Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Sale NOW ON!

Lots of bargains now available in store folks - many items half price or better!

Here's a list of what we have available - if you'd like anything reserved please contact me. First come, first served.

Have a very Happy New Year. See you in 2012!

The Watcher - The Dark Knight Rises IMAX Preview

Right from the moment I heard there was another Batman movie from Christopher Nolan coming, I’ve been hungrily hunting all possible tidbits of information around it like a ravenous zombie. So as you can imagine I may have been a tad excited to see some footage from the movie and I may or may not have already tracked down said footage and watched it online. But hey, I like spoilers and I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to see it on IMAX!

The six minute preview begins with a van ripping through a field at some speed, this looks very impressive on the IMAX screen. I feel it allows you to become a lot more immersed into the film. The van is carrying hooded hostages - who they are or why they are there, we do not know. It arrives at a small plane where a slimy CIA agent is awaiting their arrival. He is surprised to find the van has more than one prisoner, but as the carrier mentions possible information on the mysterious mercenary Bane he takes them on board.

As the plane is flying through the sky you can appreciate the scale of the shot and how impressive it looks on the IMAX screen. On board the CIA AGENT is trying to interrogate the hooded prisoners with no avail until...

CIA AGENT: A lot of loyalty for a hired gun
HOODED MAN: Well perhaps he’s wondering why someone would shoot a man, before throwing him out of a plane
CIA AGENT: At least you can talk, who are you?
HOODED MAN: It doesn’t matter who we are, all that matters is our plan. No one cared who I was until I put on the mask.

The CIA AGENT pulls off the hood and the man is revealed as BANE!

CIA AGENT: (gesturing to BANE'S mask) If I pull that off will you die?
BANE: It would be extremely painful…
CIA AGENT: You're a big guy
BANE: …for you.

I would like to highlight Bane's voice at this point, a lot of people have complained about the coherence of it. I actually found his voice to be perfectly clear with an added eerie elocution to it.

Bane's plan is to extract the prisoner and leave no survivors. The extraction itself is brilliantly done - they hijack the plane by hooking it to a larger plane; ripping its tail end off so a group of mercenaries can drop in. During this they seem to perform a blood transfusion on the prisoner and a guy in a body bag. At first I couldn’t understand why they may want to do this but I came to the realisation that it could be to make people think that the prisoner was still on board.

As they escaping, Bane tells a henchman to stay behind. This is the only line which I did not understand:

BANE (to HENCHMAN strapping in): No! They expect one of us in the wreckage brother.
HENCHMAN: Have we started the fire?
BANE: The fire rises.
The DOCTOR starts to freak out.
BANE: Calm down Doctor, now isn’t the time for fear. That comes later.

As the wreckage of the smaller plane hits the ground we’re left with a parting shot of Bane and his hostage being hoisted away by the larger plane. Then finally a quick succession of teaser shots are shown. Multiple tumblers being chased by a new Batwing; Bane and Batman fighting on the steps of Wall Street; Anne Hathaway as Catwoman; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; rioting; explosions and a broken Bat Cowl...

Stefan Harkins keeps chanting over and over again.

Friday, 30 December 2011

A Marvel 2011 Retrospective - Mystery Men

Every year there is an event within the comic world publishers. It doesn’t matter who the publisher is, there is always a hook. Sometimes it will be localised to a group of titles and other times it will span the entire universe, but, regardless of who or what there will always be something taking the lion’s share of the spotlight.

Now from a publishing - and to an extent a readers view too - it means that there is a focal point for things to revolve around and makes structuring a vast number of things a lot easier. From a revenue point of view as well a publishing house can invest and plan a return.

However, this is not an all encompassing concept. While the spotlight was shining brightly for Fear Itself this year (and in the run up too) it gave the shadows away to a variety of titles and miniseries. One such series which I was seriously tempted to review as my end of year piece was Carnage, a revival of Cletus Kassidy after being ripped in half by Sentry. It was beautifully drawn and a favourite character of mine but the year has had more to give.

The title that really stole the show for me was David Liss’ Mystery Men, a limited five part series set before what readers know as “the norm”.

Established in the 1930’s Mystery Men approaches from more of a classic direction. These are men and women who are pushing themselves to be better and stand up for the good in the world without the benefit of a cosmic ray, nuclear explosion or any type of beneficial accident to gift them with a power set befitting a demi-god. Even their names are down to earth and feel fitting, albeit a little sinister with The Operative, The Revenant, The Surgeon, The Aviatrix and Achilles.

Although the premise may feel a little dated, one thing Liss has done is to take into account the world as part of the story and I feel this gives it extra weight. The role that society plays in the story is shown very well, from the almost religious undertones to the racial and sexual stereotyping that were both rife in that era. This is a time when power and strength are portrayed by the male police forces and armies of the world - not playboys, women and African stage hands.

Putting all the above together gives a refreshing story and series to collect and read which doesn’t follow the obvious generic formula. Yes, there is the very general “good wins over evil” but who couldn’t use that?

The story follows a supernatural plan to raise an earth changing power and our valiant heroes and heroine stand it its way. Simple enough story, however, as I said this is about the world around them and not only do they have to consider the fate of the world but their own predjudices and opinions are challenged in the process.

The whole feel of the comic is also fantastically depicted by Patrick Zircher. Now if honest I am not one for the “older” comic look and feel having only really become a fan in the last decade, but here this only adds to the sensation of the comic. There is a certain welcoming feel to it one seen in films such as the Rocketeer and Sky Captain helping to build the ambience.

When read as a whole it works on more than one level. It’s a well crafted piece that can simply be read or alternatively it can be seen as social commentary in a time that needed to change. Whichever way you would prefer to peruse the page of a comic, book or article it has something for you. It is a limited series though which may make getting copies a little tricky however as someone who was looking for something different and out of the regular trenches then I would say that to make an effort to get these issues is only one that will rewarding if successful and a goal to achieve if they have eluded you this time.

