Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, Sci-fi, Star Stuff, Scares, Silliness, Smeg, Swords, Sorcery, and the Supernatural

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Time For A Break...

We're moving soon and so the computer and all the technical jiggery-pokery will be packed away and reassembled in the new base of operations at some stage.

And just when we were hitting a healthy 61 unique visitors a day average!

That means no more Torchwood reviews (sorry, guys), book/comic/podcast reviews, game updates etc for a while.

This hiatus may last a week, it may last months (there is work to be done and I doubt my computer/Internet access will be a top priority against having somewhere to prepare food or making sure the lounge ceiling isn't falling down), but keep checking back every so often.

In the meantime visit the sites promoted in the RSS feeds on the right hand side... and tell 'em the Flea sent you!

Thank you all for your interest and support over the last year and a bit - I'll see you y'all soon.

(Please note this isn't really Rachel and I, but a humorous representation of the fact that she will be doing the majority of the work!)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Seven Days To 'Gamesroom' And Counting...

Today has been one of the most stressful days of my life! We were supposed to exchange contracts on our new house last Friday, then we were told Monday, then Wednesday and then today... but all with a completion/moving date of next Friday.

The time was ticking away; the removal men needed to know so we didn't lose our "slot" - in the end Rachel said we should pay them even though nothing was confirmed, just to make sure (if it went through) we had someone to help us move.

There were more and more last minute delays - we were being told of faxes needing to be sent and telephone calls being made and everyone saying they had done all they could... then at 4.15 we get the call.

It had all gone through!

I'm now just a week away from getting my gamesroom...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Clodius Want Mead. Mead Good!

For our "Gary Gygax Memorial" session of Castles & Crusades this evening round at Nick's, we quaffed some mead and helped Clare generate her character - Clodius - for my forthcoming Tekralh campaign.

Clodius (pictured above on the right) is an illiterate, monosyllabic, escaped slave from the island of Zenn (the island of warrior-women) with a violent temper, unromantic outlook on life, distrust of females and overpowering survival instinct.

Arriving in the capitol city of the Five Kingdoms - Eriu - he was tricked into buying a donkey (thinking he was buying a fine horse), then stumbled upon Feng Ying, the gnomish monk (above left), begging for alms outside a Dydaxian soup kitchen.

The wise gnome immediately saw a kindred lost spirit in the disgruntled fighter and took it upon himself to become the young man's mentor. First stop - the tavern for some refreshment!

Clodius, like Feng Ying, isn't particularly gifted in the statistics department - being a fairly mediocre character according to his numbers as rolled (Clare managed to score some spectacularly low numbers, even choosing the best three from 4d6 each time!) - but I have every confidence she will play him to the hilt.

I think both Nick and Clare were quite eager to get "adventuring" straight away, but I had nothing prepared beyond the initial character creation process - and the 14.5% proof mead was fogging my little brain - so I have left them eager for more.

The real adventure begins once my gamesroom is set up in the new house and the world of Tekralh is officially open for business.

Only A Year To Go...

Exactly a year today until the Watchmen movie opens!

Check out Zack Snyder's production blog for the first pictures of some of the main characters in costume, namely The Comedian, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach and Silk Spectre.

Very sweet!

Dungeons & Dragons 4e: Swag!!!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Torchwood: A Day In The Death

For a programme with such pedigree and potential, Torchwood generally fails to reach the heights of televisual greatest, preferring to tread water in the shallows of mediocrity and wasted opportunities.

However, A Day In The Death - an Owen-centric episode focussing on his attempts to come to terms with his new 'state' of existance - is a stroke of genius.

Held together by Burn Gorman's superb performance as the "dead" Doctor Owen Harper and intertwined with a roof-top conversation between Owen and a woman on the edge of suicide, it's a clever, thoughtful and moving story by Torchwood newcomer Joseph Lidster.

Owen is dead and not loving it; taken off of active duty and reduced to making coffee for the team - who are investigating a reclusive, Howard Hughes-like alien artifact collector - he is bored and bitter. He vents his spleen on the lovely heartbroken Tosh (Naoki Mori), tries to drown himself and discovers all the many, varied downsides to being dead.

When Team Torchwood discover the artifact collector's home is protected by body heat sensors, Owen steps up...

A nice guest appearance from Richard Bryers rounds out this superb episode - up there with the first season's Out Of Time as one of the best yet.

