Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top Ten Comic Characters 2009 Edition

I'm not sure I've seen ten new films this year, I've barely read more than a couple of new books, and I don't know enough about music to write about it without embarrassing myself, so I'm just going to pinch an idea from Rol and just do my ten favourite comic characters. So, in no particular order (except alphabetical):

1. The Avengers: Immediately I cheat by chucking in a team. Oh well. I suspect that my first superhero comic was an Avengers title, as I've been hooked since I was a youngster. It's not even a particular lineup or era I like, but the team itself. Even though they live in a mansion and have a butler, there's something a bit more down to earth and approachable about the Avengers than their godlike DC counterparts (who don't have a butler, but look down on us all from their space station). Perhaps it's their open door policy, which allows Spider-Man villain the Sandman to fight alongside Captain America and Thor (I have a great idea for a Sandman Avengers story which will never see the light of day, alas). Or the fluctuating power levels, so you can have Thor and Iron Man in the team one month, then Firestar and Triathlon the other. One of my great regrets was dropping the title, after the franchise bloated, got mired in crossover hell, and came under the creative control of a writer who doesn't have the first idea on how to write the team.

2. Death's Head: It's difficult to explain the appeal of this character to anyone who didn't read Marvel UK's Transformers. I think it's because you've got a property which, like many of those cartoon/toy tie-ins of the 80's, split the characters into sharp delineations of good and evil. Then you've got this character coming in who cares not a jot for any of that, and just wants to get paid. Certainly this was unique in a kids' comic, and I can't think of many characters in "grown up" comics with a similar outlook. It helped that he was written well, with a humourous edge not often seen in the parent title, and he had a great character design. I was shocked and surprised to see him return recently, in the pages of S.W.O.R.D. of all places.

3. Doctor Doom: I like the theatrical chaos of the Joker, but for me, Doom is the greatest comic villain. Partly it's due to the great design (I once heard a rumour that the reason George Lucas gave Marvel the Star Wars comics rights was because they pointed out to him the visual similarities between Darth Vader and Doom), and it's partly to do with the pompous dialogue. The main thing I like about Doom is that he doesn't really see himself as a villain. He's a victim of circumstance, the most brilliant genius of his time, but the Accursed Richards always gets in the way. The best thing is that Doom may actually be right; Reed is no saint, and if their positions were reversed, things wouldn't be so different, I suspect.

4. Edward Hyde: As seen in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this is the best version of the Hulk ever written.

5. Invincible: What if Superman's alter-ego was Peter Parker? That's essentially what we've got with this character. So we're not dealing with a hugely original concept, but it's all about the writing, which captures that clash of real life and superheroing which made the after-high-school-but-before-Clones era of Spider-Man so compelling.

6. Nextwave:. Another cheat, but it's Christmas, so tough. This team's title got cancelled because no one was buying it, since apparently most comics fans lack both a sense of humour, and the understanding that Lee and Kirby did stuff like this all the time, and if it's good enough for them, it's damned well good enough for modern Marvel. You've got an ex-Avenger with an superiority complex, an ultra-violent English monster hunter, a drunken Machine Man, a jailbait X-Man and a superhero with a name so profane Captain America beat him up because of it. All of them are on the run after stealing what is essentially a TARDIS from a suicidal Nick Fury. Great stuff, crushed by the disapproval of abhuman cretins who couldn't deal with it being in the same "continuity" as a multi-part crossover about Iron Man and Captain America punching each other. Idiots.

7. Rocket Raccoon: The star of a bizarre minor Marvel miniseries of the early 1980's, a strange blend of horror and Saturday morning cartoon loosely based on a Beatles song and drawn by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola. I normally don't have much time for the anthropomorphic animal thing (I can't get into Usagi Yojimbo, for example, even though I know it's good), but there's something compelling about a 50's Buck Rogers style space hero with rocket boots and ray guns who just happens to be a raccoon. He's recently returned as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and I'm dreading his demise in some inane cosmic crossover.

8. Scott Pilgrim: He's a brilliant hand-to-hand fighter, and the ladies love him, but he's also a bit of a loser, living in a bedsit with only borrowed possessions, and he seems to have an odd kind of social autism where he fails to comprehend basic concepts. So another example of the Peter Parker archetype then. It would have been so easy to make Scott unfailingly cool and brilliant, and I love that he's just a bit rubbish sometimes.

