Saturday, 30 June 2012

Why Should I Read... Incorruptible/Irredeemable?

The traditional comic book ideas have their roots in the favourite question of our imaginations; What if? What if superheroes existed? What if there were aliens out there? What if the newly elected president on the world's most powerful nation teamed up with Ashley "Ash" J. Williams to battle the eternal forces of darkness? Comic book readers have been reading the answers for decades. Since the golden age however, comic book writers have had license to kick it up a gear. As the social acceptance for hard hitting writing rises, so does the deviation from the norm.

As such, Incorruptible and Irredeemable are not new concepts. Certainly the major comic book publishers have covered the turn of all their central characters to the darker end of the moral scale, either in their standard run or in one-off specials. One of my favourite aspects of these books is being smashed in to this huge global change without prior knowledge of the universe in which they are taking place, or the characters in it. Whilst familiarity does often breed contempt, there are enough staple character types, concepts and situations to enable the reader to feel at home, whilst still showing you something new.

Irredeemable and Incorruptible are a double helix, weaving their way through the world of the Plutonian. They barely touch and that's the beauty of these books. Irredeemable focuses on the core - the decline of the most powerful man in the world and the effect on those closest to him. This is done very skilfully, somehow simultaneously showing as both a sudden explosion and a slow burn. This is accomplished with heavy use of flashbacks. This does place a demand upon the reader for a certain level of attention, but I found that the drip feed of information it created kept me ticking along nicely.

Adversely, Incorruptible focuses on one individual and the rest of the world. It feels set at street level, as opposed to the lofty stratosphere of the most powerful. The impact of super beings on those who live normal lives is thrust forcefully in the face of the lead, through whose eyes we learn the finer points of life. Despite it's post-apocalyptic feel, there is a softer tone to Incorruptible. Some may feel it's simpler, but it has it's own intricacies that allow the book to stand on its own. The linking of the stories definitely make Incorruptible the secondary book, but I find it hard to recommend one over the other. There are similarities and individual merits, but if you have the means to buy both, they are equally rewarding.

With both books, characters are key and there are central themes. The affect on mental health when such absolutes are in play is a cornerstone. Again, this is not a new concept, covered multiple times as comic books have become more intelligent. This story portrays the subject matter in new ways, using both internal and external constructs of the mind in real and imagined settings, creating it's own version of crazy. This is a very clever way of weaving the reality back in to a very full fantasy, giving human qualities to both the inhuman and superhuman alike. The characters are also not 100% original, and whilst I find myself using those sort of statements repeatedly, please don't let this put you off. The comfortable parallels of both the central and peripheral characters at times just feels like a little reward, as if to say if you've read enough to catch a reference then you've earned a nod and a wink. This is done subtly, with neither derision or homage.

As with all books of this nature, it is very easy to draw comparisons with more well known titles. I found myself thinking of various Superman or JLA stories regularly. The X-Men storyline, Onslaught, also dragged its ugly purple carcass in to my brain more than once as well. This can't really be helped, but I do genuinely think there is enough original material to actually make these comparisons enjoyable.

Some readers might find a few of the nuances are obstructive. Changes in artwork in Incorruptible did leave me wondering what the artist was trying to portray, when these thick inked lines turned up suddenly, only to disappear again next issue. I can only think that there was an attempt to balance the artwork of Irredeemable, but it didn't pay off for me personally. Some of the basic character's details in both comics were distracting for me, with little things like the names Max Damage, Qubit or Samsara being almost beyond cliché and into clumsy. I would like to think that when considering this book, these things are actually there to draw you in and tie you down with the familiar, but at times I really wasn't sure.

If I could only give one reason as to why you should read these graphic novels however, it would be this. I said at the start of this piece that 'What if?' is the staple diet of those who feast on comics. The real beauty of these books is that they allow a genuine 'What if?' experience without the hang-ups or the debates that go with trying this with a more familiar universe. This gives the story freedom, which in turn gives the reader excitement. If you want to read an exciting story, this is a bloody good one.

Chris Boyle is gearing up to be a man with a van!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

New Beginnings: Spider-Men Issues #1 & 2

Peter Parker is a name synonymous with the name Spider-Man, and now there's a new kid on the block - and one alternate universe over  - with links to the same monicker: Miles Morales.

Due to the walls of reality that have separated them in the past their paths would never have crossed but now, thanks to Brian Bendis, we can see in this five-part series what happens when all that changes.

