Saturday, 30 August 2014

Marvel Comics celebrates 75th anniversary at The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2014

Promotional Article

The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival attracts hundreds of the world’s leading authors, journalists, comedians, politicians, actors, broadcasters and more.

Joining this year’s Festival for a great celebration of the 75th anniversary of Marvel comics, X-Men and Fantastic Four writer Mike Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts), former Marvel editor Alan Cowsill (Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art) and The Hulk writer Monty Nero (Death Sentence) will discuss how Marvel irrevocably changed the face of graphic fiction when the first Timely Comic (Marvel's predecessor) hit the newsstands in 1939. With an examination of the iconic brand’s enduring success and influence, this will be a fascinating evening for Marvel fans both old and new.

In 1939, the first Marvel Comic hit the newsstands, irrevocably changing the face of graphic fiction. Fantastic Four and X-Men writer Mike Carey (The Girl with All the Gifts), former Marvel editor Alan Cowsill (Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art) and The Hulk writer Monty Nero (Death Sentence) discuss the iconic brand’s enduring success and influence.

SUN 5 OCT 2014 8:00PM - 9:00PM
£10 - MEMBERS 10% OFF

Tickets are already on sale to Festival Members.

Tickets go on sale to the public from midday, Monday 1 September.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Big Game Hunting - Games on the Horizon, part two

by Rae

Here's another round of new games coming soon to Proud Lion! All games are available to preorder from Proud Lion at a 10% discount (unless otherwise noted).

Walking Dead Dice Game – RRP £17.00 (pre-orders closed, due out this week)
This competitive press-your-luck game gives players the chance to play as one of four main characters from the hit TV show – Rick, Carl, Daryl, or Michonne. Roll your dice to fight off walkers and be the first to escape the location! (Preorders for this game have now closed. Look for this game on shelves this week.)

Smash Up: The Big Geeky Box – RRP £17.00 (pre-order price £15.30)
Fans of Smash Up will be looking forward to the release of the Big Geeky Box. This expansion adds a brand new faction, the Geeks, inspired by TableTop and Geek & Sundry and featuring Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day! Collectors will also be pleased to discover the box has been designed to fit and neatly organise all your original and expansion cards.

Doomtown: Reloaded – RRP £34.00 (pre-order price £30.60)
This will look familiar to those who played the collectable card game Deadlands: Doomtown. This version is an expandable deck-building style game. Utilitse the poker symbols on the cards to build your town, assemble loyal townsfolk, and keep control – but look out for the other factions trying to seize Doomtown, and be ready for the next shootout!

Dead Of Winter – RRP £50.00 (pre-order price £45.00)
This Plaid Hat Games release is the first in what will be a series of Crossroads games, focusing on pitting a small group of people against both external and internal conflicts in an effort to survive. Dead of Winter sees your group struggling in a world where humanity is becoming a race of flesh-eating monsters. This is a meta-cooperative game where you're all working together to survive, but you all have your own objective to achieve.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles Base Set – RRP £50.00 (pre-order price £45.00)
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles Character Add On Deck - RRP £19.00 (pre-order price £17.10)
This stand-alone Pathfinder adventure throws players out into the open sea. Deal with rival pirates, fantastic sea monsters, and confront the Hurricane King in this deck-building RPG that will test your characters to their limits! You can also expand your character choices by picking up the Character Add On Pack.

Pandemic: Contagion – RRP £25.00 (pre-order price £22.50)
The original Pandemic sees players fighting to cure diseases before epidemics wipe out the world population. In this version, you are instead playing the diseases themselves – and this time, there is no cure. Be the first disease to take out humanity!

Stay tuned for even more Games on the Horizon, coming soon!

Rae may need to get a second bookcase for her growing game library.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Carrier bags and charity - St Luke’s Hospice

by Ben Fardon

Hi folks,

We're over half way through the financial quarter, but I've only just had chance to make our latest charitable donation from the last quarter's carrier bag proceeds.

This was our thirteenth full quarter and together we raised £29.45!

Last time I donated to Maggie's, an organisation that provides free practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer and their family and friends, on behalf of local resident Reg Lee. Reg survived testicular cancer and was helped by the Maggie's centre here in Cheltenham. He's been fundraising this year to raise money for Maggie's. You can find out more about his undertakings on his Virgin Money Giving page.

This time, I'm making a donation to St Luke’s Hospice. St Luke's provides free end of life care in Plymouth, SW Devon & East Cornwall. St Luke’s has to raise £4.5 million year with 86p of every £1 that is donated going to patient care. Earlier this year, St Luke's helped to care for and support the family member of our dear friend and blog contributor Chris Boyle. Chris became determined to do something proactive to help them in return. Next month, he'll set out to trek 26.2 miles in a day along Offa's Dyke, the ancient wall that once separated Wales and England. You can find out more by visiting his walking team's Just Giving page.

