Sunday, 30 October 2011

Proud Lion webcomic #3 - Oblivious

Saturday, 29 October 2011

New Beginnings Extra - Spaceman #1

I’ve never really read any comics on the Vertigo label. Not because I don’t like them or think they’re bad, but because I’ve not really taken the time to get to know them. I have enjoyed some of the film adaptations such as Constantine and The Losers but I am aware that the Hollywood influence will have distorted them a little to make them more media friendly. So getting to take a look at the new nine part title Spaceman was a very interesting experience.

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso have worked together to produce the title. Both are well respected and I’m sure most readers may have come across their work knowingly or otherwise. Readers of Vertigo titles will possibly know of their run on 100 Bullets in 2001 where they won the Eisner Award for best serialised story. They recently produced the excellent Flashpoint miniseries, Batman: Knight Of Vengeance.

Spaceman is set at some point in the future with an almost bleak outlook. Man has reached even further out into the stars while at the same time not being able to prevent the world declining. The decline is in every respect as well, economically, ecologically and socially. There is a distinct Blade Runner feel to it, but without the overcrowding or technological impact, but with the exception of genetically engineered beings such as Orson.

The story follows Orson and his new life back on Earth after the Mars mission. Life is hard, especially for someone with a simian appearance and also a lower intellect than others around him. But life continues all the same. Some of the language can be a little confusing at first but it’s consistent meaning you can establish a base and get into it and become more involved in the story. The issue is very much about establishing the world around Orson. Meanwhile there is also a back story running about a kidnapping. Whilst this does become an integral part of the story, in the build up I really liked the poke at celebrity society and reality TV that it makes. You can’t help but feel that very quickly Orson is going to be thrust into the limelight with interesting consequences.

The feel of the comic is further helped by the artwork and colouring. The linework is incredibly fine and there is a lot of detail but without cluttering up the frames either. It makes it a very light and easy read. Each page is also washed with colour too which enhances the feeling of them. Combined together I think Risso’s work really enhances the story.

To mark the new beginning Vertigo have made this title just $1.00 for the first issue. It’s a good way to entice readers as I would also be tempted simply by this fact alone if I was looking for something new and for £1.00 (in Proud lion) you’re not really going wrong at all.

I can see this will get the interest of some readers too, but it needs to develop more and give more of a direction in the story as it is very open and could lead to anything.

Matt Puddy managed to avoid all references to Babylon Zoo...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

New Beginnings - Incredible Hulk #1

Harkanon, Haarg, Holku, The Green Scar, The World Breaker and The Eye of Rage. All names used to describe the alter ego and darker side of Bruce Banner, known as the Hulk. There have been many incarnations of him as well with the most recent being penned by Greg Pak. Now Jason Aaron, one of Marvel’s Architects, takes over the reins.

Over the course of time Hulk has become much more self aware and here we have Aaron taking a further step in that direction. The new start was advertised as "Ripped asunder!" and that is exactly what you are given from the very first page. Hulk and Banner now have their own personal space and inhabit their own separate bodies. This is not the first time this has been done, however it is the first that the Hulk has really decided to make a new life for himself.

Aaron’s writing is a mixed bag for me. Opening with narration is not unexpected for a first issue as this will pave the way for new readers. This fades through the issue as the story eventually takes over and you are given a “man” who appears to have found a semblance of peace and happiness interwoven with a great deal of wariness and almost apprehension. There is overwhelming foreboding sense that the peace Hulk had been searching won’t last. So close and yet still out of his reach.

If anything though it is a little formulaic. You can see where things are going well before they happen, but whether this is bad writing or simply the continuation or a well embedded theme would be for the individual to choose from. I fall more on the side of building on a common theme as I have liked the writing behind the issue. The comparison between this new release and also Planet Hulk is quite clear too. For new readers this is not an issue, likewise I feel for fans of Planet Hulk but anyone who has found the intellectual Hulk out of sorts for them, it won’t sit comfortably.

Banner’s portrayal is also something that has made me think. My favourite comment of all time came from Pak’s run where the question was posed that what if Hulk wasn’t the real monster but it was actually Banner. This has been amplified hugely, almost distorting the character culminating in the Marvel take on Dr Moreaux. Roles have certainly been reversed.

The issue has been pencilled by Marc Silvestri who is a favourite of mine for his work on Top Cow’s The Darkness amongst other titles. His style is totally evident as his gives huge amounts of detail but also manages to keep it almost rough cut. Hulk is rippling and imposing but instead of menacing has a clear look of thought and contemplation, but why the beard and straggly hair? The cover image (also by Silvestri) is more traditional and yet inside you still have the gamma-irradiated, wild man of Borneo look. A little confusing but I have a feeling it’s only temporary.

As a first issue I have not been overwhelmed by what I’ve seen but I am a fan so I haven’t disliked it either. This is a title that is definitely on my pull list but I am waiting for changes to come. Marc Silvestri is an uncertainty for me as he has a number of other projects. Frustratingly I can only see this new beginning and the hunt for Banner being short lived. New arcs will need to be designed, possibly still around two main protagonists. Even so, it’s a good easy beginning for those new to Hulk and a reasonable one for those who aren’t. We just have to see how it goes.

This week Matt has been trying hard to refrain from using phrases like “Matt SMASH!” and “Puny Humans!”

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Watcher - The Thing From Another World

John W. Campbell’s 1938 Novella, ‘Who Goes There’ will shortly see the release of its third cinematic adaptation in the form of Mattijs van Heijningen Jr.’s ‘The Thing’ - the long delayed prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film. Although the release date is tantalisingly close, the production has been the subject of intense speculation due to delays, re-shoots and the perhaps inevitable comparisons to Carpenter’s ‘original’.

Despite the degree of scepticism surrounding the project, my own excitement is starting to build for the December release date, thanks in part to positive buzz from a friend who caught an extensive preview in New York last year (That was me! BF). At the same time the wait has also led me to explore the origins and source material behind the new project and its immediate forbear, discovering along the way some classic genre fare I might otherwise have overlooked.

