Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Watcher - Men In Black 3

Agents J and K are back! It’s been ten years since we last saw the agents in black who secretly protect the Earth from a constant alien threat. Once again directed by Barry Sonnenfeld the third movie in the MiB series starts with the introduction of Boris the Animal ("It's just Boris!") played by Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Concords fame. It’s nice to see him in such a contrasting role compared to his normal comedic self. When we first meet Boris the Animal he is being kept prisoner in Lunamax which is a penal facility on the moon designed specifically for him. Of course he escapes and plans to get revenge on the man who put him there - K (Tommy Lee Jones).


Back in MiB headquarters, J and K and its other members are mourning the loss of Agent Z (excellently portrayed by somewhat disgraced Rip Torn in the previous two installments), now running things is Agent O (Emma Thompson). I personally think it's a shame that Z couldn’t return as I always felt like he was an integral part of MiB universe.

Boris the Animal plans to return to the year 1969, stop his arrest and kill Agent K in the process. So it's up to Agent J (Will Smith) to go back to '69 before Boris arrives and stop his nefarious plans. In order to do this J has to ‘time jump’ which literally involves jumping off something really high (and no I don’t mean while stoned!). The visual effects involved in this really lend to the 3D depth effect as when J is falling he actually falls through different time periods, I enjoyed this more than most other recent 3D additions to movies.

 
Once successfully back in the Sixties, J manages to find Boris but is actually apprehended before he can succeed in killing him. By whom? The young Agent K! Josh Brolin portrays the young K wonderfully, he manages to capture Tommy Lee Jones’ performance, mannerisms and voice so much so I couldn’t believe it wasn’t actually him at first! Because of J’s alien tech he is taken back to MiB headquarters and interrogated by K, he seems friendlier but doesn’t trust J. It eventually takes the truth, that J is in fact from the future for K to believe him. While on the hunt for clues they go to ‘The Factory’ and meet Andy Warhol who is secretly the great Bill Hader in disguise and an alien called Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg).

Griffin has a unique skill - he can see alternate dimensions simultaneously and thus predict the future, which helps! He informs the agents that in order to deploy the ArcNet (a shield to protect earth from the Bogladites - Boris’ species) they would have to attach it to the top of Apollo 11 before it is launched the very next day.


J, K and Griffin make their way to Cape Canaveral on massive rockets of their own! Security make things difficult once they arrive but with the help of Griffin and his talents they get escorted to the launch gantry to reach the rocket's top. Not only is Boris the Animal there ready to stop them but so is his other self - double trouble! Both agents battle their own Boris and finally succeed in deploying the ArcNet.

Certain things in this film do not quite feel right, the lack of Z in both the present and the past, K’s relationship with O (why isn’t this mentioned in the future?) and both Smith and Jones feel like they are just going through the motions. That said I did enjoy it! About the same level as the previous outings, the third movie is worth watching for the gross effects and fun 3D as well as some brilliant performances by the supporting cast - Michael Stuhlbarg, Bill Hader and of course the star player Josh Brolin.

Defend the galaxy, learn its secrets and remember just look into the light... *FLASH!*

Stefan Harkins is still sniggering at the use of the word 'penal'!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

New Beginnings - Higher Earth #1

This week’s new comic is from Boom Studios, a relative baby in the comic book company stakes compared to the big two or publishers like Image and Dark Horse. However, having only been formed in 2005 has not stopped Boom from having some massive names on their credits list such as Abnett and Lanning, Mark Waid and Keiron Gillen to name just a couple. Their catalogue of titles is also very extensive with some well known brands too. They were the first comic book company to offer digital release copies of their comics on release day so they certainly haven’t been slacking either in the innovation stakes either.


Higher Earth is a brand new comic for them with no forerunner and no piggy backing from any other titles and at just $1 for the first issue it has a certain appeal too.

In a slightly similar way the writer, Sam Humphries, is also very new as well. Akin to Boom itself Sam also hasn’t been slacking and has been noticed by Marvel as an up and coming writer according to the rumours.


The story is set across multiple worlds not just the opening junkyard dystopia that the reader is greeted with. Here we have almost a slum landscape where survival of the fittest seems to be the main order of the day but also the fight for precious trinkets and novelties keep people going. Francesco Biagini has painted quite a devolved and dirty image and landscape, as if the land surrounding Mega City One in Judge Dredd had been introduced to the shanty towns of India. Our heroine, Heidi, is a native of this land and very quickly we are also introduced to Rex, a rogue soldier who knows a lot about her.

It seems that destiny has other ideas for Heidi and not on this Earth - we are quickly introduced to the concept that if you punch a hole through space you will find another Earth beneath you, and beneath that and so on. There are hundreds of different realities all stacked upon each other so why not move up through them instead? Given a mere minute to choose Heidi has to decide whether she is staying in the wastes or moving up through the realities. After a tumultuous arrival and gaining herself the illegal “immigrant” status she arrives in Sunshine Earth 9.



As far as stories go it’s certainly different but I found myself mentally referencing a number of different films where I felt influences had come from either in physical form or a subtle feeling. I’m sure the phrase “come with me if you want to live” wouldn’t have gone amiss. Even the artwork reflects this in some cases such as the final panel which lets the eye fall away into a massive city which is heavy in contrast to the previous pages.

My concern is that is it deep enough though? The artwork can come across sometimes a little shallow with faces not carrying as much emotion as other artists could, yet in other cases you get a fantastic spread of colour and landscape.


Humphries’ story also isn’t as deep as you may like. Details and ideas are presented - though not forced - in a convenient way as it needs to build a premise quickly. It does make it feel as if the first issue has been rushed though and you’re left knowing nothing about where it will go. This may be a massive draw for some but didn’t quite hook me.

Potentially still one to follow though; if Humphries is a new big name then this is where beginnings are also made.

Matt Puddy is preparing to love or loathe Before Watchmen...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Big Game Hunting - TableTop

If you enjoy games and haven't yet seen TableTop, you are truly missing out on a great webshow. TableTop, written and hosted by Wil Wheaton, is a series that aims to introduce people to table top gaming, and get them interested in the many different games out there. With four episodes aired and a new episode due this Friday, it's already doing a fantastic job.