Issue #1 opens with a standard web-slinging evening with Spider-Man tidying up petty crime and generally keeping New York a safer and more respectable Big Apple. Admittedly, he’s not the most loved and even the police are wary of him. It’s a hard night’s work in a city that is almost fighting back against him, oblivious to the knowledge that under the mask is a normal person, Peter Parker.

Although he enjoys his life, it isn’t the easiest and is always moving and changing around him. So it’s not surprising that when a weird light in a sinister warehouse he has to investigate it...

Although not as criminally intent as previous situations, Spidey is forced face to fishbowl with an old foe. As with previous fracas his fight is short lived and one-sided except for the unexpected twist of throwing him into an alternate universe complete with an alternate Spider-Man and a city who loved and mourned that world's Peter Parker.

Sara Pichelli has drawn the series and although she is known for her work on the Ultimate Spider-Man universe I was quite pleased to see that she adopted the more familiar Spidey style - in turn aided by a similar style of lettering. It’s a nice touch considering that it follows the universe that it is currently set in. It would have been very easy to run it all in one style but the effort, for me, has been appreciated. When the universe changes, so does the artwork, which I felt was a good touch in helping the reader to transfer across too.

This all continues into the second issue as well. Different universes get attention to the different styles.

Whereas Bendis spent the first issue mainly on Peter and him being thrust into a completely alien yet totally familiar setting, the second issue is him trying, or at least fighting, to come to terms with it. There’s a lot for him to take in, especially as the Spider-Man he is confronted with is clearly younger and inexperienced, with slightly different powers too. What’s more is that the reactions he receives point to something untimely for his respective self in this universe.

It’s only when he comes to meet a sort of familiar face in Nick Fury that things start to fall into place. It’s also an insight into what could have been had his life gone a slightly different way in his universe too. To try and soften the blow Miles is tasked with bringing Peter up to speed on everything and the pair set off in a SHIELD helicopter only to be shot down setting up the second issue's cliffhanger.

Both issues are well presented, as mentioned before the artwork has particular attention to detail not only in the actually drawing but also the thought and consideration behind it.

The story so far is fairly straight forward, and if honest, I maybe expected more over two issues especially from Bendis. We are 40% through the limited series and I’ve not really felt any real tension or something to really get my teeth into as it’s all working to establish itself. I can’t help wonder what it’s leading to or where it will be taken, but then I equally have to think what can really be done in three issues? That said, the revelation the Earth-616 Mysterio is also the Ultimate Mysterio will have lasting repercussions and is a great twist for fans of either universe.

I would say take a light hearted approach to this one, regardless of if you’re into the Ultimate universe or not. I’m sure there is plenty more to this than meets the eye but so far it hasn’t grabbed me completely.

Matt Puddy should mention that he doesn't really read anything from the Ultimate Universe himself, despite repeatedly being advised that he is missing out on some fine, fine stories...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Watcher: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

History is never quite the way we remember it, as the saying goes “history is written by the victors”. This is the root idea for the film based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name. Adapted into a screenplay by Grahame-Smith himself, but directed and co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov with the assistance of Tim Burton. 

Everything else you need to know about this movie is within its title - the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, is a vampire hunter. But he doesn’t start out that way...

As a boy he witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of his father’s employer, whom they owe money to. Unbeknownst to him this man is actually a vampire. Abraham vows that one day he will avenge his mothers death. Years later - after his father's passing - that day finally arrives. Nervous and armed with a pistol, Abraham (Benjamin Walker) confronts his mothers killer, who then reveals his secret. This is a battle Abraham is not prepared for. Losing and about to die he is rescued by a man called Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper).

Sturgess takes Abraham back to his mansion to recover from his wounds. He then reveals that there are vampires in the world and that he is in the business of hunting them down. Abraham requests that he be trained so that he may succeed in his mission for revenge. Sturgess agrees on the proviso that Lincoln does exactly as he says and only kill when ordered to.

After an apparent 10 years of training with Sturgess he travels to Springfield, Illnois to begin his hunt. Abraham soon finds himself drawn to a young woman by the name of Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who at the time is being courted by Stephen A. Douglas (the brilliant Alan Tudyk). Even though he was warned by Sturgess to not form any sort of close relationships, Abraham falls head over heels for her (and strangely Douglas doesn’t ever seem to put up a fight for the love of his fiancée?!).

After some time of leading the double life of courting Mary and killing local vampires, he gains the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell) the originator for all vampires in the US who decides that he needs to meet the infamous Mr Lincoln.

