Reality is the playground of the unimaginative
Home Of Superheroes, Supernatural, and Star Stuff

Friday, 30 April 2010

Have Cultists, Will Travel...

My latest batch of figures has arrived from my painter-of-choice, Neil Wilson. This collection was mainly the multi-purpose pulp cultists I've had cluttering up my 'unpainted figures drawers' for several years.

I was supposed to pick these up at Salute the other day, but, of course, I was unable to attend and so Neil kindly posted them on.

The great thing about this mob is they work for a multitude of roleplaying or wargaming genres (give or take a few of the tooled-up miniatures or the ones not wearing full robes) from Dungeons & Dragons romps through Victorian sci-fi and on to modern horror of a Cthulhian flavour or even post-apocalyptic doomsday scenarios.

Primarily this selection came from Bob Murch's Pulp Figures and Artizan's Thrilling Tales range.

Everyone needs a few cultists...

Book Of The Month: A Web Of Air

The latest welcome addition to Philip Reeve's wonderful World Of Mortal Engines oeuvre is A Web Of Air, a direct sequel to his 2009 masterpiece, Fever Crumb.

Opening two years after the teenaged protagonist Fever left London with a group of traveling performers, this book takes the young Engineer to the 'edge of the (known) world', the island-city of Mayda (which I suspect is analogous to our Madeira, off the coast of Portugal).

Even from its cover, in through every page, A Web Of Air has a very different tone to other works in this cycle. Where the others have exuded a sense of dark, oppressive, steampunky, claustrophobia, this story is very bright and airy - centred, as it is, around an eccentric scientist's obsession with rediscovering the secret of manned-flight after thousands of years.

The other five World Of Mortal Engines books - to date - are grand epics at moments of immense turmoil, while A Web Of Air is a smaller, more intimate tale about two people chasing a dream.

But the change in focus and style doesn't detract from the importance of the story in the unfolding mythology of this post-apocalyptic world and Fever's ultimate sacrifice, her betrayal of her own beliefs 'for the greater good', is as tragic as anything you will find in Shakespeare or Emily Brontë.

This is Philip Reeve's Empire Strikes Back to the Star Wars of Fever Crumb.

There are, of course, moments of action and excitement throughout the tale - a particularly picturesque one being a rooftop chase along a row of funicular buildings going up and down the side of the crater in which Mayda sits - and a mysterious assassin whose identity isn't that hard to second guess, but whose motivation will catch fans of the series by surprise.

Observant readers will also pick up on a number of Easter Eggs, foreshadowing key features of the later (chronologically) Mortal Engines books that this is a prequel to. One in particular, the name of a certain boat, got my mind spinning like a candyfloss machine with the possibilities of how it tied in with the future history of this world.

As with the great 'origin story' at the end of Fever Crumb for one of the central characters in the first run of tales, these moments don't distract from the flow of the narrative if you are not up to speed with Reeve's other work, but certainly add to the experience if you can appreciate their importance.

While I am wary of giving too much away of the plot, because I want everyone to read this - and the other World Of Mortal Engines books - it's safe to say that A Web Of Air took me, and its adorable, quirky central figure, in directions I wasn't expecting and moved me in ways I haven't been moved by a book for long time.

* Look out on Sunday for my Six Of The Best interview with Philip Reeve.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Bottom Of The Pile: Teen Titans #81

Catching up on my comic book reading late the other night I picked up the most recent issue of the Teen Titans in my possession and prepared myself for 20 minutes - or so - of easy-going, middle-of-the-road, uninspired superheroics.

What I got instead, thanks to writer Felicia D Henderson, was some of the worst fanfiction I have ever read with characters spurting stilted, faux heroic dialogue stuffed to bursting point with every hackneyed cliché you could imagine.

I don't know whose sister, aunt, housekeeper or girlfriend Ms Henderson is but, pretty please with a cherry on top, DC, get her off this comic as soon as humanly possible.

The Teen Titans is one of the few titles I stick with out of loyalty - along with Marvel's Fantastic Four - regardless of the quality of the stories, as it was a pile of Wolfman/Perez era New Teen Titans comics in a book exchange in Tunbridge Wells, coinciding with Steve's new found passion for the medium, that got me hooked for life on comics in the '80s.

Of late my expectations for the title have sunk pretty low, with the constantly changing line-up of the team and stories that jump around so much you'd need a map to keep up, but this issue hit a new low that made me wonder how I'd missed Henderson's 'unique' style of writing before.
Bombshell (hero): "I'd like just one minute to show you what I'm workin' with."
Holocaust (villain): You couldn't take me in one century."
Sadly the artwork by Joe Bennett is so pedestrian that it does little to distract from the amateur nature of the whole comic, making it look and read like a juvenile fan effort that has been given the DC spit-and-polish to make it presentable to the cash-paying public.

Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if it's actually some parody or satire and I'm not in on the joke.
Holocaust (upon the arrival of more Titans): Welcome! To the day you all die.
I was strangely relieved to discover I was not alone in stumbling over Henderson's primary school level of dialogue when my Google Reader pulled an article from the titanstower.com Monitor Room blog showcasing Internet-wide dislike for her style of prose.
Bombshell: Gotta hit him hard. Harder than you've ever hit anything.
It's not a personal attack, I'm sure Felicia's a lovely woman and means well, but could someone please teach her the basics of dramatic writing or give her something else to do with her time.

I don't have high expectation for the Teen Titans these days which is why I'd love to be surprised by some quality scripting for a change rather than have my low aspirations exceeded in the wrong direction.
Cyborg: I could follow Beast Boy's biosignature anywhere.
Holocaust: Then you won't mind following him to death.
Cyborg: Actually I'd mind a lot. I'd say it's time for all cowardly monsters to retire.
Kid Flash: And speaking of retirement...
Superboy: ...it's a perfect time for a couple of Teen Titans to come out of it.
See how the natural dialogue flows...

HeroPress Speaks And Fandom Listens...

