comic also contains a six-page story about the "sacred geography of Mid-world" and a map of the Barony of New Canaan, where young Roland and his friends live in these pre-quest days. This isn't padding, but genuinely interesting and stirring material for anyone interested in the story of Roland and his journey to the Dark Tower.

Holiday, Day 2: "It's A Model World After All!"




On Sunday, we drove to Brighton for Modelworld 07; an exhibition of all things "miniature"-related that filled the Brighton Centre. The main bias was towards model cars/boats/planes and trains but if you hunted around - between the traders and displays - you could pretty much find all of my (and Rachel's) hobbies represented in some form or another.

There were many lovely model train layouts, some spectacular dolls' houses, and even, tucked away in one corner, a wargaming demonstration. At the other side of the centre I managed to unearth a small collection of old DC comics on one stall and picked up a 31-year-old copy of Superboy starring The Legion of Super-heroes.



And there were Daleks!

Heroes: "Harro, New York!"


You love it. I love it. Everybody loves it. Heroes is the undisputed top rated geek show of the moment ... and I feel like the last person on Earth to actually get to see it, if all the buzz is to be believed! Which pretty much makes any discussion of its pros and cons redundant at this stage, as the UK's Sci-Fi Channel has only screened the first two episodes and most people - again, from what I read and hear - are up into double figures. What I would say though is that, for me, it lacks the instant 'wow' and subtlety of Lost, but still has me hooked with its central "what's going on?" mystery, which will be enough enough to get me tuning in every week.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Holiday, Day 1: "Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside ..."

When Tolkien was dreaming up 'The Shire' I can only imagine that he had pictures of countryside akin to the Sussex Downs in his head; beautiful, undulating hills of various shades of green, peppered with traces of agriculture in the shape of hedgerows, fencing and woodlands. This was the setting for my getaway this past weekend - Rachel and I had hired a small holiday chalet in the grounds of a 1,000-year-old farm in darkest Sussex.


West Dean sits at the end of its own road, off the Brighton to Eastbourne main thoroughfare along the coast. It's one of those rare little places, isolated from the 'real world', stuck in a timewarp of Victorian wall-mounted postboxes and green telephone boxes. The whole village - school and church included - had once been part of the farm we were staying at; it had only been broken into separate entities in the 1920s.


But, of course, for all this rural beauty, I was more interested in getting down to the seaside. On Saturday, we headed seven miles down the road to Seaford - not the 'chocolate box top' fantasy it had been described as, but rather run down. But still, it still had a beach and waves and cliffs, so I was happy.

It also had a fantastic second-hand book exchange that we found in the back lanes, where I scooped up four pulpy classics for £2 from the friendly shopkeeper.


Friday, 16 February 2007

Kung Hei Fat Choi! 恭喜发财!

新年快乐 (which hopefully says 'Happy New Year') to all my Chinese readers (currently 17% of the HeroPress posse; second only to the UK's 60% market share) for this weekend.

As some you know I spent three amazing weeks in China back in March 2002, when Paul was working as a sub-editor on the China Daily. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the country; its food, architecture, people, landscapes, markets, haggling.

Most of the time was spent in Beijing, although we took a long weekend break down to Shanghai, and some day I shall share some of my 'adventures' with you - from the overnight birthday party we threw for Paul on The Great Wall (when it was still legal to camp there) and our wild times in Maggie's nightclub to my spiritually uplifting solo visit to The Yonghe Lamasery, my Chinese haircut/massage experience ... and eating scorpions!

My Favourite Author: Philip Reeve

When I was in hospital a couple of years ago, one of the things that helped pass the time in the Intensive Care Unit - besides heavy sedation and hallucinating - was Rachel's "bedside book service". Sometimes late into the night, she would sit by my bed reading a chapter - or five - from my latest book of choice, as I could neither focus my attention or physically turn the pages myself.

And the one that we both enjoyed the most was Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve; although Rachel hadn't read the earlier parts of the quartet (but is still promising to), Rachel was taken with the incredible imagery.