Abraham decides that there might be more than one way to skin a cat (or vamp!) and takes an interest in the world of politics to search for a more permanent solution to the slave trade issues as well as the vampires heavily involved in feeding upon them! He hangs up his axe and decides to leave hunting in order to focus on politics and eventually becomes President. As per history, his beliefs on slavery cause a divide in the states, the vampires side with the Confederacy which means Abraham has to come up with a plan to eliminate them as well as win the overall war.

Benjamin Walker looks a lot like a young Liam Neeson and pulls off the action with ease also. Dominic Cooper is massively charming and seems to be mostly channelling Robert Downey Jr which is perfect as he portrayed Tony Stark’s father in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The movie’s stylised colour palettes and specific 3D effects - like the vampire’s eyes and their vanishing powers - were enjoyable and added to the whole feel of the film. Unfortunately real life history tends to get in the way of all the vamp-slaying fun, luckily the film is very loosely based on the novel and doesn’t actually delve to much into the history of good ol' honest Abe.

I have never understood the recent fascination with culture mash-ups like this but I did find myself pleasantly surprised, it has some fun axe-tion sequences which do get a bit crazy later on but its a perfect popcorn movie for a Sunday afternoon with a hangover.

Stefan Harkins was very, very hungover. Apparently.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

New Monthly Mondays!

As many of you know, Proud Lion is closed on Sunday and Mondays to give me a much needed weekend - something I started after more than two years of working a six-day week, almost every week.

It makes a huge difference to me - but I am aware that some of you also only get those two days of each week. So in a change to the previously advertised monthly Monday opening, I'll now be opening on the FIRST MONDAY of each month. This is based on customer feedback that some people would rather we opened after pay day. I happy to accomodate where I can.

So, Proud Lion will be open on Monday 2nd July from 12-2pm. Then again on Monday 6th August. And so on. all other opening times remain unchanged.

I look forward to seeing some of you in store and apologies to anyone if they tried to pop in yesterday!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Digital Canvas - Back To The Books

Following on from one of my previous articles, lets go back and finish reviewing the novelisations of webcomics on my bookshelves! I may not have a full and complete collection of all my favourite webcomics, but I do have a few gems to be treasured.

Problem Sleuth: Vol 1-3, and Homestuck: Vol 1
Andrew Hussie’s oeuvre is published independently via Topatoco. Each volume has a cover featuring gorgeous exclusive art by Hussie, its just a shame that they’re not chunky hard-covers. Each Problem Sleuth book contains on average about 5 chapters of the story, meaning that only a third of the overall story has been novelised so far.

In contrast, the first Homestuck volume covers the entire first chapter of that story, with the promise that later chapters will have to be spread over several books! I will say that certain panels in the book that are meant to portray a moving GIF from the website aren’t particularly good. Usually one or two frames of the animation are chosen to illustrate what’s going on, but invariably, those frames always seem to be the wrong/awkward ones.

As far as extra content goes, there’s a footnote on every page providing commentary on the action, with Hussie stating that he feels the books act as a “study guide” for the webcomic, providing additional trivia and depth. This seems to be especially true regarding the focus of the footnotes since he started novelising the Homestuck story. Certain volumes also have extra material at the back pages, a particular highlight being Problem Sleuth Vol. 3’s collection of additional scenes brought about via special request by fans providing website-upkeep donations.
Available through Proud Lion? NO

Cyanide & Happiness: Volume 1
Published by Harper Collins no less, the book itself is much like the comic strip: unassuming from afar, amusingly vulgar when paid attention to. Take heed, this series of strips may cause offence. This book was actually a gift from a relative; at the time I wondered what impression I was giving off if someone buys a book like this for me without prompting (it is full of very un-politically-correct humour after all)! Needless to say, I laughed uproariously upon reading it.

Alongside 120 regular strips, the authors have generously included 30 new strips created especially for the book, including the continuing adventures of Seizure Man. As well as this, at the back of the book each of the four authors gets their own short bio along with their own humorous self-portraits.
Available through Proud Lion? YES

Wondermark: Dapper Caps And Pedal-Copters
Published by Dark Horse, this is easily one of my favourite books. It’s Volume 3 in the series, but stands up perfectly on its own without context (note to self, seek out Vol. 1 and 2). Every effort has been made to make it look like a Victorian publication, both inside and out, including technical drawings of deliberately strange contraptions in the introduction margins, parody adverts for things like “H.W. Johns’ Asbestos Dressings” on the front and back pages, ad use of florid Victorian slang and conventions throughout.

