Sunday, 29 July 2012

Wishing you a happy summer!

The Proud Lion webcomic will return next month!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Why Should I Read… Barry Ween, Boy Genius?

When you are young, the world is a fantastic place. There are monsters under the bed, fairies at the bottom of the garden, dinosaurs at the park, and grown ups are just too stupid to see it. Every new sight, sound and smell is the first clue to a new adventure that's waiting to be had, just by you. Essentially, you are the centre of the universe, and it's bloody great. Then you get old. School gets hard, then you have to get a job, and that gets hard, and then you have to get a place to live, and a car, and a relationship, and life continues to kick the snot out of you until you forget what it is to be a kid.

Then, if you're lucky, your local purveyor of stories will press this book in to your world-weary hands, you will read it and you will remember.

Barry Ween, Boy Genius is the product of the mind of Judd Winick. Winick has received praise from the likes of Garth Ennis, Jeff Smith and Brian Michael Bendis for Barry Ween. He does have direct ties to DC and Marvel having written for both, so it's not surprising that some of the comic world's heavyweights have been exposed to and subsequently lined up in support of Barry Ween. So if I'm writing this, what the hell can I say that would persuade you to pick it up if their comments don't?

I am not here to give you sound bites. I am not a creator of blurb. But there really is something I can only describe as magical about Barry Ween. It has the same feel as many kids TV programmes from my youth; a child who the world sees as normal while the viewer sees as special. Barry is the most intelligent human ever, and thus uses his knowledge to invent the scientific marvels from all your standard sci-fi plots. Nothing untoward so far. Barry has a friend and sidekick, who only just understands what's going on, and only just stays out of harm's way with Barry's help. Again, staple stuff from kids TV programmes, comic strips and story books. Barry Ween is drawn like a kids book, it's very reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes (which it is unjustly compared to constantly, so ignore that!) or any Beano or Dandy strip ever. But unlike every kids TV programme or book, Barry and his co-characters swear like they were raised in Gordon Ramsay's kitchen. It's certainly not gratuitous, and it's done skilfully and for appropriate affect - less of the "dropping the f-bomb" and more like "shots from the f-sniper". Either way, this book is certainly taking no prisoners and isn't apologising either. Real childhoods have swearing, by the way. Real kids discover swearwords and use them like they invented them, as soon as their parents are out of earshot. Winick knows this, and although at first it simply seems like a comedy tool, after reading you realise there's so much art in the writing, that in fact he's off-setting the over-the-top plots with some 'real' realism.

Barry Ween is a wonderful set of juxtapositions, and the real versus the unreal is just one of the most obvious. The second of which is my personal favourite though; there is a real clash of humour and poignancy that makes this more that a good comic, it makes it a great story. Winick is able to show you the funniest moments of a child that's smarter than everyone else. Things like Barry Ween and his best friend chasing down a stoned Bigfoot intent on eating Barry's parents because he has the munchies. Winick is also able to give you just five panels that instantly show you the utterly heartbreaking loneliness that is a 10-year-old boy who is the most intelligent being alive. The harsh reality of his situation is stark contrast to the unrelenting savagery of the humour, but somehow both are showcased with equal mastery. It left me with the same feeling you get when shown close up magic - you're not sure how it was done, by damn it you can't help but be impressed.

So why should you read Barry Ween? It's a surprising gift of a book. It gives you more than a story. It gives you emotion, it gives you laughter, but I think that most of all, it gives you youth. That's a lot for a book, don't you think?

Chris Boyle is looking forward to the day when his infant son can take over the world...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

New Beginnings - Green Lantern #11

This week we have not so much a new beginning of a title but the re-emergence of a significant character in the Green Lantern universe – the Black Hand as the Corpsman of the Black Lanterns.

For those who aren’t fans or followers of the Green Lanterns, or other Corps from the emotional spectrum, over the last three years we have had two significant events in their histories. Brightest Day and its precursor Blackest Night, in which William Hand was driven to extremes. In a moment of despairing sacrifice he was transformed into the first Black Lantern.

The finale of Blackest Night saw the mysterious Indigo Tribe shackle Hand under their light as he was inducted into the membership. Would this be the end of him?

Geoff Johns is the long standing writer for the GL title, known for his forethought and planning several years in advance. It has not come as any surprise that the most recent Secret of the Indigo Tribe arc that the presence of William Hand was prominent, leading to his decision to once again embrace death rather than rejoin the ranks of the Tribe.