Infernal Devices is the third volume in the Hungry City Chronicles (Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain), a post-apocalypse saga for children and teenagers, following the adventures of earnest and naive Tom and his disfigured, angry and violent girlfriend, Hester (certainly the strongest character in the series and, without a doubt, my favourite for her unique and dark personality). The latter books move the story forward about 15 years and introduce Tom and Hester's daughter Wren as well.

"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."

- the opening of Mortal Engines, that 'hooked' me when I picked it up and read it in Smiths.

This is our Earth, but many, many years in the future; giant mobile cities lumber across the remains of old countries, attacking - and devouring - each other and clashing with the 'static' rebel faction. Philip Reeve's techno-gothic creations are so cinematic in their descriptions that it is easy to imagine a Japanese anime, in the style of Howl's Moving Castle - although with a lot less greenery!

The world has been used up and run down, but as well as the moving cities, it is populated with robot Stalkers ('resurrected' soldiers in metallic casings), strange flying vehicles and airships that ply the Bird Roads and 'old tech' items salvaged in the wastelands.

Everything about these books is a joy to read from their interweaving plots to the beautiful visuals, right up to the moving conclusion at the close of A Darkling Plain.

Imagine then my delight to read, in an interview in the latest issue of SFX (#154) that Philip Reeve is working on a prequel to Mortal Engines, set in the time when the mobile cities were first being built.

He's also written, recently, a Victorian space-opera (Larklight), which I have on order from Amazon, and an Arthurian swords and sorcery book (Here Lies Arthur) due out in April.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

You Have Been Warned ...

According to the Internet Movie Database, this is for real...

Geek Envy!

When running games of Dungeons & Dragons - or similar fantasy role-playing systems - I always dreamed of them being like this ...



... but invariably they ended up being like this.

DM of The Rings is a hilarious online comic strip that Mark put me onto; it's one man's efforts to run his gaming group through Lord of The Rings as though it were a game of D&D. There are over 60 episodes so far and they need to be read chronologically - but the time and effort is a worthwhile investment!

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The Dresden Files: Birds Of A Feather

Well, we've seen the first episode of The Dresden Files TV series this evening and the verdict is in: "a solid B". It was certainly good enough to hold my interest, but then I was pre-disposed to like it; however I'm still not sure if there was enough 'meat' to hook a more casual viewer. Sure, Fred Hicks on The Butcher Block says "give it three or four episodes", but us Brits are a very fickle lot - especially when it comes to things that are a bit quirky.

This story juxtaposed the tale of a 'gifted' young lad who seeks Harry's help because he is being pursued by 'monsters' with flashbacks to Harry's youth, his own developing powers and his father's desire to keep them secret. This was a good introduction to the character - even if it wasn't originally intended to be the first episode screened. And here's the rub: this all seems a very familiar pattern to those who remember Firefly's mistreatment and eventual cancellation by the networks. Let's hope The Dresden Files doesn't suffer the same fate!

Paul Blackthorne is excellent as the disheveled wizard-come-private eye, capturing that hang-dog 21st Century Sam Spade spirit; he doesn't always get things right, but when he gets them wrong he does his best to correct his mistakes.

Birds Of A Feather also introduced us, with typically crafted scriptwriting shorthand, to a couple of Harry's supporting characters (namely Bob, his ghostly assistant, and Murphy, his police contact and good friend), who both held their own.

The hour-long show had a lot of info to dump on its audience, as well as the central story, which resulted in a lot of fast cuts and, according to some on the Interweb, a "deus ex machina" ending. To be honest I felt it had been sufficiently foreshadowed to avoid that tag, but, again, it might have been rather confusing or a cheat in the eyes of a more casual viewer.

Overall, Birds Of A Feather was a good episode, but, even from a brief investigation of the source material in the last few weeks, I know the series has the potential for so much more.

A Match Made In The Marvel Universe...

How great is my fiancee? For Valentine's this year she bought me The Marvel Encyclopedia Volume 4 (Spider-Man) and Volume Six (Fantastic Four)!

Rachel may not get my geeky ways, but she understands that they are a crucial part of me and does nothing - heaven forbid - to discourage me in my interests (except, of course, express concern sometimes over how much I spend on them).