Okay, not exactly, because I realise this review was already written when I scribbled my HeroPress column.

But just days after I was bemoaning the lack of Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space coverage in the official Doctor Who Magazine, the latest issue (number 421) - which lands on shelves today - features a glowing, full-page (page 63) review of the roleplaying game from Cubicle 7.

Clearly written based on a read-through of the luscious rules rather than actual play, Brady Webb's review still concludes that the RPG has "elegant game mechanics and clever design" and "is a well thought-out roleplaying system - easily the best yet created for the series".

Foreshadowing this conclusion he earlier points out how the game "is designed to encourage imaginative play... cleverly reflecting the ethos and morals of the TV show by discouraging the use of brute force to solve problems. In fact running away or allowing yourself to be captured is often the best idea".

While still short of the extensive coverage of the game I feel it deserves in Doctor Who Magazine, hopefully this will heighten awareness of the system in the minds of non-roleplayers and help put a few more shekels in Cubilce 7's coffers and thus guarantee the future of Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space for a few more years.

I'd really like to read a review based on 'at the table' usage of the game mechanics, because everything I've read so far tells me the obvious - that it looks great and reads great - but I'd really like to hear first hand how it plays before I risk using one of The Tuesday Knights' precious monthly games slots to experiment with a game that is totally alien to our normal regime of 'kick down the door, kill the monster, take the treasure'.

UPDATE (April 29, 1pm): A former Buffy RPG comrade of mine, Mik, has directed me to this article by John Kahane, which is certainly a step in the right direction of what I - and it seems, others - have been looking for in feedback about actual play experiences with the game. Thanks, Mik!

Supernatural: The Song Remains The Same

Week in, week out Supernatural continues to deliver some of the best genre entertainment on television and even when the show revisits the 'time travel' shtick, and once more allows Sam and Dean to meet their dead parents, it is done with incredible style.

The fallen angel Anna (Julie McNiven) is back on Earth, having been allowed out of her Heavenly prison and charged with the mission of killing Lucifer's most important vessel - Sam Winchester.

When Sam, Dean and Castiel work together to stop her, she travels back in time to 1978 with the Terminator-like objective of killing the newly wed John and Mary Winchester (Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick) before Sam is born.

Castiel takes the brothers back in time as well, even though the journey wipes him out, and it's left to Sam and Dean to save their parents - and by extension, themselves - from Anna.

Dean, of course, met his parents, early in Season Four, In The Beginning, but this was Sam's first chance to actually meet his parents again and writers Sera Gamble and Nancy Weiner give us some incredibly touching scenes of the boys, posing as Mary's cousins, reacquainting themselves with Mary and John.

There's a great mix of humour and pathos, before the final confrontation - with Anna and her new-found ally - in the wonderfully decked-out Campbell family (i.e. Mary's family) house/shack in the woods.

Dean, eventually, has to tell Mary who he and Sam are, but it's left to Sam to come up with a radical solution to the situation they find themselves in.

Although ultimately Sam's solution doesn't have a chance to play out, it is one of the greatest and most heroic moments of Sam and Dean's long careers; that they would give up so much, so quickly, for the sake of all the lives it would save.

Time travel episodes are always a bit risky as they run the strong chance of muddying a show's established mythology, or creating convoluted story paradoxes (just look at Star Trek: Enterprise or Heroes for examples of heavy-handed time travel) , but - as you would expect from Supernatural - it's handled here with a deft touch, even though, rather disappointingly, Mary and John have to forget the encounter... I just loved the circular logic of the idea that John learned of hunting, and the ways of the hunters, from Sam and Dean!

Next episode:

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Problems With The Intergalactic Visualiser...

Craig Rowlings from Killer B Games, producer of the awesome Galactic Adventures In The Fourth Dimension Of The Forbidden Zone (GAFDOZ) miniatures that are so popular at HeroPress Towers, has issued the following statement about recent problems with his website:

"Due to persistent problems with my website I will be closing it down. I’ve had a string of unhappy customers who have been unable to order on the shopping cart and now I can’t even get into my administration page to adjust stock and info. As such I’m probably going to look into opening an eBay shop instead.

"To this end it may look like Killer B Games has disappeared for a while but I’ll still be here.www.killerbgames.com should display my email address in the interim so any orders can be made by emailing me directly on Craig.rowlings@hotmail.co.uk

"It’s not perfect but it keeps things going at least. U.S. customers will still be able to order as normal from Recreational Conflict.

"In the meantime the Kappa slave drones (pictured above) for GAFDOZ are now available; £10 for five 28mm scale aliens. Coming soon there will be nine new Geezers figures and a pack of five Lost Legion Troopers."

200,000!

Just another note to say thank you to everyone for helping HeroPress make the 200,000 unique hits target; just another four-and-a-half months after we made the 150,000.

Certainly the recent influx of visitors has been driven by my coverage of the new series of Doctor Who, with Matt Smith.

For a while there I thought I was just going to be adding to the overwhelming sense of negativity and bitterness that pervades all corners of these great Interwebz (not just in Doctor Who fandom, but across the board), so I have to reiterate my joy at the brilliance of The Time Of Angels and hope it marks a change, for the better, in this season.

When HeroPress began I never envisaged a general take-over by Doctor Who, but now - for better or for worse - it is a key element of the site, so you can imagine how concerned I was that this new era of Who wasn't going to turn out to be to my liking.

HeroPress now has 93 Followers (more are always welcome), 70 "Readers" (now seemingly rebranded 'Followers' as well) on Facebook and 136 Google subscribers, even if the "search engine statistics", for late March until now, make for rather sad reading...

Why, oh why, aren't people searching for my rapier wit and incisive critiques? Good thing I regularly post pictures of hot geek-related ladies or I wouldn't get any traffic here!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Week In Geek (bonus edition)...

A second serving of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Every Home Should Have One: Bring home your own motorised, talking 'possessed' Regan from The Exorcist to entertain elderly relatives and young children.

