Where Would You Like To Visit?
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Rachel and I have just returned from a short break in Bracknell, where we were staying for her university friend Jacqui's wedding. We had a lovely geeky time visiting our favourite model village (and garden railway) in Bekonscot and then spending a day at Legoland - admiring the 1:20 scale representation of various European countries, made out of millions of Lego bricks!
More Bekonscot pictures here
More Legoland pictures here
We drove down (across?) to Bracknell on Friday evening, listening to Chris Evan's Friday Request Show on BBC2 Radio 2 (so Rachel could get a taste of my "old man's music" rather than her usual "kid's" music from Radio 1), eventually arriving at the Travel Inn for a meal with Rachel's friends Aime and Gareth. We were all gathered for the wedding of their old university friends Jacqui and Adam on Saturday. Bracknell seems like a nice place its outskirts - with some really large, posh homes - but it's centre is a mass of identical roundabouts flanked by bland, identical office blocks and supermarkets.
On Sunday, after the wedding, Rachel and I made the 40 minute drive to Bekonscot Model Village in Beaconsfield, Buckingshire. This is the second time we've been here and, if possible, it was even more entertaining than our first visit! As the world's oldest model village, Bekonscot never stands still - having sprouted several new buildings since our last visit - but still manages to encapsulate 1930s England in glorious miniature.
Even though it was the start of the school holidays, I imagine Bekonscot is always a big draw for children and the narrow paths between the tiny houses and Gauge 1 railway tracks rang with the thunder of children's footsteps as they raced the trains to each station, greeting them with cries of "train in station!"
Originally we'd planned to go to the cinema in the evening, but I was still feeling pretty rough from Saturday (I'd wimped out of the wedding breakfast after two courses, feeling quite sick and dizzy). We were both very tired and wanted to make sure we had as much energy as possible for Legoland on Monday, so it was a meal at the Travel Inn's restaurant then a reasonably early night.
While the food varied dramitcally from pretty good to awful (and hot drinks were virtually undrinkable), if there is one thing to recommend the Travel Inn chain it's their amazingly comfortable beds (and reasonable soundproofing) that really does guarantee a great night's sleep - as they promise.
On Monday, it was a short drive to the posh village of Windsor and Legoland. While there is more to Legoland than just Miniland (the 1:20 scale reproduction of key cityscapes and countryside from various European countries ... and NASA in the United States), that was the main draw for Rachel and I. And by the time we left, it remained the highlight of a long (and expensive) day.
I really hope that one day the powers that be at Lego decide to expand Miniland so we can be treated to Lego brick versions of the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids etc The other rides in the park are pretty much what you would find in any theme park - but Miniland, made up of over 40 million little plastic bricks, is uniquely Lego and triumph of patience and design.
Monday, 30 July 2007
If there was anything that symbolised for many fans the 'collapse' of the Marvel Universe in the wake of the seemingly ill-thought-out Civil War, it was the assassination of Captain America.
And now with all this "they were really shape-changing skrulls" retcon nonsense that is sending more fans scuttling over to the other side of the street to check out the Distinguished Competition, it's easy to forget that Cap's own title still trundles on, even though he's pushing up daisies (or is he?)
Ed Brubaker's latest tightly scripted issue cleverly follows a number of story threads - including the continued investigation into Cap's death by forces as diverse as The Winter Soldier, Falcon, Nick Fury, Tony Stark and Sharon Carter while The Red Skull's beautifully mental daughter Syn plots a way to get her Serpent Squad on to the SHIELD helicarrier to free her lover Crossbones.
I still believe that Cap isn't dead - although the Marvel Universe could do with a strong martyr figure to anchor future stories around and serve as the inspirational figure that is otherwise lacking (no one aspires to be proto-Fascist Iron Man these days, do they?).
But the longer Steve Rogers stays out the picture (and the skrull silliness becomes more prevalent) the more I fear this could be heading towards a "Bobby Ewing stepping out the shower" twist and all this last year would have been a dream... that's the point I join the others and jump ship for DC.
Until then though I shall continue to be drawn along by Brubaker's quality writing, interweaving plotlines and excellent use of Cap's extensive supporting cast.
Sunday, 29 July 2007
Without a doubt Watchmen stands as the greatest superhero comic book story yet penned, and is certainly one of the top three all time greats (with Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight) that everyone should have on their shelves.
I loved it when it first came out and have always thought - like many - that it was 'unfilmable', but Snyder's proved his comic book-adaption skills with 300, so we'll just have to wait and see how his celluloid incarnation of this classic measures up with the original.
Saturday, 28 July 2007
At the time Tunbridge Wells had its own roleplaying shop (The Dark Tower) and associated gaming club, and it was at one of these I picked up the first edition of Villains & Vigilantes, attracted by the colourful, comic book-style cover.
The game itself was a bit of a mish-mash, but it was exploding with ideas - the central one, that really grabbed me by the throat, was that you played yourself with random superpowers! How cool was that?
I read and reread my copy until it fell apart, but never really played it - except for some solo games featuring my first character: Supertich (don't ask!)
Eventually a second edition came out and by this time I'd started gaming regularly with Steve, Pete and Nick. Steve and I in particular took to this game like ducks to water; everything about this game fired our imaginations.
Even the character generation was fun - Steve recalls a time I made up characters for everyone we knew (not just the gamers) so that we had a Legion of Super-heroes-style team.
In the early 80s Steve ran a campaign-starting adventure for a small group of us , after watching the Doctor Who story: Enlightenment (Edwardian sailing ships in space).
We were all 'normal' school kids, kidnapped by aliens and 'adapted' (ie given random superpowers) to take part in an interstellar sailing challenge!!!!
That particular campaign never got further than its first issue, but my character, The Acrobatic Flea, stuck around for future adventures, becoming the "face" of our Villains & Vigilantes campaign and its eventual morphing into HeroPress.