In fact, in many ways, she actively encourages me. For instance, while I was in hospital, she made the monthly calls to Andy at Paradox to order my comic supplies; she drives me - and Nick - to our wargames conventions, as I can no longer drive; and she sits (or, in the case of Chronicles of Riddick, sleeps) through whatever geek films I can force her to take me to at the cinema.

It's no wonder I'm marrying her!

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Britain's Finest ...

"Don't move, you're surrounded by armed bastards!"
- Gene Hunt, Life on Mars,
episode 2.2


Dr Who aside, I was beginning to despair of the current state of British sci-fi. Yes, I sat through ITV's Primeval on Saturday - and yes, half way through I turned to Rachel and uttered this constructive criticism: "It's a bit sh*t, isn't it?" Not only was the acting generally poor (S Club's Hannah is very cute, but she's no actress), but the script was primary school panto stuff (for instance, the CGI dinosaur finding its way into the school corridor was particularly brain taxing), even if we can suspend disbelief over the whole suspect time-travel schtick.

Then, this evening, Life on Mars returned and reminded that when we Brits put our minds to doing something classy - that's when we can shine. Thanks to BBC4 I already have two episodes under my belt; the second actually being the stronger because it had less overt sci-fi elements in it.

Life on Mars sees 21st Century policeman Sam Tyler 'somehow' transported back to the 1970s - after being knocked down by a speeding car - and teamed up with the excellent rough'n'ready Gene Hunt - who solves crimes "the old fashioned way" (punching confessions out of people, stitching them up etc), but with his own strange code of honour.

It's a nostalgic look back at the days when coppers - and cop shows - didn't use high-tech gadgets to solve crimes, just leg work, muscle and contacts; but given a unique twist and an intriguing 'conspiracy' subplot as Sam tries to find out what's happened to him and how he can "get home".

The first episode of this second series had the duo investigating a string of brutal attacks around a casino that, Sam discovers, are also somehow connected with an attempt on his own life 30 years in the future by a villain he was trying to put away in the 2006! Meanwhile the second episode - which will be screened on BBC1 next week - has our unlikely heroes tangling with a turf war between armed robbers, that has ramifications closer to home.

Snappy dialogue, hilarious one-liners, brutal realism, subtle use of effects and sci-fi weirdness and clever scripts make this stand head-and-shoulders over such low-brow fodder as Primeval - which isn't to say I won't watch any more Primeval, but I won't be terribly upset or confused if I miss an episode or two.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Top Of The Pile: Supergirl & The Legion of Super-heroes

Except for changing trains on the way to Euro-Disney last November, my trip to London yesterday was my first outside of an ambulance for more than two years.

Rachel and I met up with Paul (our best man to be) and Jim for a drink and some food in a lovely pub at the end of Warwick Street. But not before I'd had a chance to do some shopping ... well, try to.

The city had changed in subtle ways and several of my old shopping haunts had either closed or moved. While I appreciate the increasing number of Asian shops opening around central London as Chinatown expands, it's a shame that places like Comic Showcase in Charing Cross Road have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Eventually, with some guidance from Paul, we made our way to the Forbidden Planet (I'd forgotten it had moved to a bigger and better venue several years ago) and Rachel patiently waited while I bathed in the geeky goodness and bought up an armful of comics - mainly, I noted later, DC titles.

Among this grab bag of 'test titles' was several issues of Supergirl and The Legion of Super-heroes. Back in the day the Legion was one of the first team titles that Steve had introduced me to and, in my DC collecting era - before I got hacked off by their hokiness - the Legion had always been a staple.

I'd gathered it went through several reboots in my time away, but this new incarnation seems like an attempt to pull an 'Ultimate' reinvention on the title. And it really works. It's got the fun and excitement, the internal conflicts and the external challenges, the stylish locales and the campy character names (Cosmic Boy, Light Lass, Saturn Girl, Element Lad etc) and really reminds me why I loved the title in the '80s.

Because it is set a thousand years in the future, an encyclopeadic knowledge of the DC Universe isn't necessary to enjoy these space opera tales - unlike other more mainstream team titles like the JLA.

