Monday, 30 April 2012

Carrier bags and charity - Claire Squires for The Samaritans

Hi folks,

Last month marked not only the end of the finanical year, but also the end of the current financial quarter and the end of the latest period of collecting money for charity from our sales of carrier bags.

This is our fourth full quarter and together we raised £9.20!

Last time I made a donation to Shelter. This time, following all the media coverage of the tragic death of Claire Squires during the London Marathon, I've donated it to her JustGiving page. She was raising money for The Samaritans when she collapsed near the end of the course, and could not be revived. My thoughts are with her family.

The Samaritans are very dear to me. They offer a friendly ear when it can feel like no one else will. A few years ago, after my Mum had passed away, I had a burning desire to do "something" and I volunteered for The Samaritans here in Cheltenham. At the end of an initial interview, the two people from the charity kindly but firmly told me I was welcome to reapply in future years, but I simply wasn't ready at this time. It was the correct decision and I'm very grateful to them for that.

Anyway, thanks everyone. For more about Claire, please Google her story. I found Russell Howard's coverage on Good New very moving.

The next carrier bag donation will be mid-summer. If you have a charity you'd like Proud Lion to support, please email me at

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Why Should I Read... Rachel Rising?

You remember when you first listened to your favourite band? That feeling that you had discovered something new and special, that was just yours? That was the feeling I genuinely got reading Rachel Rising. I didn't necessarily expect to write that, but it's true. Getting in on the ground level with something that's just beginning, but you already know will be great is a real treat, and one that this book gave me in spades. Thing is, you have to be brave to pick this book up.

Starting something new is often a little scary. That's not a new concept, fear of the unknown is a constant in general human life. To counter this fear, we are imbued with an insatiable curiosity. Terry Moore takes both these staples of humanity and uses them as the building blocks for the structure of this horror piece. ComicBuzz describe him as a "master storyteller", and I don't see anything to dispute that in this first piece of the Rachel Rising story.

The first eight pages of Rachel Rising contain no dialogue. This is itself is an immense accomplishment, because the introduction to the lead character couldn't be more gripping. The artwork used is simple and effective, stark lines and ink blocks with no shading forced my brain to fill in the intricacies and draw me in to the story. I turned the page, presented with the details of a basic human fear; death before you are prepared for it. Ultimately the staple for every horror and thriller book (or artistic horror effort of any kind), but in this instance it's so well-presented, it's border-line attractive. The artwork also meets the script in a wonderful companionship, in a way that I feel comes from the artist and writer being one in the same.

When the dialogue does begin, Moore does not force the issue. His words are just like the artwork in that they are clear and uncomplicated, easing you along. He's avoided complex or slick vocabulary in favour of honesty. He has avoided gimmicks in favour of clarity. He has avoided shock tactics, there's no strong language in favour of consistency. As a result, the story slid gently in to my brain making reading very easy. I know it's a horrendous cliché, but at times I genuinely wasn't sure whether I was turning the pages or the story was making me.

I don't want to mislead you, this is a horror book, and it does have the power to shock. The concepts are certainly not all original, but my particular turn-on for this book is that I have not seen this kind of presentation before. Fans of the big Whedon franchises will most likely gravitate to this book, for example. They should, because I like those kind of stories, and I like this book. Not because of the comparison, it certainly stands on it's own merits. I like it for it's uncompromising approach, that comes for the aforementioned writer/artist singularity. It's not often when you can feel that the originator of the story has poured his brain on to the pages which is the feeling I took away from my first read.

As with every book, Rachel Rising may not be for everyone. Horror books became fashionable again a few years ago, and like all good corporate driven industries, they've been squeezed until the zombie juice has run dry. Über violence has been played out for a good while too, and any die-hard reader of the genre is most-likely desensitised. These factors could steer a potential reader away from 'just another horror book'. But these are also the reasons I feel compelled to push you to pick up a copy of Rachel Rising. This is stuff that's been done before, but it's fresh.

Elvis did rock and roll, but I didn't love the music until I heard the likes of Kiss and AC/DC. To be fair, I wasn't there when those bands first put out an album, but I was able to get in on the Rachel Rising story right at the start. Ok, they may not be on the same level, but they both make me feel good. I think you might like reading Rachel Rising whilst listening to AC/DC...

Chris Boyle thinks that if you want blood, you got it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

New Beginnings - AvX Versus #1

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Avengers Vs X-Men issues #0 and #1. Now the fun has started. With the miniseries underway the fight to decide who is “right” is now underway. Issue #2 was recently released as well, delving further into the story. So it’s now the Avengers fully against the X-Men without holding back just to prove a point.

Spreading out across the Marvel Universe the fighting begins, but not everyone will want to know the stories. In an interesting move marvel have created a six issue mini-series dedicated to just the fights too. Even the opening which describes itself as “the FIGHTINGEST book you’ve EVER READ” is aggressive in its own nature.

This issue takes on two fights, Iron Man against Magneto and The Thing versus Namor. Each has been given their own creative team to match.

Iron Man and Magneto have Jason Aaron, one of Marvel's Architects, with Adam Kubert providing the artwork too. A triumphant match after their wonderful Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine miniseries. Arguably, these are two extremely powerful and significant individuals within the Marvel Universe and so the heavy hitting team behind them gives further weight to it.

The thing to remember is that even though both of these characters are considered to be heroes (well at the moment), this is still a fight. There will be a winner and a loser, and considering the stakes they both mean business - so there is little time for banter. A lot of the writing is internal monologue, feeling each other out, testing the waters and finding new and alternative ways to finish things.

There is still a small tongue-in-cheek element though with the occasional AvX Fun Fact popping up with snippets of random information.

There are elements of the story which are classic cartoon fight style. The escalation keeps creeping up raising things higher each step including the last minute epiphany too. On the surface this should be a clear cut case but will it really be?

