Sunday, 31 July 2011

Guess who?

Three and a half years ago now I opened the store and introduced a group of four characters - a superhero team of our very own. The characters were named by customers and I promised an ongoing series of adventures one day.

Then - due to the manic nature of running a business - nothing happened. But they are still there, lurking in the shadows.

I'm happy to announce that that day is nearly upon us. I've found a local artist who will be collaborating with me to bring you a monthly slice of superheroics. With a silly twist!

So here's Ian Blakeman's initial take on the Proud Lion team, originally drawn by Josh Howard (Dead @ 17, Lost Books Of Eve). Ian and I will be bringing you a monthly new Proud Lion webcomic on the final Sunday of the month.

And finally, who is this on the right? A new character perhaps? Another hero? A villain? A sulky teenager? Stay tuned to find out more!

Mirage, Garrison, Inferno and Frank Mono are limbering up and raring to go. Join us at the end of August for our first comic strip.

Ben Fardon and Ian Blakeman are corresponding using the language of the Hive from Dark Skies. It's one way to keep things classified.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

New Beginnings - Daredevil #1

For anyone who has recently followed Shadowlands and then subsequently Andy Diggle’s for part miniseries Daredevil: Reborn, then Mark Waid’s new beginning will have been an anticipated and expected title. For anyone who hasn’t been following Daredevil - however, then Mark Waid’s new beginning is a nifty new comic.

To give a quick recap, Shadowlands depicted the fall of Daredevil and then Reborn was Matt Murdock’s path to redemption; culminating in his decision to return to Hell’s Kitchen. For the fan base this will have piled a large amount of pressure on Waid to write a credible story which also held continuity and I’m happy to say that he carried it, and carried it well.

It was impressive that regardless of how much or little you knew then you could still easily pick this issue up and hit the floor running.

I’ve also really enjoyed the fact that Waid has not dived in with a face off against Bullseye, The Kingpin or any other adversary but instead, has chosen a far greater but faceless foe; the perception of the common man.

Ever since before storylines such as The Devil: Inside and Out, one of the biggest ideas that Matt Murdock has struggled to fight against is that the mild mannered blind lawyer is in fact Daredevil, something he has refuted time and time again. Previously, all manner of tricks have been applied to contain the secret but now this “fact” is being used against his life in court and slowly breaking it apart.

Falling back to the traditional DD, following up in his own fashion on cases, we see a contradictory cliff hanger to keep us waiting for the next issue.

One criticism I would have is that it felt a little short. I accept that it is necessary to have adverts in a comic to fund them but having a 10 page bonus tale, also by Waid, made me feel a little disappointed as that’s 10 pages that could have been used on the current opening.

Paolo Rivera has teamed with Waid to create the artwork behind the story. Combined with the cover art by Javier Rodriguez it gives a retro feel, almost as if it was an homage to the original Daredevil that Stan Lee and Bill Everett created, which if honest isn’t my favourite. One aspect I did enjoy though was the way in that some of the frames are through Matt’s 'eyes' and give an interpretation of how he sees through his radar. This came into its own for me later on with the chaff scene. This is also a different approach to the cover which is a cleverly worked piece.

There is one thing that bugged me on the cover though. The use of the words within the picture to make all the images was great and it fitted with the artwork within the cover - BUT - it didn't push hard enough. Neal Adams has pencilled the variant cover which is glorious and vibrant. It’s a far more dangerous and energetic pose which I have loved but sadly also know I would have felt let down by the artwork inside if I’d had it and seen it.

Overall I have really enjoyed the comic and will be following the new title but I am hoping for an artist change as I really think that Waid has carried Rivera on this one. I’m hoping that this new angle in writing has got the legs to keep running and Waid keeps pushing this further.

Matt Puddy isn't Daredevil. Or Foggy Nelson. But he might be Ben Urich...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Watcher Retrospective - Captain America

If you’re reading this, you know the score. Harry Knowles is gushing, SFX have rated it 4½ stars, and we’re mere hours away from our first glimpse of the First Avenger, as ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ storms onto our screens on Friday 29th July 2011. As the last member of the big screen Avengers steps up to the plate, Marvel Studios seem almost unstoppable.

But Cap has certainly paid his dues on the road to big screen glory. Arriving in 1940, the first issue of Timely Comics ‘Captain America’ was a bold statement of intent to the pre-war USA, featuring the star spangled hero punching out none other than Adolf Hitler. Creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby wanted to show the world how an average Joe, empowered by nothing more than an unwavering moral compass (and some performance enhancing drugs) could, and should, fight evil.

And lo, a pop culture icon was born. The true blue Yin to the dark and powerful Yang of DC’s Batman and Superman, Captain America has become one of the world's most enduring superheroes, blazing a path for others to follow for seventy years. And as with any true pop culture icon, TV and movie execs have long sought a slice of Cap’s sweet, sweet American pie.

