Saturday, 18 November 2017

Can Millennials Kill Signatures Next?

Because it occurs to me that I don't really have a signature anymore. I mean, what do I even sign for anymore?

I sign for packages which, given that I'm almost always signing for someone else's, isn't proof of identity so much as proof of existence. I've signed for packages for people I don't know even by virtue of being the nearest neighbour around at the time. I haven't signed a debit slip or a cheque in a decade or more.

Hell, even when I'm at the bank and they need me to sign a little piece of paper with my signature I see it in their eyes, the silent “fuck it” when it fails to match the signature in their records (which I gave them when I was thirteen). Never mind that by this point they've seen two of three forms of legal ID already.

And this is coming from someone who, just about, grew up in an age when you needed a signature to pay for things. A few years younger than me and I imagine a signature, as in an actually repeatable way of writing your own name,is probably not something most people have ever had a reason to develop.

Even working in catering, a job with an enormous amount of legal paperwork, no one has ever questioned the fact I have approximately seventeen different ways of writing my own name and even then most of the paperwork just needs initialing.

(This post was brought to you by painkillers.)

Friday, 17 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #17: The Mystery of Karmina Sonata

Dark Shadows: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries 1.4:
The Mystery of Karmina Sonata
written by Aaron Lamont

Why did I think listening to a mystery box set would be a good idea for a daily review project? Why did I do this to myself? Especially as, being a box set, the fourth one was always going to not only be a minefield of spoilers for itself but for at least one of the episodes before it.

So, anyway, like Sherlock it took this series a strangely long time for a client to actually turn up at the main characters' place of work to hire them and explain the situation. In this case it is celebrity medium Karmina Sonata, who Cassandra not only pegs as a fraud straight off and Karmina admits it. She's a conwoman who gets money out of the rich and desperate (or the rich and bored) by putting on a show. Again, its nice to have a supernatural series with a place for skepticism.

Anyway, Karmina the fraud found herself actually possessed by a spirit during a recent séance and now her clients are being picked off, murdered in spectacularly symbolic ways.

What follows is a pretty standard detective set up with Tony talking to Karmina, Cassandra researching the supernatural side of the case and secretary Rita researching Karmina. Tony and Cassandra also do a tour of the crime scenes and homes of the survivors in order to get some idea of why they're being targeted outside of simply being at the séance.

The answer, of course, refers back to the solution of a previous adventure that I wouldn't spoil then and won't spoil now.

So, what else to say? Tony and Cassandra are as fun to listen to as ever as they bicker their way through the case, though the conclusion pushes them as close to emotional honesty with each other as they've ever been. I do wonder what will happen to them once we get to that point when they're properly, honestly able to admit their evident feelings to each other. On the one hand, it will be a very cathartic moment but on the other their past relationship is so unhealthy, so linked to trauma for both of them that I wonder if it can be addressed healthily.

Whatever else, they're a fun enough ride that I'm in no hurry to have them get together which is probably for the best. 

Comic Reviews

This week one Batman finds a sense of humour whilst another watches some pretty intense polyamory negotiations; some very circuitous Clone Saga nostalgia hits all over the Spider-Man books; Doctor Aphra is just the most adorable hostage taker; and, the mad genius of the Bombshells universe resurrects the best Bat-family member that no one ever wanted to write for.

Dark Knights: The Batman Who Laughs one-shot

This was certainly a fun one. Okay, not overburdened with answers and very much like the other Dark Knights one-shots that preceded it but it felt like a fitting conclusion to the run of evil Batman origin stories. It was a fun detail that the art used the DCAU version of the Joker because, to my generation at least, he's not just the definitive version of the character but one of the most evil. Okay, part of that was that we were kids at the time and had pretty simple definitions of evil but... well, its just nice to see that version get his due as the Joker of the worst version of Batman's life.

On the character side the issue, even after everything we've seen from the other Dark Knights, works as a pretty good manifesto for why this Batman is the leader of the group and what he's capable of.

Its also another good example of why this crossover is hitting the spot for me a lot more than the sprawling events Marvel has been inflicting on its audience the last couple of years. This is one of two issues of the event this week. Just two and that's the norm. Yes, it has intruded on some of my regular reading and not always in ways that benefit those series (Green Arrow interrupting the storyline that's been running since Rebirth is a particular low point for me) but it isn't interrupting everything I'm reading from DC. Its also a lot more cohesive as a story because there's just fewer individual writers stirring the same pot. It has focus and that's very clearly to its benefit.

Amazing Spider-Man #791
Fall of Parker part 3

Okay, very specific nostalgia moment here. I know that putting Peter back at the Daily Bugle is meant to be one of those all-time classic status quos but particular details remind me of a time in the series that probably only I'm actually nostalgic for.

That said, they've got Peter David writing a Ben Reilly ongoing so maybe not.

Anyway, back during the bad old days of the Clone Saga there was a time when Peter was a staff writer at the Daily Bugle, a young professional with a full-time job. Dan Slott's big idea is that Robbie Robertson has brought Peter on as the Bugle's new science editor which, again, has that young professional thing going on that makes it feel less like the character is backsliding (which actually gets a lampshade put on it by Aunt May of all characters).

Peter and Mockingbird's relationship continues to be fun and interesting in a “waiting for the future trainwreck” sort of way. I really don't see it lasting and I think Slott is on my side on this which I'm glad of because even by Spider-Man standards this seems like a poor dynamic. I mean, its not the worst days of Peter and MJ but its close.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #297
Most Wanted part 1

I have questions. For instance, why not launch this title with its Legacy numbering like they did with Captain America if they were going to switch the numbering all of seven issues in? Why is this marketed as the beginning of a new storyline when it so clearly isn't? Okay, these aren't Earth-shattering questions but since basic marketing seems to be a blindspot for Marvel these days they bear expressing.