A beautiful multi faceted attraction that all should have or at least aim to attain!

Matt Puddy is hoping to feel well enough to celebrate New Year's Eve...

The Watcher - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

My mission if I chose to accept it. To visit our capital and experience Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol along with the Dark Knight Rises preview in a way like no other, on the massive IMAX screen. Myself and the other members of the Proud Lion Watchers Council took on this adventure. Of course the challenge was accepted, I mean does anyone ever refuse a mission?

I was in awe of the massive IMAX screen right from the start, wondering why I had not been to do this sooner. The opening prison break sequence leaves the viewer wondering what is happening and why, but as the escape continues the situation escalates, building to its climax and then the theme music rolls - the fuse is lit and I’m ready for action!

Rather unusually as the fuse is running its path, scenes from the movie are played out of sequence in the background, rather like a trailer. Why would I want to see scenes from a movie I am about to watch?

We pick things up in Russia and further plot points are revealed, bad guys, bombs and the need for the launch codes, you know the usual. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments during this as Pegg and Cruise are both trying to infiltrate the Kremlin with the assistance of some very nifty gadgets. (Filling a much needed gap left by the current Bond movies?)

I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Pegg has now been given a slightly bigger role in this movie, he adds his usual charm and comedy to the role. But I do feel like they could have given his character a bit more to do as it feels like his is the only one without an additional agenda and is left to be just comic relief.

The initial mission has failed and now the IMF (Impossible Mission Force for those not in the know) has been disavowed. Our main group are being blamed for something they did not do and now they have to go rogue to clear their names and stop a megalomaniac blowing up the world in order to try and bring peace.

Our agents are hounded by Russian police, all while trying to track arms dealers, gain information from assassins and media tycoons. Oh and of course stop the main man himself from completing his plans of destruction. Unfortunately this is my main issue with the film, there is a distinct lack of a solid villain. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in MI3 was a tour de force and held the audience captivated every time he was on screen. In comparison this movie is just left wanting.

Don’t let that deter you though, the rest of what is going on is brilliant. As the action moves to Dubai, I believe the movie reaches its high points as we see stunning shots of the Dubai desert, sandstorm chases and the heights of the Burj Khalifa building. This scene is particularly exhilarating to say the least as Cruise himself is hung near the top of the 2716 foot building, even with harnesses I would still call that brown trouser time.

We also discover that there is more to Jeremy Renner’s character than meets the eye, as he is holding a secret from the team. He is definitely one to watch and I personally cannot wait for his role as Hawkeye in the Avengers movie.

I would highly recommend this movie for an entertaining evening, if you can see it in IMAX then do so as your experience will be tenfold. All in all a standard story with stunning visuals and some fun cast, worth a watch. I am counting down the days to my next IMAX trip, The Dark Knight Rises here we come!

Stefan Harkins will self destruct in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas everyone!

Have a Happy Holiday folks. Thank you for all your support this year!

Proud Lion reopens on Wednesday at 10am. New comics are Thursday next week.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

A DC 2011 Retrospective - Batman Inc.

Well, not so much of a retrospective this week, as Batman Inc. returns for one last issue in 2011 - Leviathan Strikes!

It’s meaty, it’s massive, it’s Morrison! But is this weeks Batman one shot worthy?

On first impressions you have to at least admit that being given a one-shot that is the size and feel of a small graphic novel is really nice especially when it’s only $6.99.

For those who aren’t aware, Batman Incorporated was a short run title that was a natural progression from Bruce Wayne’s journey back through time following his “death”. It was Bruce’s vision for setting up an international network of fully backed individuals all under the corporate logo of Batman himself. Dotting across the world, the issues handled the recruitment and review of candidates and their setups ensuring that they were suitable for the big plan.

Unfortunately, in the grand DC scheme of things, Batman Inc didn’t make it through the recent 52 reshaping. Instead we have seen titles such as Batwing appear on our shelves as a direct result and a number of loose ends which the premature pausing of the series created. Now this one shot is giving the reader a chance to tie up some of those loose ends.

Written entirely by Morrison with Chris Burnham and Cameron Stewart providing the artwork for each of the chapters there is a great continuity throughout the entire issue and it tracks back really well.

The first chapter is following Stephanie Brown (back when she was still Batgirl) as she begins a new academic year in what can only be seen as a feeder school. In this case though the feeder school is designed to produce a very special type of femme fatale for Leviathan, Batman Inc’s corporate nemesis. As with many of Morrison’s stories not everything is as it seems.

What’s great about this chapter is that it is non stop. You’re always engaged and even when it slows down the addition of a scenario or a protagonist such as Son of Pyg, a particularly sadistic and twisted individual, keeps you interested.

The second chapter is more to do with addressing where Batman left off with trying to address what Leviathan actually is. It’s twisty and turny with no end of ideas coming from Netz, the post mortem villain, and leads you to think about a variety of different possibilities whilst also piecing a bigger story together behind it. It’s a smart piece of writing to manage it all as well with the reader having to work to keep up. This isn’t a bad thing though as it’s just a different method of storytelling made and is equally as rewarding. Even better still is that it keeps growing and building to quite a significant moment, one which suddenly makes complete sense across so many levels by revealing just who exactly is behind Leviathan and it’s one that hits on so many levels that you can only respect the planning behind it all. Talia Al Ghul, a woman who has affected the Waynes in so many ways and now has an even bigger part to play.

Overall this is a great one-shot. The price may dissuade some readers but all I can say is that Morrison has taken some possibly dubious building blocks from the Batman Inc run and forged them into something with a lot more promise and pretence making this worth the cost. Batman Inc. returns in 2012 and this is an essential read before then.

Matt Puddy is wishing you all a great Bat-Christmas!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Watcher - Five sci-fi/fantasy films for 2012

Superheroes are here to stay, for now. But the year ahead promises so much in the way of non-superhero cinematic goodness, that even if spandex isn’t your bag, you’re still sure to have a cracking good time, with some heavy hitters and potential new favourites looming just over the horizon...

