Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

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

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Trolls Are Coming!

Troll-crossing - Norwegian road sign

Many thanks to

Incentive To Greatness...

My recently announced Villains & Vigilantes campaign for the Tuesday Knights has received a big thumbs up from an unexpected source - namely the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of the Villains & Vigilantes Universe: Jack Herman and Jeff Dee.

All HeroPress posts are echoed over on my Facebook page and not only did Messrs Herman and Dee both click on the "like" button for my announcement there, but Jack wrote: "Thanks, Tim! Jeff and I are honored!"

So, no pressure then? Just got to create a campaign that does the system justice in the eyes of its creators...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Accept No Imitation!

A second, later, magazine advertisement for Villains & Vigilantes from the good, old days - this one featuring Jeff Dee artwork dated 1984.

I realise these old ads were for the FGU iteration of V&V but I'd love to, one day, see Monkey House Games (the new publishers of the greatest superhero RPG ever) adopting a similar style of advert - both for the nostalgia factor and the fact that I think there's real value in giving potential customers a taste of the game before they even crack open the rule book.

The End Is Nigh...

(BEWARE SPOILERS if you have yet to see The Coming Of Arthur - Part One)

The promotional blurb from the BBC for The Coming of Arthur - Part Two (this Saturday, 7.40pm) says it all: "Queen Morgana begins a reign of terrible evil over the innocent citizens of Camelot. With Morgause's immortal army at her command, it seems there is no hope for Uther, who must watch his Kingdom crumble under the unimaginable cruelty of his own daughter.

"Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Camelot, Arthur regains his strength and, with Gwaine, Lancelot, Elyan and Percival at his side, plans a brave counter-attack. But Merlin knows that even Arthur cannot vanquish an immortal foe. Can he recover the great sword Excalibur from the Lake of Avalon in time to save Arthur from certain doom?"

It's Back! More Powerful Than Ever!

Back in 1982, Villains & Vigilantes (second edition - hence the "it's back") had the coolest adverts in The Dragon magazine.

Just look - they were giving you a FREE character to use (Skyhawk), complete with statistics and powers... as well as a taste of the game's system, for those who had yet to invest $6 in the core rules book.

Note also the promotion of the adventures Death Duel With The Destroyers and The Island Of Doctor Apocalypse - both of which, it was recently announced, are being rereleased next year by Monkey House Games and author Bill Willingham.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Merlin: The Coming of Arthur - Part One

Perhaps I'm just slow on the uptake, but something only just struck me about Merlin's Camelot this week - the total absence of any Medieval Christian iconography, priests, archbishops, churches, cathedrals etc so often associated with the Arthurian myths

It was the euphemistic renaming of what appears to be the mythical 'Holy Grail' in this week's story to The Cup Of Life that tipped me off; I can't believe I didn't spot it before.

Of course, that realisation paints Uther Pendragon in a different light, as you realise he is a force for rational thought, taking a stand against the Old Pagan Religion and the forces of magic not out of any religious zealotry but simply because it is dangerous.

Sadly, for Uther, that revelation comes a bit late as the finale of this season draws near and, learning of the existence of the powerful artifact - the Cup - in the hands of the druids, he dispatches his son, Arthur, to retrieve it.

Venturing undercover in to the land of Camelot's enemy, Cenred (Tom Ellis), where the druids are hiding, Arthur and Merlin are captured by slavers.

In captivity they meet up again with Gwaine (Eoin Macken), who helps all three of them escape.

The peaceful druids willingly hand over the Holy Grail Cup of Life to Arthur, but with dire warnings of its power.

Soon afterward our heroic trio are ambushed by Cenred's men, Arthur is wounded (and poisoned with magic-resistant poison) and the Cup is stolen.

Cenred, of course, is in league with the sorceress Morgause (Emilia Fox), sister of Morgana, ward of Uther Pendragon. Morgause uses the Cup's magic to transform Cenred's army into immortals and then marches on Camelot.

By the time Arthur, Gwaine and Merlin hobble back to Camelot, the castle and kingdom have fallen and all seems lost.

The Coming Of Arthur - Part One was everything you could hope for from a fantasy, Arthurian serial with sword fights and magic aplenty. And FINALLY - after all these years - Morgana gets to play her hand and now, surely, there can be no take-backs, no giant reset button.

The story of Merlin has reached a crucial turning point and by the end of next week's episode (the conclusion of this season) nothing will ever be the same again. I suspect we might even see at least one unexpected death - although the power of The Cup Of Life could come into play there.

While the sight of Morgause's legions of immortal soldiers on the march suggested a rerun of the epic battle scenes we saw at the start of this season, our point-of-view stayed with Arthur and Merlin and so we only saw the devastating aftermath... and the jaw-on-the-floor shocking cliffhanger.

As we bite our nails and chew our lips waiting for next week's episode I recommend visiting the blog of Merlin co-producer Rachel Knight (not my wife), for some behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the show (but no mention of religion!)

Here Is The News...

GOOD NEWS:  Lulu is offering its UK customers 25% off any order - but only until Monday! That makes this weekend the perfect time to pick up those 'print-on-demand' books you've been putting off snagging... such as the Villains & Vigilantes 2.1 rulebook from Monkey House Games.

Just remember to enter the code CYBERUK305 when prompted at check out.

BAD NEWS: From Midnight of the fantastic Midnight's Lair forum: "Midnights Lair was hacked and as a result was shut down by the host to protect the server from malicious code. They are investigating it but I will not be able to do anything about it until Sunday afternoon."

Getting Under Superman's Skin...

Die Laughing
is a clever eight-minute fan film pitting Superman in a head-to-head battle-of-wits with The Joker.

Although self-contained, it is the concluding story of an eight-part run of Joker-centric films entitled the 'Mr J' series.

Thanks to The Heretic's Blog for drawing this film to my attention.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Mortal Engines... The Wargame?

Part of Spartan Games' new steampunk line of wargame miniatures, Dystopian Wars.

These were drawn to my attention by my good friend David - pulp aficionado, miniatures sculptor and blogger - for their similarities to my beloved World Of Mortal Engines, the epic series of sci-fi novels by Philip Reeve about 'traction cities' prowling a blasted wilderness on a far future Earth.

