Saturday, 23 September 2017

My favourite Elf


There are a few models I really regret not picking up when I had the chance and, thankfully, eBay exists so for the most part I've been able to track them down quite cheaply. One that eluded me until last week was a particular High Elves Mage that I always loved but missed the boat on and finally I've found one for cheap:
(Incidentally, yes, I do have the other arm but he fell apart in transit and I need to acid bath him).

It would probably be easier to explain what I love about this model using a properly painted example so here's the version from (I think) an old Army Book:
Now, I'm no metal snob. White metal was a horrible material that hated undercoat, chipped like crazy and somehow hated glue more than it hated paint so the models would just periodically collapse. HOWEVER, for a while in the early-2000s GW used the material to produce some of the best character models they'd ever put out.

Which is where our elf here comes in. He was one of a set of Mages that came out for the seventh edition and I adore the little guy. He might not be the most dynamic model but I feel that works. He's not floating in the air or throwing out fireballs, in fact he's posed more like an Empire Engineer than a typical wizard which is awfully fitting. Elves are the most magical race in the game, naturally, and to them magic isn't a floaty, wibbly mystery its science. This guy is holding a crystal ball as if it were a scientific device because, to him, it is. His clothing is arranged in enough layers that a two tone colour scheme will still look visually interesting but not so many layers that it looks too hard to paint.

He also looks mildly offended, probably unintentionally but that's so very High Elf, isn't it? 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Comic Reviews


This I didn't have much time to read, didn't have strong or interesting enough opinions on what I did manage to get through and so mainly I just bitch about crossovers.

Nightwing #29
Gotham Resistance part 2

And once again we have a crossover acting as a huge roadbump to a series' ongoing narrative. Last issue we saw Nightwing and Huntress about to bang away only for Dick's estranged girlfriend to see them through the window just as she about to see if they still had a future. Also, she was wearing rocket boots because comics. This issue its a Metal crossover that continues a story from Teen Titans with the next installment in Suicide Squad... good grief.

Here's the thing, writing this I had to flick back to the credits to check this was the regular writer and, yeah, its still Tim Seeley but something just feels off about the characterisation. It just strikes me as very telling that Seeley doesn't seem to be able to close the gap between Dick as he has written him for the last couple of years and the Dick that needs to exist for plot reasons of this crossover. Its exactly what I was complaining about with the Secret Empire crossovers at Marvel (sans fascism, that's a whole other Nightwing series, apparently): the regular plot is just getting roadblocked as yet another crossover demands that the actual point of the series be put on hold for a few months.

And I like Metal, just to be clear, I'm really keen to see where it goes but so far the main series seemed more than able to tell the story without interrupting two series I was otherwise enjoying and boldfacedly demanding of me that I give Suicide Squad a try while I'm at it.

Batman: The Red Death one-shot

The cover offers me the Flash by way of Batman by way of Judge Death and, even better, its an additional one-off purchase that doesn't railroad an ongoing series. See this, DC, this is a lot more palatable to me as a consumer.

Its a decent done-in-one. Its main job is to give context to one of the evil Batmen introduced at the end of the main series' last issue but it also gives more information on the Dark Multiverse and how it works than we had before. Interestingly, the Dark Multiverse world the Red Death comes from takes a lot of design cues from Frank Miller's Batman work which is either a nice little nod or a very, very harsh judgement on how his vision of Batman relates to the way DC wants to portray the character now.

Still and all, its a bit slight, that's the nature of one-shots like this. I'll pick up the next one and see if there's a continuing thread through them or if they're all just going to be origin one-shots. If there's an ongoing story I'll stick around, if its just a series of comics where the only plot is “here's how Batman went wrong” then I'll probably just keep to the main story.

U.S.Avengers #10
Same As The Old Boss

This is a big aftermath issue for all the Secret Empire stuff which, oddly, I actually understood because this was the one series I could absolutely not do without during that whole mess since Al Ewing absolutely refused to play along with the “and then everyone lost and lost and lost” narrative Nick Spencer was mandating.

Its mainly future set-up, these issues always are, but Ewing always delivers the fun exposition and here we have Sunspot (I will never call him Citizen V) having a sit down meeting with Not Steve Bannon Honest Guv about the future of SHIELD and the U.S.Avengers that goes pretty much exactly as you'd expect a conversation between a Trump advisor would go with an immigrant leading a team of immigrants. Like everything about this series it is not subtle and very welcome for it.

There are also developments with Toni Ho, by far my favourite character, which I hope are followed through on. I adore the character and watching her cycle through different phases of identity and self-image on this team has been fascinating (and probably something other writers should be taking note of, to be frank).

I'm in the process of cutting down my pull list and this series is front and centre of the ones that absolutely will not get dropped. 

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Comics: exploring a more varied diet


It happens every couple of years, this sudden urge to shake up my reading. Recently I've been expanding my pull list beyond my go to superhero series with stuff like Lumberjanes, Bombshells, Mech Cadet Yu and Rat Queens, all series I'm really enjoying for how different they are. Its not even that I'm burnt out on superheroes. Right now DC's in the best place its been creatively in about a decade and Marvel, recent Nazi missteps aside, has some good stuff going on that I hope Legacy isn't going to ruin.

Still, I feel the need to explore a bit so I went into town with a small budget and scoured the shelves of Waterstones and Oxfam Music (strangely, of the two Oxfam stores, the one that displays comics donations) for anything that looked interesting.

I ended up with a decent enough haul that will keep me busy for a couple of weeks.

To start with, Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness and Nationalism: a graphic history by Ronald Schechter and Liz Clarke. I have to admit, I did not expect to find a graphic novel with an Oxford University Press logo on the back cover. I love historical graphic novels and a biography of an eighteenth century British Jewish boxer is certainly not something I'd ever have thought to look up on my own.

A Contract With God claims to be the first graphic novel and given its written and drawn by Will Eisner I can well believe it. Again, a historical based at least somewhat on the author's own life. I'm always leery about foundational works, they tend to age worse than people give them credit for, but I'm more than willing to give it a shot.