Such minor irritations aside this was probably my favourite issue of the series so far with the sort of “issue as episode” structure that I'm always praising Tom King's Batman for. Peter returns to his apartment to find Teresa gone (btw, I really, really want it to turn out she's really Peter's sister, I would love that) and promptly gets ambushed by a small army of mercenary types who can shut off his spider-sense. Unwilling to compromise his identity, Peter spends most of the issue out of costume and unable to use his gadgets so there's an extra element of thinking through the problem as he flees from the mercenaries that really works for the character.

There also continues to be some fantastic payoff for last issue's conversation with Jonah and I hope that situation doesn't get reverse or retconned down the line. Again, nostalgia for the way the cast worked in the Clone Saga days but I've always prefered Jonah as a genuinely decent and principled journalist with a few very bad blindspots which seems to be how Zdarsky wants to portray him.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #14
Remaster part 1

This issue was adorable, not just in plot but in new artist Emilio Laiso's rendition of both Aphra and her developing nemesis Lt. (formerly Captain, until she last met Aphra) Magna Tolvan. The main meat of the issue is Aphra and some new friends raiding a backwater Imperial outpost with Aphra on getaway driver duty. In this role she takes over an Imperial flyer that Tolvan was getting in to for the purposes of shooting Aphra's new colleagues. What follows is an issue of Aphra flirting with Tolvan and Tolvan being very, very sad and needing a hug (but, obviously, getting a stun blast instead).

Its all leading to a twist ending that's all over the internet by now but that I won't spoil here. Suffice to say that I was worried some of this series' entertainment value was on the way out after The Enormous Profit but that the new status quo more than makes up for the changes to the supporting cast.

And for the record, I officially ship Aphra/Tolvan a hell of a lot more than Aphra/Sana. The chemistry is just palpable.

Bombshells United #12
World Tour part 2

A lot of stuff happens in this issue but, to be frank, the only thing I care about (and I recognise the massive disservice I am doing to this, perhaps the best series DC is putting out right now) is that Cass Cain has finally made her Bombshells debut and she's done it as the Black Bat.

The fact that DC made her the Black Bat, Batman Incorporated's assigned agent for Hong Kong, and then did almost nothing with her right up until the New 52, is a very old grudge of mine of which the latest manifestation is continuing resentment towards the Orphan identity she currently wears in Detective Comics for not being the Black Bat.

Trust the great Marguerite Bennett to come in and fix yet another longstanding DC editorial fuck up. Here's hoping Cass gets a decent length arc to name sometime soon.

Batman #35
The Rules of Engagement part 3

This issue was hilarious and touching all at the same time. For once in modern comics the cover tells not one lie: the main event is a big old sword fight between Selina and Talia (and, yes, I stand by my characterisation of that fight as “polyamory negotiation”). Its a great character study because, not unnaturally, Talia's position is that Selina is not Bruce's equal and she has all the old lines about how “the Detective” is the only man on Earth who has a chance of being her equal and that's why they are destined blah blah blah.

And Selina? Selina ain't having none of it. Selina is very clearly, very explicitly going into this whole engagement situation with no illusions about where she ranks in Bruce's priorities and how damaged the poor guy is. Frankly, he spent four months of pillow talk describing how he almost murdered a guy, this truth should be self-evident but its commendable that Tom King wants us to know Selina has a sense of reality about the whole thing. She knows Bruce isn't going to stop being Batman or put her above the mission, its not who he is and its based on profound childhood trauma he's never fully processed, perhaps now never can, not fully.

Oh, and we break periodically for comic relief courtesy of Dick and Damian who are as delightful as ever. Of particular note is Dick's diagnosis for why Batman chose to go on a suicide mission to face his ex before mentioning his engagement to his gaggle of sons which cuts right to the heart of the very same issues Selina's outlining to Talia which reinforces the fact that they're right and that Selina is capable of understanding Bruce on a level with one of the only people who has known him longer and more personally than she has. Good stuff. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #16: The Mystery of Flight 493

Dark Shadows: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries 1.3:
The Mystery of Flight 493
written by Alan Flanagan

Tony Peterson should just give up on mass transportation, shouldn't he?

Funnily enough, after making suck a big thing about the inspiration behind the last two episodes, this one strikes me as being pretty much pure Dark Shadows. Again I stress that I've seen basically nothing of the original show and I know the Burton movie is hardly representative but this episode deals with a confined space and a lurking, unseen threat which has been the basis of most of the audios I've heard from this series.

Today's confined and not quite real environment is a domestic flight trapped in a time loop. I'm not usually fond of time loop stories but a recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery convinced me they can be done well so I decided to give it a fair hearing. Like the aforementioned Discoery episode, The Mystery of Flight 493 dispenses with the total loss of memory when the time loop resets relatively quickly. After all, its something that's obvious to the listener and frustrating to sit through time and time again. Instead, Flanagan uses the repetitions to slowly build an idea of who his one-off characters are and what motives drive them, which is pretty tight writing considering the brief period he has to write each development into and the pre-set events that have to take place around it all.

Not to spoilt the conclusion but the other thing that makes me feel this is the most Dark Shadows-esque episode of the set so far is that the threat, when eventually revealed, is not completely explained or defeated but rather survived. There's always seemed to me a touch of Lovecraft about the Dark Shadows universe and this, perhaps more than any audio I've listened to so far, carries that sense that the uncanny is not only there but impossible to truly fight.

Honestly, of the three stories in the set so far this is my favourite by a long chalk and that's why this is a short one. Time loop stories, by necessity, sacrifice having a lot of plot for their central gimmick and I'm reluctant to discuss the actual important events of the story (which are, naturally, loaded towards the conclusion) for fear of spoiling what I genuinely think is a great little story. 

Flicking through the Tyranid Codex

It occurred to me, when I finally remembered the codex had been released, that I had committed to an army without knowing what it did. I chose to paint my Tyranids as Hive Fleet Jormungandr (well, what I think the artwork looked like, 'Eavy Metal disagree with me, it seems) who were pre-existing but only in so far as they were a name and a completely different colour scheme no mere amateur like me could possibly achieve.