(2) Mars Wants Our Warriors: Adamant Entertainment teases their next Mars supplement for Savage Worlds - Warriors of Mars.

(3) The Time Of The Iron Dynasty Draws Near: Reality Blurs has an update on its two forthcoming Oriental Savage Worlds books - Iron Dynasty: Art of War and Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin.

(4) No, No, No! Two more 2D movies - The Last Airbender and Green Hornet - are being forced into 3D to earn a few more bucks from gullible filmgoers.

(5) World Without Superman: As conspiracy theories go, this one is quite terrifying!

(6) Geek Out Over Ragnarok: Kurt Wiegal of Game Geeks reviews The Day After Ragnarok, Savage Worlds edition. And everyone needs to check out this incredible, fan-made trailer for a (non-existant) Day After Ragnarok movie!

(7) Let There Be Warhammer: The eighth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battles is scheduled to come out in July.

(8) More Bang: New episodes of The Big Bang Theory begin in the UK, on E4, on May 13.

(9) Apocalypse Fashion: Facing the end of civilization in style.

(10) Take Five, K9: The dire Australian Doctor Who spin-off, K9, is coming to the UK's Channel 5 this autumn.

(11) Shane Speaks: Musings Of A Role Playing Troll has an interview with Savage Worlds creator Shane Hensley.

(12) Sounds Like Big Stuff: Big Finish has teamed up with Textbook Stuff to create a series of unabridged audiobooks of classic literature, including Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. These will only be available as downloads - no CDs sadly.

(13) Batman On Tour: DC Comics and Warner Bros. are collaborating on a touring live-action Batman show to hit arena venues in 2011 or 2012.

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) You Are The Doctor: Details of the first downloadable Doctor Who adventure, featuring The Eleventh Doctor and Amy, have been revealed. City Of The Daleks will be available, for free, from June 5, on the BBC's Doctor Who website.

(2) DC Gets Cartoon Justice: DC Comics and The Cartoon Network are developing Young Justice, a cartoon series based teenagers of the DC Universe, for transmission next year.

(3) Wuxia Is Back On The Menu: Haven't seen a wuxia flick for a long time, but John Woo's forthcoming Reign Of Assassins looks excellent.

(4) A Home For Your Hobbits: A 30-year-old mum of two builds a scale replica of Bag End from Lord Of The Rings.

(5) Free Canal Priests: A free pdf of Canal Priests Of Mars, an epic adventure for the Space 1889 roleplaying game written by Marcus L. Rowland, is available from DriveThruRPG.

(6) Going Out With A Bang: Details of The Big Bang Theory's season finale on May 24 have been revealed by CBS.

(7) I Didn't Know That: Behind-the-scenes information from Daniel Wallace, one of the author's of Star Wars: The Unknown Regions, the latest - and last - supplement for the Star Wars roleplaying game.

(9) Bond No More? The next James Bond movie has been delayed "indefinitely", due to financial concerns.

(10) Zombie Inferno: Kim Paffenroth's Valley of the Dead is a zombie-d reimagining of Dante's Inferno, telling the "true story" of the events that inspired Dante Alighieri to write his epic.

(11) Dead Detours: Frank Darabont admits his TV version of The Walking Dead will feature new stories as well as some based on events in the original comics.

(12) Bell Rings Time On Spock: Leonard Nimoy - aka Spock from Star Trek and William Bell from Fringe - has retired from acting, for good.

(13) Good News/Bad News: The American version of Torchwood has been snuffed out by Fox, but BBC Worldwide is still adamant that the show will go ahead.

(14) Jason Gets Axed: The 3D sequel to the reimagined Friday The 13th has been shelved.

(15)...But World War Still Going Strong: Plans to turn Max Brooks' World War Z into a movie are still on track, according to the author.

(16) BBC Apologises For Graham Norton: The BBC has issued an apology for the timing of an animated Graham Norton promo that popped up during The Doctor's key closing speech in The Time Of Angels.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

K9: Oroborus

After a couple of okay episodes, Oroborus is a major step backwards towards the bland, linear plotting of the early episodes of K9.

The Space-Time Manipulator in Professor Gryffen's house turns itself on by itself and almost sucks the house and everyone in it into the time vortex before K9 manages to shut it down.

However, after that strange time distortions keep occurring as people 'lose' seconds, minutes or even days from their memory and start repeating actions - everyone except Starkey who instead is more concerned about a bump on his arm that has started to itch and the fact that he keeps sneezing.

The Professor analyses a drop of Starkey's blood and discovers the young lad has been "immunised against aliens" (whatever that means!) - an experimental procedure that was only ever carried out by a husband and wife team of renegade scientists who experimented on themselves and their son.

The Professor and Starkey suddenly realise that this missing couple must be Starkey's parents!

When the STM turns itself on again and Starkey shuts it off, the Professor accuses him of messing around "with time" in an effort to track down his parents - I'm sure there are easier ways - and tuts at him a lot.

However, Jorjie turns up and says the time distortions are happening all over the city (as demonstrated by an embarrassingly dire clip of 'British television', where the news reader keeps repeating himself while a spokesman for London Underground says that tubes are arriving before they leave) at which time everyone sees that Starkey isn't to blame, especially when he shows them some giant snake skin he found in the cellar.

The skin belongs to an Oroborus - a cosmic serpent that devours time - that is now living in the mansion basement, and presumably came through the STM. Luckily Starkey is immune to its influence - because of his injection - and is able to lure it back into the vortex of the STM and save the day.

I'm all for developing a character's background, but as I don't recall Starkey's parents being mentioned before it was a bit of a bolt from the blue to have this revelation suddenly dropped in our laps.

I just hope something clever is done with this in the future and it isn't simply forgotten about.

As the production team went to the effort of producing a picture of the missing scientists for the Professor to show Starkey you'd hope they were working on bringing the characters in to the show at some stage.