Firstly, for all the debate over the various film versions, the original story is worth seeking out as a classic in its own right. In many ways typical of short fiction from sci-fi’s Golden Age, ‘Who Goes There’ tells the story of a group of scientists in the Antarctic who discover a crashed spaceship and unwittingly unleash its insidious, shape-shifting occupant. Part mystery, part thriller, the piece has a colourfully drawn cast of characters, with an interesting edge thanks to small hints of H.P. Lovecraft in its D.N.A. With its sparse setting and small cast of characters, it is a deceptively simple tale, but ripe for cinematic adaptation. Although Campbell would become more influential as editor of ‘Astounding Science Fiction’, ‘Who Goes There’ is rightly hailed as a classic example of the genre.

Released the same year as hugely influential genre films ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ and ‘When Worlds Collide’, Howard Hawk’s ‘The Thing from Another World’ (Chris Nyby. 1951) is often overlooked. A lot of this has to do with John Carpenter’s hugely popular 1982 remake, but it’s interesting to note that Hawk’s film was the highest grossing genre film of that year. Watching the original, it becomes easy to see why the film was a hit with audiences, even given its rather impressive competition.

One of the first things that struck me about the film is the atmosphere. Through rather subtle dialogue and visuals, the first twenty minutes or so is a master class in tension building, as the military are alerted to a plane crash and head to the Arctic research station to investigate. These opening scenes rely very little on music or more obvious emotional cues, letting the isolated setting and suggestion do the hard work.

Once the mysterious pilot is brought back to camp, frozen in a block of ice, the action unfolds rather slowly at first, but there is plenty of room for character moments and establishing the film’s key players. One thing that struck me was that although the film establishes several characters that would soon become genre clichés - including the gruff military type, the reckless journalist and the misguided scientist - these characters, through sympathetic dialogue and easy chemistry, avoid seeming hokey.

Not once does the Robert Cornthwaite’s scientist Dr. Carrington come across as a cipher, even with his overriding desire to preserve the "Thing’s" life at all costs. It is also refreshing to see the military and journalist characters show each other a degree of respect that would be almost unheard of today. As the sole female of note, Margaret Sheridan, as Dr. Carrington’s secretary, has little to do by way of action but it is gratifying to see that the role of women in cinema was subtly changing. Sheridan’s character, despite being largely consigned to the sidelines, does at least hold her own against Kenneth Tobey’s Captain Hendry, and her presence is more than simply a source of screams.

As for the "Thing" itself, there is a slightly disappointing move away from Campbell’s vision of a shapeshifting creature (so gruesomely realised in Carpenter’s film) that absorbs and imitates its prey in favour of a slightly lumbering post-Boris Karloff creation. Thankfully, the director takes the approach that less is more, and the brief snatches of the monster - first introduced simply through character’s crazed description and some brilliantly atmospheric use of harp and theramin in Dimitri Tiomkin’s sparing score - provide some genuine scares. Although the nature of the creature as a highly evolved vegetable form of life provides a good source of humour at the film’s midpoint, it nevertheless is a convincing threat, and as its need to reproduce using blood is slowly realised, its threat becomes all the more powerful. Kudos to the filmmakers for making what is essentially a giant vampire carrot genuinely scary.

Overall, this is definitely a film reflective of it’s time, but its nonetheless quite clearly a hugely influential piece of film making. Cited by John Carpenter as a direct inspiration for his own film, I was struck too by the parallels in both character and plot that would come to define genre films as a whole, in particular the Alien series. Although un-credited, many sources cite Hawk as de-facto director and screen writer on the project, but whether or not this is a masterwork from a hugely versatile and influential director, it stands on its own as one of the very cornerstones of science fiction film making.

One to watch, whatever your thoughts on the remake. Plus, if John Carpenter rated it, its got to be worth a look.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe will turn his attention to Carpenter's offering next week.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Big Game Hunting - Actual Play: Mansions Of Madness

We’ve been looking for an Arkham Horror-like game to take the place of the Cthulhu horror classic for a while. Although we really enjoy Arkham Horror, it takes forever to set up and play, plus if there’s a lot of people it’s difficult to keep everyone engaged in it sometimes. We’ve been wanting to find a game with that ‘feel’, but not that level of detail or laborious setup. So, when we heard about Mansions Of Madness, I thought it would be ideal.

The first thing I noticed was how neat the game actually is. It’s got a very nice setup system – which means that we could design our own scenarios. Double-sided map tiles (for indoor and outdoor areas) slot together to make up the play area – and there are five scenarios, each with variations already provided. The mechanics within the game for the ‘GM’ (or bad guy) is quite cool – there’s a set of variables within the scenario, but they can be in different areas and used in a variety of ways, depending on the multiple choice answers the GM gives to set up the game. Most maps had two or three Objective cards, depending on those choices, and some of them have additional ‘end result’ conditions linked to your selections during the setup. So, though there are only five scenarios, it’s conceivable that you could play the same scenario, with different events each time.

From the player side, it’s a difficult game. It’s not an easy game to win fights either – they’ve kept a lot of the mechanics from the original Arkham Horror, including dodging and horror values assigned to monsters. The twist now is that they’ve got much more hit points and a way to track that.

Our first play through saw two characters dead within half an hour, and resurrected as zombies, but we won, only just. The second play through saw the GM (me) win, but only because I insisted on setting the whole area on fire.

The models are gorgeous – new sculpts of the old cast that you might have encountered in Arkham Horror, if you’ve played, and lots of good looking monster miniatures, as well as one or two new ones.

