Sunday, 22 October 2017

Capitalism, morality and getting the best Abaddon for your buck

I am not going to mince words or dance around it: this is an Abaddon model. This is Abaddon the Despoiler wearing his Terminator armour armed with Drach'nyen and the Talon of Horus. Its Abaddon. Officially, of course, this is the Chaos Master Of The Crusade from Grimskull and sold by Wargames Exclusive via their eBay store. They're a Ukrainian company and so IP rights can go hang.

(Actually, funny thing, one of the eBay listing for this model was simply titled “NotAbaddon”).

Let's address the moral gray area here: there is an existing Games Workshop Abaddon the Despoiler model. It is, however, awful. Its old, its chunky and its built on a smaller scale than almost anything you're likely to stand next to it. Its only selling point compared to the Grimskull version is that its cheaper (£15 against £26-ish including postage and packing) and quicker to acquire just because of distance.
But I just don't want it. It looks awful. I don't game much in GW clubs so the blanket (and understandable) ban on third party miniatures doesn't really stand to inconvenience me plus the local GW club has a 1000 points / 50 power army limit so I'd likely not use Abaddon there anyway. The fact that this isn't an official GW miniature doesn't inconvenience me in any immediate sense other than the fact it took three weeks to arrive.

And, finally: capitalism is not a moral system. It is not my job as a consumer to put up with an inferior product for the benefit of Games Workshop. I have no doubt that if GW decided to replace their Abaddon model it would be superior to this; made of plastic with a greater selection of options; have the right iconography sculpted on; been usable in club environments should I choose to; and, more convenient to buy. If that model existed, I'd have probably bought it even though it would likely have weighted in at £5 to £10 more than the Grimskull version.

They did not provide that option. My money went to the Ukrainians. That's capitalism.

Now, obviously, I can't argue that Grimskull are in the right in making and selling this thing. It is obviously Abaddon and that's IP infringement. If and when a GW lawyer braces the oblast to serve a cease and desist... well, you pays your money you takes your chance. That is also capitalism.

And I got a good Abaddon out of it, that's all that matters. 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

There are 6 Elites choices in a Battalion detachment

This changes everything! I had it in my head that the Battalion was just the old Standard Force Organisation Chart with an extra HQ slot.

Well, this makes army selection a little easier, doesn't it? My only real complaint about eighth edition was the sudden proliferation of buff characters competing for my Elites slots. The Noxious Blightbringer springs to mine or all those mini-characters who used to be mere components of the Space Marine Command Squad who are now independent characters in their own right.

Honestly, I am really glad this is a thing. One of the best things eighth edition Fantasy did was increase the Special Choice limit to 50% of your army. Generally speaking most of the big theme units are in the Special choices. Usually this means units that are from somewhere like Swordmasters of Hoeth or units that represent a specific sub-faction like Plague Monks.

This is less the case with 40k but Elite choices tend to be where the specialists live whilst your Troops choices tend towards generalism (unless the army itself tends towards a specialism). For one thing I imagine Eldar players are happy for the chance to take a wider selection of Aspect Warriors. For my part there are so many cool Elites choices available to my Death Guard and Black Templars that I'm glad I no longer have to skimp on the cool stuff.

Hey, everyone likes more cake. 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Comic Reviews

This week Batman's first day as an engaged man ends in massive bisexual orgy (for someone else); Gwen Stacy finally gets to experience the sort of grimdark reinvention she missed out on in the Eighties by being dead; Thor provides some fanservice for French readers; Cable indulges in some unexpectedly appreciated artistic nostalgia; and, Iron Man undergoes a merger.

Batman #33
Rules of Engagement part 1
For serious, though, the colourist could remember to give Talia dark skin but not Damian? For real this is a thing that happened. On another note, the art does a terrible job of distinguishing the Robins, relying on you remembering who is wearing what colour shirt rather than making any real distinction of hair, height or facial structure.

Like, for instance, that one of the Robins is of Arab descent.

Anyway, this is another of those issues that shows how well Tom King writes for the serial format. The issue has two threads: Batman and Catwoman travelling across the desert in search of something with the Tiger King of Kandahar and Alfred gathering the Robins and Duke to tell them of this utterly insane thing Bruce has done (and also that he's in the desert). Aside from the aforementioned problems of keeping track of which Robin is which the b-plot is a good showcase for the family dynamic including a rare chance to see Duke in the group without Bruce. The desert plot is a whole lot of walking and talking and people being mysterious at each other which is great and atmospheric (including the decision to just skip an entire fight scene) but really needed the Wayne Manor stuff to keep the attention.

And it all ends with the revelation that what Talia has been doing since we last saw her is enjoying a comfortable retirement with her harem of twenty or thirty men and women and a very large bed. Nice work if you can get it.

Spider-Gwen #25
Gwenom part 1
I admit to finding it slightly odd that this got a Legacy storyline. I know Gwen herself has existed for half a century but Spider-Gwen is such a different (read: superior) character to the original I tend to forget that. Anyway, so now she has the Venom symbiote and never has Robbi Rodriguez's art been a better fit for an idea. His jagged lines and flowing shapes are perfect for this, its amazing.

Otherwise its exactly the story you'd expect it to be with Gwen hunting down the man who put her father in a coma and laying out a more savage than usual beating to the man. This might sound like a bad thing, predictability usually is, but it works and taking only a single issue to get Gwen to the place she is at the end of this one likely means the plot will go to more innovative places very soon.

The Mighty Thor #700
The Death of the Mighty Thor part 1
I'm not usually one to equate horrific permadeath with a good story, in fact I find the idea that the only good closure for a character is ruthlessly slaughtering them for shock value to be incredibly immature, but if they brought back Throg only to satisfy the “[a] Thor will die” promise of this arc I will be pissed.

