Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

Home Of Superheroes, Swords, Sorcery, Snowy, Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Simians, and Silliness

Saturday, 31 March 2007

Doctor Who: Smith and Jones

Doctor Who returned to our screens this evening, introducing a hot new companion in the form of medical student Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) - the cousin of her character who was killed in the Dalek/Cybermen/Torchwood battle at the end of the last series.

Although it seems we're still going to be cursed with Earth-based family baggage, at least Martha and her family are a step up (in terms of charm and interest) from Rose Tyler's chav clan. One day Russell T Davies is going to realise that this isn't a soap opera, but a sci-fi action show, but in the meantime we still get to enjoy such delights as tonight's episode, Smith and Jones.

Alien rentacops hijack a hospital from central London and take it to "neutral territory" (the Moon) to search for an elusive alien killer. Meanwhile the Doctor - masquerading as a patient in the hospital - teams up with medical student Martha to try and resolve the situation before the air runs out!

It's non-stop excitement, with the chemistry - and witty banter - between the Doctor and Martha sparkling. This bodes well for the rest of the season. Martha could eventually rank as one of the all-time great companions. The Doctor is still mourning the passing of Rose and there are hints of unrequited love in Martha's eyes, but I'm sure we'll get past that with enough freaky aliens, ghosts, time travel mishaps and Daleks ...

Saturday nights have been reclaimed for the geeks!

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Walls Come Tumbling Down ...

Last Friday, the first half of the first series of Jericho ended on satellite TV. The ongoing story of the citizens of an isolated Kansas town, cut off from the outside world after a series of nuclear bombs go off in America; this is a show that's really grown on me.

At first, with it slow pacing, I feared we were in for a repeat of Invasion - and I would invest time and mental capacity into following a show only for it to be axed before there is any form of resolution.

But Jericho, with its lower production costs (there are no aliens needing special effects, for instance), is picking up speed and intensity as the community tears itself apart with paranoia and internal politics.

Anyone expecting Mad Max-style post-Apocalypse devastation will be disappointed, Jericho is about the gradual deterioration of society after such a cataclysmic event, and is therefore, despite the odd death and outbreak of violence, quite low-key. The show is more about - as are many of my favourites at the moment - what is going on in the bigger picture? Who set the bombs off? Is America at war or was it a terrorist attack? Have they been invaded? How come they could only pick up Chinese newsbroadcasts when the TV's momentarily worked?

Hidden away on the Hallmark Channel, whose content I had dismissed as "light-weight family dramas" (despite knowing that Hallmark has produced some great sci-fi/fantasy mini-series in recent years), Jericho has been quite overlooked in the general hub-bub of genre programming around at the moment, but it holds it own. I, for one, am looking forward to the season resuming on May 4 or May 11 (depending on which Hallmark announcement you believe!)

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Keira, Chinese Pirates and Sea Monsters ...

Just how excited am I about this ... ?

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (released the day before my wedding; so I'm afraid Keira will have to wait until I get back from my honeymoon!)

Doctor Cool!

With just a few days to go before he materialises back on our televisions, David Tennant's Doctor Who has been named the "coolest character on TV" in an online poll by The Radio Times.

He came out ahead of 24's Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), Happy Days' The Fonz (Henry Winkler), Pride & Prejudice's Mr Darcy (Colin Firth) and Cat (Danny John-Jules), from Red Dwarf.

Now, of course, I am sure that the timing (and result) is just a coincidence, but it's all good publicity for one of the BBC's flagship programmes that just happens to have a highly-anticipated new series starting on Saturday.

This third season of the new iteration of the Timelord sees him partnered with a new companion - Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) - which will hopefully mean an end to the tedious soap opera elements that the presence of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and her extended family brought to the show; and not tie the stories so much to Earth, but allow the Doctor free range across the universe.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Dresden Files: Walls

According to the latest Butcher Block podcast, The Dresden Files is getting higher ratings in the US than Battlestar Galactica!

Does this mean the geek community's love affair with epic sci-fi (e.g. Galactica and Lost, which continues to take a critical battering despite being - in my humble opinion - a work of genius)? Is it a signpost for a more widespread return to episodic shows that mimic their '70s forebears and don't require patience and constant vigilance on behalf of the viewing audience, awaiting the big reveals and clues to overarching mysteries?

Nevertheless, tonight's episode of The Dresden Files was another doozie. Walls was the story of a gang of students using an evil magical artifact to pull off sensational robberies, with Harry being drawn in after the girlfriend of one is killed outside his office in what appears to be a hit'n'run.

Touching on the side effects of Harry's powers again, and of magic in general, the main "in universe" thrust of this tale is to highlight the dangerous consequences of using black magic, prompting a show-stealing, understated performance from Conrad Coates as Morgan, the High Council Warden, and the appearance of a gruesome waxy monster. Terrance Mann also delivers on the Bob front, as always, meaning that even though this might not be quite as strong as the last couple of episodes, the powerful performances bring it so close as to still merit an A- Grade!

Walls also drops another hint about Harry's shady past as well as further insight into Bob's character, which goes a long way to creating the worldbuilding illusion that this just of the tip of the Dresdenverse iceberg.

Good writing is what will ultimately make or break this show and its recent track record suggests that - as long as they continue with this calibre of material - the show could have a long and healthy life. Battlestar Galactica has just been renewed for a fourth season, so, with bigger viewing figures (if not the critical acclaim), I would guess that the short term future, at least, is secure for The Dresden Files.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Book Shops That Know Nothing About Books ...

It's not really a surprise in a chain bookstore to find some Saturday kid just earning his pocket money who doesn't know the difference between a Nintendo and Nabokov, but you expect a little better from quaint little back street second hand stores! Surely you're not going to run one of these unless you are totally passionate about the written word and have, at least, a passing knowledge of the market.

I wouldn't expect a shop keeper in one of these to know much about Star Wars novels, but to try to pass off 'Return To The Lost World' as a Sherlock Holmes spin-off, did, kind of, make me doubt the credibility of the trader!

The original Lost World, by Conan Doyle, is one of my favourite adventure yarns, but when I noticed that (a) the book was 'self-published' and (b) it was marked up for £25 (I seem to remember), I quickly put it back on the owner's desk and went back to looking at the £2.50 Star Wars novels.

As a side note, Wikipedia says of this book:

Return to the Lost World: Nicholas Nye. A sequel set a year later than The Lost World, which almost ignores the dinosaurs in favour of a plot involving parapsychology, an extremely odd version of evolutionary theory, and ancient technology in the style of Chariots of the Gods. While Conan Doyle's Challenger is a foe of scientific fraud, this novel begins with him preparing a scientific fake.

My doubts over the shopkeeper's literary credibility increased when I noticed one of the books I had sold him almost a year ago (when clearing my parent's home after my father's death, there were boxes and boxes of books that we had no room to store - including many of my own - and this gentleman kindly took some off our hands for a pittance). It was a Western I had bought new from an "end of stock clearance" store in Sevenoaks for a couple of quid. Here it was marked up for £15!

Another corner of the shop is stacked high with old comics of mine (mainly Dark Horse Star Wars titles from the last five or ten years) that he is trying to flog for £2 a pop. They were surrounded by other odd titles - and even a few roleplaying game books - that I remembered from previous visits to the shop over a year ago.

It's a shame really, because a nice second hand comic shop just at the limits of my walking distance would be such an asset, but come on: sensible pricing please!

Monday, 26 March 2007

The Curse of Buffy!

This last weekend was Alyson Hannigan's 33rd birthday. It's hard to imagine our little Willow in her 30s, but then again it was hard to imagine her in any other role than that of the wonderful wiccan on Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

And a succession of awful gross-out comedies and a lacklustre sitcom rather suggest that she start knocking on Joss Whedon's door and asking him to bring back a live-action Buffyverse show.

