Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Flashpoint badges raffle with Flashpoint #5

Flashpoint #5 came out today and its release marks the beginning of the Flashpoint badge raffle!

DC created a series of badges for each of the Flashpoint tie-in issues which were available to retailers who ordered obscene amounts of these side story comics. Suffice to say - other than for Batman Knight Of Vengeance - Proud Lion did not! But DC did send each retailer a free display board containing one of each of the 16 badges. I've had numerous inquiries for the board, but the fairest way to do it is to do a raffle!

All issues of Flashpoint #5 will come with a free raffle ticket.

Beyond that, you may purchase additional copies of Flashpoint #5 for a lower price than the first (just £2.00!) and receive extra raffle tickets to increase your chances of winning!

This landmark issue includes a double page spread that shows the formation of the new DC Universe - marks the end of the old continuity and the final few pages are the first moments set in the new timeline. Some people are already talking about framing those two pages. It's a memorable issue for both all DC fans, but especially Flash and Batman fans.

The prize draw will be done on November 1st or when we sell out of Flashpoint #5.

The Watcher - Summer retrospective

Today is the final day of Summer and with an exciting month ahead for comics with the launch of DC’s ‘New 52’, movies are going to take a back seat for a little while. But before the detox begins, lets pause for a moment to look back this year’s comic book films. It certainly has certainly been one hell of a ride filled with magic, mystery and retro style galore.

Kicking it all off in fine style was Kenneth Brannagh’s ‘Thor‘. The first of two Avenger’s movies from Marvel Studios this Summer, Thor had me grinning from ear to ear, having reawakened a long AWOL childlike sense of fun within me. Here was a comic book film that embraced the colour and the magic of the source material whilst still proving to be dramatic and weighty. Kenneth Brannagh, a long time favourite of mine proved to be an excellent choice, one who set the bar very high, with stunning effects, winning performances and honest humour. It has recently been announced that Brannagh will not be returning for Thor 2, but hopefully this means he can finally get on with making series three of Wallander.

‘Green Lantern’ faced a similar challenge to ‘Thor‘, introducing a less well known character to audiences, helping the studio to build a new franchise etc, but it felt like there needed to be a stronger hand at the creative rudder. I personally had great fun and find myself a little puzzled by the backlash. One advantage may have been that I went in with little knowledge of the comics and therefore no expectations. I even thought the CGI worked! One niggle would be the ‘multiple bad guy’ syndrome that did resulted in an overall lack of focus.

‘X-Men: First Class’ sounded like a terrible idea on paper - a prequel that was also a reboot? Superhero film in an already crowded marketplace? Forget about it. But it worked and probably gave us the Superhero film of the Summer. Classy, dark and yet colourful and schlocky? You bet your mutant loving ass! With Matthew Vaughan and Bryan singer back on board the future looks very, very exciting. This film also gave us an undeniable new star in Michael Fassbender, who attacked the role of Magneto with such conviction that you might even have left the theatre asking ‘Ian McWho?’

Finishing Marvel Studio’s final one-two punch in the lead up to next year’s ‘Avengers’ was ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, a rather ironic title considering his relative tardiness in reaching the screen. I’ve heard a lot of praise for this film, and by and large I agree. The performances are top notch, the effects superb, and the story makes sense, but on the whole I wasn’t so much overwhelmed with excitement as simply "whelmed". I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’ll always prefer Chris Evans as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies. He wasn’t terrible as such, but the character of Steve Rogers is a little too virtuous for my liking, but that’s just me - I like my heroes nice and flawed.

Of course, we also had 'Cowboys And Aliens', directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) who is boldly striking out on his own here without the comfort of Marvel Studios and it’s a move that has largely paid off. A long time coming, and with a genius concept this was a breath of fresh air after all of the superheroics. It is however a shame that original leading man Robert Downy Jr. bailed - his presence might have upped the humour content slightly and Daniel Craig - while a superb actor - isn’t quite the same.

So that’s it - Summer’s over and like a kid in a sweetshop, we’ve gorged ourselves silly. But cheer up - now we get to watch proper films like ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ and feel all clever, or maybe go for a run or read some actual comics! But I do find myself already contemplating next year - with Marvel Studios and DC bringing out the big guns with ‘Avengers’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, 2012 is shaping up to be on hell of a year already.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is also looking ahead to the 'Man Of Steel' in 2013

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Big Game Hunting - Intelligent game design

Hello! I return from the lands of dissertation hell, back through the purgatory of ‘oh crap, I’m supposed to be publishing a novel’ and up the foothills of ‘can I run a campaign yet?’ to grace you once more with my inane ramblings. I’ll be honest, I’ve really missed this! ;)

Before I kick off into a six parter I’ve got planned, I thought I’d give you a quick rant...

One of the things that really gets on my nerves is the concept of ‘intelligent’ game design. All games are ‘intelligent’, else they’re not games - they’re stories that you’re following with your feet and your mind, and mostly wishing you were elsewhere. There are some games I don’t understand properly for love nor money. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been writing and designing stuff (mostly flavour text, but I’ve written two games of my own) for years now, but when it comes to meta-gaming, and understanding ‘the game beneath the game’, no matter how intelligent I might be, I don’t – can’t understand it. It’s not because I’m stupid – far from it – but tactically, I could be a monkey with a banana. Does this mean that the game isn’t ‘intelligently’ designed? I don’t think that’s the case at all – in fact, I believe, firmly that game design is a lot about what we get out, and what we put in, but some games just don’t make sense to people on the level of understanding how to ‘beat it’. Others – they can look at the rules and kick butt from the outset.