Otherwise, this issue was a big tour of various Thors who have existed over the years including the young and old versions Jason Aaron introduced earlier in his run. The Throg bit is really fun, actually, and I hope we get to see more of the little fellow somewhere. The only downside really is that since Jane is only one Thor among many she gets rather the short end of the stick storywise. The Odinson gets to fight Malekith's army for the fate of the Norns; his past and future selves have nice little mini-adventures; Loki has a short side story with his biological (?) father Laufey; whilst Jane is left fighting Jennifer Walters in full-on PTSD episode Hulk mode. As even the narration notes, that's a story that''s been told again and again just with a different Thor and Hulk this time and not much more to say about it than that.

I'm not stupid, Jane's on her way out as Thor whether she survives her cancer or not, that's just what this whole Legacy business is about, I just don't like seeing her sidelined like this even for an anniversary that's about the larger concept of Thor than just her incarnation.

Cable #150
The Newer Mutants chapter 1
It worries me how much nostalgia Jon Malin's art inspires in me. I grew up during the bad times of comics, aka the last time they were a profitable industry, and so the Rob Leifeld house style was basically the look of comics to me for oh too many years. I've not read anything of Malin's before so I don't know if he's consciously aping the style for this one gig or if this is how he normally works but it definitely scratches an itch of nostalgia I'm almost guilty to admit exists.

(I'm not sure why Blink and X-23 look as stoned as they do on the cover, though.)

Anyway, the issue goes all-out on the Leifeld nostalgia with Cable reuniting with Shatterstar to investigate the mysterious death of Candra, one of the immortal Externals, in the distant past of 2004. Longshot and Doop are also there with others promised by the cover down the line. Like a lot of the nostalgia the Legacy imprint is trading on how well it connects with the reader is 100% tied to whether it was a thing for you first time round. I was never big on X-Force in the Leifeld era (the local newsagent didn't carry it) and I only know Candra from one random Gambit-centric X-Men arc. I seem to recall Cannonball was an External or might have been one or was one and then it got retconned or something... oh, the continuity! Anyway, the long and the short of it is that James Robinson is off the title now, there's a new writer and a plot I don't care for particularly so this series has one more issue to prove itself interesting enough to keep or its culled off the list.

Invincible Iron Man #593
The Search for Tony Stark part 1
First of all, I had forgotten how cool the classic Iron Man logo is. I adore the rivets. Painting Warhammer 40,000 miniatures you tend to hate rivets but when they're a design element you don't have to pick out in Boltgun Metal they actually look really, really cool.

Moving on...

From here on out it seems that Invincible and Infamous Iron Man are merging into one series complete with the Doom and The Thing part of this issue keeping the art style from Infamous. Its jarring, to say the least. Still, there is one upside to Infamous Iron Man ending (if it is ending) because that means there might be an opportunity for an Ironheart ongoing once Tony Stark is again fully installed as the straight white cisgender male Iron Man that fanboy retailers have been humping their pillows at night hoping to see return (along with every other straight white cisgender male protagonist who took some time off recently).

Because I'm resigned to losing Jane as Thor, let's not lose Riri as well, Marvel. 

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Design Notes: the Basic Chaos Space Marine Problem (and a possible solution)

The Problem
One of the real problems of the Chaos Space Marines range is that the basic troops are by far the worst looking things in the range. What's more, I'd be prepared to swear that the sculpts are degrading: I bought a box a year or so back and the armour trim on the legs was barely distinct in several places which made them an arse to paint. 

And I HATE heavy bolter! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Whose smart idea was to have it be a three-part assembly with the heaviest component hanging down from the other two? If Nottingham HQ has a woodshed, take that guy out the back of it, please. 

The Dark Vengeance box set didn't help either. That starter box had a set of amazing Chosen that showed just what could be achieved by applying the modern design sensibilities of Chaos to the idea. To wit: not just Space Marines in Viking hats. Sadly, its been a few years now and the only model to actively benefit from the new aesthetic those models pioneered was the Aspiring Champion clampack character who came out a week later. 

So, what to do, what to do? Waiting has proven ineffective as we've just had a Chaos Marine codex with no model release attached. So its time to kitbash my way out of the problem. 

Keeping It Simple:
A Hierarchy of Mutation

The key phrase here is “basic Chaos Space Marine”. Heroes/villains of legend they may be but they shouldn't be so fancy they overshadow the presence of more elite troops like Terminators, Chosen or Possessed. 
The basis of the unit will be the plastic Horus Heresy Space Marines in MkIV armour. Its simple enough to kitbash, being a Space Marine kit, and has the benefit of being an armour mark most of the Legions would have had in abundance. Its also the closest to “modern” power armour so its easier to swap loyalist or other Chaos parts into than MkIII, which has a much more distinctive silhouette. 

Now, as I mentioned, I don't want to mutate this unit's armour too much. For one thing, it would be hard to do without replacing more parts than I want to spend money on. Keeping legs, torsos and most weapons from this kit intact. Now, I have plenty of old Chaos Marine shoulder pads lying around if I choose to use them but what's really going to sell the conversion is the heads. To be specific, these heads:
Bought off eBay as a set, these are the heads from a box of Chaos Raptors. Mutated, certainly, but also distinctly recognisable as Space Marine helmets (and with a glorious lack of silly, chunky horns). This way the unit gets to look mutated but not overly so. Even if I do the rest of the army straight out of the box the more elite units, the ones higher in the favour of the dark gods, will still look more baroque and changed. 

Its also an easily replicated trick if I decide I want to do multiple units like this. Alternatively, its a look I can easily take in a different direction if I want each unit to look like its own warband. 

Now I just have to wait for the parts to arrive in the post. 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Christmas Warfare

(Content warning: Trump, also Alex Jones' face).
"Mine now. China!"
It really is the most tiresome of all conservative talking points this idea that there's a war on the idea of Christmas. Donald Jodocus Trump, the Woody Allen of US presidents, recently used it as a talking point in a speech to the Pseudo-Christian Hypocrisy Values Group (or some such bunch of cretins, anyway) to huge applause because these people are so desperate to feel oppressed its pathetic.