9. Spider-Man: I don't have quite the attachment Rol does to Spidey, but it's close. I grew up reading his adventures, mainly from Marvel UK reprints, and Marvel got it dead right with this character. The balance of real-life and superheroics is spot on, and Spidey actually grew up and developed in a way superhero characters rarely do, which makes it all the more annoying that Marvel scuppered all that and turned the clock back for no reason at all. I still love Spidey, but Marvel make it so bloody hard.

10. Thor: I love the one-upmanship of the concept, of topping DC's strongest man alive by wheeling out a god. I like the silly Olde English dialogue, that he's a hero who can pull off a beard, and that he gets drunk at the end of a successful adventure purely for fun and celebration, and not because of socially relevant storytelling. He also works really well as an Avenger (see above), in particular during the Kurt Busiek era, when the writer would save Thor for the big climax, invariably giving him the hero shot. All this is set against the grand backdrop of Norse myth, complete with doom-laden prophecy and familial back-stabbing.

10a. Beta Ray Bill: As 10, but a yellow alien horse.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ghost of Holidays Past

There's a film out soon, the trailer claiming that it is based on one of the greatest "holiday" stories of all time, "holiday" in this case, of course, being the American word for "we don't want to offend anyone by saying 'Christmas'". The film?

Robert Zemeckis' Uncanny Valley version A Christmas Carol.

Monday, October 12, 2009

State of Play

Two months? Two ruddy months? Egad.

Part of that is down to August and September being the busiest time of the year when one happens to work in the enrolment department of a college; early mornings, manic days and late nights all combine to make me pretty much useless by the end of the day. That's all done with now, so I can start to think about having some kind of non-work-related existence.

Also in that time, I've managed to do a handful of bits of art for Fight On! magazine, and a couple of images for some Brazilian project I don't really understand. I also drew something for Rol, but it was rubbish, so I'm starting that again. I also updated my website a bit, but I really need to (a) tidy up the comics section, and (2) do some more comics to put in it.

Somewhere in there, I turned thirty. Which horrifies me a bit, because I've done nothing useful with that time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Price of Heroism

Draw the World Together is an organisation which, among other things, brings comics artists together to raise money for underprivileged children around the world. They've got a print up on Ebay right now, of some characters from Heroes, signed by the actors, and also by the artist, Mike Collins. It's well worth a look!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Mario!

We've been playing a lot of Mario Kart Wii of late at Brainsplurge Towers; we've had it about a year now, and it's still great fun. In fact, it's pretty much the only video game Meg actively enjoys playing, and she rattled through a bunch of the time trials the other night, unlocking stuff I couldn't even get near in all the time we've had it. I'm astounded at how much play this thing has still got in it, but it could still have a lot more. I've been playing a bit of Guitar Hero World Tour on and off, and it got me thinking about downloadable content. Such content is pretty common on computers and other consoles, but it's still a bit rare on the Wii, although GHWT does its best to mimic the service available on the "grown up" consoles, with most of the same songs available for download.

It occurs to me that, with at least five games' worth of tracks in the franchise history, Nintendo could quite easily offer Mario Kart circuits for download. The Wii edition already has a number of older tracks, so we know they can be updated. It seems like an obvious move to me, and something which would extend the life of the game even further. I doubt anything of this sort would happen, and it's not like Nintendo executives are reading my ramblings, but I had to get this frustration off my chest, and that's what blogs are for after all.

If you ever do want a race, our Wii Code is 7714 7295 2393 7107, and our Mario Kart Wii friend code is 3093 9646 0225.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Adventures of Julius Chancer: The Rainbow Orchid Volume One

(This review was written for Comics Bulletin's Wednesday graphic novel reviews, but due to the editor being away, they haven't been uploaded this week, and since the book was released this week, I've chosen to gazump my bosses just for once. The review will still be posted at Comics Bulletin, probably next week.)

Writer/artist: Garen Ewing
Publisher: Egmont Books Ltd
ISBN-10: 140524853X

When I was young, I thought Tintin was British. I had no idea that there was such a thing as translated comics back then, and Captain Haddock, Thomson and Thompson all seem very British indeed, so it did come as something of a surprise to eventually discover the series' true origins. The Rainbow Orchid, despite the very continental ligne claire (literally, "clear line") style, is most definitely British; in fact it is produced about twenty miles up the road from where I am writing this review. This is the third and most high-profile release of the book thus far; after a self-published black and white run which apparently goes for shedloads on eBay, there was a limited edition hardback, and now this remastered and retouched version from, appropriately enough, Tintin's UK publishers. It is certainly a handsome volume, and there's just something very right in having the story in this familiar format.