The Oroborus was a decent, intriguing alien monster but criminally underused and disposed of way too quickly - as seems to happen with any good ideas that happen to stray into the orbit of this show.

DVD Of The Week: Avatar (2009)

No wonder Avatar was such a big hit at the cinema - in this shallow age of ours it is the ultimate expression of style over content.

If as much time and devotion to detail had been spent on the script as is put into the building of the world of Pandora, it could have been amazing.

As it is, Avatar - out on DVD in the UK tomorrow (Monday) - is a beautiful movie let down by a hackneyed script, full of unnecessarily drawn-out scenes for James Cameron gets to show off his swanky CGI.

There are lengthy portions of the film where there are no humans on screen, just CGI aliens and beasties in front of CGI scenery when you realise that this is a studio head's wet dream - the technology has finally arrived to eliminate pesky, temperamental actors from the whole film-making equation.

Sam Worthington is Jake Sully, a wheelchair-bound marine called back into service to replace his dead scientist twin brother on a trip to the alien world of Pandora. There he will be bonded with an 'avatar' - a vat grown clone of a native that was created with a combination of his brother's DNA and that of one of the locals, the giant, blue-skinned Na'vi.

It is supposed to be a scientific mission to learn the ways of the hostile Na'vi and hopefully negotiate a way for the humans to obtain the rare precious substance called Unobtanium (don't get me started on that particular red flag!), but he is approached by the stereotypically two-dimensional military commander Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to act as a spy in the Na'vi camp, obtaining useful "intel" for when the military move in to forcefully evict the Na'vi from their sacred lands.

Unsurprisingly, it all goes a bit Dances With Wolves and Jake falls for Na'vi princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), comes to realise that the humans are the bad guys and helps the Na'vi drive the invaders from their lands.

And for some reason this takes two-and-a-half hours.

That said, Avatar is never boring, it is a visual treat with alien flora and fauna - but isn't exactly food for the brain, despite its best efforts to drive home a pro-Green, anti-corporation message. Both sides in the fight are such stereotypes - with the noble savages of the Na'vi on one side and heartless military machine of the Earth forces on the other - that it's not that easy to take the conflict seriously.

It's simply 'ewoks versus The Empire' writ large and with a quality of CGI that would make George Lucas weep.

The planet of Pandora is the true star of this film, with its cornucopia of native life forms, totally integrated ecosystem and freakish geology - the flying mountains are breathtaking, an amazing realisation of '70s prog rock album cover artwork.

But let's address the elephant in the room: Unobtanium, the McGuffin that set this tragic chain of events in motion, a substance so valuable that no one ever explains what it does (or why it's so valuable) and is promptly forgotten about after 20 minutes and never mentioned again.

The moment corporate stooge Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) delivers his expositional infodump to Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the head of the Avatar program and Diane Fossey to the Na'vi, about the whole raison d'etre for the human presence on Pandora - which you would have thought she was probably well aware of - you know James Cameron isn't trying very hard on the scriptwriting side of things.

Once you accept this and just enjoy the idea of watching the best-looking video game you've ever seen, Avatar is a lot of fun - but purely on a superficial level.

K9: Curse Of Anubis

A giant, invisible spaceship in the shape of a pyramid appears over Earth and homes in on a park where Jorjie and Starkey are listening to K9's half-remembered stories of his travels among the stars (sadly not even a hint of The Doctor!)

The spaceship belongs to a jackal-headed race called the Anubians who K9 freed from slavery generation ago. He is now venerated as a kind of god.

The two Anubians on spaceship take up residence at Professor Gryffen's house, first brainwashing him and then Jorjie and Starkey - but only after they have snuck a peak at the Anubian's Book Of Deliverance. This nicely illustrated picture book recounts the Anubian's liberation by K9, but then after he left their planet, they turned their former master's mind-control devices on them and then began a campaign of galactic enslavement.

What was surprisingly cool about this was some of the illustrations of conquered races were clearly obscure aliens from established Doctor Who mythos - such as the Alpha Centauri from the Peladon tales and the Mandrel from Nightmare Of Eden.

Unfortunately, the Anubians then make the schoolboy 'alien invaders' error of not brainwashing Darius and instead forcing the Professor to simply banish him from the house. Meanwhile K9's circuits were overloaded with historical information as he tries to access his scrambled memories and so he wasn't much use either.

It is, of course, then left to the resourceful Darius - and his robot car Maria - to save the day.

Again, as with last week's Dream-Eaters, there's a germ of a half-decent story here, but it's totally undermined by the dreadful acting and the need to wrap everything up in under half-an-hour.

The resolution of this story is sadly ridiculous and the sight of the aliens being led away by the Department's android police officers is almost heart-breaking when you think of the story that could have been told with these characters in the hands of, say, the writers of The Sarah Jane Adventures or Doctor Who itself.

The nods to classic Who though were greatly appreciated as Easter Eggs for any old fans who happened to be watching carefully, without being integral to the plot.

I wonder if the BBC - or even the fans - are even aware of these subtle attempts to weave K9 into the wonderfully jumbled fabric of Doctor Who 'canon'?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Doctor Who: The Time Of Angels

After three weeks of episodes that have divided fandom in the extreme, Steven Moffat has finally delivered the kind of story we were expecting from him since he was named as Russell T Davies' replacement.

In a word, The Time Of Angels was fantastic. If only all Doctor Who were this good there would be no need for any other programmes on television!

Through some very clever timey-whimey shenanigans River Song (Alex Kingston) - last seen in Forest Of The Dead - gets The Doctor to rescue her from starship Byzantium just before it crashes.

She is working with Bishop Octavian (Iain Glen), and his small band of 51st Century fighting priests, to retrieve the contents of the Byzantium's hold - the last of the Weeping Angels, as seen in Blink.

Unfortunately, the crashed ship has buried itself in a six-level underground labyrinth - a 'Maze Of The Dead' - and The Doctor and his party have to try and recover the Angel.