But let's be honest - of all the young main members of the Buffy cast ("the Scooby gang") - none have really been able to stand on their own two feet since the end of the show.

Sarah Michelle Gellar has totally failed to shake off her most famous persona by taking one horror role after another (along with a very ironic role in two Scooby Doo movies), while Nicholas 'Xander' Brendon has popped up in a few failed sitcoms and James 'Spike' Marsters is trying to make a go of his rock career (pumped up by regular interviews in the official Buffy magazine).

Even Joss himself - once the golden child/saviour of popular, genre TV - had Firefly pulled out from under him, made a cult film (Serenity) that wasn't quite the blockbuster hit its fans made it out to be (I loved it by the way, but the money didn't exactly come rolling in) and has just lost his role as the scriptwriter for the forthcoming Wonder Woman film.

The Angel crowd seem to have fared slightly better because, conversely, their spin-off show was less well known and so they aren't so typecast in the public's eyes: David 'Angel' Boreanaz has gone on to Bones, which seems to be doing very well on Sky One, and Alexis 'Wesley' Denisof became the envy of all fandom when he married Alyson Hannigan on October 11, 2003!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Battle Report: Tonight We Dine In Hell!

The heroic steel warriors of the United Nations of Ava's White Stars gave their lives for the cause in the final assault of the day - destroying the wicked Therian's nanogenerators then being slain to a man before they could escape.

Nick took the role of the human commander of the White Stars while I was the technologically superior robot forces in our first test drive of the AT-43 rules this afternoon. We played through five mini-scenarios in quick succession and the running total was two victories apiece going into the final conflict.

The rules proved to be as fast (some games taking as little as 15 minutes), simple and brutal as we had been told by the salesman at Cavalier - and quickly won our unanimous support. Of course there were some vagueries in the rules, but nothing that couldn't be sorted by a thorough analysis of the text and a dose of common sense.

The prepainted 28mm figures looked beautiful on the battle mat supplied with just the minimal terrain elements from the starter box set - imagine how cool they will look amidst the sprawling terrain that currently sits boxed in storage waiting for the post-wedding move to a home with a dedicated games room!

Nick and I are planning to have one more afternoon of games before Salute next month where Rackham promises to be hosting a large AT-43 participation game, which we hope to have time to join in!

Forthcoming Attractions...

Day Watch
Didn't really understand the wacky Russian Night Watch, but it looked cool, and now the sequel is coming out ...

Resident Evil: Extinction
A blink and you miss it glimpse of the undead in this trailer for the third entry in the hit (then miss) video game zombie franchise; but Mila Jovovich alone makes it worth watching ...

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Six Of The Best With JEFF MEJIA

Jeff Mejia, aka The Evil DM, is the author of Broadsword, a 1PG system swords and sorcery game due out next month (April) from Deep 7. Jeff, who hosts the blog Lair of The Evil DM and appears frequently on Pulp-related message boards, is currently working on another, more extensive, swords and sorcery RPG called Legends of Steel, which he intends to self-publish.

(1) What was the genesis of Legends of Steel?

Every gamer wants to create his own game. I was no different. My thing was: what can I do different? What genre hasn't been fully explored? I had the bones for a fantasy type game with Elves and Wizards and all that but then I realized I wasn't doing anything different than 90% of the other gamers out there.

On the other hand I have old fashioned tastes in gaming and fiction. The more I thought about it there had never been any real successful games that dealt with Sword & Sorcery as it has been portrayed in the popular media - not just the Conan paperbacks but also the 70s comics from DC and Marvel. Those wonderfully god-awful movies from the 80s such as Deathstalker and Beastmaster and more recently the over-the-top TV shows like Hercules, Conan the Adventurer and, of course, Xena. And so I trashed the Elves and the wizards in pointy hats and started working on Legends of Steel.

(2) Do you intend to self-publish LoS as an indie game or will you try and get a major publisher interested, as you did with Broadsword?

I'll self-publish most likely. I don't really have the time or desire to shop it around. Besides, it's like a part of me in a way. I don't mind having an editor look at it and correct my mistakes but once I sell it to a company it becomes theirs and I have no real say over what they do with it. I was never in this to make money.

LoS for me was a project that has grown into something I really care about. I've used the analogy before that some guys restore old cars, they sink five or six grand into a beat up 57 Chevy and come away with a beautiful piece of work. well LoS is my Chevy. I work on it during my breaks at work, late at night after everyones in bed, and on weekends. I tinker with the engine, I polish it up a bit and show it off to friends to see what they think, when it's all done I'll buy some nice art and publish a few copies for friends and family. Nowadays with the advent of digital publishing I may very well go the PDF route and sell copies online for a nominal price.

(3) What's the appeal of Swords & Sorcery as a genre?

The grittiness. I grew up in the 70s and my impressions of S&S will always be taken from the pages of Savage Tales, and the Warren magazines. A guy with a sword facing off against some gigantic slime covered demon from the elder night. to me that's cool.

There was an Avengers comic many years ago where the Avengers faced off against Korvac. Now Korvac was this all powerful entity, when he fought the Avengers he went through them like butter. Thor, Iron man, the Vision, two rounds-killed em all. Then he powers down and prepares to leave - which is when Captain America clocks him! No god-like powers, no powered armor, no laser beam eyes. just the ultimate human fighting machine using his guts and his fists. Korvac defeats him of course but that scene where Cap takes it to him was defining for me, and Sword and Sorcery depicts that sort of struggle.

(4) What Swords & Sorcery books and films have been a major influence on the development of your games?

Like I stated earlier, the Marvel and DC comics of the 70s - Conan, Claw, the Warlord, Thongor. The stories in these books were so over the top at times, yet the writers never felt like they had to explain any of it, you just accepted it. Sure Conan is in the snowy mountains with no shirt on. Of course, Red Sonja goes into battle wearing a chainmail bikini. Claw just went into the desert with just one skin of water - yup sounds just like him.

For movies, I found inspiration in The Scorpion King, and the Xena series for over the top action - stuff that you see and then say NO WAY! But you go with 'cause it's fun. I also love team films - films where a bunch of guys get together to right a wrong or just kick butt: The Magnificent Seven, Three The Hard Way, the Thirteenth Warrior.

(5) What inspired you to start blogging on the topics you do?

I wanted a blog that that wasn't too heavy - that didn't require me to think I had to come up with a witty subject and write 500 words about it every day. I didn't want it to be personal, but I did want it to be fun. so I wrote down a list of my favorite things and went at it. every once in a while I rant or get up on a soapbox and vent but for the most part it's just about things that interest me.

(6) How did you go about advertising your site and attracting new readers?

I joined a lot of message boards and posted things on my blog of interest to those particular groups. then whenever I referred to something I always said "Over at my blog I posted..." which made people visit.

That and the Wednesday girl. No shit, it really works. You should see the spike of visitors on a Wednesday, and quite a few stay and look at other parts of the blog. I can tell because my tracking stat thingy tells me how long someone stays around. The Wednesday girl thing may not be for everybody; but for my blog it works. I don't get preachy or heavy into religion, politics and social issues. My blog's more of a boys' playroom.

Friday, 23 March 2007

At The Fleapit: 300 (2007)

Film of The Year, without a doubt! 300, based on the Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, tells the story of the heroic sacrifice of 300 Spartans holding back the invading horde of the Persian army in 480BC.

But don't expect a history lesson in this testosterone-soaked bloodfest of severed limbs, death and mutilation. This is fact filtered through the fantasy lens of Lord Of The Rings - with the 'demonic' Persian army packed with orcs (the Immortals), trolls, giant killer rhinos and elephants and led by an androgynous giant god-king Xerxes, who surrounds himself with a harem of freaks and mutants.

300 is an unashamed blokes' film, with core values of death before dishonour, negotiations through violence and giving your life for your country; with the outnumbered sculpted warriors of Sparta never giving an inch before the overwhelming numbers of the evil and deformed enemy.