In March, Disney/Pixar bring a genuine pulp hero to breathtaking life. John Carter (of Mars) adapts the adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s American Civil War veteran who wakes to find himself inexplicably transported to the Martian landscape of Barsoom, where his superhuman strength helps him turn the tide in an alien war. Carter’s original tale was a swashbuckling sci-fi romance, and the trailers promise action and spectacle - with some stunning production design and anything but little green men. Leading man Taylor Kitsch Eschews the typical rippling muscles of the superhero stereotype, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see Lynn Collins’s Martian Princess Dejah Thoris wearing clothes for a change. Oh, and Willem Defoe as a seven foot tall four armed green alien? Sold!

Five friends go to a remote holiday home in a forest. Bad things happen. But for the viewer, very very good things might just happen as MGM finally release the long delayed mystery project from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. 2012 might just be the year that Joss Whedon goes global, finally earning the recognition his status as a sci-fi fantasy visionary deserves. Although ‘The Avengers’ promises big shiny fun, the recently released trailer for ‘Cabin in the Woods’ promises a mind twisted sci-fi tale that bucks expectations in true Whedon style. Debut director and co-writer Drew Goddard has an equally impressive CV with screenwriting credits including ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Cloverfield’, and a cast headed up by Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth only serves to boost this project’s coolness factor.

In June, arriving a full 33 years after Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic ‘Alien’ (1979), comes the director’s belated prequel (or is it?) ‘Prometheus’. There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the project ever since Scott and co-writer Damon Lindloff’s pronouncement that the project would no longer be a prequel, instead spinning an original tale that riffs on mythology and the origin of mankind. But let’s face facts here, it’s an Alien prequel, directed by the first and best visionary behind the whole Alien series. And if that wasn’t enough to make you sit up and take notice, the official pics boast gorgeous production design, and the ensemble cast is a veritable who’s who of hot actors, with Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlise Theron and Idris Elba to name but a few. Even the Space Jockeys back on board. WIN? (The trailer is released on Thursday - we'll update this blog post with an embed after that, so stay tuned! BF)

You may recall some buzz about ‘Underworld’ director Len Wiseman’s upcoming remake of 1990’s ‘Total Recall’, but the rumour mill seems to have gone quiet of late. But in August, the Watcher reckons it’s time to get your ass to the multiplex. Starring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale with John ‘Sulu’ Cho and and Bill Nighy in supporting roles, fans are hoping for a fresh twist on Philip K. Dick’s source material with plenty of Arnie homage thrown into the mix. Gone is the Mars setting, instead a tale of global espionage and mind bending reality shifts awaits. There seems to be enough new ideas in play here to make this new take on the material worthwhile, and with Philip K. Dick inspired films proving to be some of the most enjoyable sci-fi fare of recent years, my fingers and toes are crossed.

Finally, December sees a rather expected, but long delayed journey from Peter Jackson and team who return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth this with ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, the first of two films adapting the classic children’s book, and lest we forget, forerunner to ‘Lord of the Rings’. The departure of mooted director Guillermo del Toro due to production delays was disappointing news, but he still receives co-writing credit, and returning director Peter Jackson has been known to direct an excellent fantasy film or three in his time. With many actors returning to their iconic roles and a new leading Hobbit in Martin Freeman - plus Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis pulling double duty as second unit director - the passion of all involved is clear. Best of all, this has even got me interested in re-reading the book. Roll on 2013 and ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’.

As the above list proves, although you might not be able to have so much as a cup of tea without missing the debut of yet another superhero film, there’s plenty still on offer for genre fans. There can’t possibly be any more quality genre flicks to cram an already bursting year of cinema... or can there?

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is looking forward to next year's hidden gem akin to this year's Rare Exports.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Big Game Hunting - System thoughts (this might get a bit complicated)

I’ve always thought of system as the bit where people say ‘and here comes the science part’ in the advert (and the character dying as the ‘because you’re WORTH IT’ bit), but system is one of those things that I understand well enough to design, but probably not well enough to explain.

System is complicated, it’s scary, and it’s strange. So why is it, exactly, that I’m trying to reinvent the wheel designing my own? And worse than that, encouraging you, gentle GM to do the same?

Simple – if a system doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for your players either. Partially broken systems lead simply to “munchkinning” (where a player designs a character that deliberately breaks the rules) and the only person that doesn’t really enjoy that is well... everyone, there’s no harm in it, right?

Well, right. And wrong. Because if you’re one of the blessed few that can do better, then you should.

Designing a system comes down to ensuring that something is not only balanced, but works in ways that would work, whether you remove the optional parts. It works, whether your player is lower level or higher level, and is balanced to make sense in your universe. It can be a very difficult thing to do – because balance goes beyond players and NPCs and means that if there’s a cause and effect style event, that the rules cover that too. I remember play testing a game once and discovering that for even marginally unlucky to even kinda lucky dice rolls, we had to change the system because tripping and falling off the curb killed!

While you don’t think about that, the important thing when designing a system with balance is to remember that even after play testing, you have to find and apply errata. There are various game companies out there and there are frequently errata issued, so that’s OK. Whether this bothers you or not is your choice, but after extensive play testing you’ll still find something that you haven’t thought of. Which is why system designing becomes more and more complicated as time goes by – and each iteration can introduce complications – so it’s important to build a base system underneath that works. Once you’ve got the ‘solid’ base, it should bend but not break.

Whether it’s diceless, one dice or several dice types, find a system that works for you, then you can quantify – it doesn’t matter what dice you use, as long as it makes some measure of sense.

This week, Kai is getting angry at MS Word’s rigid spell check – munckinning is a word dammit!

Monday, 19 December 2011

NEWS FLASH! Late night opening - Thursday 22nd December 2011

Reservation Service customers exclusive offer - lose a bag or gain a board!

Firstly, many thanks to all the Reservation Service customers who have kindly supported the decision I made at the start of December to introduce a deposit scheme.