The story starts with a gentlemen's wager, which swiftly escalates into a madcap race towards the Hindu Kush, and the possibly mythical flower of the title. It is a good solid adventure story in the vein of the pulp periodicals and the (good) Indiana Jones films, ramping up from a somewhat sedate beginning to an exciting and literally uplifting cliffhanger ending. I do not claim to be an expert on European comics, but even so I can detect a significant difference between The Rainbow Orchid and its more obvious inspirations; the average Tintin or Asterix story is over and done in sixty-four pages, but the pace here is a little more relaxed, and it is quite easy to imagine two or three further volumes of this. Even at such a pace, there is a lot going on, with a large cast, some of whom are not fully introduced at this stage, a number of mysteries and subplots, a wordy script, and an average of about twelve panels per oversized page.

With all this content, it is perhaps all the more surprising that the book does not grind to a cluttered and stodgy halt, and it is to writer/artist Garen Ewing's credit that it does not. Of particular note is the art, which shies away from the dynamic post-Kirby style common in English-language adventure comics; there are few fancy angles and no idiosyncratic panel layouts (although Ewing does show off occasionally with the odd establishing shot here and there), and a superficial critic might even call it "flat", but it's more that there is (to get all Scott McCloudy for a moment) a different visual language being used. I am always astounded by how well the ligne claire style can work, especially in terms of conveying depth and distance, as there is usually little or no difference in line thickness, shading is largely ignored, and yet everything remains, well, clear. It is a difficult technique to master, and I suspect that Ewing would say that he has not, but to my relatively uneducated eyes, he is certainly very close.

It is fair to say that part of the joy of The Rainbow Orchid, for me, is that it has a massive nostalgic pull, taking me right back to the days when the only comics I could get from the library were these colourful cartoony things from artists with unusual Gallic names. Yet a greater part of my enjoyment of the book, enough to get me to buy it a third time, is that it's just very well put together, an exercise in a type of storytelling which we do not see too often in English nowadays, and a cracking adventure yarn populated by compelling characters. The obvious comparisons will continue to be made, but this is a great comic on its own, very significant, merits.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How Appropriate, You Fight Like a Cow

Right, so how come the new version of The Secret of Monkey Island, which after all only has some tarted-up graphics and a voice track, requires a 3ghz processor and 3gb of disk space? What the heck?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

(Tell Me Why) I Don't Like Wednesdays

Wednesday Comics then. It's a pretty clear attempt by DC Comics to reach out to a wider market by presenting their product in a more widely-recognisable format, that of the Sunday newspaper comics section. It's also the first weekly adventure anthology ever, if you believe DC's absurd hype. Certainly the first weekly adventure anthology released every Wednesday, anyway. Now, the accepted wisdom is that the US comics-buying public doesn't like anthology titles, but the accepted wisdom was also that the US comics-buying public didn't like weekly titles either, and yet DC have had some success over the past couple of years with stuff like 52 and Countdown (although those were tied into their annual big event stories, and were not standalone projects), so I can see why they're trying the anthology approach here. However, I can't see it working, not in the current format.

First off, despite the "normal" appearance, this is still being sold through Diamond's distribution monopoly, and, as far as I can tell, is only being sold through comic shops. As a result, the intended audience becomes a little murky. The format seems to be aimed at people who once read comics, but haven't in a while, or who don't read superhero comics, but do read the humour strips in the Sunday papers, but then, once again, it's only being sold through the specialist shops those people will never, ever, visit. All the new formats in the world will do no good if you're stuck with such an exclusive distribution method, and it may even be counter-productive to try anything new because the audience served by that method may by now be trained so that they don't want anything different.