Steve hit upon the idea of producing an A4 (then A5) newsletter, typed, handwritten, drawn and photocopied by us, for our campaign - there was no Internet for blog sites or even really fancy computers for desktop publishing in those days. This he named HeroPress, setting in motion a chain of events that would change my gaming world.
By this time we had already drifted the rules so far from the original that they were only vaguely recognisable as the same game - we'd rewritten combat, initiative, some of the powers, parts of character creation etc
So then, with issue three of HeroPress (sporting one of Pete's funky cartoon covers), it was decided that I would take over running the Villains & Vigilantes games, not only cherry picking the best bits from our old games and scrunching them all together as some kind of unified whole, but also with a postal element to the game.
I can't really remember if we ever actually played Villains & Vigilantes 'face-to-face' again after that because, following a small ad in The Adventurer (issue 4), we started to get players from around the country wanting to play our postal game.
It was at this point - not really understanding how these things worked - that I thought, rather than promoting it as a Villains & Vigilantes game (especially as we weren't playing it strictly by the book anyway), I'd better streamline the rules further for the sake of the postal game.
And so was born HeroPress the play-by-mail game and many, many, many years later this blog.
Since starting this "My Life And Roleplaying" segment, I've been convinced by PMikey over on the Midnight's Lair message boards (another old school Villains & Vigilantes player) that this new-fangled Mutants & Masterminds is 'basically' just a third edition of Villains & Vigilantes, so who knows what the future holds for my long dormant roleplaying skills?
Friday, 27 July 2007
The movie opens on May 22, 2008. Reserve your place now!
Before Keira, before Alyson Hannigan, Anne Heche, Milla Jovovich ... and all these other Joanna-Come-Latelys there was Karen Allen.
Unlike most young boys of my generation I was never the big Princess Leia fan, it was all about the tough cookie Marion with her lovely freckles.
I've probably seen Raiders of The Lost Ark (the first video tape my parents ever bought me) more times than even Star Wars: A New Hope, sometimes just to watch Marion Ravenwood kick ass and drink shots!
And now she's back, where she belongs ... with Indiana Jones!
It's not surprising that Heroes won the ratings war on Wednesday night, and for those who think 'superheroes' are camp and lame or need to prance around in lycra or leather costumes like Daredevil or Spider-Man, there isn't a sniff of spandex in Heroes!
As I've said before, it takes a few episodes for Heroes to really get into its stride, but in the meantime Hayden Panettiere, as cheerleader-turned-superheroine Claire Bennett, is easy on the eye. To paraphrase the stormtrooper in Star Wars: A New Hope: "There's one, set for stunning..."
If you're not watching this already, you're missing the most talked about TV in the world ... and it's a freakin' comic book superhero show! How the world has changed!
Thursday, 26 July 2007
The big revelation is Eminem (aka Marshall Mathers). Here is one musician who can really act, but just doesn't seem to get - or want - the leading roles his talent merits.
Good news though he is scheduled to appear next year as Paladin in Have Gun - Will Travel (based on the 1950's TV and radio Western show about a gentleman bounty hunter).
That the story is quite possibly based, in part, on Eminem's own life probably adds to the verisimiltude, but that only makes it that much more interesting a tale to visit.
A rare film that never seems to put a foot wrong - even if you don't "get" rap battles, you can appreciate the skill and focus required, as in any 'competitive' situation - and stands up to multiple viewings.
At it's heart 8 Mile is simply an archetypal sports film - which everyone can relate to - with the rap battles substituting for football, baseball, golf, boxing, whatever with all the usual "underdog makes good" tropes.
It also doesn't hurt that Brittany Murphy, who plays Alex (the part-time girlfriend of Jimmy Smith, Eminem's aspiring white rapper character) makes me think of sleazy Slayer from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Kim Basinger also turns in a top performance as Jimmy's trailer park mum while ER's Mekhi Phifer provides good support as the 'battle organiser' Future.
Next week: The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Sadly, Rachel and I won't be around for the Grand Opening on Saturday, as we're off to a wedding (and Rachel refuses to cancel just so I can go and buy more toys).
But the store's going to be open until 10pm most nights, so you can expect some late night 'toy runs' in the style of Arnie and Marjorie on the hugely popular Star Wars Action News podcast (which has just released its 100th episode).
I had had one of my sleepless nights yesterday (stomach cramps), and had to cancel a lunch with Nick G (who I haven't seen since the wedding and whose birthday is tomorrow), but an afternoon of napping and liberal use of a heated wheat bag and paracetemol got me as close to ship shape as I needed to be to stagger through the gleaming aisles of Toys R Us with wide-eyed, child-like glee at the array of plastic greatness on display.
It may not have been as grand as I imagine the gigantic toy stores are in America, but it's the best emporium to open yet in the environs of Tunbridge Wells, with prices and product range to beat any High Street outlet (chain or otherwise).
Although news hit the national press this week of the popularity of the Doctor Who action figures, the action figure aisle was still jam packed with Doctor Who and Star Wars merchandise, so I picked up a Judoon trooper (for troop building; to stand with the one I already have) and a Ralph McQuarrie concept design Boba Fett (to complement the McQuarrie Chewbacca I picked up in Tonbridge several weeks ago).
Don't forget for the latest round-up of Doctor Who action figure news, you can always check out Doctor Who Toys Net.
Variously known as JJ Abram's Untitled Project, 01-18-08, Cloverfield, Monstrous ... all we know for sure is it's scheduled to open on January 18, 2008, and it's written by Drew Goddard and directed by Matt Reeves.
Some Internet wags have suggested it's a remake of The Power Rangers, others that it's a Godzilla movie or even that it is somehow connected to Abram's TV show Lost (that roaring sound could be the island's invisible monster paying New York a visit)...
I would have loved this, as it's my favourite Lovecraft story, either to use as a 'prop' in a game of Call of Cthulhu or, more likely, to sit in a glass cabinet in a future home as a museum exhibit... but there's no way my budget would ever stretch to it; so I shall just continue to browse his website with envy and be amazed by his talent.