I've been thinking of ways to try to add value to the Reservation Service and after requests from regular customers, I can add two offers starting from January 1st.

A) If you decide in advance to have your Reservation Comics WITHOUT a comic bag, you will save 5p per issue. This only applies if you tell me in advance, you can't decide on the day of purchase! Please contact me if you'd like to take advantage of this offer.

B) Alternatively for an EXTRA 10p per comic, you can have your Reservation Comics boarded. This can be decided on a case by case basis at the time of purchase.

We are currently out of stock of Long Comic Boxes and Current Age Comic Boards. These are on back order with Diamond. Apparently their latest delivery to the warehouse of these items was "held up at the docks".

Diamond have now confirmed these are back in stock. I'm hoping we'll have them next Thursday.

Once again, these offers won't start until the New Year.

A week of promotions!

Just a quick reminder that this week Proud Lion is open from Monday-Christmas Eve for all your shopping needs!

In addition, there'll be a new daily promotion each day. These won't be advertised in store, only on our Twitter (@proudlioncomics) and the Facebook page, so make sure you follow or like the Lion. Or both!

Today's promotion is... you know what, I'm not going to tell you here. Go to Twitter or Facebook and find out for yourself!

Later today I'll be back with another announcement about an exclusive new ongoing offer for Reservation Service customers.

Finally, here's a lovely little Christmas cheers from the folks at Image Comics!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

One week till Christmas!

This time next week it will be Christmas Eve!

Don't forget Proud Lion is open till 5pm today, then open on Monday from 10am. That Monday is a one off for the holidays, blink and you'll miss it!

New comics are Wednesday this week, but don't forget that over Christmas the new release day for comics moves to Thursdays due to the Bank Holidays. It will return to Wednesdays after the festivities.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

New Beginnings: Avengers X-Sanction

He has been seen as a time traveller and a terrorist, a freedom fighter and a mercenary and most recently a father. Cable has been many things but now how will he be viewed as the main protagonist in the four part miniseries X-Sanction?

Written by Jeph Loeb, the first issue is a varying storyline jumping from present to future and back again, setting up the story. One thing it doesn’t clearly address is how this has all happened, though considering the last we saw of Cable was being fully consumed and ultimately ended by the technovirus he constantly struggled against. This in itself will leave a lot of fans and followers wondering what has gone on, but I also have to ask is it necessary to explain here?

Loeb works very well with the ambiguous nature of Cable by placing him at odds with the Avengers, starting to take them down individually. It only becomes clear later in the story as to why and after seeing him with Falcon and Cap, claiming he will take them all down, it does start you thinking about how he will if that’s the plan (considering there is a Hulk on the team it is certainly an interesting thought)? Cable is a desperate man willing to die once again for the girl he knew as his daughter.

If I'm honest the premise - especially in Cable’s case - is a well used one but the twist to this is the overriding paternal instinct. As Cable is such an intense character it is only amplified which I don’t find to be a bad thing. Using The Avengers as “the Bad Guys” is an interesting move but one which I can’t see carrying considering their high moral standards.

As I’m also aware of the upcoming crossover where the Avengers will be pitted against the X-Men because of the Phoenix Force and using Hope as a vessel for it, I am left asking if this little series is necessary. I feel that this is going to go one of two ways, either as a vehicle which introduces a key factor or as a pointless filler.

Stalwart Ed McGuinness has provided the artwork which I didn’t think matched up to the story. It is true to his previous work but I just felt it lacked depth. Cable has always been depicted as an overly muscular alpha male type with the virus taking a part of him adding to the detail in his persona but here it feels as if the work is unfinished or lacking further detail. It’s only in the close up shots of any character that you get a better look and feel for them. McGuinness is also a foreground artist. The backgrounds are open and are simply there to provide a loose feel to the frame not adding any value.

I think that regardless of the end motivation of the mini-series, anyone who followed Messiah Complex or subsequent arcs will like this. I wouldn’t say it’s a reasonable jump on point but the story is strong enough to carry a reader and possibly hook them for all four issues.

Matt Puddy is gearing up for the end of the year with a look back at some of the best of 2011

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Watcher - Five comic book films for 2012

As 2011 rapidly recedes in the rear view mirror, the year ahead in cinema still holds an almost mythical sheen. With all the excitement over the veritable avalanche of quality comic book and sci-fi films over the last several years, it’s all starting to feel like it was simply a warm up for next year’s main event. If the Mayans were correct and next year is indeed to be our last, make sure you don’t miss the Watcher’s pick of 2012. This week, we’ll be looking at the most exciting year yet for comic book films...

In February, director Josh Trank unleashes big screen debut ‘Chronicle’ to a largely unsuspecting public. Though not actually based on a specific comic, ‘Chronicle’ looks set to follow in the dark and gritty tradition of M. Knight Shyamalan’s ‘Unbreakable’ (2000), exploring the real world implications as a group of teen friends discover superpowers. Screenwriter and comic fan Max Landis appears to have hit on a fairly fresh twist as the friends slowly progress from unleashing Jackass style pranks on one another to ever more terrifying extremes. The trailer has a definite ‘found footage’ vibe, but there are intriguing hints of something more epic beneath the surface. In the words of Dave Lisewski from ‘Kick Ass’ (2010) – ‘What would YOU do?’

Next up is a team who need no introduction. Heralded by no less than five solo blockbusters, April sees the release of Joss Whedon’s ‘The Avengers’. A dream project for comic book fans, this promises to be a true ‘pinch me’ moment as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury assembles the World’s Mightiest Heroes in a series of impressively realised battles filled with plenty of Whedon’s trademark witty banter. The presence of Tom Hiddleston’s Thor-bothering trickster Loki adds a touch of soul to villain duties, and impressively, despite a summer filled with leaked photos and persistent rumours, the true ‘Big Bads’ of the piece have yet to be properly revealed. Say it quietly, Whedon + Marvel Studios = Genius?

