Saturday, 30 April 2016
In Marvel We Trust. It should come as no great surprise to readers of my waffling that I love the Marvel movies, and I'm delighted to report that not only are Marvel Studios showing no signs of slowing down, but they just keep getting better and better.
Captain America: Civil War has leapfrogged over Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy to become my new number one superhero flick.
There's so much to enjoy in this latest movie.
From the moment the title card over the New York skyline read "Queens" I started grinning because I could see where it was going. And I must have grinned continually for the next half hour or so because I'm delighted to say that Tom Holland is, hands down, the best young Peter Parker and Spider-Man to grace the silver screen.
Forget those embarrassing Andrew Garfield debacles, this is, finally, a real Spider-Man that feels like his comic book character. For a while I was worried that my rambling thoughts on Captain America: Civil War might just be me typing the words Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man over and over again, all in caps, Shining-style.
Really, although Spidey is the breakout character of Civil War, he's just the icing on the delicious cake that is this monumental, pulse-pounding thrill-ride.
When you've sat through as many structured films as I have, you can usually judge where the "slack" moments are going to be, when it's safe to slip out for a toilet break.
But Captain America: Civil War - despite having a running time of almost three hours - is so tightly scripted (kudos to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) and smoothly directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, that you need to stay in your seat the whole time if you don't want to miss a single frenetic, physics-defying fight sequence, high-speed chase, or key story point.
When an Avengers mission to bring in Crossbones (Frank Grillo) goes pear-shaped and civilians are killed, this is the final straw for the United Nations, after the world-shaking events of Age Of Ultron, The Winter Solider, and Avengers Assemble.
The U.N. seeks to impose control over the members of the Avengers - and, by extension, all superpowered characters.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) - aka Iron Man - supports this move, while Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) - aka Captain America - is strongly opposed, especially when his old pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a bomb attack that kills the King Of Wakanda, setting the African nation's guardian, The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), on his scent.
Across a global canvas, with a vast array of costumed heroes, Captain America: Civil War was, once again, comic book excitement brought vividly to life.
Although it addresses serious issues along the way, don't expect a grim and gritty deconstruction of the genre or its tropes.
This is an action movie first and foremost, with some truly mind-boggling sequences (the almighty throwdown at the German airport - which features pretty much everyone - being a particular stand-out), the requisite witty banter, and dazzling special effects eye candy.
In all but name Captain America: Civil War is an Avengers film and, plotwise, I was impressed by the fact that, ultimately, it didn't go where I expected (or slightly feared).
Instead it established an interesting dynamic for future films involving any of the main characters that appeared here.
And, of course, being a Marvel movie, the fun doesn't stop once the credits roll. Captain America: Civil War has two additional scenes: the mid-credits' moment giving us a glimpse of Wakanda, and a taste of what's to come in 2018's Black Panther movie.
The post-credits' scene returns the focus to Spider-Man, who gets a solo outing next year in Spider-Man: Homecoming (a title reminding us that although it's a Sony film, it's under Marvel Studios' control... and, unsurprisingly, they know how to handle the character, as clearly demonstrated here).
After an incident where the Ghostbusters (of New Hampshire) find themselves responsible for the destruction of a sizable amount of public property, the team is soon coached back into shape by none other than Jonathan Paul "Sketch" Rudy, a member of Salt Lake City's Ghostbusters franchise.
Friday, 29 April 2016
Misty was a weekly horror and supernatural anthology comic, published from 1978 to 1980 in the UK.
At the time it was marketed as "2000AD for girls", but its stylish art and creepy stories actually appealed to everyone (I, for one, remember reading it as well as 2000AD)
Now, 2000AD publisher Rebellion - in cooperation of rights-holders Egmont - is starting to reprint some of the classic content of Misty.
The first volume, due out in September, features the stories Moonchild, by Pat Mills and John Armstrong, and The Four Faces of Eve, by Malcolm Shaw and Brian Delaney.
The haunting cover art for this collection is by Misty regular Shirley Bellwood, who passed away in January.
With the Villains & Vigilantes legal battle finally resolved, the games' creators - Jack Herman and Jeff Dee - have started to officially release material for the beloved RPG through Monkey House Games.
Of particular note in this first wave of publications is the reprint of Jack's classic Most Wanted supplement, a 24-page booklet featuring write-ups of 30 villains for Gamesmasters to throw at wannabe heroes.
The print edition of Most Wanted can be purchased here while the PDF can be acquired here.
On Sunday (May 1), British company Ghetto Miniatures is relaunching its Kickstarter to fund a '70s New York gangs skirmish game and a range of 28mm miniature gangbangers.