Before I get back into the swing of things (and I will!), I wanted to do a brief six parter on how to start designing games – not campaigns, actual rules and stuff so you can run something home brew. I’m going to try to feature a couple of systems that you could pick up from Proud Lion, but mostly, I’m going to leave the research to you – after all, you know what piques your interest better than anyone else.

And then, armed with that knowledge, I’m going to go back to talking about GMing, because, by then, I should be running my own World of Darkness game. Those articles are going to be a cross between ‘actual play’ and discussion about the things a good (or in my case, a mediocre) GM faces, and how to solve them. I’m going to talk atmosphere too – because I’ve finally gotten my head around how to do ‘boo’ in real life – I kick ass at writing it, but for running games, there’s nothing like a sense of impending DOOOOM™ to get people really going.

This week, Kai is seriously wishing she didn’t have to write relationships into a book that shouldn’t need them, but got kicked up and down for not having enough ‘interpersonal’ relationships in her last draft, so... (and not launching her book, it’s going out in September now!)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Five By Five - Comics, week 1: Y: The Last Man (lucky so and so)

In an effort to stem the tide of my loquacity, (a Herculean task, as evidenced by my over-use of brackets) for the forseeable future my columns are going to narrow in focus a little. For the next five weeks, that focus will be on comics, a different one each time around, in an effort to expand my graphic novel horizons. If you’re expecting a traditional review then I would direct you to The Watcher or any of Proud Lion’s other fine review features, as this is likely to be more of a meandering - post-modern series of musings in the manner of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, or y’know, that drunk guy you met on the train once.

Luckily Proud Lion’s proprietor Mr Fardon himself knows me well, so I sit clutching a comic (or graphic novel to give it its grown up moniker) that could have been made for me in my eager, hot little hands. Let’s face it, even the title has me quivering with anticipation: ‘The Last Man’. Is this some kind of feminist revenge fantasy?* Or a comment on the increasing infantilisation of the male gender as society plays out its own Peter Pan complex? Well no, but it’s just as exciting in its way. A plague of unspecified origin has wiped out every male sperm, foetus and fully grown mammal on the planet, leaving only protagonist Yorrick and his training-resistant helper monkey Ampersand untouched. The blurb on the back refers to this cataclysm as ‘gendercide’ and within the first few pages Yorrick’s sixty plus, ass-kicking, Congress-person mother is talking about being spanked. I’m already hooked.

Now just to get this out of the way, I realise there may be a (hopefully small) contingent of male readers out there who have only just flicked back to reading these words after a dreamy hour or two of staring into the middle distance and imagining life as the only man left on the planet. It may be all bikini clad lovelies, feasting like a king and endless blow jobs in your head, but Yorrick’s predicament is no mere male fantasy. And his position as lone male survivor makes him both different, and thus a threatening outsider, and valuable, and thus a potential commodity. One of his first experiences in this brave new world, sees him outed as male by a supermodel and almost sold to a brothel. The plague that kills of the men renders Yorrick a woman of sorts, and turns the world’s female population into men, all of a sudden struggling to grasp the vast powerhouse that swings open to them.

It’s a fascinating idea. I consider myself to be a feminist (raving only by request or on special occasions) yet if there was a major disaster it would be male voices I would look to for reassurance and guidance gliding out of the TV and radio, a kind of paternal authority that the modern world hasn’t managed to shrug off. Even in Western countries men outnumber women to a significant extent in positions of power across the board, from business to academia, from politics to religion. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when all the men suddenly up and die, it is the Secretary of Agriculture, a reluctant ‘farm girl’ as she describes herself, who suddenly becomes the President of the United States, dealing with squabbling political factions, religious extremists and a panicking populace into the bargain.

And this, of course, is another reason why anyone hoping for some kind of lone male utopia in Y: The Last Man will be disappointed. The women that remain are real and complex, with their own conflicting agendas. There are some of them who would like Yorrick to get busy spreading his seed around as much as possible, but there are plenty more who would just as soon kill him on sight, or study him in a lab, or put him to work in a freak show. Yorrick himself equally resists stereotyping, since far from playing the field, he spends the largest part of the story seeking out some sort of lovey-dovey, hearts and flowers reunion with his long-term girlfriend Beth. The characters throughout the story are eclectic from the singled minded Agent 355, to Israeli soldier Alter, to Yorrick’s own sister, Neo-Amazonian Hero.

The flip side of all of this though, is that the writer of Y: The Last Man could perhaps be accused of copping out of exploring what a world ruled by women would really be like, or at the very least they take the easy option out of it. In the story, the world ruled by women is... pretty much the same as the world ruled by men. And for the most part the characters portrayed as most sympathetic are those who seek to keep it that way. Yorrick is first in, lecturing his mother and her political colleagues when someone suggests throwing out the old constitution in favour of ‘Something new’. Now worthy a document as the constitution may be, I’d have liked to have seen more of the women deciding for themselves what sort of society to re-build, but maybe that’s just because I’m a crazy feminist. And crazy feminists don’t fair too well in this story. The only women really embracing the new world order are the misandrist Daughters of the Amazon, a collection of damaged and abused individuals for the most part, who turn away from their mistreatment by men and who believe that the plague is Mother Earth’s own purification ritual, cleansing herself of the male disease. They’re a problematic, if rather compelling group, not least because they very definitely do want to create a new kind of society, but one in which hatred of male-ness is central.