Of course, Trump had to go as far as possible in making his goat-bothering audience feel as masochistically oppressed as possible by claiming you never heard anyone say Christmas anymore. Bearing in mind this is the same man who recently claimed he invented the word “fake” we should be grateful he didn't claim that Christmas was itself a Trump-branded event.

There is no war on Christmas.

Every Western government maintains Christmas as a bank holiday (or whatever the local equivalent is); every corporation that sells product to the public spends millions upon millions on Christmas branding to the point that a particular Coca-Cola advert is literally considered an absolutely mandatory component of the season; every broadcaster has dozens of special projects made for broadcast over Christmas; an entire Hollywood genre exists to make movies about Christmas.

No other holiday gets that. Easter comes close which is, again, a Christian festival.

But these people are so desperate to feel oppressed that they'll take whatever they can get. They see people who are actually marginalised getting attention and concessions and actual legal rights and they feel left out because they have the collective emotional maturity of a five year old noticing their baby sibling (gender neutral phrasing there, suck it, social conservatives!) is getting more attention than they are.

So they latch on to the fact that the Starbucks coffee cups have “Happy Holidays” written on them instead of “Merry Christmas” (yes, this is an actual thing these people lost their shit over last year, I am not even slightly joking) because this is such a blow against the fact that the whole of Western society rearranges itself to accommodate this one religious observance. In their minds the mere acknowledgement that other winter festivals exist (and they exist in almost every culture) and that people might celebrate them is an act of terrible censorship and probably also somehow tied in with issues of ethics in games journalism.

Its fetishistic, this desire they have to be downtrodden, it really is. I remember the good old days when socially conservative pseudo-Christians just stuck to being self-loathing closeted homosexuals. Bonus points if they were also a televangelist!
"Lister... DO. YOU. HAVE. A CAT!?"
Also, is it just me or is Alex Jones (who claimed recently he lost custody of his son but we all know that was just a child actor hired to garner public sympathy. I know, I was shocked when I found out too) starting to look like Captain Hollister from Red Dwarf?

Not relevant but I was on a roll. 

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Jason Isaacs' mean, alt-right trolling machine

(Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery in general and Monday's episode Choose Your Pain in particular. Also trigger warning for discussion of sexual abuse survival).

I am rapidly coming to adore Star Trek: Discovery. I love the look of the show; the plot is interesting; there are some great actors and fantastic character interactions; and, to be petty about it, the show is doing things that annoy people I hate.

Also, there are gay people in the show now and they aren't there for one episode epic tragedy storylines. They're an actual couple who both have names and speaking roles jjust living their lives and being in space. Up to now the best representation of LGBTQ+ people in Star Trek was Sulu's silent husband in Beyond and before that we only existed to facilitate the aforementioned epic tragedies about how we faced ostracism and horrible consequences.

Which, don't get me wrong, were important stories to tell but there comes a point where it just wears you down only seeing yourself in terms of your oppression.

And let's also address some other interesting aspects of representation: we have a male sexual abuse survivor in Lt. Ash Tyler. I know we're all meant to crow about how subversive Cadet Tilly saying “fuck” was but this is so important. Hopefully it will be dealt with sensitively but even where we are now, with the huge cathartic moment of Tyler getting to beat on his abuser in what he thinks is the last moments of his life, has some significance.

Also, not going to lie, the f-bomb moment was actually pretty funny and shocked me and both my housemates into silence. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

That time Jean Grey was a tentacle monster

No, seriously, this was a thing at one point and I want it to make a comeback. Just imagine it: Marvel's making all these moves right now in preparation for the “original” Jean to make a comeback and instead of the 90s blue and yellow suit or the green bodysuit and gold sash of the classic Phoenix costume we get this...

Wouldn't that be glorious?

Okay, this is mostly just me trolling but I think there is something to be said for bringing back Little Miss Perfect in a slightly different form, especially as the younger Jean Grey is largely just the same character but a bit more assertive. The other original X-Men have pretty big differences between their time lost selves and their modern day selves (being less dead; being less evil; being more confident in their gayness; being Doctor Strange with big feet) but the difference between the two Jeans seems to be little more than the younger Jean is reaching some deep, personal realisation a bit sooner than the original did.

So what would be a better way to distinguish the two than to give one of them massive hentai tentacles?

Let's face it, boys, Logan would still be into it. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Kanto Diaries: Vermillion City (dickishness in game design)

Most of the times I find the Pokemon games to be pretty fair. After all, there's no in-game fail state and the only strategy guide you really need is the type chart. However, FireRed just pulled a spectacular dick move on me when I reached Vermillion City.

Now, Electric-type gyms are difficult at the best of times but never more so than when you haven't even had the chance to get a Ground-type on your team. Like, for instance, if you play FireRed because seemingly the only Ground-type before Vermillion City is Sandshrew which is LeafGreen exclusive.

My team when I went into the gym to fight Lt. Surge “The Fighting American” (no seriiously) was a Wartortle. A Rattata, a Nidorino, a Pikachu, an Oddish and a Butterfree. Of that list two are weak to Electric attacks, my Oddish was absolutely useless, a Pikachu is basically useless against other Electric-types and that left me with two passingly effective fighters who nevertheless kept getting paralyzed.

I got beat. Twice.

So, in a funk I decided to pursue the route of the screwed over: power levelling. I stomped my way back the way I came and leveled for a bit then returned to the gym.

Where I was beaten a third time.

Fuming, kicking my Pokeballs down the street in front of me as I went, I decided to try and get some decent EXP by skipping ahead to the next route and picking on some trainers. This was when I passed Diglett's Cave.

Yers, “Diglett's Cave”. Literally a cave named after and infested with a Ground-type Pokemon, five or six steps outside the city of the Electric gym.