I've long thought these novels were prime material for gaming - either as a wargame (city, literally, clashing against city) or a background for a cool roleplaying game.

The miniature at the front - with the dome of St Paul's on it - in particular caught my eye... because what I really need right now is a whole new range and scale of miniatures to add to my shopping list!

Compare them to this picture by WoME illustrator, David Wyatt, and I think you'll see where we're coming from...

It's not a perfect match, the miniatures don't have quite the grandeur of Reeve's traction cities, but it's the closest I've yet seen and would certainly serve as a starting point for a homebrewed game.

Indie Comics Magazine Premieres in January Previews (Press Release)

PRESS RELEASE: "Indie Comics Magazine is 64 pages of the best story and art from today's independent comic book creators," Editor Gary Scott Beatty announced today. "It's also a valuable resource for anyone interested in the world of independent comics."

Each issue will feature eight full stories from eight different creators, said Beatty. The first issue is scheduled for preorder in Diamond Comic Distributors' January 2011 Previews catalog and is available only through Previews.

"It's important to read done-in-one stories," said Beatty, "to get a feel for what these creators can do."

Short biographies and contact information are included with the stories so readers can easily seek out more of the creators' work.

"The sheer number of comic books, graphic novels and online entertainment available today is overwhelming," Beatty explained. "We help readers cut through the reviews and hype to experience these creators raw talent."

Indie Comics Magazine
will present a variety of art styles and genres, said Beatty.

"Adventure, superhero and ninja tales will appear side-by-side with comedy, romance and mystery. We plan a real variety show format," he laughed. "Just call me the Ed Sullivan of indy publishers."

Indie Comics Magazine is available only through the Previews order magazine at your local comic shop.

The first issue premieres January, 2011. Find your local comic shop at 1-888-COMICBOOK (1-888-266- 4226) or online

More information about the magazine can be found at Indie Comics Magazine.

Review Round-Up: Gwendoline, Neverland (issues 0 to 4), My Name Is Bruce

Gwendoline (1984): An object lesson in not believing everything you read on the Internet, my best mate Paul got me Gwendoline on DVD for my birthday the other week as he'd read a number of reviews describing it as a "classic" - or words to that effect.

Whoever said that owes both Paul and I an apology.

Gwendolyne is about as far from a classic as is possible, yet who would have thought you could have gone wrong with a movie that promises 1930's pulp adventure, a lost world scenario and a bevvy of naked ladies?

The story starts off promisingly enough - in a "so bad it might be funny" way - with virginal Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen) and sexy friend Beth (French model and actress Zabou Breitman) arriving in the Far East and teaming up with ne'er-do-well smuggler Willard (male model and actor Brent Huff) to track down her missing lepidopterist father.

At a supply station down river, she discovers that her father has been killed, sacrificed by natives to protect them from a poisonous cloud (or something), so Gwendoline pledges to continue her father's quest to hunt down an elusive, mythical butterfly.

She tracks the butterfly to its home in a mysterious and feared land known as Yek Yeik, where the trio stumble upon an underground kingdom of half-naked, S&M Amazons ruled over by a tyrannical queen (Bernadette Lafont).

It's here that everything goes seriously loopy and what little sense the plot made is pretty much abandoned for drawn-out chases and fight-sequences between our so-called heroes and the bizarrely coiffured and rather butch Amazons.

There are some imaginatively creative visuals, such as the human-powered chariots (although you have to ask why the women pulling Gwendoline's chariot didn't just stop when they were being chased by their colleagues?) and the giant butterfly-wing shields used during one of the many half-baked gladiatorial contests.

It certainly doesn't help that none of the three leads can act, but, in all honesty, the film is so boring and erratic that I fail to see how it earned its supposed status as an "erotic masterpiece", being more like a poorly-made mash-up of Tales Of The Gold Monkey with The Benny Hill Show.

The dire script doesn't help either with the most interesting aspect of the film being the set design for the underground city - this is clearly where director Just Jaeckin (famous for Emmanuelle, Story Of O and Lady Chatterley's Lover) blew his budget. It certainly didn't go on hiring half-decent performers or a good writer.

Neverland - issues zero to four:  Another of Zenescope's dark, intelligent and twisted reimaginings of a classic children's story, Neverland casts Peter Pan as the childnapping bad guy.

Starting in our world, the story follows Wendy Darling - after her two orphan nephews are stolen from her care by Pan - and unkempt, homeless man Nathan Cross - who has been in and out of therapy for 20 years after he believes he escaped Pan's clutches in Neverland.

Pan needs the human children of our world to feed upon and those he doesn't drain completely become mindless zombies - the Lost Boys - following his every command.

The ever-present Belle, last of the fairies, loves him - even though he is easily distracted by the charms of Wendy and the native princess Tiger Lily - and is thought to be the only person left alive that can create the portals between Neverland and Earth (these portals will eventually tie-in to the main Grimm Fairy Tales line of comics, I believe).

However, schemer Pan is already researching other ways of getting to Earth, so he can dine on our children... for instance, he wants to know, how did Wendy, Nathan Cross and the befuddled psychiatrist Dr Harlow get to Neverland without the aid of a fairy?

Written by Joe Brusha, with art by Jean-Paul Deshong, this is the most disturbing and thrilling of the Zenescope titles I have yet read as it upends every key ingredient of JM Barrie's classic, but already slightly unnerving  yarn, while still retaining a unique sense of verisimilitude.

I'm only half-way through this eight-issue mini-series, but certainly rate it as one of the strongest comic book reads of the year. It also sounds a lot like Pan, a proposed movie to be directed by Ben Hibon.

My Name Is Bruce (2007): The second of my birthday present DVDs from Paul, My Name Is Bruce, was a major improvement over Gwendoline (see above).

After vandalising a cemetry outside the small, mining community of Gold Lick, Oregon, foolish youths accidentally awaken an ancient Chinese deity, Guan-di - god of war, protector of the dead and patron saint of bean curd.

To save the town, one of the youths then kidnaps his hero - washed-up, B-movie actor Bruce Campbell, mistakenly, believing Campbell is the tough-nut monster slayer he portrays in his movies.