Despite this, it’s worth pointing out that Last Man would pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking read and the characterisation is largely spot on. And against my better judgement, I think Yorrick’s Mum might be one of my new heroines...

*Note: The majority of feminists do not really fantasise about the death of all men. Some of us even quite like them…

Kate Townshend is back, and better than ever!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

New Beginnings - DC Comics The New 52 special

For all DC lovers out there it will have been hard to notice the change that is soon to come about. The big storyline, Flashpoint (retrospective feature coming next week!), is due to end and opens the door to the huge DCU changing reboot of their titles. Also, in DC’s own unique fashion they have gone for their favourite number, 52, in the number of releases they are making.

This has been received by fans as both a good and bad thing as there are mixed opinions over whether or not this is a good thing. In some cases storylines that are unaffected by Flashpoint are abruptly ending or being put on hold - Batman Inc. for example. In others, the emergence of new titles with seemingly mundane characters, or previously shelved characters are returning.

On a positive note there have been some reshuffled rosters that should raise an eyebrow or two.

Love it or hate it, the change is going ahead, so here is my take on the new arrivals.

So as to not overload any one week with any particular character or 'family', DC have spread their titles over the entire month fairly evenly. But, in the same format that they have classified the comics on their own site the titles can be broadly banded as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League, The Dark, The Edge and finally Young Justice. I like this so I’ll carry it forward.


Four titles here, Action Comics, Superman, Superboy and Supergirl. I’m not really a Superman fan so my knowledge of him is limited to Eighties films and the cartoons around the Millennium. Looking at them though it’s easy to see why Action Comics will be one to read. Written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rags Morales (who did the artwork for my favourite graphic novel – Identity Crisis) the pedigree is well displayed. It’s not on my pull list but only as it’s not my cup of tea. Superboy and Supergirl appear to be straight reboots which could be of interest for any fan looking to expand their Super pulllist as well. Superman is a restart, but at a midway point, so seems to be for more the seasoned fan.


I was surprised to see that Batman titles make up more than a fifth of all the new titles, clearly a flagship brand. With an almighty 11 titles (Batman, Batman & Robin, Batwing, Batman: The Dark Knight, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Catwoman, Birds of Prey and Red Hood & the Outlaws) I am left wondering are there too many eggs being put in one proverbial basket?

Straight off the bat, I have to say that both Batman and Batman & Robin already have my vote. The reason behind it? Simply put Scott Snyder and Peter Tomasi, two of my current favourite DC writers. Nightwing has also caught my eye as it sees Dick Grayson take back his old mantel. With the addition of Batman: The Dark Knight, these would be my picks. Please don’t think I am being sexist in any way but the female championed titles really don’t grab me and the Batwing (African Batman Inc. spin off) title just seems completely out of place too.

That only leaves Red Hood and the Outlaws which I’m torn over and need to see more of before I can make my mind up.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern only has four titles (Green Lantern itself, Green Lantern Corp, Green Lantern: New Guardians & Red Lantern Corp) which was a slight surprise. It’s a bit unfair as well as all of these will be on my pull list but that’s because I’m a (new) GL fan. When you also add in Geoff Johns, Peter Tomasi, Tony Bedard and Peter Milligan to me it seems like a no brainer. I just hope they all live up to my expectations. It’s most exciting as it has two new titles with no preconceived ideas at all. The New Guardians and Red Lanterns are very new shiny toys to be played with.

Justice League

Another 11 titles under this umbrella but unlike Batman I am left scratching my head a lot more. I am totally on board and understanding of Justice League, The Flash, Aquaman, Green Arrow and (for fans) The Savage Hawkman and Wonder Woman but after that there are titles like Mr Terrific, Justice League International and Captain Atom that I just have to ask why? It really feels like an attempt to flesh out this section.

The Dark

Now this is a split area for me. Not off the wall enough to feel like it should be under the Vertigo brand but also not tidy enough to be comfortably DC. Justice League Dark will be there for me as well as Swamp Thing (following on from Brightest Day) and also Resurrection Man, but simply because it interests me in the premise of it.
Animal Man, Frankenstein: Agent of Shade, I, Vampire and Demon Knights I think will be more fan followings and particular interest ones though as the characters are either not well known of previously ended titles too.

The Edge

Stormwatch, Voodoo, Grifter, Deathstroke, Suicide Squad, O.M.A.C, Blackhawks, Men of War and All Star Western.

Saying it all together I can’t help but smile that Stormwatch is at the front. I’ve really enjoyed all of the Authority so with half of their roster this is one I have my eye on. Again I think that there are some titles which won’t hit the broad market and are tailored to specific tastes.

I’m tempted by Blackhawks after reading a very small piece on it and it may end up on my list but I’m not sure. Voodoo almost looks like an Aspen title so could be a beautiful thing to see but I’m not sure that it will have the story to hold it.

Young Justice

I’ve been quite fickle in the past with titles which revolve around younger heroes primarily as I find too often they struggle to be something which addresses a teenage theme and can just become hero stories but with shorter people...

Teen Titans in the past has caught my eye but I want to see how it expands first. Hawk & Dove will also be interesting as it is a mixture of previous partnerships formed in the aftermath of Brightest Day too. The story potential is quite big if it explores the dynamics of this new team.

I don’t know enough about the two Legion titles so it’s not really fair to comment either way. However, Static Shock and Blue Beetle will not be on my pull list as neither are titles that are grabbing me.

In short the 52 new titles are spread far and wide so DC’s aiming to try to hit everyone.

I think that there will be some clear winning titles, some which are fan based and some which are a toe in the water. A few I will be shocked to see past 10 issues.