Like most self respecting heroes of the 1940s, Captain America was first the subject of a black and white movie serial. In the age where audiences thrilled to the likes of Flash Gordon and Zorro, the character seems almost tailor made for a weekly adventure serial. Nazi hordes! Astonishing feats of daring-do! Death-defying cliffhangers! Last minute rescues! Its no wonder this age of filmmaking inspired the likes of Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Its just a shame all the filmmakers had to go on at the time was barely a single page of the comic, let alone a whole issue. And so the titular Republic Serial features not U.S. Army private Steve Rogers battling the very real Nazi menace, but a slightly overweight District Attorney named Grant Gardner fighting the domestic threat of the terrifying Scarab, who seeks to wreak ‘purple death’ on middle America. More of a "What if... Ray Charles made a Captain America Movie?".

But while the ‘real’ Captain America fled the critics and took a little Arctic snooze through the 1950s, he was reborn proper as a member of the Avengers in the 1960s, and pretty soon, cartoon glory beckoned. And why not? It worked for Spider-Man right? All he needed was a catchy tune. And based on the sample below, I’m quite frankly astounded that this enterprise didn’t propel him into the pop-culture stratosphere like a Hydra Rocket.

Slowly, ever so slowly, though, Marvel were starting to get their act together, licensing their properties for TV and starting to exercise some quality control. So while the Seventies brought pretty faithful TV adaptations of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, we were also treated to two Captain America TV movies. Okay, so the producers took one or two tiny liberties. Steve Rogers? Check. Super Soldier Serum? Check. Gnarly biker dude, intent on fighting wrong doers because they used to take the mick out of his dad? Er... check. Like almost all TV from the Seventies however, this version does have an irresistible kitsch charm when taken in small doses. Plus, with the second movie guest starring none other than Sir Christopher Lee as the dastardly ‘Miguel’, its got to be quality right? See for yourself!

Luckily, by the late 80s, the likes of Richard Donner ('Superman' (1978)) and Tim Burton ('Batman' (1989)) had finally cracked the secret formula of how superhero movies should be made. And so finally, we got ‘Captain America’ (1990), the adaptation True Believers had been waiting for. All the elements are there. The World War II origin is present and correct, Steve Rogers is the working class boy made good, frozen in the Arctic for fifty years, battling the Red Skull through the ages. Based on a little known Captain America story from the 1970s, ‘Captain America’ (1990) is an even more faithful adaptation of the source material than Zack Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ (2009). In the absence of a decent clip, however, I’ve reproduced the original story below. Lovely artwork, good lettering.

Of course, Friday is the day, and we will finally get to see ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ in all its red white and blue glory, safe in the knowledge the character is in safe hands. As I mentioned above, Marvel Studios are currently in unbeatable form at the box office. With director Joe Johnston, no stranger to rip roaring adventure with ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ (1981) and ‘Rocketeer’ (1991), a strong cast headed up by Chris Evans ('Fantastic Four', 'Sunshine'), all lovingly presented in that patented Marvel Studios Shiney-Vision, it looks like Captain America can finally stand up and be counted. Welcome to the 21st Century Steve, you’re gonna love it.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is looking forward to Matt Puddy’s review of the all new Captain America #1.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Happy endings?

Endings. I’m a bit rubbish with them really. Present me with a goodbye or a closure or a case of people going their separate ways and you’ll find me immediately tearing up and in certain severe cases clinging limpet-like to the leg of the departing. (Luckily the exception to this impulse seems to be break-ups where I’m an awful lot better at treating ‘em mean.) This is a problem when you work in education, since every July means the inevitable goodbye to year six, the end of their particular era, and the chance for teachers like me, who should really be old enough to know better, to get all emotional about the passing of time and the inevitability of things reaching their natural conclusion.

If the reference to school life means you’re currently struggling with the image of me as an upright pillar of the community, peering sternly over my non-existant glasses and waxing lyrical about ‘riting, reading and ‘rithmetic then it may help you to learn that I only teach part time. I spend the rest of my working life locked away in my garret spewing forth words of wisdom to the masses. Or at least to the readers of some fairly niche magazines...

I've always been this way though. As a child I used to get weepy at the end of holidays, the end of term, the end of my birthday parties and the end of the box of chocolates. Aside from annoying my long-suffering mother, this has also had a knock on impact in adult life, since an obsession with stories means that you pretty much have to get used to endings, like them or not. The problem is, a really good narrative *needs* a satisfying conclusion; even the NeverEnding Story had its ending of sorts, and very often an unremitting, horror movie cavalcade of increasingly zombified sequels spells the loss of all credibility to a book or movie franchise. As unpalatable as it is to me, sometimes ‘The End’ really is the thing that makes the beginning and the middle worthwhile.