I think the thing that had me most excited - and still holds my attention even after a dozen plays of the game or so (we’ve since bought the Season of the Witch expansion, which brings up the count on the game scenarios to six) - are the puzzles. There are several puzzles in the game, where you have to complete basic tasks – rewiring, matching up symbols on tumblers, or reorganising pictures to match diagrams. On the surface, it doesn’t sound difficult, but it’s really refreshing to find a game that actually challenges people to do something other than roll dice. Fighting is still dice rolling in this game, and attributes are pretty much fixed once you've chosen cards, so the ‘puzzle’ mechanic makes this a unique and utterly captivating game that I return to often when I’m looking for a challenge.

We’ve still not instituted the "60 seconds to solve" rule (which they suggest to make the puzzles even more challenging) but to be honest, I don’t think we need to. It’s a lovely game, and well worth taking a look at, especially if you’re a horror or Arkham horror fan. Find a GM with a wicked streak and I promise you, you’ll have a really enjoyable night.

D Kai Wilson-Viola is back where it all began, getting ready for the exciting next step...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Lion's Share - NaNoWriMo

November is a lot of things to different people. Bonfire night. The end of Autumn. The beginning of Winter. St Andrew's Day. Remembrance Day. Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month. All important to many.

But back in July 1999, a small group of people in San Francisco began an annual project that has grown to over 200,000 participants last year. National Novel Writing Month sees writers undertaking the challenge of writing a 50,000 word manuscript (a novel of approximately 175 pages) in just 30 days.

One of the biggest draws - other than to chance to write with abandon - is that NaNoWriMo has developed a massive community vibe of support; writers spurring one another on to their determined goal. Between online forums and local meets, the chance to meet like-minded people is quite compelling for potential novelists!

I recently took the time to speak to the two Municipal Liaisons for the local Gloucester & Cheltenham area, Rae Gould and our very own D Kai Wilson-Viola.

Ben Fardon: What does NaNoWriMo mean to you? What's it about and why did you become a Municipal Liaison for the Gloucester and Cheltenham area?

Rae Gould: Caffeine, chocolate, and extension cords! NaNo is when I send my inner editor on holiday with an overflowing box of chocolate chip cookies, leaving me free to write whatever I want for an entire month. It's about getting the words down on paper (or screen, or parchment, or whatever you fancy) as quickly as you can, and having fun doing it.

D. Kai Wilson-Viola: I get more writing done because of the Nano than anything else I’ve ever done. So professionally, it’s ‘freedom’. Personally, it’s basically my whole life in some ways. I wouldn’t have met my incredible GM other half without the Nanowrimo, I don’t think. and without meeting him, I wouldn’t have moved here, and wouldn’t be writing for Proud Lion. In all seriousness, it’s freedom on so many levels for me, even though I’m responsible for the region.

RG: Well I discovered a fondness for encouraging other people to keep writing, and that being a cheerleader for others to reach 50,000 words in 30 days actually pushed me to do the same.

DKW-V: I was an ML for the whole of Scotland before we moved here, so that’s why I’m ML here now. The reason I became an ML in the first place was because I wanted to actually make sure I carried through. This is my first year with an official co-ML, so it’s going to be a lot of fun – Rae’s been my constant helper since I met her, she’s wonderful!

BF: How did you first get involved with NaNo? What's the first thing you ever wrote for NaNo?

DKW-V: I started in 2003. Joined up October 1st 2003, as soon as signups opened, and then volunteered about a week later to be ML. I found out I’d gotten ML about three hours before our first meet, a position I shared with another guy. First thing I wrote for Nanowrimo was Glass Block.

RG: I was introduced (okay, link-bombed) to NaNo after learning I was incapable of finishing more than one chapter of a novel. I needed something to break my cycle of continuously rewriting that first chapter, and NaNo was definitely a solution to that. Getting the words out in time to meet the goal is impossible if you keep changing what's already written! The first NaNo novel I wrote was a reimagining of werewolves and various creatures with the ability to change their forms, based in an ancient fantasy world.

BF: Can anyone take part or is it best suited to people who are already writing prose fiction?

DKW-V: Officially? It’s for unstarted books. You’re supposed to start writing the draft on November 1st, and it’s supposed to be the first thing that you write that isn’t plotting or research. Unofficially? I think it’s important that people go with what works for them. Squish the pesky editor and kick ass.

RG: Anyone can join, but I think to make it to the end, you have to want to write, at least a little bit. Already having some writing experience definitely helps, but it's not a requirement. Some of our fellow NaNo-ists had never written anything before joining up, managed to win their first year, and keep coming back.

BF: What is the most rewarding thing for you about taking part in NaNo?

DKW-V: Helping others slaughter their inner editor, or at least gag him or her for a little while.

RG: The people! Having regular meet-ups with other people taking part has led to crazy conversations, hysterical jokes, and more plot bunnies than any of us can possibly keep up with. All my favourite moments of NaNo come from our write-ins. (Granted, many of those moments were also fuelled by far too much caffeine and sugar, but being surrounded by writers who are just as crazy as we are makes it that much better.)

DKW-V: I love helping other people, I love the meets, and I adore the friends I’ve made via the Nanowrimo. It basically accounts for most of the friendships I’ve picked up in one way or another.

BF: Do you have a favourite NaNo creation thus far?

RG: My favourite project has to be my novel from last year's NaNo. I dropped a modern, rebellious teenager into ancient Egypt, and set her up to cross paths with the Pharaoh. The resulting chaos was far more fun to write than I expect it to be, and the main character got herself into situations I never would have predicted if I hadn't given myself free reign to write whatever I wanted.

DKW-V: My favourite NaNo has to be Glass Block, which - after nine NaNos and four re-drafts during November (as secondary books, because I write more than one!) - is out on November 12th. It’s about a policeman, and is quite a satirical and bloody look at reality TV in some ways. It’s also the start of a massive 22+ book series all set in Elliot’s universe, with Glass Block being the first.

BF: Finally, without giving too much away - what have you got planned for this year's NaNo?

DKW-V: *wince* Up to 75 connected short stories, in sets of 10, or 35 novellas. It’ll shift from short story to novella when it’s over 10k words. My overall goal is 375,000 words this year, because it’s my ninth year. Next year, if I’m still going at it, is 10 books, all from Elliot’s universe (hopefully the final ten), and a massive party.