In turn, for most of the film, Campbell believes the whole thing is a stunt dreamed up by his sleazy agent (Ted Raimi in one of the three roles he plays in the movie).

And that's about it as far as plot goes. It's genius - pure and simple, and a great homage to the oeuvre of Bruce Campbell, made by Bruce Campbell for fans of Bruce Campbell. Probably not for people who don't "get" Campbell's particular style and charisma, but those of us who already consider the man a god of the cinema will lap it up.

In much the same way Wil Wheaton plays himself in The Big Bang Theory, Bruce plays a self-deprecating caricature of himself as a self-obsessed, slightly-delusional, very obnoxious, has-been, concerned only with money and getting "some sugar".

My Name Is Bruce is full of gentle - sometimes quite subtle, sometimes not - jibes at the low-quality of many of the movies he has appeared in, including the formulaic nature of the plots, right down to the "hero's" big speech at the final turning point of the second act, as the cowardly Campbell realises he needs to "man up".

It's all handled with the same level of love and admiration as Jeff Burk's novella Shatnerquake  (which, of course, Campbell appears in, indirectly) does for William Shatner.

At 84 minutes duration, My Name Is Bruce is a straight-forward, hilarious, action-comedy that doesn't outstay its welcome and, to quote SFX magazine (off the back of the DVD case), is "a must see for fans of the mighty-chinned B-movie legend".

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Indiana Jones Teaches You The Value Of Good Manners...

Another great 'vintage' educational movie from the creative team behind "What To Do On A Space Date".

Get Your Hands On Amy's Bust!

Could this be every modern Whovian's dream? A limited edition, eight inch, three-quarter length, premium sculpture of Amy Pond, the lovely assistant to the Eleventh Doctor, for just £49.99, from the Forbidden Planet.

Available for pre-order now, it is due to be unleashed on the Doctor Who-loving public on April 10 next year.

A masterpiece, maxi-bust of Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor is also available for pre-order, with the same price point and release date.

I'll take one of each, please, if you're buying!

The Battle For Camelot Is Here!

It looks as though Merlin is going out in the same style that the season opened this year. We have a new trailer with hints of mighty battles, magical swords rising out of lakes, the Holy Grail etc

The two-part finale commences this Saturday, with The Coming Of Arthur - Part One.

My Life And Roleplaying: Tuesday Knights, Assemble!

The Avengers
Decisions have been made, polls have been studied (and closed early - a month was way too long for an internet poll to run), moods taken and - it will surprise very few who've read this blog over the years - I can finally announce my "One True Game" to be:

Next year, the Tuesday Knights will embark on a Villains & Vigilantes campaign, launching in January.

Within days of opening the poll to sound out the HeroPress reading public on what genre I should pursue - and what game type they'd like to read about in the future - it was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

The final tally of votes stood at:

Modern Day Monster Hunters
Wacky Space Opera
Dungeon Crawl
Post-Apocalyptic Mayhem
Doctor Who

If I'd really thought about it, I probably didn't even need to run the poll and talk it over with a number of people, I think I always knew in my heart-of-hearts this would be the genre and game system I chose to run when I returned to sit behind the gamesmaster's shield.

As I said at the time, this poll was only meant to help focus my thoughts, but it did that very well - reminding me that:
In coming days I aim to start publishing some of my thoughts for the campaign (the setting will be Knight City, the dusted down, refurbished and renamed setting for my old HeroPress play-by-mail campaign, but relocated from Southern England to the East Coast of America), initial ideas for house rules etc

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Adam And Joe Are Back...

... for a Christmas Day three-hour radio spectacular.

This is really just for my British readers (I'm not even sure if the BBC film clip will play outside the UK and I don't know if the podcast or BBC iPlayer are available overseas) but my favourite radio duo are back on BBC6 Music for their traditional Christmas Day rambles.

I know I'm excited - although this sounds like a one-off ("for the fans").

Now, we just need Joe "I wrote the Tintin movie" Cornish to realise there's no future in films and get back to his radio roots.

Saturday mornings have been rather empty since the Adam & Joe radio show went silent.

Character Sheet Design Help Sought...

I need some assistance. I have a rough idea for a redesigned character sheet, that should speed up play in the game I'm looking at running next year, but I have neither the skill nor the tech to do the work.

Is there anyone out there in the gamerverse who could spare a few minutes to turn their PhotoShop/Quark XPress/snazzy design skills to juggling my random thoughts into a workable character sheet?

If you think you can help please contact me either via the comments box below or via my gmail address listed over in the right hand column of the blog.

Obviously I can't pay you - but you'll earn my eternal gratitude and a big shout out on HeroPress (who could ask for anything more?)

Superhero Brand Awareness And The Green Lantern Backlash...

Last week, when promoting the new Green Lantern movie trailer, I made a passing comment about Green Lantern being a "lesser known" superhero - and HeroPress commentator Doctor Warlock took me to task on this.

"Plenty of non-geek people know who Green Lantern is!" he claimed, but I still seriously doubt that.

As geeks we tend to live a bubble where we just "assume" non-geeks have, at least, a vague idea of comics, films, sci-fi TV, video games etc, yet I can recall clear conversations with friends of Rachel (in their early 30s) discussing my comic book collection, who expressed surprise that comics were even still being published these days.

These were intelligent, professional folk - who knew of the various superhero movies, but nothing of the comics that had inspired them - and I believe are representative of the British public as whole. As much as we hate to admit it, geek culture remains a minority niche interest.

While our non-geek friends might absorb some of our geeky trivia by osmosis, the general public is blissfully ignorant not only of the goings-on in our beloved comic books, but probably even of their very existence.

Since American superhero comic books disappeared from your friendly, neighbourhood newsagent in the UK they have all but vanished from the public psyche as well.

Sure there are the great Panini reprints and British comics - like 2000AD, Dandy, Beano etc (although I have no idea what form these latter titles exist in these days) - still to be found in WH Smiths, but these are drop in the ocean compared to the good, old days when American comics were proudly displayed on spinner racks and some newsagents I knew even had whole walls devoted to the latest superhero comics.