Wondermark is also easily one of the most generous books in terms of extras! At least one in every ten of the black and white strips have been painstakingly coloured by Carly Monardo, and several strips have had their concepts expanded upon via related reading material; various forms, diary entries, criminal records, etc. Also included is a section entitled “Abandoned Efforts”, filled with strips that didn’t quite work for whatever reason and were never put up on the website. And on top of all that is a completely new, fully coloured, large-scale story strip that covers 12 pages! And a section on how the strips are put together at the back! AND a selection of fan-art depicting bears in ill-fitting hats! AND I could go on, but suffice to say, this book is crammed with “good stuff”.
Available through Proud Lion? YES

So that’s my webcomic-book collection in its entirety! Needless to say, I already have plans to expand it with missing installments and tasty-looking additions such as the Gunnerkrigg Court novelisations. If anyone wishes to help me expand my collection, particularly towards Christmas time, I wouldn’t say no!

Todd Marsh is also an avid reader of Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde novels.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New Beginnings - The Massive #1

New from Dark Horse Comics we have The Massive, a new title brought to us by Brian Wood. Wood is known for a lot of different titles from both indie and mainstream such as Local, Demo, Northlanders, Wolverine & the X-Men: Alpha & Omega, Ultimate Comics X-Men or the Conan the Barbarian. These have been under Marvel, DC (as Vertigo) Image and more, so he is a well known writer throughout the various publishers.

The story straight from the outset poses an interesting question for the reader. In a world that has passed the point of no return as a biosystem and is rapidly failing in its other aspects, what is there for an ecowarrior to fight for?

The first issue of The Massive is one that works as an introduction to the cast and crew, but only in so much that it leaves you with enough to start to understand them but not enough to fully appreciate them. It also works as a bridge between the situation now and how it has come to be that way too by flashing back to the past. Something was most definitely wrong, with strange meteorological phenomena occurring and a growing ecological nightmare pointing to even worse things. It was during this time that the crew of the Kapital lost contact with their sister ship, The Massive, which now remains missing to this day. Captain Callum Israel not only is looking for a ray of light in all the surrounding mess but also for the missing ship.

The read through of the comic itself I actually found quite hard. This isn’t a title that will immediately smack you in the face and be full of adrenaline-fuelled action but it is a grower. There is a distinct feel of realism to it with raiders, pirates and danger that even now you can identify with and this has been very easily one by placing it only marginally in the future. Wood has written a considered piece that slowly draws you in waiting for something bigger, which you know will come.

The presentation of the title is also good. There has been so much time, effort and thought put into how it all looks and it all adds extra depth to it as well. There is a lot of emotion passed through the various looks, glances and expressions to support the story as well. What I have also liked is that the whole feel of the comic has been dictated and aided by the colouring. There is a completely muted feel to it, as if the emotional volume has been turned down on it all in line with the tone of it all. Here we have a boat, with an almost unknown set of attackers in the fog. It feels as if you should be squinting out to help them. There is also an almost The Sixth Sense element to it as well when the accentuation of the colour red is pushed through the pages to highlight importance too. I liked it a lot.

As I said this isn’t the easiest of comics to pick up and read easily, but it does deserve a good look at and maybe reading more than once. If you are a fan of Brian Woods’ work then you will really enjoy it as it is a great example of what he can do.

For a new title to try - and one that will actually make you read it properly too - this is a title to get.

Matt Puddy is getting himself fighting fit.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Big Game Hunting - Gateway Games: Small World

There are not many board games that I would be willing to buy my own physical copy of after playing just one game. Small World is one of those lucky few that was in my hands and on its way home with me within days of discovering it was within my reach. It borrows from many other games in its genre, with a generous dose of fantasy to pull it all together.

In Small World, players try to gain as many territories as possible. Players first select one of fourteen different races, randomly paired with one of twenty special powers, to get race units. These units allow them to conquer territories on the board. A territory requires two units to conquer, plus one extra unit for every token already present (enemy units, mountain tokens, lost tribe units, and so on), so managing your resources is vital. You may choose to redeploy your units after expanding your empire, making your territories more difficult for others to conquer. Every territory you occupy earns you one point at the end of your turn.