This issue is a clever little piece of work. Whereas it is obviously designed to be a jump-on point for what is going to be the next arc, it also keeps the momentum - and to a degree the animosity - running between Sinestro and Hal. Admittedly it does occasionally feel that a couple of shortcuts have been taken, such as explaining how Hal’s ring is now “fixed”, but ultimately it is the reforging of the Green Lantern's odd couple now that Sinestro is free of his bonds. There are plenty of references to previous actions and moments that have occurred in the GL universe, both pre and post-reboot, which give it a more grounded feeling and add weight to the up and coming arc.

All the while we are also following the Black Hand and his new twisted regime. There is obviously a lighter version of his previous role in the Corps as he seems to be wither unable or uninterested in raising superheroes. Now he has a very specific family orientation towards his goals. What is more noticeable is that the portrayal of him has been amplified and there is a far greater level of psycho here, making him a darker adversary in the making.

As I mentioned before Johns’ planning and use of information is great in these moments, as the reader can find plot anchors to attach to and work from. The best example of this is Sinestro’s acquisition of the Book of the Black from Lyssa Drak. It worked well in the past and now is the cornerstone of the story, moving forward as it provides not only the hideous premonition laced with so many intriguing images for the upcoming Rise of the Third Army, but also lands our protagonists in a cliffhanger situation.

Johns has once again linked with Doug Manke and the old adage “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it” certainly rings true. The artwork is strong and holds the reader incredibly well throughout, even with the changing pace and feelings behind the differing stories. What I liked most, and mentioned a little earlier, is the artwork in the prophecy spread. In typical DC fashion we are given a lot of information which may or may not hold true. There’s surely to be some red herrings as well as important pieces in there too which I am really looking forward to.

As an issue this is one that fans will want to read for all the reasons I’ve given above and so many more. It works as an introduction, a continuation and a development all at once so will appeal to so many audiences. In the GL mythology it is also another page that is opening and giving more information. Followers will love it and non readers looking for something new wouldn’t go wrong with taking a look!

Matt Puddy is loving the beautiful weather!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Carrier bags and charity - The Toy Trust

Hi folks,

Last month marked not only 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 fifth full quarter and together we raised £10.40!

Last time I made a donation to The Samaritans in the memory of the tragic death of Claire Squires during the London Marathon.

This time, I've donated to one of our suppliers - Frank Hanford from Esdevium Games Ltd - who is raising money for The Toy Trust which raises money for disadvantaged children. If you'd like to make a donation of your own, Frank's fundraising page can be found here. More information about The Toy Trust can be found here.

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

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Watcher - The Dark Knight Rises

Hope. The underlying message I got from The Dak Knight Rises was a reminder of the importance of hope.

At the end of the last film, Harvey Dent's crimes were covered up by two men to give Gotham City hope. In some ways it worked, cleaning up the streets with the resulting Dent Act (which in turn feels like a nod to Watchmen), but it robbed those same two men of their own hope and dignity.

I'm not going to recap the whole film. I'm here to comment and review, not summarise. Let's be honest, the chances are you won't read this piece until you've seen it for fear of spoilers. Because I am going to talk about the film in some detail, but as I say, I see no need to recap the story. I suspect you've seen it already! Let's be perfectly clear though, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Gotham is a brighter, cleaner beast this time around. A clear reflection of the eight years that have passed, in which the GCPD have dismantled organised crime with the aforementioned Dent Act. Where the two previous films used Chicago for the principal filming of Gotham, this concluding chapter has relocated to a mixture of Pittsburgh, Newark, Detroit and New York City to portray Bruce Wayne's metropolis. It was a slightly jarring change for me, with only Wayne Manor seeming to be a familiar sight. Ironically, even this filming location has changed - moving from Mentmore Towers during Batman Begins to Wollaton Hall for The Dark Knight Rises. Since the latter was the inspiration for the former, I'd say it was a close enough match to keep a sense of continuity, and of course Wayne Manor had to be rebuilt after the events of that first film.

Thankfully, the returning cast remain as one remembers - a truly excellent ensemble cast, with every member threatening to overshadow Bale as the leading man. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman are once again superb, immediately slipping back into the roles with seeming ease. Michael Caine brings a solid lump to the throat more than once with his heartfelt performance, especially near the end. It's Oldman though who really carries a significant portion of the plotline, as one of the two men who made a bargain that saved their city at the cost of their own hope. This is a father who has lost his family; a dedicated policeman who dearly wishes to absolve his guilt and acknowledge the true hero.