The concept of a "friendly local comic book store" is about as alien to most British towns as a "friendly local gamestore" and where these treasured vaults of comic book excellence exist - normally in or near University cities - they remain primarily the domain of geeks, with the odd passing parent dragged in by a child who has caught a glimpse of a character he recognises from his cartoons.

Nowadays, general public awareness of superheroes in this country comes from kid's cartoons - not really the purview of most non-geeky adults - and the movies.

Sadly, the superhero comic book simply isn't an integral part of our culture.

On a good day I'd guess that the average member of the British public might be able to identify DC's holy trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (although they almost certainly wouldn't know the difference between DC and Marvel) and Marvel's successful movie franchises: Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, The X-Men and The Fantastic Four (although, again, beyond the break-out star of Wolverine I'd say there's little chance of individual character identification within the teams).

, The Hulk and the three biggies from DC have a long history on television in this country, whereas the other franchises have succeeded as much on the star-power of their actors (e.g. Hugh Jackman, Jessica Alba, Robert Downey Jnr) as the large-scale, effects-heavy, sci-fi-ness of their stories.

However, it seems that comic book superheroes might not even be as embedded in the US culture as I'd believed, as Bleeding Cool is now reporting an interesting backlash against the Green Lantern trailer from people who believe the character should be black.

This is because they only know the Green Lantern as John Stewart from the Justice League cartoons... and seem to have no idea that the character comes from a comic book, where he was originally a white dude - Hal Jordan - who Stewart took over from, and now fights along side.

Putting the John Stewart iteration of the Green Lantern into the cartoons helped diversify the team at the time, but has this act of well-intentioned political correctness come back to bite DC and Warner Brothers on the arse?

Is there really a significant percentage of the American public that believes the Green Lantern is a black guy and is mortified by this latest piece of apparent Hollywood 'racebending'?

It only takes an ill-informed member of the media - or one with selective vision and an an axe to grind - to get ahold of this story and blow it out of all proportion.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Son Of The Hulk...

"Bruce Banner's biological son reveals what happens when you make him angry."

HeroPress reader Sean Kerney sent me this amusing short film, Son The Hulk, which he wrote and produced with his writing partner Mark Saul (from Nickelodeon's All That, The Social Network and Grey's Anatomy) as sketch comedy group Rat Pageant.

If you want to see Rat Pageant perform their material live then their next show is on December 3 at the Improv Comedy Lab in Los Angeles.

47 Years Ago...

The Doctor : "Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles...?"
Forty-seven years ago, at quarter past five on the afternoon of November 23, 1963, a legend was born as the first episode of Doctor Who was screened!

DVD Of The Week: Superman/Shazam - The Return Of Black Adam (2010)

Although the main feature on the Superman/Shazam - The Return Of Black Adam comes in at less than 30 minutes, the disc is a treasure trove of gems for fans of  the animated adventures of DC's comic book superheroes.

Not only does it included extended versions of the three previously released short films - which accompanied the recent big name animated DVD releases - but also four episodes from popular TV shows (two from The Brave & The Bold and two from Justice League Unlimited, each themed to one of the heroes appearing in the other four cartoons on the disc).

Superman/Shazam - The Return Of Black Adam is a reworking of the origin story of Captain Marvel - not that I believe he is ever referred to by that name.

Homeless young Fawcett City orphan Billy Batson (Zach Callison) is befriended by Daily Planet journalist Clark Kent (George Newbern), who is doing a feature on the homlessness situation.

Batson is unaware that he already been chosen by an agent of the mighty wizard Shazam to become "the World's Mightiest Mortal" and defender of the planet. However, the previous recipient of this power, Black Adam (voiced by Hollywood's go-to guy for shady Egyptian types, Arnold Vosloo), is none too pleased about this and is determined to kill Billy before he gets his powers.

A major league brawl erupts as first Superman blocks Black Adam's violent intentions, then Batson escapes into the underground and is whisked away by a phantom train that delivers him to Shazam's doorstep. The wizard - voiced by James Garner - grants Billy his powers then sends him back to face Black Adam.

Shazam was a bit overenthusiastic though and forgot to explain to Billy how to activate his transformation into Captain Marvel!

This is a rock solid, little 22-minute short that proves the justification for a second Superman-like character in the DC Universe by pitting him against a character powered by magic (Black Adam - although the magical lightning he fires from his hands is a new addition to the character), one of the few things the Kryptonean is vulnerable to.

The Return Of Black Adam doesn't exactly involve a complex plot, more just an extended slugfest between three of the strongest characters in the DCU, but it serves as a decent jumping-on point for both old school comic book readers and new-comers to the Captain Marvel/Shazam oeuvre.

Produced in a slightly more anime style than some of the the previous features, the short film also includes a cameo from Mister Tawky Tawny (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), the talking tiger who is part of Captain Marvel's extended family in the comic books.

While all these shorts have been great introductions for  the characters, what we really need now is some subsequent animated adventures for them. The Return of Black Adam gave some interesting characters - as well as some incredible super-powered fight sequences - but we want to know what happens next?

At just 22-minutes, this is almost a cruel tease of what might have been if nothing else is forthcoming from the animated Captain Marvel stable.

Monday, 22 November 2010

K9: Eclipse Of The Korven

The sudden appearance of a black hole and a white hole in the STM signals either the imminent end of the Earth or the opening of a portal from the other side of the universe... either way things are not looking good for the planet!

K9's first season story arc comes to a head in Eclipse Of The Korven as we discover Thorne's deep, dark secret and the identity of his mysterious boss Lomaxx.

With the two holes creeping ever closer, K9 is called away to the Millennium Dome by the activation of his regeneration unit.

There Thorne explains that an invasion force is on the way, but the Department has 'cooked up' a counter-measure by creating a super-soldier - Project: Trojan - from the DNA of all the aliens it has encountered.

But he still needs Gryffen to employ the stabilizer (found during Angel Of The North) to bring the portal under control, so a counter-strike can be launched. However, as K9, Gryffen and the kids soon find out, Thorne isn't being one hundred per cent honest!

In the meantime, Darius arrives at The Department to alert Inspector June Turner to the fate of the planet, only to first discover that she has been busted down to Constable (after standing up to her bosses in Hound Of The Korven) and then that CCPCs appear to have initiated some kind of Order 66 instruction and decided that they need to eradicate all humans!

