Saturday, 30 April 2011

Free Comic Book Day is NEXT SATURDAY!

The following titles will be available from Proud Lion on Saturday 7th May from 10:00am, whilst supplies last.

Some items will be extremely limited this year so you are advised not to leave it till the afternoon!

  • FCBD 2011 2000AD

  • FCBD 2011 Amazing Spider-Man

  • FCBD 2011 Artifacts #1/2 (The Darkness/Witchblade)

  • FCBD 2011 Avatar Last Airbender/Star Wars Clone Wars

  • FCBD 2011 Baltimore/Criminal Macabre

  • FCBD 2011 Betty & Veronica

  • FCBD 2011 Captain America/Thor

  • FCBD 2011 Geronimo Stilton & Smurfs

  • FCBD 2011 Green Lantern/Flashpoint Special Edition

  • FCBD 2011 Inspector Gadget

  • FCBD 2011 Intrepid Escapegoat & Stuff Of Legend

  • FCBD 2011 Jake The Dreaming

  • FCBD 2011 Kung Fu Panda & Richie Rich

  • FCBD 2011 Locke & Key

  • FCBD 2011 Mouse Guard/Dark Crystal Flip Book

  • FCBD 2011 Sonic The Hedgehog

  • FCBD 2011 Spontaneous #1

  • FCBD 2011 Super Dinosaur Origin Special

  • FCBD 2011 Worlds Of Aspen

  • FCBD 2011 Young Justice/Batman Super Sampler

If you can't make it on that day, you will miss out!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

New Beginnings - Super Dinosaur

In today’s comic book forum there are many well established characters, writers, stables and even audiences. So to either break from the normal in any of these areas, or to introduce something new is a very big event in any writer’s career. From Image Comics, and writer Robert Kirkman, we have the new creation of Super Dinosaur.

For those who recognise the name, Kirkman is the mind who gave us The Walking Dead and Invincible. Now I know The Walking Dead from the recent and incredibly well received television adaptation. It’s adult, graphic and quite hard hitting with a distinct horror aspect to it. Invincible on the other hand revolves around a teenage super hero with a younger audience in mind. Following suit, Super Dinosaur is directed at all readers. The general look and feel of the comic and it’s language usage points more towards a pre-teen reader but you can see that there are elements where Kirkham tries to deal with harder topics like emotion, trauma and shock. None of which a child will easily process without personal experience. It’s an incredibly difficult balancing act to attempt and I’m not entirely sure that this issue demonstrates it completely.

Ironically, the tagline for the comic is “This is where it begins!” however, Kirkman jumps straight into the story with no prior information and no back story. In fact any reader who wants to find out more will get a wealth of information on all of the characters from the Free Comic Book Day (May 7th for your diaries) Origin Special of Super Dinosaur, which strikes me as slightly odd. The first issue is out, setting the plot and introducing the main players, but you have to wait slightly more than a fortnight to learn the how’s and why’s.

The story is easy to follow and has distinct good guys and bad guys (plus one wildcard). In many ways it resembles a Saturday morning cartoon in both the plot and depiction. Jason Howard, who has worked with Kirkman before on The Astounding Wolfman, has provided the illustration. It’s very easy on the eyes and doesn’t demand a giant amount of attention. The clarity in all of the frames comes from it not having a giant amount of detail to distract the eye, or be too cluttered. With that said, it is the shading that has created the depth. The lack of any significant background detail also furthers the mid Eighties' Saturday morning feel reinforcing my original feelings.

It’s a fun and easy comic to read. In fact I would go as far as saying that it would be considered a great comic in the right demographic, that of a 9-11 year old boy, but I think it misses the older audience. This is not to say that girls wouldn’t enjoy it, but it really hit me as being aimed at a male audience. Further supporting this is the Free Comic Book Day special with Files on all the characters narrated by our main character and influenced by his feelings (“She’s really nice to me... Sometimes I think she wants to kiss me. Gross!”)

For those who pick it up I’m not sure that the intellectual depth is enough to hold a more mature readership with it’s obvious play-on-words names and basic feel to it. Conversely, Kirkham has established himself as an author who creates and when he does it’s worth paying attention. I find myself torn, but only by the work that has preceded SD and not the issue in hand.

Younger readers will love this, dinosaurs, missiles, fighting and fun, but at over three times what I think is the age range should be this has missed me but if you are looking for a title to get your son reading comics without having to worry about the content, language or subject matter then here is your winner.

Matt Puddy isn't a child at heart

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

King Of The Jungle - Comic shops and the Direct Market

Comic shop stock ordering is a strange beast.

Other retail markets work by generating interest - through TV shows, advertising, sales representatives, promotional tie-ins, etc. They then manufacture product based on projected interest and the cheapest trade off between production run and projected sales. Then they take and fulfill orders on said products. If demand is high they do further production runs as deemed appropriate.

From natural yoghurt to natural pine furniture this is pretty much true. Some industries however, prefer to work solely on pre-orders. Special edition sports cars for example.

Comics now work in a similar way. A process called the Direct Market. Comic shop owners/managers receive Previews catalogues in the last week of the current month. They have until about the third week of the following month to draw up orders and place them with Diamond.

For the bigger publishers, these figures are then relayed to them some six weeks before the comics will hit the shelves (known as the FOC or Final Order Cutoff) and print runs are produced accordingly - often with some extra copies to cover restocks, but not always. Retailers can add further guaranteed copies to the order up until a title’s FOC, then after that it’s pot luck based on restocks. Other, smaller companies get their figures almost straight away, allowing the retailers no time to increase their orders.

This means that when you see issue #1 of a comic on the shelves - orders have already been placed for issue #2! And the figures for #3 are about to be sent in, if they haven’t been already. So retailers must place orders for up to the first three issues of a comic without knowing how well issue #1 sells! Many cope with this by ordering say 10 of #1, then cutting it to five for #2 and three or less for #3, hoping that they can get increases in before the FOC. A Direct Market retailer who has stock left on the shelves is stuck with them - they usually cannot get a refund.