The next carrier bag donation should be in early October. If you have a charity you'd like Proud Lion to support, please email me at

Sunday, 24 August 2014

New Beginnings - Multiversity #1

by Jon Lock

Somewhere in a mundane world a boy dissects a comic book – literally – with scalpel and forceps. This “supposedly haunted” comic is the story of a boy dissecting a comic book; only it’s also the tale of Nix Uotan the Superjudge, last of the godlike Monitors, who descends into a work of fiction to investigate a caustic blight on the face of creation and becomes trapped at the hands of the demonic Gentry. With all of existence in peril it’s up to a crack team of superheroes from across the multiverse to rescue Uotan – not to mention his partner Stubbs, the talking pirate monkey – and prevent the destruction of the universal orrery.

Confused? Welcome to the marvellous mind of Grant Morrison. It’s his world, we just live in it.

To those familiar with Morrison’s work, it should come as no surprise that the Multiversity is Meta is a capital ‘M’. More than just a love letter to the endless possibilities of a super-heroic multiverse, this is a story about comics themselves and the language of sequential storytelling. Surrounded by hellish foes, the Superjudge feels the panel borders contracting around him. Heroes from one universe discover that their lives are another world’s comics. One character directly references DC and Marvel (or “Major Comics” for legal reasons…)

On the face of it, however, the Multiversity is primarily a comic about the dark, the wonderful and the outright ridiculous. Quite how much enjoyment you get out of the book will depend on how much weirdness you’re willing to tolerate along the way.

Moving along at a fantastic pace, this first issue Multiversity introduces us to a staggering array of characters and concepts – each of which could support a series of its own, let alone a brief cameo. Amidst the breakneck chaos, there’s a lot to love. An Aboriginal yet strangely familiar thunder god brushes shoulders with a thinly veiled homage to Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon. Captain Carrot, a Bugs Bunny-esque Superman with the daunting power of cartoon physics, taps into our recent Rocket Raccoon goodwill, while Barack Ob… sorry, President Calvin Ellis, the Black Superman of Earth-23, feels like Morrison’s pitch for the best Superman comic you’ll probably never see.

The art team, as led by Ivan Reis on pencils, deliver a solid if unexceptional looking book, balancing the demands of a large and complex cast. Special mention should be given to the depiction of the Gentry, whose suitably unsettling appearance brings to mind a Hieronymus Bosch-like vision of hell. There’s also enough subtlety in the art to depict two teams of Avengers analogues (classic and modern) while still retaining a sense of uniqueness. As with any Morrison book, however, the script is the real attraction, and it’s here that the Multiversity’s strengths and weaknesses are apparent.

In a sea of mundanity, any Morrison project is a welcome breath of fresh air, and while his ambition may occasionally outstrip the success of his stories, you can’t help but be excited for a writer willing to take such risks. While at times his offbeat storytelling can feel like “weird for weirdness sake,” it’s often saved by his infectious faith in the power of superheroes and the medium of comics in general. The Multiversity is an exciting comic, but it’s also a confusing and slightly impenetrable one. It remains to be seen if readers unfamiliar with Morrison’s quirks will be willing to stick around for the inevitable resolution. A collected edition, where a spider web of plot threads can be contained neatly, might be easier on the brain.

With DC glossing over its past in the form of the New 52, it’s indicative of Morrison’s star power that he’s been given full access to the dustier corners of the archives. This begs the question, however, as to who exactly the Multiversity is aimed at. Classic DC fans, alienated by recent editorial decisions, may be unwilling to risk being bitten again. A modern generation of readers, raised on the New 52, might be baffled by the unfamiliar faces and references to retconned events such as Final Crisis. Mad, challenging, bizarre and steeped in its creator’s personal logic and mythology, ultimately the Multiversity is a book for fans of Grant Morrison. 

Read into that what you will.

Jon Lock is the writer and creator of Afterlife Inc. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Big Game Hunting - Games on the Horizon, part one

by Rae

Looking forward to adding some new games to your library? Take a peek at what's coming soon!

All of these games are available to pre-order from Proud Lion. All pre-orders qualify for a 10% discount.

King of New York - RRP £35.00 (pre-order price £31.50)
This stand-alone expansion brings the dice-rolling monster battles of King of Tokyo to New York. Players get the chance to take over districts of Manhattan in an attempt to destroy the other monsters – or just to earn themselves some fame! Featuring a larger board and six brand new monsters to play, this is not one to miss.