Be warned, some of his creations are a bit on the "icky" side, but it's all fake - no matter how realistic it looks!
For a long time we played with just the basic set, but Nick managed to snag a load of booster packs of extra figures on eBay some months ago, and so last night we played our first game with a wide range of possible players.
A basic knowledge of the sport helps, and that's what I have, but Nick is a regular viewer of Channel 5's coverage, as well as watching streaming videos of matches 'live' from MLB.com. Also, as a music industry accountant, he has a head for all the statistics that might as well be hieroglyphics to me (even though they do hold some sort of hypnotic charm!)
I suspect the game requires some modicum of skill to master, but I like the fact that you can play quite happily relying just on the luck of the dice you select. For me, it's about 75% luck and 25% educated guess work - kinda like my approach to Formula De.
Each team gets a choice of two dice, depending on whether batting or pitching, then the resulting two symbols (the dice have a selection of symbols, rather than numbers, weighted according to which die you choose) rolled by both players dictate the outcome by cross-referencing the clicky-wheel on either the batter or pitcher's base.
Successful results mean your players improve - by clicking the wheel forward, thus heightening their chances of further successes.
My fantasy team never really got into their stride on Wednesday night, while Nick's pitcher (Curt Schilling) was on fire. I was cursed with a particularly clumsy player (Tim Salmon) who repeated missed crucial catches, and a pitcher who failed to impress (Randy Johnson).
We were shut out 3-0 by the top of the ninth innings.
Nick worked out the game stats (and I believe him), for those of you who understand these things:
Tim - 0 - 6 - 0
Nick - 3 - 7 - 0
Johnson (0-1) IP: 9 H: 7 ER: 3 BB:2 K:8
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Co-authored by Mercedes Lackey - a science-fiction author whose name, if not her work, was familiar to me - and Steve Libby, I stumbled across this serial on iTunes with one of my occasional random word entries in its search engine.
I had tried all permutations of "roleplaying games" and couldn't find anything new that interested me; so I typed in "superhero" and among the many podcasts thrown up by the search was this one.
Divided into easily digestible 10-15 minute episodes/chapters, I've listened to about a dozen, as of this morning, and have been very impressed; lots of material to "borrow" for superhero RPGs (the stories - apparently - were inspired by an online RPG) and interesting characters.
And who couldn't love a story which features a scene of an Angel of The Lord fighting a Nazi stormtrooper in powerarmour above the streets of modern day Atlanta?
Previously, when I've tried podiobooks, I've managed maybe six or so episodes, then abandoned ship because of either shoddy writing or the annoying voice of the reader (or a combination of both), but The Secret World Chronicle has no such problems - mixing it up with its voice talents so the gender of the reader matches the gender of the protagonist for that part of the overall story.
With pulp Nazi villains, 'realistic' superheroes in a modern setting, and cinematic-quality action scenes aplenty, it's no wonder that I find this podcast so compelling.
Book One: Invasion has been finished, and during the hiatus before Book Two: The Hunt commences, listeners are being treated to Secret World War - a collection of short stories about the first metahumans who appeared during the Second World War. Of course, I have a little way to go yet before I reach them!
The Secret World Chronicle: Invasion gets - so far - a massive thumbs up from HeroPress and a strong recommendation that you subscribe to this podiobook.
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
Nick has never really been a fan of "superheroes" - except in their most pulpish of origins; his most prominent Villains & Vigilantes/HeroPress character was Nick Law - the Doc Savage-like inventor, philanthropist, billionaire, industrialist, property tycoon, and movie producer!
Thus it came as quite a surprise to me the other week when he thrust a copy of Warren Ellis' Ministry of Space trade paperback into my hands. Of course it was the juxtaposition of a stylised spacerocket and a Spitfire on the cover that had initially caught his eye - not the format of the story, but he insisted that "someone's got to make wargames figures of these vehicles" and this tale was "our sort of thing".
And he was right. Ministry of Space is a wonderful 'alternate history' of mid-t0-late 20th Century England, where we lead the space race (not the Americans) and carve out a Dan Dare style future with trips to the moon and Mars. Of course, things aren't that cut and dried and this isn't just another Boy's Own adventure yarn (that there would have been anything wrong with that), but something more sinister with a contemporary twist.
Now, having not been living under a rock, I knew the name Warren Ellis as a leading light in modern comic book writing, but - beyond his regular column in SFX (which he took over from Mark Millar) I couldn't consciously think of anything he'd written that I had read.
So, impressed by Ministry of Space (and in particular it's very erudite 'afterword' by the man himself) I fished out a couple of his other, more famous, trade paperback collection collections from 1999: The Authority and Planetary.
What a contrast!The first collected volume of The Authority - supposed to represent the "future direction" of superhero team comics - was just two repetitive, combat-centric stories told without irony, but with every cliche under the sun.
The first story even featured a cackling Oriental villain, while the second a parallel England reminiscent of the old Captain Britain stories (but not as artfully executed). The Authority themselves all have extreme, but undefined, superpowers and while some, like Jenny Sparks, seem to have the potential to be interesting, they don't really develop in this book. Perhaps things improve in future volumes, but I don't really have the finances, or inclination, to find out.
Planetary, however, is a whole other kettle of fish. Set in the same universe as The Authority and again featuring extremely powerful, but undefined, supercharacters, this collection takes a more picaresque approach - hopping its metahuman trinity to hot spots around the globe; along the way meeting analogues of Godzilla and pulp greats like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Operator 5, G-8, Tom Swift etc
Besides the pulp connection, this is more my cup of tea because it gives the universe a Grant Morrison-like twist of wackiness in the character's efforts to discover the secret history of Earth.
Stylistically, all three books are beautiful to look at - featuring some of this generation's premier artists (John Cassaday, Bryan Hitch and Chris Weston) - but if you're looking for a good story head straight for Ministry of Space, then Planetary for something a bit more "superheroic".
Monday, 23 July 2007
I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, but The Number 23 certainly has to be one of his darker, more powerful performances - there aren't many laughs in this Fortean murder mystery.