This is an all-action climax to the year's storylines and you get the impression that there's actually too much story squeezed into the half-hour episode as events move with a lightning pace and much is left for the viewer to fill in the blanks - a brave move for a show aimed at the younger end of the viewing spectrum.

Unfortunately, such an ambitious season finale also highlights the show's shortcomings and limited budget - for instance, the initial appearance of the two holes in space and time is a bit sudden and unexplained (why are they manifesting in the STM anyway?) and the sudden change in the CCPCs loyalties isn't really explained either or even explored.

On the other hand, it was nice to see some movement on the old Jorjie/Starkey romantic sub-plot, we had a glimpse of a whole new area of The Department and Darius got an interesting job offer at the end from the increasingly cougar-like June Turner.

Children's television, unfortunately, doesn't seem inclined to handle episode durations of greater than half-an-hour, which is a shame for shows that have a lot of story information to impart (such as K9). Hopefully, should the show return for a second season, its makers might take a leaf out of The Sarah Jane Adventures' book and restructure their stories as two-parters.

This then would give them the duration of a single episode of modern era Doctor Who to tell the epic stories they clearly want to and give them more of a chance of achieving their ambitions.

After the hugely emotional conclusion of Eclipse Of The Korven, one can only ask where the show can go from here - Thorne is seemingly defeated, the Department is in tatters, the dangers of employing CCPCs has been exposed, Gryffen has (possibly) beaten his agoraphobia, the STM has been wrecked... what next for K9 and his young friends?

* Keep an eye on HeroPress for my interview with David Napier, director of Eclipse Of The Korven and VFX director for K9's whole season.

I. Am. (Not). Spartacus!

While the future of the incredibly visceral television series Spartacus: Blood And Sand hangs in the balance because of the lead actor Andy Whitfield's heroic, but sad, battle with cancer, TV network Starz has launched a prequel mini-series Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena.

This new show tells of the rise of young Batiatus (John Hannah), with his scheming wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) at his side, to take control of his father's gladiatorial stable, The House of Batiatus.

Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena debuts in the States in January and will, hopefully, soon air over here in the UK.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


To quote Cal - of Calvin's Canadian Cave of Coolness - if you aren't excited by this movie trailer then you're dead to me!

To learn more, visit the glorious Monster Island News.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Imagine, if you will, a fictional reality where the characters of various authors can all hang out together.

Now picture a planet where the world of PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster has been rewritten by Douglas Adams and is being visited by The Doctor and Amy Pond. Then smash this all unceremoniously together with Michael Moorcock's distinctively exotic multiversal cosmology.

You now have a rough idea of where the peculiar mess that is Michael Moorcock's The Coming Of The Terraphiles is coming from.

I'm not one hundred per cent sure, but I'm reasonably certain than the idea of the Multiverse has never been a central pillar of the Doctor Who mythology before (certainly not to this degree in the television series, anyway), but here The Doctor talks about its intricacies and dangers as though it's a topic of daily conversation.

For a book that is supposed to add an air of maturity to the BBC's current run of Youth Adult Doctor Who novels (by recruiting a Big Name Author - one of the biggest, actually), there's an awful lot of annoying silliness in Terraphiles, from the various gang names (such as Captain Abberley and The Bubbly Boys or Frank/Freddie Force and his Antimatter Men) to the ludicrous sports tournament that forms the backdrop for the story - a mish-mash of misremembered old Earth sports culminating in a preposterous game called 'whackit' which is an unbelievable cocktail of darts, archery and cricket.

However, the most unintentionally amusing segment is when the storyline sails dangerously close to collapsing into Mary-Sue fanfiction territory as The Doctor and Amy finally meet up with Moorcock's pet character, Captain Cornelius, and The Doctor gushes, almost orgasmicly, in describing this fellow as the MOST infamous and feared pirate in the Multiverse with the MOST formidable ship and the MOST powerful weapons.

With no recollection of, say, The Master or Davros, he paints a picture of Cornelius being the Moriarty to his Holmes.

There's a moment later on when Amy - who seems to enjoy a little frisson of excitement every time she looks at the handsome, masked captain - tours Cornelius' ship then returns to tell The Doctor that it's nearly as big inside as The TARDIS!

The first quarter of The Coming Of The Terraphiles is devoted to a country house mystery revolving around the theft of a hat - yes, very PG Wodehouse, not very Doctor Who - with The Doctor, when he's in it at all, playing the role of consulting detective.

The plot then moves off into space as The Doctor and his team of Terraphiles (historic re-enactors who compete in major sporting events based on what they believe are Old Earth games) head towards the centre of the universe for the grand finals of a tournament to win The Silver Arrow Of Artemis - also believed to be The Arrow Of Law, a key instrument in maintaining the stability of the Multiverse.

The Multiverse, apparently, is falling apart and destructive "dark tides" are racing through our universe, and, naturally, The Doctor wants to put things right... and so signs up for a sporting tournament!

The finals of the tournament take place on the "ghost worlds" at the centre of our universe, so called because they phase unpredictably through the layers of the Multiverse during their orbits. This seems as logical a place to hold the final of sports' contest as hosting the World Cup or The Ashes on the side of an active volcano.

As well as the Multiverse, Moorcock has also ported in his concepts of Law, Chaos and Balance - so predominant in his Eternal Champion cycle, which embraces the adventures of Elric, Jerry Cornelius, Dorian Hawkmoon etc - which, again, are entirely new ideas (in this framework) for the Whoniverse, but are treated as old friends by The Doctor.

He also manages to squeeze in several homages to Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter Of Mars stories - which he pastiched in his own excellent Mars series - with frequent mentions of Barsoom and even a four-armed thark playing 'whackit'.

Alien-wise, in a strange tribute to the Russell T Davies era of the show, pretty much every non-human described is some anthropomorphic variation of an Earth animal, avian or insect - with the only 'known' species mentioned being the Judoon.

These, it turns out, aren't all brutish mercenary police officers, some are also enthusiastic  sportsbeings (which I can accept) - however, the only one quoted in direct speech doesn't sound at all like the Judoon depicted on the television.