Slick artwork from Barry Kitson, snappy dialogue from Mark Waid, lots of busy scenes with lots of exotic characters - the only things missing from these issues were giant monsters and space battles, but I'm sure they will turn up eventually (or have already appeared in the back issues I have yet to pick up).

I'm still a Marvel zombie at heart, but this title will go someway towards restoring the balance in my monthly subscription from Paradox, where DC titles are currently outnumbered by small press publisher Dynamite!

Friday, 9 February 2007

Heroes of HeroPress: Nick & Matt Green



HeroPress Characters: AstroAthlete (Matt), Royal Wells' resident speedster, and The Prophet (Nick), a long-haired hippy type armed with a pair of hi-tech frisbees. He may have had some sort of illusion power as well, but he is mainly remembered for running the Dove Model Agency which supplied ladies for Flame magazine in its early days.

My old school friends Matt and Nick weren't really gamers, but humoured me by playing the odd game of Call of Cthulhu (a monster-free gangster/bootlegging adventure), James Bond RPG, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Villains & Vigilantes. The latter being where their HeroPress characters came from.

However, their biggest contribution to the HeroPress Universe (both old and new) was the amazing catalogue of 'supporting characters' we all conjured up through our music and film-making in the mid to late '80s. The three of us formed an experimental improv/punk/garage band - who never did anything more than record a succession of 'albums' on audio cassette in various rooms of their parents' Pembury home - under the name of The Bondage Girls, which, of course, I morphed into the controversial band of the same name in the game.

We also shot a couple of strange, surreal films on VHS video - namely the now-deleted horror film Bloody Hell about a murderous Vietnam vet (as in veterinarian) terrorising holidaymakers in Pembury woods and the totally 'out there' Conscious-Free Brothers , a tale of love, betrayal and violence that featured, among many memorable scenes, a toy car chase and Matt giving birth to a cat.

Matt and Nick went on to enjoy a degree of local celebrity in the band Chekov Plays Pop, which they formed with their elder brother Adrian and Nick's university friend Paul. Playing gigs in Tunbridge Wells and London - even performing polished versions of some old Bondage Girls' creations - they developed a solid following and had great local press coverage. I was the entertainments editor for the Kent & Sussex Courier at that time!

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Pick Of The Pods: The Butcher Block

I'm getting really psyched about the new Sky One show: The Dresden Files, which launches next week (on Valentine's Day!). Until a few months ago I hadn't even heard of the books that this is based on. It took a fleeting mention on a gaming podcast about a forthcoming Dresden Files RPG to pique my interest.

But it wasn't until I started to see the trailers for the TV show that I knew this was something I really had to get into. I love the idea of a magical world existing just out the corner of your eye where monsters, vampires and magicians lurk - and add in a seedy/pulp/noirish twist and I can't believe I hadn't discovered the world of Harry Dresden earlier. In many ways it appears to be the sort of tone I am trying to set in the new incarnation of HeroPress.

And so here I am now - with less than a week until the premier - three chapters into the first book in the series (Storm Front) and listening to The Butcher Block; a podcast about the author, Jim Butcher, and all things Dresden.

The pod is produced by Fred Hicks, one the lead designers on the role-playing game and friend of Jim's - he gets a credit in the Storm Front as one of the first proof readers.


While I am slightly worried that the TV show makers are already making excuses for cuts that have been made to the first episode, I'm hoping that this is a minor hic-cup - and possibly one I won't even pick up when the show is aired - and it turns out to be the grown-up cocktail of Harry Potter, Buffy and Raymond Chandler that it looks like.

I'm off to listen to some more of the podcast and maybe read another chapter of the book.

Now This Is More Like It...



Is there anything more wonderful than waking up in a warm bed to a world wrapped in a coating of snow? Certainly nothing man-made is as beautiful as a snow flake nor has the power to conjure memories of imagined idyllic winters past, Calvin & Hobbes comic strips and black and white Christmas movies.


