Thursday, 23 October 2014

New Beginnings - Avengers And X-Men: Axis #1

by Matt Puddy

This week we have a new main arc from Rick Remender and Marvel – Axis – and aside from the ambigram of a title on the cover it’s a fairly hefty comic for a first issue. This is partially due to all that’s packed into it but also all the history that it pulls on as well.

As stories go this is one that you where you have to pay attention to keep up. First of all this issue alone has a massive cast combining X-Men, Avengers, the Avengers Unity team from Uncanny Avengers, and then a few extra people to boot. It also helps to be aware of current and impending events in the Marvel Universe. Wolverine is no longer in ANY team and the Captain America baton has been passed onto Falcon. Even the Hulk is now known as Doc Green (currently waging war on all gamma-powered individuals) seems to be subdued and part of the gang. 

Remender has also built from a wealth of Marvel stories from the archives. The original Onslaught saga is a huge reference given that Red Skull is now dubbed Red Onslaught, after firstly receiving Xaviers’ brain (and subsequently his psychic powers) and then being killed by Magneto. Which is also the main crux of the plot. 

In his more human form, the newly awakened clone of Red Skull was always driven by the same motivation to create a new Nazi-styled utopia with the Übermensch taking wait he saw as its rightful place at the top. I’m sure you can imagine that given the immense psychic prowess of both Xavier and Onslaught, it's going to prove quite a large problem and one that will bring all of mutantkind together to stop the threat trying to wipe them out.

All of this was sparked into action by the most powerful psychic outburst that any of them had seen, creating outbreaks of violent acts all over the world. The hate and anger simply pouring off Red Onslaught in waves prompts action from Steve Rogers, directing his team of heroes into action from his afar, now too frail to enter the field.

Red Onslaught is huge, imposing and deadly. Reacting quickly the Scarlet Witch is influenced and taken to his side as a vessel, which doesn’t help things (although it is a convenient loophole to remove the main threat from the fight for him), and so the battle begins. The introduction of the X-Men as well rounds the group off well, only to find that their troubles have only just begun. On top of gaining access to powers beyond his station, Red Skull also gained information. Information that Tony Stark held on them all in case he needed it, and now the Skull then weaponised it (very similar to another millionaire playboy from DC), leading them to face the most powerful and developed Sentinels the world has ever seen.

The story that Remender has written is fairly straight forward, but for all its length I kind of found it a little irksome. As well as taking stories and ideas to build on from the past, it seems that a certain style has also been lifted. The whole comic kind of felt that it was a flowing piece from one fight into another to a sub-fight past in-fighting and via petty, poignant or brotherly conflicts. There’s a lot of fighting in there and not a whole lot of character development.

Page taken from Axis #2
Artistically, to support the battlefield, you have Adam Kubert who is well known in comic book circles like his siblings and father. He has put a huge amount of work into this comic to live up to the energy level of the story. With so much going on and so many characters to maintain this can’t have been an easy task. A lot of referencing has to have been done too; whether it is the new Cap or the Mjolnir-less Thor, keeping a great sense of continuity across a universe of characters - so hats off to him!

The style results in being full of work, images and ideas, but that does mean on occasion detail does have to give way; that is kind of understandable. There is also a good use of dynamic frames, away from the more conventional layout system, which keeps your eyes working throughout without necessarily being overwhelmed by all the information.

Put all together and this shows some real promise, but I think it does need to calm itself down a little and not simply be a continuous running battle. Equally the rare moments of Walton-esque family gathering and heart strings being tugged need to have some tempering as well, but the premise is still a good one and kind of keeping in line with all the teasers of Marvel reviving a lot of past storylines in 2015 (for example Civil War and House of M) making this is a front runner for further madness.

Matt Puddy doesn't quite get the whole American obsession with Halloween stuff.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Carrier bags and charity - United Nations System Response to the Ebola Outbreak

by Ben Fardon

Hi folks,

The last financial quarter finished a few weeks ago, and I've been mulling over what to do with our latest charitable donation from carrier bag proceeds. Then I read today's news reports and saw that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was appealing for more money to be donated to the Ebola trust fund and I knew what we had to do.