You only have to read my other reviews of Moorcock's work on HeroPress to know how much I admire his writing, and get a flavour of how enthusiastic I was about the prospect of him penning a Doctor Who novel. Therefore, you must also sense the enormous disappointment I feel with the end result. Of the dozen Moorcock books I've read, including this one (although, technically, the unabridged text was read to me via my iPod), this is certainly the weakest.

On the cover The Coming Of The Terraphiles says it's a Doctor Who story, but Moorcock's rendition of The Eleventh Doctor is highly generic and his Amy Pond is such a cipher that either really could have been any pairings of characters from The Doctor's eleven lives.

(I mentioned in my "initial thoughts" that reader Clive Mantle's version of Amy Pond, in the audio book, was some awful, pantomime stereotypical Scottish accent - well, it never gets any better. The voices he adopts for the other characters, however, grew on me - although his Doctor was never recognisable as Matt Smith - and his generally calm, very British, Stephen Fry/John Cleese-like tone for the main narration was excellent). 

There are moments of glorious, sweeping poetry - particularly in Moorcock's descriptions of his beloved Multiverse and its inner workings - and an act of enormous heroism at the book's climax (although not by The Doctor), but much is also padding, with the biggest irony being that the character of Cornelius could have been excised from the novel and no-one would have been any the wiser. That is until his ship sweeps in at the last moment to pull off the IMPOSSIBLE rescue of our Multiversally-stranded heroes!

"To calculate all those orbits within orbits demands mathematical skills beyond most of us," The Doctor says to his saviour - as if we hadn't already got the point that he regards Captain Cornelius as the greatest person ever in the Multiverse.

For the most part, The Doctor and Amy are merely background observers to the various goings-on, only occasionally stepping to the foreground so the reader doesn't forget this is supposedly a Doctor Who novel.

I wouldn't presume to call this lazy writing, because I don't believe there's a lazy bone in the prodigious Moorcock's body, but it's akin to asking JK Rowling to write a Doctor Who book and finding out that The Doctor is using magic to fight Dementors around Diagon Alley; Harry, Hermione and Ron may not be in the book, but you know it's a JK Rowling book first and foremost.

And 'whackit' is certainly no Quidditch!

Sunday Funny: Going Green

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Merlin: The Sorcerer's Shadow

They do like their tournaments in Camelot - with the one at the centre of The Sorcerer's Shadow being the second this year!

This lethal, 'free-for-all' tournament, held every ten years, is open to all comers, using any weapons. Uther is the three times champion, but planned to sit this one out - feeling he was too old - but is goaded into taking part anyway by the manipulative Morgana.

Merlin befriends a country bumpkin, Gilli, who has come to take part in the tournament, but is actually using magic to improve his chances. The son of a sorcerer, Gilli believed his father was afraid to use magic for fear of retribution from Uther and so Gilli wants to prove the power of magic.

Unfortunately the power goes to his head and he reneges on his promise to Merlin to withdraw from the contest after killing a man. Merlin doesn't know what to do as the contest comes down to battle between Uther and Gilli.

Merlin turns to the Great Dragon for advice and is warned that if Uther is slain by someone using magic then Arthur's heart would be heartened against the cause of magic, adding that sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

Soft-spoken Gilli was played, with almost paranormal timing, by Harry Melling - better known as Harry Potter's obnoxious cousin Dudley Dursley in the mega-successful Harry Potter movie franchise (the latest episode, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows - Part One, opened this week at the cinema).

Gilli's conflicted innocence and basically gentle-nature reminded me of both the character of Simon, played by Iwan Rheon,  in the hard-hitting superhero comedy Misfits and Eddie Redmayne's Jack Jackson from Pillars Of The Earth.

A simple story about a simple soul, The Sorcerer's Shadow - although mainly sword-fights and sorcery - shone the spotlight back on the show's titular character, away from the Gwen/Arthur romance and the Machiavellian machinations of Morgana, by holding a mirror up for Merlin to show him a "what could have been" scenario, as well as reminding him of the potentially corrupting nature of the power he wields.

Next week:

Christmas Is Coming...

In case there's a Whovian on the planet who hasn't already seen this...

The first trailer for the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas Special (to be shown both here and in the States on Christmas Day), unimaginatively entitled "A Christmas Carol", was shown during last night's Children In Need telethon on BBC1.

My reservations about this now-annual treat have been slightly alleviated by the trailer, but I'm still unimpressed by the whole clichéd 'Christmas Carol' gimmick, which every television series and sitcom over the years has done to death before.

I have to agree with my old chum Greywulf though who pointed out to me - via Twitter - that at least this is a Christmas special that actually involves Christmas rather than just some snow on the ground!

And Now For Something Completely Different...

This week's Saturday Morning Matinee only lasts just over 90 seconds, but still manages to be quite unsettling.

The Scared Kid
serves as an introduction to Charlie Higson's latest Young Adult zombie novel The Dead.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Daylight Breaking In December...

In Broad Daylight, the next big print and PDF release for Villains & Vigilantes 2.1, from Monkey House Games, has had its release date pushed back to December 12.

Originally scheduled to be available on November 20, writer Jack Herman apologised - over on the Monkey House Forums - that the adventure was running "a little late".

He explained: "As I started writing it, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. Jeff tells me that it already has more than half as many characters as a typical V&V character book. (Part of the reason for this is that it contains the stats and character backgrounds for the Indestructibles superhero team.)

"There are a large number of maps and I have also been making numerous small changes to it that have delayed me in locking down my final draft. There are some other things I could mention, but I know you are not interested in excuses.

"After several long discussions with Jeff, we decided that if it was worth doing at all, it was worth making it the best adventure we could deliver. The inevitable necessity of adding a just little more time to the schedule became unavoidable.

"Our original launch date for In Broad Daylight, November 30, fell on a Tuesday. Both Jeff and I really enjoyed the midnight releases for V&V 2.1 and Intercrime.

"But in retrospect, regarding the November 30 date, it seemed unnecessarily cruel to have set this up for a Monday at midnight.

"Once we decided that it would be necessary to push the date back, simply recalibrating our release date to a more favoriable day of the week became a fortunate side effect of that decision.