And of course, if you get endings right, they can be spectacular, life affirming and transcendent. I’ve never been a huge fan of Star Trek (it’s a shimmy too far down the slippery slope of geekery) but even I can see the worth of the Next Generation finale ‘All the Good Things.’ In it, mankind* is juxtaposed with the god-like Q-Continuum, and past, present and future are melded into cryptic crossword puzzle-esque musings on evolution and the nature of what it means to be human. “All good things must come to an end,” as Q tells Piccard, and this is an example of how an ending really can be good. (We’ll gloss over the Next Generation films that followed it...)

Similarly, although it seems to elicit a bit of a marmite response from the series’ many fans, nobody could ever accuse the Lost finale of failing to go out with a bang. It’s an ending about endings in many ways, dealing directly with our fears about the permanence of death and separation and the feelings we may never get to resolve. It’s complex, and mind twisting and ok, a little bit of a crowd pleaser perhaps, but maybe that’s ok. When I think about it carefully it’s not so much endings that I’m suspicious of, more the fact that there is never any guarantee of happy ones. We all yearn for endings that render fear and doubt and removal from our loved ones as irrelevant and impossible. The Lost finale gives us that, almost as a reward for the passion with which we wish for it.

The thing is, much as it’s a cliché, it’s also the truth to say that endings are a part of life. Miniature endings pursue us wherever we go, (as those Harry Potter fans who had to be held up as they were led weeping and wailing from cinemas this week could tell you), and this column marks another one of mine. This is my final week of The Reluctant Geek in its current format, so in some ways it seems only fitting that I should finish where I began.

If you cast your mind back through the mists of time, you may remember me talking about my first, striking contact with the idea that comic books might have something to say to me too. The Sandman series drew me in, entangled me in its world, but equally importantly, at the end of it all, it sent me on my way with the satisfying glow that you only get from a really good finale. With its usual eclecticism ‘The Wake’ parallels the death of Dream with another double layer of fiction... a man at the end of his career, Shakespeare contemplates writing The Tempest in which, famously, an ageing magician seeks to make sense of his life and provide for his daughter. This trio contemplate their own endings in their respective universes as the entirety of creation turns up to Morpheus’ wake, to pay their respects and share their memories. And in this sense, Sandman reminds us of the importance of marking our endings as the milestones they are. Endings give us the chance to make sense of it all, even when it seems as though there is very little sense to be made.

Of course, every ending also leaves an empty space. And where there is an empty space, there’s always the chance of a new beginning. Watch this empty space for a new beginning coming soon...

* Yes I used the word ‘mankind’. Ultimately I couldn’t bear to repeat ‘humanity’ more than once, and in this lone scenario my desire for the words to sound good trumped my feminist sensibilities!

This week, Kate is actually quite glad that it’s the end of term, since she might get to have a few lie-ins.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

New Beginnings - The Red Wing

A lot of people will know Jonathan Hickman as a significant Marvel writer after he has penned storylines for Secret Warriors (with Brian Bendis) the stunning S.H.I.E.L.D. mini-series and most recently the ongoing Fantastic Four/FF series. In the coming months he will takeover on the Ultimates title too. Fewer readers though will know about his work with Image.

As an independent label, a writer can go in a number of different directions, especially when they are also the creator of a new title. Hickman has given us The Red Wing, a four part miniseries based all across the timeline.

Immediately you are given a lesser used twist on the time travel scenario as Hickman pushes you into the middle of a war. Instead of using the common ploy of having to go back and prevent specific events from happening to "win” the idea that the war is fought across time against an as yet unknown adversary is played out.

As a second interesting element, Hickman doesn’t concentrate on the act of war but the feeling behind it, finally leading to an interesting quote - “Time is not linear, there is no paradox”. In doing so he opens up a wide range of possibilities to use, but also a level of protection as it removes a complete argument that may pick holes in the ensuing story.

After leaving what was our main character in jeopardy the story jumps both into the future and into space. The war still rages on, but the technology has increased meaning that the fight has escalated but continued. The story has a kind of Battlestar Gallactica meets the Matrix whilst passing Star Wars feels which is easy to follow and definitely out of the mainstream, however I do have a concern that because of this easy reading it could also be a little clichéd as well. Even so, at the heart of it all a whole concept is introduced which is designed to settle the story too, that time as a concept is not just a straight line.

I really liked this as an idea but it was brushed over quite quickly for something that is essentially going to be incredibly significant, but I’m equally unsure of how it could have been looked at in further detail.

With further time chasing back and forth Hickman finishes on a cliffhanger made possible by the touches he established earlier on with a stranded pilot in a far off time...