Of course it would be remiss of me not to speak of the other obvious returning actor, Christian Bale, who clearly relishes a chance to reclaim the limelight after being overshadowed both on and off screen by the late Heath Ledger. In The Dark Knight Rises, Wayne has also bargained away his hope and without it he has lost his purpose. A reclusive shut-in, Bruce almost haunts Wayne Manor like the Phantom of the Opera, albeit with a limp and a cane rather than scars and a mask - the toll on his body after time spent abusing it in his vigilante crusade. It's a wonderful reminder that Christopher Nolan's trilogy has been grounded in a sense of realism missing from other superhero films, and a lovely nod to The Dark Knight Returns as part of the pantheon of comic book and graphic novel source material these films have drawn from.

Alongside Frank Miller's most famous - and arguably his greatest - Batman story, the Nolan brothers and David S Goyer have clearly drawn from Knightfall and (surprisingly!) No Man's Land to create this compelling final chapter. There is also a large debt owed by the film to it's progenitor, Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises is filled with snappy flashes of the previous films, artfully used to underline emotional memories. Liam Neeson makes a welcome return as the League Of Shadows re-emerge - Ra's al Ghul reminding us that there is more than one way to be immortal. Rather than the fantastical Lazarus Pits of the comics, Ra's looms over proceedings as a symbol, much as he mentored Bruce to become more than a man; a legend devoted to an ideal.

Of the film's three prominent incoming characters, two have a connection to the man we first knew as a Ducard. Expanding from a line in the first film, Wayne's memory of Ra's Al Ghul remind us that he once "...had a wife, my great love. She was taken from me. Like you, I was forced to learn that there are those without decency that must be fought without hesitation, without pity. Your anger gives you great power, but if you let it, it will destroy you, as it almost did me." Beaten, broken and abandoned, Bruce languishes in a prison designed to instill hope in it's prisoners. The man responsible, Bane, identifies that the man behind the Bat no longer cares or fears death. To truly avenge the League, Bane must give him hope once more, then crush it out of him. It's a chillingly driven motivation and Bruce comes to believe Bane was once the young boy of prison legend - Ra's al Ghul's child, the only person to ever escape that hell. In a forgivably predictable twist though, Batman discovers that Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate is actually Talia al Ghul, as she turns on him in the final act.

Of these two characters and their respective actors, Tom Hardy is a tour de force, resonating undeniable power and presence through his posture, gestures and his eyes - robbed of full facial expressions by the mask. While just coming up short of the Joker, Bane has just enough theatrics to be engaging without coming close to parody. It's a triumph of a performance, laying the abomination that was Robert Swenson's portrayal to rest. My only quibble is that the sound mix on his voice is still wrong. Now it's too loud, as if there are speakers in the mask. It's a shame the dialogue wasn't remastered line by line, because it really doesn't sound like it was. Unlike Hardy, Marion Cotillard is simply bland and lacking in any significant presence. Spending most of the film masquerading as a Gotham socialite and business woman, the twist in her character is almost the closest in unfortunate pantomime the trilogy has ever come, particularly the delivery of her final lines.

Thankfully, Anne Hathaway is a revelation. A truly compelling character, every bit the match for Bruce Wayne both in and out of the mask. Fiercely intelligent, a gifted performer and a graceful acrobat/fighter, Selina Kyle is never labelled as Catwoman. Instead this is a believable character with understandable motivations and even friends outside of male paramours. Well, a friend. But still, another triumph. This is the de facto Selina Kyle for me now, rivalling Ledger's Joker in terms of defining - rather than reinventing - the character.

Saving the best for last though, it's Joseph Gordon Levitt who makes the film for me. The one man in the cast who holds on to hope, he galvanises both Gordon and Wayne back into action. A new character, John Blake is clearly influenced by a hybrid of Dick Grayson - an orphan whose life was helped by both Bruce Wayne and Batman - and Tim Drake - as the one young man in Gotham smart enough to work out that those two benefactors are one and the same.

The revelation that his true first name is Robin - a name he never cared for - and that Bruce has bequeathed him the Batcave in that name just feels right. He's a street level cop that impresses Gordon enough to make detective during the crisis - a nod to Dick Grayson's career in Blüdhaven I felt. Driven by his own parents deaths, Blake gives us a street level view of the police as Bane tears any sense of order from Gotham - a journey that takes him from an everyman rookie cop to the successor of the Bat cowl. I'm glad Nolan is closing the story as a trilogy, but it's nice to feel that the legend lives on.