There is of course the small matter of Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated Batman trilogy capper, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ coming in July. Bringing the cinematic story of Christian Bale’s Batman full circle, ‘Rises’ promises to up the stakes as the beleaguered and battered caped crusader faces off against the impressive presence of Tom Hardy’s Bane. Nolan faces the unenviable task of following up 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’, but with the recent revelation that the film picks up eight years later, a despair filled trailer, and advance footage that has been wowing critics, the film makers are clearly striving to bring fans something new. The best advice would be to ignore the dodgy leaked photos and instead check out ‘Bronsan’ (2008) and ‘Love and Other Drugs’ (2010) to see co-stars Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway at the top of their game.

The recently released teaser poster for Marc Webb’s ‘Amazing Spiderman’ also due in July promises ‘The Untold Story’ or if cynics are to be believed, the director of ‘500 Days of Summer’ (2009) is set to bring us ‘Spiderman for the Twilight Generation’. Despite grumbles that this reboot follows too hard on the heels of Sam Raimi’s beloved Spiderman films, the trailer promises romance and mystery in spades, with a dash of visual inventiveness. Comic books fans should be pleased with the nods to Marvel’s brilliant ‘Ultimate Spiderman’ line of comics, and the cast, led by British actor Andrew Garfield, certainly looks impressive, with Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Enduring Love) set to bring true oddball menace to the villainous Lizard.

Finally, this Watcher may well be alone in viewing 1995’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle ‘Judge Dredd’ as an unappreciated classic (you really are! BF), but that doesn’t mean that upcoming reboot ‘Dredd’, isn’t exciting news indeed. Although Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) is calling the shots, two things are enough to convince me that this is one to watch. Firstly, novelist turned screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) has a knack for brutal realism and moody atmosphere, and secondly, leading man Karl Urban has bought true heart and soul to such diverse genre fare as ‘Lord of the Rings’ (2001-2003) and ‘Star Trek’ (2009). True, he’ll only get to emote using his chin, but as 2000AD purists will tell you, that’s exactly how it should be.

Looking at the above list, it’s hard to believe that for a time, 2011 seemed like the year of the Superhero, but with what’s in store for 2012, it might just be shaping up the be their decade.

Next week, wizards, warlords, xenomorphs and Colin Farrell, not to mention a long delayed summer vacation with Joss Whedon, as Robert Barton-Ancliffe looks ahead to the best of sci-fi and Fantasy for 2012.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Big Game Hunting - So… you want to design a game?

RPG games are some of the most amazing things that people can ever write – they’re more intensely interactive than most books and can take people into new worlds that they’ve never experienced. Give them the opportunity to explore as people they can never be.

As a games designer, it’s YOUR job to give the GM the tools to create the worlds that underpin and support their story. It’s your job to find the best rules set and character design and background to work with what they want, and it’s your job to excite and entice them into playing games.

So, with all of the games and all of the systems out there, why would you design one in the first place, and where do you start?Design is one of those things that can’t really be described – it’s something that you find yourself, but as a game design ‘rule set’, there are a couple of things that you should consider.

And over the next five weeks, or more, I’m going to talk about them. For now though, this post is to get you thinking about why you want to design a game, whether you can adapt an existing system, and if not, what you need to think about.

The why is a very personal thing. Game design comes down to filling a gap, either that you’ve got yourself, or one that you can see in the market. My games have always been designed around my books – because they’re important to me. I could have adapted other games out there, but I always worried that they wouldn’t help. For example, right now, I’m designing a game that requires multiple rolls for certain passes – and that these are always a core set and depending on the rolls, overall, will depend on the result. It’s complex, so it needs thoroughly tested, and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it out there. I’m designing this because it’s a specific thing that I couldn’t overcome in any other way. That’s my why. Yours may be more or less complicated.

If you can adapt a game, you might find that easier – it’s often how designers get into understanding the central ideas around designing games. But remember, sometimes its easier to set up your won stuff, so don’t always bodge systems.

Finally – if you’re designing a game, you need to consider a lot of things – from background to rule set to dice, and structure and system. All mostly interlock, so it’s important to start with the hardest one and bend the easier ones to match. Or at least, that’s how I do it.

Next week I’m going to talk system.

This week, Kai is testing out a three part dice roll system. It’s complicated.

Walking Dead Vol 15 TP - DELAYED!

Sorry folks, no Walking Dead Vol 15 till next week. Here's the email I received today form Diamond UK.

Dear Retailer,

Due to a shipping problem Diamond UK did not receive stock of Walking Dead vol # 15 OCT110502 in time for release this week: Wednesday 14th December, this problem has now been resolved this title will now ship next week for release: Wednesday 21st December.

Diamond Comic Distributors.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

New Beginnings - The Defenders #1

1971 saw a few things in the word happening. Qatar and Sierra Leone gained their independence from Great Britain, Nasdaq opened and the United Kingdom and Ireland changed to decimalisation.

Amongst these events, in December, Marvel launched a new almost ad hoc team built of outsiders known as The Defenders.

Now 40 years on, Matt Fraction has revived the team once more.

The original line up was Dr Strange, Hulk, Namor and Silver Surfer (although the Surfer was added slightly after its inception) and has also had a variety of additional members to the squad and this new issues mirrors that. Fraction’s line up takes a lot from this but also adds a couple of twists such as Red She-Hulk (Betty Ross) - instead of Hulk - and Iron Fist.

The story opens in a promising way, picking up on a piece of the recent Fear Itself arc. Nul, the Breaker of Worlds had been released upon the world and is going to create havoc as the embodiment of rage. After an image of destruction it then randomly changes to an irrelevant page of a postcoital Stephen Strange. I’m sure this must have some impact later down the line but until then I remain wondering. For me, this is how the rest of the issue then went.

If it were not for reading the epilogues in Fear Itself #7 then I wouldn’t have really understood the arrival of the Hulk, except for another random occurrence. Even so the appearance also felt out of sorts as the depiction and demeanour of Hulk, in comparison to the recent new beginning; it's so different that given the dialogue alone you’d be hard to not think of a number of other heroes that it could have been.