Yes, The Doctor is going on an old school Dungeons & Dragons expedition with a party of clerics. I don't think I could have been deeper in geek Nirvana if I'd tried.

Along the way we learn a lot more about the nature of Weeping Angels and the people who built the catacombs (the Aplan's had two heads, you know), and Amy shows us her chutzpah both by facing down the Angel and challenging The Doctor and River about the nature of their future relationship.

While there are echoes of Silence In The Library in the Angels method of communicating with The Doctor, it doesn't really matter as this tense, thrilling tale is almost like a 'Steven Moffat Greatest Hits' album anyway, but ramped up to 11.

Everything about this episode - the first of a two-parter - is perfect, making The Time Of Angels one of the strongest since the show returned in 2005... and possibly in the show's lengthy history.

We've got a pre-credit sequence that plays with the essence of time travel, great villains, cryptic books, underground expeditions, a creepy sequence straight out of a Japanese horror movie, crashed spaceships, the enigma that is River Song (she can write Gallifreyan and fly the TARDIS better than The Doctor), The Doctor and Amy sparking off each other... we really couldn't have asked for anything more.

Let's hope part two - Flesh And Stone - doesn't let the side down and delivers the ending that this story deserves.

My nagging doubts about Moffat and Matt Smith from the last couple of weeks have been totally dispelled and finally Amy has been given an active role in a story, rather than just hanging around in the background smoldering gorgeously.

In fact, great play is made, early on, of the fact that everyone is getting on with their allocated jobs and Amy is just on the sidelines - until matters take a terrifying turn.

Not only has Moffat delivered with the story, but Matt Smith has finally shaken over the spectre of David Tennant and, for me, made the character of The Doctor his own. Up until now I'd been afraid that he was simply making the character simply more manic than its Tenth incarnation, but now I'm starting to get a handle on his interpretation of the Gallifreyan time traveler.

Part two of this story can't come soon enough.

Curse My Weak And Feeble Body...

Unfortunately some bug or infection I picked up this week meant I was unable to go to Salute today - the UK's largest wargames' show, held in London's Docklands - and ended up spending most of the day in bed.

However, if you - like me - were unable to attend, you can still get a taste of what Crooked Dice/The Doctor Who Miniatures Game had to offer there with the fantastic free download of their Battle Of Canary Wharf scenario.

You can join The Tenth Doctor, Rose and Torchwood as they fight both cybermen and daleks for the fate of planet Earth - reenacting the climatic confrontation from Doomsday.

And you don't need any expensive metal figures, or even scenery, as the pdf download contains character figures, a TARDIS, crates etc for you to print out and use.

This streamlined version of the rules will also give you a taste of the full rules, which are a free download as well.

UPDATE (April 25): This is some of what I missed by not attending Salute - I'm gutted! Also look here and here.

Captain America... The Serial... Part Five...

Friday, 23 April 2010

War Rockets Take Off!

Hydra Miniatures has released of its long awaited War Rocket miniatures. This first wave of War Rocket miniatures includes the first two rockets from each of the four factions:
  • Galacteers (human space patrol),
  • Imperial (forces of the Marduk the Tyrant),
  • Valkeeri (domineering space amazons),
  • Zenithians (saucer men from the seventh dimension)

In addition, they are releasing Squadron boxed sets that contain enough models to field a squadron of 12 rockets: nine class 1 rockets, three class 2 rockets and twelve plastic flight bases, which give you a 10 per cent saving over purchasing the models separately, by purchasing these Squadron box sets.

The company's US convention representatives Recreational Conflict will have all the latest War Rocket products at Little Wars in Lincolnshire, Illinois. Stop by their booth to see the miniatures in person.

Work is progressing well on the next two ships from each faction, with large models being composite resin and metal kits.

In the next few weeks, Hydra will be heading into the layout phase for its War Rocket rules, then the final eight rockets and the rules will be available at Gen Con which is held August 5-8.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a few preview castings of these some time ago and can't wait to see the full range. They are the perfect complement to my beloved Galactic Adventures In The Fourth Dimension Of The Forbidden Zone figures, as well as any other Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon/retro sci-fi range you can think of.

Anthem Fit For A Green Lantern...



Independent musician and huge comic book fan Gary Mitchell has turned to HeroPress to help him in his campaign to get his song In Brightest Day brought to the attention of the makers of upcoming Green Lantern movie.

Gary, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, told me: "With hard hitting guitar riffs, rock solid groove and exhilarating energy, In Brightest Day is the perfect GL anthem, exalting themes of courage, perseverance and will power in the midst of impossible challenges, perfect to appeal to fans and non-comic fans alike."

You can help give further strength to his grassroots, online campaign by supporting him on Facebook and/or MySpace and spreading the word by directing to this article.

Gary Mitchell

Where's The Love?

A recent issue of the official Supernatural Magazine ran a five-page interview with Cam Banks, developer of the Supernatural Roleplaying Game for Margaret Weis Productions.

As well as explaining the background and idea of the TV show tie-in game, Cam gave details of some forthcoming products in the line - namely the eagerly awaited (by me, anyway) Guide To The Hunted and the Supernatural Road Atlas.

So where's the equivalent article about Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space?

I realise the official Doctor Who Monthly has a lot more to write about, given Who's nearly 50 years of programming, numerous spin-offs, audio plays, etc etc but all I've seen so far is three or four paragraphs in a sidebar announcing the game's publication.

Even SFX, the UK's more generic science-fiction publication, managed to give the game a one-page feature when they interviewed lead writer David Chapman.

Perhaps they're waiting for the reissue, later this year, of the game branded for the Eleventh Doctor - as a picture of David Tennant in their magazine would obviously hamper sales! It just seems like such a missed opportunity to really explain what role-playing is to a captive audience, who already have a vested interest in the subject matter (that is, The Doctor).

Doctor Who already has a venerable fandom and a new, slick roleplaying game would seem the perfect fit to slide right in there alongside fanfic, scarf knitting, amateur film-making etc and what better way of opening the door than a big article in the show's official magazine?