This was our fourteenth full quarter and together we raised £36.66.

Last time I donated to St Luke’s Hospice, an organisation that provides free end of life care in Plymouth, SW Devon & East Cornwall. St Luke’s has to raise £4.5 million year with 86p of every £1 that is donated going to patient care. St Luke's helped the family of a friend of ours earlier this year and he set out last month to trek 26.2 miles along Offa's Dyke, the ancient wall that once separated Wales and England. You can find out more by visiting his walking team's Just Giving page.

As I say, this time I'm making a donation to the United Nations System Response to the Ebola Outbreak. This trust was set up to unite efforts of the UN to stop the outbreak, treat the infected, ensure continuity within affected countries and prevent outbreaks in countries currently unaffected.  Our contribution will provide vital support to the United Nations as it works to halt the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and treat the thousands of people who have been infected with Ebola virus disease. Thanks to our contribution, the World Health Organization will be able to procure vital supplies, such as personal protective equipment and chlorine, as well as provide crucial technical assistance to the governments of Ebola-affected countries.

I won't grandstand or lecture you as to why this is important, other than to say this is something the rest of the world should have done something to help with far sooner.

The trust accepts donation is US Dollars, so I've converted the £36.66 and rounded it up to $60.00. If you'd like to make a donation yourself, you can do so here.

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

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

New Beginnings - Alien Versus Predator: Fire and Stone #1

by Matt Puddy

And so another piece of the Fire and Stone puzzle to slot into the bigger picture. Born originally from a crossover of two strong franchises, Alien vs Predator was a geeky marriage in heaven which went on to spawn films, books, comics and video games.

Dark Horse has once again included it in the various threads of a bigger Alien story arc. But - and here is a slightly tricky aspect - its inclusion in the Fire and Stone continuity is not from the start of all hell breaking loose. Much like the weird aunt and uncle at a family wedding, it arrives late to the main event but well before the evening reception. Placed after issue #4 of Prometheus: Fire and Stone (and subsequently Aliens: Fire and Stone as a result) but completely before Predator: Fire and Stone  #1, this issue suffers quite a bit from leaving the reader in an occasional state of “what exactly has happened here?”

Now I do understand and appreciate that this style of storytelling can pique interest in readers, as it promotes so many questions about what has gone on in the parallel stories, but for me, on this occasion the leap made is too big. 

Loosely speaking the situation in the story is such that we can identify with the characters physically but their personalities in some cases are compromised to such a degree that they are different entirely. Francis is now a captive with an almost subservient manner to him, and Eldon is a completely different entity to how we first met him. Don’t get me wrong, I want to know how he got to be what he is now - with the new growths, protrusions and aliens in tow - but I can’t see him as the artificial human that started the trip in the first place. I also have no clue as to why he is so desperate to retrieve and reunite with Francis as well. (Some of that journey begins in this week's Prometheus #2 which Matt has yet to read due to a business trip, BF.)

The plot is primarily an aftermath explanation that goes out of control. While trying to escape with both Francis and an alien weapon in their custody, the inhabitants of the ship find themselves at the mercy of Eldon. He controls the Helios which in turn has power over their ship. However, as we are dealing with mercenaries here the options are simple. Stay alive by handing over Francis.

This would have all gone smoothly (and made for an awfully short comic!), had this simply happened but unbeknownst to everyone, sci-fi’s favourite hunters had also set their eyes on the ship as a hunt. The Predator's breach of the hull didn’t go unnoticed and the subsequent alarm sets everyone on edge, spinning matters out of control. A deranged android leading a group of xenomorphs on a hide and seek raid of the ship quickly ensues.

With the xenomorphs running amok on the ship, it’s easy for the stealth suited hunting party to make their advances as well. Everything culminates in a variety of face offs and preambles to fighting with poor Francis just hiding for his life. The apparent prize of it all.

Ariel Olivetti has done a cracking job of bringing Christopher Sebela’s writing to life. I really like the artwork. It has energy conveyed through the clean lines and sharp shapes, with the colouring adding more depth. There is even the odd frame that, conversely, does a lot with zero background or using a silhouette, instead of flooding the frame with details letting the readers mind fill in the rest.