The Dark Knight Rises is a great film, though I have to say that The Dark Knight edges it out for me. ...Rises has a few niggling issues, such as the issues with the sound mix and the change of locations for Gotham, plus Bruce Wayne's recovery does seem rather quick all in all. I feel that Nolan would have done better to show us the length of time that Gotham endures Bane's reign, so we might better understand quite how long it takes the Batman to rise again.

There are also numerous Chekov's Guns in the film, all deftly set up and fired, but quantity does not mitigate the plot device quality of the resolution of each. While this is mostly preferable to a sudden deus ex machina, it was still slightly jarring to realise I was suddenly checking off different elements from the film's exposition as they individually came to a head. Still, it held my attention for almost three hours and that's no mean feat when I'm shattered!

I have to say I do still wonder if this is the film we would have gotten if not for Heath Ledger's tragic demise. As I have said, The Dark Knight Rises it definitely a return to the themes and indeed some of the characters of Batman Begins, whereas perhaps we would have seen continued the escalation that The Dark Knight embodied were the Joker still available to the storytellers. I guess we'll never know.

The Dark Knight trilogy of Nolan Batman movies is over and each film is a towering achievement over the DC films that went before. After the brief teaser, I'm looking forward to seeing if Nolan can now guide Zack Snyder to similar lofty heights with Man Of Steel.

You could say I have high hopes.

Ben Fardon is very tired from the late night screening and moving house, but it's all been worth it!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

New Beginnings - Captain Marvel #1

This week we have a new beginning in the form of a character taking over a title to make it her own.

Carol Danvers' fantastic new costume, designed by Jamie McKelvie! (cover image by Ed McGuinness)

For years Carol Danvers has gone by the name of Ms Marvel, Warbird or Binary, but no matter what the title she takes she has always been a strong woman in an otherwise male dominated world. Even in her “civilian” side she has made herself formidable by carrying the rank of Major (a point that is hinted at in the issue where she outranks Captain America) and now she is striking out once more on her own.

The Ms Marvel character has been around for over 50 years now and in that time has had some major roles to play. She has led the Avengers at points and was instrumental in rallying against Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers leading up to Siege. Prior to this she was also a central character towards the end of the Skrull attack in Secret Invasion. Going further back she has also had a lot of turmoil and trouble to build herself from but all the time she has kept strong to her own principals.

It's a massive improvement over her old costume (see box out on the lefthand side of this page)...

Now we see where Kelly Sue Deconnick can take her.

This issue is, in essence, a fantastic little jump on point for anyone. I wanted to get that out right at the beginning as I think it holds a lot of merit. I’ve known of the character for a long time but thought much of her. It’s fair to say that this issue has totally changed my opinion of Carol Danvers.

The forthcoming cover for Captain Marvel #3.

The story opens with Ms Marvel and Captain America trying to take down a somewhat intellectually challenged Absorbing Man. He’s never been the brightest of villains, with the more recent hammer incident (see Fear Itself) effecting him even further, so his quest to obtain a piece of moon rock to gain “moon powers” is perfectly sound in his mind yet outrageously naïve to the reader. The fight between himself and the team of Marvel and Cap is almost a non-event but serves well enough to provide the opportunity that Cap needs to get them both talking, culminating in the suggestion that she should take the name, and further the legacy, of Captain Marvel.

Understandably Carol is at first reluctant as she holds the image and meaning of Captain Marvel close to her, so we get to see the thought process and internal struggle that she has through the remainder of the issue over whether or not she should take up the name and it is well thought out and followed by DeConnick. I’ve really liked that there is a huge human influence played over the thought process for someone who is now essentially a human-kree hybrid. We are presented with a strong, smart and emotional female who can be identified on a number of levels. I’m not saying that there is a feminist angle to her but if anyone wanted to use her as a good portrayal of it all they wouldn’t have to try hard.

It really would make a great poster!

The artwork is provided by Dexter Soy and if honest at first I felt it was a little heavy. However, the more I read the more fitting it felt as this is a heavy introduction for Marvel. Even during a physical training session with Spider-Man you can feel the gravitas behind it all, despite Webhead's trademark jibes and quips. The palette supports this even further by being colourful yet muted with darker tones. This all fits and pays off no end when you see the fantastic final panel. This is an image that is massively poster worthy in my eyes and I loved it.

As a first issue I think this hits a great number of different notes. New and old fans will love it and I strongly suggest getting it even to just take a short look and appreciate the costume!