Supernatural managed one page of text for every year it's been running - can we eventually expect a 47-page article on Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space (31 pages if just going by seasons) in DWM?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Rip's Fighting Vampires And Cancer...

The end of this month sees the publication of the first issue of RIP, from Black Snake Studios - its first Comics Fighting Cancer title, with 100% of profits going towards America's National Foundation for Cancer Research.

I was privileged to be sent an advance copy of this premier issue to review by author and publisher
Joseph Pais.

The first thing that strikes you about RIP is Cristhian Zamora's artwork, rendered in sharp black and white, but with lashing of red as the third colour of choice.

And there's a lot of red - this is a horror comic through and through, opening with the titular Rip using a buzzsaw to torture a captive vampire for information about the location of his missing wife.

It's two years since she disappeared and while part of Rip believes her long dead - he's even taken treacherous vampire beauty Anaya as his lover - he still needs to find out for sure.

Using a serum his wife invented that gives him vampire strength, he is more Blade than Buffy replacing tactical negotiations with unsubtle violence in his ongoing quest. Arriving at a restaurant used by the vamps, his opening gambit is "Are you ready to bleed?" followed by a stake to the neck of the first fanger who goes for him.

Rip is clearly a driven man of few words, who believes in direct action and is as determined to take the battle to the vampires as Joseph Pais is to do his bit - and encourage all of us to - in the war against cancer.

The 24-page comic, with a cover price of $3.50 (digital downloads cost $0.99), will be available either direct from Black Snake Studios (which guarantees all your money will go direct to the worthy charity), in bricks and mortar comic book stores or via download from outlets such as Panelfly and Drive Thru Comics.

Supernatural: Swap Meat

The old body swap switcheroo is a tried and tested cliche of the fantasy genre from Star Trek through Freaky Friday to Buffy and beyond, but this is Supernatural and so Swap Meat took a particularly dark and creepy turn as you'd expect.

Sam and Dean are in the middle of a routine piece of ghost-busting for an old family friend - a past babysitter actually who learned of their father's true profession - as they seem to be doing alot at present as their way of avoiding dealing with the Apocalypse.

However, the Apocalypse found a way to deal with them...

Sam wakes up one morning in the body of 17-year-old school kid Gary Frankle (Colton James), while the Star Wars-loving nerd has taken over his body.

The episode opens in media res with a hilarious scene as Gary (in Sam's body) buys a drink and gets chatted up by a cougar in a bar. Anyone who thinks Jared Padalecki is just some pretty boy who can't really act should watch that scene carefully - his nuanced performance is brilliant.

The story then rolls back 36 hours to explain how this all came about.

Pretty much from after the opening scene, the audience sees the person 'inside' the body, rather than the body itself - which is a shame, as I would have enjoyed more of Jared's performance as Sam-inhabited-by-a-17-year-old-virgin, but I guess it just made it easier to follow what was going on.

Gary doesn't do a very convincing job of pretending to be Sam and Dean quickly sees through his ruse, but not until they have salted and burnt the bones of the witchy ghost that was plaguing their former babysitter.

Meanwhile Sam is making little or no effort at all to pass himself off as Gary, and is just desperate to find out what has happened. Eventually he discovers some Satanic accouterments under the teenager's bed and is tipped off to the location of a black magic book Gary had stored in his locker at school.

Despite initial impressions, this isn't a light-hearted episode as events are unfolding with a darker purpose as Gary's motivation - beyond beer and women - is made clear... as well as the fact that he is not operating alone.

I'd really expected this episode to be pretty run-of-the-mill, given its cheesy gimmick, but sometimes I guess I forget Supernatural's almost perfect run of taking old ideas and giving them a new shine.

Although not the greatest episode ever by a long chalk, Swap Meat has its moments and added an interesting twist on the season's overarching storyline of the fast-approaching Apocalypse.

It's almost a shame that because of the young ages of some of the antagonists that they effectively got off with a slap on the wrists - and, obviously, an almighty scare when confronted with the forces they were truly dealing with - but I don't see what else writer Julie Siege could have done to resolve the ultimate conundrum without slaughtering more juveniles on mainstream American television.

I do think this is probably one of the few - if not only - times I've been really conscious of a Supernatural episode feeling slightly toned-down at its climax, for the sake of assumed viewer sensibilities.

Next episode:

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

On The Shopping List...



Batman: Under The Red Hood
- the latest stunning animation from DC Comics, due to hit Region 1 DVD on July 27.

And (below), the latest video from the amazing Aussie wunderkind of Operator Please:

Operator Please 'Back And Forth' from BRILLE RECORDS on Vimeo.

Still waiting for their latest album, Gloves, to be available in the UK.

Guns... Lots Of Guns...

As probably could have been predicted from day one, the Tuesday Knights' first mission in Pete's Top Secret S.I. campaign ended in a mass of gunfire, when we raided the warehouse where Oleg (Nick's character) was being held hostage by Web (the bad guys).

It's also a gaming truism that the first casualty of any adventure is the plan and although we spent what seemed like ages studying the blueprints of the warehouse (Top Secret is a great game for blueprints!), acquiring listening devices from our employers (Orion), debating the possible use of a bulldozer to ram the loading bay doors and the idea of taking out the power supply so we'd have an edge with our infrared goggles etc we eventually forgot most of the finesse and went in guns blazing.

We used a Titan Team to go in through the loading bay of the warehouse and create a distraction, while the three of us - Bicky (me), Hermione (Clare) and Bruno (Kevin) - came in through reception, shooting as we went. We also had a Titan Team to back us up and secure the reception once we'd made sure the receptionist was no longer a threat.

A major battle erupted in the main area of the warehouse as we fought our way up to the first floor - where a balcony overlooked the warehouse floor - and through judicious use of tear gas and smoke grenades created enough confusion to get us along to the office area (unfortunately Bicky took a major bullet wound in the leg from down below as we went along the balcony).