Putting aside the continuity I really liked this comic and can envisage that I will like it more when I’ve collected them all and re-read them in a more structured fashion. Fire and Stone is shaping up to be a superb event series.

Matt Puddy had a tough decision between the first episode of Gotham and the start of the new series of The Walking Dead earlier this week.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Big Game Hunting - D&D Encounters: extra player spaces!

by Rae

Last Wednesday was our first D&D Encounters night. Several characters were brought together to engage in the beginning of an epic adventure. Combat was waged, townsfolk were rescued, and the heroes successfully accomplished their first goal: to get to their target location in one piece!

There was one major issue with our first Encounter, though - there weren't enough player spaces! We managed to fill every available seat very quickly, and unfortunately we had to turn a number of people away. I am happy to announce that we have a solution! We have recruited a second DM to accommodate the extra people, so everyone has a chance to play!

This does present us with a new challenge: location. While the new Proud Lion store can just about cope with one group of adventurers, two is a bit of a stretch. With that in mind, this week we will all assemble at Proud Lion for 6:30pm. From there, we will move to Boston Tea Party. This is a trial run to test a change in venue, and may not be permanent.

We'll be able to support 12-14 people with our second DM in action, so join us this Wednesday at 6:30pm!

New Beginnings - George Perez's Sirens ¢1

by Matt Puddy

You may have heard the name George Perez come up in relation to a comic or two in the past, for example the new 52 Superman launched in 2011 or prior to that Infinite Crisis or Teen Titans. Big titles for DC and more for Marvel in the past as well including a long and well renowned run on the Avengers with Kurt Busiek. If not - and you simply enjoy comics for the read regardless of who created them - then just know that Perez is a well established name in the business.

This is a brand new title written and illustrated by him, with Leonardo Paciarotti aiding with the colours. Perez even worked on the majority of the covers as well so this was a huge amount of work for him.

Sirens is a story that starts multiple times simply because there is a whole team to introduce quickly for this six-part series. Each one of them is spread across time amongst various tribes and groups of people, but all of them standing out as a strong warrior. In Rome, a violent gladiator and in Iceland, a mystic crone are just examples of who they are.

The time period seems to be inconsequential as these are powerful matriarchs and someone is trying to get them together. Why exactly isn’t so clear but when they are assembled in the same timeline (in the future), things aren’t looking so good. Firstly, not all the team appeared to come back in one piece, as they can’t exactly remember who they all are or where they are either. To top it all off they are also immediately in the firing line of Naida, a woman who has hunted and killed Sirens in the past and only sees them as sport. She's the top enforcer for Perdition and certainly has an axe to grind. 

Immediately as a reader you are aware of exactly who and what the threat is, complete with huge battle cruiser, and just as quick the issue ends with what could potentially be their firey space-born graves. Admittedly, we know it’s not or this is going to be a very short run (!) but what comes next?

The story moves very quickly but it has to so that all the scene is set as much as can be. This does have its downsides though as for all the pace moving through the book, some of the elements are lost. As a reader you only get to know that there is an intergalactic force enslaving the universe and that the Sirens are considered villains because of either the previews or the letters in the back. This does change the context a lot. 

All of the artistic style is very typical of Perez as well. There is a lot packed into every single frame and it has a certain late Eighties/early Nineties feel to them as is his way. That does mean that as a reader the amount of information you are given can sometimes overwhelm you and you find yourself concentrating on either the wording or the images, just not always both at the same time.

This fast first issue is full of intergalactic swashbuckling – alongside the historical issues, time travelling and also the potential time paradoxes along the way. Time will tell if this finds an audience, but personally I was a little underwhelmed when compared to George Perez's back catalogue.

Mat Puddy is ready to face another week!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

New Beginnings - Thor #1

by Matt Puddy

It’s certainly fair to say that when Marvel announced its recent changes to its established line up some eyebrows were raised. Aside from the news that the newest Captain America was going to be black there was also the gender flip in the identity of Thor. Across the internet many fans of the Nordic god expressed various opinions on this revelation and now in issue one of Jason Aaron’s new comic we get to finally see what is really going on.