RG: The plan is to write a story based around the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and giving it a supernatural twist. But it's worth remembering that what is planned for my NaNo projects rarely works out the way I expect it to, so I wouldn't be surprised if aliens dropped in during chapter nine.

NaNoWriMo 2011 runs throughout November. For more information head to or check out the Gloucester & Cheltenham region's Facebook page for details of local meet ups.

Ben Fardon is going to give NaNo a miss this year, but is planning on trying ScriptFrenzy...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

New Beginnings - IDW horror special

In a change to publishers and genres I have been given two titles on the IDW roster, Monocyte and 30 Days of Night.

To say I’m outside of my normal comfort zone is an understatement as we are venturing away from the realms of superheroes or Japanese supernatural archetypes and sticking closer to the human world.

Having read them both as well they are certainly very different - both in themselves but to what I’m used to as well.

Something to note immediately about them both is the feel of them. One thing I can certainly say is that both of them are beautifully produced and feel lovely under finger. From the glossy slick cover of 30 Days Of Night to the matte and almost embossed feeling of Monocyte, both are a treat to more than just your eyes.

To me, 30 Days of Night was a film I had seen a few years ago featuring Josh Hartnett, a sleepy Alaskan town and a lot of vampires. I wasn’t really aware of its origins but since then I have come to know it was originally a comic. Creator Steve Niles returns to write this new beginning, picking up years after the event.

The opening has a quiet, considered feel to it as a resident of Barrow tries to send a warning message to an as yet unknown character. It’s low impact, short but done in such a way that it feels like it needs to be read in a whisper, a fantastic piece of writing. Niles then moves scene to a new location where the hierarchy of vampires are awaiting a meeting and also showing that racism, in its most basic form, transcends not only race and colour but species too. This proves to be a good mechanism to start the questions of why to take form in the readers mind as you are left wondering where the infighting has arisen and then, as any good story teller should, Niles rewards you with the answers.

For something that has been fabulously written, the area I have trouble with is the look. I know this is an established look, but I simply am not a fan. Aside from the obvious horror element, there are parts that look as if they belong in the cartoon section of the Sunday papers. If Niles had written a paperback I’m sure I would enjoy it, Sam Keith’s work only detracts from this for me.

Moving to something very different is Monocyte. As a creation of Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari, this is something I have not come across before at all and so for me it is unique.

Taking a whole new approach Monocyte would be easiest described as possibly Highlander meets The Matrix as it is an eternal battle of immortals ruling over humans who are used for their sustenance. The game changer being a new player in the war between the Olignostics and the Antedeluvians.

You can see straight from the word go that this has been thought about in great depth as there are detailed and great depth in the backstories and establishment of the two different civilisations. There are also a number of very clever plays on words too with the best example being the aptness of the title of the comic just for starters.

But, and here is the flaw, too much thought has gone into this. The language is incredibly heavy and overpowering in some areas, bordering on Shakespearean almost which makes it a highly intellectual read just to understand it. I’m not advocating the dumbing down of comics to a common denomination so all can read but the language usage makes it niche as I can see many would be put off by it. It can certainly take a second read to get it all in.

What the comic does stride forward in is the artwork. Simply beautiful. It is dark and foreboding with a very minimal palette being taken from. It adds greatly to the gothic feel, with the background artwork being so full with symbols and signs (like in Priest) and certainly has a very alien feel to it similar in some frames to work by H.R. Geiger. This really adds to the feel of the comic. You are essentially being given an alien world which lies behind the human one in the story and it’s supported fully by the visual effects.

Monocyte certainly views easier than it reads.

Both comics are strong in different areas. If I could have had the artwork from Monocyte with Niles’ writing then I think this would have been a fantastic creation akin to the original 30 Days Of Night. Of the two I am probably more inclined to follow the four part Monocyte as well simply because it is so new and without such obvious cliché and overuse (previously) of a plot type and storyline.

For connoisseurs of work I would strongly suggest picking up Monocyte as something new to test the palate with, especially as I know that, even though I don’t like the look of it, 30 Days of Night is going to be a hit with the fans of the original.

Matt Puddy no am like big words in comics. Especially when he's poorly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Watcher - Real Steel

From director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Date Night), ‘Real Steel’ is the a near future story of a down-on-his-luck ex-boxer (Hugh Jackman), failing to make it in the competitive world of robot boxing until estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) comes back into his life and re-ignites his dreams of glory.

Considering the potential sci-fi mayhem that the concept of giant robots slugging it out could unleash on the audience, it’s a little disappointing to report that ‘Real Steel’ follows the tried and tested sports movie template, playing like a blow by blow re-run of the original ’Rocky’ (1979), albeit with a little less heart.

As the father and son team slowly and rather inevitably bond as they guide their hopelessly outdated sparring robot ‘Atom’ to the very pinnacle of the Real Steel championships, the robot action gets rather short shrift. Not only is the fight choreography a little uninspired - with the souped up fights displaying a less interesting range of moves than your average Audley Harrison bout - but the robot effects themselves never quite convey a sense of weight or power to these complex machines. At this realisation, I found my mind drawn back to the superb ABC Robot in 1995’s ‘Judge Dredd’, which, considering it predates this film by 15 years, was nevertheless about ten times as convincing.

All this may be a little unfair to a film that is clearly aimed at a family audience. Director Shawn Levy, as with his previous films, keeps a lightness of touch about the proceedings and on a positive note it is refreshing to see a vision of the future that isn’t predictably dark. Jackman’s performance, while not terrible, is a little uninspired, with only his weapons grade charisma eliciting sympathy for a character that would otherwise fall into the category of complete git. Dakota Goya, as Jackman’s son Max does his best with a sparse script that doesn’t give his obvious range a chance to shine, but he nevertheless gives us someone to root for, and it is interesting to see that father son duo form two halves of the perfect fighter. An interesting side note for comic book fans is Goya’s previous appearance in last Summer’s ‘Thor’ as the title character’s younger self in the opening scenes.