Bruno tried to open the door to the offices, but they were locked and so Bicky shot out the glass - quite miraculously killing the goon behind the door that he didn't even know was there (in game terms I rolled a '01' on percentiles and then a 'six' on a d6 for damage).

Through the broken glass a second goon was visible and Hermione - the worst shot of our team and furthest from the door - picked him off with a single bullet!

Stepping out of that room though Bicky was hit a couple of times in the chest as he'd opened a door into a crowded room of hired thugs - luckily he was wearing a bullet proof vest. A major gunfight erupted between our heroes and the thugs, who were holding Oleg in the corner of the room.

Oleg used the chaos of the gunfire - and the sundry tear gas grenades we lobbed in - to assault the man holding him, who just happened to be the Web agent we were after, Manuel. Even though Oleg's arms were tied, he butted Manuel to the ground then threw himself on top of him to pin him down.

The exchange of gunfire was short and brutal, especially when some of the Titan Team from reception came to our aid. The last three thugs saw sense and surrendered.

And that was it... it was all over! We'd captured Manuel, secured a warehouse full of illegal weaponry and rescued Oleg.

I think everyone was wounded to some degree or another, but any mission you can walk away from is a success in our books... especially given the lethality of the Top Secret S.I. combat system (we were very lucky not to get any serious shots to the head this time).

Job done! Well done, team! So what's next?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

DVD Of The Week: Bitch Slap (2009)

Borrowing heavily from Tarantino (particularly Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction), Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and the Usual Suspects (with its 'mysterious' ubervillain Pinky), Bitch Slap is not the most original of movies but it scores highly for being utterly bonkers.

The glorious mess of a story revolves around three bad girls - stripper Trixie (Julia Voth), drug-fueled psychopath Camero (America Olivo) and the enigmatic Hel (Erin Cummings) - who have kidnapped minor villain Gage (Michael Hurst aka Iolaus from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), ostensibly to steal $200 million in uncut diamonds from him.

Writer/director Rick Jabonson - a former director of Xena: Warrior Princess amongst other things - has created perhaps the ultimate lads movie, overflowing with an abundance of gorgeous, busty babes, Clockwork Orange ultraviolence, camera-splattering gore, vast tracts of cleavage (although little actual nudity!), big guns, samurai swords and explosions - not to mention protracted girl-on-girl fights and make-out sessions.

The dialogue is full of creative swears and instantly quotable lines, helping to gloss over the odd dud, sometimes hitting such a rhythm that it's almost poetic in its crass inventiveness.

Bitch Slap is a brain-boggling mix of cinematic styles - even lapsing into rock music video territory on occasion with a totally random slow-motion water fight between the three lead actresses - and setting its frequent flashbacks against obviously fake green screens to accent the hyper-reality of the whole shindig.

Look out for other cameos from the worlds of Hercules and Xena including Xena herself, Lucy Lawless, as Mother Superior of the convent that Camero hides out in for a time, as well as Renée O'Connor as Sister Batrill and Kevin 'Hercules' Sorbo as Mr. Phoenix.

Virgil from Xena: Warrior Princess, aka William Gregor Lee, turns up as a violent punk thug with Tourettes, called Hot Wire, bringing his Japanese sidekick Kinki (Minae Noji) and her razor-edged yo-yo into the equation (one of the less subtle riffs on Kill Bill).

While not for the feint-hearted, prudish or film snobs, this movie is daft, derivative, over-the-top B-movie fun with a spectacularly convoluted plot.

But perhaps more importantly Bitch Slap is also hypnotically watchable because it doesn't take itself at all seriously and should be mandatory viewing for aspiring film students as an example of low-budget creativity.

Coming out of nowhere, Bitch Slap is a strong contender for the title of HeroPress 'DVD Of The Year', with its fantastic blend of sauciness, cartoon violence, Kill Bill and the Xenaverse, as well as its high instant rewatchability factor.

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Week In Geek (take two)...

A second helping of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Win A Cameo In A Steampunk Novel: Author Jonathan Green is running a competition to win a namecheck in the next Pax Britannia novel Dark Side, due to be published by Abaddon Books later this year.

(2) Sweetening The Pot: The prize pot for the Kirk Lindo comic book artwork competition, mentioned on HeroPress at the end of last month, has increased - with the addition of a massive montage print (see above). The competition closes on April 30.

(3) Where To Hold Out Against The Zombie Hordes: Awesome zombie-themed site BrainsBrainsBrains lists the ten best places to be during the zompocalypse if you want to stand a chance of surviving the hordes of flesh-eating undead. And the five worst places to be!

(4) Calling Cthulhu: Boom! Studios is to launch an ongoing modern era Cthulhu mythos comic in July, The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles.

(5) Star Wars Samurai: An artist's incredible custom Star Wars action figures in the style of Akira Kurosawa samurai.

(6) Learn Our Secret History: Win Scott Eckert's Crossovers 1: A Secret Chronology Of The World is scheduled for publication in May.

(7) Darkseid Deluxe: Later this year DC Comics is to release a deluxe 416-page hardback edition of the classic Legion Of Super-Heroes tale The Great Darkness Saga.

(8) Mulder & Scully's Longest Night: A crossover comic pitching The X-Files' Mulder and Scully against the vampires of 30 Days Of Night is coming from DC and IDW.

(9) Please Stand By: A new zombie miniatures wargame, Please Stand By, is available for pre-order from Battle Bunker Games.

(10) Roy Returns: Roy Thomas is returning to Conan, care of Dark Horse, for the 12-issue mini-series Conan - Road Of Kings.

(11) Old Friends Network: Sarah Jane Smith teams up with another former companion of The Doctor, Jo Grant (Katy Manning), in the upcoming Sarah Jane Adventures - as well as the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) - for a two-part epic written by Russell T Davies.

The Week In Geek...

A round-up of geeky news you might have otherwise missed...