The second fight, penned and pencilled by the Immonens, is between the Thing and Namor. Not a fight I would have normally expected and potentially not a fair one considering it is in water most of the time too. In contrast to the first fight, this is heavier in conversation, despite the underwater sections where the Thing can’t speak.

Also, as an opposite end of the scale, this is an all out slug fest between the two of them rather than the chess game Tony and Erik played. The fun facts still appear but even these are more directly related to the fight. How hard each hits, how hot things are or how much braces for sea monsters cost! If anything the dialogue and side notes are also more raw than in the first fight. Even with the underlying innuendo put in for good measure.

Both fights are entertaining but the dilemma for any writer is how do you finish them without upsetting fans or making things appear unrealistic. There’s also the matter of both sides being known for not actually killing anyone (on purpose).

This is going to make for an interesting little series and a good side collection too. It may also end, or further provoke, arguments or discussions on who would really beat who in a fight.

A nice distraction from the main line and a resourceful use of six comics to support or provide levity to the main arc. It's fair to say that the end of the Iron Man versus Magneto fight certainly adds gravitas to the main series too.

Matt Puddy picks up four new titles to review next week. Exciting! Look for those reviews over the next three weeks.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Watcher - Animated Double Feature: Ultimate Spider-Man and Green Lantern The Animated Series

I’m a big kid! Just like those old Saturday mornings I woke early, ready to watch some cartoons!

First up, episodes one & two (Great Power and Great Responsibility) of the new Ultimate Spider-Man series for Disney XD. Right from the start we get comic nods (Romita’s cake shop!), JJ screaming about how the Spider-Man is a menace and Spidey himself swinging between skyscrapers while going on about how being a hero isn’t easy. Flashback to my childhood and the Nineties animated Spider-Man series - the characters all feel right, the theme is rocking and the animation is slick but still has a classic look.

We join the story as Peter has been Spider-Man for about a year - he’s still a little rough around the edges but has fought a selection of not-so super villains already. He is approached by Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D who offers to assist him with training to help become "the Ultimate Spider-Man". The series does tend to pull a lot from Marvel's Ultimate line of comics, what with S.H.I.E.L.D’s involvement right from the start and Aunt May being a lot younger and cooler than her past incarnations.

Even when pulling from previous versions the show still manages to feel unique, Spider-Man quips and thwips left and right as he should. Cut-away moments designed to look like they’re from a school notepad (with a kind of Japanese chibi-style to them) and Spidey breaking the fourth wall to make the odd off-hand joke are great fun.

These first episodes made me laugh out loud several times, especially the cameo of Stan “The Man” Lee as the schools janitor! Also adding their vocal talents are the brilliant J.K Simmons once again reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson and Clark Gregg as the Avengers fan favourite - Agent Coulson.

There have been a few Spider-Man animated series over the years but I can honestly say that I look forward to watching the rest of this one.

Next up... Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Beware My Power Parts one & two.

My first impression of the GL animated series is it's bright and massively CGI. In a way it reminds me of Reboot (the first completely CGI animated series), but obviously better looking! The main focus of this series seem to be Hal’s adventures as he battles the vicious Red Lanterns and their leader Atrocitus.

We begin with the death of a Green Lantern in the far reaches of space. Back on Earth, Hal Jordan is up to his usual tricks of mucking up test runs and destroying very expensive prototype aircrafts in the process. But he saves lives while doing it, so it doesn’t matter! Hal is then called to the planet Oa to stand in front of the Guardians and answer for some previous unseen misconduct. During this he hears of the Lanterns which are dying across the far reaches of frontier space. With this he decides to go against the Guardians orders and steal a prototype spaceship, this allows him to reach frontier space faster than using his power ring so he can try to save the Lanterns who are being hunted.

The character design of Jordan is very similar to the previous DC animations, Superman and Batman - his upper body is huge in comparison to his arms and legs and his jaw is so square that Chuck Norris would be jealous! I do feel that the CGI animation works nicely for the Lantern universe, the bold colours of red and green battling throughout the darkness of space.

The Red Lanterns plan to destroy the Guardians and the Green Lanterns because they blame them for the destruction of Atrocitus’ home planet. A new Red Lantern by the name of Razer is trying to kill one of the frontier Green Lanterns called Shyir Rev when Hal and Kilowog turn up. They battle heavily, but ultimately manage to escape, seeking refuge on Rev’s home planet.

Razer along with Atrocitus track them down and threaten to blow up Shyir Rev’s planet if the Green Lanterns do not give themselves up. Things escalate, and I don’t want to give it all away but things reach a explosive climax. The series will continue with Hal and Kilowog hunting for further Red Lanterns, all with a prisoner in tow. I feel this series is Green Lanterns as they should be - in space, boldly fighting against bigger and unknown alien threats.

Stefan Harkins is currently watching Avengers Assemble without you...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Lion's Share - Avengers Assemble

It's almost here. Tomorrow, Joss Whedon's Avengers movie opens in UK cinemas.

I grew up reading comic books - getting a weekly issue of Transformers from our local newsagent, delivered with the newspaper. Transformers UK featured a serialised chunk of the monthly Transformers US comic, an original black and white Transformers comic by British creators, and a reprint of something else. For a brief time, it was Iron Man - in his red and silver Centurion armour heyday.

It was my first exposure to American superheroes and I loved it. Eventually Tony was replaced by Visionaries and finally Action Force/GI Joe, but I never forgot the Armoured Avengers. Years later as a college student, I found an American comic shop in Swindon - True Believers. It was during the chaos of the Onslaught saga, but as the dust settled Marvel announced two things that caught my interest. The first was the Thunderbolts - which remains one of my favourite comics fifteen years later. Though, quick aside - damn you Marvel for rebranding it as Dark Avengers in the coming months - that sucks.