If you are wondering “Has Thor died?” (again) or simply “What happened to Thor to make this change?” then fret not it isn’t what you might think. If you read the recent story of Original Sin (also written by Jason Aaron) then you would be aware that at the end of the eight part series, the band of heroes - including Thor - faced off against an aging Nick Fury. As part of this fracas Thor was essentially disabled when Fury whispered a few select (and currently unknown) words to him. Whatever he said had such a huge impact that Thor dropped Mjolnir and as such as not yet been able to pick up the fabled hammer. He is now unworthy.

This isn’t where the comic begins though. It’s the misadventures of those pesky beings from Midgard that opens the tale. Searching deep underwater we meet a team searching the black depths of the ocean. Instead of underwater treasures, they are stumbled upon by massive Frost Giants emerging from an oceanic trench, being somewhat lead by Malkieth the Accursed, a combination that is terrifying at the best of times.

It’s not hard to consider how that particular situation is going to go so I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who enjoys a bit of wanton destruction.

All the while the Asgardian citizens are being divided emotionally. On one hand their All Father has returned from self-imposed exile giving reason to be happy. But this is to the detriment of their All Mother who has been faithfully watching over them and guiding them. There is a growing schism between the Asgardians as allegiances are divided. To add to this they also worry for and watch over Thor who is now a broken man. Unable to comprehend why he cannot lift Mjolnir anymore, he is a shell of a man. Not eating, not sleeping and only really talking on occasion to his hammer, imploring it to allow him to lift it.

It may not be Thor that is the issue though as no one can life Mjolnir from its resting place, not even Odin himself. On the news of the invasion of Midgard by Jotunheim, the decision to step in is made and a hammerless Thor steps into the fray to much poorer results than required. Gleefully unaware of other events Malkieth seems to be happy that the end of Thor is nigh. He has no clue that meanwhile on the Moon a woman has just easily raised Mjolnir because there must always be a Thor...

As a first issue this is more about situational presence than blasting the reader with a new Thor. By waiting until the end there is a certain tension and mystery built. It also builds an idea that you may know who the new maiden is but also you’re not quite sure. You feel the new inadequacy of Thor as he rides into battle; also the happiness and mocking in Malkieth when he see the weakness that has been exposed. All of this goes a long way to change the concept of who or what Thor really is. As someone who is not really a fan of Thor on his own, my thoughts are fairly one dimensional. Thor is a god. He has a mythical hammer. He does hero stuff. 

Sounds simply, right? But this comic has challenged me to rethink that. Thor is an identity and an ideal, a reference of power almost. It’s about the worthiness and intentions, not just the man – or now woman. A fairly heavy shift for a first issue comic!

Artistically Russell Dauterman has provided a sturdy issue. I liked the huge double page spread to reflect the enormity of the Ice Giants, but when taking time over smaller beings there was a lot of work put into supporting Aaron’s story. Thor looks broke and damaged, Freya and Odin are both full of pride, power and in their own ways care and concern for their son. This is quite possibly one of the most emotive pieces of artwork I’ve read in quite a while. There’s also a good use of implied imagery  which leaves you as the reader conjuring up even more visual ideas so kudos for that.

As I said I’m not a fan necessarily of Thor as a character, however that said this was still an issue strong enough to grab my interest. New readers will certainly enjoy it and fans will no doubt discuss the identity and what will happen for a while too.

Matt Puddy avoided all the usual MC Hammer jokes.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Big Game Hunting - Games on the Horizon: D&D Attack Wing

by Rae

By now, pretty much every gamer has seen, if not played themselves, either Star Trek: Attack Wing or Star Wars: X Wing. These fantastic games both make use of the elegant flight path system, allowing gamers to move game models freely across the vast landscape of a 3' x 3' map. They employ easy-to-understand mechanics to introduce players into the gameplay quickly, but incorporate deck building to allow more experienced players to carefully construct the perfect fleet for their next encounter. Now this brilliant game system is taking on an entirely new theme: Dungeons & Dragons.