Once you get past the flawed central conceit of the 'power of the number 23' through its selective use of pattern recognition; the film becomes a wonderfully complex - almost Ouroboros-like - tale of a man given a book that seems to shadow his own life story.
He - Walter Sparrow (Carrey) - then becomes obsessed, as the characters in the book do, with finding occurrences of the number 23 (from bus and car numbers, to houses and dates etc etc).
It's a powerful idea yet the human mind is particularly adept at finding patterns where there are none, and ultimately the audience is left to make up their own mind: do these patterns really exist and have significance or are they all coincidences given meaning only by Walter?
From a secondary school-era interest in the Illumuniati and their own particular numerological 'codes' (in that it was the number 'five', which is, of course just 2 + 3!) I've always found this particular brand of conspiracy theory fascinating, so I was willing to be a less critical of The Number 23 than I think a lot of people were when it was released at the cinema (on February 23).
It's not the most original of stories - although mentioning similar films will possibly give away the twists - but it's directed with surprising style and taste by Joel Schumacher with strong central performances from Carrey and Virginia Madsen as his long-suffering wife.
Interesting "Beyond The Movie" extras on the DVD feature a collection of talking heads that range from mathematicians on the beauty and 'magic' (in the "isn't that sunset magical?" way rather than the Harry Potter sense) of numbers and science; the filmmakers on how quirky superstitions like the '23 enigma' make for good story material; a psychologist on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and a couple of deluded, New Age numerologists spouting utter, unsubstantiated B.S. about the significance of numbers and patterns as though it were cold, hard fact. A fun, but not revelatory, ensemble.
Knight City, based on our old Villains & Vigilantes/HeroPress stomping ground of Royal Wells (sometimes called Wellcastle), is an "alternate Earth" version of the town I lives and worked for many years (Tunbridge Wells), the town where I now live (Tonbridge), Kent's county town (Maidstone) and several of the interesting villages in between (including Pembury, where Steve, Pete and I spent most of our early childhood).
When I reinvented Royal Wells, at the start of the year, for a planned online Unisystem RPG (Buffy, Angel, Army of Darkness etc) I redesigned the city as Knight City and gave it an urban fantasy twist. Sadly, except for the enthusiasm of Clare, this campaign idea fell on deaf ears and eventually I closed the campaign down. Basically, I learned, 'urban fantasy' is rather an acquired taste and none of my old gaming circle had acquired it!
So, the best thing to do - as always - is return to square one and start again. Square one in this case being 'superheroes' ... and who doesn't love superheroes!
It's going to be a long, slow process (especially as my hardcover, print copy of the Mutants & Masterminds rules has yet to turn up), but it should be fun to inject the super back into the city that gave us so many fond roleplaying memories in our youth.
Sunday, 22 July 2007
Basically, Steve loves it and, try as I might, I don't.
Where to begin? The crass campness of the plot that wouldn't have been out of place in an old 1960s Batman TV episode or the later of the Superman films from the 1980s, the transformation of the Man of Steel in to sulky Superjerk The Caped Stalker, the continued portrayal of Lex Luthor as a comedic character (don't these people read the current DC titles?), and, worst of all, the mythos-busting (and pointlessly gratuitous) introduction of a Clark/Lois sprog.
Watching it again recently on DVD - determined to find the best in it; treating it as a sequel to Superman II and not a direct translation from the comics - I actually enjoyed it less than when I saw it on the big screen!
The film goes rapidly downhill after Superman saves the crashing plane - which, in fairness, is one of the all time classic superhero moments of modern cinema! It's no longer a question of just making us "believe a man can fly", we have to care and - outside of the plane crash - this film didn't engage me at all. Enrage, yes, but engage, no.
And again, towards the turning point for the start of the third act, we get the near destruction of Metropolis - which looks amazing - so why then shift the action to the less-than-impressive 'New Krypton' sets?
The large cast is a mixed bag of talents, with Kate Bosworth being pleasingly better than expected as Superman's ex-girlfriend. She has the right attitude for Lois Lane, but is simply lacking the gravitas to pull it off; she is way too young for the role which, by its nature, requires a more mature, experienced figure (such as Margot Kidder in the '80s).
Brandon Routh adequately fills the blue tights of the main man, but as with Bosworth, falls short in comparison to his predecessor - Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey, as Lex, doesn't have such comparisons to worry about as Luthor was never Gene Hackman's finest hour, but still plays him as an over-the-top 'professional criminal and mastermind', rather than the superintelligent and sharp businessman he 'really' is in the comics these days - like Linderman in Heroes.
Besides its total desecration of established Superman canon, the film's worst offence is its inability to decide whether it's a parody (like Mystery Men) or an action film with light-hearted moments. One minute we're smirking at Clark's slapstick or Lex's goofing around with his crew, the next Lois is drowning and can Superman rescue her in time?
No amount of stirring music or spine-tingling feats of superstrength can make up for the vacuum at the heart of this film. It looks beautiful, but just doesn't feel right.
I have no idea what director Bryan Singer was trying to achieve after his two faultless X-Men films, but I don't think he achieved it. Should a sequel ever get the go ahead I'd be happy to see Supes fighting a real, superpowered villain (who doesn't have access to Kryptonite) and if Lex has to be in it I'd like to see him set up like his far more menacing comic book incarnation.
Hopefully Lois' son will be forgotten as quickly as George Lucas wiped the phrase 'midi-chlorians' from the Star Wars universe.
I know it's bad form to slate a film for what it's not, but after Singer's fanboy-pleasing work on the X-Men, I had high hopes for Superman Returns, yet - except for some of the thrills and spills - it disappointed on every emotional level.
Saturday, 21 July 2007
Which would have made the absence of a second season all the more galling - much like Invasion.
Earlier this year fans around the globe were shocked and saddened to learn that CBS had pulled the plug on the series, but Jericho quickly earned itself a second lease of life - a seven episode new series. Persistent campaigning and pressure from its supporters gave the studio cause to rethink Jericho's premature cancellation.