Last year, the fundraiser came up just short of its target, so here's hoping that - with a bit more support - these fine-looking miniatures will see the light of day this time round.
In the meantime, you can read an interview with campaign organiser Iain MacDonald, of Flags of War, about New York Bop and the planned miniatures line over at the Lost Lands blog.
Thursday, 28 April 2016
While Sam remains in Nebraska, fighting off infected zombies and trying to find a cure, Dean delivers Jenna Nickerson (Laci J Mailey), and baby Amara, to her Catholic grandmother (Christine Willes) for safety.
Unfortunately, no sooner does Dean leave than the baby starts exhibiting supernatural powers, prompting Jenna to call Dean back. But before he can return, her grandmother has contacted her local church and they've called in an exorcist... who just happens to be 'Father' Crowley!
Elsewhere, Castiel is being tortured by his fellow angels, who are looking for Metatron. Hannah (Lee Majdoub), now in male form, turns up to save him, but Castiel quickly realises it's a trick.
Struck by Hellraiser-esque visions, Sam gets a visit from a Reaper, Billie (Lisa Berry), who informs him that the Winchesters' previous revolving door policy to death has now been revoked and the next time either of the brothers dies, it will be forever.
She does, however, either willingly or accidentally, give Sam a clue towards the cure for the black vein infection.
Dean and Crowley discover that Amara not only is The Darkness in human form, but that she also eats souls.
Continuing the grim ambience of Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire, Form And Void signalled that this new status quo was here to stay (for a while, at least), and that maybe - just maybe - the Winchesters weren't guaranteed an automatic win.
Form And Void also reminded us, in both words and deeds, that Crowley, while witty and charming, is not the Winchesters' "sidekick" but is, in fact, the King Of Hell.
My "friendly local comic book store" is over 100 miles away (103 to be exact, according to Google Maps).
Like a great many things in my later life, I'm sure it was Paul who first drew attention to the existence of Paradox Comics in Poole, Dorset, while we were at university just down the road in Bournemouth in the late '90s.
Honestly, I can't remember exactly how "into" comics I was at that time.
Although I had boxes and boxes of back issues stored in parents' loft, I know I wasn't still getting the massive monthly shipments I had when the combination of my first regular salary met the concept of mail-ordering regular comic books in the mid-'80s.
But since discovering Paradox, comics have now taken their rightful place as a firm cornerstone of my geeky existence.
Not only have I remained a loyal customer for the intervening 20 years (currently receiving parcels of new releases every fortnight, with the most recent dropping on my doormat this very morning), but store owner Andy Hine has become a firm friend (Rachel and I even paid the shop a visit during our honeymoon on the south coast).
When I was initially hospitalised after my aneurysm a decade ago, Andy and Rachel made sure I didn't miss any of the titles I was following at the time (this was a whole new world for Rachel, and she said Andy was enormously helpful as she didn't really know what she was doing).
This was a welcome fillip once I felt able to read again and I haven't stopped since then.
Although my reading of novels has taken a bit of a hammering of late, I still like to dip daily into the enormous "to be read" pile of comics that sits by my side of the bed (much to Rachel's horror).
Even if I only manage one issue in an evening I feel as though I'm still keeping the faith, and lowering the stack slightly before the next welcome shipment arrives from Poole.
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Following the very positive response I got to my interpretation of The Acrobatic Flea (my old Villains & Vigilantes character) using the new Guardians rules system, I thought I'd pursue a little thought exercise and write-up what the various Acrobatic Fleas' of other dimensions have been up to.
|Retired Hero: The Acrobatic Flea of Earth-V|
During the brutal "iron age" of Earth-V (Villains & Vigilantes), this Acrobatic Flea lost a leg in a confrontation with his arch-nemesis Dr Bionics.
The fiendish master of cybernetics replaced his fallen foe's lost limb, but the hero later discovered it was rigged with explosives.
Luckily scientific genius and billionaire inventor Nick Law was able to give the hero a proper prosthetic, but the Flea was never his old self again.
During this violent time, the Flea's sidekick, the effervescent Flea-Girl suffered brain damage after an oversized villain cracked her skull in the middle of a particularly viscous brawl on a space station.
The Flea now divides his time between training others and caring for his severely disabled former partner-in-crimefighting.
|Flea-Girl of Earth-M|
Both remain members of the premier British superhero team known as The Gauntlet.
When not fighting crime, the Flea, in his secret identity, is an entomological scientist for the prestigious Masters’ Corporation and a champion practitioner of the martial art of savate.
Sixteen years younger than The Acrobatic Flea, Flea-Girl is the Flea's best friend and verbal sparring partner, whose abilities continue to develop as she continues to fight crime alongside her mentor.