Matt Puddy was truly taken by surprise by this issue!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Bad Machinery VS Gunnerkrigg Court

Recently I’ve had cause to feel ‘British‘. A few weeks ago we celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and used the event to reaffirm our national identity. On the horizon is the particularly huge event of the London Olympics, where we’ll show off our national identity to the world. And at the time of writing, the internationally recognised Wimbledon tennis tournament is in full swing. With that in mind, this week’s Two To Review are both created by Brits! Unfortunately I’ve mentioned both of these webcomics in previous articles, but I’ll strive to cover new(ish) ground.

Bad Machinery is a story-arc driven webcomic created by John Allison, and is a quasi-sequel to the previous “finished” comic Scary-Go-Round, following the younger siblings, relatives and friends of the now adulthood prior protagonists who make guest appearances from time to time. The story is set in the fictional British town of Tackleford, usually centred around the local school and the interactions between a group of three boys and three girls who attend there. But the social interactions and clumsy progression through adolescence are only half the story, as the inquisitive kids often stumble across mysteries to be solved, often with supernatural or unusual denouements.

The art style is appropriately reminiscent of something you’d doodle in the margin of a school textbook, only extrapolated and improved in every way. In fact, many aspects of the strip remind me of my old school days, the friends and enemies, the bullies and teachers. And the classrooms are spot on! It's like a slice of authentic British childhood has been condensed and chronicled, but with added aliens and magic pencils to spice up the boring parts of real life. I can literally smell the pencil shavings. The dialogue is often hilarious, I especially enjoy the snippets in the teacher’s lounge where the grown-ups are usually seen dealing with problems parallel to the kids in both theme and attitude!

Now usually I use this space to go over any negatives a webcomic might have, to provide a balanced and rounded view. But I’m having real difficulty picking up on anything wrong with this one! Of course, the focus on adolescent friendships and relationships won’t be for everyone’s taste, but I think that’s more than made up for by mysterious curses and funny bridge trolls. The worst thing that can be levelled at this strip is that it sometimes relies too heavily on deus ex machina - random luck - to resolve certain conflicts.

Gunnerkrigg Court is a long-form webcomic split up into easy-to-digest chapters created by Tom Siddell. The webcomic follows the main protagonist Antimony (Annie) Carver during her time in Gunnerkrigg Court, an odd school that’s more than it first appears. Whereas in Bad Machinery the school is a relatively normal background with unusual elements, here the school is extraordinary with some ordinary elements. To begin with, Annie is the seemingly normal new kid exploring the school and making friends. Over time we find out just how extraordinary Annie actually is, and what her greater role in the Court might be.

The biggest plus of this strip is the atmosphere; everything is full of mystery and intrigue, and the gloomy Court is wonderfully realised. The artwork is habitually beautiful, and I do find myself staring at certain pages for much longer than necessary, drinking in the detail. There’s a lot of deeper ideas going on as well, with one of the main themes being duality: clinical cold science versus instinctive chaotic magic, the Court and the contradictory surrounding Forest, and most importantly the strong bond of friendship between Annie and fellow pupil Kat Donlan. I love the way relationships like this friendship - and others between secondary characters - help ground the experience and actually allow you to get pulled in to this world.

Unfortunately I do have a few minor complaints with this one. At times, things can lean too much towards the abstract for my tastes. Visits into dreams, the spirit world and the like are usually packed with symbolism often left unexplained, and can lead to plot headaches. It is fun to try and deduce what’s going on when (for example) the local psychopathic, semi-psychic girl, Zimmy invites you into the world in her head, and thankfully the strip doesn’t fall into the same pitfall as the TV show Lost by not giving enough eventual answers, but I can’t help wishing I were a smarter person sometimes whilst reading it. Also to note in the minus column is the odd artistic decision to shape Annie’s head like a rugby ball for the first few chapters, but thankfully the artwork has improved and evolved over time.

The verdict for these two strips was hard to reach, as they are both personal favourites of mine, and both are excellent webcomics. However, in the end I decided that Gunnerkrigg Court just edges it, because I feel I have more of an emotional investment in that story.

Todd Marsh has trouble describing strong thoughts and feelings, and resorts to overly long words instead.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Watcher - Amazing Spider-Man

Just over ten years ago now, I went to see a big new superhero film with a group of friends. Everyone was excited thanks to the trailers, the cult director involved and the merchandising hype that was kicking in. After two hours in a darkened room we emerged into a warm early summer's evening and promptly headed to the pub.