So how come the same isn't working for The Dresden Files? It's way past the original deadline for Sci-Fi to declare whether it is renewing the series or not and still no news. It's getting to the stage now where any news would be welcome (although 'renewal' is really the phrase fans are hoping to hear).
A simple tale set in 17th Century England sees Peter Davison's Doctor - along with Nyssa, Tegan and Adric - trying to foil a genocidal plot by some marooned alien escaped convicts to annihilate the population of Earth through germ warfare, so they can have the planet to themselves.
While the reptilian Terileptils and their android cohorts are comical in appearance - due the limits of 1980's Doctor Who budgets - this doesn't detract from the solid, straightforward story.
In fact, it's almost too straightforward, when the Tardis arrives outside a bakery in London, 1666, the fiery climax of The Visitation is clearly signposted, but nonetheless very satisfying. It could only have been more so if it had been Adric - rather than the Doctor - who accidently started The Great Fire of London. That would have given us just one thing to hate him for!
Adric is a fascinating character. He's that rare combination of a truly dreadful creation - petulant, annoying, sulky etc - played by an utterly useless actor (Matthew Waterhouse), given really annoying things to do and limp lines to deliver. The character's death - a couple of stories later - in Earthshock couldn't have come soon enough.
You just have to contrast him with Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) to realise that the Doctor was still capable of selecting worthy companions. Her cute charm aside, Nyssa is smart, resourceful and compassionate. Even "the mouth on legs" Tegan (Janet Fielding), while not always the most pleasant companion to listen to, could at least be witty in a sarcastic way.
The actor-turned-highwayman Richard Mace (Michael Robbins) would also have made a fascinating travelling companion for the Doctor - perhaps because he reminded me of Oliver Reed's Miles Hendon in the 1977 version of The Prince And The Pauper.
If only the Doctor had left Adric in the flames of Pudding Lane and convinced Richard to go travelling with him and the two young ladies!
Friday, 20 July 2007
PMikey has used the City of Heroes online game software to design a 21st Century version (pictured right) of the old Flea costume that used to grace many a game of Villains & Vigilantes back in the day, while Midnight - a talented artist it turns out - has drawn the Flea in an animation style (pictured left).
These are all, naturally, inspired by the brilliant sketches of the character done by Steve in the late '80s to illustrate various HeroPress publications.
The very generous and enthusiastic PMikey also took the time to 'stat up' The Acrobatic Flea, and his one-time sidekick Flea Girl, for the Mutants & Masterminds RPG.
Of course, at the moment, it's all pretty much just numbers to me, but it looks very impressive and I am now more determined than ever to get my head around the Mutants & Masterminds system - largely due to the passion for it expressed on the Midnight's Lair boards and a recent 'eureka' moment when I suddenly 'got' the core combat mechanic.
Is it any wonder that I rave about Midnight's Lair and its amazing community?
If you're a gamer and you're not listening to the Midnight's Lair podcast or participating on their message boards, then what are you doing with your life?
I asked him, as you can read in my Six Of The Best interview, how he attracted people to his site (Lair of The Evil DM).
The answer was simple: "The Wednesday Girl. You should see the spike of visitors on a Wednesday, and quite a few stay and look at other parts of the blog. I can tell because my tracking stat thingy tells me how long someone stays around. The Wednesday Girl thing may not be for everybody; but for my blog it works."
The Wednesday Girl has become quite an institution with The Evil DM's loyal readers and this week he posted entry number 100 for that prestigious segment of his website and I felt this was cause to celebrate (and an excuse to publish a picture of my favourite of Jeff's "girls").
While, obviously I would like the visitor numbers he gets on his site, I don't think I can justify a regular segment like this - and I'm pretty sure Rachel wouldn't approve - but every so often it's quite possible to slip in something "for the lads" on a geeky pretext!
... Such as this 'motivational' RPG poster from The Midnight's Lair forum.
The chosen film - 8 Mile - will now be shown next Thursday. If all goes according to plan...
Thursday, 19 July 2007
While The 4400 can sometimes be more predictable and cliched than Heroes, it also manages to tug on emotional heartstrings - rather than just thrills and excitement - that Heroes has yet to tap into. And while it lacks Heroes comic book tropes, as this second season goes on it increasingly resembles the X-Men with its "humans" versus "mutants" undercurrents.
I was also impressed by the overt HP Lovecraft references in the opening two-parter, which introduced a recurring character played by a veteran actor with long association with adaptations of Lovecraft's work - Jeffrey Combs.
The show's major weakness is still its reliance on "freak-on-the-week" plots, which keep it firmly in the X-Files camp, although it does allow for a range of guest stars who are a regular Who's Who of TV sci-fi, from Firefly's Summer Glau to Lexa Doig and Robert Picardo from Stargate SG-1.
The mid-season episode Life Interrupted, though, came seriously close to derailing the quality of the whole season with a dodgy alternate reality story that smacked of a weak Stargate SG-1 episode, and shoehorned in a new 4400 girlfriend for the main Government agent, Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) in a very cheesy manner. It doesn't help that he is already the dullest character in the show and this baggage just alienates him further from the rest of the well-defined and interesting characters.
But in fairness, the "freak-of-the-week" stories are just seasoning to the meat of each episode, which concentrates on the on-going story of the main "returnees". What makes this series good is when it tries to do things that you wouldn't expect: such as Richard Tyler (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) meeting up with old Korean War buddies after his 50 year abduction, including the officer who beat him up for "taking up with a white woman"; or the increasingly cult-like status of The 4400 Center and Shawn (Patrick Flueger)'s rise to messianic status.
A few weak episodes or plotlines though can't distract from the incredible season finale with its closing montage of revelations; sowing the seeds for a spectacular third season (soon to be released over here on DVD; the fourth is currently airing on Sky One).