Over the years her phenomenal luck power has saved both her and the Flea's bacon on more than one occasion, and while he still jokingly refers to her as his "sidekick", he really knows that these days they are very much equals.
[You can check out the M&M character sheets, put together by my old pal - and M&M guru - Percy Hodge, of The Acrobatic Flea, and Flea Girl by clicking on their names.]
THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-G): A mere teenager starting out on a career of superheroics, the Acrobatic Flea of Earth-G (Guardians) is the newest hero to adopt this legendary name.
THE ACROBATIC FLEA (of Earth-S): Of all the Acrobatic Fleas so far identified in the multiverse, the one on Earth-S (Squadron UK) is the one the least is known about beyond his very existence.
[The Flea, unsurprisingly, was my submission for Kevin Rolfe's Legacy supplement Kickstarter, a UK-centric superhero addition to the Squadron UK RPG, and I can't wait to see someone else's interpretation of my signature character]
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Christmas has come in April! Michael Dougherty's Krampus has arrived on home video and, if I had my way, viewing it would become a seasonal tradition, much like his brilliant Trick 'r Treat really should be required viewing every Halloween.
When young Max (Emjay Anthony) loses faith in Christmas, his dysfunctional family find themselves besieged by the dark spirit of Christmas, the Krampus, the shadow of St Nicholas.
Flavoured with a sprinkling of Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, Roald Dahl, Gremlins, Poltergeist, and even Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, Krampus opens as a savage attack on the crass commercialisation of the festive season, and Black Friday-inspired entitled greed, with a wonderful juxtaposition of It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas playing over angry, violent, miserable, shoppers battling each other to grab last minute bargains.
Max has gotten into a fight during his nativity play, when one of the other kids bad-mouthed Santa, and his hard-working parents - Tom (Parks & Recreation's Adam Scott) and Sarah (Muriel's Wedding's Toni Collette) - are stressing over the arrival of Sarah's sister, Linda (Fargo's Allison Tolman), and her trailer-trash family.
After being ridiculed by his cousins for still believing in Father Christmas, Max tears up his letter to Santa and throws it out the window.
Almost simultaneously, a massive storm descends over the town, knocking out all the power, and Max's extended family find themselves trapped at home by the weather.
His sister, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) disappears when she goes looking for her boyfriend who lives nearby.
Tom and redneck brother-in-law Howard (Anchorman's David Koechner) brave the deep snow and driving wind to try and find her. Instead they come across signs of violent, monstrous attacks in the neighbourhood, and are then set upon by "something" unseen and chased back to their house.
Only Tom's German mother, Omi (Krista Stadler), seems to know what's going on, and recounts her own encounter - as a child - with Krampus.
Much like Howl from yesterday, this is another 'spam in a cabin' horror movie, although not so gory.
One element that people might not immediately grasp is that Krampus itself is so powerful - it is essentially a demi-god - that it can't really be fought physically with any chance of winning, despite having a very physical presence in the film.
Krampus is, in essence, a magical puppet master, using his immense powers to bring his army of servants to life - be they twisted toys, evil gingerbread men, or mask-faced elves - to do his bidding.
Despite the film being seemingly quite broad in its reach, its heart lies with Max and his Christmas wish. In a lot of ways, Krampus is more an extended, clever, Twilight Zone episode than an action-horror film, with the physical conflicts being far less important than Max's changing feelings towards his family and the holidays.
The film also pulls a brave trick towards the end, faking the audience out with the worst possible cheesy ending before pulling back to show us what's really going on. If you can ride out the groans brought on by the apparent ending of the movie, the final twist is brilliant in its well-crafted delivery and implications.
Max made a simple, innocent, wish for Christmas. And in finally making it come true, that's where the horror comes in.
Season Six of Game Of Thrones is upon us. Below is a feature about this week's episode, as always beware spoilers if you care about such things. There's also a recap of Season Five, if you're not caught up or can't remember what went down last year.
As featured in 2011 superpowered vigilante film Cross...
A magical 'Celtic Cross', currently in the possession of former army ranger Callan McCrae, The Cross Of The Isles is a hereditary magical item passed down through the generations of a bloodline descended from the gods of old.
Once it has formed a bond with a new owner (which takes about a day, once the previous owner has surrendered it, and provided the new owner is of the correct bloodline), it grants them both protection and power.
Under the Guardians rules system (I've sort of kludged together something here that combines the actual game rules with my more free-form approach to old school magic item creation for fantasy games) the Cross counts as a magical gadget, that must be worn to activate.