The remainder of the issue is then dedicated mainly to the recruitment of the team by Strange alongside a snippet of storyline which tries to develop towards the end. After such a loose build up the final scenes and cliffhanger ending just didn’t have much impact.

Normally I’m a big fan of Matt Fraction and his writing but on this occasion I really think that the mark has been missed. I didn’t feel that engaged and at some points confused. Terry Dodson’s artwork can be quite heavy without too much detail which gives it a similar look in parts to cartoons you’d find on a kids' channel, contradictory to some sexually based scenes giving yet another conflicted feel to it.

On a positive note, the colour work by Rachel Dodson, is full of energy and lifts the frames keeping them feeling open.

I try to be open to most things, especially first issues, but I’m afraid that this hasn’t hit a chord with me. I have come to expect more from Fraction but I’m also saying this from a point of view that doesn’t really know these characters in depth. There could be more to this that I’m missing but I haven’t yet found the hook I need to keep me looking for more.

Matt Puddy gives this one Nul points.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Watcher - The Thing (2011)

If one film in recent years has fallen victim to the seeming scorn towards cinematic remakes and re-imaginings prior to its release, it is director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s ‘The Thing’. Whilst ostensibly a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic of the same name, this new offering is also a remake of sorts, as well as drawing fresh inspiration from the source material, John W. Campbell’s 1938 Novella, ‘Who Goes There’.

Comparisons with Carpenter’s highly regarded film are inevitable, particularly the given the filmmakers’ choice to link with the earlier film, exploring the fate of the Norwegian research base glimpsed briefly in the 1982 story. But given that both films were predated by Chris Nyby’s superior slice of 1950s B-Movie action ‘The Thing From Another World’, Its worth keeping an open mind.

From the moment a familiar pulsing beat - evoking Ennio Morricone’s score for the 1982 film - kicks in over opening shots of the rugged Antarctic terrain, the filmmakers’ wish to homage and evoke Carpenter’s work is clear. The opening does establish some new ideas however, as a team of Norwegian researchers discover the ship which first brought the ‘Thing’ to Earth.

By and large, the film gets off to an impressive start. Leads Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton are introduced efficiently and the pace picks up as an alien body is recovered and quickly awakened from its 100,000 year slumber. The film excels in the first act, as the creature stalks the hapless team through the cold confines of the base. The physical effects on show are impressively realised, and the brief glimpses of the creature in its early, more insect like form are suitably horrifying.

It is as the realisation of what they are facing dawns on the team and the plot properly kicks in that some of the early promise begins to fade. As the creature starts to evolve and its ability to mimic earthly life forms becomes clear, the plot quickly becomes a barely disguised retread of the first two films. While this inevitable, given the shared source material, several scenes so closely mimic Carpenter’s work that fanboy grumbles start to feel justified, with one particular scene where Winstead performs an identity test involving fillings drawing attention to this rather than winning plaudits for originality.

Of the cast, Winstead or Edgerton are capable leads, but neither brings a true sense of presence to the film, and in many ways they elicit less sympathy than the Norwegian team who rather rapidly, and shamefully, devolve into cannon fodder status. These problems are further compounded as Edgerton’s character is sidelined for most of the second act, and Winstead is forced to carry the film on her own.

The effects too, begin to lose some of their sparkle, as the ‘Thing’ surrenders to the inevitable and somewhat distracting lure of CGI, with none of the visceral horror of Carpenter’s original, exposing rather than correcting flaws in the overall design of the creature.

A final act face off in the ‘Thing’s’ ship provides some welcome divergence from earlier iterations of the story, and while nothing new is added to the mythos here, it does at least prove that the film is trying to bring something new to the table, if only half successfully. It is a shame however, that in trying to both dovetail with the beginning of the 1982 film and still subvert the audience’s expectations that ‘The Thing’ 2011 ends as more of a head-scratcher than a satisfying sci-fi horror in its own right.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe would still like to know how exactly one character survived...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Watchers’ Council - Zombies

When Halloween loomed into view like a shuffling ever-living nightmare - combined with the recent return of The Walking Dead to screens in the UK and US - attentions here turned to the idea of a gathering at Ben’s to watch a few zombie movies and devour a mountain of pizza.

With the monument to Italian dough and cheese established on the coffee table and assorted beverages and extra snacks on hand, Rob, Stef and Ben got cracking with the original Romero zombie film, in many ways the precursor to the whole living dead genre (though of course, not the first zombie movie – I think White Zombie (1932) has that distinction).

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

BEN: Have you guys watched this recently?
ROB: Ten years ago at Uni.
BEN: Controversial I know, but I remember this film being pretty bad.
ROB: I remember it being quite atmospheric. All the open spaces, a lot of it is outside which is a contradiction to the claustrophobic zombie movie cliché.
BEN: Well, I last watched it as a teenager with a low attention span!
STEF: The pace of it is what I noticed. We’re used to stuff happening all the time, but it builds the tension.
BEN: They haven’t got to the idea yet of doing gore in this film, it’s almost just a grey pallor to them.
ROB: Which doesn’t help when it’s black and white anyway!
STEF: Extra levels of grey!

And we’re off. Our initial protagonists Johnny and Barbra arrive at the graveyard after a lengthy series of shots of them driving in a car, like a really dull Sixties version of old Top Gear. We debate whether it’s just ponderous or if creates tension. As they pull up, Johnny turns off the radio just as the announcer is beginning to provide some exposition. A potentially vital clue is ignored to the chagrin of Rob and Stef, though Ben is amused by the seeming scorn towards exposition.
Then a tall pale stranger looms into view.