Nick Pitarra has joined forces with Hickman on Red Wing and as another competitor in Comic Book Idol (who then went onto Marvel as well) it’s unsurprising that they have a common grounding. His style is diverse as in the most part it is simply and uncluttered but when required there are entire pages full if fine details and intricate images. This is reserved only for the foreground however leaving either blank canvas or looser less defined shapes as a background to give a feel. It may be a very simple and basic looking approach but what he has managed is to leave it feeling open and spacious without it feeling vacant. There is just enough the right balance of space versus content.

Rachelle Rosenberg has been brought in as the colourist and has worked well in partnership with Pitarra. It would have been very easy to overpower the simplistic approach that has been taken but a very complementary palate has been used meaning for a very good partnership.

Red Wing is a lovely new comic set for a short run. It’s a great example of what a writer can do without having the restraints of a mainline comic brand. It’s open and fresh and worth taking a look at should you find yourself wanting something different and out of the norm yet also with a familiar and friendly feel to it.

Matt Puddy is still hoping that his next leap... will be the leap home.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Watcher - The worlds of Philip K. Dick - Total Recall

Following the relatively lukewarm reception of 1982’s ‘Blade Runner’, it was a further eight years until another Philip K. Dick story was adapted for the big screen. As Ridley Scott’s opus was still to undergo a serious critical reappraisal with the release of 1992’s ‘Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut’, the door for more from the master of sci-fi was wide open, only to be blown off its hinges with 1990’s uncompromising sci-fi thriller, ‘Total Recall’.

The script, an adaptation of Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ (1968) had been in development for several years. With original writers Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusset (Alien) scratching their heads over how to turn Dick’s clever yet underdeveloped concept into a feature length story, it took the impressive box office clout of Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven to get the project moving.

Pitched as “‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ goes to Mars”, the screenplay wisely keeps Dick’s initial scenes involving a false memory implant going horribly awry, ditches the talking mice (really) and instead ramps the action up to eleven. This is sci-fi cinema writ large, intelligently conceived, but with plenty of Arnie’s trademark mixture of humour and violence, through the prism of Verhoeven’s own penchants for sex, gore and satire. If ever there was a thinking man’s Arnie movie, this is surely it.

Played a breathless chase, it follows everyman Doug Quaid, who finds himself on the run from corrupt Mars agents, surviving through a combination of wits, wisecracks and broken bones. Fleeing from Earth to the seedy underground colonies of Mars, our hero is embroiled in a planetary conspiracy involving mutants, alien technology and false memories, all the while wondering if these events are real or simply a delusion.

While impressive enough as a sci-fi action thriller, this final unresolved question sets the film apart. As well as impressively homaging favourites such as ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Wars’, the film’s influence on the future of the genre is undeniable. One scene in particular, in which Quaid is urged by a mysterious figure to take a little red pill and return to reality, surely had the Wachowski brothers taking some serious notes.

The film is endlessly re-watchable, and yet arriving as it did on the cusp of the CGI boom, ushered in by 1991’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, it is also undeniably a product of an older school of filmmaking. While the future world is impressively detailed, with some impressive future tech, such as Sharon Stone’s ‘Wii’ tennis game, there is a reliance on miniatures, prosthetics and matte paintings which in certain scenes now seems rather quaint alongside the slick visuals of ‘The Matrix’ and dare I say, the ‘Star Wars’ prequels.

If a little unbelievable as an everyman, Arnie’s charisma is undeniable, and it is apparent that every member of the production was at the height of their powers. As well as an impressive pedigree behind the scenes, including composer Jerry Goldsmith, the supporting cast list is also top notch. Not only has Sharon Stone never been better, but genre favourite Michael Ironside ‘disarms’ us with his villainous antagonist Richter and a couple of ‘Star Trek’ alumni also make amusing cameos in the shape of Mark Alaimo of DS9 fame and Robert Picardo of ‘Voyager’ er... infamy. The stand out performance though is Mel Johnson Jr. as cab driver, sidekick and struggling father of four/five Benny, who is endlessly quotable right up until the point he literally attempts to screw over Arnie. Bad mistake.

‘Total Recall’, while a completely different beast from the more thoughtful ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ (2010) is equally original and intriguing in its treatment of Dick’s themes. Recently given the sequel treatment in a four issue mini-series from the ever impressive Dynamite Comics, and even due for a remake next year, this film’s legacy is also undeniable. One can’t help but wonder though, what the old man himself would make of Verhoeven’s take on his universe. If nothing else, he might have enjoyed his share of the impressive box office receipts. So my advice - Get your ass to Mars, for the memory of a lifetime!

Robert Barton-Ancliffe would like to thank his old work colleague, alias McSmythe, who kindly lent him his DVD copy of Total Recall. FIVE YEARS AGO. Welcome to the Layer Cake son.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Missing comic titles this week

Hi folks, just a quick note about this week's comics - I received the following information from Diamond:

Unfortunately the following titles will not be included in this week’s deliveries, Diamond is doing everything it can to get these comics out to you for the week of Wednesday 3rd August , please look out for more information on the affected titles next week.