I’d like to say that their robotic charge, Atom gives a nuanced performance that leaves his co-stars in the shade, but despite some hints in the script that this robot displays a spark of true sentience, this part of the plot is never developed. Consequently there is an emotional vacuum that makes the fights all the less compelling. He does at least display more in terms of character development than Lost’s Evangeline Lily, whose appearance as the token love interest is a waste considering the range of storylines her character progressed through in the famous television show.

Overall, despite my grumbles, ‘Real Steel’ was an entertaining evening, the kind of film I might have enjoyed watching with my dad and brother growing up in the eighties. It’s a shame that time and tastes have moved on and that ultimately audiences, young and old, expect something a little more sophisticated than this rather predictable beat-em-up. One to rent, and only then if ‘I, Robot’ and ‘A.I.’ are all booked out.

Sorry Hugh, but Real Steel is not the Real Deal. Deliver with ‘The Wolverine’ and all is forgiven.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe continues to enjoy the adventures of Calculon in All My Circuits.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Big Game Hunting - Actual Play: Blood Bowl Team Manager

Bit of a confession to make before I start this – I really wasn’t expecting much from this game – I’m from a generation of gamers that remembers the polystyrene pitch for Blood Bowl (yes, I’ve been playing a very long time!) and it’s not that I dislike card games, because that’s really not the case at all, but I do find some of them very limiting and tedious.

Not so with Blood Bowl! A game for 2-4 players, we decided to dive in at the deep end and play with four of us, so got two friends over one evening and began to play.

Blood Bowl takes the form of a basic card game, with several piles of cards to draw from, depending on the matches you play in, win or lose. You get something out of every match, and that ‘something’ is split into manager upgrades, team upgrades, new players and fans. There’s also definitively a strategy to how to play, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Your basic hand consists of a basic team. No Star Players, and no manager/Team Upgrades. You separate out your Star Players, which then go into a pool shared between the OWA (Elves/humans/Dwarves) and the CWA (Chaos/Orc/Ratmen). As you play through, each match has a set ‘reward’ – one for playing in it, and a prize for the winner. It gets to be quite tactical, because sometimes there are three rewards per card – one for each team on each side (which can vary), and a central ‘win’ prize. There are also cards which modify the style of play, and where you can also play in cups.

Overall, it’s a lovely game that takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, it can be very fast paced, and hilariously funny. The ‘Cheat’ mechanic is also very nice. You draw from a pool of tokens which you play on any characters that have the ‘Cheat’ icon (because, of course, cheating is mandatory – you can choose to Pass, or Sprint (draw one and then discard one) or Tackle, but you can’t choose to Cheat). You can either end up with fans, extra ‘star’ points (which helps determine the match winner), or get sent off if you’re caught. Much like the game, cheating is often rewarded, but is also sometimes spotted.

The game is quite a riot – and as for tactics? I’d suggest maxing out your team upgrades and match them, if you can, with manager upgrades. Then in the last tournament go all out fans if you can, because the team and manager upgrades *add* fans at the end of the game. Star Players rock, and they mean you can put one of your basic linesmen back in the box (so your deck always remains the same size), but they are also useful on their own for taking the fall, so it’s all a question of balance.

D Kai Wilson-Viola isn't finishing pounding the other players into submission!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Cat's Whiskers - The problem with exclusivity

Amazon launched their new e-readers this week. Gorgeous pieces of kit, the Fire is a serious contender to take on the iPad. And that’s when it got a bit messy in the writing world.

It started innocuously enough – there were going to be special editions of certain things bundled and only available on the Fire, in eReader format. Time Warner (DC Comics and all of the imprints), decided to offer 100 of its flagship titles exclusively on the Fire. In a reaction attempt to somehow play hardball with Amazon, Barnes and Noble are now refusing to stock those graphic novels in print. And then Books-A-Million threw a hissy fit.

I know it is not entirely obvious from the outside, but aside from writing content and games, and working as a copywriter/coder, I’m also an indie author. I don’t like the idea of being limited to my choice of book stores, simply because of where I choose to publish, and that’s where this looks like it’s all heading. Perhaps it won’t and it’ll all blow over before then, but it could come to a choice of exclusivity on the Kindle or the Nook. At this point the Nook is going to die a horrible death. The Kindle is the eReader of choice for most people, and the uptake has been incredible.

But, here’s the thing. In other areas of the industry, including gaming, having exclusive deals isn’t only a good thing for customers, it’s a good thing for companies – we don’t read about games companies boycotting one another because one got a better pre-order offer than the other. It’s competition, which is good for business. And so what if the Fire got some comics? While eReaders are huge, they’re not saturated yet. By a long shot.

So, what does it look like, from here? From the perspective of a geek with more toys than sense (iPad, Kindle, iPhone), in the UK, it barely affects me. I get my comics in person from my friendly local comic book store, so that’s not a problem, but what I don’t think B&N realised is they’re not causing a problem for Amazon doing this. In fact, they’re driving the geek contingent, already excited by the prospect of a genuine competitor to the iPad, further into the arms of their enemy.

From a writer’s perspective, this looks horrible – but not entirely unexpected. The problem I guess is going to come if Amazon decides to retaliate, because while B&N and Amazon are probably not going to feel this, it might affect the indies. And given media is all about the diversity that comes from all of the different areas, from large houses to the sole artist that hand produces content, anything that makes people take sides is a bad plan.

D Kai Wilson-Viola is fresh from a much-needed relaxing evening at the spa.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

New Beginnings - X-Men Regenesis

At the end of Schism a desperate situation forced an even more desperate solution which went against everything the X-Men and Charles Xavier ever stood for. With both Cyclops and Wolverine not able to make it to the location a young mutant named Idie was guided through steps that saved hundreds but also killed.

This was the wedge that became driven between Cyclops and Wolverine which has now given birth to new teams sharing opposing ideals.