So far the show has covered a good range of board games, such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Zombie Dice. The show is structured with an introduction to the game by Wil to explain the basic concept and rules. This is followed by twenty minutes of gameplay, where any additional notes or rules are explained as they appear. These are often shown as screen overlays, providing information without slowing down the skillful pacing of the show. Every game is described in just enough detail to be able to follow along without difficulty.


However, not every aspect of gameplay is explained particularly well. In every game, there seems to be a few things that are left out. Sometimes information is left far too late into the episode, such as the importance of re-deploying units in Small World. Other times an important facet of the game is barely touched on, and not featured at all in the gameplay. This is particularly true in Settlers of Catan, where the ability to trade with the bank and the usefulness of port settlements is all but ignored.

Each episode also features several guest players. The list of guests so far has provided a very good mix of people, ranging from people who play games all the time to those who have played a game of Monopoly or two. So far we've seen the likes of Jenna Busch, Grant Imahara, Freddie Wong, James Kyson and several others. Wil Wheaton's wife Anne has even joined in! This mix allows for a great deal of banter and plenty of energy in the episodes, making them a joy to watch.


Well, this is true for most episodes, at least. The second in the series, which features Settlers of Catan, is by far the least entertaining of the bunch. The conversation is often limited to players trying to trade resources, and the energy in the game is almost nonexistent. It must be said that watching a game of Settlers is always less entertaining than playing it, but this one quickly becomes tedious.


Even with its flaws, TableTop achieves what it sets out to do, and has shown me a few new games that have since become personal favourites. There's possibly no better way to get a bird's eye view of how these games are played and introduce them to new players. Each episode also links to player interviews and gag reals for additional content if the episodes themselves aren't enough!

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

Monday, 28 May 2012

Opening Times - Bank Holidays and new comic delivery dates in June


Make a note folks. Due to the Bank Holiday weekend and the Queen's Jubilee, Proud Lion will be closed Sunday 3rd June through to Tuesday 5th June.

The shop will re-open for business on Wednesday 6th June. New comics will arrive for the first half of June on Thursdays. So that's Thursday 7th and Thursday 14th June. It will then return to Wednesdays for the rest of June - Wednesday 20th and Wednesday 27th June.

Starting from June however, Proud Lion will now open on the last Monday of the month from midday - 2pm, giving those of you who always have Sundays-Mondays off as well, a chance to pop in to the store. I appreciate it's only a small window, so plan accordingly. That starts with Monday 25th June.

Finally, please note that Proud Lion will not open until midday on Tuesday 29th May. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Reluctant Geek - Superheroes, sidekicks and storytelling… What makes a superhero?

So, if you were thinking of going on some kind of Geek hunt (it’s like an Easter Egg hunt only with less chocolate) around Cheltenham, there would be some obvious locations to begin. Proud Lion itself would have to be number one port of call of course, followed by Cineworld (particularly if it’s showing sci-fi or fantasy). Otherwise, popular stereotypes would have us believe that the rest of Gloucestershire’s geek population would be found in tiny isolated pockets, playing Diablo 3 in darkened basements or painting Games Workshop models in garages.

But, as you know, we’re all about defying stereotypes over here at the Proud Lion blog. Being a geek doesn’t have to mean poor social skills and an aversion to sunlight (I think you’ll find that’s vampires).  So a trip to the Parabola Arts Centre to see an amazing new show about superheroes ticks both the ‘relevant to my interests’ box and the ‘challenging societal expectations’ box. What do you have to lose?


The Adventures of  Wound Man and Shirley is a one man show about Shirley, a teenage boy with a girl’s name, growing up in suburbia and feeling like the weirdest kid in the school. (We’ve all been there right? Although, to be fair, in my case having a girl’s name was less traumatic…)

Nothing makes much sense to Shirley and he’s under the thrall of unrequited love, but life gets infinitely more interesting when a strange new resident moves into a house on Shirley’s street — and he just so happens to have a vacancy for a teenage sidekick...

It’s fair to say that Wound Man is an unconventional kind of superhero; sprung from the pages of a medical textbook from the middle ages, with an alarming assortment of weapons sticking out from every part of his body like some kind of medieval porcupine. Shirley, by contrast, is something of a dreamer — a romantic at heart, whose obsessions are astronomy, comic books, and an array of indie music and uncool pop. Together they embark on a series of wildly unsuccessful heroic interventions, as relayed by the irrepressible and endlessly engaging Chris Goode.


So what does a character based on a medical diagram showing an array of fun and exciting ways to be injured in 16th century battles really know about being a superhero? What makes a superhero in the first place? And these days, should we perhaps be using a more politically correct term?  ‘Freelance Social Interventionists assemble!’ does have a certain ring to it after all…

Linguistic quibbles aside, superhero-dom does require certain key attributes, so does Wound Man fit the bill?

The hook…

– Wound Man. My name’s Wound Man.
Shirley stops himself from saying that’s a funny sort of name because what sort of a name for a boy is Shirley. But Wound Man sees the thought move behind Shirley’s eyes.



– It’s not my, what do you call it, my birth name. It’s my… professional name.


It is said that every superhero needs an identifying feature or hook, and for Wound Man this may literally be the case, since there’s bound to be one sticking out of him somewhere. But on a basic level, a name and a superpower/quirk are essential for the superhero looking to stand out from the crowd.

The superpower…

–  Like, do you have, superpowers?

– Well, I don’t fly, if that’s what you mean. I’m not quite as aerodynamic as I’d like to be. One’s practice is not so spectacular, anyway. It’s rather more… grass roots. The sector’s changed a lot in the last twenty years. We’re more about sustainable engagement now. We’re not just in and out. We try to apply a more dimensionalized perspective to the challenges we’re dealing with. It’s all about empowering other people really.

– Can you see through people’s clothes though? says Shirley.

– No, says Wound Man. That’s a rather more 70s vibe.

– Not even, like, women’s bras and stuff?

– No, says Wound Man.

Ah, X-ray vision. The superpower dreamed of by teenage boys everywhere. Wound Man takes a more post-modern approach, and at any rate, as he says all of those knives and axes sticking out all over the place don’t exactly make for aerodynamic efficiency. Sometimes though, we have to look beyond the literal to see the superpower which is where Wound Man comes in.