So there was a good chance that GW would write new special rules for them and I had no idea what those rules would be. To be frank, I got lucky because the Jormungandr rules are actually quite cool. As with most sub-factions these days they get an army-wide special rule, a stratagem and a warlord trait. Jormungandr's “thing” it turns out is burrowing. They infiltrate inhabited worlds by landing under cover of meteor shower, burrowing deep down and then undermining the inhabitants' fortifications. They also tend to retain some assets underground so even if defeated they will rise up again.

So how does this work on the tabletop.

To start with the strategem The Enemy Below allows you to spend a command point to set up an infantry unit underground and have it emerge with any Raveners, Mawlocs, Trygons or Trygon Prime. This is an ability usually restricted to the two Trygon variants and that rule only allows you to have Troops choices accompany them. This version allows any infantry unit so that opens it up to thinks like Biovores, Venomthropes, Zoanthropes, Hive Guard and so on.

The army-wide special rule (or Hive Fleet Adaptation) is Tunnel Networks allows any non-flying unit to claim the benefit of cover against shooting unless it advances of charges in your preceding movement phase. Speaking as someone who regularly faces a man who is very, very fond of Front Rank Fire, Back Rank Fire I am very happy with this result.

The Jormungandr warlord trait is Insidious Threat which means the Warlord and Jormungandr units within 3” ignore cover when shooting at enemy units.

At this stage I'm not thinking too deeply about theming the army. I haven't played a game yet and I'm just painting what I could get cheap in bundles or on eBay. I certainly want some Raveners in the initial 50 power list and I'll give some thought to something fruity to spend a command point them out of the ground (Venomthropes, maybe, I like the look of Venomthropes). Aside from that I'm going to wait until I have a couple of games under my belt before I make decisions about where I want the army to go.

Also there will be plentiful Gargoyles because sellers on eBay just can't sell them fast enough or cheap enough to exhaust their supply. 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #15: The Mystery of La Danse Macabre

(As with yesterday, SPOILERS for plot but NO SPOILERS for the mystery's solution.)

Dark Shadows: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries 1.2:
The Mystery of La Danse Macabre
written by Zara Symes

Yesterday's story was a take on Agatha Christie, this one is riffing on the Scooby Doo format. Tony and Cassandra are brought in to investigate the supposed haunting of a music hall inherited by the friend of a friend of their secretary Rita from her recently deceased father. The friend, Peggy, and her brother have been trying to restore the music hall but they've been getting offers for the land. Peggy wants to rebuild the hall that was her father's obsession, Russ wants to sell the damn place.

Naturally, Tony puts the hauntings and small fires that have been breaking out on Russ in classic Scooby Doo fashion. Cassandra, meanwhile, believes that something more supernatural is going on and keeps sensing “something” as they explore the old music hall. Meanwhile, there's the preserved dressing room of a ballerina who committed suicide on the premises, a perfect candidate for a haunting.

Honestly, its a perfect scenario for Tony and Cassandra's first official case together because it plays to both their strengths. The transparent motive of the brother means that Terry, a man who has seen more than enough supernatural shit, has a reason to be cynical and go for the debunking explanation over trusting the powers he knows full well Cassandra has. Whether or not he's right or the ghost is real I'll leave unsaid but needless to say the resolution revolves around both partners using their unique skill sets at the same time.

The main conflict of the story comes from Tony and Cassandra learning to work together as partners, actual partners instead of the temporary alliances of previous adventures. Of course we come back to the deep trust issues that exist between the two as Tony questions Cassandra's sense of romance given her past manipulating him. Cassandra, meanwhile, has ample reason to question whether Tony actually wants her as a partner or merely an assistant. For his part, Terry ignores her supernatural senses continuously, urging her to think in terms of evidence and motive rather than her instincts.

It does the job that the second story of these four part box sets do: we got the team together in the last story and this one fixes or addresses the lingering issues before we move into the “status quo” story of the third and the blow everything up phase of the fourth. So it should be said I heartily look forward to hearing what the status quo version of this team works. 

I hope Captain Lorca isn't evil (non-spoiler)

The most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery has completely changed my mind on Captain Lorca. The whole season up until now I have been waiting for the moment when he rips off the mask, as it were, and we find out this was all a plot by Section 31 or something.

Then that conversation with Stamets happened. I won't go into details to avoid spoilers but in that moment I changed my mind. I still think Lorca is a deeply damaged man and dangerous to his ctew in ways that not even the needs of war should excuse but I no longer think he's pursuing any sort of secret agenda. I think, and I hope I'm right, that he's just what he's been revealed to be: a captain who lost a crew under tragic circumstances who hasn't properly dealt with those feelings and is using the war as a way to get closure. Its not healthy and its not admirable but I want it to turn out that underneath it all he's being honest all those times he tells Stamets and Michael that once the war's won he wants to use the spore drive to explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

I just think that there's too much cynicism in science fiction these days and that it would do some good to have Lorca be, beneath all the trauma, exactly what he claims to be: a true believer Starfleet captain. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #14: The Mystery at Crucifix Heights

[This one's a murder mystery. As far as SPOILERS are concerned, I don't say whodunnit but I do talk about the plot a bunch so if you want to go in totally unspoilt do not read and that goes for the next three days and all]

Dark Shadows: The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries 1.1
The Mystery at Crucifix Heights
written by Philip Meeks

In have no real interest in Dark Shadows. Not a judgement on the show or the fandom, just something I never got in to. However, the audios have a supernatural detective sub-series starring Jerry Lacy as private detective Tony Peterson and Lara Parker as the witch Cassandra Collins. I love supernatural detective fiction and I picked up their adventures cheap in various sales. Now they have their own box set series.

Its clear that Big Finish are expecting to draw in new listeners with the box set as Tony and Cassandra start the first story separated and not talking to one another. In fact, the truth behind why they're not talking to each other is probably more important to the story than the resolution of the murder mystery. Actually, talking of the murder...

This story makes a lot of reference to Agatha Christie, mainly through Tony's secretary Rita who spends much of the story (for complicated reasons) undercover as an English aristocrat whose entire idea of the English aristocracy comes from Christie novels. She even offers sage advice based on the format of Christie mysteries. Its clear that Philip Meeks wants to at least evoke the feel of a Christie mystery but, sadly, the hour format doesn't really give him enough opportunity to flesh out his characters before they die.