Before Rachel went to work this morning we walked (slowly) up the hill to the doctors' to collect my monthly prescription - for all the blood pressure pills I have to take every day; then I hiked down into town (after a rest stop back at the flat) to get the drugs from Boots The Chemist. Unfortunately, by then the main roads had cleared and the snow that was still falling was turning to water the moment it hit tarmac.


However round the sideroads it's still looking quite seasonal, the sky is grey and the weather forecast is for the temperature to drop and everything to freeze later on - which could well put an end to my planned visit to Nick's this evening; which would be a shame as I haven't seen him and Matt since my birthday (and their Christmas presents are still stacked up next to the TV in my sitting room!)



Wednesday, 7 February 2007

A Tale of Two ...



After Paul Schrader had filmed Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, the studio took it away from him - because his psychological horror was not the gore-fest they'd wanted - and handed over the reins to Cliffhanger's Renny Harlin. The film underwent a major rewrite, some recasting and an almost total reshoot and emerged on the silver screen as Exorcist: The Beginning in 2004.

Schrader's version - although highly anticipated (this was the man who wrote Taxi Driver after all) went unseen until all the Exorcist films were released together on DVD a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure if the wait was worth it. Dominion is very rough round the edges, and while it builds slowly (like the original Exorcist - but totally devoid of the genuine fear that film still invokes after all these years) and the threat level is allowed to gradually develop as the madness of the demon Pazazu spreads out from its hiding place, nothing very substantial actually ever materialises. And the "suddenly everything is better" ending is shameful.

But films follow a young Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgaard), who has left the church to pursue his passion for archeology after a crisis of faith during the Second World War. In 1947 East Africa he investigates a mysterious, perfectly preserved, buried church ... and what lies beneath.

But where Dominion goes for discreet imagery and symbolism, Exorcist: The Beginning relies on in-your-face shocks and a gruesome body count. Merrin in this film is more a shotgun wielding, babe snogging, tomb robbing Indiana Jones than the conflicted priest of the earlier iteration.

The film's main female character - a doctor - changes from the 'average/normal' looking woman of Dominion into the Swedish beauty of the second (as Harlin says in the 'making of' doc: "You don't go to the cinema to see everyday people"). The African natives, who play a smaller role in the The Beginning, have also learned to speak perfect English. This was something that Schrader had used in his version to emphasise the differences and rising tensions between the locals and the British Army occupiers.

Pazuzu itself, once it appears, has also been transformed from a floating baldy guy into a gravely-voiced, Buffyesque, butt-kicking monster with direct visual lifts from the original (something sorely lacking in Schrader's version). Harlin's film also cherrypicks from other horror classics, for instance we get the flys from The Amityville Horror and mad priests and menacing dogs (in this case, hyenas) from The Omen.

This is The Exorcist for the Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday 13th generation, who don't like their horror to test their brains too much; but 'sadly' it's still a more exciting movie than Schrader's insubstantial meditation on the nature of evil.

DVD of The Week: The Girls Next Door (2006)


When asked to name their 'heroes', some people would list world leaders, athletes or actors, but for me there can be only one: Hugh M. Hefner, magazine editor, business mogul, entrepreneur and living personification of Playboy.


Recently, we have been allowed tantalising glimpses into the home life of this hard-working, well-mannered - if free-spirited - gentleman through the fly-on-the-wall documentary The Girls Next Door (re-edited in the UK and re-titled as The Girls of The Playboy Mansion) which follows the fortunes of his three - yes, count them - three gorgeous girlfriends; Holly, Bridget and Kendra.


The first season (there have so far been two) of the show has been collected in a DVD box set, which includes a host of deleted scenes, an unaired pilot for the series, interviews with the girls and commentaries on every episode by the blonde trio.



"We call it a fantasy. They call it home."



Holly is the number one (alpha) girlfriend, with dreams of marrying 80-year-old Hef, bearing him children and having him all to herself. Although she denies it, she gets very jealous - and sometimes a bit sulky - if any other women come near 'her man' and tends to sometimes, despite some candid moments of self-deprecation, take everything way too seriously.