My friends were all impressed and I remember animated conversation as we sat around our favourite table with our drinks of choice. But I was sat in the corner feeling glum. I was disappointed. The movie had felt wrong to me. The casting was wrong, the CGI was terrible and the villain looked like a bloody Power Ranger!

As a young teenager, I'd been a big fan of Batman: The Animated Series and the X-Men cartoon. The Spider-Man cartoon that followed was the Spider-Man I grew up with, and perhaps it's fair to say Sam Raimi created a movie that harkened back to the Spidey he grew with some decades previously. So maybe I wasn't his target market. 

But since I discovered proper American comics in the late Nineties, I've watched Marvel make numerous adjustments to the Spider-Man franchise, and yet the central character's baseline personality remains the same. Frankly, Tobey Maguire did not embody those qualities.

Whine, whine, whine. *headdesk*
The biggest problem for me was he whined, rather than quipped. This is where Andrew Garfield shines in this fresh new adaptation of the wallcrawler. He brings an emotional range to the role that was missing from the previous franchise. Rounding out the cast are the lovely Emma Stone, the excellent Martin Sheen and the perfectly measured Rhys Ifans. Marc Webb's film focuses on the human drama of Spider-Man, adeptly retelling the origin without labouring it. And gone are the maddeningly dull conversations through a chain link fence that seemed to make up an uncomfortable chunk of the first Spider-Man film.

With leaps in filmmaking technology, it feels like any good director can make a half-decent action film, but bad action movie directors simply don't make good character drama. I'm looking at you, Michael Bay. At points Amazing Spider-Man looks like a Steve Ditko or Todd McFarlane drawing come to life, and whilst that made this fanboy gasp, it was the emotional narrative that kept this filmlover engaged throughout. From flashbacks to Peter's early years, through to the fateful encounter with a spider and onto the discovery and exploration of his new powers, I found myself swept along and pleased with the results. It felt right. This felt like the Peter Parker from the Nineties animated show, or comics such as JMS' run or Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man. Gwen Stacey and her father have great scenes with one another and the eponymous hero, both in and out of the costume. And the fateful scene where Peter's inaction leads to Uncle Ben's demise is a believable and tragic chain of events rather than a clumsy shock.

It's also an adaptation that's confident enough to hold things back for later outings. There's no sign of Mary Jane here, fitting since the character didn't properly show up until issue #42 of the original comic. A copy of the Daily Bugle is seen, but there's no sign of J Jonah Jameson yet (though Peter is a school photographer so this avenue of making money seems destined to come a-calling in the sequels). Finally, while Oscorp is a big part of this movie, Norman Osborn himself is mentioned but kept off-camera. Clever choices throughout.

It's not a perfect movie however, despite my happiness with most of it. It seems that the negative feedback from many decrying this new reboot as "too soon" after Spider-Man 3 has left the scriptwriters desperate to not repeat anything we have seen before, despite wanting to still follow the iconic beats of Spider-Man's origin. In some places that works, and the ridiculous wrestling scene is thankfully omitted this time around, save for a cute little wink and a nod. Sadly there is much more desperation in their attempts to rework the way Uncle Ben tries to impart his renowned ideology to Peter. Numerous synonyms and alternative allusions are offered up in place of the simple, "With great power, comes great responsibility."

Hopefully Peter will have distilled his Uncle's (or indeed, Voltaire's) wisdom into that soundbite by the time Amazing Spider-Man 2 rolls around. Admittedly, in the original comics, this line was part of the summary narration rather than something Uncle Ben actually said, though it was later attributed to him through the joys of retroactive continuity.

See, no snout!
Similarly the design of the Lizard had seemed misjudged to me too, until a customer pointed out that his first appearance in the comics didn't feature the iconic snout. So despite evoking more of a sense of the Nineties Spidey for me than the Raimi films, if anything Webb's offering is even more faithful to the originals!

Plus, you know, real webshooters rather than ridiculous wrist nipples.

'Nuff said.

Amazing Spider-Man shows that Sony - like Fox with X-Men First Class - are taking note of the trail blazed by Marvel Studios with the Avengers movies and are pulling their socks up accordingly. It's a great time to be a fan of superhero movies!

Ben Fardon will admit to being misogynistic enough to miss the upside down kiss and rainsoaked wet t-shirt from the first Spider-Man movie. But the alternative first kiss in Amazing Spider-Man is classy, to the point of theatrical magic. Love it!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Big Game Hunting - Lost Cities

Lost Cities is ideal for introducing new players to something different from classic card games. While it has a unique flavour and custom cards, it also has just enough familiarity to be easy to understand for anyone who's played with a deck of cards.