BEN: I'll say this for Romero, it definitely has a sense of immediacy. We've already got to the graveyard and there's our first zombie, less than ten minutes in. A lot of modern films would have started with some sort of unnecessary backstory for these two characters.
ROB: Shaun Of The Dead did that two with subtle appearances of the zombies before you realised.
The iconic line “They're coming to get you Barbra!” is uttered and all present display appreciation for the classic quote. The first zombie is noted for it's lack of gory make up and the fact that he doesn't try to bite them when he lurges at the siblings. Stef declares that he looks a bit rapey. It's the buggy eyes.
STEF: He could just be a desperate guy who's not been laid in a while.

He gets decidedly more animated as he ignores the fallen Johnny and chases after Barbra, he promptly looks herself in the car. We're all surprised when he picks up a rock and tries to smash his way in - the use of tools is something we associate with Day Of The Dead or Land Of The Dead, not this initial Romero offering.

As Barbra flees into the night, culminating in finding refuge in the house that is the primary location for the rest of the film, we begin to discuss the rules of zombie movies – whether it's an infection that is passed through blood or saliva
Inside the house, Barbra finds a dead body and we get our first gory image, which comes as quite a surprise. We all commend the film for having a black male protagonist in the Sixties. Barbra feels like a very unsympathetic character, Ben muses that this may be because she just ran away leaving her brother behind. A motley crew of people find shelter in the house.

ROB: I've never understood how people get caught by zombies in these early films because you just have to walk fast.
BEN: I think I remember reading an interview with Simon Pegg about how that was why they kinda like it. They're not a threat unless you lower your guard. A lot of the time – and in fact in this one – the problem with them is that the humans descend into infighting and then aren't careful.
STEF: It's like The Walking Dead. There's an aspect of that theme in that. It's about the humans really. They get distracted and argue amongst themselves and then they're screwed. There's danger amongst you.
BEN: The under siege mentality of the zombie genre is definitely laid down here.
Noticing that despite the progressive colour blind casting, the sexism of the Sixties remains as the woman goes to pieces and the man is doing all the work. We take a moment to muse how we would cope in a zombie apocalypse, like all good movie fans.
STEF: I'd be one of those people who see it as an excuse to beat people around the head. I'd go a bit nuts I think, I'd probably lose my mind in the mass craziness of it all and cave someone's head in with a hammer.
ROB: Let's not hang out with Stef if this ever happens.
BEN: It's fine, we'll just push him towards the zombies and away from the other people!

Zombie Flesh Eaters (or Zombi 2) (1979)

Eleven years later, we are now entering the era of the video nasty. Sure enough from the word there is a shadowed man shooting a hooded body in the head, boom! brain splatter!
Rob points out that at the time this tried to cash in on the popularity of Dawn of the Dead, they even marketed this as a sequel! Hence the original "Zombi 2" title as Dawn of the Dead was released under the title of "Zombi" in Italy.

An eerily empty looking boat enters New York harbour - the pre-credits are rolling and we try to work out the connection between the very gritty start and this sequence.

BEN: Again very much like Night of the Living Dead it has a very snappy start, just straight into it.
STEF: Well the initial 'shot' as it were.
BEN: Very interesting that this was Italian funded and directed but they set it in America and filled it with American actors.
ROB: Like a spaghetti western, in a way really.
BEN: Strange how they marketed this as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead - at the end of Dawn the world has gone to shit and yet here everything seems fine.
ROB: It's rather like the sequels you find at a market stall.
BEN: Akin to the recent popularity of 'mockbusters'.

As the music continues to mimic a bad episode of classic Who, we get our first zombie reveal. This feels much more like the zombies that we all know and love nowadays, with its skin and flesh decaying. As we witness the first jugular spurting attack, Ben points out how the effects are noticeably fake and Stef mentions the change from the previous monochrome bloodless zombies of Night of the Living Dead to this.

During a scene where our lead actress is on the phone to what appears to be a news editor we pick up on some awful dubbing which makes us ponder if the movie was shot all in Italian and then re-dubbed later but some post podcast investigation proves that in fact the movie was filmed with half the cast only speaking English and the other half only speaking Italian.

ROB: She looks like a young Jamie Lee Curtis.
BEN: Really? She doesn't look anything like a man to me!

As the daughter of the boat's owner boards the boat to investigate she bumps into a reporter who is doing the same, so they join forces to find her father.

STEF: The line "I have a morbid curiosity," does that mean he's into necrophilia?
BEN: In a zombie film?!?

As the main characters meet some tourists who are traveling the caribbean they ask them to take them to the island of Matul. (STEF: Sounds like my-tool!) Ben and Rob discuss how the audio mastery levels on this film seem to be a tad all over the place, some scenes being noticeably louder than others.

The characters, whom we seem to have lost to random conversations about the Avengers movie have now moved onto the island itself. Ben resorts to asking Siri if this movie will get any better but unfortunately gets no answer. Weirdly the next scene of the movie was a topless female scuba diving with some tiny, tiny pants and a swimming cap.

ROB: That bathing cap really spoils the look.
STEF: She's no longer hot.
ROB: It's like a bald man with boobs!

The movie captures our attention further when it introduces an actual live shark into the scene and a underwater zombie!

STEF: Zombie vs shark!
BEN: This guy is holding his breath for a very long time! He must have a buddy diver with a regulator. Woah! That guys properly wrestling a shark!
ROB: Quite impressively done this scene, I will give it that.

We are all sat in shock and awe at actually how good this scene is, also finding out that René Cardona Jr. the actor who was originally cast to play the Underwater Zombie got sick (or chickened out?) at the last minute and had to be replaced by Ramón Bravo, the shark's trainer.

The next scene is very notorious for its eye-impalement section, this made us all cringe but at the same time point out that it was very well cut and shot. Again showing that this movie isn't all bad and definitely fits its gory 'video nasty' reputation.

Ben leaves the room for a brief moment, and the movie enters a flashback explanation of the first scene and that the doctor on the island isn’t a bad guy he is just trying to cure his patients before resorting to shooting them in the head! It is also hinted at that the cause may be a Voodoo Witch Doctor’s curse on the island.