Dick move, Game Freak. Dick move. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coates' Storm: a wishlist

I am so stoked for this series. Storm is one of my favourite characters, she has such a deep and rich history to draw on and so, with all respects to Ta-Nehisi Coates

#1: a twelfth issue

Ah, yes, Ta-Nehisi Coates spinning off a title from his Black Panther run, we all know how well that usually goes, don't we? I admit, I didn't bother with World of Wakanda but I did my part for Black Panther & The Crew. I just hope that this issue can somehow find the audience it needs to keep going because just based on Storm's appearances in Coates' other work he has so many ideas for her that it would be a crime for this series to get the “one arc and then chopped” treatment.

Also on this subject...

#2: bitch ass manbabies to shut the hell up

Attention, cretins! This is Storm we're talking about here: she's not a new character and she's not taking a precious bloody name away from any fictional white men you might be emotionally invested in. Could you please, just this one, shut the bloody hell up about “forced diversity” with this one. Go back to crying into your cornflakes about how the Hulk is now an Asian kid and/or a woman.

We cool? Moving on.

#3: Cairo

One of the really interesting parts of Black Panther & The Crew was exploring Storm's relationship with Harlem, her parents' home that she only experienced as an adult. The previous Storm ongoing had a lot to say about her relationship to Kenya (if I'm wrong about it being Kenya, I apologise, I remember it being Kenya that she lived in between Cairo and meeting the X-Men). One part of her life that hasn't been touched on in some time is her childhood on the streets of Cairo where she was a pickpocket.

#4: The Further Adventures Of The Crew

A man can dream. But if not the whole tea, then maybe just...

#5: Misty Knight

I was wrong, it turns out. When I was reviewing Black Panther & The Crew I completely forgot that Misty and Storm know each other really, really well. Back in the olden days of Chris Claremont's original run, Misty was Jean Grey's roommate in New York city and so she and Storm interacted quite a lot. This throws that relationship I enjoyed so much in The Crew in a whole new light.

#6: Special Agent Ororo Munroe, FBI

I am sure this was brought up recently in some X-title or other but once upon a time, in a much later Claremont run, Storm and several other X-Men were deputised to the FBI as the XSE (yes, it was really called that, Xavier's Security Enforcement). She is, or was, a legitimate agent of the government. Food for thought.

#7: Doom

So there was this very odd arc in the Claremont days where Doom captured the X-Men and subjected them to all sorts of trials and tortures but in the end he lets them go in exchange for a dinner date with Storm. It sounds like I'm making this up but I swear its true. There was a similar situation with Dracula.

#8: Bruno from Ms. Marvel

He's in Wakanda, Storm spends a lot of time in Wakanda and what's more Storm is a teacher so she could easily be brought in to lecture at his polytechnic on mutant rights or agriculture or something. This is the most fannish idea on the list and that's why its last, a little whimsy to go out on, but just think about how cool it would be. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Untangling Detective Comics #966

[This post MAJOR SPOILERS for Detective Comics #966 as well as recent events in the Batwoman ongoing which also has implications for the whole meta-narrative of Rebirth as well as my own unsupported speculation, be warned, they begin right after the header picture.]
Oh, sweet Jesus, time travel in a multiverse involving the timeline of a character I have an unnatural in-depth knowledge of. Its Christmas come early!

Context: this week's issue of Detective Comics, the second part of A Lonely Place Of Living, features the current Red Robin version of Tim Drake (as seen since the dawn of the New 52) and a future version of himself who is Batman (as mentioned in the recent flashforward issue of Batwoman) being chased through Mr. Oz's prison by Doomsday (the New 52 version that killed Superman except he didn't because there was only one Superman now not two so that's sort of undefined at this point).

Mixed up in all this was a recent promise by James Tynion IV that this issue would bring us some answers on the question of Conner Kent, the pre-Flashpoint Superboy. The issue sort of delivers on that but also uses these answers to set up more mysteries.

So, where to begin?

Tim!Bats: Who He Is And How He Came To Be

Firstly, the future Batman who is Tim Drake and uses guns including the gun used by Joe Chill to kill the Waynes. This Batman originally appeared in a Teen Titans storyline by Geoff Johns over a decade ago. In that story Tim, along with a bunch of the Titans, have turned all-out fascist. In fact, one of the first glimpses we get into how bad things have gotten for the characters is Tim executing Duela Dent, the Joker's Daughter (she was a nicer, more whimsical character in those days and wasn't wearing anyone's face but her own).

Except maybe he's not quite that version of gun-totting Batman Tim Drake. This future Tim says he remembers “an echo” of the conversation he has with present day Tim, a conversation in different context but where he (future Tim) was equally horrified by the depths to which his future self had fallen.

The conversation he is referring to is quite specifically not the one he's currently having with his past self here. Logically, then its the conversation Tim had in Teen Titans with his own future.

The future Batman here is Tim from the pre-Flashpoint continuity who remembers meeting his future self and, in spite of all the warning, still chose to go down this route of being a Batman who kills because he felt driven to it after Bruce's death. However, he also remembers events from the life Tim is now living (or was going to before his abduction) as he refers to getting maybe a couple of months into his life as a student in Ivy Town before being drawn back into the world of costumed vigilantism. In the flashbacks to his native time we also see a conversation between the future versions of Anarky and Spoiler which ties in to the recent Utopia/Dystopia two-parter, though clearly a version of events where either that relationship didn't fall apart or the two reconciled in later years.

Future Tim claims that certain events are fixed so the obvious conclusion is that if the pre-Flashpoint continuity had continued it would have reached the status quo Johns set out and it would have passed through at least some of the events of Rebirth.

Considering that the whole premise of Rebirth was to restore a whole bunch of pre-Flashpoint continuity this isn't surprising. Presumably then the future we're dealing with here is one unfiddled with by whatever “stole a decade” from the DC universe.

It is also the future as seen in Batwoman, a Rebirth-continuity series.