However, losing territories to other players weakens your race by reducing the number of units available to you in the next round. Eventually you will reach the point where your race becomes stretched too thin to maintain control of your territories. This is when you put your race into decline. You are no longer able to attack and conquer other lands with that race – but one declined unit stays in each territory, earning you points until they are conquered. You also then get to pick a new “active” race and special power combination, and start again. The player who has the most points at the end of ten rounds is the winner.

This is a game that has just the right amount of strategy. Winning a game is a challenge, especially if you're playing against a more seasoned player, but not so difficult to be off-putting. The unique bonuses of each race and special power guarantee a different experience every time you play. No single race or ability is singularly better than any other, and there is a large element of luck in getting a good combination. One of the best benefits of this is the multiple ways to win – there is no guaranteed way to beat your opponents.

Even the way the game is put together is incredibly well thought out. There are four different board configurations, and which one you use depends on how many players are in the game. There are individual sized sections in the box designed specifically for all the pieces, making organisation a breeze – an essential for a game with a lot of bits and bobs to keep track of.

In fact, that seems to be one of the game's greatest drawbacks. There are literally hundreds of pieces, many of which may not even be used in a single game. Essential as they are, keeping all those tiny bits together and within easy reach of the board is not an easy task once it's all out on the table.

The only other issue I can see with this game is in the race and power combinations. In most games, the combinations are random enough to make the races relatively equal, giving no player an extreme advantage over the others. Occasionally, though, a combination will pop up that is incredibly powerful, such as the Spirit Ghouls, or pathetically worthless, like the Merchant Dwarves. This could be helped by having more possible races to play, making the likelihood of those particular pairings more rare. The expansions to Small World help with that, adding more races to the pool of possibilities.

If you haven't played Small World, you haven't experienced what I consider to be one of the most finely crafted board games I've played in recent months. If you'd rather give it a go digitally, there is a limited iOS version available for iPad.

For more from guest blogger Rae, please check out her website

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Why Should I Read… Batman Knightfall?

I read the internet. I read the social phenomena that is meme. If you don't, I'll tell you this; Batman is all over the meme. Variations on how he is "The goddamn Batman" are rife. I recently saw a picture of the Justice League of America, with the caption "JLA? More like Batman and his bitches." This is widely accepted as correct, and that team includes Superman, various Green Lanterns and Wonder Woman.

I'm using this to get the point of this piece across; Batman is the best. Superman maybe the best known superhero of all time, but by and large he is known to be second best to Batman. Batman who is, may I remind you, a regular human being.

DC have afforded Batman liberties that they have not any other creation in their 77 years. May 1939, Detective Comics introduced us to Batman. At the time, DC was called National Allied Publications. Less than a year later, NAP became DC. In case you haven't checked or never even thought about it, DC stands for Detective Comics. To tie it all up, Batman is known as the world's greatest detective. Are you getting it yet? Not quite? OK.

Under the JLA title, every non-batlike member of the JLA was taken out by Ra's Al Ghul. A guy that Batman has successfully nullified on numerous occasions. How did the Demon's Head accomplish this? Well, he followed Batman's instructions on how to take the League members if they ever went rogue. Plans which logic would dictate he probably didn't execute as well as Batman would have, because yanno, he's not Batman. Are we there yet? Little more?

OK. I'm nothing if not thorough. The last book of the Dark Knight series. You can check the details for yourself, and debate the whys, hows, wherefores and details as much as you like. But there's a statement that I think should resonate with you that I can make because of this comic. Batman beat Superman in a fight. Sorry, were you not paying attention? Batman. Beat Superman. In a fight.

He's iconic. People who have never read a comic know who Batman is. In fact, people who've never read a comic, seen the TV series (animated or live action) or caught any one of the range of movies, even then still know who Batman is. To those who know him well, who've read his stories, the Batman is infallible. Batman is it. Batman could beat up Chuck Norris.

At this stage, you might think I've gone over board. But I can't make this a big enough deal. He is, after all, the goddamn Batman.

And then there's Bane. The man that broke the bat. I'm not particularly afraid of giving away spoilers here, the covers alone give away more than I will. But the preamble to this moment was to set up the fact that if you're in to your comics there are some things which you almost have a duty to read. A movie fan should watch certain movies. Can you take a movie aficionado's opinion seriously if he or she hasn't watched the Godfather or Citizen Kane? No. There are just some things that are momentous enough to warrant reading above anything else. The fall of the bat, well, that's an event that doesn't come around more than once a generation, if that.