Filmed with an ethereal, dream-like quality (nods, obviously to Miller's own Sin City because of its use of computer-generated scenery), with a script packed with great quotes, a strong ensemble cast and an amazing turn from Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas.

Major kudos, also, to writer/director Zack Snyder. The excellent news is that next he's tackling The Watchmen - the ultimate superhero comicbook mini-series; in the hands of this genius it is enough to get any fanboy's pulse racing with anticipation!

300 is as authentic a representation of the truth as a game of Dungeons & Dragons is an accurate portrayal of life in Medieval Europe. It is an issue of Nuts/Loaded/Maxim made into a movie - heroic lads, ultraviolence, gruesome wounds and semi-naked women. Remember, this isn't history: This is SPARTA!

My Bank Balance is Doomed!

In June Wizkids is bringing out what amounts to a Star Wars version of its popular Pirates game. For the full story look here. Like the Wizards of The Coast expensive plastic miniature starships, it still doesn't seem to use a consistent scale between the pieces (which I find very annoying), but if the price is comparable with Pirates, it's going to be dirt cheap compared to the plastic figures.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

I Should Have Known Better ...

There is a reason I didn't write my final year university dissertation on Star Wars, and instead chose "the role of women in the chainsaw films of Gunnar Hansen".

Over analysis - especially in a methodical, logical way - of something you love very quickly destroys the magic of its appeal. At first, my peers on the Scriptwriting For Film & TV course at Bournemouth University thought it was a certainty that I would write something about Star Wars and I'll admit I toyed with the idea for a while. But the more I thought about it, the less appealing it became.

I had tried to write one media studies' essay during my time at Bournemouth about the great trilogy and had it publicly lambasted in a crowded lecture hall by a tutor dismissing it as "recycled press releases" ... which, to be fair, it was. But my closeness and passion for the subject matter had blinded me to the flaws in my arguments; and so, when considering a dissertation subject I realised the problem would be magnified a thousand fold. Thus the choice of a subject that I would take less seriously and therefore enjoy dissecting - in a particularly tongue-in-cheek way.

Which brings me to Star Wars on Trial by hard sci-fi writer David Brin and Revenge of The Sith novelisation author Matthew Woodring Stover, a supposedly humourous series of essays arguing to and fro the merits - or lack thereof - of various aspects of the Saga from its plot holes and weak female characters to the dreadful spin-off novels and the films' suspect politics and religion.

I can't imagine what had blinded me to the obvious drawback (for me, personally) of this because initially I was very enthused about diving into this hot debate; but even as I read through the 'opening statements' by the main authors (other writers were called in to debate particular topics), I could feel the old, creeping disappointment. This was exactly the feeling I had had all those years ago (pre-prequels) when I thought about my own amateur dissection of the Star Wars myths.

When you watch a great magician perform his mind-boggling tricks and you find yourself wondering 'how did he do that?', you don't really want to know because then the magic will be lost forever. And it's the same for Star Wars - I don't want to know why it continues to enthral me (despite its obvious weaknesses in many areas); I'm content just knowing it does.

So Star Wars on Trial is going back on the shelf. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to tackle it, but my unquestioning faith in the Saga has lately been shaky at best (and the prequels sorely tested it, almost to breaking point) and so I don't want people who are smarter than me telling me what's wrong with my 'hero worship'. It's not a cold, intellectual thing - it's an emotional attachment, with no room for logic. You wouldn't intellectualise a love affair, so why mess with a fanboy's passion?

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The Dresden Files: Soul Beneficiary

This is more like it! Tonight's episode of The Dresden Files pretty much ticked all the boxes.

Updating a film noir standard with a black magic twist, Soul Beneficiary featured some of the the best uses of magic so far seen in the series, as well as solid dialogue, a hot villainess (who will return ... please), and references to past episodes ("skinwalker") giving the series a sense of continuity, as well as finally letting us in on ghostly Bob's "big secret".

This makes two A grade episodes back-to-back. Has The Dresden Files finally turned a corner and morphed into the show it always had the potential to be? This was, at least, more X-Files than Charmed, which has to count for something.

Of course, it still wasn't perfect: Bob made reference to electrical items malfunctioning in Harry's presence (a mainstay of the books), but we haven't actually seen any evidence of this potentially devastating side effect in the show. In fact, the other week he was watching DVDs on a laptop with a girlfriend!

This was the first episode that really felt like it was part of something bigger. Let's hope it is ...

Pick of The Pods: Nuketown Radio Active

To paraphrase reality TV 'star' Chantelle, Ken Newquist is "living the dream". The host of Nuketown Radio Active is a writer, web designer, gamer and geek dad of two. His semi-regular show is a half-hour slice of all things geek - from role-playing, computer and board games to techie 'toys', interesting websites, book reviews and music.

But what he does, that I really like, is his insights into living a successful geek lifestyle - with anecdotes on raising his two young children, home maintenance and exercise. This is a totally rounded podcast with something for every shade of geek - although, thankfully, his more technical segments aren't overloaded with jargon and fine print.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Top Of The Pile: The Confession

This has been an amazing couple of weeks for comics (and I haven't got my hands on Buffy: Season Eight yet).

However, the infamous and controversial Captain America #25 - where Steve Rogers bites the bullet - has passed before my eyes; and I have to say: "wow!"

Regardless of your feelings on the outcome, it's a masterful piece of writing by Ed Brubaker, who month-in, month-out produces some of the finest mainstream superhero scripts out there.

To repeat an argument I put forward over on the Midnight's Lair message boards (to all the people threatening to give up reading Marvel comics because of this 'outrage'): "Why give up now just as things are getting interesting? When you first read Lord of The Rings and you reached the "death" of Gandalf in Moria, did you throw the book aside, cursing all things Tolkien and swearing off "high fantasy" for life? No ... you trusted the author and wanted to see how the story played out. So stick with Cap (and Marvel), watch the story unfold ... have faith ... everything will work out in the end ... it always does ..."

I'm still convinced that the 'dead' Cap is either one of Nick Fury's Life Model Decoy robots or the Red Skull (who effectively pulled the trigger) bring Cap back to life with the Cosmic Cube. After all, no one stays dead in comics (including Bucky, Colossus and Captain Marvel ... who were all, for a time, definitely, positively, 'it-means-something' dead). What I'm really hoping for though is that Brubaker and Co. will pull a 'get out of jail free' card that I hadn't expected!

However, the best title I've read so far this month is The Confession - a Civil War one-off featuring a two part tale about Captain America and Iron Man, the leaders of the two sides in the superhero Civil War.

The first part is a monologue by Tony 'Iron Man' Stark about how he knew the war was coming and why he believed he was right; while the second part is Cap (pre-assassination) confronting Tony, while he is being held ready for trial, about why he was right to do what did.

Bendis nails the conviction of the two protagonists and presents persuasive arguments for both points of view, but what I loved about this issue was the fact that once you put it down you can't help but feel that while the battle is lost, the real war is a long way from over.

The end of the seven issues of Civil War and its spin-offs only marks the beginning of a long story arc that will (hopefully) lead to the restoration of some kind of status quo for the Marvel Universe.

Personally I'm looking forward to the ride - even if it's a bit bumpy along the way!

Monday, 19 March 2007

DVD of The Week: Casino Royale (2006)

When I first saw the trailers - many months ago - for the cinema release of a new Bond film, I wasn't impressed. In fact it looked like an average TV thriller to me.

But the closer it got to release date the more good things I kept hearing and reading about Casino Royale and Daniel Craig.

It turns out I was wrong and the critics were right (for once). Casino Royale (out on DVD today) is a blast - certainly one of the best Bond flicks and possibly the best. It's stripped down and raw, pretty much gimmick-free and more gritty and brutal than most of the earlier films.