The sidekick…

– But do you need a sidekick? Possibly? You’ve probably got one already. I just thought with the move and everything…

Wound Man looks up from the sponsorship form. He looks straight at Shirley with a kind of intensity that Shirley could easily believe was a superpower anyway. For a second or two Shirley feels more naked than if Wound Man could see through his clothes to his skin and through his skin to the goo on the inside.

Wound Man blinks once, twice. It makes no sound.

Shirley realizes with a jolt that there are tears in Wound Man’s eyes. He looks away.

Being a Superhero can be a lonely business. And everyone knows that the most interesting superheroes are defined by their ability (or lack thereof) to relate to those around them. Think Batman, Robin and some homoerotic banter. No really, think about it. I know I am… Sorry, drifted off there. Often, sidekicks provide a kind of youthful, less cynical mirror for the superheroes they aid. And maybe Shirley is in some ways Wound Man before all the wounds.

The cause…

The reason that Wound Man hates the Reg Parsleys of the world is that he has to lie to them. Because they can’t hear anything complicated. They don’t understand that it’s not all black and white. So he has to talk white. And they all hear black regardless. Reg surveys the kitchen. The postcard of the boy on the fridge.

– That another one, is it?

– Another one what? says Wound Man.

– I’m sure I shouldn’t like to say, says Reg.

Every weapon in Wound Man’s body feels like it just went in.

– I take it you’ve never had a sidekick, Mr Parsley, says Wound Man. You don’t have the air of a man who’s ever had a sidekick.

Reg just smiles. Wound Man’s seen that smile so many times and every time he understands it a little bit less.

– Well I won’t hold you up any longer, says Reg. Now that we’ve had this little conversation, I’m sure you’ll have a lot that you need to get done in a short space of time.

– Indeed, says Wound Man.

Well there we are. A superhero’s work is never done.

Every superhero needs a cause. Something to rail against. Whether that’s embodied in a super villain or simply the injustice they see around them, superheroes are at odds with the world because they refuse to accept it as it is, in all of its brutal squalor.

Of course, if you’re a comic book aficionado you may well have your own criteria for superheroes which is precisely why you need to go and see Wound Man. Iron Man, The Hulk and Captain America may well have the ‘stopping invaders from space and gods with big horny helmets’ market cornered, but for some superhero action closer to home, the Parabola Arts Centre is the place to be.

Besides, Wound Man has more weapons than any of the Avengers… even if they are largely embedded in his body.


Tickets are £10 or £8 concessions from Parabola Arts Centre box office - 01242 707 338 or www.parabolaartscentre.co.uk.

Wound Man and Shirley is on Fri 1st ONLY at 7:30pm. Running time approx 60 minutes.

Kate Townsend is wondering what's happened to the cup of tea she was promised!

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Dinkus & Buttcake vs. 151 Hidden Depths

Today’s two webcomics are very dear to me, because the common element they share is that they’re both created by good friends of mine! We all met on a friendly little forum in one of the quieter corners of the internet, and even though I don’t really visit that old forum any more, we still remain in touch through various social networks.


Dinkus & Buttcake is a long-form comedy webcomic created by Mike Maynard (or as I know him, Sockfox) and his collaborative partner Mel Rhodes, and follows two mildly insane private detectives as they attempt to “investigate” various “crimes” using the age-old method of shenanigans and dumb luck. In actuality, if they do ever spring into action, it’s invariably only for their own benefit. The strip is entirely in black, white and grey in tribute to classic noir detective films.


D&B is drawn with a great “cartoon grotesque” style that fits the characters well, even if it can be a bit simplistic at times. There are a few pretty good jokes in there, I particularly like the riffs with the landlord, and the wonderfully senile Clem is a favourite, but unfortunately most of the punch lines fall a bit flat if I’m honest. I must note that it’s still early days for this strip, and I have every faith that things will improve as time goes on. I do like the interplay between the two central characters, the dominant ideas man Dinkus is nicely complimented by the surly violent Buttcake. I look forward to seeing more of how their relationship works in any given situation.

Time to take off the rose-tinted friend-glasses and look to the down sides. As I’ve already said, some of the jokes just aren’t that funny, and that’s a pretty major problem for a comedy-based webcomic. It desperately wants to be the next Sam & Max, and sometimes that ambition does seem within reach, but it just needs to get those few extra laughs in. Maybe some extra sight gags in the often plain background wouldn’t go amiss? For example, the action has recently moved to an old library. To my mind, that’d be the perfect opportunity to showcase shelves full of books with gag titles and authors (101 Cures For Incontinence by I. P. Freely), but that opportunity is missed.

101 Hidden Depths is a webcomic with a series of short arcs which join up to show a much larger storyline, created by Dylan Sands, better known as TV Eye. The comic is based on the Pokemon world, with each new page focusing on a different “main character” Pokemon, the pages ordered according to the original numbering of the Pokedex from the first games. This structure leads to several one-shot stories, but also longer storylines showing the same Pokemon as it evolves through the years, not to mention story threads put together via often-glimpsed background poke-characters that get their own page down the line.


101 Hidden Depths often lives up to its title, and is surprisingly moving in many of its story threads. The strip manages imbue the large cast of creatures with actual depth of character and believable emotions, and its great that the evolution-based storylines let us follow certain characters as they grow older, letting us see the consequences to actions in their youth. I’m also looking forward to seeing the whys and hows of the war that features as a background to numerous pages, especially since the latest page reveals the involvement of Mewtwo being the “cause”. That’s not to say that there isn’t any humour; on the contrary the strip has a strong vein of silly fun running throughout, and is all the better for it.

Unfortunately, its unique story structure does have some downsides. Many times, I feel that just four panels for each character is not enough. It makes a great introduction, but if the character doesn’t show up as a background character in someone else’s page, then that’s your lot. And it can be quite confusing to slot all the timelines together, especially if a thread continues out of the blue after several other stories and no room for a recap. TV Eye has said that he’ll release a master timeline after he’s reached the last page, but I wouldn’t mind a ‘story so far’ catch-up of some sort.