Firefly: Blue Sun Expansion - RRP £30.00 (pre-order price £27.00)
We all know the map for the Firefly board game isn't big enough, right?! So how about a 10” x 20” board extension? The Blue Sun expansion does exactly that. It also offers additional cards for just about everything – crew, gear, jobs, and a new Nav Deck, just for starters. Also included are three new Story cards to keep players busy, and two more Reaver Cutters – as if the first wasn't dangerous enough!

Car Wars Classic - RRP £15.00 (TBC) (pre-order price £13.50 (STC))
The classic Steve Jackson game returns! First you choose a car, with its own combination of weapons, armour, and upgrades. Then you take that car on the road, and try to survive. Keep your driver alive, and you can earn enough cash to get yourself bigger and better cars. There are two ways to win -  finish the race first, or simply destroy all your opponents!

prototype shown (taken from Board Game Geek)

Firefly Dice - RRP £TBC (pre-order price £TBC)
If you're looking for a quick hit of Firefly goodness, but don't have the table space or time available for a full-on game, this might be worth a look. Taking on the concept of the press-your-luck game style, this dice game has you looking for crew and trying to finish jobs – before the bad guys finish you. Details and final art for this one are still under wraps, but hopefully we'll get to see more soon!

Five Tribes - RRP £45.00 (pre-order price £40.50)
The sultan of Naqala has died, leaving a place of power up for grabs. Players have to successfully manoeuvre the people of the five tribes of Naqala and invoke the power of the Djinns to claim the sultanate for themselves. This mancala-style game by Days of Wonder is easy to learn, but difficult to master, and will likely have you dreaming of meeples...

Stay tuned for more Games on the Horizon, coming soon!

Rae is still trying to build the perfect Klingon fleet for Star Trek: Attack Wing.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cheltenham Drink & Draw - July 2014: And the winner is...

by Ben Fardon

We didn't get chance to announce this at the last Drink & Draw, but the voting for July's Drink & Draw art contest closed a few weeks ago, and we have a winner!

Here's the winning entry:

Congratulations to the winner, Jerome Canty! Jerome wins a copy of Creationary. You can find more of his work at his website.

Thank you to everyone who participated, we had an amazing collection of artwork to show off. If you submitted your piece to us, you may now come and collect it, either from Proud Lion or at the next Drink & Draw.

Details for the next Drink & Draw can be found here. The theme is dinosaurs! See you in a couple of weeks at Boston Tea Party!

Rae is contemplating buying more Lego...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

New Beginnings - The Fade Out

by Matt Puddy

It feels like it was only yesterday that I was reviewing Fatale and yet here we are (it was two and a half years ago, but who's counting? BF). That series recently finished, but that hasn't stopped the combo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (with the added talents of Elizabeth Breitweiser) reuniting once again to bring us The Fade Out.

Set in the Forties in an uncertain Los Angeles, life is struggling to continue as normal. Mandatory blackouts are still in force with everyone worried about the Japanese bombers that may, or may not, be right above them at night looking for targets.

Even with this threat there are still parties - life goes on - even the fictional lives that our protagonist Charlie Parish are responsible for. Charlie is a screenwriter working at Victory Street Pictures providing the world with a lighter outlook on life. It’s a relatively charmed life when compared to the normal folk of America, but it is all thrown into question after one wild night at a party when he wakes up in a bath tub.

By the looks of it this is not the first time that he may have found himself in a situation like this, however there is one keen difference. Whilst retracing his steps and trying to figure out where he was and what happened, the reader is introduced to all the main characters. You may already have an idea of the kind of people that you might be meeting, but this at least fills it out with their personalities. The only exception to this is up and coming film star, Valeria Sommers, as she is found dead. To make matters worse, she’s found dead only metres away from Charlie’s waking place. Did he do it? What happened? What actually went on?

So many questions, which are then added to when his brain kicks in and he realises that she was strangled. Was he really responsible?

It’s all so hazy for him, and made even more confusing when there is an apparent cover up over the starlet’s death, with someone staging it all to look like suicide. Something bigger is going on here, but what is it and why?

Brubaker and Phillips are obviously very comfortable working together, seeing as they have done so for about 15 years. This is also a strong genre for them, especially seeing how they both performed on Fatale and this is very similar in context but without the H.P. Lovecraft influence. Brubaker’s writing is strong as always and to be honest Phillips’ artwork is exactly how I expected it to be, though it is pleasingly tidier than his pencils on Fatale.

What I did like was the detail and attention that has been paid when making this. Not only was an editor brought in to keep it sharp, but the creative team also included a consultant to make sure that it all felt and looked like the Forties era, adding to the authenticity and the mystery surrounding it. Real attention has been paid to hairstyles, looks and surroundings.