One of the important things about Christie is that we usually get to know the victim or victims as well as the suspects pretty well before the murder happens. Given the time limit and the lack of a visual element, an audio like this is at a distinct disadvantage. In fact, at one point the team discuss suspects and mention people who have not actually “appeared” in the story who are obviously not the killer because, from a listener's point of view, they don't exist.

Of course, the meat of the story isn't the murder of participants at an occult auction but the renewal of Tony and Cassandra's partnership. Tony is at the auction working undercover security whilst Cassandra has been engaged by a mysterious third party to bid on a particular item, a large preserved wing of unknown origin. We're introduced to other bidders: a Swedish psychic child; a pompous crypto-zoologist; a missionary sister from some Louisiana convent; and, a soothsayer amongst others.

Then, as they say, the murders begin...

To go back to the Christie thing again. It isn't possible, as it theoretically is in a Christie novel, to work out who did it through logic and considering motive. Its a twist ending because this is Dark Shadows and the author (probably correctly) works out its more interesting to study Terry and Cassandra's relationship through the idea that Tony isn't sure she hasn't been the one killing people on behalf of her client. Its not a bad thought for him to have given their past but its also, obviously from the listener's perspective, not true as we've heard unseen forces messing with Cassandra at various points before this. So we know that Cassandra is innocent and we get to enjoy how she reacts to the serious accusation after a few scenes of more comfortable, friendly bickering with Tony.

Its the relationship that sold this series to me back when it was an occasional divergence in the monthly range and Meeks perfectly captures what made me fall in love with these two characters in the first place.

Let's hope the rest of the box set gives me as much to talk about without needing to discuss whodunnit. 

Ladies Fashion with the Themyscira Volleyball Team

Oh, good grief. I mean, really: on the left we have the Amazons as they appeared in Wonder Woman and the image on the right is a publicity still for how the Amazons are appearing in Justice League.

Seriously, DC? You're actually doing this. You're replacing practical metal armour that is based on actual armour designs and replacing them with leather bikinis? This is something you were willing to spend extra money on?

I don't know where to start with this. Do I start with maintaining brand consistency with the super-popular movie these ladies just appeared in? Do I start with the fact that said super-popular movie made headlines with its practical and non-sexualised armour design?

Oh, good grief, the bikini Amazons are even draped over a car, it just gets worse. Can we just agree that it says something sad about the state of things that the image on the left is what happens when you have Amazons in a female-led production and the image on the right is what happens when you have them in a male-led one? Now, I'm a bloke and I'm a bloke who is interested in women (and lamps, he quoted pointlessly) and I have this to say:

Stop it. Just bloody stop this shit. Stop acting like putting women in practical costumes is something you only need to do for those “woman” films. This makes you look bad, it makes you look like sexist idiots. This is a step backwards.

Still, on a lighter note I was glad to hear that Warner's stupid, stupid decision not to sign Gal Gadot to a multi-movie deal has led to her trying to strongarm them into removing an infamous sexual harasser from the franchise. Best “its me or the dog” play ever given she's the only thing critics have anything positive to say about the entire franchise. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #13: The Quality of Mercy

Audio Adventures in Time and Space #35
The Quality of Mercy

written by David A. McIntee

Okay, so another one of these. In this case the minor non-BBC owned aspect BBV are working with is Guy de Carnac, a Templar Knight and one-off love interest of Bernice Summerfield from the novel Sanctuary which even when this was made was five years or more out of print. I haven;t read Sanctuary in years and I'm pretty sure Guy dies at the end but, well, retcons are a thing and here we are: the further adventures if Guy de Carnac that I can't imagine anyone was clamouring for but here we are.

If I seemed down on this series yesterday its because I had fond memories of these releases that I Scream didn't live up to. Happily, The Quality of Mercy was a better production all round. It had none of the off-putting straight to listener narration or lack of ambient sound that made I Scream such a slog. In fact, it made a good impression straight off with a Gregorian chant intro, church bells and neighing horses to set the scene.

Its Crusades o'clock and Guy de Carnac is a former Templar knight wandering darkest Mummerset in search of a farrier. He comes to a town which is awaiting an inquisitor to question a strange man who fell from the sky and speaks no known language. As a well-traveled man and servant of God, Guy is asked to look in on the stranger who he judges to be neither angel nor demon but simply a man, a sailor from some strange and unknown land.

The inquisitor, when he arrives, is naturally a lot more cynical. He's no as bloodthirsty as the stereotype would have it because this is David A. McIntee writing and he does a lot of historical research. The inquisitor is still the villain of the piece and he has less than pure motivations but he doesn't start torturing people out of boredom or anything like that.

Thankfully, the debate over who or what the sailor from the sky is doesn't form the whole mystery of the story. I say thankfully because anyone paying even minimal attention can tell instantly that he's an alien and no amount of listening to Guy and the inquisitor trying to puzzle that out with their literally medieval frame of reference is going to make that carry an entire hour. Its made clear early on that Guy is no longer a Templar and the reasons for his expulsion are made a central mystery of the story even as he tries to discover the truth behind the sailor. Guy has a good line in theological debate even if it is mainly to convince people that the way he wants to do things is the way God intended. I'm also interested that Guy's complex attitude towards Christianity (though not towards God, it seems) is presented as quite morally neutral, neither a reason to condemn him or a reason to lionise him which is an unusual attitude for an author to take.

As it happens this was the sole Guy de Carnac story BBV produced before the Audio Adventures ended but it does make me want to revisit Sanctuary now I have a voice to apply to the character. 

What to do with all these Tyranid bits?

It occurs to me, building my Tyranids Start Collecting set, that there isn't really much point in keeping the spare parts. Tyranids have a really comprehensive range. If a creature can have a weapon then that weapon is going to be right there on the kit.