The second was Heroes Reborn - the classic Avengers titles, reimagined by Image creators. I loved the chance to pick up an all new Iron Man comic and enjoyed the way the Hulk's origin was linked to Tony becoming Iron Man. Sadly the Heroes Reborn experiment was as flawed as it was inventive and eventually the idea was shelved, replaced by the Heroes Return titles. With Thunderbolt's co-creator Kurt Busiek at the head of both Avengers and Iron Man, this was a golden age for this fan.

Heroes Reborn however, did lead the way to the Ultimate universe and following the success of Ultimate Spidey and Ultimate X-Men, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch brought us the incredible Ultimates book (coming soon - Why Should I Read... The Ultimates!). This arguably gave a fresh modern take on the Avengers that incorporated the Millar/Hitch "widescreen" flavour of comic storytelling. It seemingly became the blueprint for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with the incredible Iron Man film.

2008 will always have a special place in my heart. I opened my own comic shop! After years of working for others I was finally my own master. Then Marvel gave us the most amazing superhero film with Iron Man. Managing to be both respectful to the source material and yet forging its own story, the film combined action with real emotion and gravitas plus a great sense of humour.

The post credits scene hinted at a larger shared story to come, with Samuel L Jackson bringing the Ultimate Nick Fury to life. The Incredible Hulk movie a few months later chased the taste of the Ang Lee travesty out of my mouth and continued to show that there was a larger plan behind these movies. After that came Iron Man 2 and that first glimpse of Thor's hammer. At the end of Thor, we saw the cosmic cube (aka the Tesseract) that was a key plot point in Captain America, and at the end of Cap, we find Steve in present day ready for a new mission. Help save the world.

(There are so many more connections between the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, from the super soldier serum in The Incredible Hulk, to the Tesseract in Iron Man 2 and the World Tree in Captain America - it's a wonderfully rich tapestry that reveals the shared universe ethos of Marvel comics transposed onto the big screen.)

So, for me, Avengers Assemble is the most anticipated film of the year. Sure, I've obsessively watched the Prometheus trailer. I've devoured every bit of info on The Dark Knight Rises. And I've championed The Amazing Spider-Man even in the face of that dire Mirror's Edge-style sequence in the first trailer. But Avengers is the one for me this year.

To that end, on Thursday 26th April, Proud Lion will not be opening until 2pm. In the morning, this self-employed smuck with no company or statutory sick pay and no minimum four weeks holiday a year, is taking the morning off. I'll be making a fannish pilgrimage to Cineworld, to see the first showing of Avengers Assemble.

Then as a reward for your patience, I'll be open 2-6pm and there'll be a special bonus. 


That includes comics, graphic novels, action figures, t-shirts. It also includes Avengers team members' solo stuff such as Iron Man, Cap, Thor, Black Widow and even Spidey and Wolverine. It even includes Reservation Service folder comics. It DOES NOT include back issues from upstairs though. Sorry about that.

So, come on down from 2pm and grab a bargain. Just remember, I'll be closed tomorrow morning. Just this once.

Ben Fardon CAN.NOT.WAIT!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Big Game Hunting - The One Ring RPG

One RPG to rule them all…

I’ve always been a bit leery of games that are set in huge franchises. I’ve seen them go amazingly (I quite like Babylon 5 for example) and go horribly (the less said about most of the D20 games, the better) but there’s an element of ‘oh now, come on, there’s a board game, computer game, war-game and now a new RPG based Lord Of The Rings to contend with. And I went into it expecting to hate it.

This isn’t an actual play look – in fact, I didn’t get to run it once since I received the review copy – that’ll come later in one of my actual play articles for Big Game Hunting, but what I did do was look at the mechanics from a GM's point of view, and what I saw was really nice.

I’ve played both previous incarnations of an LOTR RPG, and while they were solid, the One Ring wasn’t exactly coming in handicapped – each had its flaws, and neither really made the most of the most extensive and influential (some might argue) property in fantasy. It’s kind of like they’d bought up the prime beach property then let weeds grow in some ways. Along comes ‘The One Ring,’ and holy cow, it’s good.

It’s not set in the times of the War of the Ring.  It’s long before the tales of the Shire that everyone knows from LOTR/the Hobbit. There are decades before the world goes pear-shaped like that.

Due to the review copy I had, I didn’t have the special D12 that came with the box set (mine is a PDF) but it didn’t stop me from understanding the instructions and getting enough of a feel for it that I want my full copy now. I thought all of the mechanics were laid out well, and have touches of other games about them, but is blended enough to be unique. The PDF is nice and clear and renders well on my eReader and iPad, which is one of the more important things for me when looking at rules issues in PDFs.

One of the problems though with reviewing like this, is that I didn’t actually get to play – which is why we’re going to get a full copy soon and do a play through and offer an actual play game at some point.  With strong background and rules that are integrated rather than bent to fit the world this is a fitting and strong homage to Tolkien’s universe, without becoming too heavy or difficult to manage.  There’s plenty of scope for adventure and fun, or building into disasters that start small and end the continent, including leading your characters – eventually into the events surrounding the books that fans love and cherish.

Next week, Kai’s going to be reviewing Dragon Age and its expansion - while staunchly ignoring the EA nonsense brewing over the Mass Effect DLC.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Ctrl+Alt+Del vs. Dueling Analogs

Following on from my previous article I’m still on a bit of a try-something-different kick, so this week I’ll be comparing two gaming webcomics, strips that use the abundant source material of the average internet user’s probable second hobby to point and laugh at.

Ctrl+Alt+Del is considered to be one of the great internet establishments that seems to have been around forever; a long-form story interspersed with standalone gag pages created by Tim Buckley. The main story focuses around the main character, Ethan, who’s one of those dangerously stupid comedic characters unless it has anything to do with his chosen subject of expertise, in this case gaming. Despite his Homer-Simpson-in-a-random-mood level of stupidity, he has still managed to achieve incredible things through the history of the strip, including build his own fully self-aware robot out of an X-Box, become manager of his own gaming shop, and rise to leadership of his own quasi-religion that worships video games.