STEF: Definitely has a voodoo feel to the music in these scenes.
ROB: Yeah Ben will be sorry he missed this exposition!
STEF:He's trying to figure it out.
ROB: Science versus religion.
STEF: Isn't that always the way?!

The main group are sent to check on the Doctor's wife (who we know as the eyeball lady), we start to wonder what what has happened to Mr Fardon...

STEF: We seem to have lost Ben.
ROB: Hmm... yes.
STEF: Maybe gone for a number two?
ROB: Or bed?
STEF: Dead to the world, ha!
ROB: He'll come back as the undead Ben!

The pace is upped as our characters find the Doctors’ wife being delicately munched on (by a zombie of course). The conclusion is made that actually this film is not as cheap or b-movie schlocky as we were expecting.

We wonder why the doctor is only now deciding to pack his bags and leave, we would have ages ago! Our group of strangely unaware characters, crash their jeep on the way back from the doctors home and decide to take a lie down in what seems to be a Spanish Conquistador graveyard. And also what a perfect time to try it on with your female friend, as you’re lying on a grave. A hand rises . .

STEF: Looks the dead wants some loving too.
ROB: Yet another rapey zombie!

Ben walks back into the room just as the carnage begins.

ROB: She’s just sat there while it has taken that Conquistador zombie five minutes to get out of their grave.
STEF: Still just sat there?
BEN: Paralysed with fear?
ROB: Or stupidity?

As the woman frozen in fear gets her throat torn out we point out that they do like to use that effect. The remaining survivors manage to get back to the Doctor, he begins to examine an injured member of the group.

STEF: That looks painful, he's pretty much dead.
ROB: That's quite good acting there, while the Doctor is touching his ankle his foot is twitching. Someone went to RADA didn't they?!

All of a sudden the zombies break in and take a massive chunk out of the Doctor's face!

STEF: Well he's dead then!
ROB: Why didn't the doctor inform them about shooting them in the head?
STEF: Good point.

The climax of the movie takes place as the survivors are surrounded and barricaded in a wooden barn and are throwing molotov cocktails at the zombies and then shooting them. Further stupidity abounds as one of the group is attacked, but survives to me taken with them on the boat back to America? Still it doesn’t really matter as the parting credits shot is a traffic logged bridge with a legion of zombies shuffling across.

The Walking Dead S01E06 (2010)

As things begin we recap the season.

BEN: The whole episode with the lake in season one was by far my favourite.
STEF: I do feel this episode wasn't the strongest.
BEN: It is proving that a lot of people are just wanting to watch the graphic novels made into video, they cannot handle it veering away too much.

As we see a flashback to where Shane is struggling to decide what to do with the comatose Rick in all this madness, as armed Special Forces work their way through the building killing all they encounter, zombie or human alike.

BEN: It's always assumed in the graphic novel that he just abandons Rick, but now you can see that he at least tried - he just didn't know what to do.
ROB: He was worried he would kill Rick if he took him away from his life support.
STEF: Very intense.
BEN: This is already more compelling than anything we have watched tonight!

We then discuss wether Robert Kirkman will start writing the novels specifically so they can be transferred to screen due to the popularity of the TV series.

BEN: Kirkman was the first new Image partner to be taken on.
ROB: After the original guys from Marvel Comics?
BEN: Yeah, the first who was not an artist too. And the first thing he did in the position? He hired himself an editor.
ROB: Basically hired someone to give him some self discipline.
STEF: Good idea, keep yourself focused.

The series - even though it takes things in different directions - still manages to capture the characters and the actors who play them seem to fit the bill perfectly.

BEN: I think if Kirkman had known the comics were going to be a success he would have kept Shane around for longer so that it could add further tension to the group dynamic. Which he has obviously now done here in the TV series.

A lot of people struggle with the fact the TV series is different to the comics, but most of the time they have to be due to the difference in medium. If it is done well and keeps true to the spirit like this has then it’s not noticeable.

Our characters have reached the CDC facility and met its only survivor.

BEN: I love this beginning shower scene where you are observing them in a safe environment, Rick and Lori happy to be re-united, Shane clearly still bitter and Andrea completely devastated by the loss of her sister.

A moment is taken to try and ponder who actually within the original group of survivors is left? Spoilers - it's not many.

Dr Edwin Jenner (the only surviving scientist in the CDC) reveals to the group his research into the zombies and what happens to a human brain during the transformation. Ben points out that Kirkman shied away from explaining any details about the zombies in the comics but the average TV audience would become frustrated without it and thus they've got that out of the way early on.

JENNER: The brain stem is re-activated just enough to get that person up and moving but nothing like before. The frontal lobe - the neocortex it doesn't come back, you’re just a shell driven by mindless instinct.

We sit in silence as the very evocative visuals of how the brain's synapses shut down and then spark back into life as the person changes.

STEF: I think having the visual effect helps you grasp onto the idea of what is actually happening.
BEN: Something very powerful about that.
STEF: And linking it to actual diseases.
BEN: It definitely grounds it, like a lighting rod for reality.
ROB: A very modern fear, disease and infection. Whereas Night of the Living Dead, it was radiation – a typical for of that time.

Due to not being anywhere closer to a cure and what with the facilities power rapidly running out Jenner has had enough, he has no energy to try and survive any longer. So he locks the group in to die with him.

He mentions the stupidity of how our world runs on fossil fuels, which is very topical right now due to how we are such a tech-centric generation. If we did find ourselves in this situation (running out of power that is, not the zombies) most people wouldn't know how to cope.

A rather ‘Chekov’s gun’ moment occurs as a grenade which has not been seen since the first episode helps save the day. All while Dale is trying to convince Andrea to not stay with Jenner and kill herself - at the last moment they both leave the building and join the other survivors.

STEF: Even though we have not been completely paying attention, I have forgotten how much I have enjoyed this series as a whole and I cannot wait for more!

No one is safe, do not get attached, everyone can die.

Stefan, Rob and Ben went to see The Thing last night. Rob's review should be up on Tuesday.