If every comic enthusiast bought a copy of Previews each month and placed orders based on what they like in that month’s catalogue, retailers would have things a lot easier. But most people seem to forgo Previews these days. Instead they place orders for #1 maybe the week before or pick up #1 then add the rest to their reservation, not realising they may not get issue #2 if luck is against them.

Reservation customers are a blessing though. A customer who wants the same title every month gives a retailer almost guaranteed income and makes it much easier to gauge how popular a title is. If the creative team on a comic changes, retailers can see a massive drop or in turn a large increase in copies required. Difficult when orders were locked between three months or six weeks before the comic’s release date.

It is also disheartening to a retailer when a customer cancels his or her order. The shop has between two or three months worth of comics on order for that customer that may well be impossible to cancel. Suddenly the shop has instant negative equity moving forward unless someone new picks up those books.

All in all, the Direct Market is a mixed bag. It does give higher profit margins on comics than the magazine distribution model, but it comes at the price of a higher risk and a need to be a little bit cliarvoyant when it comes to placing orders.

I’ve been placing Previews orders myself for almost five years consecutively now and whilst I have a better insight into what can happen, you can never get it perfect.

Perhaps if people understand the inner workings of the process, it will be easier to understand why sometimes you have to wait whilst I source your missing issue of Nonplayer #1 from somewhere else!

The new Previews catalogue comes out tomorrow. The previous month's items (due out in June) can be viewed at Comixology.

Ben Fardon is wishing his life away.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Saffron Threads - Who am I, again?

I may have mentioned before that I'm a bit of an escapism addict. It's certainly part of the reason I enjoy tabletop RPGs and LARP, but it does have its downsides, namely keeping all those personalities straight and in-check.

I have a few past RPG characters that are not memorable, mostly from my early days of gaming or from a first attempt at a new system. I have two I'm very attached to but who don't get out to play because the games are on indefinite hiatus. Finally, I have two currently in play and am ready to roll up a third, all in different systems. I try to make the characters different from each other in a bid to make it easier for me to remember who I'm supposed to be being today: I don't always succeed, although I have yet to confuse anyone else in this way. I prefer to think that this is because I catch myself, rather than because I'm a rubbish roleplayer...

The first of the two on hiatus is a young, naive and somewhat flighty werewolf in a new World Of Darkness campaign, but with house-rules to the old WoD rules when the GM prefers them. She started out as a twenty-something living it up in London while working as a Parliamentary Researcher but after almost two years of play she's a scarily powerful werewolf with no paying job, sharing a ramshackle house with two mages, hanging out in the spirit world and a bar guarded by Wraiths and trying to avoid any responsibility in the decimated local pack. Oh and she has a wraith in her head: the only way she could escape the Deadlands as a werewolf after dying during her first Change was to agree to allow a wraith to guide her back. In return, he overtly and covertly pushes her to fulfil his own ends, and when he achieved them he will leave her. Allegedly...

The other hiatus character is for a post-apocalyptic free-form system run by Proud Lion's very own Ben called Cactus Land. This one was a rebellious adrenaline junkie, caring for almost nothing and no one. I have to admit, I loved this game. Because it was systemless, if there wasn't a reason in your backstory for you to be able to do something, you couldn't do it. End of. Backstory and character development is the key reason I roleplay, and the main reason I didn't get on with D&D v4 at all. As a social board game, it's good. As a roleplaying game, it sucked, and not in the good way. Back to Cactus Land: as an ex-Nascar driver and jillaroo, Lisa had many skills I do not, and her independence and nihilism meant there was no falling around persuading the party to cooperate! She still hasn't forgiven herself for almost escaping from a prison camp and hesitating when the rest of the party seemed to be in trouble, and then all being recaptured together. Really, who needs a spark of humanity with experiences like that?

Of my two current characters, Gudrun is a half-elf sorceress in a Norse setting of D&D v3.5. It's the first system I ever played but I've had mixed results on the roleplaying side of the game. I'm struggling to inhabit this character, and while there are things she will do, such as taking the dawn watch (because she follows Dellingr, father of Day and god of Dawn) and weaving in the evenings and walking with a staff (because that's what the Volva did), she doesn't have a unique personality for me. Yet...

I've mentioned Lady G before, my Curious Pastimes alchemist. She's a lovely roleplaying challenge because although she considers herself a lady "by accident of birth rather than character" she's unwilling to give up the status it brings or intentionally behave like a common peasant. So, I get to spend a weekend trying to avoid making a single smutty comment (something I have yet to achieve!) and influencing people by diplomacy rather than outright leadership, or shirking duties entirely – it's always Gin O'Clock for some players! I have a very clear sense of who she is and how she reacts, but even so, maintaining it unscripted for 16hours a day is another challenge. As a non-combatant alchemist, there's an awful lot roleplay involved in being her, so it's refreshing to take time out on a monster slot to just mindlessly hit things as the third gribbly from the left.

I'm trying out Maelstrom LARP later this year, which will see me attached to the pleasure cult, providing services in return for personal gain. And she will utterly detest nature, thus being a complete change from every other character I've played, and definitely involve me playing against my own preferences. Escapism, here I come...

This weekend, Saffron is running around being Lady G, then skipping off into the Mediterranean sunset for a well-deserved rest and cocktails on a beach, followed by some gentle sightseeing.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Happy Easter!

This week Kate is spending her time in a field with nerds but will be back to her normal loquacious self next time.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

New Beginnings - Journey into Mystery #622

Tying in well with both Book One of Fear Itself and also the ending of Siege, Journey Into Mystery gives a new insight into how things ended and how they are beginning again.

Gillen has written a really nice piece that begins with a fable type piece complete with magpies. Following their tale leads you back to a very young, almost confused Loki...