"Son, you should have gone to the bathroom before we left!" 

The aim of the game is to go on “expeditions” to lost cities in order to earn points. There are five possible expeditions, each with their own coloured cards to identify them. On every turn, a player must play or discard a card, then draw a new one from either the deck or the discard piles. You must play cards in numerical order to go on expeditions. Each card you play earns you that number of points – but at the cost of 20 points for each expedition! If you begin an expedition with a $ card, the cost for that expedition is doubled, but so are the points you earn back. The game ends when there are no more cards to draw from the deck, and the player with the most points wins.

This game has many things going for it. It is designed for two players, and there are variations available to increase that to three or four players if you have an extra deck. The game is well balanced between both strategy and luck, giving any player the ability to win, no matter how much playing experience they have. This balance also exists between the strategy of gaining points and preventing your opponent from gaining points – focusing on just one or the other is likely to fail, making the game more of a challenge.

Happy Meeple!

The good does not entirely mask the bad, however. Like many other games by the designer, Reiner Knizia, this game is all about the numbers. This can be a bit of a turn-off for people who don't want to spend their game time working with maths. It is also notable that due to the mechanics of scoring, it is entirely possible – if not likely – to end up with negative scores, which can be a frustrating experience at best.

If you like card games and are looking for something quick to play and easy to learn, Lost Cities may be just what you're looking for. If you want to give the game a try online, it is available when you register a free account on the Happy Meeple website.

Rae is glad the move is almost over...

Thursday, 5 July 2012

New Beginnings - Wolverine #310

Now as I start to write this I have the thought in my head that anyone reading will wonder why this is a new beginning. Wolverine is not a new character, it's not a new team and no one has any new powers. It doesn't even a new issue #1. And it's being released in the wrong order. So why, I envisage you asking, is this coming up now?

A while back Jeph Loeb wrote a storyline called 'Evolution', a run that every Wolverine fan will have likely cherished. The age old foe who constantly tried to break and wear him down finally met his end at Logan’s hands - Wolverine unceremoniously removed Sabretooth’s head from his shoulders.

Which in turn leads me back to this issue - Wolverine #310, the start of a new run by Loeb where Sabretooth has his new beginning, back from the dead.

The story starts with Wolverine scaling the Empire State building in a daring rescue of Cloak, a young but fairly well known and quite powerful mutant who has been chained to the spire by Romulus. In his weakened state and whilst plummeting toward the pavement Cloak reveals that not only has Dagger been kidnapped but it was used to force Cloak to release Romulus from the darkness dimension. What Loeb has done in a matter of pages is play on nearly every driver and motivator that is found within Wolverine - all of which gives the reader a strong investment in the story.

Of course the major pull throughout this issue is the thought of Sabretooth being out there somewhere and by specifically not bringing anything more than rumours and broken stories, Loeb creates an feeling of is he/isn’t he. That said, as a reader, we know the answer because of marketing and previews. What you may or may not know though is who the mysterious, yet also familiar, female character is...

There is some very clever usage of personality, location and reaction in this story meaning that it is very easy to get swept along with it whilst also taking it all in.

As with Loeb’s previous story Simone Bianchi has provided the artwork. In one respect, seeing as these are both huge moments the continuity, it provides a fantastic connection for the audience and will immediately become a comfortable continuation. For those who have not read the previous arc the artwork is full of detail and depth, always giving you something to look at. My only criticism is that in some places - where Bianchi is trying to almost be too good - faces can be distorted due to the perspective, and although probably correct this gives an odd view of it all. One specific example of this was when Wolverine was checking his prior actions and he almost looks like some sort of downtrodden hound.

Aside from that it is a great looking comic. Even the fireside fracas jumps off the page at you but is drawn in such a way that it has layers.

This is a fantastic comic and should be picked up by any Wolverine fan. For new readers it may be a bit tricky as you won’t know all the relationships (including the mystery woman) but you can still enjoy it as a comic and get involved all the same.

Matt Puddy destroyed a pair of trainers at the weekend and enjoyed every minute of it!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Watcher - Storage 24

A plane crash over central London causes mayhem, a small group of people are stuck within a storage facility warehouse called Storage 24 and something else is stuck in there with them...

Storage 24 is directed by Johannes Roberts and written/produced by its lead star, Mr Noel Clarke. Clarke plays Charlie, a man who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend and isn’t particularly dealing with it well. Along with his best friend Mark, Charlie heads to Storage 24 in order to collect some of his belongings after his recent breakup. But of course it turns out his ex Shelley and her friends Nikki and Chris are there also doing the same.