Lovers of Brubaker’s work will snap this up in an instant. If you’re a fan of mysteries and period pieces then this is also worth a look. It certainly hits the notes that it needs to and feels fitting for the era and design.

Personally I struggled a little with it as it’s not to my normal taste, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating strong work.

Matt Puddy is neither dapper nor a flapper.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

New Beginnings - Batman #34

by Matt Puddy

OK, I know, I know, Batman isn’t exactly a new character seeing as he has just celebrated his 75th birthday. It’s not a new writer seeing as it is still Scott Snyder driving this issue forward (with Gerry Duggan) and there are no new twists, villains or characters entering the fray. So why this issue?

Well to be honest this is a new beginning. Zero Year has (finally) finished and now Batman is back in present day Gotham, returning to the New 52 status quo. This is also bringing the main Batman book in line with the current weekly title, Batman Eternal. However, instead of jumping straight into a new arc. this issue is more stand alone, giving the reader a reprieve from the pace of recent issues and relentless schedules.

Issue #34 is a small story simply called The Meek. Rather than focussing on the big villains that Gotham and Arkham hold, Snyder and Duggan take notice of the little folk and the ones that hunt them. Even with all the hustle and bustle of the city life, Batman still manages to notice that a number of lost and homeless people are going missing. All of them patients of the same Doctor Thompkins. So, doing as Bruce always does, he has the urge to step in and protect the residents no matter who they are. What he finds though is a quiet killer, one who wants to murder and then disappear into obscurity again. A nameless face from the shadows who doesn’t want to be known.

This is a completely self-contained issue that Snyder has planned, and acts as a bridge in between arcs. As I mentioned before there are no huge plot twists or major characters, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t put a lot into it. Developing a story from nothing and following it through in just one issue, is not an easy feat but he pulls it off. He even manages to have Batman cracking a joke with one of the men from the Asylum, as well as putting a very nice twist on a punishment for him by locking him up in the Joker’s cell where everyone will see him.

What also does is that instead of leaving with a happy ending, there is a much more sinister feel to it with the immense realisation of the depths to which this has gone, and for how long is immense. That Batman is fallible - as this could have been caught quicker - and there is no way to know how far this actually went.

Artistically, Matteo Scalera (Black Science) is the main man on this issue, with Lee Loughridge working the colours. What I’ve liked is that the art has at no time given any sort of positive vibe to the story. It feels quiet, dialled down and in some cases totally bleak, which is how it should feel. Part of this is also down to there being a very big tonal shift on different pages. These again are muted and fit the scene with the exception of the blood red washes over the last pages.

This is not an issue that will drive any of the story for Batman forward, but then again it’s not meant to be. What it is though is a great jump on point for new readers or fans who are coming back to a Batman title after a break.

A good little issue which gets you ready for the next big thing.

Matt Puddy is looking forward to the Endgame.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

New Beginnings - Bodies #1

by Matt Puddy

Bodies is not the most enigmatic title I have come across in recent times yet combined with the cover imagery of a glamorous woman from the Fifties complete with blood splatters, it certainly makes it a perplexing offering.

When you add in the premise for this comic, it’ll throw you out even more. Four time periods, four detectives, four murders, identical MO, identical location – the twist? It’s the same body.

Spread over 1890, 1940, 2014 and 2050, the story follows four distinctly individual sleuths, each trying to get to the bottom of an apparently impossible body. Each has their own foibles and quirks, but all are dedicated to the cause. They all also seem to have their own trials to overcome. Whether it be religion, sexual preference, intelligence (albeit through the devolution of society) or simply sadistic tendencies, all four of our crime fighters are up against it in one way or another. 

From a reader's point of view, you get an entry level whodunit with the added advantage of seeing the body through the eyes of various people who all pick up on different things. It’s a professional job, but one with a ritualistic killing as it was marked with a sign. It also seems to appear in whichever time you see it in out of thin air regardless of who is around. So from your own perspective it creates a lot of different questions around the whole thing too.

From a writing perspective Si Spencer clearly has a wide ranging plan. From reading his piece in the back, it is clear that a lot of time has been spent engineering the whole impossible idea in reverse to make it happen. I can’t decide if it’s too convoluted to be kept under control, or if it’s just on the right side of crazy to border on genius.

Whichever way it lies, careful consideration has been made over a lot of the different elements. Instead of burdening one artist with the peculiarities of drawing in wildly different styles, no less than nine artists are all attached to this project. Four are directly linked by the artwork in each timeframe, with the others adding sections and covers alike. It’s quite a bold step but it works well as it gives a very strict differentiating factor to keep all the time lines unique - aside from the identical body that is!