My one gripe with A Day In The Death - which carries over from last week - is that Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman from Doctor Who) was brought in two weeks ago, amid big media fanfare, and then after her first episode was promptly relegated to an ancillary role which any character could have filled.

As this was her last episode with Torchwood, it just seemed a bit of a waste of a star character, although clearly she couldn't compete with a major three-episode Owen Harper story arc!

Book Of The Month: Slaine - Book Of Invasions (Volume 1)

I have always enjoyed dipping in and out of 2000AD, the weekly British sci-fi comic, ever since I picked up the first issue - with free frisbee - in 1977.

Like many people I am a big fan of the title's flagship character - Judge Dredd - but the character that brings me back more often than not, and has had a major influence on my roleplaying games over the last couple of decades, is Slaine.

Slaine Mac Roth is a muscular, tattooed, wandering Celtic barbarian, in the style of Conan, who travels a mythical Ancient Earth fighting Lovecraftian demons and monsters; often with his snivelling, untruthworthy, dwarven sidekick Ukko.

The Books of Invasions was a major story arc that I think began in 2003. Slaine was settled in as High King of Ireland with a lovely wife and a grown son and things were good... until the evil Fomorian fish demons returned to try to usurp Slaine and claim Ireland for their own.

Things go from bad to worse when they are followed by a band of demon-bound Atlanteans who also seek to reclaim Ireland as one of their former holdings.

2000AD creator and first editor Pat Mills' writing is like poetry, it trips off the page and into your brain. He gives the demons a wonderful, evil, condescending air that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

But what sets The Book Of Invasions apart from earlier Slaine stories is the breathtaking artwork of Clint Langley.

Probably an acquired taste, the only way I can described it is to say: try to imagine a photo story from a teen magazine, but the photographs are all strapping barbarians and demons, electronically doctored in Photoshop. It is a stunning blend of pure digital art and photo-manipulation, with vivid colours and gallons of atmosphere.

It's mindblowing, beautiful, intricate and absorbing. When you hit a full-page picture - or even a double-page spread - in your reading you just have to stop and take a moment to study the masterpiece in your hands.

Until I picked up a copy of 2000AD in Smiths several years ago I had never seen anything like it, but now I can't imagine Slaine depicted any other way.

This 96-page hardback, full-colour, book collects the first two 'chapters' of the epic story and leaves us on a mighty cliffhanger. The last 10 pages of the book are full-page examples of Cliff Langley's art, including some cover illustrations from 2000AD during this story's run.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Gary Gygax - R.I.P.

It's a sad day for gamers across the world. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and one of our hobbies' most colourful characters has passed away, aged 69.

I'm just one of millions of geeks whose imagination was given free reign by this this man's creation. It would be no exaggeration to say that he played a large part in making me the man I am today. I owe him (and Dave Arneson, his fellow creator) more than words can express.

Thank you, Gary. You'll be missed.

For more information see here and here.

DVD Of The Week: Air Guitar Nation (2008)

Early in the 21st Century, the Americans discovered that the rest of the world was getting on quite nicely without them and had been holding "air guitar" championships in Finland since the mid-90s.

Naturally, being Americans, something had to be done about this!

Air Guitar Nation is a wonderful, uplifting, funny documentary about America's quest for homegrown air guitar talent and then the journey of two competitors to Olou in Finland for the world championships.

The world championships were created with the simple belief that "if everyone has an air guitar in their hands, they can't hold a gun or a rifle".

This isn't a mockumentary; this is real! And it's incredible. Soft spoken nerds transform in to rock gods in front of your very eyes by adopting a stage persona and picking up an imaginary guitar to mime to CDs.

We've all done it in the privacy of our homes - and sometimes, after a few beers, in the middle of a nightclub - but the world finals puts the 10 most limber and nimble fingered mime artists on a stage in front 5,000 people. And they rock!

I would never have heard of this documentary if not for Superproducer Billy Flynn singing its praises on Geeklabel Radio several weeks ago, but I am now passing on the message: I cannot recommend this DVD highly enough.

I sat through the whole thing grinning from ear to ear, occasionally laughing out loud and being genuinely moved by the camaraderie of the competitors and the general good-natured attitude of all involved.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to slap a Manics CD in the stereo and tune up my own air guitar...

Monday, 3 March 2008

Gordon May Be Alive But My Brain Is Dead...

The new Flash Gordon TV series limped onto the Sci-Fi Channel this evening, and despite the critical drubbing it has taken from all quarters I felt almost obliged to give it a "fighting chance".