A bunch of spare parts are going to my friend Matt who is using them to manufacture Chaos things for his Lost And The Damned. Some of the smaller bits, however, I'm going to hold on to so I can make some Ultramarines Tyrannic War Veterans. I don't want an Ultramarines army, as interesting as I find them I just know I'd end up bored out of my mind painting that much blue. A single unit, though, that's interesting to convert and paint.

I also admit there's a certain pleasure to having a small Ultramarines force made entirely out of a non-Codex unit. Also, as Veterans its another excuse to work on painting white. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #12: I Scream

Audio Adventures in Time and Space #26
I Scream
written by Lance Parkin

So, back in the day before Big Finish there was BBV, a fan-run company that made independent audio dramas using whatever bits and pieces of Doctor Who they could license from non-BBC sources (monsters owned by writers, for instance) or casting familiar actors in strangely familiar but not quite copyrighted roles (such as having Sylvester McCoy playing a time traveler called “The Professor”).

Some of these releases got a little obscure.

Take this one, for instance: the I are an alien race from a single Eighth Doctor novel, Seeing I by Kate Orman and Jon Blum. I remember literally nothing about them except that they were the running the world from behind the scenes types. In the case of this story the world is Glaspar, a planet given over almost completely to ice cream production, the best ice cream in the galaxy.

Out POV character and narrator is played by Lisa Bowerman, the manager of the largest ice cream restaurant on the planet. On Galspar the company runs everything (a running theme of Doctor Who books at the time) and everyone, ultimately, works for the company. They run the media as well with a sort of Orwellian brainwashy thing called the I Screen interrupting the narration from time to time to tell you how great the company is.

Bowerman's character (who is either never named or I wasn't listening) meets a group of dropouts let by the pretty and charismatic John. She goes on an astral projecting joyride with him and his telepath friend and encounter the I.

There's a lot of pop psychology stuff about teenage rebellion and counter-culture as an aspect of culture. Its a bit dull, to be honest. The dull ice cream-themed dystopia turns out to be run by bodysnatcher-style emotionless managers, the main evidence for this conclusion being that the one we encounter speaks a bit stiltedly and doesn't get off on having picture of Bowerman's character naked. There's a nice twist where Bowerman's character thinks the dropouts are part of the system, secret police.

She's wrong, sadly, but it was a nice twist while it lasted.

After that Bowerman's character descends into complete paranoia about being watched by the I. The narration is, to be honest, a little overwrought. She finds herself in hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. Naturally, she doesn't help herself by just plainly describing her belief the world is being controlled by insect people to the doctors in the hospital. Paranoia is a hard thing to convey only in sound and I'm not sure everything Parkin does works but there are some cool moments as Bowerman's narration becomes more and more frantic.

Ultimately its a bit like one of those short 2000AD comic strips: a big high concept with an ending that has a nice punch but isn't meant to go further than it does. 

Surprisingly, I'm enjoying Amazing Spider-Man's Legacy storyline

[SPOILERS for the current “Fall of Parker” storyline in Amazing Spider-Man, in particular the cliffhanger to the most recent issue and also various plot points from adjectiveless Spider-Man]

I was not expecting to. Okay, I do wish we'd had more chance to enjoy the Parker Industries status quo (especially as I only started to like that status quo with the launch of the current series) so much so I was very skeptical about taking Peter back to the Daily Bugle.

The thing is, though, that the specific angle offers something new and interesting. I was afraid of it being a pure nostalgia exercise given that Marvel has all but announced their intention to set the engines to maximum pander.

But Peter Parker as a science writer sounds like it could be fun. Given that this is the Marvel Universe this means he could end up in all sorts of situations that build on the scientist side of the character I so enjoyed seeing explored at Parker Industries. It means that we keep the mature aspect of the character (even if he is still a prat) that I think Marvel should retain so long as Miles Morales is swinging around as the teenage Spider-Man.

That having been said, I wonder where they're going with Miles in Spider-Man and this idea that maybe he might adopt a new superhero identity. Maybe this is down to Bendis leaving and wanting to throw one last curveball to the readership.

Personally? I'd rather he remain Spider-Man because it allows Marvel to have their teenage hero cake and eat it too so we don't end up having to have Peter reverting to a younger man again as in Brand New Day. On the other hand it would be nice to see Miles get his own identity even if only to show that a newer character can survive outside of being a legacy.

If they can, of course. 

Saturday, 11 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #11: United

Once again its a bit hard to discuss this one without talking about the conclusion so this is a SPOILER one.

UNIT: The New Series: Assembled #4
written by Matt Fitton

One useful consequence of the last episode (and a short bit of dialogue explaining that Colonel Shindi is in Geneva, oh nostalgia) is that all the modern cast are trapped outside the UK due to dinosaur siege. This means that we start out with the retirees in the Tower Of London and Kate and company trying to find a way back to them. It is rather sweet that Mike, Benton and Jo get to take command for a little bit even if it is the most fanservice-y plot element of the series.

You know, I go into every one of these Earth Reptile stories hoping for a peaceful conclusion and, I guess, this one sort of counts. Its not perfect, the resolution is mainly bloodless but the Earth Reptiles don't agree to anything, they're essentially tricked into surrendering and returning to their hibernation chambers. Just once I'd like for the character who charges off to make peace even though everyone thinks its hopeless (its Jo again, by the way) to some real, material success instead of being shuffled off to the hostage room. There's even a second such scene with Mike and Josh meeting Jastrok under truce which ends abruptly when Mike gets one piece of information that will make attacking the Silurians easier. Okay, Jastrok isn't exactly entering into the spirit of the truce but they could have at least tried.

On the plus side, Jo and Osgood continue their epic team-up of women uplifting other women (there is nothing better) with Jo encouraging Osgood to just bloody ask one of the hunky men she works with out. I mean, I'd rather she take Kate up on one of those social events that aren't dates, honest guv, but alone time with Naked Caveman Sam would be just as good. Talking of Sam, towards the end Katy Manning plays the hell out of some “naughty granny flirting” when Sam is assigned to escort her to South America in search of new homes for plesiosaurs.