The individual artist styles also compliment the timelines that they portray, including an almost soft and fluffy future where knowledge being constantly forgotten seems to be a big issue. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot more hidden in there too as a result.

Combine it all together and Vertigo have an interesting title with a delightfully abnormal approach, led by a writer who is obviously very committed and enthusiastic about the project. You can’t question Spencer’s love of what he’s doing here. I just hope he hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew.

Will the stories cross? How will this all be solved and resolved? We will be sure to find out.

Matt Puddy is fascinated by what comes next.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Beginnings - Robin Rises Omega #1

by Matt Puddy

Being Batman's protege is not an easy task. For a start, there are at least five in the New 52 continuity, without then counting Earth 2 counterparts or other variations. Secondly there are times when the life of a Robin is specifically endangered, such as the well renowned Death in the Family story.

A prime example of this is Damian Wayne, the most recent Robin who polarised fans and last year died at the hand of Heretic (who happened to be a clone of himself).

Whilst every Robin has had their own effect on Bruce, the death of Damian hit harder than that of say Jason Todd. Bruce literally fought his way back through time to be reunited his son and become the father figure he missed in his own youth, only to have that taken away from him by Leviathan.

In the past few months the Batman & Robin title has taken a different path to explore Batman’s loss, including him lashing out at people who care about him. Working through his grief, he had almost reached a point where he'd come to terms with the death of Damian, but then Bruce’s world is thrown into turmoil once again when Ra’s Al Ghul steals the boy's body - as he feels is his right as his Grandfather. Almost managing the feat through various Lazarus Pool attempts, Bruce triumphs in liberating Robin's corpse and is leaving Nanda Parbat when things go awry again.

This is where the Robin Rises Omega one-shot opens. The departure with Damian’s body would have been fine, except for the Boomtube opening bringing a select band of residents from Apokolips. These servants of Darkseid re searching for the Chaos Shard that Ra’s Al Ghul conveniently used in the sarcophagus to support Damian’s body.

Faced with insurmountable odds on his own, a fragile partnership is formed. The combination of the League of Shadows, Batman and his combined associates are enough to hold the Apokolips forces back, culminating in Batman finding the Shard, but the fight isn’t over. Glinting visions of things he shouldn’t see leaves Batman open to a shot from Glorious Godfrey, allowing him to take the shard back.

Things could have been worse but the arrival of the newly Luthor-led Justice League appear, starting another fracas. It’s not as productive as they wanted though, as Godfrey escapes with the sarcophagus and thus the Shard, but more importantly Damian as well.

Bruce is left once again without Damian, but instead a burning passion to head to Apokolips to get him back, putting him at odds with the League.

Peter Tomasi is a writing favourite of mine, so I was looking forward to this one shot. In essence this is a very good bridging issue between arcs, designed to entice new readers into the story as it sets up the new storyline for issues of Batman & Robin to come. As always the writing was strong, although parts of the story retcon felt a little over the top (even if it is for the benefit of anyone using the issue as a jump on point as DC hope).  It does have a certain amount of possibilities that it opens as well; some will obviously be followed up in issues to come, though some that may be dead ends or red herrings.

The legendary artist Andy Kubert also returns to the Damian character on this issue, making it an all star line up on the production. There is a neat distinction between the catch up and the present story within the colouring and inking which makes for a really nice touch.

This is a cracking issue with a great amount of talent working on it. What is there not to like? For seasoned fans or new readers stepping into the breach with Batman you are spoilt for choice, but this is one that's worthy of a space on your shelf.

Matt Puddy rises every morning. Wink wink.

Monday, 11 August 2014

New Beginnings - Low #1

by Matt Puddy

Rick Remender is a writer who polarises opinions. I know people who enjoy his work and others who aren’t as impressed. Personally I’ve loved some of his work but then on the occasional project been a little disappointed. So when I see his name on a new comic, I’m both intrigued and cautious at the same time.

This is one of those weeks as Image Comics present the Remender led Low.

Low is set in the very far future and based around a fairly well thought scientific principle that our star is slowly expanding at a slow but detectable rate. In this reality the Sun's expanse has grown great enough that the radiation we currently take for granted has deadly. Man has had to retreat the depths of the seas to remain safe. 

Over time these cities have slowly become few and far between. Even in these times, groups fracture and separate off to become adversaries meaning that even without the impending doom the sun brings, there is still danger all around.

Even though all apparently appears to be lost, there are still those trying to find a way for mankind to survive. Probes have been sent out through the universe to find a new home for humanity, and now one has returned home.

Life has evolved underwater to support a civilisation. The oceans are farmed and harvested, but things are getting sparse. Specification has gone to new depths, with certain tasks being limited by bloodline. The Caine family are an example of this, as only those with their family DNA can pilot the last helm suit of Salus. This is a powerful position to have, but also one that puts them in danger because outside the realm of the city they have become the hunted. This puts them all at risk and the helm suit in the hands of the enemy.