After the plane crashes things within the storage warehouse begin to go a bit haywire. Phone signals are dead and the power keeps cutting out, which then of course causes the lights and security systems to fail. Locking everyone in, A perfect situation for a creature attack. And attack it does!

The plane seemed to be holding a very secret cargo, one which doesn’t like people very much (or being dropped from a plane!). A strange biped insect-like creature which leaves a trail of gooey white substance and mutilated bodies where it goes while it stalks the inhabitants of the warehouse.

Johannes Roberts manages to keep the pace tense by not showing the creature off right away, but when it is seen in full I found the visual effects very well created. The creature itself seems to be mostly made up of prosthetics with very little use of CGI (that I noticed anyway!), but still manages to look realistic and not naff. The sound also plays a big part in the intensity of movie - as it does with most movies of this nature - but admittedly I found things a little loud. Now I am not sure wether this was supposed to be the effect (for shock value) or whether it was just a decision by the cinema I saw it in.

A lot of the characters aren’t particularly likable, apart from Charlie of course but then I think this may be the point. I found myself rooting for the  creature at several points. Some small but very entertaining supporting roles filled by Alex Price as the desk attendant who is bored with his job and feels he shouldn’t be there and Ned Dennehy as a crazy man who is hiding away from his ex-wife by living in the storage warehouse. Both of these had me laughing out loud several times.

A very British movie mostly set in an identikit corridor storage warehouse which succeeds in entertaining on a small budget and includes elements of horror, action and comedy. Not a lot of films can boast this. Also look out for a humorous use of a small yappy dog toy and an ending which teases the future lives of our survivors.

I really did enjoy the film and would recommend others to see it but I honestly wouldn’t rush to see it again, definitely a rental for a fun evening at home with a group of friends.

Stefan Harkins is almost house trained.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Big Game Hunting - Forbidden Island

As much as I love a good competitive, every-gamer-for-themselves kind of game, sometimes it makes a nice change of pace to instead go for a cooperative game. Cooperative board games can't help but feature a great deal of player interaction, as all the players have to work together to have a hope of winning. Forbidden Island is one of these games, and proves that fact very well.

The aim of the game is to recover four treasures from the forbidden island before it sinks into the ocean forever. The board is made up of several tiles that can be set in several configurations, and each tile is a unique location. Players go through three phases on every turn: actions, draw, and flood. During the action phase, you can move to or "shore up" a tile, trade cards with another player, or capture a treasure. In the draw phase you take two cards from the treasure deck, which contains cards for each treasure, as well as special cards than can help or hinder you. In the flood phase, the flood deck is activated, and any tiles matching the revealed cards will be flooded.

The concept is relatively simple. You need four of the five treasure cards to capture a treasure, you can only interact with players on the same tile as you (unless you have a special ability or card that says otherwise), and you need to capture all four treasures and return to the escape point (the aptly named Fool's Landing) before it all disappears. But getting to grips with all the rules at once can feel like overload, making the first game or two enjoyable, but more difficult than expected.

What makes this game so incredibly challenging, though, is the nature of the "flooding" that takes place in every turn. There is no way to escape it, and even methods to reverse tiles being flooded - shoring up, using special sandbags cards - can only hold off the inevitable for so long. To make it worse, if the flood card for an already flooded tile is revealed, that tile disappears for good. This can cut off vital access to getting the treasures you need, or can even make you lose the game if the wrong tiles sink too soon! And if that's not enough, the dreaded "Waters Rise" cards scattered throughout the treasure deck not only increase the number of tiles that flood each turn, but also move the revealed cards back to the top of the deck, making it even more likely those tiles will sink.

The drawbacks to this game style are fairly obvious. There is only one way to win, yet there are several ways to lose, potentially making this a depressing game if you have a streak of bad luck. The less players you have, the more difficult it becomes to reach the end goal, as two players will need to do twice as much as four to achieve the same result. It also begins to feel very repetitive after a few games. The ability to change the board configuration seems to be the only thing saving it from becoming a game you play maybe three times before giving up for something with more replay value.

If you've got a group of friends that are keen to try a more challenging gateway game that requires a lot of cooperative play, a little strategy, and a bucket of luck, Forbidden Island may be just the thing. An iOS version for iPad is also available.

Rae is enjoying not having to get up at stupid-O'clock in the morning any more!

Sunday, 1 July 2012