Delving deeper into the new Marvel event, Fear Itself, this week we have Journey Into Mystery.

As an aside I have also read Uncanny X-Men (amongst others) this week, which seems an odd statement to highlight, but both have been written by Kieron Gillen.

The reason I bring this up is that I feel the two titles show a good diversity to his writing ability and style. Gillen is a relatively new comic book writer from what I know and has spent a lot of time working on Marvel titles following in some very big footsteps on Thor and now Uncanny X-Men too. Keeping the former in mind it puts Gillen in good stead for writing on Fear Itself as well.

For a character that at the end of Siege made what was an almost unfathomable sacrifice (for a god) we are now given the story behind it. Why Loki did it, what he is now and more importantly what he can and may become.

It’s well written from all angles, the fable, the narrative (which is frequently used instead of moving from first to third person) and the actual story. As I mentioned before, I also read X-Men and the contrast is really quite big. Gillen has displayed that he is well versed and also able to write not only a good story, but also one that fits and feels right. He plays to the characters well. It was clear that this god of mischief had a streak buried deep within him that couldn’t be contained.

The artwork by Dougie Brathwaite is soft with a lot of detail work. This is further enhanced by the colouring and shading. It’s good artwork but doesn’t set my world on fire with its look, however, its feel fits perfectly. It’s not clean and sharp, meaning you actually study it, as you’re not always sure everything is perfect and well defined. The colours are muted and from a lighter palette giving an almost aged feeling, which is perfect because it now feels like it fits with the story. This is a tale born of the days of yore, ripped from the pages of the Norse Gods.

I think the only thing that I found strange is that it also felt wrapped up. This isn’t a one shot or a point one. This is a smaller piece in a bigger puzzle but you’re not given an overwhelming need to follow onto the next issue. It is almost too contained within this issue and works better as a precursor. From another aspect it has completely thrown me as it’s effectively re-introduced a dead character that wasn’t counted on before, or his impact, within the grand scheme of things for Fear Itself so I now have no clue what this could mean.

It’s interesting but is it enough? Of the two Gillen titles I’ve read this week, it’s certainly the stronger as far as storyline goes but I’m still not sure. I may consider it as a Fear Itself tie-in but I don’t think I’ll be fighting to grab it off the shelf just yet.

Matt Puddy fears nothing! Except deadlines.

Easter Opening Times

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Watcher Retrospective - Hammer time!

Since the brief glimpse of Mjolnir, Thor’s legendary hammer in the epilogue to Iron Man 2, advance publicity for Marvel Studios’ latest has gathered pace, with two official trailers and several lengthy clips all over the net. Thor, with his magical origins, epic family drama and none-more-super powers (well he is a god) seems the perfect fit in a world where big budget, fan-pleasing comic book adaptations are now routine.

Back in the day however, before FX technology (not to mention public demand) was good enough, only the most iconic superheroes got a shot at big screen glory. Marvel themselves seemed content to carve out a live action niche on the small screen. The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), while ostensibly a sequel to Kenneth Johnson’s fondly remembered T.V. series, was also a ‘backdoor pilot’ for a Thor television series, with star Bill Bixby seemingly content to give the God of Thunder a leg up.

Banner, now living peacefully and on the verge of a cure for his destructive Hulk-outs, receives an untimely visit from ex-student Dr. Donald Blake, who needs help with a ‘little problem’. Echoing the comic book continuity, Blake has stumbled upon an ancient tomb in the Scandinavian wilderness and finding Mjolnir, summoned Thor himself. Thor is slightly retconned here as a long dead Viking king, rather than actual god, whom Odin has barred from Viking heaven, Valhalla, for "the sin of pride." From his initial appearance - in which he not only demands to have some booze before wrecking Banner’s lab, but also manages to goad the Hulk out of his two year slumber seemingly for fun - it is easy to see Odin’s beef.

Although this initially makes our new hero seem like a bit of a tool, it nevertheless sets up a neat ongoing theme for a series, as Thor must learn humility and seek redemption (possibly by beating up some bad guys week after week?) It was probably also due to the needs of an ongoing series that the distinct personalities of Blake and Thor are here cast as two separate people, rather than sharing a body as in the comics. This allows Blake, played by Steve Levitt as an equally flawed character, and the buff yet likable Eric Allen Kramer as Thor, to share some entertaining banter, whether bonding over pitchers of beer in a biker bar, or discussing the seemingly endless torment of Thor’s life in purgatory. The original odd couple, if you will.

Overall however, the format proved too limiting for a series. Although Thor here is not a god, his sheer power and pure fantasy origins clearly demand more colourful enemies than the rent-a-thugs the budget affords him. Also, whilst Blake’s situation is likened time and again to Banner’s own struggle, the interplay with Thor is too comfortable by story’s end and he ultimately lacks Banner’s innate hubris.

Of the clips of Thor 2011 released so far, it appears that director Kenneth Brannagh is going for a similar character arc for the title character, played by Chris Hemsworth - immense appetite, lab wrecking and humour aplenty, but with the presence of a fully realised comic book world, together with a stellar cast and some nifty effects. He seemingly has more tools than just a hammer to craft an epic worthy of a GOD.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe just hopes that this Thor is mighty enough to withstand the dreaded 3D conversion

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Reluctant Geek - What’s that big shiny thing in the sky?

This week readers, things are going to be a little bit more surreal than usual. Imagine a David Lynch film, only with less nudity and girl on girl kissing. Probably.

Because rather than basements and bedsits and airless offices alive with the hum of a thousand computers, I have a different setting in mind for this session’s mandatory geeking out.