And so to the verdict. After re-reading my own words it seems I have a clear winner in mind, but if I can just slip those rose-tinted friend-glasses back on I’d like to say that in my eyes they’re both winners, and that I’m very proud to call the talented authors my friends.

Todd Marsh has been recently enjoying the Court Of Owls storyline in several Batman comics.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

New Beginnings - Batman Incorporated

This week’s new beginning is more of a continuation. Batman Incorporated already had its first outing last year and now we have its rebirth within the New 52. Although many may argue that going back to an issue one is not the correct thing to have done as this is not strictly a reboot either.


The story continues on from where the previous bumper one-shot left off, with Leviathan - the sinister organisation out to finish Batman and Bruce Wayne - growing its membership in its own unique fashion whilst Batman and Robin are trying to get closer to them. It has dropped a timeframe in as well due to the opening page being Bruce Wayne’s arrest, before the story then moves back a month. There’s no further connections to ponder so the arc has been left wide open. But is that a weakness or a strength? It gives Grant Morrison such a large scope to take this wherever he wants from after the first issue.

This is clearly a foundation issue as the majority of it is spent with Batman and Robin chasing through the city and not the other members of the “corporation”. The other thing that I found surprising is that it is outside of the current setting considering that all of the Batman titles are tied into the Night of The Owls storyline which could have still worked very well considering. However, even with it outside of this arc, and almost this continuity as a result, there are still issues being dealt with between Bruce and Damian. A prime example of this is the difference between them over the ability to kill, which Damian has done.


There are some odd moments of humour mixed in as well such as “Bat-Cow” and the request of a “perv suit” but this doesn’t distract from the main story. I did like how it didn’t even try to come close to wrapping things up or even making obvious links. The development of Leviathan is separated out and also has enough time spent on it that it gives the depth that an aspiring criminal organisation needs to be taken seriously by Batman. Even the addition of the supposed dead members of Batman Inc. is done quickly, but in a way that means they are now on your mind.

What Morrison does do is pull the loose story that has flowed through this issue together with a completely normal person. He has no powers, no skills but has a son who he is willing to do anything for. In a strange reflection of Bruce Wayne himself - this is a lowly cabbie driven by the same paternal instincts has become an adversary. A really nice touch.


The artwork is good from Chris Burnham and fits in with more how Batman and Robin used to look than the original issues of Batman Inc, but is does have tonnes of detail. At some points it felt a little small and cramped but there’s a huge amount of information that is trying to be conveyed. There's a particularly striking page, where the first panel is akin to a splash page, but there are three subsequent panels within that image, drawn as if they are being projected onto the side of Gotham buildings.

If you were a fan of the original comics last year then you want to be picking this up as it pulls you back from the cliff hanger that it left and opens it all back up again. It also helps that Morrison is still at the helm to keep it steady.

Matt Puddy is loving the sun!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Watcher Retrospective - Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

July 20th is the release date for The Dark Knight Rises and damn it can’t come quick enough! Having already watched every trailer and the preview footage (at the huge BFI IMAX!) I’m really starting to salivate at the thought of another Christopher Nolan Batman film.

In the meantime join me in taking a look back on the previous two installments in this epic trilogy, starting with Batman Begins.


When released in 2005 most people still had a sour taste left in their mouths by the extremely over-the-top Schumacher Batman films. Eight years later and I still couldn’t shake the image of bat-nipples, lucky for me none to be found here! It's a fresh start, cleansing the world's palette ready for a new Batman. The idea? Re-introduce us to the character, go back to his origins - where did he actually get those wonderful toys from and why the affiliation with flying rodents? We get to see this and much more.

After the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is raised by his childhood butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Now an adult he seeks revenge and the means to fight injustice, but his childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) disagrees with his plans. Bruce leaves to travel around the world trying to gain a better understanding of the criminal mind. While locked in a prison within Asia he is approached by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and offered the chance to join the League of Shadows, where he can gain the training and knowledge he seeks as long as he can prove himself to their leader Ra’s Al-Ghul (Ken Watanabe). Bruce learns to be more than just a man; to become an idea which can never be forgotten.


Returning home Bruce discovers that Gotham is now decaying and overrun by organised crime. Using fear to his advantage to bring down the mob and its boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), he begins his transformation into The Batman. All the while, Wayne Enterprises CEO William Earle (Rutger Hauer) is planning to force Bruce out of his inheritance by bringing the company public. He meets Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) who helps supply his tech and detective Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the few good cops not on the mob's payroll.

Things seem to be going to plan but then a spanner is thrown in the works in the form of the crazy doctor Jonathan ‘The Scarecrow’ Crane (Cillian Murphy) who works in Arkham Asylam and has some very unorthodox work ethics. A mysterious force reappears in Gotham who seem to be very familiar with Bruce’s new skills.


A movie jam packed full of big names, all of which were perfect for the characters they portrayed - I even didn’t mind Katie Holmes though she was ultimately replaceable (and was!). A script which paid attention to its roots and was highly inspired by Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween graphic novels. I personally loved how the world Nolan created was rooted in reality much more than its predecessors - for instance, all of Batman’s gadgets are based on realistic technology which the military were then working on.

At the end of Batman Begins we see a single playing card in a evidence bag - a joker and from that point onwards the impossible thought of bringing Batman’s most loved enemy back to the big screen filled my mind. Three years later, the impossible thought became possible with The Dark Knight!


Set a year after the first movie, The Dark Knight shows Batman’s continuing efforts to clean up Gotham. Still assisted by Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox, Bruce is also joined by Gotham’s newly appointed district attorney, ‘White Knight’ Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). This partnership proves successful as they continue to put more of Gotham’s underworld behind bars. Rachel Dawes (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is still on the scene but is dating Harvey, causing strain on her and Bruce’s relationship.

The rise of a new psychopathic criminal called the Joker (Heath Ledger), whose scarred grin, manic laughter, and lack of morality make him more dangerous than anything Batman has come across yet. Batman realises he must stop this madman at all costs, both of them being different sides of the same coin. One seeks order while the other just wants chaos. As the Joker introduces more and more chaos into Gotham, Batman struggles to deal with the madness.