Distribution is one thing, crucial to the success of the project, but the contents are just as important, and are just as bungled. The storytelling is abysmal, okay on its own grounds but completely wrong for a one-page-a-week format, with acres of wasted space, a distinct lack of actual things happening, and a disturbing tendency toward limp "cliffhangers". DC have assembled a group of writers and artists here who often excel in the usual twenty-two pages of a monthly US comic, but seem to have no idea whatsoever how to pace a single page of storytelling; they seem to be writing with an eye to a full story, but have neglected how the single page reads. A lot of these creators are really good, and should be able to figure out how to tell a one-page story, but none of them have managed it (although Paul Pope comes very close); Neil Gaiman and Dave Gibbons should have an idea, at least, from their experience in the UK weeklies, but even they stumble, as if they, like the audience, have been conditioned to not understand how single page storytelling works. There are about fourteen billion webcomic creators out there, all of whom could do a better job than this A-list collection of writers and artists has managed.

There's also the small matter of all the stories being bog-standard DC superhero tales. Now I know that superheroes are the bread and butter of the US industry, but again it makes me wonder who this is for; if you're picking this up because you like Calvin and Hobbes, and you just happened to walk down the wrong alley and stumbled upon a comic shop, this collection is not going to draw you in, unless the stories are sufficiently gripping, which, due to the unsatisfying storytelling is not the case. But then, of course, if DC dropped the "household name" characters and the famous creators, the existing superhero comics fans would ignore the title, and since it won't be selling to anyone else, those fans have to be placated. The whole thing is so incredibly pointless and inane.

All in all, Wednesday Comics strikes me as a bit of a folly. It does look very good, apart from the almost-offensively grotesque art in the Superman story, and there is something undeniably pleasing about the broadsheet newsprint format, but it all comes across as a bit of an art object, and because barely any of the stories inside work at all, I can't see any point in getting the second issue. I can understand and appreciate the idea behind the book, but it's been handled about as poorly as it possibly could.

Well, maybe not. If Marvel had done it, it would likely have been even worse.

(Had this review been published at Comics Bulletin, I would have given it two bullets out of five. That's mainly for the good art throughout, and the Paul Pope story.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

What If?

Harrison Ford, even after Star Wars, was not the first choice for Indiana Jones. Instead, Tom Selleck was picked, and you can see his screen test on the fourth DVD in the Indiana Jones boxed set. I mean the special features disc, not that pap Lucas and Spielberg attempted to foist upon us last year. Anyway, Selleck dropped out in order to appear in Magnum, P.I., Ford was Indy, and all was right in the world.

Except:




On a somewhat related note, an episode of Quantum Leap was planned in which Sam would leap into Magnum. That didn't happen either.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Up Above the Streets and Houses

I think I first encountered The Rainbow Orchid about ten years ago (!), at a time when I was exploring the British small press comics scene. I'm not sure how I first heard of the title, or what attracted me to it; although the T word was chucked about a lot back then, I don't think that did it, as I was always more of an Asterix fan. Anyway, what I discovered was a globe-trotting adventure story with a distinctive British feel (distinguished gentlemen discussing matters of import in wood-panelled rooms), but a fair bit of pulp excess (extravagantly mustachioed French stunt pilots and a clown or two) in there too. It's a bit Herge, a bit Wells, a bit Indiana Jones, even a bit Haggard (or maybe Kipling), and all good fun.

After a while, writer/artist Garen Ewing started publishing the title online, previewing pages from the story in the run up to a more high-profile release than had been done before. It wasn't a webcomic as such, but the growing audience treated it as one, and I believe it became quite popular; there's some wisdom in there about the best advertising being the act of giving your product away for nothing. Garen put out a limited edition hardback collection of The Story So far about a year ago (which the missus bought me as a birthday present), a self-published thing which was again intended to drum up interest in the oft-mentioned professional publication of The Rainbow Orchid, and now things have come full circle with the announcement that Egmont, former publishers of 2000AD and current custodians of, yes, Tintin, are to publish Garen's comic. It's been one of my favourite titles for a while, and soon I'll be able to see how the story ends!

It's also Garen's birthday today. Happy birthday Garen!