"We try very hard never to lose sight of the fact that what we do is make games. They are intended as a source of amusement. We are here to entertain you, and I strongly suspect that you will very much enjoy what we have in store for you come December 12.

"Again, I am truly sorry for the delay. I can tell you, having seen some of the art Jeff has completed, that it is some of his best work ever. I know you will not be disappointed.

"Thanks once again to everyone for your patience and your support. We continously strive to be worthy of your time and attention."

Review Round-Up: Colliders, The Descent Part 2, Candyman

Colliders - issue one: A new, independent comic from C.J. Renner (writer) and Jim Clark (illustrations) skates close to the territory of  doomed TV show FlashForward with the debut issue of Colliders introducing us to journalist Dr Abelia Mann and physicist Solomon Demming, who works at the Large Hadron Collider.

While interviewing Sol at the facility, Abelia gets caught up in a presumed terrorist attack, during an experimental firing of the collider, by a lone gunman - dressed in a smart black suit - who happens to also know her name.

The story then jumps forward six months and Sol and Abelia - now seemingly an item - are talking in a cafe and being spied upon by a mysterious figure in a hoodie seated in an adjacent booth.

What has happened in the intervening six months, who was the terrorist, what were his motivations, who is the man in the hoodie?

Answers to all these questions - and presumably more - will be forthcoming in future issues... if you are willing to help fund them. Renner and Clark have set up a Kickstarter page to raise the $2,000 needed to produce the second issue.

There it states that their goal is: "to make Colliders a sustainable comic series by issue three. Our magic number is a readership of 1,000 fans. We paid for the first issue out of pocket and with your support we will release issue two. Using the sales from these first two issues, we will produce issue three and by then, if we have done our legwork and if you have enjoyed Colliders and told your friends about it, we will have enough readers to continue our dream of creating this comic series!"

Published through an innovative print-on-demand system with IndyPlanet, the biggest barrier I fear Colliders will face is its price-point. It's $4.99 for a 24-page black and white comic - which doesn't compare well, price-wise, to the mainstream, superhero comics of Marvel and DC. Of course, Colliders probably has a different audience anyway.

The highlight of this first issue, for me, was Sol's four-page - rather poetic - explanation to Abelia of what the LHC does, following an earlier page which explained (in the broadest of terms, of course) how it works.

For some reason, Jim Clark's artwork stirred memories of an old, black-and-white, superhero comic I used to read called The Southern Knights, which I remember being enormously fond of.

The Descent Part 2 (2009): Immediately pissing away the stark, nihilistic brilliance of the ending of The Descent, this continuation of the story - rather than a sequel per se - has Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) somehow escaping the underground cave system, but stricken with that wonderful Hollywood plot contrivance of "amnesia".

Bizarrely then, while still traumatised and barely able to communicate, she is made to return to the caves by cinema's most moronic sheriff. Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O'Herlihy) makes Rosco P Coltrane and JW Pepper look like the epitome of law enforcement excellence in comparison. Every word that comes out of his mouth and every decision he makes - particularly when the expedition is back underground - has you praying for a carnivorous cave crawler to leap out of the darkness and rip his head off.

There are moments that come close to the greatness of the first movie but as this part isn't directed by Neil Marshall's expert hand (he's simply executive producer) much of it feels very artificial.

The story is also riddled with inconsistencies that make you question how much care was taken in the movie's production - e.g. the rescue party is supposedly retracing Sarah's steps into an abandoned mine that links into the cave system, but nobody realises it's all blocked by cobwebs and boarded up, so there's no way she could have come that way less than 24 hours earlier; then the cave mouth off of the crawlers' feeding ground is large enough to drag a dead moose through one moment, then suddenly there's barely enough room for a woman to crawl out to freedom.

Certainly more an adventure story than a straight-up horror, as the original was, The Descent Part 2 is an unnecessary 'sequel' to a classic, but is okay as an hour-and-a-half of subterranean thrills and spills to pass the time on a wet and windy afternoon.

Candyman (1992): Mature student Helen Lyle (Michael Madsen's sister Virginia doing a good Gillian Anderson impression) is investigating urban legends for a research paper and is drawn to a local murder in a Chicago ghetto that locals blame on the mythical bogeyman known as The Candyman.

Like Bloody Mary, the myth goes that if you say his name in front of a mirror multiple times he will appear and gut you!

With Tony Todd as the menacing presence of the Candyman having comparatively little screen time and the fact that no-one who sees him - except Helen - actually survives, this movie works whether you accept the monster as real or just a creation of Helen's mind to mask a psychosis of her own.

Based on a Clive Barker short story - but relocated to Chicago's rundown, gang-ridden, Cabrini-Green housing projects - this is a powerful horror movie that balances bloodshed with suspense and psychological terror.

The minimalist score by Philip Glass (and the use of aerial shots early on) helps give the film an omnious feel reminiscent of genuinely creepy films like The Exorcist and The Omen, and while it doesn't live up to those ambitions it's still a refreshingly well-paced change to the stream of modern horror that relies purely on shock and gore.

The idea of a creature that needs rumour and myth to power its existence touches on similar turf to the more famous A Nightmare on Elm Street, but here the Candyman isn't so much looking for multiple victims as a way of getting people to believe in him again after Helen starts explaining that he's not real and only a legend born of hearsay.

Watched today, while superficially Candyman still appears contemporary (despite an abundance of large, floppy hair styles), there are many aspects of it that you realise if updated to 2010 would alter the story dramatically - Helen's reliance on film in her camera, the lack of mobile phones, even the fact that everyone smokes!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

More Mortal Engines Heave Into View...

Traction Fortress of the Arkangelsk Nomads, by Philip Reeve
Over on his blog this week, author Philip Reeve revealed that the latest volume of his World Of Mortal Engines sequence, Scrivener's Moon, has been sent off to the proof reader before heading to the printers.

According to Amazon, the book is due to be published in the UK on April 4, 2011. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available in the United States until a year later.

Get those pre-orders in!

More Comic Books Brought To Life...

First up: Cowboys & Aliens

Then a six-minute taste of the forthcoming Young Justice...

K9: Hound Of The Korven

In the penultimate episode of its first season, K9 is finally coming into its own by confirming that the show has had an overarching story arc all along and its own canon.