Harvey Dent and Rachel unfortunately become collateral damage in the Joker's games, Dent being transformed into the character known as Two-Face. Burnt down one half of his body and being swayed by the Joker's madness, Dent blames Rachel’s death and his disfigurement on Jim Gordon and the Batman.

The best performances in this movie are by the late Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, the latter being my personal favourite as I felt his performance was rather overshadowed by the hype around Ledger's unfortunate death. It has to be said though, Heath did bring his all to the role and make it his own, so much so that he managed to make people forget Jack Nicholson’s brilliant version of the character in the 1989 Batman movie.


This movie felt very different to its predecessor, almost not like a Batman movie. What with the lack of a Batcave (destroyed by the League Of Shadows in the first film), the amazing antagonists and a lighter tone to much of its cinematography. Some of the shots were shot with IMAX cameras and even at home on the TV they look stunning. I will say that I feel the movie is rather too long, no matter how much I love it and the performances therein. I do feel that the The Joker and Two-Face stories could have been separated into two separate movies.

Overall these movies are quite different, but both brilliant in their own way. This also gives me high hopes for the possibilities of what there is to come.

Stefan Harkins is gearing up for Prometheus and trying to find time to watch The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Why Should I Read... The Ultimates?


I hate Captain America. There, I said it.

I'm a lifetime comic nut and I have watched all the classic good guys and bad guys waging war through the eons with each other. But there's no villain, no matter how disturbed or vile, in fact no other character that I detest more than Captain America. I have never been one to enjoy the mainstream, let alone embrace the American dream. The idea of this star spangled moron running around in spandex being everything that Americans should stand for - and bleating about how much better things were a few years back - is just so stomach-churningly irritating. Anyone who's encountered me on this subject knows that my staple response to this insipid super soldier is that he's a whining pussy liberal. He's a throwback to the Golden Age of comics, when villains were laughable and the realism that draws us in and allows us to believe the unbelievable was just plain absent.


This is why I was never big on the Avengers. I didn't really get behind a lot of the headline heroes from yesteryears. After a few years without comics, I returned to the stores and steered clear of both the big universes, and went for the kind of the things I have written about in previous articles. So when my erstwhile comic retailer suggested the Ultimates (One and Two) for reading on a business trip, it's safe to say I baulked at the idea. Then he flipped to the page where Captain America is smashing some guy's face until he died. Oh, and he cracked a terrible joke about the French while he did it.

So I bought Ultimates One and Two.


The Ultimate universe is based on a wonderful comic staple; what if? Where events and individuals are changed to show alternate outcomes. Ultimates is actually one of the best examples of this I've read. The changes they make aren't drastic. Some of them aren't even significant - Nick Fury can be a grizzled old black guy who smokes cigars and is missing an eye, or a grizzled old white guy who is missing an eye and smokes cigars. It doesn't make a whole heap of difference, unless you're a casting agent.

What is wonderful about the Ultimates is that a lot of the stark truth (no pun intended) of stories you may have already come to know is brought to the forefront. The veneer of the Golden Age of comics is stripped away, and the very harsh reality of everything that's only been hinted at for our group of heroes is shown, often in a very intense way. I don't know if you realise this, but on discovering your have abilities beyond the norm, the regular response is not "Right, I need a spandex suit and a lawyer, I'm about to go assault people!" even if a guy who looks suspiciously like Samuel L. Jackson tells you it's OK. If a person decides to do that, even in the Marvel Universe, they better have either a damn good reason, or a damn good therapist.


Ultimates takes this premise and runs riot with it, highlighting all the issues that before may have only been approached tongue-in-cheek, or passed over entirely. Subjects such as addiction, depression and spousal abuse are covered, and although not the central focus, they are covered well. These aren't new premises for the as-was Avengers, but it could put off those readers who are loyal to the original team. It shouldn't, nothing is being dishonoured here, just remoulded for a modern age.

There are touches to the action, too. The Hulk is my favourite example. Back in the day, our big green wrecking machine threw things and punched stuff, but ultimately left with a body count no worse than an original A-Team episode. But stop and think for a moment. If a scientific accident causes a man to become a monster with no rational thought and immense strength, do you really think that there won't be a casualty or two? Ultimates doesn't. It's this conceptualisation which epitomises the Ultimates for me. I feel like I'm being told the adult version of the history I've learned as a child. This lack of propaganda appeals to me, in a way that the Avengers never did.


These articles aren't meant to be a review. There is enough of those. I want to persuade you to pick up the books, and enjoy them in the same way I have. The Ultimates is damned good reading, especially if you're familiar with the 'regular' Marvel Universe. This is apparent with the new range of movies, as much of the story and character backgrounds are from Ultimates - including this universe's S.H.I.E.L.D. and it's most famous agents. So ultimately, it comes down to this; how can Samuel L. Jackson be wrong?

Chris Boyle will warn you away from Ultimates 3. Yuck. Jeph Loeb, get out!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

New Beginnings - Earth 2 and Worlds' Finest

As part of the second wave of DC’s 52 we have a nice little double header this week. Released a fortnight ago we have the re-emergence of Earth 2 and also a subsequent spin off for Worlds’ Finest (more to follow in a little as to why).


Beginning with Earth 2, which is calling itself an “epic” already, we are thrust into an alternate reality where the Apokolips war is raging knee deep in the battle with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Still working as a team they look similar to the heroes we are familiar with but as the story expands we begin to see how they have changed and their lives are altered. Diana is the last Amazon, Robin is Batman’s daughter Helena Wayne, and Superman doesn’t have his famous human streak when he claims he is going to kill Steppenwolf. It’s a very different world indeed.

The battle progresses following both the bigger picture and the struggles that each of our main characters are enduring, all to create an opening for Batman to strike at the heart of the enemy. The fight is hard fought with untimely endings for our Trinity, and Supergirl and Robin are last seen heading into a Boom Tube. So what more could there be? The world has survived the invasion but at the cost of its superheroes.