Two options: either this future is inevitable (as it happens in both pre-Flashpoint and Rebirth continuity) or something is going to happen now future Tim is loose in the present to make this future happen, Terminator-style.

Then there's Conner Kent.

Kon Artistry

The big twist at the end of the issue is that future Tim remembers Conner but present Tim does not. This isn't much of a surprise as even the New 52 version of Conner (who never adopted the name, I don't think) hasn't even been referred to since Rebirth. Neither version was even present in the flashback to The Death Of Superman during the recent tour of Superman continuity that established what was and wasn't canon in the new continuity where the two New 52-era Clarks have been merged into a single history.

This might or might not be meaningful. It might tie into what we're talking about here or if might just have been editorial buying themselves time over a character they had no real use for.

So, is Conner coming back? It all comes down to whether we're dealing with two distinct futures with similar aspects or some unified future no matter which timeline we're looking at. The future we see in this issue has both Conner (not a part of the future we see in Batwoman) and Commissioner Montoya of Free Gotham (both featured in the Batwoman issue).

If the future Batman Tim comes from is exactly the same future we saw in Batwoman, if it is the future of the Rebirth continuity, then it makes sense that Conner's presence within that future means there's some future planned for the character. If, however, the lack of Conner in the Rebirth continuity is just a good mechanical way to establish that time is mutable and this dark future can be prevented (as Batman Tim actually says in the issue) then it makes sense that he'll stay gone.

Or both these theories could be way off because Tynion is a better writer than me or just because this was all a cute nod for fans rather than something deep and meaningful that a sane person would spend the better part of a thousand words trying to noodle out. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Comfort food comics

I think comfort food reading (and viewing and listening) get a bad rap these days. I read this post once about a romance novel where the author decided to “challenge” their readers with a sad ending where one of the protagonists dies. Now that's bullshit, isn't it? Because if someone bought one of those thin romance books with the PG yet somehow lurid cover I flat out guarantee they did not pay for a downer ending.

This isn't to say a challenging read can't be good, more that its good manners to let the audience in on the fact that's what they're getting. Or that if you have to challenge, at least do it in a way that the audience still gets what they paid for. Take Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the film, we're talking about here) which absolutely eviscerates the sort of romcom it looks like its going to be but in the end Scott and Ramona walk off together having grown up a bit, got over some of their baggage and ready for something like a happy ending.

And sometimes people just want escapism. Is that really so hard to understand? The world is monumentally horrible right now. I live in a country with a political leader who is still in a job only because she keeps fucking up so badly that no one wants to be in No.10 when the consequences come calling; the half of the US that isn't underwater right now is on fire; any day now the Spanish government is going to go all out and hire a necromancer to bring back Franco; and some day historians are going to have to explain how internet manbabies complaining about video game journalism led to a revival of Nazism across the western world.

If someone wants to sit in a bubble bath with a romance novel and enjoy the glow of a predictable yet satisfying happy ending, let 'em.

So, anyway, Sonic The Hedgehog and Transformers comics: my comfort food reading of many years. Both are modern day successors to series of my childhood: Marvel UK's Transformers series (which also ran Marvel New Universe material as back-up strips and thus explains my unnatural desire for a Spitfire and the Troubleshooters revival) and Fleetway's Sonic The Comic, an anthology title of Sonic and other Sega properties. Both these series, of course, died long ago but being licensed properties they've come back in other forms.

At the moment IDW are publishing the Transformers comics and the one that gives me the most joy is Lost Light (formerly Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye) the story of a mission led by Hot Rod to find the mythical creators of the Transformers and “Cyberutopia”. Its funny, often bizarre and has a fantastic cast of characters knocking about the confines of a ship with more than a few secrets of its own. Its not particularly deep and not particularly challenging (unless you're of the conservative persuasion as various characters identify as transgender and/or homoromantic in interesting robot-y ways).

Then there's Sonic. For the last many, many years that license has been held by Archie Comics but following various problems involving a disgruntled ex-writer who wanted his rights back (and depriving me of some of my favourite characters in the process) Archie decided to let the license lapse and now its gone to IDW who plan to start their own series next year.

Of course it'll be different even with longtime Archie scribe Ian Flynn on writing duties. Those beloved side characters I miss will still be absent (no Secret Freedom Fighters, no Julie-Su, etc,. Etc,.) and dollars to donuts the Freedom Fighters of the old TV show probably won't be making the transition either. Sally, maybe, as she comes from other sources but I doubt the rights to Bunnie and Antoine are so clear cut.

I could certainly do with more light, fun series without gritty pretensions. I'm also absolutely in love with Lumberjanes at the moment and tearing my way through collected editions like there's no tomorrow which is ironic considering that series' attitude towards the passage of time. Even with the notoriously angst-dependent DC my favourite series right now are the gorgeously optimistic Bombshells and the stream of consciousness madness of Dark Nights: Metal which acts all gruff and gritty but has Batman riding a velociraptor at one point so how dark can it really be?

I guess I'm just getting too old for the whole business of wanting everything I enjoy to look super serious all the time, especially on the days when all I want is to relax with something warm and familiar. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Hell In A Cell done right (and so very, very wrong)

[SPOILERS for this past weekend's Hell In A Cell pay-per-view, specifically the two HIAC matches that bookended the event: New Day vs. Usos and Kevin Owens vs. Shane O.Mac]

First of all, the bad: Hell In A Cell should not be a comedy match. As good as it got towards the end when the Usos unleashed the light bondage on Xavier Woods, it started with comedy shtick. There was a gong. There were rainbow-patterned kendo sticks. There were trombones of many colours. It wasn't good. It was a bad fit of performers, really, the New Day as faces just aren't people who should be in this sort of match.

Kevin Owens vs. Shane O'Mac, though: my goodness, that was HIAC done right.

The highlight of the match, obviously, was the whole business of the two men fighting on the top of the cage. Now, I know in my head that after that disaster all those years ago when Undertaker managed to throw Mick Foley through the cage roof and the very real damage that did to Foley that they must stress test that cage to destruction every time they intend to use it for standing on top of purposes. In spire of that, every step those two men took, every time one of them threw the other onto the chainlink, was a heart in my throat moment.