Ultimately, there is a wonderful simplicity to Knightfall. The plot is not intricate, because the plan of the villain is not intricate. As is often true, the best strategy is often the simplest. Bane is also an uncomplicated villain. He's certainly not anywhere near the intricate nefariousness of the Joker, undoubtedly Batman's most famous villain. Yet he accomplishes what Joker never has, without the borderline inane idiosyncrasies that readers of the DC Universe are used to. There's none of the usual bells and whistles of trademark comic rivalries, because this story stands on the magnitude that true changes to the status quo are.

We are looking forward to the last cinematic installment of the Nolan Batman series. We saw Ra's Al Ghul, a character who was new to the masses but a key component in the life of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, who deserved his time in the mainstream. Then Nolan gave us the Joker, one of the most iconic trans-medium villains of all time. But when he wants to end, he turns to Bane. It's cliche to say you should read the book because of the movie or vice versa, and comparing the two from any franchise at times seems to be what keeps the internet ticking over. But if you are a reader of comic books, if you are true to our little world, then this is a moment of history you owe it to yourself to be familiar with. This is Knightfall, when the Batman was beaten.

Chris Boyle is no stranger to breaking people

Thursday, 14 June 2012

New Beginnings - Prophecy #1

Whenever I see the name Ron Marz I automatically think of Witchblade or Green Lantern, so to see his name on a Dynamite branded comic certainly caught my eye. Admittedly my exposure and knowledge of Dynamite is very limited, but there are characters I already recognise such as Red Sonja.

Prophecy #1 is the first part of a seven issue crossover which also includes Vampirella, Dorian Gray and Dracula (to name but a few). What is also good is that this is completely self contained. Readers won’t have to worry about missing parts or story arcs in other titles or comics - it is a focused and direct event. In an age when we have seen Marvel trying to cash in on Fear Itself across over 20 different titles or DC using Flashpoint to push a multitude of “new” but limited titles it’s certainly refreshing to see a publisher which is looking after the story first.

The story opens in 1890 with a very well know fictional detective and his faithful ward Dr Watson investigating a murder with a distinct Mayan flavour to it. All in a day's work for the genius of Holmes, but then the why of it all opens another door. Skipping back in time we are introduced to our heroine, Sonja, and her nemesis Kulan Gath, both doing what they are best at. For Sonja this is fighting and for Gath it’s magic and witchcraft. This also includes a very special dagger that hurls Gath through time with Sonja in hot pursuit wanting his head. Unfortunately for her they become separated and she is thrust into the world of vampires.....
Marz has written a strong story that is easy to read. It can be a little wordy in places and normally this is something that I shy away from, but given whose involved (mainly Holmes and Watson) you can understand why. It fits the mythology of the characters well. When reading the Mayan section you get a complete feel for the old movie style filled with clichéd action and cliff hanger action which was really enjoyable. I did get a slight whiff of cheese from the story but it was just at the right level to make it fun without making you frustrated with the dialogue too.

Walter Geovani has provided the artwork for this issue. Every frame is packed full of details with a lot of attention paid to virtually every person in the frame. Even people in the background have been given extra touches and adornments that mean they don’t fade into the colour wash. This is certainly a piece of work that a lot of time has been taken over. Even when the frames open up into full page images the level of detail increases even further and they become softer and more lush.

As a new comic on a publisher people may not know this is a good introduction. As this miniseries goes on I think it will engage a lot of different characters, which some may find overwhelming, but it gives you an introduction to Dynamite’s roster.

A fun story so far and one which will open doors for sure.

Matt Puddy pulled off a last minute substitution.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Big Game Hunting - Free RPG Day 2012: SATURDAY 16TH JUNE

So Free RPG Day is now only a few weeks away!

I'm pleased to be able to announce that we'll be taking over the empty shop next door to Proud Lion for ONE DAY ONLY!

42 Albion Street gives us the space to run six different RPG sessions, covering three different RPGs - D&D 4E, Battletech and the new Warhammer 40K RPG Only War, which features the Imperial Guard.

There will be a lunchtime session running from 11-1pm, then an afternoon session running from 3-5pm. Spaces will be limited and you will need to sign up in advance to get a place, but they will be free and all attendees will get a copy of the adventure they played to take away at the end of the game.


Please email me at telling me which game session you would like to register for.

You can choose ONE from the following:

11-1pm - D&D 4E (5 spaces)

11-1pm - Battletech (4 spaces)

11-1pm - WH40K (4 spaces)

3-5pm - D&D 4E (5 spaces)

3-5pm - Battletech (4 spaces)

3-5pm - WH40K (4 spaces)

SPACES WILL BE ALLOCATED FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED. You will receive a confirmation email. If we've run out of spaces for your chosen session, I will contact you if there are alternatives.