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call is the first in Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso classic Vertigo crime series, which is one of those classics I've never got around to. I love Azarello's Wonder Woman and every time I've encountered Risso's... shall we call it “aggressively grotty” style I've been impressed. Plus, Oxfam only wanted £2.99 for it so how bad can it be?

Another classic I've never read, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is an autobiography of a woman who grew up in Iran during some pretty scary times. It is also something I once promised a friend I would read and review and, decade late or not, I do want to keep to my promises.

The back cover blurb of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress: Awakening promises me both art deco beauty and steampunk horror plus a quick flick through tells me the art is absolutely gorgeous. I know practically nothing about this series, only that I love the aesthetic and the protagonist Maika Halfwolf is looking for answers about her past so I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Finally there's Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?, the first book in the series that brought Brian Michael Bendis to prominence. I liked the recent Powers revival at Marvel but got burnt out on it because I feel like I was missing a lot of necessary context on the main characters so it might well be worth my while.

Opinions to follow at a later date...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #5: Overdue Showcasin'


Yesterday, all of a surprise, the sun came out. My house is truly the worst place to take photographs. It is literally aligned against the passage of the sun so even the garden doesn't get good enough light half the time (nevermind British weather) and I cannot wait for that light tent to arrive.

Anyway, the first completed models for my Bretonnians: half a unit of Peasant Archers! The rest of the Battalion is in various states ranging from half-finished to barely started but I'm still very much enjoying the project. So, precious, precious photographic evidence:

These were a lot of fun to paint and quite easy once I'd broken down in my head what was hard leather, what was cloth I wanted to be brown and what was cloth I wanted to paint in grubby heraldic colours. Originally the halved yellow and red was going to be the colours of a random knight champion but I like the contrast so much they're going to be the colours of my general's family (and of the Errants and Realm Knights of his household, just to make my life easier).

I was surprised by how well the yellow came out, actually, which I put down more to the Zandri Dust undercoat than any actual skill on my part. Between these and some Skinks I've been painting on the side using Macragge Blue undercoat I finally feel sold on using different coloured sprays.

As to the rest of the Battalion: the remaining Archer are about half done; the Men-At-Arms are just getting started with just some flesh tones filled; and, the Knights are taking a while to start because I'm painting each horse a different colour, partly as a colour test but mostly because since I'm painting them in uniform heraldry I want something to make the models looks more like individuals.

With eleven days of Month One to go I doubt I'll get everything all the way done but I'm making progress I'm more than happy with. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Hal Jordan and the Bruce Wayne Problem

Its hard to remember after over a decade of Damian Wayne but there was a time when Bruce was a pretty minor figure in Batman comics. That sounds mad to say but its honestly the truth, Grant Morrison even called it out in his first issue of Batman when he has Alfred calmly inform Bruce that he's doing the gravelly Batman voice all the time now. In the 90s and early-2000s it seemed that Bruce was Batman 24/7. That was also the time when the whole “Batman is the real personality, Bruce Wayne is the mask” psychology was really prevalent.

Then Morrison came along with an explicit agenda to resurrect the “hairy-chest love God” Bruce Wayne (and yes, those were his words at the time) and thankfully it stuck. Even though the character has been “killed off” twice since then Bruce as a person outside the suit has remained a very important element of the Batman comics. Bruce's time as an amnesiac while Jim Gordon was Batman springs to mind as a prime example. You'd never have seen such an extended examination of Bruce as a person back when I started reading comics.

So what does this have to with Hal Jordan?

Well, in last week's issue of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Hal experienced a vision or a visitation of his father during a tense and stressful moment. During the scene, Hal's father says this:

... you can't lose sight of the ground […] you can't go all out, all the time. Be Green Lantern but don't forget to be Hal Jordan.”

Reading that it struck me how divorced Hal is from his Earthly roots, even from the personality of Hal Jordan, when he's in uniform. Perhaps its an effect of the mask, he's really the only Earth Lantern who's still portrayed as having a secret identity. John and Guy haven't worn masks in years (may never have done under present continuity) and both have public identities to the point that not long ago Guy was having trouble getting teaching gigs because of the risk his other job represented to the kids. Kyle still wears a mask but, let's face it, Kyle's heart is too firmly pinned to his sleeve to be anything other than Kyle Rayner at all times.

There's also the fact that Hal has a life back home that he's actively in the business of ignoring. John, Guy and Kyle don't. At this point none of them have Earth-based supporting casts or careers (is John even still an architect?). Hal has his brother's family back home at the very least and some day they're going to cycle back to him and Carol Ferris being a thing because there's decades of narrative gravity pulling him back to that relationship.

As much as I've always preferred the space-based side of the GL mythos there's is something inextricably Earthy about Hal. He's John Wayne in space and that does mean he sometimes has to go back to the good old US of A every now and again otherwise it just doesn't feel right.

Also, I do feel he sorts of needs an ill-advised love interest in his life and no one on Mogo is dumb enough to volunteer at this point. 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Brexit 40,000


On the second page of the Death Guard Codex background section there is a Brexit joke. You see, it turns out that before they were reunited with their Primarch the original Death Guard, the Dusk Raiders, “were drawn from the rugged gene-stock of Albia, a Terran empire that long resisted reunification.”.

So the Death Guard, an army of chronically depressed unimaginative footsloggers who worship decay and despair, are British and even twenty-eight thousand years in the future the British people are stubbornly resistant to political unification with the rest of the world. Even when the cause of unification is led by a literal god trying to drag the human race out of an apocalyptic dark age we're still desperately protecting the pound.

I love it. Not only because I'm one of those tiresome Remoaner people but because its nice to see 40k getting some of its grim(dark) humour back. One of the biggest spiritual ancestors of the Imperium is Judge Dredd, another property that a lot of people tend to forget is meant to be funny.

As I've said before, one of my minor favourite background details of 40k is that Nurgle Daemons like fighting alongside Noise Marines because they like dancing to the screeching discordant sounds. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

David Bradley IS the Doctor (on an ongoing basis)

Recasting is a touchy subject in the Doctor Who fandom and that's a complex subject. Its very emotional and not entirely logical but I understand it. I can argue all day that there's no rational difference between Jemma Powell taking on the role of Barbara Wright that Jacqueline Hill originated and (to take a topical example) Kenneth Branagh being Poirot in the new Murder on the Orient Express. Branagh is Poirot now and that doesn't insult David Suchet's or Peter Ustinov's work in the role. Different actors play the same role all the time, its how acting works.