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
This year, although the five-day show is marking its 25th anniversary, new laws on the sale of certain firearms (which I don't know the details of) seemed to have taken a bite out the number of stalls selling army surplus, weaponry, kit, memorabilia etc. That being said a deactivated gun is going to do less harm (unless used as a club) than some of the inappropriate Nazi memorabilia available in some corners of the field.
As always, Nick and I were tempted by the vehicles for sale - particularly a Soviet APC, but it would have been a right bugger to find somewhere to park it; even with a disabled badge.
Last year I bought myself a couple of replica swords (to decorate my non-existent games room), but this year - despite the lure of a George W Bush action figure, a replica Dalek and enough gas masks to recreate the famous "Are You My Mummy?" sequence from the first season of the new Doctor Who - I was very restrained and only picked up some Star Wars blueprints and an FBI rain jacket.
Of course, the main draw of the War & Peace show isn't the flea market, but the largest collection of military hardware in Europe and the hordes of enthusiastic re-enactors. Sadly, as this was just the first day, they weren't fighting any mock battles in the show arena, but we got to see a broad collection of tanks, trucks and jeeps in high-speed action ... all kicking up clouds of atmospheric dust! Never did find out who had built the replica V2 rocket that dominated the skyline ... or why?
Nick and I both managed to injury our backs crawling through the Vietnam Tunnel Experience, and I ran over Rachel's foot with my mobility scooter, so none of us came away from this without our own war wounds!
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
His eye has now turned to the long-missing Norse god of thunder - Thor; last seen in the Marvel Universe during the apocalyptic Ragnarok that brought an end to the Norse gods' cycle of death and rebirth.
Now, the Norseman is relaunched in a particularly mythic first issue, as his original alter ego (Doctor Donald Blake) explains that just because the cycle has been broken, does not mean Thor cannot continue his life on Earth.
Beautifully drawn by Olivier Coipel (although Thor's "blonde Conan" look may be acquired taste I have yet to fully acquire), it is the grand writing by JMS that really makes this title. However, basing the God of Thunder in a small town in Oklahoma (rather than New York or some other major city) is going to take some getting used to, but obviously this is only the first step on his long road back to godhood.
I was a massive fan of this title during Walt Simonson's run in the mid-80s, where the supernatural, mythological and fantastical elements really came to the fore. How I would love to see a return to these glory days under the guidance of a scribe such as JMS!
Monday, 16 July 2007
I hope the BBC2 audience - who weren't compelled by advanced publicity to go out and invest in a satellite dish or cable to see this show "in advance" - can stick with the series with the slow, scene-setting early episodes. I'll confess that when it began 23 weeks ago, it was only the Internet buzz of enthusiastic fans that kept me watching every episode as I just didn't get the "wow" factor everyone was talking about.
It wasn't until about the fifth episode, the start of the second story arc (Save the Cheerleader, Save the World) that I really began to get into the Heroes' frame of mind, and from then on the show went from strength-to-strength; fast becoming 'must see TV' in the Knight household and one of the modern generation of programmes (along with Lost and Battlestar Galactica) that other shows are measured against (and, invariably, found wanting).
This first season (Volume 1) has woven a wonderfully involved storyline, threaded through with a web of sub-plots - many leading to this potential explosive climax (the title kinda gives that away ... so no spoilers), but except for Hiro's incredible appearance in the Volume 2 tease and Molly's mention of the "one person she can't find" (he's worse than Sylar and can 'see' her when she tries to track him) there's no real clues as to what direction the show will take in the new season. Who's still alive? Who's dead?
There may be no spandex, but this is the best interpretation of comic book superhero tropes on the small screen that we're likely to see for a long time and I have learned to have faith in Tim Kring and his writers. I can only imagine that whatever they have planned will be totally unexpected and brain-bogglingly enthralling.
First we had Steve and his Villains & Vigilantes game, of which more in a later entry, but for the science-fiction, far future escapades of Traveller, only one name ever sprang to mind: Nick.
Years before Eden Studios suggested framing games of their Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG as a television show, Nick was presenting us with Traveller adventures as on-going seasons of a futuristic vid-cast following the adventures of suave, big game hunter (and Roger Moore wannabe) Jamus Dirkson and his stunted sidekick, the psychotic scout and aspiring Wolverine, Marcus DeChambre.
After Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller was the first game system of any substance that I played regularly, thanks to befriending Nick at school. I would hazard a guess that, with substantial breaks, this particular campaign ran for about a decade, with Steve and I as regular headliners and Pete popping in as and when.
As a side-project Nick also invented the Grav-Ball boardgame (kinda American football in zero-G), which in later years of school became a mainstay of the after-school games club, when we created a league. I'm not sure if we ever finished a season of that, though!
Nick has very kindly unearthed his log of our various adventures over the years, with annotations where appropriate.
1. Loggerheads (an old JTAS adventure)
2. Rumpus on Ranther
3. Yo-ho-ho (river pirates in Apocalypse Now-style boats)
4. Wheel of Fortune (the first appearance of the Corsair Casino, a popular haunt, and Grav-Ball)
5. Hot Spot (archaeology in Vargr space...)
6. March or Die (... results in 'volunteering' for the Vargr Alien Legion)
7. Nighttime on the Khanate (... from which I believe you ended up deserting!)
1. The Mission (captured by Claw, the Ho Chi Minh of Vargrdom)
2. The Shooting Party (hob-nobbing with the local nobility)
3. We're Leaving on a Jet Plane (making their getaway...)
4. The Night After the Morning Before (... back to the casino)
5. Age Concern (a spot of big-game hunting)
1. Unlucky for Some (fighting the Vargr invasion on an iceworld)
2. Dirkson's Dogfight Demise
3. Royal Dirk (in which Jamus becomes King of Andrex...)
4. King Kang: The TV Movie (a diplomatic mission to a mad Vargr ruler - so a bit like the last Star Trek film - with rescuing the Marquessa, Jamus recurring bit of squeeze [although he had to keep dodging the Marquess], from the harem thrown in)
1. Adventures in Baby-Sitting (a luxury liner - Pete was B'zarr, the head of security - escorting the Archduke's young niece and nephew home)
2. Day of the Knight (a hijack attempt - well, there had to be really)
3. Farewell to Arms, Hello New Order (the all-time quote of the game from Marcus de Chambre: 'I grab a beermat and rush into the toilet..' Dirkson is knighted on Deneb, Marcus deChambre gets proper bionic arms, aahhhh!)