You may or may not have noticed that something a little bit odd has been happening lately. Maybe, when you try to play Fallout: New Vegas your vision is being obstructed by some kind of glare on the screen. Perhaps recent early evening D&D sessions have been interrupted by a high-pitched twittering sound (and it’s not even that annoying wannabe elf player who you hate). It’s possible even that your usual World of WarCrack buddies have started making excuses about how they don’t really have the time to come with you and kill that dragon/find that important object/pillage that particular village.

It’s ok though... there’s no real cause for alarm. What’s happening is something that happens quite often around this time. It’s the insidious creep of outside and summer and those crazy, nature loving freaks who don’t consider that the luminescent glow of your laptop screen is really going to deliver your requisite dose of vitamin D for the year.

Speaking as an aforementioned crazy, nature loving freak, I’m here to remind you that geekery and outside don’t have to be two mutually exclusive concepts. In the name of which cause, here are some of the best ways of combining your outer geek and inner hippy into one leet-speaking, kaftan wearing orgy of awesomeness.

As far as I understand it (and I’m willing to accept that there may be limitations here!) geocaching is basically a form of grown up treasure hunting with added tech. You can indulge your desire to play with shiny buttons and clever little wires, using GPS to help locate hidden containers and then romp all over the countryside tracking them down in real time. Fresh air, a massively niche hobby and the opportunity to come up with your very own code name. (Having located a box, you sign the logbook within with your unique ‘handle’). What’s not to like?! If you need the geek factor upping a little, you may be reassured to know that boxes found and sabotaged by the uninitiated are said to have been ‘muggled’. Just don’t forget to BYOP, and TFTH. (Acronyms are geeky, right?!)

It’s nearly summer. OK this is Britain, but chances are we still might have the odd gloriously sunny, cloudless day at some point. And if we do, it might just be followed by the occasional unobscuredly beautiful starry night. Stargazing has all of the essential qualities of geekery; ideally it requires equipment in the form of a telescope and superior enough knowledge to be able to use it and hopefully know what you’re looking at. But it also necessitates some communing with nature, gazing into the unknown and contemplating your place in the universe (Or particle physics, or that girl/boy you like, or tomorrow’s breakfast. Whatever works).

Whenever people produce or share those self-defeating pyramids of geekiness (honestly, if you’re creating/modifying/appreciating some kind of hierarchy of nerdery, chances are you’re at the bottom of it) LARP almost always occupies the lower layers. But despite this it’s one of the best ways of combining some wholesome outdoorsyness with your desire to be a wizard and go on quests. And anyone who thinks that geeky activities can’t be physically demanding just needs to watch a bevy of fat men run up a hill wearing chainmail. It’s pretty much an endurance sport under these circumstances! If you LARP you can spend all summer running around woods and fields, without ever once having to suggest anything so prosaic as a country walk or picnic, so it’s the no compromise option for the truly hardcore geek.

In the end, the reluctant part of my geekery quite often occurs because to be a geek is to be a stereotype and no-one likes to be put in a box. There is no reason why you can’t sit in the sunshine reading comics, or run a marathon dressed as a Klingon, or even hold your weekly RPG session in the garden. Not to mention the fact that some slash fic, ice cream and a park make for a truly inspired mix. Anyway, there’s always next winter for holing up with take away pizza and the world’s most addictive computer games…

This week Kate Townshend is channeling Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Mane Event - Fear Itself #1

In advance of this moment, a few weeks ago I reviewed the prelude to Fear Itself written by Ed Brubaker. Now for the main event Matt Fraction has taken over and opens with the first book – The Serpent. Some people may wonder why the change in writer (and I am one of them) but both Fraction and Brubaker are considered “Architects” for Marvel at the moment so it’s all in safe hands.

The first thing I noticed about this is the feel. It’s weighty and has a definite presence when you hold it in your hands. What is more impressive is that when you look through it (with the exception of the five pages dedicated to advertising Planet Red Hulk), there are only a couple of adverts. The adverts themselves are also for Marvel titles, which means that there is a lot of space dedicated to the story and nothing given to paid space. Marvel have certainly invested themselves and have given the reader a bounty to muse over, without interruption.

Fraction opens with a tense situation and for once it is not super related. In what is a nice change current events have been brought into the issue referencing (indirectly) firstly the plans to build a mosque in New York and later on the housing crisis. In the ensuing riot common sense does not prevail and once quelled the heroes (fronted by Steve Rogers) almost feel at a loss to explain what made normal people do this. There are no powers, no villains, no chemicals or even radiation to blame or attribute. It almost seems surreal for them.

In a parallel storyline we have Fraction very quickly establishing the main baddie in Sin, or as she then refers to herself, Skadi. There are a good few questions that could be asked at this point such as: How did Sin lift the hammer? Was she considered worthy? Where has it really come from? To be honest, my Marvel-Norse mythology is not that good. For those interested Skadi is actually linked with skiing and hunting with her father being Thiaz, who was well known as an eagle. It is clear that Marvel have taken the normal creative line with histories so there are no sneak peeks ahead simply by knowing your histories, myths and fables.

Splitting once again, Fraction takes us to the gods and how the impact is being felt by them too. The writing for Odin alone is fantastic. You can really feel the emotion in and all that he says and does. It’s a fantastic little piece and something that on a second read can be seen all the way through. The only thing left to consider is that once you have at least one god-level adversary introduced to the playing field what do you do when the other gods leave?

From an artwork point of view, Immonen has produced a well drawn issue. However, although it is well crafted I found it a little inconsistent. Shifting from panels which are full of detail to others which are lacking definition I’m glad that the story kept my attention so much. Immonen strikes me as someone who can draw a great group shot, adding attention where needed, or can draw a superb individual, but going outside of these he lost me.

The colouring supports and helps the artwork though and adds a lot of depth. Much like in the Green Lantern review there are frames where we see almost a pop art style presented to us. Then in the closing pages after Odin’s decree, it stands out for another reason with a fantastic use of colour and expression.