So, yeah, there's a lot of good character stuff and some nice comparisons between the UNIT family and the modern incarnation but I still find myself a little sad that once again Malcolm Hulke's startling innovation of an “alien” race with individual personalities and a sympathetic moral position were just treated as another menace to be disposed of. Disposed of in a more humane way than usual, its true though just sending them back to sleep seems a bit too... I don't want to say “concentration camp” because that's in awful taste and not accurate in the details but there is a certain element of rounding them up and locking them away that I'm not quite comfortable with. 

Pointless meanderings about the 13th Doctor's clothes

I like it. The trousers, which seem to be a matter of odd fixation amongst fans at the moment, probably look a lot less shapeless in motion. I like the suspenders, classic Doctor apparel there. I like the fact that there's a rainbow but not an actual, legit pride rainbow so you can't prove nothin' in your rambling letters of complaint, conservatives who suddenly care about this show for some reason. Its a fashion disaster, I am told, and to my mind that makes it perfect. Just because the Doctor is now a woman they should not have suddenly regenerated with the ability dress themselves.

That doesn't seem like enough for a post, does it?

Okay then I'll defend the piercings to make myself feel like I'm not just writing filler because its Friday evening right now and I am full of cake.

You see, the best worst take I have read about this costume so far come from those who are fixated with the fact Whittaker has piercings in her ears. Some have even (obviously but still depressingly) claimed that this Doctor having pierced ears when no other Doctor has pierced ears proves they are fundamentally changing the character beyond all recognition and therefore the Doctor should only ever be played by a man.

Yeah, okay, fake nerd boys, listen up!

For a start, we don't know that the Doctor wakes up from regeneration with pre-pierced ears. For all we know she could pop out to get her ears pierced during whatever costume choosing montage creates this glorious fashion disaster. Second, and most importantly, Jon Pertwee (who I feel we can all agree was definitely the Doctor and whose status as such cannot be denied) woke up from regeneration with a tattoo. We know this because we got to watch him showering in his debut story.

So maybe pierced ears are not the breaking point of canon. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #10: Retrieval

UNIT: The New Series: Assembled #3
written by Guy Adams

So we come to the “its not all just fanservice, honest guv” entry of the set with no members of the old UNIT family around and our modern heroes taking front and centre as their retired counterparts take very, very slow bus journeys towards the Tower of London and the epic conclusion.

That isn't to do this episode down as filler, in fact it does a very good job if showcasing what the modern UNIT cast bring to the table. As a bevy of Silurian sea monsters make their way very slowly towards the UK, Kate and Osgood make a detour to a Silurian research base UNIT has identified off the Greek coast to see if there's anything there that can help with the fight. Choosing the two scientific minds on the cast, the two main characters in fact, does a lot to show how the new science led UNIT works as opposed to the more military brand of the old days. They go in with equipment, investigate, note that they dont have much context for what they're finding and make the requisite mistakes.

Not that it's all dry investigative stuff. This story sees the return of Lt. Sam Bishop, UNIT's international man of mystery and adventure as he squares off against the Silurian Tiska who has been sent to investigate the same research base. I like Sam and I want to say I'd love to hear more from the character but I honestly think he works better like this: swooping in for one or two episodes every series to save the day.

For all that I enjoyed it, I don't find myself with much more to say about the story, in all honesty. I won't condemn it as exactly filler but it is a significantly lighter story than the two that precede it. That's not necessarily a problem, if the set were four hours of pure adrenaline it would be a bit draining, it just doesn't leave me with much to talk about.

So, on to the epic conclusion it is.

I mean, I could probably get some mileage from Osgood's delusions of “naked caveman Sam” but I ship her more with Kate anyway, as cute as that was. 

Comic Reviews

This week the Kingpin of Crime gets his Trump on; Tim Drake has a word with himself; mutants and aliens get therapy; and after months of uncertainty we get branding confirmation that Jennifer Walters is still female.

Daredevil #595
Mayor Fisk part 1

Marvel just does not do subtle satire, does it? I mean, they even have Foggy Nelson explain to the reader that no one who voted for Fisk was under any delusion that he wasn't the Kingpin of Crime but they liked that he was a political outsider. Just about the only thing they don't do is make him a Republican, instead making sure to mention he ran as an independent.

Meanwhile, Mayor Fisk has ordered he DA's office and Matt Murdoch in particular to start preparing briefs on how to hold vigilante superheroes accountable. Its not a comfortable situation as any reasonable person probably would prefer people who cause massive property damage on a regular basis to have some accountability and it ties in with the recent Supreme Court arc about bringing the heroes into the legal framework. We get Matt in full hothead and pissed off mode which means he falls for approximately one hundred percent of Fisk's plans through the whole issue because Matt Murdoch can always been relied on to make things worse for himself. Its an interesting angle that continues to use Matt's new position as a prosecutor to good effect and I look forward to seeing where it goes, though I hope that Fisk stays mayor for a while to come because that's the sort of angle that has a lot of juice in it.

Detective Comics #968
A Lonely Place of Living conclusion

Given her presence on the cover I was hoping to see a Steph/Tim reunion but sadly not. Instead we get a big long fight between various elements of the Bat-family and evil future Tim. Its not badly written or drawn but there is a lot leftover for future stories and in the typical infuriating time traveler way evil future Tim keeps banging on about how Kate will do “something” without going in to the sort of specifics that might help prevent the something even though his murder plan fell through.

Still, he does say the something will happen in a few weeks so we might get to that sometime within the next year.

Runaways #3
Find Your Way Home part 3

Okay, this is a SPOILERS one so skip down a bit if you don't want to know why I liked it...

I like that Karolina said now when Nico, Gert and Chase came into her life and asked her to abandon it. I like that she felt guilty about it and had to chant affirmations at herself whilst crying after they left. I like that she's shown as conflicted and unhappy with her decision but that the narrative is firmly on her side about it. I like that she is putting her own needs first here. Chase never recovered from Gert's death and Nico has her abandonment issues from the break-up of A-Force (such a good title...) but Karolina is in college, she has a girlfriend and is making headway with therapy. Much as I like the character (and please let that girlfriend be Julie, please please please) I think showing all this is a very positive thing.