Everything else will be in tomorrow, including Daredevil #1, Fear Itself FF #1, Ultimate Comics Fallout #2 and War Of The Green Lanterns Aftermath #1.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Model musings...

So in the spirit of revisiting unto others the crimes that have been committed against you, I asked some of the children I teach this week about their role models.

In amongst the usual cavalcade of footballers, pop stars and reality television celebrities, there were a few more interesting answers. I have a new found measure of respect for the quiet little boy who cited Leonardo Da Vinci as one of his defining influences, and a healthy dose of caution in my dealings with the Alan Sugar wannabe and the Boris Johnson admirer. (If only I were kidding…)

It all got me thinking though, I’m pretty sure that back when my teachers were tormenting me with the same questions, I generally went with the stock answer of "my Mum is my role model" (Oh come on, it was the Nineties, who else was I going to pick, one of the Spice Girls?!) Much as I love and adore my Mum though, if I’d been braver there were other options. They just all had the minor disadvantage of being, well, y’know, not real.

So this week I want to talk honestly about Role Models. Nope, not the LARP movie with Seann William Scott. (Talking honestly about that would only require the one line: “A bit rubbish, but somehow funny anyway.”) I want to talk about those figures from the worlds of science fiction and fantasy who I longed to be like throughout my teenage years, and my twenties, and the very, very small amount (barely worth counting really) of my thirties I have thus far experienced.

The only place to start with this really is the torch-wielding, redheaded skeptic herself, Agent Dana Scully. I think it’s fair to say that as a teenager I loved her. I didn’t care that Scully was a bad ass medical doctor while I got queasy at the sight of someone double jointed, or that she remained steadfast in her lack of belief even as little green men did somersaults across her living room floor. It wasn’t about the bad suits, the raised eyebrows or the ability to run in her (infinitely sensible) heels. In fact, a little bit like first love, it’s sort of hard to analyse what precisely it was about her. But some indefinable spark meant that I spent more than the occasional rainy Tuesday afternoon of double maths fantasing about capering around with Mulder (oh boy, did I fantasise about the capering with Mulder) and about being clever without having to apologise for or hide it. Maybe Scully was the first person to teach me that you could be cool without being ‘cool’ and I will always be grateful for that.

There are some schools of thought that would suggest you are supposed to grow out of the fervent adoration and identification with fictional characters that afflicts you when you’re thirteen. If this is really the case, then things aren’t looking good for me. These days, my role models are a little more eclectic: Arya Stark from a Song of Ice and Fire causes me to cheer, cry and tremble in turn despite the fact that she’s an eight year old girl at the start of the books. Age aside though, Arya is brave and I admire courage more than almost anything else.

Similarly, it might be a bit weird but there are some days when I quite fancy being some kind of female version of Sherlock Holmes. Not the old school version so much as Benedict Cumberbatch’s wonderfully clear-eyed, socially dismissive, flash-minded portrayal. (It’s ok to want to be him *and* want to be with him, right?!)

I suppose one of the differences between fictional and real life is that fiction can act as a magnifying glass, enlarging and intensifying those qualities that are interesting or admirable, and providing characters with a setting which necessitates their demonstration. Ultimately, I’m of the belief that if someone moves you to try to be braver, kinder, cleverer or more determined it really doesn’t matter a single bit whether they are a real person, or the product of human imagination. We see everyone through the lens of our own perceptions anyway, and in doing so almost everyone we know is a fictitious version of themselves to a greater or lesser extent. It is, as they say, hard to know another human heart. The best thing we can hope for is the chance to develop our own hearts, and sometimes the intimacy of storytelling is one of the things that helps us to do this.

This week, Kate is wondering “Why does it always rain on me?” Answers on a postcard...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

New Beginnings - Red Skull: Incarnate #1

For those of you who are fans of Greg Pak’s work you may have previously read Magneto: Testament. Set in a similar vein Red Skull: Incarnate explores the early years of Captain America’s most notorious adversary.

Set in the economic depression of Germany after the First World War - when even the simplest of foods cost millions of Reichmarks - we are introduced to the orphan Johann Schmidt. To say that an environment creates a person (in this day and age) is a controversial statement at best, but, here we have the story of a young boy becoming the product of a bleak and desperate system.

In this first issue Pak has focussed on the environment that Schmidt was subject to, including the treatment and expectation befitting an orphan. As an interesting style choice the direction of the story is more aimed and the why of things as opposed to the feeling it evokes. You see Johann struggle and strive but never really have an outburst (saving for the end) which encourages the reader to really feel for the main character. Now this would seem like a fairly normal writing ploy that most authors would use, but usually in the case of a hero or anti-hero, not an individual who will become a hate-filled Nazi. Pak has pulled off a great feat of misdirection that actually makes the reader sympathise with the plight in front of them.