And yet I see the argument. Its purely emotional and there's nothing wrong with that. Jacqueline Hill is the Barbara Wright, Lis Sladen is Sarah Jane Smith. These were definitive performances that mean something to the fandom.

Personally I don't mind recasts but they will always be second best. I hate that I feel that because I feel like I'm insulting the new actors. Take Tim Treloar, for example, who has played the Third Doctor for Big Finish for a couple of years now. He puts in a fine performance and I include the fact that he explicitly plays a version of the Third Doctor and not a Jon Pertwee impression. From what little I've seen of David Bradley (in The Doctor Falls and clips of An Adventure in Time and Space) he seems to take a similar approach to the role (even when explicitly playing Wiliam Hartnell in the documentary).

I won't lie: I love what I've seen of Bradley and I think Big Finish are going to do well with this project but I say that with one caveat...

I think it would be better in the long run if they treated The First Doctor Adventures as effectively a reboot of Season One. This is an entire TARDIS team played by new actors, with a new Master as well, and I'd rather see the roles pushed in new directions for new actors than slavishly trying to imitate the past.

This is Big Finish so it could go either way but for the moment I think I'll tend towards the positive. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Kate Orman and the Tomb Kings of Khemri


As mentioned yesterday, I am reading Kate Orman's Black Archive book on Pyramids of Mars, a serial whose story is rooted in the Universal and Hammer mummy movies. The army I'm using the most in Warhammer right now is the Tomb Kings, an army whose entire aesthetic is based on the Universal and Hammer mummy movies.

I was having trouble coming up with names for my Tomb Kings characters.

Not anymore. Orman's analysis of Pyramids is full of references both to characters from the Universal and Hammer movies as well as actual historical figures. I'm taking notes.

For a start my Liche Priest using the Lore of Light (I love that Tomb Kings are undead who use exorcist magic) will be named Meritaten after an Eighteenth Dynasty queen consort whose name means “beloved of the sun god”. The more scheming of my Lore of Nehekhara Liche will be named Isfet, which is a philosophical term for injustice or chaos, in the sense of being the opposite of maat (order) which might end up the name of a nicer Liche because I like dualisms as much as the next guy. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Kate Orman enters the Black Archive


Tomorrow I'll finally be cracking open Kate Orman's Black Archive book on Pyramids of Mars and I'm mightily looking forward to it. If you asked me for the top three most influential Doctor Who authors of my lifetime then its obviously Russell T. Davies at the top, Steven Moffat right behind and the number three spot can only be decided in a steel cage match between Paul Cornell and Kate Orman.

Cornell and Orman were both authors on the New Adventures novels which were, from 1991 to mid-1997, the only Doctor Who going. Cornell was the first new voice in the range, the first to write a second novel and very much responsible for setting the style of the line. Orman, meanwhile, was the first woman to write for the range, the first non-English author (she's Australian) and wrote a huge number of novels in the final two years of the line which was a magnificently creative period that produced some of the series' most interesting novels.

Now she's writing a book length examination of a stone cold classic... that I'm just not that sold on. I mean, it is at least one of the sacred cows you're allowed to slaughter these days and I don't imagine Orman is going to be kind to either the rushed ending or the character of Namin.

Still, she might surprise me. This series has a tendency to bring in interesting critical perspectives on the stories it examines.

Also, Orman being Orman, I'm interested to see if she can somehow slip a torture scene into an academic discussion. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Legion of Substitute Miniatures #1: Female Chaos Marauders


With Warhammer Fantasy no longer being a going proposition I'm always on the lookout for interesting alternative models. The other day I was trawling eBay on my regular trawl for out of production High Elves characters (there are so many great ones...) and after a little link-following stumbled across these:
Shieldwolf Miniatures' Shield Maiden Infantry. Twenty models with options for hand weapons, shields, spears and crossbows. For my purposes the crossbows aren't important but I mention them for completeness.

Now, it may seem unfair to look at these models and see them only as alternatives for another company's models but, to be frank, there's no chance that I'd ever get to play Shieldwolf's own game system so this is the only way they'd get my money.

(Well, that an eBay seller would get my money and they got his money but you know what I mean. Money was got and ultimately it was got because I play Warhammer.)

So, female Chaos Marauders. There's a Kickstarter coming soon for more heavily armoured female miniatures who could easily be their Chaos Warriors. So, if you ever wanted to do Valkia's Horde of Chaos Ladies or just wanted to represent the fact the Norscans are a warrior culture and that maybe their womenfolk might be involved here's a good option.

You could also use them as Kislevite Kossars which would be a good use for the crossbows. I know Kossars are armed with ordinary bows rather than crossbows but they have access to Empire technology so it wouldn't be entirely out of line or you could simply count the crossbows as ordinary bows. Kislevites are quick on their feet it makes sense that they'd have worked out how to walk and aim at the same time.

For my part, though, they'll be Marauders because, as usual, my conception of Chaos is very, very influenced by the less technologically advanced peoples of Game of Thrones so basically a cross between Dothraki, the Free Folk and the Hill Tribes.

Any character I create for them will be less annoying than Ygritte. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Grand Redemption of the Davison era


On reflection, there isn't a lot of the Davison era I'd actually recommend. Its a hard thing to admit because Davison himself is one of my favourite Doctors and he can wrestle anything into watchability, at least. There are so many great moments but as to whole stories I would recommend without having to attach a few caveats when I hand over the DVD?

Caves of Androzani, maybe? Even then I'd absolutely say “Please never watch the story that pays off the final episode cliffhanger” because domestic abuse apologism. Everything else just has too much riding against it, even the usually safe stone cold classics of that era. Enlightenment and Snakedance are hands down some of the best stories the classic series ever managed but one caps off an otherwise crap trilogy and the other is less of a sequel to Kinda and more of a second chance to pay off all the lofty intentions that never quite landed the first time.

The other day someone on a Big Finish Facebook group asked whether The Waters of Amsterdam was worth a listen. I was one of a bunch of commenters chipping in to say yes and in the process I called it one of Big Finish's “Do it again but better” stories.