My housemate Matt and I watched it on Monday night and at least once each we both said “We'd know if one of them had died, right?”

It was a hell of a match. I'm still a bit annoyed there wasn't a women's HIAC match this year as I think Charlotte and Natalya could have put on a fantastic one (and also because the DQ finish is my only real criticism of the match they had here) and I was hoping that the trend of every gimmick PPV having both a men's and women's version of the titular match was going to continue.

Mostly I want this to hold true for reasons of feminism and equality but a tiny bit also because I want a second Women's Division Money In The Bank on PPV that gets won by a woman!

[Incidentally, as I write this there are reports Shane had to be rushed to hospital after the match with broken ribs. Unfortunately, every report I've read seems to be reading from a WWE press release that could be set-up for a storyline rather than reality.

Either way: get well soon, Shane, you mad, indestructible bastard.]

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Podcast reccs: FistShark Marketing

Someone recently suggested check out the world of podcasts. I like audio drama, was their logic, and there are a lot of cool ones available for free (with an option to support them on Patreon, etc,.). I solicited suggestions from friends and have a list as long as my arm (but further suggestions certainly welcome). Wolf 359 is on the list, obviously, but that seems like a rabbit hole I'm going to want to put some real time into but another friend suggested something a little more digestible and from a talent I was already familiar with.

I've been watching Jim Sterling's video game current affairs show The Jimquisition since it was on The Escapist. Hey, remember that website back when it was more than a forum being kept alive by Yahtzee Crowshaw's shows? Yeah, me too, it was before the Nazis decided to make a comeback through the medium of gamer self-entitlement.
Anyway, Jim Sterling alongside Conrad Zimmerman and Paulson Sear (and Caitlin Cooke in earlier episodes) form the staff of FistShark Marketing, the world's most morally bankrupt PR firm. As you can imagine, that claim is up against some pretty stiff competition.

The show is available on iTunes and YouTube and it is hilarious. Each episode has two or three sketches, all improvised by the three actors playing executives of the titular firm. Between them they weave a surreal world of awful products; inexcusable exploitation of a hated co-worker called Craig; the scientific misadventures of company physician Doctor Nightscream as well as “Balthasar and the boys in the basement” who may or may not be Satanists; and Dean Cain.
That was one of the things that sold me on the series: an odd fixation they have with Dean Cain and presenting him in more and more bizarre ways. One episode had him living in the company's basement and bothering the staff because he had a wasp's nest inside his head. Miley Cyrus is also a “client” of the firm and somehow comes off worse.
I am not going to claim everything in the series is in good taste, it most certainly isn't, or that every sketch works because this is improv comedy and sometimes things just don't land. If you're interested in a rollickingly bizarre time I personally recommend the episodes Hello Dolly (featuring a doomed attempt to stop Richard Dawkins tweeting) and Viva Slaatvania (in which the team try to build a Biblical Ark to survive a teambuilding exercise). 

Monday, 9 October 2017

The return of Conner Kent?

Word out of NYCC (what word has managed to escape over the sound of Marvel failing so badly at everything) included a little snippet of James Tynion IV saying that the questions surrounding Conner Kent in the rebirth continuity would be answered in Detective Comics #966.

That's this week.

Okay, so I'm invested in this because Young Justice was a big part of how I became a comics fan. That particular generation of the sidekicks are contain some of my favourite characters in some of my favourite comics. The fact that everyone from that group got completely jobbed in the New 52 is something of a lingering wound and if we're getting a return for anything approaching the proper version of Conner, I am all in.

I mean, with only one issue of A Lonely Place of Living out we've already for Tim's original origin restored and the Tim!Batman from Geoff Johns' Teen Titans has made an appearance as well.

Now, is it likely that the “proper” version of Conner is coming back.

Well, for one thing I don't imagine anyone's terribly attached to the New 52 version and, on a more pragmatic side, Conner is going to be in the third season of Young Justice when it returns so there's a marketing angle. Also, if they have big plans for Tim spinning out of this (and I hope those rumours that he'll be leading the Outsiders are true) then bringing Conner back to be the perfect foil he always was to Tim would be a good move.

After that its just a matter of bringing Bart back from wherever in the timestream he's been hanging out since Flashpoint and then just a little selective amnesia so that Cassie isn't a horrible bad girl parody anymore.

A guy can dream. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

For serious, Marvel...

I don't usually believe in karma but Marvel's NYCC this year is starting to make me wonder. Now, I'm writing this Saturday evening so if I don't mention something obvious here like a Marvel panel causing the venue to spontaneously burn to the ground that's why.

The news started off bad when I read that another of those retailer meet-ups (like the one where a Marvel executive dropped the line about nostalgia selling better than diversity) seemingly devolved into a near-lynching because some old white comicshop owners were angry about (what else...) diversity. That was bad. I thought that was as bad as a major industry/fan expo could possibly go.

And then it got worse.

They announced that they were publishing an all-ages Avengers comic in association with defense contractor and gun manufacturer Northrop Grumman. You read that sentence exactly right, a comic pitched to children sponsored by and advertising a government defense contractor. Apparently this was meant to interest children in STEM careers but, well, you can imagine that the thing people concentrated on was “children's comic sponsored by and advertising an arms dealer a week after a gun massacre”.

How did that get past anyone in management? How was it that in a company owned by one of the most obsessively PR-oriented entertainment corporations in existence a partnership like this was floated for more than a second?

I cannot imagine a single PR professional in this world looking at this idea and not raising concerns.

At this point the only logical conclusion is that the publishing wing of Marvel Entertainment is literally trying to commit suicide. No professional organisation could want this much bad publicity. It has actually reached the point where I was actually surprised when they canned the project given how bloodyminded they've been about sticking to bad decisions the past year or so.