Overall the issue has left me wondering and pondering in very good ways. I am really liking Matt Fraction’s writing and am looking forward to the next six issues. I’ve been told that it will work as a stand alone title too even though the crossovers are already present (Iron Man’s rebuilding of Asgard is no surprise for one) and it has been widely publicised across many titles but I’m yet to see that actually happen.

This is the Marvel event of the year. The implications are going to be felt, especially the shake up this is going to cause to the Avengers roster, so lets see where the rabbit hole goes...

Matt Puddy rebuilt a shed once, but not a whole city.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Watcher Retrospective - Hulks on film

Marvel fans are in for exciting times at the movies. With two dazzling Iron Man films; the imminent release of Kenneth Brannagh's Thor; plus a steady stream of Captain America footage knocking our socks off - all the pieces of Marvel's ambitious plan for a shared screen universe are finally coming together.

'Nuff said? Well... let's spare a thought for the Hulk. His two big screen outings - the Eric Bana starring 'Hulk' (2003) and Ed Norton's reboot 'The Incredible Hulk' (2008) - although financially 'successful' are both seen as relative failures by fans, critics and even the studio. To add insult to injury, Hulk has now not only been recast once more, but is set for whipping boy duties, as it's rumoured that his above mentioned Marvel team mates are set to 'get medieval on his ass' in 2012's 'Avengers'.

Ironic then, that over thirty years ago, 'The Incredible Hulk' (1977) ruled television for five years, practically shaping the rules of the live action superhero genre alongside DC’s Superman (1979) and establishing the Hulk himself as an iconic character; who doesn’t remember that catchphrase, "Don’t make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I’m ANGRY!", or appreciate the haunting closing theme 'The Lonely Man' as genre music at its finest?

Watching the series now is something of a revelation. Eschewing the camp approach of the 1960s Batman, producer Kenneth Johnson made a virtue of perceived limitations. Unable to recreate the fantastic scope of the comics, the series is grounded in believable reality (wink, wink, Christopher Nolan), following David 'Bruce' Banner's lonely journey from town to town, barely one step ahead of the paparazzi. The combination of Bill Bixby's charismatic 'everyman' in Banner and Lou Ferringo's imposing yet heartfelt Hulk gel surprisingly well and with considerable pathos. Suspension of disbelief is definitely required, but it adds up to an altogether more real Hulk than Bana, Norton and their CGI alter egos.

That's not to say the 1970s vibe doesn't also deliver a few chuckles. The decision to have Banner's first 'Hulk Out' be the result of a flat tyre is wonderfully silly. Not to mention the frequent use of slow-mo, the Hulk's almost prescient proclivity for ripped jeans, and a format somewhere betwixt 'The A-Team' and 'The Littlest Hobo', all of which provide just the right balance of nostalgia, action and entertainment, while still showing a genuine respect for the character from all involved.

Tellingly, Norton's film paid frequent homage to Johnson's series, not only including that catchphrase, but hardware, stars, music cues, those chilling green eyes and even Ferringo as the voice of the Hulk. But somehow, Norton's over-earnest portrayal, the CGI Hulk's lack of genuine substance and perhaps most importantly, a complete lack of humour render this Hulk a little lifeless. Lets hope it's third time lucky for Marvel Studios.

So, far from the lesser son of the screen Marvel, Hulk is actually its trailblazer. Notably the TV Movies that followed the series pioneered both the now obligatory Stan Lee cameo, and with the inclusion of both Thor and Daredevil, also introduced the concept of the shared Marvel universe to a wider audience. Hulk's most important contribution of all is the proof that screen superheroes could be portrayed both with fun AND credibility, which considering the HUGE success of Marvel Movies in recent times, deserves kudos indeed.

Next time, Robert Barton-Ancliffe turns his attention to the God of Thunder

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Big Game Hunting - What happens when writing, uni, and roleplay collide?

A mess is what happens.

As some of you possibly know, I’ve got a book out in 60 days. I’ve got a dissertation due in three months and two other hand-ins to get to the point where I can actually graduate before the end of the summer. Luckily, the novel coming out was the novel I used for my class ‘The Novel’ so we’re all good, if a little sick of saying the word ‘novel.’

What a lot of people don’t know - and in fact, this is the first time that it’s been mentioned in public - is not only is this the Universe I built for ohmygodIdon’tknowhowmany novels, but I’m also designing a gaming system around them. Many people feel I’m kinda crazy – I think they now understand exactly why I get a vague look sometimes when asked about some mechanic or other in another game – I’m checking to see if I can bodge it into mine.

And this is where it gets complicated.

One of the difficulties is I’m releasing case notes onto my blog every two days to help support the eBook launch on June 4th. I’ve had my book cover, so it’s now all official, and shiny and squee-worthy, but the complication comes in that some of these case notes are actually RPG notes.

And that’s confusing for some people to say the least. Especially when I forget to remove the "roll a D10, that’s your luck" from the background story.

Herein is a lesson for anyone that’s writing novels and games to go with them – don’t do it. Your brain will melt, you’ll start to resent the fiction you’ve spent your hard earned free time crafting and you’ll begin to question what you see in RPGs in the first place. Or at least, if you are hell bent on doing it because it’s kick ass merchandising - and lets be fair, seven years in any universe where you’re the mistress of all creation, plus getting shot on a regular basis will leave most people able to talk about a game rules set in terms that most people can understand - for the sake of your sanity remember this one crucial piece of advice.

Background writing for RPGs is not the same as novel writing. They might look the same on the surface, but if you leave any rules in that you’re referring to, you’re really going to bamboozle anyone coming along and reading it as fiction.

So um... yeah, that’s my excuse for missing two weeks of articles. Certainly beats "the zombies ate them." To make up for it, I’m doing a write-up on Mansions of Madness, complete with pictures of the carnage…

D Kai Wilson-Viola’s squeals over her book cover passed from human hearing into a range only audible by dogs

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Baby Dolls and other toys...