The art style is certainly solid enough, and the story does have the knack of getting into hilariously crazy situations without being too random (if that’s possible?), but I find myself struggling to find nice things to say about this webcomic. Looking past my personal bias against gaming webcomics and trying to read it with a fresh outlook, it still doesn’t grab me with its plotlines or its occasional gag-a-day pages. Also it kinda irks me as a Nintendo gamer that most of the references are about X-Box, Playstation, PC, and even tabletop games, but not very much Nintendo.

The main problem is balance. Like a few other webcomics that have fallen into this trap, when the short gag pages are going well, the ongoing story either slows to a crawl or suffers in the writing, or vice-versa. And even if the ongoing story is taken on its own, issues of balance creep up in the narrative as well! I refer of course to the now infamous ‘miscarriage scene’ involving Ethan‘s girlfriend Lilah. Readers expecting yet more gaming or pregnancy jokes were stunned by the curveball, and readers who were invested in the characters felt that the hard issue was cheapened by the surrounding gags both before and after the event. I don’t want to get too far into the big debate still swirling around this, and I respect a creator’s right to do what he wants with his own creations, plus I’m all for a bit of conflict to move the story along, so lets just leave it at that.

Dueling Analogs is a purely gag-a-day webcomic with a few running themes, created by Steve Napierski. The site has had a very pretty remodel recently, giving over space to share and redistribute other gaming comics and news articles from around the web, but if you click the “exclusives” tab at the top you’ll find the original content we’re after. Several long-running themed pages continually pop up in the strip, things like “Rejected Mega Man Robot Bosses”, “Unofficial Pokeball Designs”, and “Games You’re Glad Were Never Made”, simple gag ideas that work fairly well and are ripe for revisiting.

Although the strip does often rely on jokes about the gaming news of the time, and like a lot of gaming webcomics it quickly feels dated during re-reads as a result, I found that the majority of its punch lines do actually attain a timeless quality. This is a benefit from the strip seemingly focusing on the big mainstream games that everyone has played or at least heard about, and also laughing at the conceits and cliches of the gaming industry as a whole. And I am glad to see some Nintendo jokes in the mix!

Sadly though, many of the comic’s jokes fall flat (in my personal opinion), or are of the variety of “so simple/childish I could have thought of that”. And although they do extract a school-boy giggle from me, the large amount of rude/adult content and jokes will put off quite a few people.

And so to the verdict. I was surprised that I hated the “big league” Ctrl+Alt+Del as much as I did, when apparently it’s one of the most successful webcomics on the internet. And even though it’s not something I’d normally read, Dueling Analogs is far and away my pick of the week.

Todd Marsh totally promises to read the Abominable Charles Christopher EVENTUALLY.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

New Beginnings - America’s Got Powers

This week’s new comic is issue one of America’s Got Powers by Bryan Hitch and Jonathan Ross. Yes, that Jonathan Ross of TV fame who is also a well known comic book fan and previously write Turf.

The story inside is very well timed in its release. Aside from the current love of reality TV shows and the recent release of The Hunger Games, it hits a multitude of popular topics to hook readers.

America’s Got Powers opens with a transcript from a press conference and subsequent comments from readers. It doesn’t give much but does give you enough. from the very first page, you’re aware of some form of games and the viewers going wild over a brutalised gameshow which had dire consequences.

Moving back to the past the backstory is filled in by the arrival of a crystal which has somehow imbued a generation of children with powers.

In a strange twist of fate, and one which adds a nice unique element, instead of becoming superheroes or villains they are subjected to compete in games to prove their superiority and form the only recognised superteam. It’s harsh, vicious, brutal but most of all loved by all of the viewers.

This is not where the story revolves though. Although in the opening contest we see a combatant known as Bobby Watts, instead we meet Tommy, his smaller weaker zero powered brother who has been relegated to the realms of menial tasks and verging on being bullied. He’s a good kid at heart but lives in his brother’s shadow. It is only through a chance happening where he and a number of non-powered humans accidentally end up in the arena do things really change.

The writing isn’t bad, it’s realistic to a degree but overly emphasised. Very similar to the portrayal of society in “The Running Man” except without the social decay, in fact quite the opposite. The commentators come across as detestable and the action moves quickly, but what I also liked was how it all slowed at the end which worked very well.

Bryan Hitch’s work is good as always. I really liked his artwork on The Authority and this is another fine representation of his work. These are clearly powerful people but not drawn to ridiculous scale or size so they still fit in with the general populace. It’s a very bright and vibrant depiction.

As an opening issue it has a very big hook for readers however the ending does change things. As well as the action there are nice underlying tones of a much bigger issue with the “stoner” problem and the military involvement...

I enjoyed the issue and considering its price and the amount you get for it I was impressed. This is an interesting comic to follow which doesn’t conform to the norms of the comic world - as a fan driven piece of work it doesn’t fall down as an imitation or poor cousin to some of the bigger titles.

It’s enjoyable and a fun read especially as it is opening a new story but not taking things overly seriously. Worth a good look at for a new title for your pull list.

Matt Puddy will be a little late next week. Deal with it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Watcher - Hugo

Cinema is a magnificent, powerful art form. From humble beginnings as a vaudeville attraction to the capitalist Hollywood juggernaut of today, cinema arguably has its greatest effect on children. Even in the 21st Century, despite children being exposed to moving pictures from a young age - from toddlers being entertained by exasperated young parents with video clips on their iPhones, to five year olds gorging on a nutrition-free diet of Spongebob Squarepants - children can be captivated by a good movie. There's something about the ritual of it all. Leaving one's house to travel to a darkened hall dedicated to a specific film, surrounded by other viewers and hopefully watching in hushed reverent whispers is a far cry from the noisy cacophony of the energy-saving lightbulb illuminated living room that houses the TV.