This may look to be a terrible position to be in; outgunned, captured and losing the most valuable resource you have. Not so for Stel Caine, our heroine, who is the eternal optimist and will not go down without a fight.

The story that Remender has written has been brewing for years. Finally he has managed to bring it to print, and you can tell it’s a work of love for him. A lot has been put into the writing and as a result it comes across in a captivating fashion.

Once again he is working with Greg Tocchini to provide the artwork, a partnership that has proven to work well in the past. Tocchini’s work is gorgeous, and lovers of the game Bioshock will certainly enjoy his work in some respects. The helm suit that you see on the cover looks great, but further more when you see the character portrayals inside, they are realistic and well developed. This is massively helped by the colouring work as well, giving even more depth to the pages. They’re a real treat on the eye. There is so much going on in the detailed line art that you get to see the story unfold as much as read it.

This is a cracking first issue and bulging with all sorts of ideas and themes. I will be the first to admit that I was a little sceptical but on this occasion I was wrong to think so. This is well worth picking up as a new title.

Matt Puddy managed to avoid humming "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid whilst writing this review, but only just.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

New Beginnings - Grayson #1

by Matt Puddy

“You think you know Nightwing... you don’t know Dick” 

A very bold statement used in the advertising for the new series starring former Robin, former Nightwing and former Forever Evil captive, Dick Grayson. Putting the risqué pun aside, will this in your face approach live up to its own hype?

Tim Seeley’s story opens like a spy film – on top of a moving train – complete with acrobatics and gunshots, whilst a black clad operative looks on. For readers of Stormwatch, you’ll immediately recognise Midnighter and wonder why he’s there too.

Grayson meanwhile works his way onto the train and it’s clear that he has a target in mind. He's also not alone. A female accomplice is also on the train helping to clear the way for him to extract Ninel Dubov, a seemingly low level trafficker. Once exfiltrated from the train though, things begin to clarify. A drugged Ninel is quite compliant with Grayson, but once Midnighter steps in and raises the stakes Dubov’s true colours show. He hides away power inside him. Not in the classical sense, but actual power and is being used as a smuggler. Once pushed though, he uses it to save Grayson before collapsing and being removed from the scene. 

Back at Spyral HQ we are finally introduced to the man behind it all, Mr Minos, whose face is obscured even to his agents by the implants that also protect their identities. An extra layer of mystery added to what transpires to be an even shadier organisation. With the equivalent of “he’s gone to a farm up north where he has plenty of space to run around,” it appears that Grayson has been diverted away from the truth - Ninel has been harvested and in reality Minos is tracking down and trying to create transparency of all the supers.

I feel a little let down by the story if honest and it came across to me as a mish-mash of older ideas and toned down individuals. Midnighter, for example, the man who can see a million moves ahead in a fight - so much so that he’s won it before it even starts - is matched by Grayson without too much trouble. There are hints of the Superhuman Registration Act ideology that Marvel hinged their Civil War arc on. It’s also sat firmly on top of a James Bond-styled story too, which felt very beneath Dick Grayson. This is a man who became Batman for a while after all.

Artistically speaking it’s not a bad looking comic. Between Janin’s artwork and Cox’s colouring you are given a bright and vibrant issue. The cover is stylish and bold – although I still prefer the look of Nightwing to the current Grayson visage – and it really creates an impact, but it’s one that the comic itself somewhat fails to live up to.

You may have gotten the slight hint that I was underwhelmed by this issue and I don’t really enjoy giving bad reviews but in this case I can’t help it. The promise of what this could of been was so much more than what was given. The cynic in me doesn’t believe that all is as it should be with Grayson working for Spyral, and there are certainly hints that he is an inside man for Batman Inc. that will hopefully lead to him breaking it apart. I’m hoping that there are significantly interesting twists to come in the next couple of issues, as otherwise this could be another New 52 casualty.

Matt Puddy is gutted that Kingsman: The Secret Service has been delayed until next year.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Watcher - Guardians of the Galaxy

by Stefan Harkins

A lot of people were concerned about Marvel’s next venture, a talking racoon and a tree... in space? Well not me! Ever since the first trailer blasted Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, I’ve been psyched!

The movie starts in 1988 with a young Peter Quill helplessly watching as his dying mother passes away. Doing what any child would do at this point he runs away, and in the midst of his grief he’s abducted by a massive spaceship!