The cartoonish nature of the franchise has gone, along with the slapstick violence, supervillains bent on world domination and the wise cracks after every kill. This is basic Bond and Daniel Craig nails it.

The level of realism even extends to Bond not being a very nice guy - in fact he's a cold-hearted, emotionless SOB for most of the film. How else would he have got (and held onto) his licence to kill?

The film takes a very brave turn towards the end, easing its foot off the accelerator and lulling the audience into accepting a potentially anti-climatic finale before suddenly rachetetting the action back up to top gear for a full-blown Bond set piece.

And maybe the slow patch, the quiet before the final storm, drags on a bit too long, but in retrospect I see that it was developing Bond's character for future films - something that has probably never really been done before (except in the much maligned and overlooked On Her Majesty's Secret Service ... let's hope Daniel Craig doesn't take George Lazenby's approach too far).

Casino Royale is everything you always thought a Bond film was, but really wasn't. It's high adventure and all out action nearly all the way, with sharp suits, heroics and a strong leading man who lives by his wits and his own resources (i.e. no invisible cars and no comedy sidekicks!!!)

But beware - the 12 certificate is obviously a sop to the moneymen as the film features a short, but nasty, torture sequence that isn't really suitable for the kiddiwinks (although nothing like the squirm-worthy one in Syriana), and this Bond prefers fisticuffs to guns, so there's a lot of physical violence as well. Really it should have been a 15 at least. You have been warned.

Tech's Appeal ...

Last week, I was bemoaning the fragility of modern technology and the fact that I had spent a sleepless night wrestling with my wayward computer after it had decided to crash and take all my software with it.

Now the thing is, while I may be a geek who values Star Wars, Stargate SG-1, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, comics, role-playing games and wargames above most other things, I don't consider myself a nerd because I know nothing about how computers (or most modern technology for that matter) work. I just know that they do and, generally, I love them for it.

However, of course, that also makes me rather reliant on them - I treasure and celebrate them for what they do, but have no idea what to do if they suddenly stop doing it. This generally leads to panic and foul language.

But when they do work, I'm in seventh heaven, and like any star-crossed lover I can't bear a grudge for a long. Even since last week's nightmare dive into reboot hell, I have wallowed in - and praised to all who will listen - the marvels of modern technology. Just think back five years and imagine downloading music, doing all your shopping online, watching baseball from the other side of the planet, even ordering a pizza (almost certainly the best thing I have ever done online!) and imagine what the next five years will bring.

I am not a futurist like Tony Stark (that's Iron Man for you non-comic people), and I lack the imagination to even comprehend a fraction of the possibilities that lie around the corner for us, but you just have to glance back over your shoulder and see how far we've come to know that what's ahead of us has to be glorious. If we don't use it to blow ourselves up first.


This is my praise (from last October) for online baseball (since this was originally written I have adopted the New York Yankees as my team ... and they've lost every pre-season game I've watched!):

Who would have thought - when Nick and I were sitting in the Stade Olympique, Montreal, Canada, in 1988, watching the Montreal Expos beat the New York Mets that 18 years later we'd be sat in his front room watching live baseball again - via the Internet. This time it was the Oakland A's versus the Detroit Tigers, but the magic was still there ... along with American TV adverts and their insane, rambling commentators who help to make the statistic-heavy game as clear as mud for us addle-headed Brits!

Since the Expos lost their franchise (they never were that good as far as I can remember), I haven't really had a "team" to follow (or a chance to wear my very expensive, fully 'named up' Expo shirt - shipped over from America at great financial cost to me), but I just love watching the game when I can - and idea of having it pumped, unedited, into your PC on demand is just too cool for words (if a bit pricey for me given my current 'resting' status).

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Book of The Month: Death Masks (Book Five Of The Dresden Files)

If Storm Front was the Jim Butcher's dream equivalent of a TV pilot for the adventures of Harry Dresden in literary form, then Death Masks is a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster.

Harry is drawn into a hunt for the Turin Shroud, which a wonderful immortal villain called Nicodemus wants to use as an Apocalypse trigger while local gangster Marcone wants it for his own purposes. Throw in the return of Harry's ex-girlfriend (now a half-vampire), a bunch of super-demons tied to the 30 silver pieces of Judas Iscariot, a vampire noble out for Harry's blood, a young girl who holds all mankind's accumulated knowledge (but still needs to be put to bed in good time) and an order of holy knights armed with magic swords and you've got the recipe for a rock-and-roll read.

Butcher is a master of the set-piece, as evidenced by the climax of Storm Front, and Death Masks has its fair share - with memorable ones including a final confrontation on the roof of a speeding train (pure James Bond/Mission Impossible) and a free-for-all human versus vampire scrap in Chicago's Wrigley Field baseball stadium.

That's not to say that Death Masks is a perfect pulp action read. The story grinds to an uncomfortable halt when Harry and his ex get hot and heavy in an embarrassingly sophomoric sex scene that uses the word "hardness" a bit too often.

Which leads to my main criticism with Butcher's writing (this came out in 2003, and haven't read anything he has done since) - his repetition. From Harry saying "Hell's bells" over-and-over again to repeating words in his descriptive prose - sometimes in the same sentence (e.g. "a grizzled detective in a bad suit took charge and started directing suits and uniforms around." - page 362).

This has always been a bugbear of mine (from my journalistic training) and something I studiously try to avoid where possible. It interrupts the reader's flow, which is a problem in any book but more pronounced in a pacy action story. But then again I'm not a published author, so what do I know?

A couple of minor quibbles over a cracking book. Check it out!

Stat's The Way To Do It...

Here at HeroPress Towers, we are always trying to come up with new ways to entertain and inform our growing readership (in a geeky way, of course); and what better way than statistics! From now on, on a Saturday in the middle of each month, I will be publishing a brief breakdown of visitor statistics to the site ... probably with some half-baked analysis in between.

Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 17 March): 720
Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 22

Top 5 Countries of Origin:

  1. United Kingdom 43%
  2. United States 29%
  3. China 9%
  4. Canada 6%
  5. France 3%
Most Popular Entry Pages:
(ie. what brought people to the site)
For this, we can take it as read that the most popular "entry page" is always going to be either the current top story or just general browsing, but after that the pages that have brought the most readers to this site have been:

1. Stargate Closes For Business
2. This is Sparta!
3= Six Of The Best With FRED HICKS
3= Six Of The Best With GUTT WRENCH
5. Seven-and-a-Half Minutes of Spider-Man 3

No real suprises there, but again I'd like to thank again my two interviewees for taking the time to indulge me. Both of these pages have proved very popular - at one point Fred's interview was accounting for almost 50% of the traffic to HeroPress!

Friday, 16 March 2007

My Big Fat Geek Wedding...

On May 25, 1977, some bearded American chap premiered a little science-fiction film you may have heard of... and the world has never been quite the same again.

Now, 30 years later - by total coincidence as I don't think I chose the exact day, rather circumstance and availability of certain key guests - I'm getting married on this auspicious day in a "slightly" Star Wars-themed wedding.

I can't give away too many of the little Star Wars elements I've negotiated into the day, but bridesmaid Abbie's fears of spending the day in a wookiee costume are totally unfounded!

Rachel's been a very understanding fiancee, and - while she won't wear the Princess Leia slave costume - has agreed to some really nice touches that will sign the day with my geeky signature; because, let's face it, that's who I am!

Rachel's parents are really sweet as well, especially considering they know next to nothing about Star Wars (although they do usually find me some relevant merchandise for birthdays and Christmas') and are taking all my suggestions in good humour.

And to be honest, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with a 100% Star Wars wedding because I know a lot of the guests will be mystified by even the token gestures we've slipped in; a celebrant dressed as Darth Vader talking about "pledging your love in the light of The Force" might be a step too far.