One year later, we see other characters emerging. We find Alan Scott narrating a TV tribute to the lost legends and elsewhere a young Jay Garrick finds Mercury lying in a crater, in a way that echoes Hal Jordan and Abin Sur's fateful encounter in the prime universe. James Robinson has written a strong introductory piece which is placing down very firm groundwork for what can be a good title. What is also nice is that there is no prerequisite for the reader either. It’s a new world and so you while you may recognise the characters but don’t need to know their histories to be able to enjoy the story, simply because they aren’t going to be the same.

What it does also do is establish a foothold for other titles and name drop one or two more as well.

Worlds’ Finest is a fine (excuse the pun) example of just this. As part of the Earth 2 storyline Robin and Supergirl chase a figure, possibly Steppenwolf, into a Boom Tube and emerge in whole new world. Instantly recognising this they both establish new lives, while Supergirl has been looking for a way home. Robin has become Huntress and through the course of the story Supergirl dons the mantle of Power Girl.


A lot of the issue is spent establishing the characters, their new “beginnings” and how they have come to fit within this new society without also losing who they are too. Robin has taken her money and ploughed it into what can only be described as an innate desire to fight crime as she did as Batman’s daughter. Supergirl on the other hand has become a mysterious socialite with a penchant for acquiring real estate and businesses. Both gravitating towards helping others which is something that they will never lose.

As it is not a giant issue Paul Levitz has had to move fairly quickly but the flow keeps moving forward without breaking or losing the reader at any point. There is an air of ambiguity at the end where the big bad rears his ugly radioactive head. But this, as well as the depiction of our heroines, has been incorporated into the story.


My only regret is that although it was fun it didn’t feel like it had the same depth. There was a moment when the almost clichéd idea of Power Girl being T&A is brushed upon but it’s so out of the context that it makes for an awkward joke which only fans will get. The other thing that I didn’t totally get was the change in artists and artwork between the story and flashbacks. In principal I can understand but when you’ve worked off the back of another comic to begin with it makes no sense to change the artwork so much. I just didn’t feel the art on this title was as strong, so the contrast was obvious but not for the best of reasons.

As a pair of new titles I felt that for the casual or new reader that Earth 2 was definitely one to get on with but Worlds’ Finest didn’t quite hit the mark. Saying that though the pair do work well together and have a strong synergy for anyone who likes the characters but wants a new or refreshing twist on what they already have established or know.

Matt Puddy is ready for the return of Batman Inc. next week...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Watcher Retrospective - Alien Director's Cut

It's fair to say that I'm very excited right now. Excitement that even the Avengers movie couldn't dampen, despite seeing it three times at the cinema (which those who know me will agree is unheard of)!

In just over two weeks, acclaimed director Ridley Scott returns to the science fiction genre with Prometheus, his first such movie in almost two decades. Well, slightly less than that if you count 2003, when he returned to the 1979 film for the DVD Director's Cut. For many, Ridley Scott pioneered the home release Director's Cut approach, beginning with the Blade Runner Director's Cut in 1992. The same year saw James Cameron return to Aliens and give it similar treatment, but Alien languished in its original cut for another nine years.


Languished? Yes indeed. I watched Alien and Aliens at some happy moment in my teenage years, I forget exactly when. I was left with both true fear and fascination for the xenomorph creatures, but I have to say that my preference was for Aliens. I tried to like Alien more, especially as I grew older and became a Film Studies student. Film scholars and critics will tell you that Alien is a loftier film, with better direction and true suspense, but with each repeat viewing I became more and more convinced that the science fiction action of Aliens was more to my taste. After all, Cameron's Director's Cut is incredible, balancing brutal action and nerve-wracking terror with smart characterisation and nuanced performances.

Then came the ridiculously named Alien Quadrilogy boxset and news that Ridley Scott had contributed a Director's Cut of the movie that gestated the franchise. The film was restored and remastered and an infamous deleted scene was restored, as Ripley encounters two members of the crew seemingly transforming into eggs.

And yet the finished movie was shorter than the original theatrical version. Ridley Scott took out more than he restored, shortening scenes for a very specific reason.


When Alien came out it was filled with tension and had audiences on the edge of their seats. Unlike subsequent entries into the franchise, Alien was a pure horror movie set in space. From the initial sexual mouth rape horror of the facehugger to the stalker horror of a powerful, lone monster picking off the crew - the film was designed to frighten people. Even the movie poster tag line is the famous, "In space, no one can hear you scream."

Sadly, over time our collective attention span has diminished slightly and so what was once a masterpiece in the late Seventies-early Eighties had become somewhat overblown. Hitchcockian stretches of tension building direction now seemed to overcrank the pressure to the point where the metaphorical elastic band had snapped and the reaction was less shocking. With the Director's Cut, I feel this was perfectly addressed - the resulting film is once again a tense, powerful affair.


From the initial eerie wandering around an empty ship then on to the friction between the awaking crew and the class divide between the engineers and the NCOs, the film's trademark slow opening still builds as the mysterious signal and the hitherto unknown Company standing orders leave the characters as clueless and off balance as the audience. We remain awestruck by the derelict and the Space Jockey and alarmed by the egg chamber and the facehugger attack. Really the most obvious tightening of the editing and pacing comes later as John Hurt's chestburster reaches full maturity and begins slaughtering the crew. Long, drawn out sequences become tighter and sharper and I commend Ridley Scott for that.


Hopefully, this more visceral horror vibe informs Prometheus too. Certainly the various trailers seem to show body horror and nasty surprises stalking the crew, so I have a feeling we will once again have a true science fiction horror film from one of the modern auteurs.

Ben Fardon is ready for 12:01am on Friday 1st June!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Big Game Hunting - Gateway Games: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, a board game designed by Andreas Seyfarth, is great for people looking for something that gives more depth than a casual game, but is still easy enough to learn in a single play through. It's a game about economics, strategy, and a little bit of sabotage.

The key to Puerto Rico is resources - corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. To get them, you need two things on your board: the resource tiles and a processing plant for that resource. Plants can be bought with gold, along with many other buildings that will provide extra resources, more gold, and victory points. Once you've managed to collect resources, you can choose to sell them in the market for gold, or send them back to the mother country for victory points.