It’s now time to see which will survive and which should be somewhere else in the multiverse.

The Proud Lion bloggers will be clubbing together to review each and every one of the 52 throughout September, so stay tuned and we'll bring you our verdicts!

Matt Puddy is not the only one who is dreading Batwing...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Proud Lion presents new DC Comics - midnight opening Wednesday 7th September!

The Watcher - The Legend of Conan

If you have seen the trailers for this week’s big release, chances are you know what to expect. In a summer dominated by shiny super-heroics, ‘Conan the Barbarian’ promises swords, sandals, sorcery and violence galore. But can Jason Momoa (Games of Thrones, Stargate: Atlantis) as the titular barbarian, not only beat the superheroes at their own game but also steal the crown of the original big screen Conan, Arnold Schwarzenegger? The Austrian Oak casts a mighty big shadow, but whether or not you consider Arnie’s breakout performance in 1982’s ‘Conan the Barbarian’ as a classic, hopefully the new film is more than just another cynical remake.

For starters, the legend of Conan is bigger than any one man, having proved to be an enduring pop culture hero who counts iconic fantasy figures such as John Carter, Tarzan and Buck Rogers among his contemporaries. In the nearly 80 years since the publication of creator Robert E. Howard’s first Conan adventure ‘The Phoenix on the Sword’ (1932) in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, the world of Conan has amassed a vast mythology through countless books, comics, television series as well as three big screen adventures.

Despite seeing only 17 original Conan stories in print before his suicide 1936, Howard had laid the foundations for an epic fantasy that would inspire generations of writers and artists to come. On reading the original stories, the secret of the character’s longevity becomes clear. Conan is a classic hero in the vein of Arthurian romance - as intelligent as he is strong - who strides through the ancient world in countless guises as thief, mercenary, swordsman, lover and eventually King. Moreover, the mythical ‘Hyborian Age’ in which Conan dwells is also more than simply a setting for violent fantasy, a world as vast and timeless as Tolkien’s Middle Earth and equally as rich in storytelling possibilities. Intriguingly, thanks to Howard’s friendship with Weird Tales stable-mate H.P. Lovecraft, there were even several hints that Conan inhabited the ancient world of Lovecraft’s own ‘Cthulu Mythos’, adding a further dimension to the original stories.

In the decades that followed, countless writers added dozens of new stories to the Conan library, but surprisingly, it was not until 1970 that the stories were first adapted for other media, with the publication of Marvel Comics’ long running comic series also known as ‘Conan the Barbarian’. The title is described as very faithful to Howard’s original stories and featured many notable writers and artists including John Buscema, Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon. In what be one of the longest running comic titles outside of the superhero genre, Marvel’s series and its related titles including acclaimed ‘Savage Sword of Conan’ ran for over thirty years and have recently seen a collection of reprints thanks to current licence holders Dark Horse Comics.

In many ways, comics had provided the ideal outlet for an expansion of Howard’s tales where the perceived gratuitous violence and daunting backstory had long precluded the possibility of a film adaptation. Inevitably however, the Eighties provided the ideal wealth of vision and talent to visualise the epic story of Conan. Produced under the auspices of Dino De Laurentiis and adapted by none other than Oliver Stone and director John Milius, ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982) is an epic fantasy tale that encompasses the many guises of Conan in its vast sweep.

The story sees Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan struggle from boyhood slavery in an epic journey of revenge in search of the aptly named Thulsa Doom, in an understated performance from James Earl Jones. Despite the overly serious tone, the film is vintage Arnie in many ways - providing early hints of the actor’s knack for self parody with drunken camel fisticuffs, ending a prayer to his deity Crom with the words, “to Hell with you!”, and proving that gyms are a waste of money by gaining a Mr Universe physique through a lifetime of slavery powering a giant coffee grinder. Violent and very long, the film is nevertheless regarded as a cult classic, with only an inferior (i.e. boring) sequel sullying its mighty reputation.

Perhaps however the sign that Conan had truly earned his iconic status was the bestowing of the ultimate honour in the form of Saturday morning cartoon ‘Conan The Adventurer’ (1992). Playing like a mix of Ulysses and He-Man and featuring a high fantasty content and typical Saturday morning sense of fun in place of gratuitous violence, the series proved a hit - and if the clip below doesn’t show you why, you obviously had no childhood!

So can Momoa conquer all this Summer? You decide!

Robert Barton-Ancliffe once punched a bloke in the face once for saying "Hawk the Slayer" was rubbish...

Thursday, 18 August 2011

New Beginnings - Infinite #1

Over the past few months I have slowly become more and more drawn to Image, Aspen and Top Cow comics. Maybe it’s because they aren’t the normal and their characters don’t conform to the DC or Marvel formulas but different is good. Sometimes.

Infinite is a new comic brought to us by Image comics and written by Robert Kirkman.
Many of you will know Kirkman for a number of other titles such as The Walking Dead, Marvel Zombies or recently reviewed Super Dinosaur. He is also the newest partner of Image as well so he carries a fair bit of weight in many circles.

With Infinite being new, you have to look at what it is bringing to the market.

The story is very reminiscent of a number of arcs we have seen running through the X-Men and the more I think about it, the more it echos back to themes and stories such as The Age of Apocalypse, or more importantly the efforts taken to try and prevent it.

The story opens with an attempted assault on an implied dictator watching over the current world’s order. As with any regime there will always be opposition and this introduces our main character. As it draws to a close on this part of the story, without giving story away, we leap back in time.