The pilot was preceded by an hour-long documentary on the history of Flash Gordon, from his origins as a 1930s newspaper stript (created as a foil to the popularity of Buck Rogers), then his transformation into the sublime Buster Crabbe film serials and so on, through cartoons and a a pretty mediocre 1950's serial, up to classic movie from 1980.

Clearly no-one responsible for this new TV show watched this documentary, or even spoke to anyone who knows anything about Flash. One of the key points the documentary made was that Flash Gordon was about an everyday American jock going off to exotic planets and meeting exotic aliens.

Where were these exotic planets and aliens this evening? Our brief glimpses of Mongo just looked like Canadian fields we see in every US drama series - just shot through a colour filter - and all the interiors seemed to be shot in a dark warehouse, while the only creature that looked vaguely alien was some sort of robot that had stepped off the set of The Power Rangers and decided to attack Flash's mum.

I could ramble on and on about how poor this show was - how ridiculously miscast John Ralston is as Ming The Merciless (he has a full head of hair, for Pete's sake!); how drippy Eric Johnson is as Steven 'Flash' Gordon (his acting range runs the gamut from mild bewilderment to constipated); how shoddy a lot of the effects are; how poor the script is; and so on and so on. But you probably know all this anyway.

It was everything I feared it would be from the brief trailer I saw back in August.

The creators should be taken out and shot for wasting such a brilliant opportunity. The "true" Flash Gordon story, which could survive and thrive easily with a decent 21st Century makeover, has been totally neutered. Anything that was original has been thrown out for cheap rehashes of old sci-fi cliches.

Gone are the glorious space ships, instead we have "portals" between dimensions (that we can see every day in reruns of Primeval or Sliders and probably countless other, better, sci-fi shows).

Gone are the fancy alien costumes of Ming and his court; instead they all dress in Matrix cast-off trench coats... and while, on paper, someone might have thought it was "cool" for Ming's scientist Rankol (Jonathan Walker) to "glide" everywhere in his long coat, in practice it just looks silly.

I don't want to rant on, but I can't stop myself. The whole episode revolved around the hunt for an artifact known as the "Imex" (and, not as Rachel and I thought for the longest time, the "Imax"... which is, of course a cinema chain).

Hopefully I'm not spoiling things by saying this turns out to the Timex watch Flash's father gave him over a decade earlier and he has seemingly worn ever since. The thing is, it clearly didn't work - but if you moved the hands to a certain position the back pops off, glows blue and shoots out weird alien holography things.

Do they really expect us to believe in all those years Flash never fiddled with the watch, tried to wind it or even take it to be repaired? I think he might have noticed if all that stuff kicked off!

The one, possible, redeeming feature of the show was - as might have been expected by anyone with a knowledge of Flash Gordon lore - Ming's daughter, Aura, played by Anna Van Hooft, who scrubbed up quite nicely. But it was way too little, too late.

HeroPress Goes To The Polls!

The readership of HeroPress has spoken, in the first offical HeroPress survey, and the majority have declared you are jonesing for the new Indiana Jones.

When asked what "geeky event" you were most looking forward to in 2008, 36 per cent went for the release of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. This narrowly kept ahead of the 31 per cent of you eager for another appointment with the Doctor.

Doctor Who Season Four is due to take off on our screens later this month with a packed programme including the return of Donna (Catherine Tate), Martha (Freema Agyeman, currently in Torchwood) and maybe, even, Billie Piper... as well as the Ood and the Sontarans!

In third place, came the new Batman film, The Dark Knight, with 14 per cent of the vote, followed by the Iron Man movie with nine per cent.

Heroically bringing up the rear of "geek things you are looking forward in 2008" was the launch of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Only eight per cent of HeroPress redaers expressed an interest in this, but to be honest hardcore D&Ders aren't the main readership of this site - there are many far better informed D&D related blogs and websites out there (several of which are listed to the right in my RSS feeds).
I must confess, that following Dane of War's sneaky peak at the latest preview material for 4e and several other news items I've read, I'm actually quite stoked about this game.

I doubt I would ever run or play this game (it is Dungeons & Dragons in name only these days - having more in common with World of Warcraft than old school tabletop gaming), but many, many of the rules changes I've heard about have really piqued my interest as possible innovative "house rules" for my own Castles and Crusades' game.