And then I realised that has been one of Big Finish's chief strategies with Davison.

Its no secret that Big Finish has done some rehab on every Doctor they've worked with. They broke down the Sixth Doctor and reassembled him into something sympathetic; they took the Seventh Doctor further down the manipulative road than the TV show ever could; they had to build the Eighth Doctor practically from the ground up; and, whilst Tom Baker's better working relationship with those around him is his own doing, providing a late-Fourth Doctor era where star and co-stars aren't actively at war with each other is a pretty significant shift.

With Davison, again and again, Big Finish have returned to ideas and even specific stories, tapped their conductor's baton on the edge of the lectern and said “Once more, with feeling.

The Waters of Amsterdam as an example. The story takes place directly after Arc of Infinity, a story partly set and filmed in Amsterdam that did relatively little with the setting aside from a fairly generic “tourist gets kidnapped and concerned cousin (Tegan) investigates” plot. Otherwise it was a pretty bland story about a poorly explained Omega doing something with an almost unexplained space phenomena to return to our universe and somehow the Time Lords are getting shirty about it because reasons.

The Waters of Amsterdam, by contrast, is a story set in both “present day” (read: 1983) Amsterdam and the Dutch Golden Age where the Doctor wants to talk to Rembrandt about some painting that have actual spaceships in them. It also features a character from the present who is Tegan's ex-boyfriend, establishing a relationship and a life for the character between her being left behind at the end of Time-Flight and her re-introduction in Arc. Jonathan Morris writes a story that actually uses the characters to craft a story, which you'd think an era obsessed with soap opera would have done more often.

And Waters isn't alone in this. Spare Parts gives Davison another Cybermen story with all the emotional gut punches Earthshock tried to deliver but failed because Eric Saward could only kill off the least popular character on the show; Psychodrome is a whole story set just after Davison's debut that hinges on the fact that no one on the TARDIS knows anyone else all that well; The Five Companions is presented as a missing scene from The Five Doctors that is all about using a reunion of First Doctor companions to comment on the 1960s era and even to dispell a few myths about how those characters were (there's a fantastic scene in which Davison assures Polly she was never, ever just there to make the coffee); Kiss of Death is a story that explores Turlough's past on the losing side of a war which literally never came up outside his debut and his final story; and, The Gathering actually follows up on Tegan's emotional and abrupt exit from the series.

That's not even a complete list, just a few examples I picked out scrolling through the Big Finish website. There's more to their Fifth Doctor offerings than just reheating old plots and doing them better, of course, but I do take it as “part of the service” that they've polished off the hidden (and sometimes willfully squandered) potential of that era to show what could have been done with just a little more thought.

Oh, and The Church and the Crown is probably the best comedy historical the series has ever done. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Sailor Moon and cultural osmosis


Its odd how much information you can just passively absorb. I don't know if its just because of the internet and how nothing is really niche anymore but its an interesting phenomenon. For instance, I have never in my life watched an episode or read an issue of Sailor Moon in any of its incarnations but I am 90% sure that the following are all true facts:

The main character is a bit of a crybaby and has a magic wand.

She owns a talking cat who keeps fat-shaming her.

Her love interest is called Tuxedo Mask and he is a bit of a git in his civilian identity.

The green-haired Sailor and the androgynous blonde Sailor are lovers and the US translators tried to cover up the lesbianism by claiming they were cousins but didn't edit the footage well enough and so managed to broadcast incest they created themselves on a children's television time slot.

Just think about that last one. That's not a fact, that's trivia. That's the sort of information that would once have been the province of the longtime and attentive fan who went looking for the series' back stage arcana. Now its just something that a random schmuck like me can find out by scrolling through a few anime tumblrs.

Its a silly example but it shows how the internet has basically destroyed any knowledge-based barrier to entry on any form of entertainment.

Multiple versions of the series? You can find out the critical consensus on which is the best in minutes. Want to skip the filler episodes in an anime? Wikipedia will have an episode list telling you which episodes are based on the manga and which aren't. On a related note: if you're getting burnt out on an arc, the same episode list will also probably tell you at a glance (no need to read episode description spoilers) when the arc ends. A series has characters with complicated backstories spread over several other series before they appear in the one you're interested in? Full character biography is just a Google search away.

Its fascinating as a social phenomenon and not at all a sleep deprived rationalisation for why I'm considering watching Sailor Moon: Crystal

Monday, 11 September 2017

That time I cheated for six years and it never mattered


In my defence no one seems sure how this started but for almost the whole time I used my old Bretonnia army I was cheating with my trebuchet.

In fairness, it wasn;t deliberate and everyone seemed to think we were doing it right. You see, back when the 6th ed. Bretonnia book hit the Field Trebuchet was the most powerful stone thrower in the game with its Strength of 5(10). Somehow our entire group managed to convince ourselves that it also used the large round template.

It didn't. It used the small one same as every other stone thrower.

Anyway six years later I'm playing a game with someone who has never played against Bretonnians before (not an uncommon problem, I mean, the only Bretonnia armies I've ever seen in real life are mine and Tom's and half of Tom's started off as mine) and so I had to explain how things worked as we did them. So, when I fired my Trebuchet for the first time I had to read out the rules...

...and found nothing mentioning the large round template.

I'd cheated for six years.

And it never mattered. I had almost never hit anything with the bloody thing. I had been cheating massively, using a template that could easily annihilate an entire ranked up unit of infantry in one round and somehow no one, not one single member of our group, could remember it influencing a game.

If you want a perfect example of my damned luck this is it: I cheated with the unknowing collusion of everyone it effected for six years in a way that should have swung endless games in my favour and it never mattered

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #4: Rules Lawyerin'


Its been raining on and off the whole weekend so far and I can't get a good picture of my Archers to save my life. Trust me, I have eight Archers finished aside frim the basing and as soon as light returns to our world photographic evidence will be provided. I absolutely need to invest in one of those light tents people keep talking about and come payday I will.

So instead let's discuss the rules I'll be using to play this army.