4. Dirkson's Dirk (into the desert; veloceraptors are mentioned)
5. Bungle in the Jungle (possibly some big game hunting to finish off?)
What I always loved about Traveller - besides the character generation system where you could kill off your creation before he'd even got to adventure - was the simplicity of the whole system, something sadly lacking in many of the modern d20 inspired systems. You had a handful of skills, rolled 2d6 for task resolution and your physical attributes were also your "hit points" ... it really couldn't have been any easier.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
Tucked away amongst the celebrity breasts, scandalous gossip and pikey sex tales, page 24 is given over to a semi-factual, rather sensational retelling of "Our Miracle Wedding".
All I can really say is that the small sum of money we have been promised for our story is already earmarked for 'spending money' for a trip back to EuroDisney this November!
What’s the “origin” story of Geeklabel and what made you decide to branch out into podcasting?
The origin belongs to Kingfish and The Vicar. Geeklabel is their baby. When I first got my Program Director gig at WRAR, The Vicar was bouncing shirt ideas off of me. I checked out the site and instantly fell in love with Geeklabel.
I love the shirts and the fact you could make each shirt your own was too cool. I have Poker Parties occasionally and they hooked me up with some prizes.
It was about a year later after I had bragged about the site to all my Geeps that The Vicar asked me what I thought about Geeklabel having a podcast. The podcasting bubble had not popped and I thought it was a smooth idea. They asked me if would join them on the show. For that I am eternally grateful. I've made some cool friends andour forums are the closest thing that exists to the old BBS days.
As a keen comic book reader, what titles would you recommend at present?
Fables. The closest thing to Sandman that exists. Very clever, smart and outright fun at times. You can not go wrong with Fables.
Y - The Last Man. The title sounds like a B movie. It is... and somehow so much more than that.
Dark Tower. Sai Thankee Marvel for bringing us a very good interpretation of Stephen's King's story of Roland, The Last Gunslinger.
Astonishing X-Men. Simply the best X-men title in decades.
What’s your recipe for the perfect superhero/comic book film – and what movies do you think have got closest to this ideal?
For any comic book movie to work you MUST have the story. Silly thing to say I know... but how many comic movies have we seen where the story is not there? A few.
Changes are going to have to be made on almost any comic-to-film project. Those changes need to be organic. Far too often we get movies on amazing comics that are changed to the point where you wonder why they even bought the rights to film the comic. (I feel ya, Alan Moore)
To shorten my answer you need people willing to translate the page to the screen. 300 was an amazing adaptation of the comic. Sin City would be the easy answer but I think 300 went a step further as I felt I was reading a comicas I watched it.
As for Superhero movies? Well everyone loves Spider-Man. I did too. (Not part 3) However.... I said it years ago and I still believe it to thisday. As far as a Superhero movie goes... Daredevil. A controversial answer for sure, but that told the origin AND gave us one strong comicstory line. Drama, humor, the visuals, organic changes... Daredevil for me is the closest Superhero adaptation we have seen.
How did you first become a fan of the quintessentially British programme Doctor Who, and who are your favourite Doctor and companion?
I was in the fifth grade. Back then all THREE local channels showed local news at six and national news at 6:30. That left PBS as an option. Sometimes you could catch Monty Python during that time slot. One random day howeverI flipped to PBS (Channel 25 on UHF) and there was a show called Doctor Who. I was an instant lifelong fan.
I discovered that Saturday that from noon till two they showed Doctor Who as well. I have heard and agree withthe mantra "Your First Doctor is always your favorite". As such Tom Baker is my favortie Doctor. Part of the reason I enjoy David Tennant so much currently is he reminds me of Baker. The kinetic energy of The Doctor. Being unfamiliar with the show back then you can only imagine myhorror/intrigue when Tom Baker regenerated into Peter Davison.
As for companion I am going to cheat. As a kid I loved Romana and K-9. Looking back later I appreciated Sarah Jane a lot more. This season I have been an enormous fan of Martha Jones.
From all the roleplaying games you have played over the years, can you think of a single moment that encapsulates just what is so great about this hobby?
Vampire The Masquerade... I was the storyteller for a year long campaign I called The Gehenna Stone. The players were collecting fragments of the legendary stone to keep the Antediluvians from awakening and slaughtering all the Kindred.
Deep character friendships were formed over this long story. One evening the group was triple crossed as it turned out that the goal they were trying to reach actually served a different interest entirely. One person who was trusted turned out to be a Werewolf. When a friend has to kill a friend to save an enemy we have pure pathos.
Afterwards the group was smaller. They had been beaten and totally screwed over. They picked themselves up, refined who they were and in our next meeting 'Role Played' in total character ... and when they got their vengeance moment I saw a grown macho man cry.
They had a fantasy world where they thought they were the coolest things around. They learned different. It touched them on a level they did not know they had. When you "become" your character it is a profound moment.
What do your work colleagues and family make of your geek status?
Different jobs have looked on it differently. The military had no clue what to think of me. Now I work in radio. Radio is filled with Geeks of all kinds. The "normal" people are the minority.
As for friends... they are happy to have an explanation for why I am the way I am. My best friend I am fortunate enough to say is my wife. She has found her inner geek. Whereas once I could make her scratch her head at my geekiness, now... well her first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston. She proudly wears her "I Y My Geek" shirt which is readily available at Geeklabel.com (DING!)
Saturday, 14 July 2007
However, things seem to be picking up now that we're "live" again and hopefully my new hard drive will prove more reliable than the one that originally came with this computer!