(1) Avenging Whedon: Marvel doesn't just want Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers movie, but he's also rewriting the script. The film is due to debut on May 4, 2012.

(2) The Rules They Are A'Changin': With the publication of the new HeroClix Blackest Night starter set, the established HeroClix rules are undergoing a number of revisions.

(3) Spidey Swings Onto TV Again: An animated adaptation of Ultimate Spider-Man is due to hit the Disney XD channel in the Autumn of 2011.

(4) Cornell Takes Action: Hugo-nominated Paul Cornell, for Marvel's axed-before-its-time Captain Britain & MI-13, will be taking over writing chores on Action Comics for DC.

(5) Survivors Put Out Of Its Misery: The BBC's dreadful reworking of Terry Nation's Survivors has - thankfully - been canceled.

(6) Nice As Vice: Outpost Wargame Services is expanding its delightful Highwaymen range by adding a set of magistrates and Bow Street Runners, inspired by the TV docudrama City Of Vice.

(7) Trippy Regenerations: The Doctor's original regenerations were modeled on the negative aspects of acid trips, according to old BBC memos about Doctor Who, which also revealed every new iteration of the character met with some resistance from the audience.

(8) Ianto Writes Torchwood: Gareth David-Lloyd (aka Torchwood's late, great Ianto Jones) has written a comic strip in the latest issue of the official Torchwood magazine.

(9) Want To Dress Like Jayne? Jayne Cobb, that is... the official replica 'Troublemaker' T-shirt from Serenity is now available from Quantum Mechanix.

(10) Why Blogging Is Cool:From back in 2008, Wil Wheaton talks eloquently about the power of blogging.

(11) Boldly Going...And All That: An interactive, educational show based on Star Trek will become a feature of The Kennedy Space Center from June.

(12) Monster Hunter: Check out this interview with cryptozoologist Nick Redfern over at Lili's Lair.

(13) Fireball Over Midwest: A massive fireball over America's Midwest states lit up the night sky last week. It is thought to have been caused by a meteor shower.

(14) Who Breaks Records: The recent Doctor Who episode, The Eleventh Hour, has set the record for the most requested show on the BBC's iPlayer for the week it was available.

(15) You Are Who: Download statistics for new monsters etc from the first three episodes of the current season of Doctor Who for use with the Doctor Who Miniatures Game.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

K9: Dream-Eaters

Who knows, with a total script rewrite and a cast who had a vague idea of what they were doing, maybe Dream-Eaters could have been a half-decent episode of K9?

As it was it had twists and surprises, an actual alien monster, and a very good sight gag, which I'll get to in a minute.

Everyone across CGI-London is falling asleep and having horrible nightmares and our gang of plucky young heroes try to figure out what's going on - Professor Gryffen deduces that the best protection is tin-foil hats, although Darius keeps taking his off and eventually falls foul of psychic waves washing over the city.

The Bodach turns up, actually a dream-eating creature from Celtic myth, demanding the professor hand over the "eye of oblivion" and suddenly the absent-minded professor remembers he had been sent a parcel from The Department, containing an artifact from an ongoing dig, that he had yet to open.

It turns out to contain a very plastic-looking giant gem, which happens to be the eye of a Celtic statue the Department had recently dug up.

The professor and K9 enter the dream-world - via the plastic gem - to investigate why the Bodach wants the "eye of oblivion".

Arriving in the dream-world, K9 sees an 'electric sheep' - well, it made me smirk, anyway - and they discover that the gem will increase the Bodach's power so it can cause the whole planet to fall asleep and feast on everybody's dreams and nightmares.

As one of the better stories of this series - although still woefully riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies - it, unfortunately, forces several of the young actors way out of their comfort zone and really highlights (as if it needed doing) that they are tragically weak actors.

You just need to compare them to the junior cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures to see they are at opposite ends of the talent spectrum to the British cast.

On the other hand, the Bodach isn't too bad a monster, although its basic costume wouldn't have looked out of place is an old '60s episode of Doctor Who, especially with its power to animate an army of snoring zombies from the city's sleepers.

Dream-Eaters also made good use of the show's half-hour format, although it suffered the usual convenient coincidences and deus ex machina (how come the heroes could wake up from their nightmares, but no-one else could?), and it still managed to deliver more plot than earlier stories, with considerably more twists and turns.

Top Of The Pile: The Flash #1

Although I grew up with Wally West as The Flash - first as Kid Flash in the Teen Titans and then in his own comic as The Flash - one of the first comics I ever read was a Silver Age issue of The Flash with Barry Allen as the scarlet speedster.

I was there the first time when he died during the Crisis On Infinite Earths, making the ultimate sacrifice to save the Multiverse (still the greatest 'event' title any company has put out) and while I may not have read as many Silver Age Flash issues as I might have liked over the years, he still pretty much defines the 'modern age' concept of The Flash for me.

There seems to be a lot of hatred in certain quarters of the web for Barry - as with Hal Jordan as The Green Lantern - but I'm perfectly comfortable with this situation.

The Flash has always been a favourite character of mine and, as long as he's well written, I'm not that bothered who is wearing the costume.

As with Grant Morrison's take on the new Batman & Robin title, this new lease of life for the character is a back-to-basics crime-fighting tale.

Of course, in the hands of a writer like Geoff Johns nothing's ever that straight-forward as Barry, returning to his role as forensic scientist for Central City police, investigates the apparent death of one of his rogue's gallery - Mirror Master.

Only the face under the mask isn't anyone Barry recognises... and the final splash page of the issue shows that Johns' is already bringing in one of my favourite comic book tropes: time travel.

There's also some lovely character stuff between Barry and Iris, as well as Barry's interaction's with the rest of the forensics unit - covering the change in attitudes during the time he was "away" (i.e. dead).

I, for one, am delighted that Barry's back and in the capable hands of Geoff Johns. This is most certainly a title I'll be sticking with for a good long while.
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