As an aside, there is another great little touch in that the issue is “authentic”. Pak has taken the time and effort to ensure that the events of the Weimar Republic have been reflected as accurately as they can whilst also playing a part in the comic too.

In the afterword Pak has said he was drawn to the project after seeing David Aja’s cover work, and I can understand why. The cover itself invokes the propaganda posters of World War 2 which fits this title fantastically.

Inside is the work of Mirko Colak. I don’t really know much of Colak’s work with the exception of Secret Warriors a couple of years ago, but from what I’ve seen I can say like it. Colak uses a fine line style for the most significant parts of the frame and a softer style for the surrounding. This gives a very nice effect of framing the key parts and naturally draws your attention throughout the issue.

I would say that there are times when I found some of the frames a little barren though as there is an inconsistency when it comes to background. These scenes seem to sit outside the conventional framework but when you look at them a second time they are all moments of significance in the creation of the mindset. All of them have a direct psychological impact on Johann whether obvious or not in the outset.

The issue is cunningly written and cleverly drawn. I would almost go so far to say that if it hadn’t been preceded by Magneto: Testament that it would have created its own waves within Marvel BUT it would have been a title that people only caught onto after and then got on back order. With the help of Magneto however I can see this becoming an instant hit to fans of Pak and/or Captain America.

Matt Puddy speaks for us all when he says you should really give this one a go. Impessive work from Pak and co.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

New Beginnings - The Iron Age #1

It seems that at the moment everyone in comics is playing the time travel card. By far the most obvious is the whole of DC with Flashpoint set to be the key to rebooting the entire universe and starting off 52 titles. Marvel are also dabbling.

A few weeks ago there was a prelude issue for the Iron Age, where Tony Stark has been thrown back in time to one of his lowest personal points of his life after attempting to stop Donald Birch from using the Dark Pheonix from destroying the world. (For full story see The Iron Age Alpha) Now we see where this picks up and how Stark has to “Fight for the Future... Beginning in the Past”.

Whereas Alpha was written by Rob Williams, Iron Age #1 has been penned by Christos Gage who is most recently linked to Avengers Academy. Admittedly this has filled me with apprehension as I tried the first issue and left it at that. Other titles to his credit include World War Hulk and House of M tie-ins alongside a whole raft of comics from the Wildstorm universe but nothing that actually screams mainstream or that stands out at first glance. So is this his stepping up title? I’m not sure and I think that it falls into tie in category and I’m not yet sure if he is returning for subsequent parts either. Rob Williams has taken over for the second part. Before I continue it is also fair to say that Rob Williams hasn’t written anything ground breaking or standalone for Marvel either but has worked a lot with Andy Diggle on 2000AD and somehow his work feels stronger. I'm pleased to say he'll be working on the new Ghost Rider too.

What has been done, however, is not go for the obvious, and I would hazard a guess that an appreciation for 90's tv show Quantum Leap has had an influence. Instead of having an obvious and linear route through the comic it is more episodal with each part plunging Tony into different parts of his own timeline hunting for parts of Doom’s time platform which does form a paradox from Alpha if honest (if Stark finds the scattered parts, how can Birch also do so to create this situation?) but means the door is open to cross over into every previous comic arc and also giving endless possibilities.

Williams also touches on this as well when in the 'Panic on the Streets of London' story when he sees a much younger version of Birch completely prone and easily removed from being a threat thus ending things swiftly but the option is not taken. Gage had a much more fundamental twist on this as he points out that Tony has the chance to change EVERYTHING - Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and the Fall of Asgard. None of this has to now happen and all Ton has to do is make a few changes or hints. But does he, and more importantly should he?

Both parts are written well but the change in writers have given them different prominent aspects. Gage’s part, as an opening, uses more shock of the situation and dire straits that Stark is in. There is a hint of desperation in the beginning as the task at hand is huge. Williams, with a stronger foundation, pushes more towards a grounded Iron Man with the emotion being directed through his focus on the plan in action. Amongst my concerns with Gage I will be the first to admit that I was a little over zealous and that it’s not that bad at all. It doesn’t set the world on fire but it’s not bad either. Williams on the other hand comes across as a lot stronger but I also think that this is due to the look and feel of the part as well.

As well as splitting writers, artwork has been separated too. Lee Weeks, accompanying Gages work, has drawn more in the style of the time of the original comic. His cover work does display a more “present” style as well though and to prove that Marvel are forward thinking it was created more than 6 months ago as he’s dated it 2010.
Ben Oliver, drawing for Williams, has taken a much smoother approach, very similar to Clayton Crain’s recent work on the Carnage miniseries. Of the two styles my preference is Oliver's but both are good and suit the stories for different reasons. For once, the old school style of drawing, hasn’t disheartened me or put me off.