Now whereas Hickman, with The Red Wing, protected his story against paradoxes, Kirkman has stayed firmly in the camp that believes that the actions of the past effect those ahead of them, and Bowen embarks on a mission to start the revolution early thus creating a race against time with his younger self as a counterpart.

The scripting is well written to the point of being passionate, but it hasn’t covered over, or at least delayed, the feeling that this has been done before in a number of different guises. I still can get over the fact that by working the story in the way that he has, Kirkman has created once massive paradox loop that needs some form of twist or just something to break it so that it can move on and grow.

For the comic Kirkman has collaborated with Rob Liefield whose style is quite distinct. Everyone is oversized yet toned. The men are muscular and well formed with a plethora of their own personal storage pockets and pouches. Most notable examples of this would be Cable or Deadpool, which of course Liefield co-created. I’m not actually sure that he can draw a male figure which doesn’t push the realms of stitching on a top. The other thing that made me chuckle is that there is only one resounding word for the very first panel in this comic and that word is “Codpiece”.

Saying that, the artwork is full of fine detail with attention paid to all of the image including the backgrounds. With the oversized figures there isn’t always much to fill in but that’s not to say that it ever feels crowded.

For a new comic reader I think that it would be a good one to read and follow but on this occasion Image hasn’t hit the mark for me.

Matt Puddy always laughs at the word "Codpiece".

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Watcher - The worlds of Philip K. Dick - A Scanner Darkly (part one)

Of all of the film adaptations of the works of Philip K. Dick, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006) is the most unique. Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater pulled off an almost impossible feet, not only turning in the most faithful adaptation of Dick’s work yet committed to screen, but by doing so, he also successfully placed artistic integrity above commercial appeal.

Firstly, the original source material, although overtly science fiction was also one of the most intensely personal of Dick’s novels. Set in the near future and following the investigations of undercover narcotics officer Bob Arctor, the narrative begins as a crime thriller steeped in an atmosphere of paranoia. Writing in the mid Seventies and having witnessed the paranoia that had swept the United States establishment in the wake of the Cold War, the rise of counter culture and the Watergate scandal, Dick also drew heavily on his own experiences. As the novel goes on the narrative focus shifts subtly and the progress of Arctor’s investigations becomes less pivotal than the deterioration of his own mental state, as he himself falls victims to the very drug he is policing. Subverting the readers’ expectations was not a new aspect of Dick’s writing, but reading the novel, one gets the sense that this was less of a technique as it was an organic process, as his closeness to the subject matter unearthed more and more intense personal feelings.

Linklater is clearly a fan of the novel in its many guises, but most of all he seems to understand the personal aspect and embrace it. So here we here we have a film that features the trappings of the sci-fi thriller, with surveillance technology, and the high tech camouflage of the police ‘scramble suit’ (tellingly designed to protect the identity of undercover officers from each other rather than their suspects), while the real story, slowly takes a hold, taking a tragic turn before you realise the trick.

Key to the film’s artistic success is an aspect that might seem almost gimmicky at first. In what the DVD packaging describes as ‘an edgy graphic-novel look’, the film is given life through the seldom used animation technique of roto-scoping. While the idea of filming the entire story with live actors and the spending 18 months painstakingly drawing over every frame using computer software proved arduous, Linklater’s unique vision is more than justified on viewing the finished product. From the opening scene, the director’s goal becomes clear, as we witness peripheral character Charles Freck in the throes of drug induced paranoia over an aphid infestation. Here we see the character’s innermost thoughts given life, as Rory Cochrane’s edgy performance is visibly plagued by a swarm of animated bugs. Although only visible in this first scene, the character is clearly suffering this secret infestation for the rest of the film and we as viewers feel more deeply invested in the various characters’ plights as a result. Furthermore, the unique look of the film imbues it with a strong sense of cohesiveness.

This also helps us to invest in the characters more strongly, given that the ensemble is an array of all to familiar faces. With a role call of well known actors, including Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson, the film never feels like a star vehicle. The animation, together with a snappy script, elevates their performances beyond the usual ‘work for hire’ vibe that character actors so often fall prey to. Perhaps the most surprising casting choice at the time was Robert Downey Jr., as Arctor’s close ‘frenemy’ Jim Barris. Showcasing his now trademark knack for witty dialogue and an indomitable screen presence, this is the film that put Downey Jr. squarely back on the Hollywood radar - a casting coup akin to John Travolta’s superb ‘comeback’ in 1990’s ‘Pulp Fiction’.

As mentioned above, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ is surprisingly faithful to the source material. It helps that the novel is one of the most cohesive and ironically (given the druggy haze it describes) straightforward of Dick’s studies on how we perceive reality. Thrillingly, whatever expectations you bring to this film are subverted in the most sublime way possible as you are rewarded not only with the keen insights of a fantastic writer, but also that of a man who has stared into the abyss and survived. Anyone who has ever pushed their mind and body to the limit in anyway will find something to relate to here. On a personal note, this film took a story I have loved since university and added new depths of insight and meaning - just as much as my own personal experiences enhanced my understanding of the text in with each passing year.

Ultimately, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ is neither fully a police procedural or a stoner comedy, although it plays its thrills and gloriously funny anecdotes as keenly as any example of either genre. While there are many fine examples of Philip K. Dick’s ideas committed to the screen, this film trumps them all. While favourites such as ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Total Recall’ (1990) and ‘Minority Report’ give a passing nod to the mind of one of the 20th Century’s greatest writers, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ feels like it embodies his very soul, and on reflection, Linklater’s contribution to the legacy of Philip K. Dick stands head and shoulders above them all.