An arms dealer, guys, seriously?

That's the literal baddie in Iron Man 1

Saturday, 7 October 2017

The elevated estrogen levels of Star Trek: Discovery

An unnatural number of women types, yesterday.
You ever enter a conversation and you get to a stage where you're desperately praying “don't disappoint me, don't disappoint me, don't disappoint me”? Well, I keep having that when Star Trek: Discovery comes up. I swear, 90% of the conversations I have about this show with any guy ends up with “Aren't there are a lot of women in it, though?”

No. No no no no no.

There's five. There's Michael Burnham herself, Captain Phillipa Georgiou, Commander Landry, Cadet Tilly and the ginger flight controller whose name escapes me at the moment. So far only four out of this list have appeared in a single episode together. That's not a lot. Four women in any given episode (so far, in the UK we have episodes one to three). That's not actually a lot, especially considering one of them has so few lines I can't remember her name.

I'm reminded of Terry Pratchett's Men-At-Arms where one of the central jokes is that the Watch is being required to recruit “minorities” and they recruit a troll, a dwarf and a werewolf except no one says that Angua is a werewolf until she finally transforms so for more than hundred pages you think the minorities are a troll, a dwarf and a woman and laugh at these male characters who are so uncomfortable about (you think) having a woman in their space.

And then you get to a point in real life where people continuously act like having four women sharing screentime in a given episode of Star Trek is somehow an unnaturally inflated figure.

Spot on, Sir Terry, spot on. 

Friday, 6 October 2017

Comic Reviews

This week the Joker gets his head straight, his ex and her ladyfriend take a holiday to Riverdale, reality TV brings nostalgia to the mutant masses and Kate Bishop has some surprisingly non-sapphic catharsis coming her way.

Batman: White Knight #1
This looks like its going to be an interesting take. I mean, I'm a little iffy about the (apparent) intention to have Joker and Harley as a happy domestic couple down the line (and on the cover) but given some of the plot points introduced here there's a tiny chance it could work. More likely it won't and that'll be problematic but since Harley hasn't appeared yet aside from a flashback cameo, I'll give Sean Murphy time to get there.

So, we have the big idea pitch: Batman is steadily going off the rails with his brutality and the hero/villain dynamic between him and the Joker gets flipped. Its interesting that what Murphy has Batman do in this issue to show how crazy brutal Batman has become is actually not anywhere near as extreme as what some recent movie versions have him do as an ostensible good guy. I'm one of those people who bangs on about how Batman of the comics is a very different, very much more human character than the mainstream version (and, no, the comics are no longer the version mainstream, blame the direct market) and this just throws that into sharp relief. In fact, the story doesn't even portray Bruce in an entirely negative light for the things he does giving his breakdown some sympathetic motivation.

So we have the beginnings of a heroic version of the Joker which even riffs on The LEGO Batman Movie of all things as its starting point. Murphy draws the hell out of every panel, not least of which the big confrontation between Batman and the Joker. What little we see of “Mister Napier” in the first few pages of the issue before we flash back to his origins suggests more of a gentleman consultant to the GCPD which, if true, would be a nice rebuke to Bruce's approach in putting forward the idea that he might have been able to do more as Bruce Wayne (again, more of a criticism of the way the character is in film than how he's been portrayed in comics for decades now).

Anyway, a really promising start but I do worry that the Joker being “cured” is just going to be used as an excuse not to address his past treatment of Harley before they settle into unquestioned domestic bliss.

Harley and Ivy meet Betty and Veronica #1
You know what really cheesed my onions last week? The Suicide Squad issue of Gotham Resistance. They had Stjepan Sejic, a man known for his acclaimed wlw romance series Sunstone, drawing an issue with Harley and Ivy in it somehow written by the only writer on the payroll who still thinks those two girls are straight. That is a wasted opportunity right there.

So now we have a crossover where Harley and Ivy meet another two female characters whose straightness has famously been up for debate. If nothing else, it can't be worse than the time the Punisher turned up in Riverdale.

So the set-up is simple: Mister Lodge has purchased an area of local wetland to develop into “Lodge University” (at least the guys at Archie are getting some useful mileage out of the Trump administration) and Ivy is not happy so she and Harley come out of hiding to try and “persuade” Hiram Lodge not to go through with it. Meanwhile, the Riverdale kids are preparing for a Heroes & Villains costume party Lodge is hosting and that they've been conscripted to help out at.

Betty and Veronica are in full on enemies mode at this stage, by the way, whilst Harley and Ivy are in one of those domestic “we're hiding from the law, that's why there's only one bed” arrangements they fall into from time to time. Its actually nice to see both sides of the crossover being as slice of life as each other, albeit with one side more comfortable with murder. Oh, and Kevin Keller and Sabrina Spellman are besties which is either new or something I didn't know before but I hope they continue to appear in the series.

X-Men Gold #13
I bloody love Mojo as a villain. I love the idea of an interdimensional dictator who is also a reality TV producer who provokes fights with the X-Men for ratings. I love how bizarre it is. I love how it allows the X-books to go in a different political direction from the usual race and sexuality based commentary (which are both good angles but variety is the spice of life and all that). It's always nice to see the awful, capitalistic little scrote and now he's the focus of this era of X-books' first crossover.

This is the X-books' Legacy storyline and, as such, there are references to a bunch of old storylines, “the greatest hits” as Mojo describes them. Funnily enough, on the same page, Logan describes it as trying to kill the X-Men with nostalgia, which... oh dear.

Now, on the one hand there's nothing here that actually annoys me other than the fact we get the briefest Xaviers' baseball game ever. Seriously, guys, those are remembered as the series iconic character piece scenes because they tend to actually feature character work. Here we have the Gold team not even reacting to the fact the Blues turn up with a vampire version of Storm. Aside from that its all good: villain I like, nice set up, even a good bit of progress for Rachel's character arc.