My life-long passion for the Star Wars Universe goes in cycles anyway. A couple of years of manic collecting, then a purge of all the dross (leaving the really neat stuff), then binge again. We're just heading into a new wave of enthusiasm as the full impact of this double milestone hits me ... come on, it's got to mean something, hasn't it? The Force is clearly with us ...

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? No, It's A HeroClix!!!

Those genius' over at Gale Force Nine have done it again! This Daily Planet games table for Wizkid's DC HeroClix is a gamer geek's wet dream!

Once Rachel and I move, and I get my own 'fortress of solitude' (i.e. a games room) this is just the sort of thing I'll be building in there ... yeah, right, if only!

Even for those who haven't yet been tempted by the Clix drug, there tables by Gale Force Nine are gonna give you the itch.

Check out also:

Aliens vs Predator temple complex (HorrorClix)
Camp Wannabonkya (HorrorClix)
Stark Industries: Long Island Complex (Marvel HeroClix)

And all their other Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Mechwarrior etc tables. Oh, for bottomless pockets ...

Nerd Crush '07

Recently, online lad's mag Maxim.Com published its all-time "nerd crush" list of sci-fi heroines and comic book babes that us geeky blokes are supposed to get all hot under the collar about. The final verdict was:
  1. Carrie Fisher (Star Wars)
  2. Gillian Anderson (The X-Files)
  3. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix)
  4. Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica)
  5. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider computer game vixen)
  6. Famke Janssen (X-Men)
  7. Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager)
  8. Aeon Flux (comic book character)
  9. Jennifer Garner (Alias)
  10. Natasha Henstridge (Species)
We here at HeroPress are always looking for a bandwagon to jump on and, as we only agree with a couple of these names anyway, here's my own, patented Acrobatic Flea list!
  1. Keira Knightley (Pirates of The Caribbean)
  2. Alyson Hannigan (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  3. Mila Jovovich (Resident Evil)
  4. Bai Ling (Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow)
  5. Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1)
  6. Emma Caulfield (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
  7. Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica)
  8. Denise Richards (Starship Troopers)
  9. Sarah Douglas (Superman II)
  10. Sybil Danning (Battle Beyond The Stars)
Despite earlier comments on this blog about "Emma Frost", she didn't make the cut as I still have problems rating a drawing against a real person!
Honourable mentions probably also need to go to Jane Seymour for Sinbad & The Eye of The Tiger and Hannah Spearritt for her work on Primeval. Maybe next year ...

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The Dresden Files: Bad Blood

The latest issue of SFX (#155, April) reviews the early episodes of The Dresden Files and makes the same Charmed comparisons I did some time ago. It goes on to sum the show up as equal parts Charmed, X-Files, Supernatural, Medium and Angel with no unique identity of its own.

I guess we have been spoilt, as a geeky audience, with such masterpieces as the new Battlestar Galactica and Lost, but while Harry Dresden's ongoing adventures on TV still fall way short of these modern day giants of the small screen, tonight's Bad Blood episode went a small way towards making up some ground.

This was the dirty streets and shady warehouses (although they still looked like stage sets) that suit Harry's film noirish roots, mixed in with a cracking tale of vampires, hitmen and Thirdeye dealers (it's a supernatural drug, by the way).

Our much-battered hero - and he takes several meaty hits in this episode - is hired by Bianca, a vampire madam, to find out who's trying to have her assassinated, following a botched 'hit'. The all-powerful High Council (who oversee all things magical) are implicated and the story spins off from there.

Although Dresdenverse vampires seem pretty lame compared to, say, those in Blade, Bianca (Joanne Kelly) gets some snappy dialogue, as befits her past as a 1930's gangster's moll, but she is too creepy-looking to merit the tag of "most beautiful vampire" in Chicago - especially when you get the impression the show's makers wanted a Morena Baccarin-lookalike ( the sultry brunette from Firefly/Serenity and Stargate SG-1) for the role.

Nevertheless, this is the best episode to date (earning it a solid A Grade, just edging ahead of Hair of The Dog because it didn't involve the Chicago police force, but did give some more hints about Harry's dark history and the role of the High Council).

If The Dresden Files can keep this standard up, it could mature in a decent, second-string show. It's never going to be a Lost or Battlestar Galactica (unless it undergoes a major reboot), but it could be the next Stargate SG-1 or even Babylon 5 (remember the first season of that was pretty much 'monster-of-the-week' fodder). It just needs to find its hook - to keep pulling viewers back week-after-week.

Stargate Closes For Business ...

Well, that's it. SG-1 have stepped through the Stargate for the last time. Well, not really, the grand finale of Stargate SG-1 on Sky One last night actually only marks the end of the TV series and its move to direct-to-DVD releases, which, in a way, made it rather unsatisfactory.

"Unending" was a typical, quality episode of Stargate SG-1 and a strong conclusion to the show's TV life, but left major plot threads hanging (like the whole Ori war backstory; and whatever happened to the Tokra and the Goa'uld?), lacked the "big name" cameos one might have hoped for (e.g. where was Richard Dean Anderson and Don S Davis?) and had its central conundrum solved with the good, old, "travel back in time, everything will be okay, no one will remember" ploy (although, admittedly with a minor twist concerning T'ealc).

The final scene really marked it as a "series ender" and many of the set-pieces during the episode tackled character issues from throughout the show's run - it's just a shame they were all undone by the story's resolution. This would have made a great end of season episode any other year, but for the very last episode of an epic 10-year run, I'd have hoped the show's makers would have really pushed the boat out and hit us with something we'd never seen before. Not another 'bottle' episode; even if the stakes were pushed to the limit.

While it was satisfying to, at least, have a conclusion to the Asgard's story arc, even that, in the final telling, seemed a bit rushed given their longstanding involvement with the humans. Perhaps the show would have been better as a two-hour blow-out and not "just another episode".

Stargate SG-1 has proved in the past that it can do "big celebrations" to mark milestones - look at the brilliant and outrageous "200" - so why nothing particularly out of the ordinary for this episode?

"Unending" was very good, because in recent years Stargate SG-1 hasn't done many bad episodes, but it almost felt as though - because they knew the show was continuing in a different format - they didn't have to try and raise the bar.

At least we know the lovely Amanda Tapping (Lt Col Samantha Carter) is moving over to Stargate: Atlantis. Just a shame that show's mostly rubbish, really!

That said, "First Strike", tonight's season three finale for Stargate: Atlantis really pulled the stops out and was everything a pulp, sci-fi cliffhanger should be. So, I guess you can never tell...

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Seven And A Half Minutes Of Spider-Man 3!

A sneak peak ... courtesy of!

And Relax...

When your idea of reformatting a hard drive involves hitting it with a hammer until it stops playing up and you've just spent the hours of midnight to 4am salvaging all your precious files off your computer after a major league crash, thenthere's no better way to relax than a dose of Shaun The Sheep!

Served up in a five minute segments on BBC1 in the afternoon - during the Children's BBC slot - this is a dose of silliness from the people who brought us Wallace & Gromit. There's a definite Britishness about everything Aardman touches, but given the universal appeal of Wallace and his canine sidekick, Shaun should do even better as his adventures are dialogue free and told purely through visuals.

There is an engaging, cheeky innocence about Shaun and all his flock that makes them instantly engaging - especially when cast against mischevious, rap-loving pigs or psychotic bulls.

And I doubt anything will tickle my funny bone as much in the near future as the sight of three sheep disguised in a scarecrow's clothes catching a bus into town to order a pizza in the utterly bonkers episode entitled simply "Takeaway".

Monday, 12 March 2007

DVD(s) Of The Week: Pan's Labyrinth (2006) / The Prestige (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth was not what I was expecting at all. I had the impression that it was basically a dark fairy story, set against the background of Franco's Spain at the end of the Second World War. It's actually, first and foremost, a quite shocking - yet personal - war story, with the fantastical elements being almsot incidental.