It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of Cheltenham’s rather soulless Cineworld. I’m hoping I can say this without fear of legal ramification, but if next week there is a free the Gloucestershire one notice here instead of the blog, you’ll know I’ve been needlessly incarcerated for my anti-corporate radicalism. Whilst under normal circumstances I would try to vote with my feet on this kind of issue, I do occasionally bow to peer pressure and turn up there anyway. They have cookie dough ice cream so it’s never an entirely wasted trip.

Thus this Tuesday I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat, cherry picking chunks of uncooked biscuity goodness out of my tiny cardboard tub and resisting the urge to give the chattering morons behind us a good slap. And all this for the sake of a little movie called Sucker Punch.

Let’s get this out of the way upfront. Yes, Sucker Punch has had almost universally negative reviews. Yes, it contains an awful lot of gratuitous shots of girls in tiny outfits. Yes, as a feminist I’m supposed to immediately dismiss it as misogynistic, fetishistic crap.

However, this week I have decided to wear my controversial hat (it’s stylish too y’know) and ‘fess up to the fact that actually, I didn’t hate it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally not buying director Zack Snyder’s self-deluding suggestion that the movie is actually some kind of critique on geek culture’s attitude to women in general. You don’t get to condemn the drooling, objectifying wank fest that is porn culture at the same time as pandering to it. But there was some interesting stuff in there, amidst the school girl outfits and the gyrating dancing girls. (I’m not even against the idea in principle that the gyrating dancing girls were pretty damn interesting in themselves).

In brief, Sucker Punch centres around the too-pretty-to-look-at Babydoll. Falsely committed to a mental institution and facing the prospect of lobotomy, she escapes inside not one but two fantasy worlds, (ever since Inception, single-layered fantasies are so passé). The first is almost as grim as reality, a brothel in which she is an imprisoned virgin, bonding with the other girls against the Dickensianly grotesque men who control their existences. The second, more authentically escapist level is a hyper-real, post-modern dystopia in which she and her fellow patients are kick-ass, Whedonesque models of empowerment who fight dragons, resist Steampunk Nazis and destroy cyborgs.

A lot of the criticism focused around Sucker Punch accuses it of a certain level of simplicity. The girls jump around in their outfits for our titillation, Babydoll as the central figure is all pink cheeks, and long lashes and lightening blond hair and the fight scenes lack any real tension. Subtle it most certainly ain’t, yet I can’t help but feel that this particular line of reasoning slightly misses the point.

Because Babydoll *is* an archetype. She is every blond virgin ever to get lost in the woods and run about defending her honour and fleeing from wolves. It is surely no coincidence that despite being thrown around like, well, a doll, in repeated scenes, she always emerges without a scratch or blood-spot or smudge on her. Her innocence has all of the unassailable power of symbolism. This is immensely frustrating if you go into the movie looking for compelling, well rounded characters but for the most part Sucker Punch isn’t a character driven film.

What it is, is a fable; a dark fairytale with all the signs of such, including the comforting, repetitive frame of the quest on which Babydoll embarks. Just like Goldilocks tries out three different chairs and Snow White evades the Wicked Queen’s tricks twice before she falls for them, Sucker Punch’s heroine plays out her own pre-ordained path, returning thrice to her fantasy world to retrieve the magically embued items that will enable her escape.

Apologies… it all got a little bit literary there for a moment. But love it or hate it, there actually is a fair amount to say about Sucker Punch, and for me that makes it at the very least cosmetically worthwhile. One of the most effective elements was the contrast between the relatively emotionally detached fantasy world of the third layer, and the closer to reality setting of the second layer. A character who suffers whilst the girls fight futuristic robots is relatively un-affecting, but when the action snaps back to the brothel chef with a kitchen knife the stakes change. In the real world, innocence is no defence against greed or lechery or violence. In the real world, girls bleed.

It’s this dichotomy that lies at the heart of Sucker Punch and ultimately, in this that it packs the emotional impact its title promises. At the very end of the film, when both of the fantasy layers once more fall away there is literally nothing left of the film’s protagonist. Snyder dangles those escape fantasies in front of us, but ultimately he snatches them back. The possibility of hope exists, but not for everyone.

The bottom line is that Sucker Punch is flawed and massively problematic. But if I’m going to put up with the indignities of chain cinemas, then I want to see a film that makes me think, and it did. It ends with a call to arms, advising us all to "Fight" as Babydoll does. And every day, life demands that we all have to. But like the majority of humanity, Sucker Punch hasn’t quite figured out which battles it wants to win yet.

This week Kate has been inhaling the smell of leather

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Carrier bags and charity - Beard for Lent (for Shelter)

Hi folks,

Last week marked the end of the current financial quarter and the end of the first period of collecting money for charity from our sales of carrier bags.

As this was only started in February, it's not a full quarter but we have raised £4.28.

I've decided to donate this to the fundraising efforts of writer Paul Cornell (Action Comics, Captain Britain & MI:13, Doctor Who, Knight & Squire, etc)

Many of you will remember that Paul was kind enough to cut the ribbon here during the Grand Opening back on Free Comic Book Day 2008.

Recently Paul has been growing a Beard for Lent and quite a mighty specimen it has become. He's been busily raising money for Shelter and all donations are gratefully received! If you would like to know more, here's a list of his blog entries on the matter thus far.

If you can spare the time and the pennies, please do make a contribution. It all helps!

Thanks everyone. The next carrier bag donation will be after the end of June. If you have a charity you'd like Proud Lion to support, please email me at

The Mane Event - War Of The Green Lanterns

Across the three GL titles (Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Emerald Warriors) DC have launched the crossover War of the Green Lanterns. Advertised as an event that will be pitting friend against friend, it has the makings of an arc that could have significant impact on the titles. Regardless of where this is taken, the build up has been worked hard on as events ever since Blackest Night have been taken into account.