Inspector Thorne comes to Darius with a deal that will mean The Department would go easy on his VR-imprisoned father (who we met last episode).

All he has to do is convince K9 to meet with Thorne where the evil inspector has an offer to put to the tin dog - the return of his memory circuit (presumed lost when K9 blew up back in Regeneration) in exchange for his regeneration circuit.

K9 goes for the deal, but, of course Thorne can't be trusted and has instead had the memory card programmed with a self-destruct command that will detonate K9 - who now can't regenerate - when he comes into contact with an "unspecified target".

Meanwhile The Department is seeding the sewers - where the meeting between K9, the kids and Thorne took place - with stun mines and sleep gas in an attempt to corral a stray Jixen.

The kids get separated in the underground tunnels and Starkey is knocked unconscious by the sleep gas and captured by the Jixen, who has built a lair in the sewers.

The Jixen, who has learned to speak pidgin English from reading stolen books, however, explains to Starkey that he was a bodyguard to a peaceful envoy when he came through the STM (again, back in Regeneration).

The Jixen race had been winning a long-running war against their mortal enemy, the Merons, until the Korven started supplying high-tech armaments to the Meron and turned the tide of the war. The Jixen now believes that K9 is actually an agent of the Korven.

A claim that is almost proved correct when the kids realise that the "unspecified target" that will trigger K9's "self-destruct" is actually the Jixen itself!

Hound Of The Korven was a fantastic episode, with a surprisingly dialogue-heavy first half, full of alien politics, Department double-dealings (including June Turner standing up to her mysterious, unseen superiors in the organisation), continuity and some of the strongest acting we've seen in the show - the three main youngsters, in particular, are clearly growing into their roles.

We also learn more about the Jixen - certainly the best new aliens added to the Whoniverse by this programme - including the fact that they don't have individual names and are part of a collective, that they have a good sense of humour (and, yes, K9's joke was very funny in a rather dark way) etc

Hound Of The Korven is definitely the best episode of the season to date, yet wouldn't have worked without the story seeds planted earlier in the season.

My only complaint about the episode, and it's a minor one really, is that for all its continuity with previous stories it was rather self-contained and neatly wrapped up in the final scenes final at Gryffen's mansion.

There's a tease of a denouement with Thorne and K9's regeneration unit, but I would have liked a more definite segue into the season finale, Eclipse Of The Korven; a "to be continued..." to keep me hanging on the edge of my seat.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

In Blackest Night, In Brightest Day...

I hope this is good - otherwise it could spell the end of DC/Warners risking movies of "lesser known" (to the non-comic-reading public; ie. the ignorant masses) characters.

The Green Lantern trailer's got a lot of action and alien activity, but the predominance of CGI is quite striking.

That said it was no barrier to Avatar's (inexplicable) mega-success, so this movie could actually turn out to be a bigger hit with people unaware of the comics than the traditionally nit-picky fan boys.

K9: Angel Of The North

Another surprisingly great, if flawed, episode of K9, as the season's main story takes over and the alien Korven's evil plans begin to come to the fore.

Angel Of The North opens with a disturbance in the crashed spaceship known as the "fallen angel", in Canada, causes a disruption in the space-time manipulator (STM) in Professor Gryffen's mansion

The spaceship being the source of the technology used to construct the STM, the Professor realises that the STM's missing 'dimensional stabilizer' unit might still be in the spaceship and that he needs to retrieve it.

However, there is the slight problem of his crippling agoraphobia, so he turns to June Turner and The Department to borrow an experimental 'virtual reality encasement suit'. He ends up being escorted to Canada by Inspector Thorne and a small contingent of CCPC cyborgs - but without June's knowledge.

Griffen quickly finds his missing piece of technology, but while he is away from the mansion the children get worried about his safety.

K9 and Starkey rather rashly use the STM to travel to Canada to try and bring the Professor home, but end up discovering a nest of more than 100 Korven at the crash site.

Rather suspiciously, it looks as though Thawne is certainly aware of the Korven presence, if he isn't in league with them.

The trouble with K9 episodes being just under 30 minutes long is the frequent necessity to wrap things up quite quickly, as in this episode where a host of plot threads are left dangling - hopefully for resolution in the closing episodes of this season.

Angel Of The North made good use of limited sets, with lots of white sound stage shots, cloaked in blasts of snow, to effectively show people staggering around outside the scientific base that had been built around the crashed spaceship.

It was great to see a story set away from London, and Angel Of The North's frozen locale even gave the story a slight hint of The Thing, and similar Lovecraftian horror tales of snow-bound isolation.

Therefore it was a great shame that the story had to be tied up so quickly - and budget restraints meant we only ever saw one Korven on the screen at a time - as the prospect of Starkey, Griffen and K9 playing cat-and-mouse in the base with a horde of dangerous aliens could have been something a bit special.

For the most part, as well, this episode was carried by the adults - although Starkey came to rescue the Professor this was comparatively late in the tale - which certainly contributed to the slightly different tone of the story as well.

He's A Monkey AND A Jedi!

First of all, I'd like to say a massive 'thank you' to everyone who left birthday wishes for me either here or on Facebook, it means a lot to this aging geek!

I'd also like to invite you to say hello to Mon-Key Wan Kenobi, my super surprise birthday present from Rachel.

He was an unplanned addition to our family when we visited the Bluewater Shopping Centre yesterday and wandered into the Build-A-Bear Workshop.

It was as much a surprise to Rachel as it was to me, but we simply couldn't ignore the pull of the Star Wars themed costumes and characters.

Two of my favourite things wrapped up in a single package!!!

The young lad operating the stuffing machine didn't miss a beat in his patter when he asked who the monkey was for and I said: "Me!" We still went through the ritual of filling Mon-Key's little red heart with love and cuddles, as I had to solemnly rub it on Rachel's nose, her cheeks and behind her ears before it was surgically inserted through Mon-Key's back to give the young padawan life.

We also opted for the inclusion of a small device which, when his right paw is pressed, plays the Star Wars theme tune.

And talking of monkeys joining our family, my adoption of Kai, the orang-utan at Dorset's Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre has been renewed for another year. Really must try and get down there to see my boy this year!



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