On a completely unrelated note, I've done some more art for Fight On!, this time for the fifth issue, and I also entered an art competition the magazine was running, although I didn't win anything besides an honourable mention; the winning entries were of stunning quality though, so I don't mind losing out to them. It still feels a bit odd to be one of the regular artists for a magazine about something of which I have so little experience (Dungeons & Dragons mostly), but it's been good fun, and it's also been useful to have an actual deadline to make sure I keep drawing. I've taken the opportunity to update my long-fallow website with some of my more recent art, as well as give the whole thing a bit of a tidy. There's still a lot of work to be done, the comics and writing sections in particular, but it's a start.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bank Holiday Mecha-Day

Here in Blighty, our public monuments tend to be statues of dead white guys. In Japan, as always, things are different:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not Paying Attention

So Terminator 2 has that Guns 'n' Roses soundtrack. It also has that scene in the shopping centre corridor, all slow-motion, where we finally discover which of the Terminators is the good one, as Arnie pulls a gun from a box of roses.

You've all probably known this since 1991, but I've seen that film a hundred times and never noticed it before.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quickie Film Reviews: Star Trek (2009)

The only thing I liked about Cloverfield was the credits music, so it was nice to hear it again. For two hours. Apparently, Trek is the future of Alias. He's not Shatner, but he'll do. Murdering a bunch of helpless men is not a heroic finale. It was much better than I thought it would be.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Everything is Wrong

Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, who hates everything unless it's a European black and white four-hour epic about economics and sexuality, really likes the new Star Trek. I'm not sure what's going on.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Free Comic Book Day (Terms and Conditions Apply)

The idea is simple and largely self-explanatory. The publishers put out some free stuff, which the local comic shops distribute in their community, with the end goal that some of the punters who pick up those free books will come back later and buy stuff. Now, as with many aspects of this shrivelled medium, the big US publishers tend to try to ruin the whole noble endeavour by shovelling out some awful pap, somehow not realising that a crappy comic isn't going to bring anyone back for more, but in theory Free Comic Book Day is a good thing.

When I lived in Norwich, the excellent Abstract Sprocket comic shop put on a proper event for (I think the first) FCBD, hiring some space in the shiny new city library and inviting comics writers and artists to come in and chat with fans, do signings, and so on. Impressive stuff, but the important thing is that the Sprocketeers realised that for the event to be a success, it had to be visible; all the free comics in the world aren't going to do much if no one goes to comic shops in the first place. You have to get punters into your shop, or you have to go to them.

On a whim, I checked to see if there were any events going on in my neighbourhood, and the FCBD site showed that my local shop was taking part. I headed down to find that the street was blocked off for most of the day by the annual Brighton Festival Children's Parade, so I went and sat on the beach for a few hours. Returning later, I had a good look around the comic shop, and saw no signs indicating any FCBD events, so thinking that the website had been in error, I left. On my way out, I passed by the counter and just happened to catch a glance of the wall behind the shop assistant, on which were mounted a couple of shelves containing a handful of FCBD titles, a tiny bit of cardboard with "Free Comic Book Day" scrawled on it in black felt tip, and under that another bit of card with "Only Two Free Comics Per Customer" written in a jagged and unfriendly hand.

The timing of the parade was just bad luck, but the shop screwed everything else up. They didn't advertise the event at all, not even with a poster in the front window (although there was a poster advertising a Kevin O'Neill signing on the 17th), access to the free comics was restricted, so you couldn't get a look at them, and you had to buy something before they gave you a free comic, which is about as backwards as it can get, and not exactly friendly towards the allegedly all-important new readers.

What a waste.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Is it a Bird?


I have a new article up at Comics Bulletin this week, this time focusing on Marvel's half-arsed Superman clone, the Sentry. I really can't figure out what this character is for, so writing a snarky article about how useless he is came very easily indeed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Lovefool

It may come as a surprise to some of those who know me, but I'm not a big fan of April Fool's Day. I did enjoy Lovefilm's effort, however. Click to see the whole thing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Watchmen

Well, everyone else is talking about it...

I should start by saying that Watchmen has never been my favourite of Alan Moore's works; I much prefer League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, and The Annoyingly Unfinished Ballad of Halo Jones, although I do think it is a strong piece of work, and probably the best English-language superhero graphic novel ever produced.

The film is a surprisingly faithful portrayal of the plot (except for the ending; more below) and characters of the book. From that perspective, it's a complete success and Zack Snyder should be pleased with his achievement, although he may want to consider making something original at some point. However, I think that what's great about Watchmen is not the plot, or the characters, but something else, something in the way that Moore (and Gibbons, but artists working with Alan Moore tend to get bumped down to "illustrator" from what I've heard) explores the very language of comics. I find it difficult to explain what I mean here; I tried with Meg, and she thought I was talking about pacing, but that's only part of it. It's the rhythm of the panels, the juxtaposition of words and images, the recurring visual themes. It's stuff like the covers of the individual comics (or the chapter dividers in the book) doubling as the first panels of the issues themselves, or the bits with the parallel narratives in chapter eight, pages ten to fifteen, or the infamous pirate stuff which is far more clever than most people realise.