There are several things that make this simple concept more challenging. You must have colonists employed on (occupying) your resources and your buildings, else they do nothing. The market will only accept one of each type of resource, and does not empty until its four spaces are full. The three ships will only accept one type of resource each, and will not sail and empty its spaces until they are full, also. Finally, the timing of when you get colonists, produce resources, purchase buildings, and ship resources is entirely down to the person playing their turn. In each game round, players select one of seven roles to play, and these roles are what determine when everything takes place. The game ends when any of these occur: a player's board is full, there are no colonists remaining, or there are no victory point chips remaining. Everything the player has is scored into victory points, and the player with the most wins.

This game sounds both simple and complicated. Indeed, the first few rounds of play can feel quite slow and laborious while you try to make sense of what you should do. This isn't helped by the instruction book, which tries to explain everything at once, and makes it hard to play without reading the whole thing in advance. However once the basic ideas are understood, the game goes quickly, and becomes a great deal more fun. The concepts and strategies used to play are also similar to those you will find in more challenging games, such as Agricola, which makes Puerto Rico a great stepping stone toward them.


The best thing about this game is the lack of any one particular winning strategy. There are several ways to win, and sometimes luck plays into it as much as planning. One strategy is to amass the cheaper resources, corn and indigo, in the hopes of overwhelming the ships and preventing others from sending their resources. Another is to produce more expensive resources and sell them for profit, and build as many buildings as you can for extra victory points at the end. You could also focus less on what you produce yourself, and more on choosing roles that prevent others from getting what they need.

The failings in this game seems to be common ones. The original version of the game requires three to five players, meaning those who want to play with only two must purchase a special edition adapted specifically for that purpose. The other problem is a word many board game players will recognise, and some will dread: setup. There are a great deal of small pieces and cards in this game, and organising them for a play session can take awhile and require a great deal of surface space.

Puerto Rico is clearly deserving of the awards it has won since its debut in 2002. It's a classic every board game fan should try. In additional to the physical game, Puerto Rico is now also available for iPad.

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

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Digital Canvas - A Real (Web) Page Turner


Over the years as a dedicated fan of webcomics, I’ve acquired a few book versions of popular strips to read at my leisure, obtaining them either through a website’s own shop, a regular book shop, or even our dear own Proud Lion. Print copies of online strips often provide fans with tasty extra material to goggle at, and I personally find it a lot more fun reading a strip archive in a format you can take into the bathroom or in bed at night! So lets have a look through my collection together, and I’ll give you guys a rundown of each tome.

Axe Cop: Volume 1, 2, and 3
Printed by Dark Horse. I just love the beautiful colour covers on these - as Axe fans know it's only recently that we’ve been seeing Axe Cop in full colour. The first volume covers “Episodes” 1 - 70 and “Ask Axe Cop” 1 - 42, in amongst which are great storylines like the introduction of The Moon Warriors, and The Ultimate Battle. Volume 2 collects the Dark Horse exclusive miniseries “Bad Guy Earth”, a hilarious fully contained story. The recently released Volume 3 goes back to the website and collects Episodes 71 - 117 and Ask Axe Cop 43 - 70, whilst generously also including the wonderful Axe Cop and Dr McNinja crossover in full, and several “Axe Cop Presents…” episodes where Malachai felt like playing with different characters.


The real bonus in each book is artist and big brother Ethan’s commentary on pretty much every page (in Bad Guy Earth this is contained to a “Making Of“ section with photo gallery and sketchbook at the back of the book), explaining how his little brother Malachai came up with some of his ideas, and how he keeps being surprised and awed by Malachai’s bottomless well of imagination. Each also includes a very cool pin-up gallery at the back, with art provided by big named fans like Doug TenNepal, Jason Howard and Dustin Weaver.
Available through Proud Lion? YES

The Adventures Of Dr McNinja: Volumes 1 - 4
The first three volumes were printed independently via Topatoco, volume 4 is printed by Dark Horse. The pulp-style covers are gorgeous, but the clichéd fake wear-and-tear on the cover of volume 1 might put people off a bit. Volume 1 covers the first three story arcs, introducing us to the Doc’s world. Volume 2 contains the two large arcs that together make up the longer storyline “D.A.R.E. To Resist Ninja Drugs And Ninja Violence”, and volume 3 (my personal favourite) continues the story by showing the consequences and reasons behind some of the mysteries of the last arc, culminating in a showdown with Dracula himself. Volume 4 begins a new era in Dr McNinja’s stories, acting as a great jumping on point for new readers and also being the first time we see the comic in full colour.


The popular “alt text” for each page (a short joke or commentary about the page in question, viewed on the site by hovering your mouse over the picture) makes it to the books intact as footnotes, and as a bonus Chris Hastings has added similar footnotes to his first story arc, which previously didn’t have any. Bonus material comes in the form of exclusive new strips, often written and drawn by friends in the webcomic business such as Anthony Clark or Benito Cereno. Also included in the first volume is a page of concept sketches and a photo of the author himself in an action-body pose, used as reference for a tricky scene.
Available through Proud Lion? ONLY VOL 4

Hark! A Vagrant!
Published by Drawn And Quarterly in Canada, this has a comfortingly chunky hard cover with a pleasingly simple design. The recently published second volume of the webcomic (there has been a previously released “best of” compilation called Never Learn Anything From History, focusing primarily on the historical jokes) contains all of Kate Beaton’s very favourite pages, along with all the previously unpublished pages, in no particular order.


Sadly there’s very little in the way of extra content for Hark A Vagrant. Beaton does provide some footnotes for her favourite strips, explaining her thought processes or opinions on the subject matter in question, but that’s basically it. Personally I think the strips stand up by themselves fine, but others might not see it that way. Even so, its great bedtime reading!
Available through Proud Lion? YES

Todd Marsh will have to come back to this subject to cover the rest of his bookshelves.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Watcher - Iron Sky, a call to arms!

OK, so better late than never, here's The Watcher for this week. I was going to do a retrospective review of Alien: The Director's Cut ahead of Prometheus coming out at the end of the month, but that's been bumped to another week due to a development this week.

Before I elaborate further, have you all heard of Iron Sky? Here's the trailer....


That's it, you can stop squealing with joy for a second. How much fun does this look? Total B-movie madness, complete with a humourous caricature of Sarah Palin. NAZIS FROM THE MOON! Don't get me wrong, I don't expect this film to be award winning or thought provoking. But I am expecting a riotously awesome popcorn movie for sci-fi fans.