While it shares some tropes with the slightly lighter Labyrinth and the twisted Alice In Wonderland, Pan's Labyrinth also has hints of The Shining and the darker horror that director Guillermo del Toro is often associated with.

Young Ofelia is sent to the country with her heavily pregnant mother to stay with her evil, sadistic step-father - an army captain. While he is off fighting the rebels in the hills, as they close in ever nearer to his estate, Ofelia stumbles into an old "labyrinth" in the woods, where she meets a magical and sinister faun (Pan). He tells Ofelia that she is the reincarnation of a magical princess and must complete three tasks before the next full moon to find her way back to the supernatural underworld where she really belongs.

Until the very end, we never know whether Pan can be completely trusted or even if he actually exists. While a significiant proportion of the film is viewed from Ofelia's perspective, much is also seen from the point of view of the wicked captain, Ofelia's mother and the rebels, so our perspective changes constantly from the fantastic to the starkly real. This may be a modern fairy story, but it's not meant for children: at least one scene (the captain sowing his face back up after it gets slashed by a rebel) is as hard to watch as the nail-pulling torture in Syriana.

The other great film out on DVD this week is The Prestige (in my humble opinion, the best film of 2006) , which I reviewed when it came out at the cinema. Here's what I wrote:

It's a rare film that Rachel and I will see and both like, let alone come out of the cinema raving about; but The Prestige is such a beast. A unique example of imaginative storytelling that doesn't rely on massive special effects (although there are some) and elaborate fight scenes (the ingredients, in my book, for a great movie), yet can still bemuse the mind and hold the attention until the 'great reveal' when everything you
thought you knew only turns out to be a half-truth at best.

A tale of feuding stage magicians - Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman - in turn-of-the-Century London, each trying to top the other's tricks as Jackman simultaneously seeks revenge on Bale for the death of his wife in an early escapology act.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, he of Memento and Batman Begins fame, you know you're in for a treat before you even take your seat, but this film has more twists and surprises than an episode of The Paul Daniels Magic Show.

Like any good trick, the audience should pay attention to every scene - but mustn't feel disappointed or cheated if they are caught up in the misdirection as that is all part of the routine. Christopher Nolan and his amazing cast, which also includes Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Andy Serkis and David Bowie as maverick inventor Nikolas Tesla, has given us a masterpiece which, in years to come, will be studied in film schools and held up as the standard for aspiring writers and directors to be measured against.

If this doesn't win awards then there's more wrong with the world than is obvious!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Six Of The Best With GUTT WRENCH

I first encountered the multi-talented writer/artist/editor who currently goes by the pseudonym Gutt Wrench about a decade ago, through a review in Arcane magazine of his outstanding Star Wars RPG fanzine The Jawa Melting Pot. His work in Star Wars fandom still stands as the benchmark by which I judge all other fan-generated material (and much professional material also).

He has subsequently served time as a professional games writer and artist, an editor on the only film script I ever sold (but that's another story entirely ...), and gamesmaster of several play-by-email games I've taken part in. And I've probably forgotten several other strings to his bow!

Gutt Wrench is currently focusing all of his enormous pool of creative energies into writing and illustrating a series of graphic novels - Army Reincarnate.

He can be reached at:

(1) How much are you prepared to tell us about the plot of Army Reincarnate Book 1: Ancient War Wounds?

I work in a non-linear fashion, with the artwork sometimes being created prior to the script and dialogue, or vice versa. Army Reincarnate has passed through a dozen drafts over the past 12 months, and is likely to evolve further until the day I consider it completed; the plot is therefore in constant flux, and difficult to provide a concise summation of.

However, I shall try! Ancient War Wounds is set in modern day England, and is both an examination and celebration of what it means to be English, from the earliest twilight centuries of Man's arrival, to the post-Imperial 21st Century. Ancient War Wounds - and the entire Army Reincarnate saga - is superficially an action-adventure piece with supernatural undertones. Peel back a little of the surface and we discover it to be a character-driven piece, its engine the ongoing conflicts between several generations of Englishmen (and women) and the widening rift between theology, faith and the secular state.

(2) When do you expect Army Reincarnate Book 1: Ancient War Wounds to be finished; and what are your publication plans/ambitions?

Ancient War Wounds will possibly be completed by Christmas 2007, to then either be published by a second party - or by myself if circumstances prove that route to be economically more favourable. Army Reincarnate is an open-ended concept that could well thunder along for years if my energy, enthusiasm and reader support persists.

It is conceived with the intent that it might one day be dramatised by a British television company, working within a budget I imagine would be meagre when compared to the likes of Russell T Davis' glossy Doctor Who revival.

I provisionally aspire to have the Army Reincarnate mythology expanded further into the realm of novels, which I would oversee as Creative Director, but leave the drudgery of the writing to more capable hands.

(3) Who are your artistic inspirations and which comics/graphic novels do you read regularly?

My very earliest artistic inspirations are the 1970s comic book artists of Marvel and DC Comics. I then fell under the spell of John Byrne when he worked on Alpha Flight (my favourite comic for many years), and also his Fantastic Four; I think there are remnants of Byrne's 1980s-era gritty/dirty style in my own artwork even to this day. I was entranced by Carmine Infantino's Star Wars work. In the 1970s and 1980s, icons of the British sci-fi anthology 2000AD: Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and Cam Kennedy. In the last couple of years I have increasingly appreciated Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko's efforts, devouring their corporate and more personal works.

Direct influences on Army Reincarnate? They are all British in conception, and all television shows: The Avengers (1960s spy satire), Sapphire and Steel (1980s time travel/horror) and House of Cards (adaptation of Andrew Dobbs' Machiavellian political novel starring the late, great Ian Richardson).

I borrowed the semi-mythic imagery of 'Golden Albion' from The Avengers, and the claustrophobic, paranormal horror of Sapphire and Steel; Ancient War Wounds' villains would feel right at home doing Francis Urquhart's bidding in the House of Commons - or challenging Urquhart himself.

(4) Given your gaming background is there any possibility that Army Reincarnate will spawn an RPG or an online game?

Army Reincarnate is more character-driven than action, so it wouldn't I think have much appeal as a roleplaying game. I have other projects in the pipeline that would work extremely well as roleplaying arenas, but if they were adapted so, I don't think I would have much input other than as a creative consultant; I felt restricted by the writing of 'how to write about fiction' rather than actually writing it.

(5) You wrote and illustrated several Star Wars RPG fanzines in the late 1990s (The Jawa Melting Pot and Star Wars Thrilogy), but ceased publication shortly after The Phantom Menace came out. Was this because of the film, or the fact that the Star Wars game licence swapped from West End Games' D6 system to Wizards of the Coasts' D20?

Neither. My Star Wars books were continually well-received, and considered by some to be more faithful to the style of the movies than the direction taken by West End Games; I approached WEG to produce some artwork for SWRPG, right before they went bankrupt.

When was developing SW Thrilogy #5 (The Phantom Menace sourcebook), continuity problems began to arise between my interpretations of Star Wars lore, and those of the prequel. I grew tired of constantly rewriting the sourcebook to accommodate canon from official tie-ins, to the point when I no longer felt I was masterminding a unique project. The pleasure had gone out of my little hobby, and it was time to move on to fresh pastures.

(6) As 2007 is Star Wars' 30th Anniversary, what would like to produce (if you had the time) - or see produced - to celebrate this landmark?

I'd love to see a proper DVD boxed set with all the deleted scenes worth viewing (those that run at least a minute in length), properly remastered and composited with movie-quality CGI to better fit them into the visual scheme of Star Wars.

I would like to see the Original Trilogy reworked in terms of special effects (none of that half-arsed Special Edition treatment) so that it no longer clashes with the high quality of the Prequels; particularly the effects in A New Hope. Here, I would love to see a more dramatic Obi-Wan/Vader duel, the removal of the 'Greedo Shoots First' revision, and the deletion of the CGI comedy moments during Luke's entry into Mos Eisley... a CGI cantina crowd would also be a treat.