And with that, Robert Barton-Ancliffe donned his scramble-suit and vanished into the night...

Friday, 12 August 2011

Punisher Competition Winner!


On Wednesday, Rob set the following competition question:

‘Sic vis pacem, para bellum’, Latin for ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’ is the mantra of which screen Punisher?

Is it a) Dolph Lundgren b) Tom Jane or c) Ray Stephenson?

The answer was b) Tom Jane and our lucky winner is Nick Gribbon, who wins the Sal Buscema variant cover of Punisher #1! Congratulations Nick, it's in your Reservation Folder for you!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

New Beginnings - The Punisher #1

Throughout the summer Marvel has started new series for its “Big Shots”, namely Moon Knight (Bendis), Daredevil (Waid) and now The Punisher by Greg Rucka.

Many of you will know Rucka from his work across the Batman titles for DC or alongside Ed Brubaker on Daredevil. Others many know him from the plethora of Eisner nominations and awards. Either way his presence within the comic world is certainly well felt.

So having not worked on The Punisher as a title before and starting it from #1, was this a good idea?

I've never really read The Punisher before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In all honesty my only exposure was the 2004 Jonathan Hensleigh helmed film (as discussed by Rob this week too) featuring Thomas Jane so as far as the issue goes I am a blank canvas.

Blank is an ironic and also apt word to use though as I became worried that I had picked up a duff copy as the first five pages didn’t contain a single word and the sixth was an advert.

Now, some of the frames are obvious and you can get a general idea that the depicted scene is not the best of places to be, but it’s also a little confusing as well. There are sections which simply feel as though they could be anything to do with the story but also nothing. It’s only when you get into the bones of the that you start to get a decent feel for the story (although there are some more “blank” pages as well) and this feeling was an odd one.

For a title re-introducing The Punisher to the comic market, as Marvel has advertised, there is a distinct lack of the main character until the very end. In fact there is more presence of Frank Castle in the additional side story “interview” that you are given at the end too. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t do a job.

For the series Marco Checchetto has teamed with Rucka to produce the comic. Having come off of the back of Daredevil with Andy Diggle and previously having drawn the American Son mini story in Spider-Man you can see why he was chosen to support. The line work is clean, crisp full of detail in the well lit frames, however, as with the idea and feel of The Punisher a lot is done in the dark. It’s here when the really strong work comes to the front as Checchetto says so much more with so much less linework and pushes the depth of the shadows. Obviously Matt Hollingworth has aided this process with his colouring too but I really feel that the look of the comic is where its strength lies.

As a complete offering of half written and half depicted tale it both grabs and pushes away.

I’m left a little disappointed that I couldn’t read more of Rucka’s work and start to wonder if he followed the same line of thought as Marco did where at times less is more but at the same time if that wasn’t his plan it has worked. The slight movie feel about it all that is created is pointing towards something bigger being built and I’m thankful that it hasn’t gone down the gratuitous overuse of a character or premise.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this one for the next few issues but not quite sticking it on my pull list though...

Matt Puddy forgot the hyphen in Spider-Man again and now his editor is disappointed in him

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Watcher - The Punisher - Welcome back Frank

This week, to celebrate the re-launch of The Punisher in a new solo title, reviewed tomorrow by the incomparable Matt Puddy, The Watcher casts his gaze over the big screen exploits of everybody’s favourite Marvel superhero not created by Stan Lee, Joe Simon or Jack Kirby.

Unlike the current Marvel A-list, whose box office success shows no signs of abating, the film Punisher has endured the grim thankless reality of life as a vigilante, punishing evil for little or no financial return. Interestingly, although there have been no less than three cinematic adaptations of the character, no one film is considered definitive by fans or critics alike. And so in order to satisfy my boyish need to see who out of the three big screen Punishers would win in a fight, below you will find a summary of each, using, rather appropriately, bullet points to list the key facts. Let battle commence, Top Trumps style!

Overall, this film is pretty brutal, even for the 80s, with a body count of 60 and a true action great at its heart. But our hero is given the opportunity to show his sensitive side, as Dolph’s Punisher is seriously distracted from his mission to kill just about anything that moves by a bunch of pesky children who happen to need rescuing just as the carnage hits its stride. If you can overcome the Elvis hair and distinct lack of the character’s usual novelty t-shirt, this film is actually a serious contender.

Perhaps the most traditional film in the ‘superhero’ mould, complete with origin story and a strong grounding in the comics, this one very nearly got the sequel treatment. In a slight change to the status quo, we see not only Frank’s wife an child killed, but his entire extended family - mother, father, cousins, aunts and uncles - all ruthlessly gunned down before he himself is shot in the heart and practically blow up. Kudos to the film makers for the unflinching brutality of this scene, but it does rather make Frank’s subsequent one man war on crime, wherein only 22 mobsters are brought to justice, seem almost like a slap on the wrist by comparison.

In many ways, the most successful when it comes to getting the job done, Ray Stevenson’s Punisher surpasses Tom Jane’s kill count in his first scene. But despite, the high action content and the story’s basis in the successful Nineties comic series ‘Punisher: War Zone’, it somehow failed to match the relatively impressive box office of the previous film, and effectively killed the franchise. The film also suffers from the same affliction as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (1989), in making the villain more interesting that the main character, as Dominic West’s unhinged Jigsaw steals the screen - Jack Nicholson style - only without the latter’s undeniable charismatic humour.