The revealing of the different Corps of the emotional spectrum has paved the way for some interesting alliances and temporary (yet frail) truces, all of which are playing out further in these titles. You also have some large hints of inadvertent hypocrisy considering the initial indignation towards Hal Jordan’s perceived recklessness and his bonds to all of the other corps when meanwhile in the background a partnership, - forged and endorsed by former Guardian, Ganthet - between Guy Gardner and Atrocitous seems to bear very helpful fruit.

With that all said, the story has been written across GL and GLC in such a way that it can easily picked up with some explanatory character narrative. This isn’t seen as much in Emerald Warriors as the title itself is only eight issues old, but judging by the interactions it will bring the title more to the front through the character and storyline.

What will be interesting is how closely the ties will run and if this means that following all three titles is an essential. Given that we have three different writers all working together, this could be a style clash or a great triumph, but considering that it is Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi and Tony Bedard, my feelings are that it will be the latter.

Part One
Although there has already been a prelude to the War, Geoff John’s issue opens well. Using a dual perspective narrative the reader is very quickly brought up to speed with the most current and pertinent events, namely Krona – the renegade Guardian. It plays very well to the strengths of the characters and the feelings they have instilled in others about them. Mostly. I did find myself questioning Sinestro’s motivation at one point. This left me considering the convenience of a rather significant (although almost not noticed) change of stance and his actions when he frees Hal from the Black Book.

Johns manages two separate storylines very well. On one side there is Hal’s predicament and its evolution, but on the other we see the Guardians' entrapment. Both are significant to the whole plot and neither lack any attention or feel that they have been under-written or treated with preference.

Most importantly is the re-introduction of Parallax back into the Central Power Battery as this infects all the Green Lantern rings and gives Krona an incredibly strong position.

Something I have really liked in this issue is the artwork by Doug Mahnke. This is mainly for two reasons. I like the fine detail that he places in every frame, from the capturing of thoughts across faces to the attention in the individual Lanterns, but also because it doesn’t take things too seriously. On the second and third pages (a double page spread), we see a team of Lanterns including a frog and a beaver! Instant giggle, I loved that alone.

Part Two
Tony Bedard helms the first of the Green Lantern Corps issues within the arc. Having had control of the title for just over a year now he is well placed to continue in the same vein. Once again this issue starts with narrative dialogue but only from Kyle Rayner on this occasion. I found this strange though. There was a lot of reflection inwards, almost to the extent of showing a lack of self belief, but that is quickly recovered.

The initial monologue does fade through the issue and the feel of it all being about Rayner does get lost with the story quickly turning to the trio of Ganthet, Rayner and Stewart culminating in the removal of their rings and leaving two of them powerless and hunted. A strong premise with a lot of potential, but I am waiting to see where it goes as a wedge has also started to form which could have some far greater ramifications. The story flows along a very specific path but whilst enjoying it I wasn’t massively grabbed as much as I had been whilst reading part one.

Kirkham’s artwork has me mixed, considering he has the task of drawing John and his highly intricate and mechanical constructs the attention to detail is great, however, I find a lot of the frames very dark and loosely drawn. The detail has been saved for the big pieces or the impact points. I am not saying the artwork is bad, in fact quite the opposite, but I don’t think it’s the best purely as it’s not my preferred style.

Part Three
Unlike the other two titles, Emerald Warriors isn’t as well established. These warriors were touted as the Green Lantern Corps equivalent of a Black Ops team by working off the radar both figuratively and literally. With this in mind it is a good thing that for the past few issues a lot of time has been spent in the build up and Krona’s influence has been seen, even in the background, for a while now. I think that this has been necessary though, as I can’t see how this title could have been easily and smoothly integrated so Tomasi has had a lot of vested interest in it!

The story picks up with Guy, Killowog and Arisia heading back to Oa and throws them right into the thick of it. Having this issue released a week after the first two sees events from them start to overflow into it rather than the story muscling in and making space for itself. Faced with a barrage of Lanterns, Arisia falling under the influence of Parallax and ‘Wog getting captured, the story revolves around Guy ending up alone for a time. Illustrating the predicament further, Guy has nowhere safe to go and only one person that he can contact, Hal Jordan. Once again (and in synch with part two) we see a massive personality clash and also the realisation that the rings are not the way forward. So what do you do then? Faced with being on a desolate frozen planet with no rings, no back up and no real plan? I’m sure we will find out.

Strangely I think that the artwork by Fernando Pasarin is almost a halfway point between Kirkham and Mahnke. The punctuating point is more the colouring by Cam Smith as it has almost a decoupage feel to it with the characters popping into the foreground. Effective and interesting, but also maybe a little gimmicky.

So, the upshot of it all? We have the four human Lanterns free but without their powers against the entire Green Lantern Corps. It’s not quite the civil war that the teasers alluded towards but it does have a lot of potential. Given Guy and Hal’s situation it’ll be interesting to see what they do next and for me I like the ambiguity that is now residing in the storylines. What is going to happen to Killowog? Has Ganthet really gone? How do four normal humans be able to overcome a powered mind controlled army? All of this is to come and I’m looking forward to seeing it along with all the change it is bound to cause.

Ler Orak te matt Puddy. Luca. Klok Ner!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Watcher special - Hail to the Chimp!

2011 marks a significant milestone in the history of space flight, as the 12th of April will see the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic voyage as the first homo sapien in space. But while we celebrate this small step for man, remember that someone else got there first...

Picture the scene, January 31st 1961, the Atlantic Ocean. Emerging from his space capsule to the glare of flashbulbs and riotous applause, the first "American" in space – a chimpanzee named Ham. Although the pictures show a smiling true blue aponaut, eyewitness accounts report that Ham did in fact get, "just a little bit narky". Hardly surprising really, given that the poor fellow had just endured two years of rigorous training, electric shocks to the feet and a diet of dried banana pellets, only to be rewarded by being strapped to the top of a gigantic roman candle and blasted into space.