I also liked that there was acknowledgement that getting Chase and Gert back together would probably be a mistake. He was always a little older than her and now there's an age gap of years that makes things horribly creepy if they tried to reignite their actual relationship.

Generation X #8

Speaking of superheroes moving on, after far too many years an X-book gets back to seeing what Husk is up to. Last time we saw her was back in the dying days of the Wolverine and the X-Men title when she'd started being the school's guidance counselor. Now she's completely outside the X-Men, taking her PhD to become an actual psychiatrist. What's more, she's started talking with her proper accent (and less annoyingly written, I hated the old phonetic way the “hayseed” characters were written, its more contractions and the odd apostrophe now).

Also, nice to see the likes of Mercury, Dust and Hijack are now low level leadership figures amongst the student body.

She-Hulk #159
Jen Walters Must Die part 1

I am so very dubious about that title change. Nostalgia is one thing but... ugh, nevermind, still the same writer so there's hope. That having been said...

Now, its not like Tamaki's run on this title was without humour before, in fact it was pretty damn funny, but there's a different flavour to the funny in this issue. There's a restaurant that sells “burger cake” and a professor who is a stereotypical airhead blonde. Maybe that's the “Legacy” angle for this title: to go a little more towards the oddball humour of the original She-Hulk run (okay, okay, pedantically it was the second run but no one actually cares about the first one).

I'm honestly not sure how I feel about the change. On the one hand it is a pretty minor change but I hope that it doesn't come to dominate the tone of the series which up to now I've really, really liked. Time will tell. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #9: Tidal Wave

UNIT: The New Series: Assembled #2:
Tidal Wave
written by Guy Adams

Jo Grant. Sea Devils. A questionably useful energy project. This really is the greatest hit collection, isn't it? Not that I'm complaining, I adore Jo Grant and the story has some interesting ideas for the Sea Devils.

And, okay, it took me a while to work this out and Guy Adams had to hit me over the head with it but I now get that Osgood (at least in her Big Finish incarnation) is at least meant to have an element of “the Doctor as Katy Manning would have played them” about her. Teaming Osgood and Jo together for most of the story was absolutely the right move especially as it allows Osgood to have her frantic fangirl moment at the beginning and then redeem it by having them bond and come to a place of mutual respect by the end. Its a good arc, especially as it starts with Jo admitting she's judged Osgood exactly the same way she was always judged as the ditzy one back in the day.

Seriously, Jo has so many more admirable qualities than generally get acknowledged and here we see her classic “plucky determination” weaponised. As the compromised and controlled Captain Burmaster uses UNIT's new hydro-electric generating submarine to start a war with a hibernation colony of Sea Devils its Jo who is the one pleading for peace and putting herself in the hands of the enemy to do so. Its also interesting that Jastrop is behind the attack on the Sea Devils and not just to provoke them into conflict with the “ape primitives”, he has a concrete agenda and a plan. Again, good representation of the Earth Reptiles as people rather than a monolithic race.

The same holds true for Krellix, our traditional lone voice of peace and reason amongst the Sea Devils who is actually swung towards believing Jo's protestations of innocence because he knows Jastrop and has his own reasons for not liking the guy. Jo's pleas for humanity also have the interesting aspect of acknowledging the worst sides of our species and of Krellix's but hoping that the best wins out. Its eloquent and sweet and reflects the greater experience Jo has gained in the decades since she last encountered the Sea Devils. It also demonstrates that if you want to read Osgood towards the end as having a bit of an admiring friend crush on Jo you wouldn't be along, I'm right there with you.

Could have done without the “political correctness gone mad” joke from Jo, of all people. 

I would love to see Bendis' Superman

Now that Brian Michael Bendis is moving from Marvel to DC there's all sorts of speculation about what he'll be doing for them. This post isn't even on the level of reading tea leaves, its just flatly what I personally would love to see him write:

Superman. To be precise a full on, traditional set-up Superman. I know we've been getting closer and closer to that since Superman Reborn but what I mean is a series very focused on Metropolis, on Clark as a reporter with the full Daily Planet cast and, for preference, Lex Luthor as the man behind the curtain of half the things going on in the city. We know from Ultimate Spider-Man that Bendis can write a good newspaper setting and I would love to see what he could do with the more fantastic aspects of Metropolis that have sort of fallen by the wayside over the years.

Like I say this is just wishlisting and, ten to one, DC and Bendis already have plans far better and more interesting than this.

I just really hope he isn't going to be doing Batman. I can see the chain of logic: Bendis made a big splash with Daredevil back in the day, he works a lot on street level books and noir, but it just feels like it would be more of the same and the Bat books already have a bunch of innovative writers taking things in determinedly fascinating directions I'm not sure there's the creative real estate.

Having said all that though, it occurs to me that I'd love to see Bendis work on Outsiders. Whether a more traditional Batman-led version with the classic characters, the Nightwing-era cast or an all-new version cherrypicked from the list of obscure characters every comic writer has in their back pocket for when they get a kid in the candy store project.

Here's hoping. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #8: Call To Arms

UNIT: The New Series: Assembled #1
Call To Arms

written by Matt Fitton

The thing about Big Finish is that it is always fanservice, that's the nature of it. That having been said, there are levels of fanservice and the more the idea of story seems more geared towards it than having an interesting high concept, the more wary I become.

Take this box set, for example, which promises a team-up between Big Finish's modern UNIT and the surviving members of the 1970s “UNIT family”. On the plus side BF waited to do three box sets before pulling the trigger on this idea so I have at least as much of a grip on the voices and character of the new guys as the familiar old faces. Matt Fitton starts us off with a very traditional story as not only do we hve old UNIT foes the Silurians but the format of Call To Arms is the “traditional base under siege”.

In this case the base under siege is the pub run by retired UNIT sergeant John Benton the night after his retirement party. Kate, Osgood and a six pack of soldiers have been checking up on a known Silurian hibernation base in the area which turns out to be something modern UNIT does routinely to make sure the inhabitants are safe and asleep. There's even references later to other bases where the inhabitants woke up too find the world overrun by talking apes and decided just to go back to sleep and wake up later. The fact that we've never had a Silurian story with a peaceful resolution is largely down to the fact it wouldn't be that interesting but having some confirmation that it can happen helps with the idea that these are an intelligent race of individuals and not a series of interchangeable monsters.