The Bretonnia book is fourteen years old and two editions out of date. It isn't bad exactly and its hardly unplayable. Having core troops with a two-plus save does wonders for power creep. The lance formation just doeesn't do much anymore. In a world of supporting attacks a full lance formation of nine knights gets nine lance attacks (including champion) and seven horse attacks. Under the same rules a unit of ten knights in two ranks gets eleven lance attacks and five horse attacks.

The lance is obviously inferior and it shouldn't be. A Bretonnian cavalry charge should be one of the most terrifying things to face down in the Warhammer World.

Luckily, Mathias Eliasson and his Warhammer Armies Project come to the rescue on a shining steed. I'll be mostly using the eighth edition version of the book (his website now hosts a version compatible with his own 9th edition rules but its essentially the same, as far as I can see).

I love this book, for the most part. There is one area in which I'll still be following the 2003 rules and that's peasants. Eliasson has raised Men-At-Arms and Battle Pilgrims to WS3 and that just doesn't work for me. I see why he did it but I want to maintain a distinction between the disciplined and trained troops of the Empire and the grubby indentured rabble of Bretonnia.

That aside, the book is basically perfect. Eliasson's version of the Blessing Of The Lady is much more fitting to the background with a 6+ Ward in combat and a 5+ Ward at range against the cowards' weapon that kills from afar. His lance formation confers Devastating Charge which adds a welcome element of brown trousers time to my opponent's day whilst maintaining the formation's disadvantages, to wit a narrow frontage that won't get you many attacks back when charged and a flank the size of Wales.

He's expanded the Lores available to Damsels allowing them to take Heavens (previously only available to the Prophetess) and Light. The choices make sense: they're medieval knights so they get the astrology lore and the religion lore. There's also a homebrewed “Lore of the Lady” which I might experiment with down the line.

One of most bitter ongoing gripes with the army has been addressed: Pegasus Knights now have barding like the models do.

There's also the fact that the 2003 book had a rather limited range of units and characters. Its not surprising. It was a lower tier army, it was the sixth edition and so that meant the standard load out of two Lords, two Heroes, four Core choices, four Special, two Rare and an extravagant three special characters.

There are a bunch of old special characters with modern rules in the Eliasson book but what interests me more are the new units: Foot Knights, the Merry Men-esque Herrimaults and Hippogryph Knights. There's even a Robin Hood style character class to go along with the Herrimaults: the Faceless. It might not sound like much but it adds some extra variety to an army I know like the back of my hand.

Now I just have to apply the colour scheme it took me over a week to barely finish eight Archers with onto the other thirty-seven models in that Battalion.

Also to buy some things so I can actually provide pictures. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Superboy: The Long Kon

Now, I like Jon Kent just fine. I'm enjoying Super Sons, I love the dynamic between Jon and Damian and I want that series to go for a hundred issues.

The thing is that Tim Drake is about to come back and I am very fond of the idea knocking around the internet that the mysterious prisoner he shockingly recognises is Bart Allen (whose pre-Flashpoint self should still be running around somewhere). Cassie is... around somewhere and fixing her would be not difficult. You'd probably have to ignore a lot of her New 52 origin but that's basically what Rebirth reintroductions are all about!

Which leaves us with one last member of the Young Justice Big Four: Connor “Kon-El” Kent, the Superboy that I grew up with.

Part of me is going to hope forever for a proper Young Justice generation reunion but I think DC is rather done with Kon. They have a new Superboy and its hardly a title that accomodates multiple characters at a time like Robin has for the last decade or so. Kon was rather conspicuous by his absence from the flashbacks setting up the new unified pre-Flashpoint/New 52 version of Superman continuity when it reached The Death of Superman.

This is comics we're talking about, though, and nothing stays buried forever. Hell, the racist caricature from the very first Detective Comics cover appeared in New Super-Man not so long ago so there has to be some chance for a character whose worst sins are a) a crap New 52 title (hardly unique) and b) spending the 90s in a leather jacket costume that aged real badly real fast, right?

Friday, 8 September 2017

Comic Reviews

This week, Brienne of Tarth gives evidence; two jerks head into space; the Ninth Doctor and Rose end up all at sea; the X-Men aren't as astonishing as they think they are; and, Riri Williams experiences future shock.

Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Captain Phasma #1
The last time Marvel did one of these Journey To... series it wasn't what you'd call the most relevant comic they ever did. It was basically the story of how Poe Dameron's parents met. Okay, the details of The Force Awakens were super, super secret so what Marvel could do was rather limited and I didn't go into this thinking much had changed.

Effectively, this issue (and probably the whole arc) forms an extended epilogue to The Force Awakens as Captain Phasma narrates a not entirely frank account of how Starkiller Base came to meet its end. The dialogue is minimal, as suits the character, Marco Checchetto's art carries the bulk of the storytelling duties. If there's one thing that's clear from how the creators are treating the character its that they, and perhaps Disney's licensing department, view Phasma as being more the “new Darth Vader” than Kylo Ren is.

Frankly, I'm with them on that one.

This first issue doesn't shed any more light on Phasma's character than her appearances in the Poe Dameron ongoing have. She's still pretty much just a very efficient, very cold storm trooper in particularly cool armour. The writing captures her voice well and the art makes her look all kinds of badass in a way the film singularly failed to so I'm more than willing to pick up the next issue to see if things get more interesting.

Green Arrow #30
Hard-Travelling Hero part 5: Constellation of Fear

Its a reunion of the original Hard-Travelling Heroes! I was pleased as punch when some throwaway dialogue early in this arc referred back to the original Green Lantern/Green Arrow series because that's one of my favourite classic comics and here we get to see how the two Rebirth versions of the characters work together!

As it turns out they've mellowed towards one another and that's good because this issue the exact opposite of what the original Hard-Travelling Heroes was about: this is Ollie needing to get out into space, high above the people he's trying to save instead of convincing Hal to keep his feet on the ground and notice the little people. There's a lot of nice scenes where we get to see the two Greens be jers to one another in that way that people can be when they're totally comfortable with each other.