Beauty and brains Bridget is a bubbly Californian girl who likes old horror movies, Halloween and 'themes' (a costume for every occasion). A bottomless well of enthusiasm, Bridget is Holly's best friend and the loving 'mother' of a very grumpy cat - Gizmo - and a bewildered dog - Wednesday. With a degree in broadcast journalism, she aspires to be a newsreader or reporter.


Kendra is the youngest of the gang and not the sharpest tool in the box. Good at basketball, she mistakes having a fit body for being a "jock", but doesn't let her well-documented lack of other sporting prowess shatter her self-belief. Kendra's main aspiration seems to be to appear in a rap video; a chance for her to really show off her "gangsta" roots - which are as solid as her sporting ones. However, for all her irritating qualities, Kendra is surprisingly level-headed and accepts that this life can't go on forever and just wants to enjoy it while she can.


This is a show - like the magazine - that can be enjoyed by men and women (although possibly for different reasons). Rachel loves it as much as I do, because it is interesting, funny and, in a way, like an episode of Friends, can serve as a dose of mental Prozac. No matter how bad a day you've had, half-an-hour in the bright, sunny company of "girls" will make everything seem beter.


For all the grandeur of their existence, the most noticeable aspect of the day-to-day lives of Hef and his girls is the normalcy - the excitement over birthdays, the trips home or visits from friends and relatives, moving furniture etc - and the slog that goes into producing and promoting the number one "gentleman's lifestyle" magazine on the planet. That's not to say I wouldn't change places with him in a heartbeat ...

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

It's A Good Time To Be A Telly Addict ...

Well, a geek telly addict with a satellite dish at least! How good a line up is this?

Monday:

  • Blade - The Series (Bravo)
  • Masters of Horror (Bravo)
  • Heroes (Sci-Fi - starts February 19)
Tuesday:

  • Stargate SG-1 (Sky One)
  • Battlestar Galactica (Sky One)
  • Life on Mars (BBC1 - starts February 13)

Wednesday:

  • The Lost Room (Sky One)
  • Desperate Housewives (Channel 4/E4)
  • Stargate Atlantis (Sky One)
  • The Dresden Files (Sky One - starts February 14)

Friday:

  • Jericho (Hallmark)

Saturday:

  • Primeval (ITV1 - starts February 10)

Sunday:

  • 24 (Sky One)
  • Lost (Sky One)

Top Shelf: Wizard

It has dawned on me that, in a month, I read a lot of magazines (namely Total Film, Empire, SFX, Dr Who, Stargate SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, National Geographic, Fortean Times, White Dwarf, Wargames Illustrated and assorted impulse purchases from Smiths or the market), but hands down my favourite read is Wizard: The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture.

I picked up my first copy at Tonbridge market - on the cheap magazine stall where I normally stock up on British reprints of Marvel and DC comics - and (not surprisingly, given my addictive personality) was hooked.

In a nutshell, this is the monthly 'must read' for geeks of all shade. It boasts the best coverage of the comic book industry (both storyline updates and creator interviews), but this is complemented by film and TV news and previews of 'toys' (e.g. action figures, statues, video games etc) - and all treated with grown-up respect.

Having started with the random issues I could pick up at the market, the magzine is now in my regular shipments from Paradox Comics in Poole - which means subsequent orders are always getting bigger! Wizard is the one-stop shop for all the forthcoming entertainment news a geek such as I could ever want (e.g. it was in the pages of Wizard that I first learnt of the Blade TV series, Stephen King's Dark Tower comic book and the forthcoming Preacher TV series).

Monday, 5 February 2007

Heroes of HeroPress: Pete Delves

HeroPress Character: Hurricane & Brutus. A superintelligent boffin - on a par with the evil genius of the HP Universe Dr Bionics (boo, hiss) - with his friendly giant robot sidekick. Hurricane could fly with a whirlwind effect.

As far as I can recall, Pete never ran a HeroPress campaign because, unlike the rest of us at age 18, he went off to university and filled his hours with drinking and partying (we did this in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge).