The pdf of the latest iteration of my Tekralh Castles & Crusades' background material can be downloaded here. (It's about 3.5MB, so far - 26 pages, illustrated and in full colour... and growing!)
The second official HeroPress poll looked at the continuation of the Star Wars phenomenom, namely George Lucas' plans to bring not one, but two, televised incarnations of the multi-billion dollar franchise to our screens - one animated and one live-action.

However, if our poll is anything to go by, the Lucasfilm publicity machine needs to be getting out there informing people and winning hearts and minds. The majority of respondents either didn't know about the planned TV versions of Star Wars (30 per cent) or didn't care (23 per cent).

An overwhelming majority of those who did know and care were more interested in the live-action series (30 per cent), over the Clone Wars animated series (nine per cent) or both (six per cent).

Clone Wars, unlike the popular earlier Clone Wars cartoons, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, are three-dimensional computer animations resembling more stylised versions of the characters (as pictured above); similar in style to the latest CGI version of Captain Scarlet or cut scenes from a modern video game.

As I understand it, Clone Wars is to be released first as a 'film' in North American cinemas on August 14 and will then be show episodically on Cartoon Network.

The live-action series isn't due to debut until late 2009, with Boba Fett forming a pivotal part of the story... although there will be no Skywalkers we are told.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Bottom of The Pile: Immortal Iron Fist - Orson Randall And The Green Mist Of Death

For 13 issues, including an annual, the writing team of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have been producing not only one of Marvel's best comics, but one of the best comics around: The Immortal Iron Fist.

With several mentions in the Top of The Pile column over the last year, beginning in January 2007 with the first two issues, there can be no disputing my passion for this title.

Which is why this special issue - Orson Randall And The Green Mist Of Death - comes as such a sucker-punch.

With Fraction flying solo on this title, it is immediately clear where the talent lies in that partnership.

I was expecting more of the pulp era goodness we got in the annual, but instead we get a mundane, uninspired plot stretched needlessly over four short stories - the first three, ultimately, being redundant.

The first part of the tale begins in a 1920s speakeasy, with Orson Randall (the Golden Age Iron Fist) and his compadres, the Confederates Of The Curious, then lurches forward to the Wild West (surely going backward in time?) followed by an episode involving Frankenstein (surely even further back in time?) before the real story unfolds in the final act, which looks like it is set in the 1960s.

The 'big reveal' just wasn't as dramatic as the comic had been building it up to be and really didn't justify the need for three prior stories - all of which were basically just fight sequences in different locales and times.

As is the way in Iron Fist - and usually it has worked without question - different artists drew the action in different time frames, however Russ Heath's scribbles in the Wild West section are some of the worst art I've ever seen in a mainstream superhero comic.

It just looks like some school kids' doodles! I'm no artist, but even I could tell the figures were all wrong... and let's not even dwell on the busty cowgirls in their stripper costumes!

None of the artwork is particularly outstanding, although the Frankenstein sequence is probably the most striking - even if the story comes a close second to the Wild West one for shallowness.

Orson Randall And The Green Mist Of Death was a very sorry affair, that could have been brilliant had it actually played with the pulp tropes thrown up in the annual, but thankfully Brubaker returns to the mix in the next issue of the main title and hopefully we can write this particular issue off as a bad dream.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Top Of The Pile: Zorro #1

With their splendid minimalist retelling of the origin story of The Lone Ranger, Dynamite proved they could embrace pretty much any genre in their stable of quality titles.

Sticking to similar territory, with storyteller supreme Matt Wagner in the driving seat, Zorro sets out to give us a fresh perspective on the first masked vigilante - Diego De La Vega.

Wagner's story cleverly cuts between Diego's youth and - in the current time frame of the comic - a harrassed Mexican soldier telling his colleagues about a "supernatural fiend" who ambushed his patrol.
With artwork reminiscent of something from an old issue of Classics Illustrated, the tension never lets up as the story builds to the big reveal. Only it's not the face (or mask) of Zorro... but his bloody mark; the iconic 'Z' carved on the soldier to let everyone know that Zorro has arrived on the scene.

With all that foreshadowing, the fact that we still haven't seen Zorro - only shadowy glimpses - makes the anticipation of the next issue even greater.

I'd like to see Zorro run as a title; the idea obviously has legs because it has endured through multiple media over the last century. Hopefully it will hit a more regular schedule than The Lone Ranger, but that's probably quite doubtful!

With two great Western titles now under their belt, you have to wonder where Dynamite will head next.
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