We drop in, briefly, on Star City and Dinah and Emi's ongoing investigation into whatever happened to the secretary Ollie is meant to have murdered. Honestly, I wish there was more to that plot because I like Dinah and Emi together and this brief scene is one of only a few rare snapshots we get of the two women being superheroes together.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Special one-shot
The Lost Dimension part 2

So, is it all starting to tie together yet? Well, no. This issue does exactly what it says on the cover. After the Alpha one-shot set up events all across the modern series continuity (and the Fifth Doctor era) this one hones in on the Ninth Doctor and Rose. It follows up briefly on the Jack and Tara subplot from Alpha but in the main this is a standalone that has Nine and Rose running into Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint on the high sees. Its exactly as fun as it sounds as a one-off, though at times it does feel more like a second prologue to the story.

Anyway, interestingly Vastra and Jenny already know the Doctor which opens up the comics to do so much more with the Paternoster Gang in the future. There's more distrust between Vastra and Nine than she had with Eleven and Twelve, though Nine just isn't as trustworthy as his successors (unless you're Rose). Now that the series has long abandoned Vastra and Jenny (and Strax) I'd love to see Titan revisit the characters in depth.

Especially as the comics seem a lot less shy about Jenny and Vastra making heart eyes at each other than the TV show was.

Astonishing X-Men #3
Life of X part 3

I'm starting to wonder about this different artist on every issue angle. Its a nice idea in theory but it doesn't seem to be contributing much to the overall experience. I can see how it could but even with most of the series so far taking place on the astral plane there hasn't been the sort of stretching of artistic muscles you'd assume would be going on.

This issue art comes courtesy of Ed McGuinness, an artist I really like. For the most part he's called on to draw Old Man Logan wandering through various scenarios built by the Shadow King to sucker him into believing its all real and putting him under the King's control. So far to good.

Its not that its badly drawn, its just there's nothing about the scenario that merges with McGuinness' art style to create the sort of amazing showcase that a series with a different artist on every issue should be offering. Nothing here is bad, its just that this was sold, as most series of Astonishing are, as a series os especial specialness.

And I'm not feeling it.

Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart one-shot

This one, I'm feeling. This issue has a whole list of pencillers, inkers and colourists that should make it unwieldy and confused but just adds to the experience as different artists hand in art that matches the different moods and sense of confusion Riri goes through in this issue, art gaining definition as she comes to understand what's going on around her. This issue also marks the first time one of the younger characters going through the Generations thing has been sent to the future, which I guess makes sense since the story being teased at the end of the issue is the return of Tony Stark.

Anyway, Riri is in the far-flung future we've been teased with a few times, the one where Tony Stark is the Sorcerer Supreme and those kid Avengers from that one cartoon turn up because that can't just be left to lie dead in the dust where it belongs. The two bond about futurism and its interesting to see because for the first time this is a pairing where both characters know each other. True, there's a gap of experience between the two because this Tony knows Riri far better than she knows him but no one is ignorant of the situation.

If nothing else this really makes me want to see more interaction between Riri and the real Tony Stark rather than the increasingly dodgy AI version. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden pt.3: Colours of Gisoreux


Having now built my Bretonnia Battalion (and crossing my fingers I won't need more than four stands of defensive stakes for this army because they are an arse to build), I went looking for some inspiration on how to paint the models.

For a start I want to recommend Youtube as a fantastic source of battle reports, especially the Miniwargaming channel's Olde World Wars series which has more Bretonnia videos than I expected as one of their employees (Steve, I believe) actually has a Bretonnia army. Having not touched my old Bretonnia army since the early seventh edition its interesting to see how they play in eighth. Not badly, as it turns out, though I still think the lance is no longer as meaningful a tactical choice as it should be in the age of supporting attacks.

Second, I dug through my old White Dwarfs and found issue 290 which has a guide to painting Bretonnian heraldry. I may bend the rules a little but I think I'll mostly abide by them.

For a start you have a palette of five colours: black, red, blue, white and yellow. You don't use purple because that's royal (and too expensive) and you don't use green because that's a commoner colour (and too cheap). Yellow and white stand in for gold and silver and you don't use them together because they contrast badly.

My army is going to be based at Castle Desfleuve, a holdfast guarding the Bretonnian end of the Gisoreux Gap pass through the Grey Mountains.
This is a selection of heraldry examples for Gisoreux from the 2003 Bretonnia army book. Red and black seem to be the main colours, which are always a good contrast and relatively simple to paint, with white and yellow mainly for devices. That's also good because it means painting as little white as possible. The characters who will form the family deMartrand, the lords of Castle Desfleuve, will have yellow and red as their house colours. I'll be using mostly black and red on the rank and file Gisoreux knights so the characters will stand out. Also, I just like the contrast of black and red, there's a reason Flesh Tearers are my favourite Space Marines.

Also, if I follow these colours and leave blue out of the equation, I can use blue as a visual key to denote units that aren't from Gisoreux like the Questing and Grail Knights. I also have this concept of saving up the Knights of the Realm champion heads, which have stag horns, and creating an entire lance with stag helms to be the personal household of Duke Hagen.

For the moment, though, I'm concentrating on my Peasants and using them to test out colour combinations. I'm currently painting some Archers in the deMartrand red and yellow and Men-At-Arms in the Duke's red and black. Results, one hopes, will be in a fit state for posting by Sunday. 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

John Cena and the Power of Shazam!

There are a few rumours floating around about actors in consideration for DC's upcoming Shazam movie. We already know that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson has been cast as Black Adam (or whatever they call him because... that name ain't getting through editing) and, funnily enough, one of the names in consideration for Shazam the superhero is John Cena.
Three times in a lifetime, eh?

Anyway: how perfect would that be? Is there a better person to play a superhero who is the idealised self-projection of a ten year old boy? That's basically what John Cena's in-ring persona (and much of his actual personality, it often seems) is anyway. Yes, he plays up to the kids in the audience and that's absolutely a corporate decision but its hard to say he doesn't make it work.
Plus, just look at the man. You couldn't get a more perfect superhero physique if the man was an actual Jack Kirby creation. He has such a wonderfully innocent perplexed expression that would be perfect for Billy encountering complex adult things and being utterly baffled.