For me, it's these bits that make Watchmen what it is, and they didn't make it into the film. Some of them could have been translated into cinematic techniques, but some of them are just features of the medium and can't be carried over, and I think that in an important sense, the book is more about these "mechanics" than it is the plot and characters. Terry Gilliam said the book was unfilmable, and I suspect he was talking about all this under the hood stuff; Snyder passed it over completely, and as such, the film ends up, for me, competent, but ultimately superficial and empty.

This superficial approach also harmed the ending. I have no problem, in theory with swapping the Cthulhoid space squid out for another threat, but I think it was a mistake to go ahead without taking into consideration the rest of the story. Spoilers follow. By involving Doctor Manhattan in the final attack, there is an appearance of cleverness, of drawing things together, but rather it fractures the story somewhat. Veidt formulates an elaborate plan to convince the world that Manhattan has turned against humanity, a plan which hinges at certain moments on predicting how Manhattan will act, and a plan which Manhattan greets with a shrug and vague approval when it's explained to him at the end of the film. So why doesn't Veidt (a man who loves the simple solution, as his discussion of the Gordian Knot attests, although to be fair this isn't in the film) just go to the good Doctor right at the start and convince him to do it himself? This is not a question which can be asked of the book's Veidt, as he doesn't involve Manhattan in the plan at any point, but here, he's integral to it, and in an apparently stupid way. Not to mention that Manhattan, a supposed genius, spends the first half of the film building bombs somehow without realising it, like some big blue thickie. I also find it hard to be convinced by claims that the space squid would be "too silly" for audiences when a purple cgi tiger bounces around without explanation or comment.

I wouldn't call the film a disappointment, as it was well made and entertaining, but because it's a different medium, it misses the deep structures of the book, and for me, it is those deep structures that make the book what it is. In the end, Watchmen the film strikes me as good but ultimately pointless, a triumphant failure. I give it a big Moviewatch 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kerrunch!

Well, I played my first game of Blood Bowl in about ten years, and I lost. Two-one, although I was two men down for three-quarters of the game, I was playing an unskilled all-lineman team against a more rounded squad, and the opposing coach has been playing in a regular league for the past three years, so I'm not too displeased with that result. Not least because I think my touchdown caught him by surprise, and his second was an exceptional fluke; his player ran into my end zone to receive a pass that went straight over his head into the crowd, who then promptly lobbed it right into the player's hands, giving him the touchdown! All in all, a fun game, and I learned a lot, so I'm looking forward to the next time I can have a go.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Raccoons and Mind Flayers

I celebrated my promotion by buying myself a copy of Blood Bowl, since it's perhaps my favourite board game ever. I was never any good at the painting of miniatures, but I'm going to give it another go as I assemble a dark elf team for the game. If the painting isn't too incompetent, I'll post the results here. I might post the results anyway, just for a laugh.

In other news, I've completed another in my increasingly-infrequent series of character profiles for Comics Bulletin, this time focusing on Rocket Raccoon, one of Marvel's best but most underrated characters. I have jotted down some ideas for my next article in this series, and fans of my acerbic approach will be pleased to know that the next victim is one of Marvel's most ill-conceived and cretinous characters (not Dark Speedball), so I'll be pulling no punches.

Finally, I've done some art for a magazine called Fight On!. It's a magazine for fans of the Dungeons & Dragons game, something I haven't had much involvement with since I was about twelve, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to draw dinosaur riding barbarians, fungoid bone sorcerers and octopus-headed spacemen. It's completely unpaid, but it was great fun to do, and I hope to be a regular contributor, perhaps doing some kind of comic strip for them if we can work out the logistics.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Enough Now

Right, now that Heath Ledger has won everything, can the ridiculous hype stop? Or are we angling for a posthumous knighthood too?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Your First Band and Album Sleeve...

What would your own album look like if you were in a band? Follow the directions below and find out...