The Empire Strikes Back would receive a more expansive Hoth battle sequence and the Wampa sub-plot reinstated, as well as some of the punchy deleted dialogue reinstated. Both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones would get totally new edits, and some of the rotten acting replaced with new dubs courtesy of skilled voiceover artists.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Vive La France!

Hooray for the French, I say! The American war-mongering media may have labelled them "surrender monkeys" back at the start of the Iraq war, but clearly our cross-channel cousins have been directing their creative impulses to more productive outlets than bombs and guns ...

Not only is my favourite board game (Formula De) of French origin, but also, my prepainted wargame of choice (AT-43) ...

And now, I am currently awaiting the arrival of Qin: The Warring States, a new wuxia roleplaying game from France, that had a rave review on Midnight's Lair. As this could well be the last roleplaying game I purchase (except, The Dresden Files RPG, of course ... there are always exceptions!) I wanted it to be something special. And, from what I understand, Qin is a fantastical swords and sorcery game in the style of some of my favourite films: Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers, Hero etc

Hopefully it'll make a bit more sense than Weapons of The Gods and Swords of The Middle Kingdom; both of which didn't seem to grasp that the fast style of play needed to simulate over the top martial arts and wild magic required slick, streamlined rules!

When I asked Nick the other night if we'd ever play another roleplaying game, he replied simply: "No!"; so it makes more sense to concentrate on the tabletop wargames anyway (they're more visually appealling for a start) and I've found over the years that the reality of roleplaying games is never as exciting as the "fantasy" - try watching a video of people roleplaying and compare it to the excitement and imagery of your favourite novel or film and you'll see what I mean.

I'd still like to find a new group to flex my old, tired roleplaying muscles, but at the moment, can't really see the point of throwing much more money away on books that only tease me with their possibilities, when I have no one to roleplay with. This will be an almost drugs-like obsession to kick, but I think by focusing on my other hobbies (particularly wargames) I'll finally be able to force the lid of that particular Pandora's Box closed!

As to Formula De, our 2007 season has stalled in the starting grid because of a "driver's strike over wages" (in the real world, Pete is studying for some professional qualification and doesn't have the time at the moment!)

Friday, 9 March 2007

DVD of The Week: Aliens (2000)

To 'celebrate' (in my own strange way) the release of Wizkids' Aliens Vs Predator Horrorclix figures, I thought it was time to dig out one of my all-time favourite monster movies for another viewing: Aliens.

I still find it hard to believe that when I saw the original cut in the cinema in 1986 I didn't like it! I'd gotten used to the single xenomorph in Ridley Scott's Alien being virtually indestructible and my 19-year-old brain found it hard to process these gun-totting marines mowing down bugs left, right and centre.

By the next time I saw it, I'd come to my senses!

In all its 2000 director's cut, two-and-a-half hour glory, Aliens is the definitive example of how to make a great science-fiction flick with just models, puppets and men in rubber suits.

Forget Titanic and finding "Jesus' tomb", this is what James 'King of The World' Cameron should be remembered for. He not only gave us a truly monumental "last stand" storyline, but a script peppered with one-liners that have become everyday parlance for geeks and university students around the world ("Game over!"; "Get away from her, you bitch!"; "Have you ever been mistaken for a man?" "No, have you?"; "Another glorious day in the corps"; "It's a bughunt"; etc etc etc .

Now I can't wait to crack open my pack of plastic aliens and start eating some scientists! I hope they bring out some marines ...

Death of a legend? [SPOILER alert!]

Can you feel the heat from your computer? That's the nerdfury setting aflame that corner of the Internet devoted to comic books, in the wake of Marvel Comic's shock assassination of Captain America in issue 25 of his own title.

This move seems to have caught the fans totally unprepared; unlike DC's Death of Superman in the 90s which was heralded months in advance. I'd had no idea this was coming until I saw it announced on Marvel's official website in the past few days. And since then the Internet has been on fire with an unprecedented outpourings of anger and annoyance at the House of Ideas.

Marvel's own forums has a 27-page (and growing) thread on what a bad idea this is ...

Ninety-nine per cent of posters are very unhappy with this post-Civil War development, with many threatening to drop most - or all - of their Marvel subscriptions and many others putting this on a par with flag burning at a time when American patriotism is a very touchy issue!

Personally I haven't seen the issue yet, but will judge it on its merits as a piece of storytelling and, as long as it is well written (and it is Ed Brubaker after all) will stick with it to see how it pans out. Of course, at the end of the day, we mustn't forget that this is a comic book and so there is every possibilty that the Steve Rogers gunned down by a sniper is, in fact, a clone, a Life Model Decoy (LMD) robot, an alternate universe Captain America or some other 'get out of jail free' card.

My own theory - again based on not having read the comic! - is that the whole thing has been staged and this Steve Rogers is an LMD supplied by Nick Fury (former head of SHIELD, now working underground) so that the real Steve Rogers can (for the time being) ditch his alter ego in the wake of the Civil War and reinvent himself until things cool down/the law changes etc Isn't there a new "mysterious" character in the underground incarnation of The New Avengers (Ronin) who could well be Cap/Steve Rogers?

"This is SPARTA!"

While Nick (who has a way with words) may believe that 300 will be a cross between "an army recruitment video and gay porn"; for me it's the most eagerly anticipated geek movie of the year - even more so than Spider-Man 3.

Based on Frank Miller's famous graphic novel, the trailers alone ooze "inspiration" for everything from role-playing games to wargames. And for the latter, it's a timeless scenario that works just as well in Games Workshop's Lord of The Rings or Warhammer 40,000 as it does for Ancient Chinese armies in Art of War, the 7th Cavalry in Legends of The Old West or the heroic forces of the United Nations of Ava in AT-43.

300 opens in the States today (Friday), but not here in the UK until March 23!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

At The Flea Pit: Ghost Rider (2007)

As superhero movies go, Ghost Rider is more Fantastic Four than Spider-Man, but still with enough wiggle room for some trademark Nic Cage gestures and goofy cool. It is the stereotypical Faustian tale of a young motorcycle stunt rider - Johnny Blaze (Cage) - selling his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to save a loved one, and becoming the Devil's bounty hunter as a result.

In his new supernatural role, Blaze gets one of the most striking and iconic make-overs of the Marvel Universe - the flaming skull, the twisted Gothic motorbike, the chains etc - and takes to his role as Ghost Rider with great gusto.

While Fonda's Devil is the main antagonist, he's not the one getting into fisticuffs with Ghost Rider, that's left to his son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley) and his super-powered goons. Unfortunately these minions make the schoolboy error of trying to take on our flaming hero one-at-a-time, leading to inevitable defeat.

Sam Elliot (Thunderbolt Ross from The Hulk) also turns up as the enigmatic Caretaker, a mentor figure for Blaze who surprises no one in his ultimate revelation of his role as the previous Ghost Rider. What is strange - and a bit pointless - is his spectacular cross-country ride alongside Blaze to the final showdown with Blackheart. Then, once he gets there, he turns round and says: "Right, I'm going now" and disappears off. What was that all about?

Another area where style won out over content is the amount of collatoral damage that Ghost Rider's "hellbike" causes - burning up roads, blasting out windows, incincerating small animals etc Although it looks really good, it does rather limit Ghost Rider's ability to perform as a hero!

Ghost Rider isn't the smartest of comic book flicks, but it doesn't insult your intelligence. It does just what it says on the tin. This is more your Saturday morning serial kind of storytelling than the indepth character stuff we get from, say, Spider-Man. It's all about the action and thrills and in these departments it certainly delivers.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

The Dresden Files: Rules of Engagement

No matter how much The Dresden Files TV series tries to be a supernatural version of the Rockford Files, it still comes over as a detective version of Charmed!