It has a pool of 12 Energy Points that can only be used with its inherent powers, which are:
- Force Field (S1, one EP/10 minutes duration) - provides DR10 and +4AC (as well as Life Support protection. This personal energy field is invisible until struck, when a green flash appears at the point of impact. For a cost of 2EP/10 minutes (and surrendering the Life Support ability) the field can be flattened into a 10ft wide shield (with the Cross at its centre), protecting all those behind it. In this latter form, the shield takes on a green shimmer.
- Force Bolt (RA1), bolt of green energy, range 100ft, 4d6 damage (directed from wearer's hand). For the expenditure of 6EP may fire a single, super bolt of energy from the Cross itself, capable of inflicting 24d6 damage.
Monday, 25 April 2016
Malick is surprised to find that Hive - still wearing Grant Ward's body - has turned up at his home, summoned a meeting of the inner circle of Hydra, and charmed his way into the heart of Malick's lovely daughter Stephanie (Bethany Joy Lenz).
Paradise Lost was cut through with flashbacks to Malick's teenage years, when he (Cameron Palatas) and his brother Nathaniel (Joel Dabney Courtney), came to Hydra after the death of their father.
Meanwhile, Daisy and Lincoln head off to talk to an eccentric off-gridder he knew at Afterlife called James (Axle Whitehead), who might have information about the creature known as Hive, and the rest of the team try to intercept a Hydra raid on an agrochemical plant.
Between Simmons' investigations back at S.H.I.E.L.D., what Daisy learns, and the brief glimpse we get of Hive's "true form", we get more of a taste of Hive's true nature, but still have yet to see the monster in all its glory.
A rollicking episode, full of twists and turns, character growth, and a dash of fisticuffs, Paradise Lost certainly propelled the season's main story arc forward.
Even though the table-turning by Malick's right-hand man, Giyera (Mark Dacascos), was rather fortuitously timed for Hydra, it did pave the way for Daisy and Lincoln to call out The Secret Warriors, Daisy's personal posse of Inhuman agents, which is clearly going to be a major element of the story from here on in.
Since the dawn of civilization, he was worshipped as a god. Apocalypse, the first and most powerful mutant from Marvel’s X-Men universe, amassed the powers of many other mutants, becoming immortal and invincible.
Upon awakening after thousands of years, he is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of powerful mutants, including a disheartened Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to cleanse mankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign.
As the fate of the Earth hangs in the balance, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) with the help of Professor X (James McAvoy) must lead a team of young X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save mankind from complete destruction.
Downtrodden ticket collector Joe (Ed Speleers of Downton Abbey and Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands) is browbeaten into working a double-shift, overseeing the last crosscountry train out of London late one night.
The only ray of sunshine for him is the presence of Ellen (Hollyoaks' Holly Weston), manning the snack cart.
The weather's miserable, fogs setting in, rain is lashing down, but everything is otherwise quite mundane, until the train hits something on the track and grinds to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
The driver (a nice little cameo from Sean Pertwee) gets out to see what's happened and promptly disappears.
The handful of passengers left on the train are, unsurprisingly, unhappy about this situation and talk Joe into opening the doors so they can walk to the next station.
Soon after they all set out, Joe and Ellen stumble over the driver's dismembered corpse and everyone flees back to the relative safety of the train carriage, pursued by 'something' (it's a werewolf, not really a spoiler as the film's called Howl and director Paul Hyett makes sure we realise all this is happening on the night of a full moon).
The bulk of the action then unfolds within the railway carriage as the passengers barricade themselves in and try to fend off their monstrous attacker.
Howl is elegant in its simplicity. It's what Joe Bob Briggs would call a "spam in a cabin" movie, although in this case the cabin is on wheels and delivers the meat to the monster, rather than the monster coming to the cabin for dinner.
The supporting cast - which includes a few recognisable faces such as Da Vinci's Demons' Elliot Cowan as a skeevy yet charming businessman, The Smoke's Sam Gittins, Spooks' Shauna Macdonald, and Victoria Wood regular Duncan Preston - go through some interesting character arcs, but this is a brutal film that deals death and dismemberment to both the deserving and the innocent.
The script, from Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, makes excellent use of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the railway carriages which certainly adds to the jeopardy. I can't think of another horror film that uses this set-up.
Howl's take on werewolves is visually interesting as well, giving them a look that is kind of classic but with a heavy dose of Wrong Turn mutant and Descent troglodyte.
There's no messing about with Howl, we get about 10 minutes or so to introduce us to Joe and his working life, then, wham, it's straight into the train crash, werewolf attacks, and blood and guts for the next 75 minutes or so.
It's a great British horror movie, using a very British scenario (late night trains, disgruntled passengers, bad weather etc), that ticks all the right boxes for an enjoyable, sit-back-and-relax monster movie.
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