Here are the rules:

1 - Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random”
or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to Quotations Page and select "random quotations"
or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to Flickr and click on "explore the last seven days"
or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together.

5 - Post it to FB with this text in the "caption" or "comment" and TAG the friends you want to join in.
-----

This is a Fakebook meme originally, but it's posted here because Rol linked to here from his blog. As Rol says, I did cheat a little in that the third image I found was smothered in text, so I went for the fourth. Oddly enough, I used to live just a few minutes down from the Island Station Power Plant.

Just to be clear, I'm not claiming ownership of the image. The original picture is called "Undressing an Indio" and was created by Baba G.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Little Fluffy Clouds

Did it occur to anyone that the reason that so much fuss is being made over the new opening credits for The Simpsons is because the twentyish minutes immediately after haven't been worth talking about for, ooh, about five years?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mister Blobby

A few years ago, I'd almost given up on video games. The whole industry seemed to have devolved into an absurd graphics arms race, and gameplay didn't so much take a back seat, but got forced to the back of the bus to that manky seat with all the dried chewing gum and bogeys stuck to it. Every game seemed to be a World War II first person shooter, a Japanese-style role-playing game, or a sports title. A tiny number of genres dominated, as the big publishing companies saw what was popular and pumped out more of the same. This has always been a problem in the industry, as all the beat-em-ups and scrolling shooters in the 16-bit era prove, but as games got more elaborate, we saw the disappearance of those bedroom programmers who just had an idea for a fun gameplay mechanic and built an entire title around it, whether or not it would sell.

And then came Katamari Damacy. Presentation aside, it could easily have been a £2.99 Commodore 64 release. It's got a unique central mechanic, and the rest of the game is there to serve and embellish that. It's a game for gaming's sake, and I loved it to bits. I bought the sequel, and loved that too. Then came the Wii, and Nintendo's new approach of "sod the graphics, let's make games fun again" and after almost putting video games away forever, I'm back in. I was waiting for Katamari Wii; the philosophies match up, and anyone who's played the rolling ball levels on Super Mario Galaxy knows that the game could work well on Wii, but it was not to be. Instead the Firebomb360 got a half-hearted sequel and Wii owners got nothing.

Until de Blob. It's definitely a post-Katamari game, and probably wouldn't exist without that title; they look very similar, and have the same sort of almost-therapeutic feel to the play. The purity of the game's philosophy is also similar; while there's a token plot*, it's all about the fun of the mechanics, of just playing the game for its own sake. It's not a clone of the earlier title, however; the central mechanic is quite different, based on colour rather than mass, and with the ideas of colour mixing, patterns, and combinations thrown in, it's even a bit more complex than Katamari, although just as intuitive in its own way. The control scheme is by necessity different to the earlier game, and doesn't borrow from Super Mario Galaxy either, presenting a new take which works well and makes good use of the Wii's unique controls.



The graphics aren't groundbreaking, but that's not the point, and the central conceit of painting colours back into a grey world works very well. The music isn't as manic and varied as the wonderful Katamari tunes, but it is a good fit for the game, and quite cleverly associates different sounds with different colours, making the soundtrack somewhat interactive, as (for example) the doo-wops accompanying de Blob as he (literally) paints the town red give way to some freestyle scratching if he turns brown and starts daubing things in that colour.

(As an aside, I'm not sure if there's not something slightly racist about associating the colour brown with "urban" sounds, but perhaps I'm reading too much into it.)

It's not as refreshing as Katamari, but de Blob is nonetheless a very welcome reminder of games-as-games, which is surely why we play these things in the first place, and is a good fun game in its own right. There's lots of replay value in the various unlockable levels and secondary play modes, and it looks to have a decent multiplayer mode, something the Katamari series lacked. All in all, it's a very solid title, and a worthwhile purchase for any Wii owner.

*There is a political edge to the plot, with much talk of revolutionaries and an oppressive police state, and the central conceit of graffiti as a form of protest. There's no real depth to it, but unlike Katamari, the plot is at least about something.