The line has been drawn in the sand and it is now time for mutants, and essentially some readers, to choose a side and stand for what they believe in. Keiron Gillen brings us the one-shot Regenesis.

As first impressions go I have to admit I was wary. The cover artwork is by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend and not my cup of tea at all. (And yet you like the horrors perpetrated upon comic art by Ramos?! BF) It’s loose and cartoony and filled with limbs that are disproportionate with some characters. (Exactly my problem with the 'artwork' Ramos vomits onto our comics! Seriously, I am hating Spider-Island right now! Anyway, I digress, though I should definitely butt in more often! BF) But also on the cover is something I also like the look of, the names Gillen and Tan.

In essence this one-shot is completely about who goes where. With some of the well known team members being approached by Scott or Logan, there is more of an accompanying story. With others it is more of a flash frame and a small quip. As a result it does mean that if you were a new reader then you have to simply accept what is put in front of you with little understanding of why they are saying what they have said.

Most interestingly I found was that for a comic that is trying to show a monumental shift in the X-Men world fairly, you also found a lot of focus was through Wolverine’s eyes. Not that this was a bad thing, but it does almost give a biased feeling towards it all. It does give an open question at the end of “Whose side are you on?” to try and redress the balance.

The most exciting thing for me has to be Billy Tan’s work though. It would have been very easy to have drawn a straight forward strip that simply followed the team creation process.

Instead Tan has, from the very first page, given a raw and primal almost ceremonial imagery to support Gillen’s writing. It makes a big enough impact that you almost don’t notice the complete contradiction that it makes by saying, “This is not a fight,” whilst showing a brutal brawl running through the whole comic too. Moving from this almost dream like state to a crisp and clean strip held in the present punctuates the story very well. There are a few changes here and there made to people such as Colossus which don’t look quite right but this is because it’s a new take and something different. Ultimately it got me interested in what I was reading and seeing which is a very positive thing.

As a one-shot I think that this is well aimed at fans of the X-Men as well as anyone who has followed Schism to its natural conclusion. For anyone looking to pick it up it’s a good grounding as well but worth going back to read Schism first. For me, as someone who doesn’t really follow the X-men, it was still a good read and I’m interested in seeing how the new titles pan out. Some more than others. So who or how do you decide? Read and find out.

Matt Puddy is firmly part of Team Wolverine after reading this

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Watcher - Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark

Much like the scuttling, vicious threat that lies at the heart of this fantasy/horror from debut director Troy Nixey, ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’ is a curious beast. Co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), this film, with its gothic setting, slightly twisted production design and folklore inspired creatures might be the perfect introduction to the Mexican maestro for younger viewers, were it not for the occasional flashes of violent horror that punctuate an otherwise creepy story of alienation and fear.

The set up isn’t startlingly original, as young Sally (Bailee Madison) is sent to live with her estranged father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in the country mansion they are renovating. As countless such stories should attest, the combination of draughty old country piles and family troubles rarely result in lazy days of sunshine and lollipops for all and inevitably, the terrifying secrets of the mansion soon start to surface, in a largely well realised mash-up of styles evoking everything from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Canterville Ghost’ with glimmers of the writer’s own ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.

This diverse range of influences also means however that the film is in danger of suffering an identity crisis. On the surface, its child-centric plot that clashes sharply with moments of graphic horror firmly excludes young audiences while offering little that might hold the interest of adults. Thankfully, it is rescued from mediocrity by the presence of its leads. While Guy Pearce is a little underused, he nevertheless turns in a solid performance that avoids cliché, and Katie Holmes too is a surprisingly engaging lead, firmly banishing all memories of rather bland performances in ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘Batman Begins’. Bailee Madison is the film’s real star however, portraying young Sally’s depression and fear so convincingly that I followed her story with rapt attention despite the overall familiarity of the plot.

As a director, Troy Nixey manages to avoid the temptation to ape his more famous producer’s style, juxtaposing del Toro’s fantasy inspired ideas with an overall tone and production design that is played relatively straight. Rather than reduce the impact of the film’s supernatural horror, the combination of un-natural threats with naturalistic settings actually serves to heighten its ghastliness. It’s just a shame the horror lacks conviction. There is also a potentially interesting point here, given that all of the characters live in such fear of the ‘real world’ (with concerns such as money, diet and medication), that they lack a proper respect for the supernatural until it’s too late. Sadly Nixey has missed a trick. Given that the truth of the threat the family faces is so clearly established, there is very little room for interpretation in the final denouement.

If this review has seemed a little ambiguous, this is perhaps a reflection of a film that is ultimately difficult to categorise. ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’ is a good but not great film, with one or two decent scares and a plot and cast that hold the interest with ease. I’ll say that while I sat enthralled in the human story, my date spent most of the running time watching between her fingers, surprising given that she is not easily scared by your typical horror fare. Perfect for the Autumn and Winter nights - watch it with someone you trust, and do be afraid of the dark, if only just a little.

Robert Barton-Ancliffe is gearing up for a zombie movie marathon this weekend.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Big Game Hunting - Game design pre-qualification

Want to design a game? Have you got an idea of the type of game you’d like to do? Good! That’s a great start – but it’s often there that people get stuck. How do you go from idea to game? Concept to completion?

Once you’ve worked out what you want to write – and once you’ve got the idea on paper, whether that’s the key NPC, or the background story, or a mix of a whole pile of notes, the next thing you need to think about is your game system.

Because there are so many game systems out there, thinking about your game system is probably one of the biggest decisions you’ll make. It not only dictates how you’ll design your system, it also gives you the support you need to work out how to take those first steps.

When I’m designing a game, I actually work with my own hybrid systems – partially to do with chance (d10) and partially to do with set attributes - based on various criteria. I’ve seen other games that use chips, dice, or counters, so don’t feel you’re constrained to complicated character sheets – while many people enjoy building characters, it’s often a good idea to make your first game something you could write and play with ease. Most people that decide they want to write a game have been playing for a very long time – so have systems that they like, and don’t like.