As we get older, cinema can still have that magical appeal, but in a cynical modern age it's rewardingly complex films like Inception and the forthcoming Prometheus that captivate us. Rarely do we see a true family movie anymore, except perhaps for the animated offerings from Pixar. Hugo however, bucks that trend to offer a true gem that crosses the generations - both of its audience and its characters. The film is essentially the titular boy's quest for understanding and acceptance, but it becomes a love letter to cinema as a whole.

Adapted from Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by John Logan (co-writer for the next Bond film, Skyfall), the film is itself an incredible curiosity in that it is directed by Martin Scorsese, a director renowned for his darker movies, such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Gangs Of New York. This air of mystique seems to add something to a movie that is built on curiosity. I was constantly reminded that whilst this family film may have been marketed in a similar vein to A Night At The Museum, the sheer attention to detail on offer comes from having a great filmmaker at the helm.

The movie opens with a match cut from the insides of a clock to the busy streets of Paris. The motif of things either running like clockwork or being broken and abandoned are a key part of the narrative and straight away Scorcese brings attention to that. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an abandoned young boy, living in the Montparnasse railway station in Paris. A series of tragedies have befallen him, yet he still tends to the clocks in the station, keeping them wound and working. His prize possessions are a broken automaton that his late father (Jude Law) found whilst working in a museum and his father's notebook of diagrams and sketches of the broken machine detailing his attempts to fix it. His mother died at a young age and his father perished in a fire, leaving him with his uncle (Ray Winstone), a drunk employed to live and work in the train station tending the clocks. Eventually his uncle disappears, leaving Hugo to carry on the maintenance of the station's timepieces by himself.

Hugo has his own quest though. He steals clockwork pieces from a toyshop in an attempt to fix the automaton, which he believes contains a message from his father. In doing so, he crosses paths with the furious shopkeeper (Sir Ben Kingsely) who angrily confiscates the notebook. And so Hugo is swept along in his journey to regain the notebook and complete his quest, befriending the shopkeeper's orphaned goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) in whom he finds a kindred spirit. Isabelle introduces Hugo to the magic of books and he in turn takes her to see her first film. Films were something Hugo and his father enjoyed together...

Hugo: My father took me to the movies all the time. He told me about the first one he ever saw. He went into a dark room and on a white screen saw a rocket fly into the eye of the man in the moon. It went straight in.
Isabelle: Really?
Hugo: He told me it was like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day. 
Isabelle: Wow! 
Hugo: The movies were our special place where we could go and watch something. We didn't miss Mum so much.

Together the children find the parts needed to fix the automaton, but instead of writing a message from his father, it draws a picture - of the man in the moon with a rocket in his eye. It signs the picture with Isabelle's godfather's name, Georges Méliès. From a book on film history, they discover that he was once a great filmmaker, responsible for the movie that first captivated Hugo's father's imagination. But he was forgotten after the war and most of his films were melted down for their cellulose, leaving him heartbroken and bitter. Tracking down the book's author, they discover he still has a copy of Le voyage dans la lune, leading them to eventually show it to a tearful Méliès.

The film is a masterclass in mise-en-scene, in particular I was struck by the blue palette that continues throughout the film, from the night sky of Paris through to blue clothing such as Isabelle's beret, the trim on Hugo's jumper and the Station Inspector's uniform. In art the colour blue often signifies a quest for knowledge which certainly fits Hugo. Of course, it also represents depression or "the blues", which is fitting as most of the characters are in some way broken and miserable as the story begins.

Some could say that the coincidence of Hugo and Méliès' stories coming together is trite. I felt it worked like magical clockwork. The film blends historical events with a sense of curiosity that pays tribute to the power of cinema. Georges Méliès was a filmmaker in the early Twentieth Century and the films that you see within the film are all real films. He was one of the first fantasy, science fiction and horror filmmakers, using a combination of sets, costume and magic tricks alongside an early understanding of editing to capture his ideas on film. At one point he built his own film studio and he directed over five hundred films, though many were lost as the war came and he was eventually driven out of business. He disappeared from public life and did indeed become a toyseller at the Montparnasse station in Paris. This is all covered in the film by an enchanting flashback, narrated by Kingsley.

Hugo truly is a love letter to the roots of cinema and one the first filmmakers to see that he could use this new medium to enchant his audience. Scorsese has followed in Méliès' footsteps and created a movie that both educates and delights. Of course some of the details have been changed to fit the narrative - Méliès' wife at the time he was a shopkeeper was his second wife, who had not been present during his filmmaking career - his first wife sadly died in 1913. And although he was eventually rediscovered, it was not by a young boy called Hugo, but by French film critics and journalists.

Regardless, Méliès was eventually awarded the Légion d'honneur and today his contribution to cinema is acknowledged by film historians. Hugo brings all of this to life and for that I am truly grateful. Even Sacha Baron Cohen can't ruin this film!

Ben Fardon has fond memories of A-Level Film Studies...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Big Game Hunting - Gateway Games: Fluxx

I'm a big fan of card games, and have been all my life. There are plenty to choose from, no matter what kind of style you like to play. Looking for a comedic roleplaying, dungeon-crawling style game? Try Munchkin. A more serious, collectable card game? Have a go at Magic: The Gathering. Or, if you're looking for something that is easy to learn and quick to play, look no further than a game of Fluxx. This card game is wonderfully simple and incredibly unique - because everything in the game is constantly changing.

Every game begins with the Basic Rules: draw one card, play one card, until a player meets the Goal. Players achieve that by playing Keepers that match those on the current Goal card, whilst avoiding Creepers, which often prevent winning. Action cards can be used for a variety of things, from trading cards with other players to allowing a second Goal card. However, that all changes as soon as someone plays a New Rule card, which can alter the number of cards that can be drawn, played, or held in your hand, amongst other things. Players can also play new Goal cards during their turn, completely changing the cards needed to win!