Now, the bad news. Straight from the filmmakers...


To elaborate, here's the full explanation from Timo Vuorensola, the director of Iron Sky.



The UK release of Iron Sky took a weird turn a week ago, when Revolver – our local distributor – suddenly released the new plans for their long-anticipated UK cinema release. To the amazement of many – including ourselves – their plan is to put Iron Sky in UK theaters for *just one day*, 23.5., and then never again.

I don’t think so.

See, when I started to work on Iron Sky, I wanted to make a cinematic experience, a film that works best when you sit in a dark room with 500 other people and watch, experience, laugh and enjoy as the epic story about the Moon Nazis unfolds in front of your eyes. Now, following the UK plan laid out by Revolver, the film is out in cinemas for only one day only (and that’s WEDNESDAY of all days).

I think this is an insult to us, the filmmakers who have been working with this film for six long years. We signed up with Revolver because we wanted to have a wide cinema release, and that’s what they promised us. But more than that, it’s an insult to all the fans, friends, followers, fan investors and everyone out there who’s been waiting all these years to see the Moon Nazi mayhem known as Iron Sky to hit the cinemas.

We’ve tried our best to turn Revolver’s head – without success so far – so now we turn to you for help.

If you feel as we do, that Iron Sky deserves a proper cinema release, make your voices heard. We’ve created a four-step plan for you to help us out to get a longer-lasting cinema release for Iron Sky in UK, and we’re hoping you’ll join the effort. Here’s what you need to do:

STEP 1: CONTACT Revolver Entertainment, and tell them what you think of their plans to release Iron Sky for just one day to cinemas in UK. Please email to info@revolvergroup.com.

STEP 2: LET THEM KNOW what you think also on their Facebook page – www.fb.com/ironskyuk – and on their Twitter feed – @ironskyuk

STEP 3: DEMAND to see Iron Sky in your local film theaters. Go to www.ironsky.net/demand and place your Demand.

STEP 4: SPREAD THE WORD and machinate your friends to join the campaign also. Share this link everywhere on the Internet; let’s make sure Revolver hears your voice.

Having said this, please remember – the best message is one that is polite, informed and intelligent. Don’t go shouting obscenities, as it won’t help anyone, but let them know very clearly why the one day cinema release is a bad idea and needs to be re-thought.

Yours truly,
Director of Iron Sky
Timo Vuorensola
and the Iron Sky team


As you can see, Proud Lion is doing what we can to get involved. I've mentioned this already on Facebook and Twitter, and I've personally emailed Revolver to register my displeasure. There's currently no sign of Cineworld showing it whatsoever, even for one day, so that doesn't bode well for people in Gloucester getting to see it on the big screen.

Revolver sent me their official statement on the situation in response to email, no attempt at any personal correspondence at all. Very poor. Here's what they had to say...


REVOLVER OFFICIAL STATEMENT ON IRON SKY RELEASE

We recognise the concerns of the makers of IRON SKY and appreciate the support of the fans. We ourselves have been huge supporters of the project since day one, coming on board in 2009.

We feel this release structure is very much in line with the spirit in which the film was made, being available both on the big and small screen almost simultaneously.

We have seen all of your feedback and contrary to the opinion of a few we are not trying to 'kill' 'bury' or 'dump' the film. Revolver is still in discussion with the exhibitors about extending the cinema run. Come out on the 23rd May, show your support, make IRON SKY day a huge success and lets keep the film playing on the big screen!


Not good enough! So I'm going to urge you all to please bombard their Twitter, send them an email, post on the Facebook page - basically do everything Timo has asked of us! And keep doing it!

We deserve space Nazis on the big screen! If only for a full week in all major cinemas. Here's the first four minutes of this gloriously silly movie...


Ben Fardon is still rocking out to Garbage songs and eagerly awaiting his copy of the new album

Thursday, 10 May 2012

New Beginnings - Dial H For Hero #1

What would you do if there was a way in which you, for a short time, could become a superhero?

What if it was something as simple as dialling a number on a payphone found on the side of a normal street?


This is essentially the idea that is being posed in the latest outing of Dial H for Hero. The concept first appeared in the late Sixties, returned in the Eighties and then again in 2003. Now it has restarted once more with China Miéville at the helm.

The story begins with Nelson, an overweight, unfit smoker who is brought out into a cold sweat at the mere thought of exercise. This wasn’t always the way though - Nelson’s former self used to do so much more but now he is trapped in a sedentary life. The cover image doesn’t actually do his plight justice to its full extent! It is only when his best friend leaves that he decides to make a change and by following him he walks into seeing his mate being attacked. In a moment of panic Nelson blindly tries to dial for help in a very unusual phone box, giving him superhuman powers. Welcome Boy Chimney!


Interestingly enough, this new character is a reflection of Nelson, but magnified and exaggerated to an extreme. In many respects I was reminded of V For Vendetta in the way he was scripted, and the look isakin to work by Tim Burton with an almost Victorian twist. Very inventive.

Spurred on by his experience of saving the day, and by his want to avenge his best friend's hospitalisation, Nelson seeks out the booth again wanting more. The only problem, he thought, was remembering a number that was randomly dialled, but once he figures out the correct number the results are uncontrollable and Captain Lachrymose takes the stage instead.


Mielville’s story works very well and has multiple layers. I was aware of the comic and its history before I opened the cover and started reading but I tried to put aside the ideas I had and in doing so I was very pleasantly surprised. Although this is a comic with foundations set over 50 years ago, it is still very much a new beginning but one which is creating its own setting.

The artwork, provided by Mateus Santolouco has a certain adult feel to it. This isn’t your normal DC comic and has the sensibilities of a Vertigo title to it. However, when you consider that the first “hero” you see is one that almost sensationalises smoking, it needs to have an older feel to it. In a similar fashion it’s quite a dark and grim comic with frames to match it.


This is a cracking first issue and the pretence - even though it has been used in the past more than once - is a strong one. Mieville has written an enjoyable issue and one which is well worth picking up for a read.

Matt Puddy is turning his attention to another world - another Earth...