One of the other recommendations I was given, when starting game design was not to start with the ‘big’ game I had in mind – I’m still in the process of writing to games that are huge – one forensics based, and one based around the sci-fi serial of books I was writing. But the first game I ever wrote was a 24hourrpg project. It was a lot of fun and was very easily broken, but it gave me the chance to write and play something very silly, and very easy to test. It also showed me the areas that games break, straight away – both games I wrote that year for the 24hourrpg broke exactly the same way.

In the next couple of articles, I’m going to talk specifics. What sort of game systems there are out there? Why you need flavour text (and how to decide how to write it)? And how (and who) to test your games? But for now – what’s your idea? Got one?

This week, Kai is writing furiously, enjoying the peace and quiet of school returns, and is really geeked out about Animal Man. She still can’t fix the problem with her forensics game.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Carrier bags and charity - Cancer Research UK

Hi folks,

Last week marked the end of the current financial quarter and the end of the third period of collecting money for charity from our sales of carrier bags.

This is our second full quarter and together we raised £9.72!

Last time I made a donation to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This time, to mark the passing of Steve Jobs this week, and the struggle numerous friends and family have made (and sadly, some have lost) against cancer, I'm making a donation to Cancer Research UK.

Thanks everyone. The next carrier bag donation will be in the New Year. If you have a charity you'd like Proud Lion to support, please email me at

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Lion's Share - Jon Lock's Afterlife Inc.

One of the greatest things about running a comic shop in Cheltenham has been the diverse mix of creative people I've met here. There's my fellow bloggers; the fine folk at Judder; the amazing festivals like the Literature Festival and the upcoming Film Festival and Comedy Festival in November; and the many writers that have made this little Regency town their home.

The internet and ereaders like the Kindle and the iPad are changing the world of fiction - giving a generation of talented writers a chance to bring their work to an appreciative audience in a way that might have been stifled by publishers in the past. For example, our very own D Kai Wilson-Viola is poised to self-publish her next novel, Glass Block, and former contributor Martin Smith edited an anthology called The Redundancy Of Flightless Birds.

Elswehere, local comics writer Jon Lock has been blazing a trail on the internet with his own website Having previously contributed to other works such as the Dead Roots anthology and Unique Tales, he's spent much of this year working on his own universe - the wonderful Afterlife, Inc.

Elementary, the latest chapter of Dying To Tell - a series set in the world of Afterlife Inc. - went live this week and I had chance to catch up with Jon soon after.

Ben Fardon: Jon, your webcomic Afterlife Inc. is a wonderful mix of fantasy, action, humour, corporate intrigue and mythology. What can new readers expect from the chapters of Dying To Tell?

Jon Lock: When corporate con-artist Jack Fortune’s life comes to an abrupt and brutal end, he finds himself in the Empyrean, a bizarre afterlife that has recently been struck by a mysterious Calamity. Never one to miss a business opportunity, Jack reinvents the afterlife as a modern day corporation, stealing fire from the gods to sell back at a profit. Hence Afterlife Inc. “A Company You Can Believe In.”

Jack’s rise to power, and the subsequent challenges facing his company, is a story for the future. With Dying to Tell, however, I wanted to present snapshots of Jack’s new afterlife as seen through the eyes of the deceased souls arriving on its doorstep. Be it sentient computer programs, stars of the silver screen, world leaders or fictional detectives, if they lived, they can die, and that places them firmly in Afterlife Inc.’s domain.

BF: I can see influences from a broad range of comic creators from stalwarts like Neil Gaiman to newcomers like Jonathan Hickman. There's definitely a vibe akin to Atomic Robo or early Hellboy in the energy within the pages. What has influenced you?

JL: Grant Morrison will always be the dark totem to which I aspire, but Warren Ellis’ work on Planetary has been a massive inspiration in terms of narrative style and sheer inventiveness. Atomic Robo – my latest love – is pure comic book magic. Writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener are, to me, the ultimate success story for an independent, non-superhero comic. If I can match just a fraction of the energy, humour and emotion they bring to their work, I will consider myself a very happy man indeed.

BF: Do you specifically listen to any music when thinking of Afterlife Inc.?

JL: Music also plays a massive part in bringing Afterlife Inc. to life. Ok Go, LCD Soundsystem, David Bowie... I love any music that tries something different and then waits for the rest of the world to catch up. But, if Jack Fortune is anything to go by, I may have a slight bias towards snappy dressers...

BF: What do you feel has been the biggest challenge in getting a webcomic out into the world? What advice would you give other creators considering producing a webcomic?

JL: The hardest part – alongside trying to generate interest in your stories – has been operating in a bubble. As a writer or artist working alone, it can be all too easy to miss out on meeting like-minded people and other aspiring creators. The greatest part of producing Dying to Tell has been the friends I’ve made through the internet, or at UK comics events such as Launch Pad, Kapow and Birmingham Comicon. There’s strength in numbers. Get out there, meet people, and you can’t help but grow in your craft.

Jon is currently putting the finishing touches on his entry to the Observer/Comica Short Comic competition, colloboarating with artist Jade Sarson. There are also more Dying To Tell stories due this year, then in 2012 Afterlife Inc. will return with a new series Near Life, which will be debuting on the site in January. Unlike Dying to Tell, which dealt with a wide range of characters and situations, Near Life focuses on the core team of Afterlife Inc. – Jack’s board of directors – as the company repels an assault on the afterlife by the US Government.

Jon was kind enough to provide us with some exclusive new preview art from Near Life. Check it out!

Don't forget to check out Elementary and the rest of Dying To Tell.

Ben Fardon is loving the idea of the transformative powers of fountain water and is already a Nuriel fanboy!

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Lion's Share - welcome!

A new recurring column begins tomorrow!

The Lion's Share will be my chance to re-engage with you all and basically talk about things that interest me in the worlds of comics, TV, film, video games, CCG, RPG and much more.