Tonight's episode - Rules of Engagement - was a pretty decent, turnaround on the cliched "deal with the devil" scenario - oddly similar to the plot of Ghost Rider which I saw earlier this evening and will review tomorrow. Harry is hired to track down a missing con artist only to find him dead from a nasty case of Hellfire exposure (see above) ... and things spiral out of control from there.

But as the show's makers continue to scrimp on the effects budget, no amount of clever subtle, small-scale magic, can make up for the fact that demons and monsters appear in their human forms for 99% of the time. You could use some sort of "they walk among us in secret" argument, but it's also a major cop out!

This week we were introduced to a couple of big wheels in the city's magical circles who will hopefully return to bug our hero and, as with last weeks, we are given intriguing hints of the structured nature of the powers they all wield.

It is this interest in the Dresdenverse that brings us back each week, rather than the individual stories which, barring last week's werewolf tale, have all been pretty humdrum to date.

Rules of Engagement merits a B- grade.

Steampunk Star Wars, Anna Xian and Six Of The Best ...

(1) I'd like to thank Clare over at Three Beautiful Things for bringing Steampunk Star Wars to my attention. This is some beautiful art, reimagining the Classic Trilogy in a more Victorian style.

(2) This is a day of mourning for fans of Anna Xian (pictured left) - my plucky Chinese aviatrix in Jeff Mejia's online roleplaying game Swords of Skartaris. Sadly, just 24 hours after I pulled the plug on Knight City, Jeff did the same on his online game, for similar reasons, leaving Anna and her team stranded in the "hollow Earth". This will, however, allow Jeff more time to work on his main project - a self-published swords and sorcery role-playing game system, Legends of Steel.

(3) My popular Six Of The Best interview segment continues this weekend with writer/artist Gutt Wrench talking about his forthcoming graphic novel and then two weeks later I'll be chatting with Jeff about Legends of Steel.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Give Blade A Chance!

As a fan of the Wesley Snipes-fronted Blade trilogy of films, I was gutted to discover that the spin-off TV series had been sunk after only 13 episodes. Blade: The Series is currently showing on Bravo in the UK and has just shown episode eight (Sacrifice).

Given the amount of other drivel that seems to run and run on TV - both here and in the US - I can't believe that a well-made, exciting show like Blade didn't have the legs to run to a second series, at least.

Sure, Kirk Jones isn't going to win any awards for his portrayal of Blade, but then again the character isn't written as a particularly sensitive or emotional person; and there may be some episodes where his presence is almost peripheral, but the show - although carrying his name - is an ensemble piece.

As with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, not every episode was about Buffy and look at 24 and actually count up how many minutes Jack Bauer is on screen every week.

The writers of Blade were weaving a multi-textured plot that was perhaps just too complex for the viewing audience - we had the politics of the various vampire houses; Krista's infiltration of the House of Cthon; the rogue FBI agent chasing the vampire psycho Boone across the country; the exploration of Blade's past; to name but a few of the main threads - and, like so many promising shows these days who are staked before their time, I doubt all be satisfactorily resolved in the next five episodes.

So I say: enjoy it while you can. If you liked the films (or even the original Marvel comic books), or Buffy, or just gritty urban fantasy in general, I think you'll probably enjoy Blade: The Series.

The Ultimate Fan Films ...

Batman: Dead End

World's Finest - Batman & Superman

Another case of people having too much time and too much talent!

Monday, 5 March 2007

Less Than Ten Days Until The Return of Buffy ...

Two reasons to mark March 14 of your calendar - it's the birthday of my friend Paul, who will be best man at my forthcoming wedding, and the day that Buffy The Vampire Slayer returns to life ... again.

When Buffy walked away from the remains of Sunnydale at the end of Chosen, the final epsiode of the seventh season of the epic TV series, and the actors went off to pursue their own, non-Buffy careers, we all kinda assumed that that was the "official" end to the chronicling of the vampire slayers' life.

And for a long time it was. Until Buffy's creator, Joss Whedon decided to bring her - and the Scooby gang - back in comic format. Yes, that's right, an offical, canon, continuation of the legend by the man who started it all in the first place!

Buffy: Season 8, from Dark Horse, begins in nine days and counting ...

We'll get to see how Buffy handles her responsibility for the thousands of newly empowered Slayers (created by Willow's magical spell in Chosen), how Xander mourns his beloved Anya, how Giles is getting on reforming the Watchers Council and so on.

It is only fitting that Buffy, a character who has returned from the dead several times, an old comic book cliche if ever there was one, should end up as a comic book character - I'm choosing to ignore earlier Dark Horse comics as (a) they weren't canon and (b) generally they were pretty poor, "monster-of-the-week" stories where the universe had to be 'reset' at the end of every story because of reason (a).

Joss has recently found a degree of fame - if not wealth - in his comic book sideline as the writer of the hugely popular Astonishing X-Men and the forthcoming Runaways, and you only have to have watched a few episodes of Buffy to know that he is as big a geek as the rest of us.

At least 25 issues are planned for Season 8 and then, depending on fan reaction and sales, what ... Season 9?

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Top Of The Pile: The Amazing Spider-Man #538

For almost a year I've been intrigued to see how Marvel's hero-versus-hero Civil War would play out. However, I never expected it to degenerate into a rather anti-climatic super-powered playground brawl (Civil War #7).

I guess I'd hoped for something clever from Mark Millar, more akin to the ending of its companion title Front Line (#11) with the "unmasking" of the traitor in the pro-registration ranks. The irony here being that Front Line had been comparatively lacklustre up until this point and Civil War had appeared to be building to "something big".

In The Amazing Spider-Man #538, J.Michael Straczynski tells the story of this final scrap from the perspective of Spider-Man and his supporting cast - without giving away the final result (which was really never in any doubt, unless Marvel had some Dr Strange-sized deus ex machina up its sleeve).

Even without revealing the outcome of the Civil War - and JMS gets round this with a variety of smart tricks - this is a far more powerful conclusion to Marvel's big "event" of 2006/2007; and doesn't just read like a thin excuse to radically change (hopefully only for the short-term) how superheroes operate in the Marvel Universe.

Amazing Spider-Man #538 is character-driven and thus the issue's final page is a blinder! This really suggests that dark times are ahead for Peter Parker - hence the new "Back In Black" story arc that will be running across across all the Spider-Man titles; all far more interesting, personal and dramatic than the "superhero army" story that appears to be taking over the bulk of Marvel's output at the moment.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Time For A Tea Break...

Podcast Reviews AT-43...

The All About Miniatures podcast ran a generally positive review of AT-43 this month, but a few comments they made prompted me to fire off the following email:

... was very interested in your review of AT-43, as I picked up a copy at our local gaming con last weekend (thanks to a great sales pitch from one of the traders) and fell in love with it instantly. As someone who can't paint a figure to save his life, but has spent years leafing through White Dwarf looking with envy and amazement at the paintjobs contained within, it is a godsend.

I currently pay a small fortune to have my figures professionally painted. It takes awhile, but they are always worth the wait, and my main painter is very economical compared to many out there. However, AT-43 will save me a fortune, because, to my eyes, the figures are already very well painted and sculpted (far better than most Clix or other collectible miniatures) and comparitively good value. As you rightly pointed out they are ready painted miniatures for the price of Games Workshop's unpainted minis.

You made a comment about rules clarity though that I have to disagree with. While the rules, although simple, are not the easiest of reads, there is a summary of the entire rule system after the last of the scenarios. At least there was in my printing of the rule book.

Rackham seems to have a solid release schedule over the next few months, which will probbably continue through the year and beyond; with two factions on the horizon: one pseudo-Soviet and other giant apes! I am convinced that given time this game will give Warhammer 40K a run for its money - but we have to remember 40K has been around for several decades, so has quite a head start!

The Steel Troopers are among Rackham's new releases for this month.


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