And at no point did it need big visual callbacks to Inferno, Days of Futures Past and The Asgardian Wars. That's just fan service for the sake of fan service or so it seems right now. Hopefully as we get further into this story the choices for callbacks will have some relevance to the characters but for the moment its just a bunch of alternate costumes for longtime fans to get a brief feeling of satisfaction for recognising and nothing else.

Hawkeye #11
Kelly Thompson's version of Kate and Madame Masque is a lot less... sapphic than Fraction and Aja's was. I mean, its still there if you want to look at it and there's even a rare occasion here of a “we're not so dissimilar, you and I” conversation that isn't complete bollocks in this issue that sort of feeds into that but its a lot more of a straight forward hero/villain relationship now.

This issue actually felt like a rather low key conclusion to the storyline that been running, in the background at least, since the first issue if it actually is the end. The business with Kate's father rather suggests we're moving into a new phase of the story as Kate's family issue and family history come to the fore. That said, as quick as Madame Masque#s part in the plot is dispatched it does leave room for some good character progression with Kate and her friends. There's a lot of catharsis for Kate, not just in things she says to her friends and her father but in a couple of good, dynamic fistfights she gets into and there are few characters in comics who need catharsis more than Kate right now.

Plus, next issue there's an All-New Wolverine appearance before we move on to the triumphant return of Hawkguy! So there's that to look forward to. 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Painting with an injured hand

Yesterday I somehow cut the side of my right index finger open. Holding a paintbrush hurts like hell right now and delicate work is just impossible. Obviously, that means the Bretonnians and the Tale Of 1 Warden are on hiatus for a week or two. Bretonnians are the very definition of “delicate work” and I am not screwing this project up for anything. So the question becomes: what can I do while this heals?

Let us apply logic (and analgesics) to the problem. A lot of the early stages of painting a miniature are forgiving of mistakes: basecoating, inks, large areas of drybrushing. I can use this time to get a bunch of models started and finish off the details once my finger's better. I have a whole bunch of Flesh Tearers models that are just basecoated in red spray and one of the benefits of their colour scheme is that a lot of it is just two flat colours.

Yes, yes, starting things and not finishing them is a real problem of mine but progress is progress and if that's all I can do I might as well do it without guilt, mightn't I?

Even then, though, after a while the finger starts to really, really hurt. Its the position I have to hold the brush in.

Now, snips and a plastic scraper... those I seem to be able to hold for longer and there are some building projects I want to get to. I ordered some spare sets of legs to make some Sternguard for my Flesh Tearers (“In the grim darkness of the far future there is no job satisfaction”); I have some Eternal Guard I want to hybridise with spare Sister of Avelorn parts to make Maiden Guard; and I have a conversion kit from Grimskull Miniatures for making an amazing Death Guard Rhino.
Yes, it is the cheekiest third party miniature I have ever purchased but screw it look how pretty!

I could also take baby steps in getting over my fear of painting my Lord of Change and get the all-over blue wash and drybrush stages done. That model legitimately terrifies me. Its gorgeous but so very complicated.

I'm bummed that I have to put the Bretonnians on the back burner but I'd rather pause the project than do it badly. 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The Titans TV show cops out

Have I mentioned I'm looking forward to this Titans TV show? Well, I am. I've always been more fond of that team (and its many other forms like Young Justice) than the Justice League itself. Now, the fact that its being made for a DC-branded streaming service is concerning as I think that whole deal is going to go the way of MMOs that aren't Warcraft sooner or later but that's a different post I'll probably never get around to writing because it would be incredibly boring and pessimistic.

Still, some interesting casting information was released the other day with the announcement that a woman called Lindsey Gort will be playing Police Detective Amy Rohrbach.

In the comics (to be precise, Chuck Dixon's Nightwing run) she was Dick's partner on the Bludhaven PD. Now, the way these things go she might not be that exact character, just look at Felicity Smoak in Arrow. However, I'd like to think they're going to do something with Dick's police career which was one of the eras of the character I most liked. It was an interesting dynamic for the character even if I did wonder why no one on the force seemed to have any questions about the richest man in America's oldest son hanging out in the worst police department in the country.

Well, we'll see. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Again (Vegas)

Pulse was 16 months ago and it was the worst mass shooting ever, worse than Port Arthur (the Australian mass shooting that led to their current gun control laws). Now this Vegas shooting has been even worse. Last I read 58 people were dead and close to 500 wounded. The guy rented a hotel room, had a stock of ten military grade assault rifles and just opened fire from the window.

He had ten military grade assault weapons. Ten.

Nothing will change because of this. I don't know who originally said it but its been said that Sandy Hook ended the US gun debate. Once it turned out that the Second Amendment could survive the deaths of tiny children in one of the richest states in the union it was over.

Obviously, I'm biased here. I'm English, we had one school shooting massacre and the government was forced by public pressure to pass new gun control laws that greatly restricted (not banned, it must be pointed out) private gun ownership in this country. That one was enough for us.

It wasn't enough for the US government. Nothing ever will be. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Landmarks of Reading: The Bag Shop Man's Scowl

This sign is a genuine landmark of Reading, Berkshire. Its a work of art. It scowls down at the passerby from the second floor of an abandoned storefront in the nebulous, nameless grey area between Friar Street and Market Place. The boards are covering the windows of a building that has been a gutted wreck for almost ten years.

And, before you ask, that is the proprietor of The Bag Shop. They sell bags and their cash register is a literally a cardboard box under a desk. Prices are not actually negotiable but more decided by the proprietor on the basis of how much he likes you. The last time I bought a bag there he gave me the full disapproving scowl for ten uncomfortable, mildly invasive seconds and then turned to his assistant and said:

It is the salad man, twenty percent off.”

After which he swept imperiously into the backroom. I have no idea if I got twenty percent off (no actual prices on the bags) but it was a warm, glowing feeling to have the verbal approval of the man whose image had been scowling down at me on my way into town every day for years.