Here's the Facebook event for those who use it for maintaining their schedules!

Ben Fardon is trying to juggle all the things!

Friday, 8 June 2012

New Beginnings - Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

Between September 1986 and October 1987, Alan Moore created the award-winning Watchmen. It was always hinted and rumoured that he had wanted to create a prequel to it all where the Minutemen were looked at and where they evolved from. Sadly, the complete breakdown in the relationship between Moore and DC other the intervening decades has robbed us of whatever he had planned.

This week, DC have finally decided to stop even paying lip service to the big beardy one and have gone ahead and created their own prequels.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen is a new six part series penned by Darwyn Cooke - part of a larger publishing event that opens that world up from the comics and subsequent film.

Cooke has created numerous titles as well as also working as a storyboard artist on a number of different animated TV series. He's produced notable works on Batman and The Spirit as well as his own titles on IDW’s label. His career actually only started shortly before Watchmen was created and his good credentials could help him to settle the concerns of some fans and critics who have been wary of this event. These are certainly some big shoes to fill considering the accolades the original has received.

This first issue is designed to introduce all of the characters and their backgrounds as well. Using a vehicle that Moore created in the original, Cooke uses the creation of the book “Under the Hood” to review each of the respective heroes. It works in a good way in that instead of looking at a team dynamic (as this is even before that) it looks at the individual styles of them all. Using the original Minutemen picture, we get to see Hooded Justice, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, (a very young) Comedian, Mothman, Captain Metropolis, Dollar Bill and The Silhouette.

All of these characters will seem familiar but - with the exception of the Comedian who is a much more deranged version - none of these are the people we know properly from Watchmen. These are their own moments of inception and first steps into the world of masked crime fighting. What is good is that they are all different from one another. For those who have read Watchmen they will know that the team worked well in its heyday but the diverse nature of each of the individual parts is fascinating. I loved that they had such differences in approach manner and mental state.

Whilst it is a new title, it has tried to stick to its roots as well. Both in the setting of the comic and the world around it, and its own production. The artwork is very similar in style to the original as well. There is a massive difference though. In the original work a three by three grid is used with repetitive motifs as well. This gave it form and format too. Cookes’ comic doesn’t follow this giving it an identity of its own. 

As a brand new comic trying to build foundations under a well established title you have to admit it is a very daunting task for any writer. In this instance I think that Cooke has done a good job by not only giving a new look on previously known characters, but by also not overstepping the mark. For fans of Watchmen I think that this is a must-have title and they should pick up a copy or pre-order the inevitable graphic novel. If you’ve not read the original, then I think that this is also something you can get into right now. This title is also a great precursor to what is still to come from Before Watchmen. Watch this space.

Matt Puddy is gearing up for two big new comics next week.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Watcher - Prometheus

I was so excited for Prometheus. Late April, on my Twitter page, I proclaimed that I was besotted with it in fact - a dirty little secret I felt I'd been keeping from the Avengers movie.

So perhaps it's my fault. Maybe I overhyped the return of Ridley Scott to the Weyland-Yutani universe and the sci-fi horror genre. I've done it before - I was stupidly excited about Avatar, then I saw it and hated it. I've still not forgiven James Cameron if I'm honest. stupid blue Smurfs in space, clumsily reinterpreting The Last Of The Mohicans. And don't get me started on the clumsy foreshadowing dialogue and the bestiality. That's right, if Avatar is your favourite movie - take another look. They have sex with animals. Kinda.

Now, I'm not quite so furious about Prometheus. I'm just disappointed.

The film opens with beautiful shots of stunning vistas, and it continues to look incredible throughout. The 3D is the best I've ever seen - better even than Avatar (it does, I can begrudgingly admit, have that one redeeming feature). The holographic recordings of the Engineers - as the humanoids like the Space Jockey from Alien are revealed to be called - really stand out on the frame, in a way that truly enhances these effects. The set design is superb too - with a great contrast between the interior of the Prometheus and the alien structure on the planet they reach. And the music is great - riffing off science fiction exploration scores similar to Star Trek before transforming into something altogether more intense and evocative in the third act.

Sadly these aesthetics cannot hide the film's massive flaw. Unlike the story of Alien - and it's successor Aliens - which seamlessly integrates the set pieces into a constantly advancing narrative with unfolding revelations, Prometheus feels like a patchwork quilt with set pieces surviving from previous drafts, despite the fact that the surrounding exposition has been lost.