Coming to Proud Lion in October, the starter set for D&D Attack Wing brings players into the game with three stunning dragon figures: red, blue, and copper. The set comes with all the manoeuvre templates, manoeuvre dials, cards, and tokens required for a two- or three-player game right out of the box.

Of course, you can't make an army with just one dragon, so you may want to build up your troops with the other models being released as part of Wave 1. The expansion packs currently scheduled for release are the Green Dragon, Frost Giant, Sun Elf Wizard, Sun Elf Guard Troops (6 pack), Hobgoblin Troops (6 pack), Dwarven Ballista, and Wraiths (2 pack).

Still not enough for you? No problem, keep an eye out for Wave 2, currently expected in December! This wave currently includes the Black Shadow Dragon, Movanic Deva Angel, and Aarakocra!

Don't forget to also look out for D&D Attack Wing in-store events coming soon!

Rae needs the dragons. All the dragons.

Friday, 3 October 2014

New Beginnings - Aliens: Fire and Stone #1

by Matt Puddy

When Prometheus: Fire And Stone came out we looked at how the universe around humanity was changed after learning that the creators weren’t so benevolent.  We saw the good Doctor Shaw and her alien head inadvertently lead a new team of scientists in their quest for knowledge. This week we see the same foreboding planet but from a very different perspective. Although it's part of the same arc as Prometheus, the one thing to remember is that this takes place before last week's comic in the grand scheme of things. With that it also answers a few questions too.

Chris Roberson – an author who was essentially a late bloomer in the comic world – takes a trip from the ill fated LV-426 in the wake of the alien ship being discovered and the xenomorphs awoken and onto a strange new planet.

Opening in the midst of a crisis, you - as the reader - are given very little aside from a brutal death and a lot of panic. With barely a narrator to bring you rapidly up to speed ,you find yourself in a pivotal point in the struggle for life and hopefully an escape from arguably the most deadly species in the known galaxy.

Characters are fleetingly introduced and a plan is quickly formulated. It’s clear that staying in Hadley’s Hope is a death sentence and the local area is just as bad so the only option is space. Jumping onto a ship that will only just get them in and out of orbit, a hasty escape is made at the considerable cost of human life.

The nice thing I liked about this is that with a small bit of magic Roberson fits this story into current cannon. As fans of the film will know in Aliens all of the colonists were either killed or captured by the Xenomorphs before the USCM arrive. However, fans will then think back to the film and realise that this was only alluded to and never confirmed leaving this convenient gap to be exploited.

After a bumpy exit and an even harder arrival on the local moon provides more surprises instead of solace. A previously thought uninhabitable moon with no atmosphere now has a wild and thriving jungle. Unfortunately instead of having time to inspect the new and unexpected surroundings, all hell breaks loose as their makeshift escape craft not only saved them but it also brought stowaways.

On an alien moon, with a biosphere that shouldn’t be there, with limited supplies and a predatory race of creatures hunting them what is there to do? Well now we know how the xenomorphs got to that moon, this series sets to find out what happened next.

The writing moves fast, but it has to so that it provides a feeling of panic which is what the story requires, at least in the first act that is. The lull in the story when the metaphorical breath is taken is only the calm before the storm, as then the pace picks up once again. There isn’t really time for character development as a result though, except for the bare minimum in occasional cases. This in itself provides a good vehicle for highlighting the main protagonists in the story, developing their personalities for the readers in a high pressured situation shows them in the true light.

Artistically the style is what I would describe as typical Dark Horse Aliens comics. Reynolds is a Dark Horse veteran with his accolades covering some of their big titles like Hellboy, showing that he has a diverse range as well. The images are clear, although not clean, and full of detail especially with the mechanical aspects (I liked the ship even though it is very boxy) and the xenomorphs are very Gigeresque and true to their type, so my fanboy side was happy.

All together this is kind of what I expected from Dark Horse as a new title and I was happily impressed as a result. Fans of the series will follow suit I would hope. I liked how it’s already tying in with the other story and we still have AVP and Predator to go too. All of these titles already on my pulllist!

Matt Puddy is keen to find out what happens next and with Alien Isolation out next week, it's a great time to be a fan!