As an Iron Man fan I’m interested in how this all turns out. It’s only one of three so far so I’m not getting my hopes up for anything deep and meaningful. This has disappointed me slightly as the advertising made it look as if it could be so much more. I’ll be collecting them to complete this mini series but as it is going to happen completely outside of the current universe and not likely to have an impact elsewhere I’m not expecting massive things. What I am dying to see, however unlikely it is, is for the first words in any of the episodes just for once to be “Oh boy....”

Matt Puddy leapt in to the Quantum Leap Accelerator and vanished.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Carrier bags and charity - Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Hi folks,

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

This is our first full quarter and together we raised £8.15!

Last time I made a donation to Shelter in support of Paul Cornell's Beard For Lent. This time I'm making a donation to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Created in 1986, the CBLDF is a United States non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.

You can find out more about the CBDLF at their website. Neil Gaiman is a supporter of their work and he talks about his involvement in this interview.

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

The Watcher - The worlds of Philip K. Dick - The Adjustment Bureau

Adaptations of the stories of Sci-fi great Philip K. Dick are a mixed bag. For Every ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘A Scanner Darkly’, there’s always a ‘Screamers’ or ‘Impostor’ ready to befuddle even the most hardcore of fans. When ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ failed to set the box office alight, this directorial debut from screenwriter George Nolfi (Ocean’s Twelve, The Bourne Ultimatum) slipped below my radar. Being a fan of Philip K. Dick, I knew I’d probably check it out eventually when it was on TV, but I could wait. And so today, on leaving the shop with a shiny new copy of Nicholas Cage ‘Drive Angry’, I realised I’d left my iPod behind. Five minutes later, I’m back at the car, complete with iPod, ‘Drive Angry’ and a copy of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ tucked safely under my arm. Had fate intervened?

Based on Dick’s short story ‘Adjustment Team’, this adaptation takes a similar approach to 1990’s ‘Total Recall’ in that it takes the story’s basic concept and a few key scenes and fashions them into a more conventional narrative. ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ tells the story of how a blossoming romance between political hotshot David Norris (Matt Damon) and charming and elegant dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) is coldly thwarted at every turn by a cadre of sinister men in hats with uncanny powers, for reasons no one, not even they, can fully comprehend.

The genius concept of the Adjustment Bureau themselves, who ensure that humanity follows their ‘grand plan’ through a series of tiny adjustments (lost car keys, spilled coffee, missed bus, etc.) showcases one of Dick’s great strengths, imbuing the every day world with a powerful sense of the uncanny. By ejecting some of the more whimsical aspects of the source material, such as talking dogs and flying phone booths, George Nolfi has managed to pull off this trick on screen, as the first twenty minutes or so set up Norris and Elise’s story in a fairly conventional series of scenes, ordinary settings and performances that give no hint of the twists to come. It’s to the credit of all involved, not least the two leads, that I didn’t mind the slow pace of the opening one bit, so convincingly and engagingly is it played. Only a tinkling, echoey soundtrack manages to unsettle the mood, but in a clever rather than jarring way.

As noted above though, this is sci-fi played as romance and the mystery/thriller aspects are dialled down a fair bit. I was surprised how quickly the mystery of who exactly the Adjustment Bureau are was revealed, but in a way, this allows the viewer to stay engaged with Norris’s personal struggle rather than becoming distracted by endless head scratching. Perhaps understated is the best word, as the plot seamlessly integrates high concept visuals that echo everything from ‘The Matrix’ (1999) to ‘Inception’(2010), but uses them sparingly. In one key scene, lifted from the original story, we see Norris arrive at work and follow him all the way to his meeting without noticing anything at all amiss until the chilling realisation that the whole building is in the grip of dark forces from which there is seemingly no escape.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t help but root for Matt Damon, who brings passion and wit to a role many more action orientated actors would smother with one liners and testosterone and Emily Blunt might just convince anyone that there are some loves that are worth risking your soul for. As for the supporting players, the script requires that the members of the Adjustment Team maintain an emotional detachment to do their work, but this doesn’t stop Terrance Stamp from bringing all the quiet menace and cold intelligence he is famous for, or Anthony Mackie from almost stealing the film with his thoughtful, if underused Agent Harry Mitchell.

Overall, your enjoyment of this films might depend entirely what you bring with you. The packaging carries the ringing endorsement from Total Film that this is “BOURNE MEETS INCEPTION”, and curiously, such a claim either massively over or undersells this film. Whilst it is true that strands of both films’ DNA inform the look and feel of ‘The Adjustment Team’, for me, any comparison fails to pin down what makes this film unique. As the conclusion draws near, you are struck by the realisation that you have witnessed something rather bold and unique. A thriller without a single gun or gratuitous act of violence, and a love story that embraces cliché, before pulling the rug from under your feet, leaving you guessing to the very last moment.