What makes this game so brilliant is the fact that it is constantly changing, and no two games can ever possibly be the same. Fluxx turns every rule on its head and creates a great challenge, but without being so confusing as to turn off players. One game is more than enough to grasp the concept and play confidently.

One of the things I find the most appealing is how even winning the game is flipped around. Most of the Goals require you to have played particular Keeper cards, as well as having no Creeper cards. However, a handful of Goal cards can only be met by having a certain Creeper card! This means you can be close to losing the game one turn, and winning on the next. Fluxx is the only game I've seen that's able to pull off this kind of turn around.

Better yet, if the original Fluxx isn't quite to your taste, you can take a look at the several other styles it's available in. Other editions of Fluxx include Pirate Fluxx, Star Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx, and it's newest release, Oz Fluxx. Each edition is completely unique, and all of them have their own quirks. Some include Surprise cards, which can be played even when it's not your turn, or Metacards, which are New Rule cards that last for the entire game, but must be agreed on by all players.

Sadly, there is no longer a digital version of this game available. On the upside, you can always swing by Proud Lion and pick up a copy of this fantastic card game!

For more from guest blogger Rae, please check out her website

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Five By Five - Comics, week 2: All Star Superman

Oh Superman, Superman. With your chiseled jaw and your lovely manners, you’re just the kind of superhero any girl could take home to meet her parents. Whilst Batman might come across as sullen and a little bit emo (what’s with all the black?) and Spider-Man tends to leave those sticky patches all over the place (highly undesirable when meeting the potential in-laws) Superman could be trusted to sip his cup of tea, and say all the right things about being a good person and choosing the righteous path and always remembering to floss.

The thing is though, as a hundred bitter single guys will tell you, that just isn’t always enough to get a girl’s pulse racing. And to be honest, Superman has always struck me as just a little bit, well, dull... So when faced with the Man of Steel himself on the cover of All Star Superman, cape flowing, hands beatifically raised, there may possibly have been some eye-rolling and pre-judging going on. Hard as it may be to believe it’s possible that I even approached the text with something less than true literary impartiality.

So this is where I tell you that the All Star version of Superman blew all my preconceptions away right? That this version of the character left me quivering with scholarly excitement and barely suppressed lust. Well, not quite. Superman here *is* distinctive (particularly in his Clark Kent incarnation) but essentially he wouldn’t be Superman without that aura of incorruptible goodness and perfection. It makes him iconic of course; an archetype of chivalry and moral courage. But it also makes him only slightly less bland than a sandwich made with one of those blasphemous plastic squares of cheese.

The point is that, as with swallows, one flying guy in a cape does not an amazing graphic novel make. And that’s OK. Because one flying guy in a cape plus a bunch of other interesting, well realised characters, deftly handled plotlines, and recurrent thematic ideas? Now you’ve got a summer.

Let’s assume for a moment that as a reader of this blog, you’re pretty likely to have come across Superman in one form or another; comics, eighties movies, life-size cardboard cut-out that you stole from the foyer of your local cinema growing up, whatever works for you. All Star Superman takes all of that accumulated baggage and turns it into lore, so that rather than a jumble of admittedly interesting but rather abstract ideas, what we get is a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. I won’t give away the hook that drives the story forward, but the premise allows for myriad explorations of mortality and what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be a super hero.

Superman himself of course has always struggled under the weight of dual identities, and there’s a stroke of genius in the artwork and the writing here. I’ve always found the ‘Clark is Superman, just with glasses and a suit’ school of thought a little less than satisfying, but in All Star Superman the two men *move* differently. Clark is a pot-bellied, head-bowed cerebral type; too busy thinking about his next story to exert much control over his hulking farm boy’s body. Whereas Superman is straight and tall and rigid (ahem), a Kryptonian arrow pointing the way to justice and betterment and all of that other good stuff. It’s effective and it has the odd side effect of placing doubt in the reader’s mind as well. There’s an early scene where Superman tries to convince Lois that he and Clark are one and the same. And even though I *know* he’s telling the truth, I sort of understand her skepticism. Is Clark truly a part of Superman or just a disguise he wears?

Lois, by the way, is gorgeously drawn and splendidly fiery throughout, though it would have been nice to see her with a bit more to do than just hanging around like some kind of sexy occasional table. To be fair, there is a gleeful episode where Lois’s Superwoman gets to wear the outfit and try out some saving of humanity for herself and her lack of hesitation when faced with the chance to live in Superman’s world for a while is telling. (We’ll gloss over the fact that even as a superheroine she still ends up as a bit of a damsel in distress). This trying on of Superman’s role is a recurring theme throughout, with both Jimmy Olsen and Lex Luthor also metaphorically donning that lycra and giving superpowers of their own a go at various points.

This question of what it means to live in a world where super-powers exist seems to be pretty central to the story in general and it’s not Superman who struggles with it, but the characters around him. Jimmy, a pair of wonderfully disdainful Kryptonian time travellers, Zibarro (more on him later), but none more so than Lex Luthor. I’ve never come across a Lex with more fully realized motivations than the one here; utterly unable as he is to reconcile himself to being ‘just’ an ordinary human in a universe where Superman is constantly buzzing around like a red and blue bee, stinging away at Lex’s own need to be brilliant and special. There’s almost a sibling-like relationship between the two of them as Lex rails against an older ‘brother’ the world will always prefer and Superman, ever patient, continues to try to re-direct Luthor’s energies. Lex’s focus is a world without Superman, and yet he positions Superman at the very centre of his own personal world.

Lex’s bigger problem though, is the story’s other over-arching message. ‘Superman’ is more than just the cells and the outfit that make up Kal-El. ‘Superman’ is an image of selflessness and idealism; an idea; a theory. And just as it’s impossible to destroy an idea once it’s free in the world, it’s equally impossible to destroy Superman. On a literal level, this manifests as a bunch of other red and blue clad heroes that haunt the pages throughout All Star Superman. Not only Lois as Superwoman, but future incarnations of Superman himself, as well as flawed doubles like the heartbreaking Zibarro, alone in his sentience on a planet of lesser beings (spot the unspoken metaphor…).

And maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to get on board with Superman as a character. I’ve been going about it in the wrong way, because fundamentally he’s more than that. All Star Superman makes this transience explicit. It isn’t Superman’s own story, it’s the story of humanity pursuing the ideals he embodies: goodness, self-sacrifice and, OK, who doesn’t like a chiseled jaw?

This week Kate Townshend is hoping you’ll join her in ignoring the temporal lapse between this and the last Five by Five column. It’s one of those timey, wimey, wibbly wobbly things.

Friday, 13 April 2012

New Beginnings - The Secret Service #1

As many of you will know Millarworld is a fun and enjoyable place for me, so to have another new title to review is always a positive for me. In fact there are a few new titles coming out in the near future which - when coming from one person's mind - is quite impressive, but you do have to wonder is this going to be too much? Is the next one going to be a stretch too far? Does he have more?

To an extent I think the Secret Service offers some answers.

The story opens with an almost tongue-in-cheek hostage rescue featuring none other than Mark Hamill. Yes, the one from Star Wars. A suave agent breaks in, conducts a dangerous rescue and escapes on snowmobile only to have the rug pulled from under him by a faulty piece of equipment.

As an opening, it is clichéd and very Bond-esque but does make you chuckle as a result. Interestingly enough I don’t feel it is representative at all of the rest of the comic too which is an odd twist to the normal.

In a very stark contrast there is a big shift from the snow covered Zermatt in Switzerland to the grime covered Peckham in South London. The first thing that strikes me is that given that Dave Gibbons is English and Mark Millar is Scottish you would expect them to have possibly been to or seen London. This is a very Americanised look to it and I think maybe that’s been done to create an acceptable image to our Western cousins.

The family you are introduced to are on benefits and as such conform to a number of stereotypes associated with that demographic and location. It’s a fraught situation which is generally setting up to also perpetuate this same stereotype with the son of the family being pushed out with his friends and ultimately ending up being arrested.

There’s a scene switch and another more plush environment of Westminster adds what can only be one of the main protagonists and “saviour” for this scenario. Enter the dapper and deadly Jack London. Jack is the black sheep to the above mentioned family as he has done something for himself. He is also very aware of the potential of others when given the chance and direction, and openly challenges Gary’s mother, Sharon, with this in mind. He comes across as forthright verging on lecturing, but not quite. I think the fact that we can all understand his point of view to some greater or lesser degree helps this no end. Wanting to make a difference from the shadows, the comic ends with London calling in a“favour”.

The issue is very clearly a set-up piece and I found that a lot more about where this is going has been conveyed in the last page and the cover. A little disappointing but you can’t argue that it has a lot of potential, possibly going down the Besson-style Leon storyline. I did also feel at times a little overwhelmed by the frequent references to things and events such as the film Battleship which is soon to be out. At times this made it feel a lot like an advert break and detracted from the story which was a loss. It also will mean in time that this will potentially become dated.

I am really torn by this as well. Whereas it’s not an earth shattering piece that makes me want to instantly ring Proud Lion and leave messages demanding my pull list be updated (based on this issue alone) my interest has definitely been grabbed. This is mainly because I want to apply so many ideas of my own to this situation. It certainly could go a great many ways.
I’m looking forward to following and finding out which too.

Matt Puddy is shaken but not stirred...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Watcher - Cabin In The Woods

Right, where do I begin with The Cabin in the Woods?

It's a movie written and directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon. The basic premise is one you’ll be familiar with, a group of friends decide to take a break and spend their vacation ‘off the grid’ within a cabin deep in the woods. Sounds like your average slasher horror right? Think again! We have the standard horror trope characters - the virgin, the stoner, the jock, the intellectual and the slut. But as the group start to discover the mysteries of the cabin, the layers are pealed away for us as well. You will reach a point where you feel like you’ve guessed the endgame, think again! As everything is turned up another notch and we start to hit batshit crazy territory!

And to be honest that is all I can tell you about the story without spoiling it. I would even go as far to say avoid all further buzz about this movie. Just go and watch it fresh, hell don’t even watch the trailer and definitely avoid spoilers!

Shockingly the filming for the movie actually began in 2009 under MGM studios, but due to the studio filing for bankruptcy in 2010 the movie never reached release. So there it sat, gathering dust until thankfully Lionsgate decided to pick it up. The script only took Whedon and Goddard three days to write and they’ve both expressed that it’s a devotion to classic horror. They feel that a lot of the modern day horror movies have moved a little too close to sadistic torture porn and are actually missing what makes horror great.

Goddard had previously written episodes of both Buffy and Angel with Joss but also Alias and Lost with J.J. Abrams. And trust me it shows, this was his directorial debut (with Joss working second unit) but you wouldn’t have guessed it. Their script and the way the direction is handled is exceptional, layers of tension, action and comedy all built upon each other. They definitely work to show you that the best way to break the rules is to first, know how they work.

All the actors in the group fulfill their allotted roles wonderfully, Kristen Connolly as the slightly shy and nerdy friend who would rather stay and study but is being dragged along anyway. Fran Kranz as the massive stoner who has a different and more paranoid view on life. Chris Hemsworth as the leader and sports star boyfriend. Jesse Williams as his more intellectual best friend and Anna Hutchison as the very outgoing girlfriend whose talent for kissing stuffed animal heads was so raunchy it gave me a bit of a husband bulge!

I cannot finish without mentioning some other noteworthy performances, particularly Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as long suffering co-workers but also lets not forget the awesome Whedon-verse regulars Amy Acker and Tom Lenk make great additions as well. Plus a very special, nudge your friend, jaw dropping cameo...but shhh thats enough of that!

Lets just say if you go down to the woods on April 13th you’ll sure to be in for a big surprise!