Pete pretty much established the light-hearted tone of HeroPress with his unique artistic contributions, setting new standards of punnery (for example, the 'source books' were rebranded as 'sauce books' ... geddit? HP Sauce ...) and creative applications of amusing sound effects.

When he wasn't drawing he was creating new characters - this was his 'thing'. Except for Hurricane & Brutus, Pete rarely kept the same character for more than a single game - and probably even switched in the middle of some if they went on too long. He was always coming up with new creations, no matter what system we were using, because that was the part of the game he really loved I guess.

However, Pete's older brother, Steve, confessed to me this evening: "In Pete’s defence I think I was the one who kept changing characters – often much to his and, I expect, your frustration; for which I’m sorry!"

Which Muppet Are You ...

You Are Animal

A complete lunatic, you're operating on 100% animal instincts.
You thrive on uncontrolled energy, and you're downright scary.
But you sure can beat a good drum.
"Kill! Kill!"

I must admit I wasn't expecting that! I thought we were heading towards 'Kermit' ...

You Are Bert

Extremely serious and a little eccentric, people find you loveable - even if you don't love them!

You are usually feeling: Logical - you rarely let your emotions rule you

You are famous for: Being smart, a total neat freak, and maybe just a little evil

How you like your life: With passion, even if your odd passions (like bottle caps and pigeons) are baffling to others

But this one I can, sadly, kind of, agree with!

Sunday, 4 February 2007

The HeroPress Mission Statement...

Mission Statement for "HeroPress - The Knight City Chronicles": To provide an online storytelling experience that is a fusion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the myths of HP Lovecraft with the sensibilities and plotting of Marvel comics.


Last night while pondering over the seeming lack of interest in the new HeroPress, I came up with the above "mission statement" - because it dawned on me that maybe I hadn't explained my intentions with the game clearly enough. I know Clare gets it - as her support shows - but perhaps I had led other people to believe that the game was going to be pure superheroes (like the old HeroPress).

It is possible to play low-level superheroes in the new game (what are Buffy and Angel if not superheroes sans cape and mask?), and I would encourage people to explore the idea of creating characters inspired by such luminaries as Stephen Strange, Iron Fist, Daredevil, Luke Cage etc (ironically, the 'Marvel Knights' character stable). But the new HeroPress allows for so much more - from Jack Bauer security/military types to film noir private eyes, from Lovecraftian academics to tough-as-nails survivors and plucky investigative journalists.

As I've said before, I see this as a new HeroPress for the 21st Century - with postal communication replaced by electronic trickery - and so the setting and background has morphed with the times, but (hopefully) all the original features are still there ... waiting for players to uncover them and enjoy.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Top Of The Pile: Dr Strange - The Oath

Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme of The Marvel Universe, is a key character in the MU but recently seems unable to headline in his own on-going title.

As a tease to us fans of the Doctor of the greatness that could come from an open-ended storyline, Brian K Vaughan - another Marvel rising star and the newest comic book writer drafted in to script the insanity of Lost - offers us The Oath, a six-part mini-series that reaches its conclusion next month.

Recent mini-series outings for Doc Strange - including this one - have centred around reimagined retellings of his origin story, but here Vaughan gives us an edgier, more streetwise Sorcerer Supreme.

This story sends Stephen Strange on a quest to find a cure for his faithful servant's brain tumour, but his discovery of a supernatural elixir that can cure all cancers pits him against a sinister pharmaceutical corporation - with access to dark magics of their own.

The stylish artwork by Marcos Martin reminds me of the golden days of Strange, when his adventures were drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko, especially the all-too-brief glimpses of strange, alien magical dimensions - always my favourite sequences.

I'll be sad to see this thrilling mini-series end, but I hope that its success will prompt Marvel to bring the Sorcerer Supreme back into the spotlight and let a writer as talented as Vaughan, or Bendis or Brubaker, take him for a spin through the multiverse.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Life on Mars is Back!



Back to the 70s with Sam Tyler! Really looking forward to the impending return of his eccentric British sci-fi series in a couple of weeks. Imagine The Sweeney, but where Carter (Dennis Waterman) thinks he's from the 21st Century and you have some insight into this time-hopping and very British show.
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