Giving this impression through dialogue does help because the actual Silurian antagonist, a military type by the name of Jastrok, is about as stereotypical a made alien general as it gets. Osgood tries to open negotiations with him using Silurian formalities but he responds by laughing and shooting people regardless. He's not without depth but its clear he's not going to be a vehicle for intelligent and rational dialogue any time soon.

Anyway, Jastrok and his soldiers wake up and ambush the UNIT team. The soldiers cover Kate and Osgood as they escape and the two important characters take shelter in Benton's pub where Mike Yates happens to have just arrived. On the subject of Mike, its interesting to see someone who actually holds a grudge against him even if the grudge less about the whole massive betrayal thing (though it gets mentioned) and more about jealousy over a woman. Benton, of course, can't help but fall into the habit of saying “sir” and “captain” which is both sweet and a sad reminder of his undeservedly low position on the UNIT food chain of old.

The story unfolds much as you might expect with a few interesting details that lend some flavour like Kate being the only person in the pub who's armed. Osgood and Benton get to replicate the old Doctor/Benton relationship of sciency explanation followed by polite bewilderment which is nice but I do hope that later in the set we get some reminder of the fact that as baffled as he often is Benton is a smart guy.

There were also a couple of references to the wilderness years novels including calling UNIT's observation of the hibernation bases “The Earth Reptile Initiative” (the “politically correct” name the Silurians were given in the New Adventures novels that was later changed to “Indigenous Terrans”) and Benton's past as a used car salesman.

It was a fun time but, much as I don't want to play favourites, next episode has Katy Manning on the cover and I am rather looking forward to that a little more. 

The unique philosophical perspective of the Tyranids

As much as I love the models there was always something that put me off Tyranids: the lack of personality. This extends further than them just not having names or even named characters in the traditional sense. Because Tyranids of whatever size or intelligence are birthed by the hive ships, perform the task they were made for and are then digested by those same hive ships its unlikely that (storyline-wise) your Hive Tyrant in one game represents the same Hive Tyrant in the next.

Essentially, they're the one army where you aren't playing the hero in your own story.

No matter how debased or evil or mad the leader of any other army might be they're still pursuing an agenda. Your Necron Lord wants to rebuild what he sees as the one true civilisation of the galaxy. Abaddon the Despoiler has a whole revenge drama going on even if his ultimate objective is to throw the galaxy into eternal damnation. The motivation might not be nice but it exists, there's a way that the character sees themselves as in the right, no one sees themselves as the villain of the piece, as the old writing maxim goes.

(Okay, maybe the Night Lords.)

In a way this very quality makes the Tyranids perfect for my purposes. I'll be playing a lot of club games with this army as it grows and trying to impose a storyline on that sort of environment is a nightmare. If I can just handwave fighting Tau, Space Marines, Eldar and so on and so on in rapid succession by saying its all different splinters of Hive Fleet Jormungandr all the better.

It'll also be interesting to see what sort of story my more regular opponents come up with surrounding my actions. My friend Tom (a dedicated Valhallan Guard player) and I have been trying to come up with a storyline for us to play through for some time and the classic horde vs. horde or Guard and 'Nids seems as good a story to tell as any.

And if I eventually find myself with a yen to write some personalised stories of the campaign I can always bring my Genestealer Cults into the mix. 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

30 Discs Hath November #7: Time In Office disc two

Doctor Who (Main Range) #230
Time in Office episodes 3 & 4
written by Eddie Robson

History Repeating

And we start off with yet more agency and fun for Tegan. The basic set-up of this episode is that the Doctor is making a speech at Pyrdon Academy about some reforms he wants to make and a bored Tegan accepts an offer of a drink from another Time Lord, one who intends to steal a TARDIS in imitation of the Doctor and take (kidnap) her as his companion. As with the last episode it puts Tegan in a position of knowledge for a change, the experienced traveler to the naive young Time Lord who doesn't know what he's getting in to.

The Doctor, meanwhile, contends with the lightest plot of the set so far as he's confronted by a rather incompetent student revolutionary who, it turns out, has a list of grievances the Doctor was going to tackle in his speech anyway.

Its the least biting bit of satire Time In Office has to give, especially after the last episode was all about the sins of the past and colonialism, but by Doctor Who third episode standards its far from the depths of filler that have been served up in the past even from Big Finish.

There is also a part of me that loves the idea of Tegan going on a date with a Time Lord and maybe even starting off a casual thing with them. Maybe I'm hoping too much of this sudden turn towards agency for the character but I hope that some of what Robson has been writing for the character gets built on down the line.

Architect of Destruction

In all seriousness, Eddie Robson needs to write more Tegan stories, he has such a fantastic grasp of what makes her a great character. Her desire to take no crap from anyone, even a race of immortal time travelers millions of years more advanced than her, is the sort of trait that should have made her one of the most influential companions in the classic series. As it is she was written off as unsympathetic and we didn't get a companion with as much character or agency until Ace.

On a larger scale Eddie Robson has a wonderful twist on the conspiracy that anyone listening to this would have known was going to end the story even before the end of episode reveal in the previous episode. There are also some fantastic “visuals” described as the Doctor and company tour the new Capitol. I particularly liked the idea of statues whose faces change to represent all the incarnations of the famous Time Lords they depict.

Davison continues to enjoy the chance to get up to comedy antics and I hope Big Finish take this as an indication that they can do more with the character from here on out than light exasperation. I also hope it puts to bed forever the fan myth that, to misapply a quote from Jim Cornette, “funny don't make money”, a myth that has been with the series ever since fandom hailed the departure of Douglas freakin' Adams as the best thing to ever happen to the show.

No, seriously, that happened and whilst this story was nowhere near a Douglas Adams in quality it does show that BFP can afford to have a little more fun with the license.