Inevitably, in 1968, Hollywood released the very first apesploitation picture and opening chapter of one of the greatest and most enduring sci-fi film franchises, Planet of the Apes. Recently, in honour of our soon to be Simian Overlords (and thanks to the miracle of affordable DVD box sets) I have been keeping myself entertained with all five original films of the Apes saga.

The first, starring Charlton Heston follows astronaut Colonel Taylor, stranded on the titular planet after rather cleverly trying to land his ship while still asleep. What follows is a thrilling mix of intelligent sci-fi and western action, as Taylor struggles to make friends and influence apes and ends up fleeing for his life.

Ignoring the warnings of ape know-it-all Dr. Zaius, Taylor heads to the "Forbidden Zone of Mystery" hoping to find evidence that man is basically better than ape, only to get proven wrong in spectacular, M. Night Shyamalan style. Taylor discovers he has in fact been on future Earth all along, discovering the charred remains of the Statue of Liberty (or is that Mega-Maid?) in the final reel.

For a major film franchise, Apes bucked the usual downward trend,and spawned four surprisingly original and enjoyable sequels. Continuing to draw inspiration from Pierre Boule’s source novel, Le Planet des Singes, the following films inventively mixed Sci-fi sub genres and tropes such as nuclear war, time travel and Orwellian dystopia to great effect. Whilst the first film is a stone cold classic, all five films dovetail satisfyingly when viewed together, the variations in style and content providing plenty of entertainment.

As if that wasn’t enough, Fox recently released the first official still from their upcoming ‘Apes’ prequel Rise of the Apes, featuring James Franco, of Spider-Man fame. Also starring is Andy Serkis - who is rapidly becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for socially awkward and misunderstood apes. One can only imagine how the film makers plan to antagonise them damn dirty apes this time – stranding them in deep space with Mark Wahlberg?

Speaking of which – it's pointed out that Tim Roth turned down the part of Snape in Harry Potter to star in Tim Burton’s woeful 2001 "reimagining" Stop-the-Planet-of-the-Apes, I want to get off!

Guess they finally made a monkey out of him!

Robert Barton-Ancliffe wrote this article in exchange for bananas. True story.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Reluctant Geek - If you can read this, you're too close...

While I was at university I was still labouring under the misapprehension that I could resist the decline into geekery that has since rather overtaken me. But even then, there were some worrying signs. One of the most concerning was my Linux programming, Counter Strike playing, physicist boyfriend of the time, who insisted on saying bafflingly meaningless things like "leet skillz" and who apparently needed three different PCs to function as a well-rounded person. Crazy student experimentation was all very well and good, but surely sleeping with the enemy was taking things too far?

I knew I was almost beyond redemption when I woke up one morning and found that I had inadvertently fallen asleep wearing his Chix Dig Unix t-shirt. I have never referred to myself as a chick and I can assure you that I have no higher regard for Unix than any other operating system, but none-the-less, there it was on my t-shirt for the world (or at least the rest of our equally geeky student hovel) to see as I ate my cornflakes beneath a cloud of puzzled resignation.

As it turned out, this was merely the beginning of the end for my pretensions towards normality, since it is almost certainly the case that if geekdom has a uniform, then the t-shirt with a hilarious/technical/obscurely slogan is it. I suppose it even makes sense. The final step in cementing your allegiance to a community that is frequently reviled, is to wear your counter-culturalism proudly for the world to see. Geekery is rarely associated with high fashion, but that’s OK, because let’s be honest, the geeky T-shirt is fundamentally anti-fashion. It doesn’t need ruffles or cleavage or shiny, bright colours. The clothes themselves are simply an irritating practicality when it comes to communicating the message.

More than that though, there is something of the ‘in-joke’ to be found in geekery’s strange affection for the t-shirt. Frequently there are references to cult TV shows, mathematical equations, or comic book heroes. Things that the rest of the universe just Does Not Get. Strangers in the street can recognise each other as kindred spirits in the split second where a knowing smile replaces the confused dismissiveness of the masses. It’s a private, hidden language that denotes belonging to a group with a large degree of geographical and social diversity.

That’s the justification at least. As for the t-shirts themselves? Well, apparently "There’s no place like," and "Han shot first". "Home is where the hearthstone is" and "I see fragged people." "5 seconds until I respawn" and "Available for Beta testing." Understand any of this? Congratulations, in all likelihood you haven’t just wondered onto this comic shop blog by accident. You are in all probability kind of a geek. Utterly baffled? Yep, me too for the most part. As it turns out, some of us speak more fluent Geek than others.

Despite my somewhat traumatic initial exposure, I’m afraid to say I haven’t managed entirely to steer clear of this particular brand of ‘heart on your t-shirt’ geekery since. There may or may not be a "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt lurking in my wardrobe. And whilst at some point along the way I managed to ditch the physicist, I kept his ‘Chix Dig Unix’ top. I am frequently beaten by my friends when it comes to being truly out and proud though, one of whom who owns a shirt with an inbuilt Graphic Equaliser. A cynic might suggest he particularly enjoys the tactile response it seems to illicit from tipsy girls (and boys!) in clubs. Another sports a dazzling array of identically formed but uniquely embellished t-shirts and to be honest, he barely looks like himself without them.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that we all use our clothes to express ourselves. Even an absolute indifference to fashion communicates something about personality. Maybe it’s no surprise then that the geek community does this a little bit differently, because hey, it does lots of things differently. Geeky t-shirts resist the ease of mainstream conformity whilst building a sense of belonging amongst their adherents. And if some gentle programming jokes and Star Wars references are just not hardcore enough for you, there’s always t-shirt hell...

This week Kate is shunning her Chix Dig Unix t-shirt in favour of a corset and some boots.