Stefan Harkins wants that bong dammit!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Big Game Hunting - Are expansions really worth it?

Instead of reviewing one expansion, I thought I'd do something a bit smart and focus on what expansions bring to games.

Well, aside from the obvious.

We own several (many lots) board games, for which Proud Lion has furnished us with expansions. In fact, we have a standing order for both Death Angel, Battlestar Galactica and Mansions of Madness expansions. I'm going to be reviewing Death Angel later, but I thought I'd focus on the other two this time - Mansions of Madness and Battlestar Galactica.

Mansions of Madness has several expansions, from small to large (in fact, Fantasy Flight the company that makes the board game sent us the fix for the latest large expansion). Some come in boxes, and are quite hefty. Others are smaller Print On Demand expansions - simply cards and little quests. Both contextually add some solid dimension to the games. Season of the Witch, the first expansion, has been amazing. We have really gotten a great deal out of it - and it's the smallest of the expansions.

So, in the case of Mansions of Madness, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the extras - it doesn't just add to the value of the game, it really does give it new depth.

Battlestar Galactica on the other hand has two expansions. With the first one, Pegasus, the gameplay remained remarkably unchanged. Though new characters were introduced (something MoM hasn't done - yet), there wasn't anything ground-breaking, mechanics wise, other than the Resurrection Ships and infiltrating (something which I've never understood tactically - once people know you're a Cylon, you're going to get killed whenever you wreak havoc on the ship. Sabotage comes down to luck at that point).

While the expansions have brought extra pieces, gameplay areas and more to the game, once you get the basics of Battlestar Galactica, bar one new mechanic, you've got it all, in my opinion. Be devious, or don't - either way, you can predict how a game is most likely going to end at the halfway point and none of the expansions have changed that. It may just be the style we play, but you CAN do without - though, that said, the expansions do bring some kick-ass characters. The second final expansion had three different options - one of which brought an interesting mechanic, something I'll be discussing in a later review, but for now I'll just say 'it's nasty'.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that expansions are great - some are better than others - and it depends on the game. If you're bored with the regular play, pop down or find out if the game has an expansion - you might reinvigorate your love for your board game - or discover that there's a new tactic to learn.

This week, Kai is very, very tired but working on the next article - 'The One Ring'.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Why Should I Read... Nemesis?

A conversation, poorly transcribed.

PL: So what are you going to cover next for "Why Should I Read...", Chris?
Chris: I wanted to do a really ambitious piece. I didn't want to do one book, but cover the entire work of one of the most famous and influential writers in comic book history, Alan Moore.
PL: Wow, that's a monster. How will you do it?
Chris: Well, I figured maybe I'd focus on his most well known works, those that have been optioned for movies. Try to make it accessible for people. Watchmen, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, maybe From Hell. How does that sound?
PL: Sounds good. Will look forward to it.

Later, at home, amidst mountains of graphic novels...

Nemesis: Hey Chris? Remember your plan? The Alan Moore plan?
Chris: Yes, Nemesis?

So that's Nemesis. A book created by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, that feels like it could be a life in it's own right. Let's be clear; when Nemesis leapt out at me for this article, I was perusing some of the best graphic novels of all time. Yet somehow, it reached past those other books and yelled out to be talked about.

I am not giving away any more than the blurb on the back of the jacket if I tell you that the premise broached by Nemesis is essentially "What if Batman was a bad guy?". Now, if you are a comic book reader (I'm assuming you at least have a passing interest) stop and ponder that for a moment. All that intelligence, dedication, technology and resource pointed at you, wishing you harm. There's a host of reasons that Batman terrifies criminals. Nemesis allows you to feel their fear, to let you understand why a special kind of lunatic aimed right at you is a special kind of terrifying.

Millar does 'what if' writing wonderfully, and takes on a lot of old comic book staples to do it. All the trademark character profiles from the tired rinse and repeats of the laziest comic book storytelling are right there. Millar takes them all and makes them fresh again, with new dimensions and perspectives that border on genius in their simplicity. This might sound like a contradiction, and it is (sort of) because the new twists Millar puts on these characters are obvious, because they're realistic. So much so in fact, that the result becomes fantastic.

McNiven's art work puts a polished edge to the book, gives it the blockbuster movie feel that is so rightly deserves. It is slick and stylised, and acutely sharp. If a comic could be HD, this one certainly is. The storyline is designed to shock, even in this age of over-exposure and resultant desensitisation. The artwork is clean and honest in order to match up to this, without crossing the line in to unnecessary vulgarity. The fact that Millar and McNiven are no strangers to each other shows in their paralleled work, at a level only attained by true master craftsmen.

Then ultimately, there is Nemesis. A character who, as with many central characters in fictional writing today, is something of a vessel. Not quite empty enough to be unsatisfactory, but enough so that the reader finds it easy to transpose either their own self image or the image of another. Recently this technique has received a lot of criticism because when used unskilfully, it is lazy, and manipulative. Not so here, as the Nemesis character is openly and wonderfully written, that I find myself relishing the opportunity to place myself or others in his cowl.

Nemesis is a modern book. It would be easy for me to make comparisons to a lot of pop culture. Movies like Se7en and Saw (before the franchise became terrible!) sprang to mind while reading. There are the aforementioned Batman comparisons, which are alluded to in its self promotion. It may feel a little too polished for those seeking a gritty independent read. Some people could be put off by the über violence and constant swearing, because this is no golden age book. But I can't help but love this book, it feels so deliciously naughty.

Nemesis is your good looking, confident, over-the-top friend, who says hello by punching you in the balls, swears way too much and is a little too quick to get angry. He doesn't have a proper job but always has money, and no matter how much he offends the girl, he somehow still manages to get her in to bed. He's not a role model, he's not even 'basically a good guy', but by God, you'd hand over your left nut to be him... just for a day.

Chris Boyle is planning his route to the hospital.