The plot holes are bigger than the chestburster hole in that original Space Jockey back in 1979. The story in a nutshell is that the Engineers created life on Earth (and I felt the implication was other worlds as well) and were then looking for the perfect way to destroy these original experiments with new biological warfare. Unfortunately they lost control of these new weapons - which essentially boil down to a mutagenic black goo - and almost all of the Engineers at this research facility were killed. Fine in theory and almost intriguing. Their motivations are never clearly explained in this film - lazily setting up a sequel, which I wouldn't have a huge problem with if this had been billed as two films from the start like the upcoming Hobbit films.

The parallels between the Engineers creating life on Earth and the humans creating synthetics is briefly explored and is the one real triumph of Prometheus. Michael Fassbender shines as David, delivering a wonderful performance. "Why do you think your people made me?" he asks. "We made you because we could," he is told. Looking away, David offers this simple observation - "Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you, to hear the same thing from your creator?" For me, it's this fascinating heart of the film that kept it from being a rage-inducing disaster like Avatar.

Unfortunately, there's so much nonsense surrounding it. Aside from David, almost every other character spends the first act speaking utter bollocks. They all sound like they are characters in a cheesy movie - a far cry from the effortlessly believable dialogue in Alien that established a credible class system on the Nostromo. I admit in Alien that crew had been together for sometime - mining in deep space - and that the crew of the Prometheus were essentially just meeting each other for the first time, straight out of stasis. And it is a nice touch that this earlier version of stasis can cause vomiting and muscle wastage.

There's also a very clumsy seduction scene that - whilst it does serve to underline how vehemently one character hates being compared to another, which is of some importance later - is really just there to take two characters off the bridge before a critical moment of horror afflicts the two most annoying members of the crew.

This brings me to the monsters. There are at least five different deadly alien mutations in the film and none of them have the same iconic impact of Giger's original xenomorph creatures. The creature that Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw cuts out of herself (in a ridiculously contrived torture porn sequence that felt like an older director trying to prove he could keep up with the nonsense peddled by modern horror filmmakers) is essentially a cephalopod that grows to an enormous size. If the original facehugger creature was an attempt to elicit a fear of mouth rape with a phallus, I can only conclude that when the giant cephalopod is later unleashed on another antagonist, this was an attempt to invoke images of a human vulva. Very strange and extremely clumsy when once again compared to Giger's uniquely disturbing sexual imagery.

Guy Pearce's role is ruined by the most unconvincing old man special effects makeup I've seen in a long time - it's saying something when the BBC can do better on a TV budget in Doctor Who. The resulting appearance popped me out of the reality of any scene he was in, destroying my suspension of disbelief almost entirely.

The finale is a welcome crescendo of set pieces that feels like the most tightly scripted act of the whole film. The remaining crew of the Prometheus sacrifice themselves and their ship to stop the one surviving Engineer from flying to Earth (in one of the horseshoe shaped ships previously glimpsed as a derelict in Alien) to wipe out humanity. Two and a half crew members survive (it was inevitable that would David would be reduced to just a head, but it is lovely that the resulting cranium is so reminiscent of Ash) long enough to see the alien spaceship crash back to the planet in a stunning sequence.

As much as I'm clearly judging Prometheus against it's forebear, I could have done without the somewhat out of place callbacks to Alien, as Shaw becomes the lone female survivor stalked around an escape pod before recording an audio message as the "last survivor". It does little to mask the fact that the audience aren't getting any further explanations until Ridley Scott deigns to shoot a sequel - and with him currently touting a new Blade Runner project it could be a long wait before we get to see more of the Engineers and learn more about their real motivations.

Which is why Prometheus is so disappointing. The idea of pulling the Space Jockey into the spotlight and exploring just exactly what its role was in Alien was tantalisingly appealing. Taking it further and transcending the events of Alien and Aliens - elevating these giant humanoids to the role of Creators - was the promise of true science fiction that gave me chills and had me so damn excited. Exploring the contrast between ethical science for the pursuit of knowledge versus the ethos of "because we can, therefore we must, no matter the cost" was a fascinating basis for a thought provoking film.

Instead sadly, Prometheus is a beautiful mess. An unfinished symphony that can possibly be redeemed or further damned by the potential sequel. I guess time will tell.

Ben Fardon hopes Damon Lindelof is not involved in any follow up...