Probably the one geeky thing I won't talk about is anime and manga, which I loathe for the most part. That said, I do have a soft spot for certain Franco-Japanese animated series from the Eighties, like Ulysses 31, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

I also love Interstella 5555, the animated movie/music video by Daft Punk - which uses a very similar animation style, so let's leave you today with the trailer for the recent Blu-Ray release.

See you tomorrow!

Ben Fardon is looking forward to Mill Creek Entertainment releasing all of Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors on DVD in 2012.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

New Beginnings - Brilliant #1

After what must have felt like an overwhelming amount of DC comics coming to the spotlight and being put under review, we get a sniff of something different. Now that all of the issue #1’s have filtered through and DC’s reboot has been done the scope opens up a little more.

This week Bendis and Bagley have given us the new comic Brilliant.

Stepping away from the normal conventions of superpowers being accidental, mutations or unexplained, Bendis looks to forge a path in a lesser used direction.
The story opens with an unusual bank robbery where the only weapon would be described as malicious suggestion. We are introduced to Amadeus.

In a very quick shift, we move to a very different scene of a more subtle home coming. As the story develops we are introduced to more of the characters in what is essentially an issue designed to open up the cast without going in too deep as well, letting you consider who the players are.

The evening rolls on with an obvious group of friends showing themselves and then the bombshell is dropped... what if you could create superpowers?

It’s a big proposition as it enforces the idea that this is a world set outside of the normal “hero” idea and that the surrounding environment is not used to this concept.

I really liked this as it meant that the preconceptions that we all assume for a super based comic are gone and a blank slate is there to be used.

Visually, it’s fair to say that Bagley has done what he does best. Given that this comic is meant to have a strong real-world feel to it, the artwork certainly supports this. With the exception of a slightly over the top party complete with a very similar looking Robot in Disguise, you certainly can relate to the “normality” of it all.

It does lose some definition in some of the frames but then again this is what we’re used to when it comes to his artwork. It’s not crisp sharp edges and angles, it’s a softer approach with the extra use of shadow and shade that supports it more.

One of the other things that I liked was when I took it out of the plastic cover it was weighty and felt substantial. My frustration came when I found out that the comic finished approximately three quarters of the way through and the remainder of the issue felt like a semi-narcissistic self-promotion from Bendis. Far too many articles and to be honest I only felt like scanning it. It just felt like a waste of space that could have been used on a perfectly good comic.

I love the whole premise and production of the comic and the storyline is a new take on things set in a real world scenario. I’m interested to see where this goes but I wouldn’t say that this was the best of the more indie titles by other authors such as Mark Millar. I will be following this title as there are some very subtle hooks there as you’ve been left with some bigger questions.

For something fresh and different it’s well worth taking off the shelf and taking home. But is it Brilliant? The verdict is still not in.

Matt Puddy will be taking some time to study his Icon-ography.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Watcher - Red State

Kevin Smith’s Red State is penned as a horror but don’t let that fool you, this is not your average run of the mill hack and slash movie. It actually plays closer to a gritty thriller horror akin to Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devils Rejects’. Add Smith’s creative dialog and you’re onto a movie which barrages and unsettles you, splattered with touches of his usual comedy.

It starts typically with three teenage boys trawling the internet for the prospect of sex. Once they arrive at their destination things quickly take a turn (as it usually does) for the worse. The boys are played by Michael Angarano, Nicholas Braun and Kyle Gallner who do a brilliant job of portraying three characters which could have fallen into the pitfall of being a bit two dimensional.

Once in the realm of the Five Points Trinity Church, we are introduced to its pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) and his congregation, who believe in a rather extreme form of Christianity where the world has already gone to hell and they are condemning anyone who doesn’t follow their ideals.

This scene contains a quite lengthy monologue by Abin. At first I thought it dragged, but on reflection I realize that my discomfort was caused by the increasing tension as Cooper spouts his religious righteousness and a shrouded figure on a cross squirms in the background. You know something wicked this way comes...

Parks is a powerhouse, his every word is absolutely captivating and he completely embodies the Cooper’s fierce eyed Grandpa whose every word is spoken with love but also filled with hate and bile. One aspect that really stood out and I felt contributed to layers of tension is the movie's lack of score, instead scenes are complimented by Michael Parks' glorious singing.

As the movie progresses the situation at the Five Points Trinity Church escalates and the local sheriff involves ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and its leading agent Joseph Keenan (the ever wonderful John Goodman).

The second half of the movie is a siege situation between the ATF and the Cooper clan. The gun battle which ensues contains the amount of arsenal which would normally feel at home in your average 80’s action flick. This is quite impressive considering Smith’s effects budget for the movie was only $5000. There are underlying threads of politics and following authority, without thinking. Whether that be your commander, parents or your apparent deity.

Kevin Smith’s concept for the Cooper family came from the Westboro Baptist Church and its pastor Fred Phelps. But as Agent Keenan mentions, the Phelps family are suers not doers, a very clever line to distance the created characters from their inspiration.

Red State is full of performances which stay with you, (too many to mention here) but kudos to Melissa Leo who plays Abin’s daughter, Sara who is just as twisted and terrifying as her father.

Smith dubbed this movie a horror due to its events being horrifying. In that sense I can agree, isn’t that why we call them horror movies? This film manages to cross the boundaries of horror, satire and action. All the while providing a very thought provoking story.

Fear God... and cling film!

Stefan Harkins would never trawl the internet. No sir.

DC - The New 52 - This week

The second month of the phenomenal DC reboot has begun. Here's a list of all the new titles (including second printings of issue ones) that we have released today.

If you enjoyed the first issue but have forgotten to reserve the second one or added it to your Reservation Folder as an ongoing, there's still time to contact me and get it sorted!
















There's also limited restocks of Legion Lost #1 and my personal favourite out of all of the first month's worth of DC New 52 - Resurrection Man #1.

See you in store!