Overall, you can’t help but laugh at the irony in the distinct lack of films sequels, that the Punisher’s first story in the pages of ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #129 (1974) was called ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice’. But at the end of the day, The Punisher, for all his justifications, is a ruthless killer who has rejected society, and such a character was always going to be a tough sell for a mass audience. Its important to note that although the above tries to strike a light hearted tone, the character really isn’t about glorifying violence, but more about the psychology behind a man who feels that violence is the only answer. In that respect, and as much as I enjoy the films, I also believe that comics, where words and pictures can often show far more depth than live action, are always going to be the best medium to explore such a challenging concept.

This month sees the re-launch of The Punisher in a new ongoing monthly title from the excellent team of Greg Rucka and Marco Chechetto. Here at Proud Lion, we have a copy of the stunning Sal Buscema variant cover of Issue #1 to give away. In order to be in with a chance of claiming this prize, simply answer the following question:

‘Sic vis pacem, para bellum’, Latin for ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’ is the mantra of which screen Punisher?

Is it a) Dolph Lundgren b) Tom Jane or c) Ray Stephenson?

Please send your answer to

The first correct answer received will be the winner, and will be announced on Friday.

Don't forget to check out Matt Puddy’s review of ‘The Punisher’ Issue #1 tomorrow!

Robert Barton-Ancliffe punished himself to get this article done. Mainly by sitting through the Dolph Punisher film...

Saturday, 6 August 2011


This week, if you’ll indulge me a little, we’re going to have a brief float around an entirely liminal state. The Reluctant Geek in its previous incarnation is finished (boo!), but your new (and fingers crossed improved) Saturday morning read is on its way.

In the meantime we’re in a rather lovely no man’s* land. Let’s imagine tiny fluffy clouds, and beautiful stars, and maybe the soothing sound of running water or whale song or something in the background.

Actually, I could really do with some soothing sounds currently, not least because I am recently returned from the Proud Lion Blog Night Out. I’d very much like to talk to you about motorboating, Thundercat slash and the excessive sassiness of some of my fellow bloggers, but it’s all a little bit like Fight Club - The first rule of Blog night out is that you do not talk about Blog night out. Sufficeth to say there were a few drinks involved...

Anyway, all of this floaty, inbetweeny stuff means that I am even more prone to wandering off track than usual, so let’s drag ourselves back to business. I would like you to imagine for a moment that you have a friend. (There’s more, don’t worry, this isn’t some carte blanche attack on your social skills…) This friend has never picked up a comic, switches the channel when anything vaguely sci-fi comes on to the television and thinks that ‘roleplaying’ is best confined to the bedroom. Perhaps they had a bad experience dressed as Batman as a child, involving paddling pools and public humiliation. Perhaps an air of carefully cultivated ‘cool’ prevents them from showing any kind of interest when you start discussing the relative merits of the tenth and eleventh doctors. Whatever the reason, you would be afraid to take this friend into Proud Lion for fear of triggering a fully blown panic attack.

Still with me on the whole visualisation thing? Excellent! Now I would like you to imagine that you awake one morning filled with evangelical zeal. You *will* convert your friend or else die trying! And rather than some kind of namby pamby, incremental , starting-off-with-the-soft-stuff approach you’re going straight in at the deep end.
The question then, is what comic/graphic novel/tv show or movie would you offer to aforementioned ignoramus to change their mind? If you had to pick just one thing that encapsulates everything you love about the world of comics and sci fi and fantasy, what would it be?

Now I don’t want you to think that all of my questions involve ulterior motives. There may come a point in the future where we all close our eyes and imagine ourselves in beautiful, flower filled gardens just for the hell of it. But I’ll ‘fess up now that this is not one of those occasions. Leave a comment detailing your own personal favourite, or pop into the shop in the next week or so and chat to Ben about those seminal, defining pieces of art, and I promise I’ll be gentle with your selections...

Unless of course they really need a firm hand. In which case all bets are off.

*Note: No man’s land. Even though a part of me still wants to say person’s, I’m too afraid of the combined wrath of Ben Fardon and Robert Barton-Ancliffe!

This week, Kate is fantasising about log cabins in the woods, swimming in the sea and Captain Jack Harkness. Not necessarily simultaneously.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

New Beginnings - Captain America #1/Captain America & Bucky #1

This week we have a double header of titles, both from Ed Brubaker, with Marc Andreyko also aiding on the writing for Cap & Bucky. Now, having never really read anything of Captain America and only having seen him as an extra character in my normal Marvel pull list, this was a new experience for me.

The first thing to make clear is that the timing is impeccable, considering that the new beginning is in synch with the release of the Captain America film and also the variant cover of the new Captain America title features Chris Evans carrying the shield. The release is almost certainly there to entice viewers of the film into the world of comics, but from what I can see it doesn’t waste time on recapping too much and heads straight for the meat of it all. Cap & Bucky is similar in this fashion as well, although it nicely focuses on Bucky for the entire issue meaning that you don’t get two titles hitting the same points home but instead you receive a complimentary pair. The stories in them do not match but the shaping of the relationship does which counts for more. I would suggest that this is the major benefit of having Brubaker writing both.

The stories are both well written and I found myself drawn into Masks (in Cap & Bucky) because of the back story. You are presented with a deep founded reason as to why Bucky has gone on to become who and what he is (was) by the exploration of his childhood and adoration of Captain America as he had been presented at the time, a symbol of hope, power and strength.

American Dreamers (in Captain America) is still good, but for the casual reader there are a few gaps in the story meaning that you can only get into the surface level of what is actually happening on the pages in front of you. On one hand this does mean that you are reliant on the glimpses of the past you are given so you get left wondering what has gone on, but on the other, the lack of information means that there is also intrigue. It’s a fine balance to try and manage but it shows through experience in the writing.