Although only rated 12, this is perhaps a little too grown up to appeal to children, but it’s definitely both engaging and accessible enough to watch with a group of your best mates on a Friday night in. Don’t let fate decide; find this film, then sit back, relax, and do not adjust your set...

Robert Barton-Ancliffe adjusts himself every day. But then that's the joys of boxer shorts.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Preserving the blood-lines

So I love steak. Mandatorily rare. Preferably still twitching a little tiny bit as I shovel the meaty deliciousness (stop sniggering at the back) into my mouth. And much as unanchored in context, it’s kind of disgusting, it’s the moist, pink texture that you only get from still-bleeding cow that really does it for me. I mean, it’s nature own sauce isn’t it? No need for faffing around with jus or coulis or reduction or whatever. (I realise all the vegetarians in the room are fleeing, appalled at this stage but if you bear with me, there really is a point). The irony is, when it comes to blood in other situations, I’m the wuss at the back of the room who has stolen the attention by fainting while their friend has their leg chopped off. Something about the sheer sensual intensity of its redness, combined with the fact that in general blood is something we aren’t supposed to see gives it a contradictory, queasy fascination.
Of course, the symbolic significance of blood is such that we play out this simultaneous attraction and revulsion in a whole host of cultural myths. If the zombie renaissance is very much a 21st Century thing, (‘perchance sir, could you lend me your quill? I wish to pen an ode to brains…’) it is overlaid by a more long standing if less flashy obsession. Vampires never go away really, particularly not as fodder for the fantasy geek, and as they lurk at the edges of our consciousness, equally they haunt the pages and frames of the stories we choose to tell ourselves.

Most recently this blood lust has manifested itself in the True Blood TV show, entering into its fourth romping, boundry- pushing series. If every generation gets the vampires they deserve then this is one side of ours. Based on a series of novels set in Deep South, small town America, True Blood oozes languorous, claustrophobic atmosphere, linking vampirism to a whole host of modern obsessions, from addiction to abuse to religious fundamentalism. The vampires here are gorgeous, but usually deadly and often sadistic, and their glamour is juxtaposed with a messy, visceral approach to blood drinking. Don’t look for two neat little bite marks artfully arranged on some virgin’s lily white neck here (although True Blood does have its own version of a white gowned virgin for a little while.) Look for blood smeared across faces, flakes drying on kitchen floors in the sun, and graphically unforgiving murder scenes. The message of the series seems to be that despite the right-on, out and proud PR of a world where vampires have quite literally come out of their coffins, (and they play with this parallel to great effect… graffitied billboards with messages such as "God hates fangs" appear in the background of shots) none of us, vampire or human alike, can really resist the calling of the animalistic side of our nature.

Lots of people though would rather confront this rather unforgiving version of vampirism than its equally modern non-identical twin. If I ask you to imagine some sun-dappled, flower-bedecked meadow then you might be thinking we’re straying outside of traditional vampire territory. But wait! Who is this pale and beautiful creature striding through it? He appears to be… Surely he can’t be… Oh god, is he… sparkling? Well, yes, he is actually. He’s a Twilight vampire and that’s what they do. Despite the fact that the Twilight novels are something of a guilty pleasure for me I’ve got some serious issues with this updating of the vampire myth. And the shiny, shimmery sunshine thing is the least of them. For starters, although True Blood is dark, although it portrays misogyny and racism and a form of sexualized gore, it knows it is doing this. The thing that makes the Twilight world so dangerous (to an uncritical audience rather than the characters themselves) is that it has its own elements of abuse and misogyny and unthinking fetishisation of violence, all dressed up in some fluffy, sparkly treatise on purity and abstinence and the idea that True Love™ will wait forever. Poor mopey Bella and masterful protective Edward are obviously designed to appeal to the legions of teenage girls ( and should-know-better, only-just-thirty somethings) that buy the novels and see the movies. But this bloodless, simpering fairy tale has far nastier elements than anything True Blood can dream up.

And who knows what the next evolution will be for vampires? It sort of depends on what the next evolution is for humanity really. All of these mythical beings, zombies and vampires and werewolves and ghosts, are ways for us to explore the darker sides of ourselves whilst simultaneously retaining a sense of separateness from them. And at the edge of society it’s no wonder that they are a natural subject for fantasy and science fiction which themselves teeter on the very edge of the mainstream. One of the key functions of story though, is to provide a mirror for us to hold up to our faces. By their very nature, Vampires make it pretty damn tricky to see what is looking back.

This week Kate is fervently wishing for another opportunity to wear the Sookie Stackhouse costume.