So, here are the numbers for the last 30 days. Where applicable I've included a note of last month's figures for comparison.
Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 14 July): 4, 046 (3,099)
Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 22 (31)
Top 5 Countries of Origin:
United States 56% (20%)
United Kingdom 19% (46%)
Canada 8% (15%)
France 5% (5%)
Poland 1% (-)
Most Popular Entry Pages: (i.e. what brought people to the site)
For this, we can take it as read that the most popular "entry page" is always going to be either the current top story or just general browsing, but after that the pages that have brought the most readers to this site have been:
1. Doctor Who: Smith and Jones
2. Doctor Who: Last Of The Timelords
3. My Big Fat Geek Wedding
4. Six Of The Best With Clare Grant
5. The Dresden Files: Second City (Season Finale)
The third season of the new Doctor Who continues to dominate the page views, although it's rather flattering that my wedding is still drawing interest. With the future of the Dresden Files TV series still hanging in the balance, my extended article on the series finale - which includes details of the campaign for a second season - continues to pull in readers from around the globe. A final decision on renewal for the Dresden Files is now due in the next week or two.
Friday, 13 July 2007
Now I don't mind going into films knowing nothing about them and letting them take me along for the ride, but The Break-Up definitely sets its stall up in the "comedy" camp and so all my instincts were fighting against this "serious drama" I was watching on the DVD. Which is a pity, because stepping back, you realise that this is a very brave film - taking the tried and tested format of the rom-com and warping it into something new.
Unfortunately, I also suspect this is why it failed at the box office - the Jennifer Aniston audience, on the whole, want her to always be her character from Friends. Those who came in looking for relationship drama got comedy, those who came in looking for an hour and 42 minutes of laughter got drama.
That said, you're always going to get value for money with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, supported by the likes of Jon Favreau and Justin Long, and while I got the message of the film - be appreciative of your partner - I just didn't get the film ... or, as Rachel called it, the "bitter-sweet" ending.
I guess my lessons in chick flick appreciation still have a long way to go from being able to hum I've Had The Time Of My Life from Dirty Dancing!
Thursday, 12 July 2007
The cast may not have the glamour cachet of the shows that came after it, and sometimes it seems to be veering towards a Smallville-like "freak of the week" format, but the five episodes of this first season managed to juggle a large ensemble cast, keeping all their stories running while concentrating on the main through-plot of two Homeland Security agents tasked with solving the "mystery behind the returnees".
Unlike Heroes, the presence of the "gifted" people is soon common knowledge and much of this season involves the extreme reactions of "normal" people to the presence of these of these people in their midst, as well as the attempts of the returnees to get back their old lives.
Although there is violence, terror and death here, the story of The 4400 advances at a more genteel pace to Heroes and, so far, hasn't veered off into the weirdness of Lost, owing much of its look and style to early seasons of the The X-Files, when we still cared.
The quirky nature of television means that The 4400 is still running, although it seems to have slipped under many people's radar; the fourth season started on the Sky One satellite channel in this country this week. It's not too late to search out these early seasons and play catch-up ... if you like all the programmes that it will remind you of, then you will love The 4400.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
As a 'jumping-on' point for the series (i.e. the introduction of a new Doctor), it's a reasonably simple story, as our hero teams up with UNIT and the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) to battle the invading aliens - who have taken over a plastics factory to manufacture new shells for themselves.
As with most old Who, it's only really the effects that let this story down - especially when the Doctor is wrestling with the tentacles of the of the Nestene, which controls the Autons (and resembles nothing more than a giant, puckering sphincter with arms), and things degenerate into slight slap-stick. Pertwee's background as a comedy actor is also evident as he takes this opportunity to mug for the camera and several scenes earlier in the story wouldn't have looked out of place in a Benny Hill sketch!
In contrast, Colin Baker's Timelash is an exercise in excess, as ambitions skyrocketed and budgets contracted. This story has an awful reputation in fan circles for its low production values, lacklustre direction, and overacting. But in the cold light of day, it's not as bad as it's made out. Sure, Timelash is never going to win any awards, but the stark, minimalist corridors of Karfel have a certain verisimilitude, and the central story of a deformed dictator controlling his minions through a cat's paw is entertaining - if not wholly original.
Unfortunately some of the set dressing and props wouldn't look out of place in a primary school play, with the worst offender - tragically - being the central "Timelash", a tunnel in space and time that seems to connect Karfel with medieval Scotland! This is made up of flashing lights, tinsel and Styrofoam pillars which visibly flake when people rub against them. When people talk about the wobbly sets on Doctor Who - this is what they are talking about.
Hampered by an inexperienced writer - and some late scene padding - the Doctor and Peri seem intent on acting out of character, the Doctor suddenly reverting to his 'shouting' mode and Peri is a helpless 'girly-girl' who spends most of the story in various forms of bondage (trust me, not as exciting as it sounds), while the Doctor teams up with HG Wells!
The story has that grand ambition that makes Doctor Who great, and while it reaches high and falls further, it still carries the ambience of a 1960s BBC historic play (especially with Paul 'Avon' Darrow swanning through every scene he's in like a misplaced Roman senator).
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
Tucked away amongst the celebrity breasts, scandalous gossip and pikey sex tales, page 24 is given over to a semi-factual, rather sensational retelling of "Our Miracle Wedding".
All I can really say is that the small sum of money we have been promised for our story is already earmarked for 'spending money' for a trip back to EuroDisney this November!
Monday, 9 July 2007
The engineer who came out early in the week reckoned that the hard drive had always been dud - hence my crash earlier in the year; and that when I'd then restored my data, the computer had 'moved' the damaged portions of the drive, but not flagged them and on Sunday I was unlucky enough to save some data (probably the iTunes update) into that portion again and set the whole chain of events off again!
PC World sent its own engineer out on Thursday lunchtime, with a replacement hard drive and a fistful of recovery discs, which he then left running. With all my own software to load, and what few back-up discs I had from when I got this new computer in December, it was almost 9pm by the time we started Film Night!