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In other news, I started my new job this past Monday. It's not that different to my old job, and it's in the same office, and technically it's a promotion, but I had to apply and interview for it, so it's all a bit strange and unusual.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Newsflash: Metaphors Are For Stupid People

From the Radio Times, on Being Human:
"The metaphor of werewolves, ghosts and vampires as outcasts from society works well, although Toby Whitehouse is surely good enough to cast away that crutch and write about real people."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Relative Dimensions


I would get the mini-Cyberman anyway, but the little super-deformed skeletal astronaut is wonderful.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Things I Never Knew, part 1

I've often wondered (because I am sad like that) how film-makers come up with the names of their characters, particularly in action movies. I wondered if there was some focus group coming up with tough, macho style names to attach to the latest Van Dammage feature, or whether it's picked at random from the phone book.

Well, apparently, to legally use a name in a film, there either have to be no examples of that name in the US national phone directory, or at least five examples. I assume this only applies to American films.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In No Particular Order

I'm a bit behind here, but Pro Evolution Soccer on Wii is the best footie game since Sensi. Since the death of that venerable franchise, I'd basically been making do with the playable but dull FIFA and had been avoiding the Pro Evo series for no good reason; particularly foolish given the consistently good reviews bestowed upon the franchise. The clever new control system of the Wii version got a lot of attention, but still I resisted, until it was forced under the tree at Chrimble. It turns out to be quite brilliant. It plays completely differently to any footie game I've ever seen (but doesn't have to; it can be played in a bog-standard Fifa way if you want, but you're missing out) in the sense that you really do control an entire team rather than just one player. In the majority of these games, you have to rely on the AI to back you up when you go for a run, or try to put a cross into the box, but in Pro Wiivo, you can move any team member into any position on the field, make them move where you want, and so on, and it's nothing short of revolutionary. What Konami have done, essentially, is take the environment of a real time strategy game like Command & Conquer and slap it onto football, and it works wonderfully. And at £13 from Amazon (likely cheaper elsewhere too), it's also a bargain. I'm not very good at it as yet, but I'd be up for an online match; my Wii number is 7714 7295 2393 7107.

ITV are trumpeting their snagging of the FA Cup broadcast rights with plenty of billboard advertising. It's all macho nonsense based around an "in the FA Cup, all men are equal" tagline, and one of the posters shows a fireman competing with a Manchester United player for a header; it's a clear reference to the previous round where a postman knocked the once-mighty Leeds United out of the contest, but the unfortunate implication of the advert is that a man who every day risks his life to save the lives of others is somehow not as worthy as a bloke who's paid millions to run around a field for an hour and a half once a week. Nice work, ITV. Classy.

I have a beard. I had an ill-advised facial growth back in Sixth Form, but it looked like a tuft of ginger pubes and was quite the embarrassment, and I swore never to repeat that mistake, and yet... Back around Chrimble '07, a colleague grew a superb beard, a full-on North Sea fisherman thing, but his missus not-so-subtly suggested that he get rid of it by buying him a shaver as a gift. I detected the beginnings of new winter plumage sometime in November and urged him to keep it this year, pledging that I too would grow a Christmas Beard in support. Meg hated the idea at first, but now has become quite taken with my hirsuteness, and won't let me shave it off. Combine that with the fact that I haven't had a haircut in two months, and I'm starting to look like a feral Geography teacher.

Vimanarama is great fun, and probably the last decent thing Grant Morrison did. It's also the only known instance where a Wikipedia page quotes me. Meanwhile, Brandon Graham ad Corey Lewis are geniuses, even if the former is borrowing liberally from Mitz. Graham's King City is particularly inspirational, and I can't wait to see the second volume; I may give his werewolf porn comic a miss though.

And I was rooting for Paterson Joseph, but this fellow has a definite sense of the eccentric about him, so I think he could work. After all, I thought David Tennant was too young when they announced him, and he turned out okay. Incoming showrunner Steven Moffat's favourite Doctor was Peter Davison, again a youngster at the time, and he seems to have a good idea of how to make the young-but-impossibly-old thing work. All that said, I am a tiny bit worried that the producers will try to twist the show to make it more youth-friendly, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Eins Zwei Drei

By the hairy chin of Odin, it's been a while. Apologies. I'm sure there's something worth reporting, but I'll have to have a think about it. Tomorrow. In the meantime, this is what's making me happy right now:



Middle-aged German car designer fights multiple copies of himself using his powerful kung-fu. This is the kind of thing I missed when I lived in America; apart from during the Superbowl, they don't tend to do funny or clever adverts over there. Then again, I'm not entirely sure how the "beat yourself" message directly relates to the car being sold.