We then jump forward 26 years and the now adult Quill (Chris Pratt) has settled into his space life, calling himself Star-Lord. He explores the galaxy, stealing and selling anything he can get his hands on. On a desolate planet while exploring a forgotten tomb, he pulls out an Eighties Walkman including foam headphones and pops in his ‘Awesome Mix Vol.1’ cassette tape. All of a sudden we’re filled with nostalgia as pop power ballads fill the air (it makes an awesome soundtrack!) and Quill dances his way around in order to find a shiny orb to steal. I feel this scene sets the tone of the movie, have fun while you're here and enjoy the ride!

Everyone seems to be after Quill, the orb or both and thats how the rest of our protagonists meet and end up in jail. This isn’t the type of movie which spends half its time explaining itself, and thats a good thing. There’s no unnecessary backstory, but each character gets a moment to define themselves. It's in prison that the group really get to know each other and so do we. 

Chris Pratt is perfect as Star-Lord; arrogant, cocky and libido driven but at the same time the heart of the story. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of arch-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), kicks ass beautifully and balances wonderfully against the buffoonery of Quill. Now Drax the Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista) was a bit of a surprise - vengeful and determined, but with dry wit and a deadpan delivery that gave a lot of his lines some huge laughs. 

Fans are going to fall in love with the two CGI characters, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). One's a wisecracking, massive gun-toting, cybernetically-enhanced raccoon and the other a sentient tree-being who's vocabulary is limited to ‘I am Groot’. They share a unique bond, in part because Rocket seems to be the only one who can understand Groot. The detail in the CGI expression is impressive and really sells their emotions. Some may think the casting of these two is a stunt to help sell the movie, but I found that you never hear the ‘celebrity’ voices instead just the characters. A lot of laughs, with Groot particularly providing the warm and sweet ‘Hulk’ of this movie with some great moments.

It turns out there is more to the orb of course, it’s the McGuffin of the film - even Quill refers to it as having a “Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon kind of vibe.” Of course inside it is another Infinity Gem, which means darker forces have their evil eyes on it. Thanos to be precise, who sends Lee Pace’s menacing Ronan the Accuser to get it along with Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and his other daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), who has a ruthless rivalry and jealous relationship with Gamora to say the least. 

What with his cameo in Thor The Dark World stinger, I was a little concerned with Benicio Del Toro as The Collector being overly camp and out of place, but thats not the case here. He has some good exposition about the Infinity Gems and their beginnings which we’ve not had up until now.

If I had to say something negative about Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole it would be the relatively bland villains - they do have a hard time finding ones that can contend with the Marvel heroes (aside from Loki)! For me however, it’s all about the unlikely group of heroes who are more compelling and the real focus of the movie. There are however some standout supporting roles which are greatly written; Michael Rooker’s Yondu whose space pirate who took a shine to Quill; John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz as Nova Corps officers; and Glenn Close as Nova Prime (what a hairdo!).

Written and directed by James Gunn along with co-writer Nicole Perlman, they keep things upbeat and fun. Mimicking the witty banter of The Avengers in a sci-fi setting, which almost makes it reminiscent of Firefly. The visuals are staggering and the jokes all hit their marks perfectly. Gunn obviously had a lot of fun creating the soundtrack, which is pretty much Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol.1 brought to life - an Eighties DJ's ‘best of’ dream!

Dismiss any doubts you had this is definitely one of the best Marvel films so far..

Stefan Harkins is doing a Kevin Bacon and indeed hooked on that Marvel feeling!

Friday, 8 August 2014

New Beginnings - The Squidder #1

by Matt Puddy

Many moons ago on Joe’s Comics there was a new start called Ten Grand. Written by J Michael Straczynski. it’s a cracking little story about redemption and how far a man will go, but most importantly it was my first real introduction to the artistic work of Ben Templesmith, though many of our readers will remember his work from 30 Days Of Night and more.

Templesmith may have left the comic after four issues but it was professionally handled and respectfully done by Straczynski meaning that regardless of the differences, workloads or other issues, there wasn’t a black cloud hanging over him for future projects.

Here we are now with one such future project – The Squidder – however this time the entire creative burden rests on his shoulders. More importantly this is the first part of a very personal project that suits Templesmith right down to the ground.

The Squidder is a bleak story in its kindest description. Opening with a cruel religious sacrificial ceremony, the reader is thrown right into the middle of civilisation's end. In an attempt to end the cycle of harm a young girl is offered up to appease the Squid Queen. One of many that has invaded Earth devastating the land and all those on it.

Hitchins, like many good protagonists, is a man troubled by his own violent past. Known as a Squidder, he was designed for the war against them. Physically strong and then further supported and enhanced by nanites and other technological doohickeys, it still wasn’t enough. In the end the war was lost and he witnessed plenty of death from those around him.