Whilst the two comics in writing are complimentary I found that the artwork is more opposing. Drawing for Captain America you have Steve McNiven with strong, clean and fine style. What is lacking in the detail of the full frame, McNiven makes up for it with the huge amount of details that are included in every facial expression. A huge amount of the story is conveyed through the look of every character and this adds further weight to words on the page.

By comparison Chris Samnee has taken a more dated approach. There is far less detail and a lot heavier colouring and everything is much smoother. The colouring is quiet dark, but then again so is the story it is following, something that is easy to miss. Given that this story is also based in the past and not bouncing between times like Captain America is, you tend to feel that this is a comic more of the original series and not 620 issues in.

I've found that these two comics are both enjoyable to read, but for different reasons. Even though they are penned by the same person, the story in one is stronger than the other and the artwork is conversely set as well. Both, however, are great titles and stories for people who are interested in Captain America then either or both of these titles are well worth picking up. Even for someone like myself who doesn’t find Cap an appealing character to follow the comics were still a good read.

Matt Puddy likes his toast cut into Super-Soldiers with his soft boiled eggs.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Watcher - The worlds of Philip K. Dick - Minority Report

Good old Development Hell - the movie buff’s shorthand for the endless process by which filmmakers finally get their act together and, y’know - make a film. Anyone tearing their hair out over the prospect of a new Wolverine movie this decade, or praising Buddha that the long mooted ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ (2011) is finally on its way after nearly fifteen years, knows only too well how those Hollywood devils can hold us in thrall with their spiky pitchforks of false promise and cold shackles of indecisiveness.

In researching film adaptations of the works of Philip K. Dick, I was surprised to learn that this week’s choice, ‘Minority Report’ (2002) had been in development for ten years, having first been optioned in 1992. Interestingly, following the success of ‘Total Recall’ (1990), a script based on another of Dick’s short stories, ‘The Minority Report’ (1956) was quickly put into development. The original tale, of a future police force using telepathic ‘precogs’ to predict and ultimately prevent crime was to be adapted into a sequel of sorts by ‘Recall’ co-writer Ron Shussett and Robert Goethals.

However, as much as I love ‘Total Recall’, and as much as the prospect of Arnie’s working class hero Doug Quaid hunting down, and no doubt breaking the limbs of, future criminals with the aid of the telepathic mutants sounds as sublime as ‘Cassablanca in Space’, fate had other ideas. Arnie passed on the underdeveloped premise, opting instead for ‘Last Action Hero’ (1993) and the project found its way to Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, who had been looking to collaborate since the 1980s.

Judging by the result, the seven years it took to develop a workable script was time well spent, with the resultant film being one of the most critically and commercially successful adaptations of Dick’s work to date, as well as being an original and well researched sci-fi thriller in its own right. Once again, the various writers managed to take a brilliant yet brief premise and create a story that honours its source material without being slavish.

The usual ‘Hollywood’ concessions are present, with Dick’s ‘Bald and fat and old’ (Minority Report, Philip K. Dick, Gollancz, 2000, p.71) protagonist John Anderton re-imagined as a lean, moody man of action in the typical Tom Cruise mold, together with the Spielberg’s key theme of family tragedy pushed to the fore. But as with nearly all great adaptation’s of Dick’s work, such changes serve the medium and widen the story’s appeal. While sci-fi short stories had long been held to be the preserve of lonely males, Spielberg and Cruise both knew how to craft family entertainment, fusing the intelligence of Dick’s ideas with a combination of spectacle, thrills, and that all important human touch.

As a master of spectacle, Spielberg once again works his magic here, with innovative effects work and inventive chases, one highlight being a showdown in an automated car factory that has a thrillingly Indiana Jones-esque payoff, complete with composer John William’s trademark flourish. Visually too, ‘Minority Report’ is stunningly realised, using muted colours and shadows to make the wide open spaces of Washington D.C. through which Anderton flees for his life seem suitably claustrophobic.

The chillingly realised future world, where technology has made commerce and government near omnipotent, while superficially similar to everything from ‘The Matrix’ (1999) to ‘I, Robot’ (2004) is also one of the most detailed ever committed to the screen. Spielberg, having consulting with experts on technology, came up aces with fun gadgets such as sonic shotguns and touch screen computers, while also hinting at the dreaded surveillance state with concepts such as targeted advertising and biometric data-basing.

As with any Spielberg blockbuster, it is of course that human touch that usually sets him apart, and for all its technical innovation, this is perhaps the films weakest area. Cruise is an always watchable leading man, but in many ways, his John Anderton is almost too complex and earnestly played. It occasionally distracts from the action as Anderton spends so much of the film wrestling his own personal demons. The focus on Cruise is also at the expense of an impressive supporting cast, including Max Von Sydow, Samantha Moreton and ‘Total Recall’ (2012) star Colin Farrell.

Overall, ‘Minority Report’ is by no means a bad film, being rightly regarded as a thoughtful, well executed sci-fi action film that stands fully head and shoulders above most others of its type. It is also a definite highpoint for its director and star, who between them are not short on box office success. The reason it stops short of being a bona fide classic for me is that for all its flare and class on paper, it doesn’t quite blend all of its great elements into an emotionally satisfying whole and to be honest - as adaptation’s of Dick’s work go - Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven had already proved that such an achievement wasn’t exactly mission impossible.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is looking to the future - Paycheck style.