There are other actors under consideration, at least according to the rumours, but I really hope this happens because more perfect casting does not exist. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Professional Fan Fiction #1: Star Trek: DS9: Enigma Tales


[SPOILERS for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel Enigma Tales and also for Star Trek: The Fall: The Crimson Shadow.]
For those unaware, “professional fan fiction” is a term coined by Doctor Who author Lawrence Miles for the stacks of officially published anciliary material genre shows tend to produce as a matter of course these days. In fairness to Miles, he came up with this name having created a fair amount of it himself and these days runs a small cottage industry editing novels and short story collections featuring his most prominent addition to the Doctor Who extended universe, the time travelling voodoo cult Faction Paradox.

So, as pejorative as it sounds, basically it isn't really. Its just an ackowledgement of the fact that in many ways these tie-ins don't matter as much as the source material which... well, ask any pre-Episode VII Star Wars fan about the Star Wars EU they grew up with for objective evidence of that.

Also, I've never been one to find fan fiction lesser artistically. Yeah, there's a lot of crap out there due to the unedited and amateur nature of it but equally there a hell of a lot more heartfelt, moving and spectacularly well-crafted stuff that will blow you away than you'd ever assume from the form's reputation. And its not as if officially licensed tie-ins haven't produced their share of crap over the years... I'm looking at you, Doctor Who Unbound: Exile!

Anyway, I just finished a Deep Space Nine novel called Enigma Tales by Una McCormack, the latest in a loose series of books she's written about Elim Garak and the post-war reconstruction of Cardassia. This has sort of become McCormack's personal corner of the Star Trek universe over the years and I'm happy for that to continue. Over the course of her several novels she's fleshed out the culture of Cardassia's fledgling democracy and the geography of the (still, sadly, unnamed) capital city, peppering her narrative with welcome little bits of worldbuilding that add so much context to events.

She also writes a fantastic Garak. Garak may be my favourite Deep Space Nine character, perhaps even my favourite character in the whole of Star Trek, and McCormack clearly relishes writing from his morally flexible but utterly stubborn point of view. In particular, Enigma Tales has a fantastic aside where he considers the war of manners and vieled insults he's been waging against the Federation diplomatic corps for more than a decade and the ways they've been trying to bait and/or frustrate him.

Anyway, I warned you of spoilers and here's the big one: Garak is Castellan of the Cardassian Union, its head of state. On reflection its a nice redemption for him, a late in life convert to the principles of democracy, and McCormack makes sure an absolutely central part of Garak's political ambitions is to stop anything like the Obsidian Order or the Dukat dictatorship from happening again. This novel, in particular, presents him with the tricky political subject of a war crimes report about the Bajoran Occupation and the question of how to prosecute offenders (especially given that, as a former spy, torturer and killer, he's absolutely guilty and everyone knows it).

Its an interesting debate... that sadly, the book sidesteps a little by concluding that Garak has probably hidden the bodies well enough that no actual evidence of his own crimes will ever be brought to light. There's a lot to love about the book's treatment of the debate as it casts the shadow of war crimes over another character, one essentially sympathetic and innocent in the eyes of the fan, Professor Natima Lang (a one-off TV character and member of the old Cardassian dissident movement). All of this is juxtaposed with descriptions of the Cardassian literary form of the enigma tale, essentially a form of mystery in which every character shares some form of guilt, which Lang describes as a quintessentially Cardassian state of affairs.

Then there's the pleasure of Garak encountering the only character in Star Trek canon more sarcastic than he is: Doctor Katherine Pulaski (who much be about a hundred by this point in the canon, twelve years after the Dominion War). McCormack uses her intelligently, as well, as our point of view on post-war Cardassia. In particular, I enjoy how Cardassians keep mentioning the parts of human culture they adopted whilst the Federation were helping with the reconstruction effort: a police officer is addicted to human coffee, a shopkeeper learnt to play soccer from Starfleet aid workers, another who remembers having a human teacher at school.

Its the nature of prose that you have more time for asides and that's where I think the real benefit of the professional fan fiction comes in. For instance, in the series we never know who leads the civilian administration in power on Cardassia between War of the Warrior and By Inferno's Light. To all intents and purposes, Gul Dukat is still the face of Cardassia all that time, even when he's living in exile on his Bird Of Prey. This novel (and perhaps others in the past, I don't know who came up with this one) credits the leader of the Detapa Council in that time as Meya Rejal, a pretty weak leader by reputation whose reign was characterised by an ongoing humanitarian crisis that lead to the Union joining the Dominion just to feed its people.

Obviously, there's no reason this should have been mentioned on screen. The Detapa Council appears once as a gaggle of extras in Cardassian make-up during Way of the Warrior with Dukat (then their military advisor) getting the only non-rhubard lines in the scene and they never appear again. There wasn't a practical need for anything more but a novel has more leeway, as does fan fiction.

So in Enigma Tales, either as its own invention or following the innovations of others, we have Cardassian capital with distinct named districts like Paldar and East Torr, each with its own cultural and polticcal history; the University of the Union has internal politics and underground corridors connecting its buildings so students don't have to walk through the summer dust storms; Damar has a statue; wherever Garak makes his workspace he hangs a picture Ziyal drew for him where he can see it as both warning and inspiration; there's a particular flower whose petals are used in Cardassian funerals, a detail that then gets used to lend symbolism to a later scene.

I love that the breathing room of the professional fan fiction allows for these little details to get filled in.

Just so long as they don't clone Emperor Palpatine at me as they do it, that is. 

Monday, 4 September 2017

Joss Whedon, Barbara Gordon and DC's trauma fetish

So apparently Joss Whedon wants to use his Batgirl movie to “explore the damage” that made her become a vigilante. I kind of wanted to set out a reasoned and calm counterpoint to this but it just sort of came out as a rant so here we go!
No. No no no no no. We do not need this. The DCEU does not need this. No one needs Barbara Gordon of all characters reduced to another showcase of trauma fetish like Batman has been stuck as for seven decades and counting.

You want the story of why Barbara put on the suit? Here's a quick run down of the best version there ever was: she was too shirt to be a cop. Her father was a cop and as a kid she wanted to be a cop, she saw it as the noblest form of public service and public service was what she wanted to do with her life. Unfortunately, she didn't meet the GCPD's physical requirements even though she was more than academically qualified.
Then one day she does to a costume party, a big political thing her father had been invited to, and she's sort of pissed with her dad over something and she wants to show him up a bit. Her big plan for needling her father? She makes her own Batman costume and she's going to turn up to this party, the daughter of the police commissioner dressed up as the police department's dirty little secret.