Being awoken from a nightmare isn’t a bad thing unless it’s to the hands of a hapless attempt at assassination. As a trained killer, seeing the attackers off is not hard at all but it does lead to an interesting meeting. Here is the crux of where this four part series is going. Hitchins is unimpressed at what he sees around him, but money talks and undertaking a mercenary contract to find and retrieve a priestess of the Squid Cult – alive – will make for an interesting ride. Brought to rescue what constitutes a traitor in his eyes and keep her alive. What could possibly go wrong?

Templesmith’s artwork is exactly what I expected to see when I saw his name on the cover. It is fine lined, yet nasty and grimy at the same time. This is eloquently drawn horror, wrapped around a nightmare landscape.

Storywise it’s not bad at all. Maybe not the strongest of writing, but then again he’s not as well known for that outside of perhaps his Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse series. My one criticism is that sometimes the dialogue was confusing, with a person off camera speaking or being made reference to without being the focal point. This is certainly not a comic you can skim and take everything in so pay attention!

There is a very distinct apocalyptical feel to this without the normal nuclear side if that’s possible. Amongst all of the destitution and struggle I did feel that the overwhelming idea of the squids was missing in this issue aside from the futility of trying to beat them in flashbacks.

As a treasured project I think Templesmith has done well, considering that everything is done by him in its entirety. It’s a shame that it’s only four issues long really, though perhaps it's the first in a series of linked smaller miniseries. Time will tell, but this is definitely worth a look for all Templesmith and horror fans.

Matt Puddy once sacrificed something to the Great Squid. Now he'll never be able to grow a full beard.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Big Game Hunting Live - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

by Rae

It's time for Big Game Hunting Live! This is a monthly gaming event that takes place on the second Saturday of every month. Players will get a chance to learn and play featured games all day long.

This month we're featuring Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition!

Dungeons & Dragons is the classic role playing game that will be familiar to many. You choose a character, you explore dungeons, you fight monsters and pick up some pretty epic loot along the way. That's exactly what we're inviting players to do this Saturday, with a day-long session of the newest edition of D&D.

During the adventures, we will be ensuring that players get a taste of dungeon crawling and monster battling. We also will encourage players in general roleplay. Most of the fun of this game style is in deciding how your character would react in a given situation, and making the most of it to enjoy the story being told. Of course, the DM (Dungeon Master) will be there to guide you – and sometimes to throw in a random element just to keep things interesting!

On the day, all players are welcome, whether you've been playing D&D since it came into existence or you've never seen it before! Pre-generated characters will be provided and adventures will be compact, allowing for an easy drop-in, drop-out day for players. (Please do not bring your own characters for this particular event.)

The play session will start just after 11am and will run until closing time at 5pm, with a short break  midway through the day. 

See you Saturday 9th August!

All participants will receive a voucher that entitles them to 10% off any D&D product. Cannot be used with any other offer.

Rae is possibly enjoying being a DM more than she wants to admit.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Cheltenham Drink & Draw - August 2014

by Rae

On the first Tuesday of every month, you will find a rather large group of people who have gathered in Cheltenham Boston Tea Party. They are armed with pencils, pens, markers, paints, and armfuls of paper. They are here to participate in our monthly event, Cheltenham Drink and Draw. This event is open to everyone, from artists to those who can just about manage stick figures (like ourselves!), to join in and draw whatever they like based on the night's theme.

In July, the theme was Lego! Not the easiest thing to draw, admittedly, but every image we collected afterward was fantastic. The images ranged from Lego figures and blocks to sketches based on models built with lots of coloured blocks. Plus, we had the perfect excuse to bring a massive box of Lego with us.

Of the pictures we collected, those with email addresses included have been entered into a competition!** You can view the entries by checking out the Cheltenham Drink and Draw album on Facebook. (Please note that due to data protection, all names, email addresses, and signatures have been removed from the scanned versions of these images.)

Simply "Like" any image(s) you think deserves to win. The drawing with the most "Likes" by the next Drink and Draw (Tuesday 5 August) will be the winner! The prize for July is a copy of Creationary!

So what will we be doing for next month's event? We've gone for a broader theme this time, allowing a great deal more scope for inspiration: space! There are no real limits to this kind of theme: space ships and stations, exploration, alien worlds, planets and stars, science fiction, space movies, etc. Feel free to come along and draw with us as we boldly go where no Cheltenham Drink and Draw has gone before!

** As a side note, this time around we picked up a very large number of pictures which had no email addresses on them. While a small handful had names or signatures, most drawings had nothing to identify them. If you left your image for the competition and you do not see it in the Facebook album, please get in touch, as we may have it!

Rae is already preparing herself for an epic adventure in drawing AT-ATs.