And then someone takes the party hostage and its just her in a Batman costume and she's really smart and has enough bsic self-defence to get by and she manages to rescue everyone but before she can tell her dad who she is everyone is taking pictures of “the Batgirl” and suddenly there's a new vigilante in Gotham. She sees her way into public service, a way to do right when the official channels of law and order don't want her, she decides she'll become the Batgirl for real. She tries things, screws up, takes advice here and there, meets Dick and starts the whole on-off relationship thing, and over time she earns enough respect from Batman that she becomes the first costume in Gotham he “allows” to operate in the city outside of his immediate operation (a cool tradition of the female Gotham heroes is that, Cass Cain aside, they tend to be independent operators outside of Bruce's strict control).

Its as simple as that. There's no great damage or trauma there. Barbara Gordon wanted to do good and the Bat allowed her to do that when doing it the socially acceptable way wasn't possible. That's Barbara's story. For that matter, its Kate Kane's story, too. Not every superhero needs to be wedded to GRAND SUFFERING and ETERNAL TRAUMA just because untreated mental illness is the only motivating factor that seems to work for DC's marketing people.

Its not like Barbara is without pain or eternal conflict. Depending on the version you're reading she blames herself for Jason Bard's shooting and the end of his GCPD career; the end of her relationship with Dick is a source of eternal mixed feelings; and, to be frank, being the daughter of the police commissioner and a vigilante is one hell of a line to walk and you're going to end up with issues. The thing is that this doesn't totally define her the way the death of his parents defines Bruce or her cashiering from the military defines Kate's journey to the costume. Even when she loses the use of her legs and becomes Oracle that trauma does not define her. Its ever-present, as it should be, but again it isn't her soul motivating factor.

One might almost call her very varied set of emotions and motivations... complex? As if she were, to coin a phrase DC seems to not be aware of, a “complex character”?

Just a thought. 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden pt. 2: Terms and conditions apply


Just for once it might actually benefit me to go into a project with a plan. That usually doesn't work for me but given that the whole point of this project is to work at a schedule and prescribed goals it might help to decide a few things before beginning. Also, I had forgotten what absolute nightmares the Men-At-Arms models were to build so I need a short break.

September Goals

Okay, so I have forty-nine models to paint this month and, as of today, exactly four weeks to paint them. Considering that's well above my usual speed I need to break this down into smaller tasks. I've got four weeks, sixteen archers, twenty halberdiers, four stands of defensive stakes, eight knights and one Pegasus Knight.

So, the goal for each week will be half a unit of peasants and two Knights Of The Realm.

Bretonnian Units Beyond The Tale

Obviously not a consideration this month, I've got a whole Battalion to do. However, after that the targets are a little more forgiving. Next month's goal is a single unit of infantry or cavalry and if, say, I choose to do a nice little unit of Mounted Yeomen (for which I have seen an awesome conversion online) I could probably polish that off in a week.

So, I've decided to treat the later goals as more of a bare minimum for the month. I will not work on anything else for the Tale until the month's goal is reached but once that's done I'll branch out a little. At the very least I need more characters than the one “mighty hero” who'll be my Month Four project. There's a compulsory Battle Standard Bearer, for a start.

Other Projects During The Tale

Okay, so I am definitely not going to be able to paint just Bretonnians for five months. What I can do is continue last month's work and concentrate on completing more half-finished miniatures. Also, I'll only be working on one of these things to the side at a time. No big sprawl of additional models on my painting table: just the Bretonnian project of the moment and one other thing to give me a little variety without sacrificing my focus.

The absolute only new things I will start whilst this Tale is ongoing is new Death Guard stuff because I've waited too long for them to be an army with an actual product range to put them on hold for five months.

Telling The Tale

I need to write background for this army. Bretonnians are an army who are all about their heroes and I really want to explore that. I have an idea to make the core characters (my general, BSB, some of the Damsels, maybe) members of the same family and have the army be the standing garrison of a particular holdfast rather than a crusading force. I don't doubt they'll end up going on a crusade or two but I want to establish the characters by writing some stories just about them before having them interact (read: beat the stuffing out of) my friends' characters.

Right, now back to trying to hold those halberds in those awful concave joins long enough for the glue to actually take...

Saturday, 2 September 2017

It's The End, But... Black Panther & The Crew

This has so much promise and there's a sad irony in the series premature finale dropping the same day as Secret Empire's extended ending.

I don't doubt that some time down the line Ta-Nehisi Coates might find room for these characters in the main Black Panther series (as he has before, especially Storm) but one can't help but wonder what this series might have achieved given more time.

There are few places in the world that feel so real even if you've never been there as New York. London, perhaps, and definitely Paris. New York is the setting of so many comics, movies, novels, documentaries... there's no escaping knowing some of its history and setting a story in that history gives it such resonance, especially when one of the authors (I don't know Harvey's biography, I'm afraid) happens to be a historian. Coates' and Harvey's Harlem is so vividly brought to life and the mixture of reality and Marvel Universe lore is expertly judged. Butch Guice's art helps, of course, but so much of it is delivered through the little details of language and character that I feel I have to give the lion's share of the credit to the authors.

Then there's the team that we barely got to know: Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Misty Knight and Manifold. As I said before when reviewing earlier issues, one of the highlights for me was seeing Storm and Misty interact. I don't doubt they did back in the day, Misty was Jean Grey's roommate back during Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-Men, but I know of little if anything since. The two women worked so well together in this series and I don't see Marvel really finding much excuse for them to interact in the near future, even if Storm is now based in the city now the X-Men have started squatting in Central Park.

Then there's Manifold, veteran of the Secret Warriors and one of those characters that never got enough time to shine during his run with the Avengers. He was with the team for a whole two issues. It was interesting seeing him written with such affection for Harlem as an adopted home, not a terribly common angle in anything I've read set in there. Storm, similarly, comes to Harlem as an outsider, though she shouldn't be. She speaks of her connection to the place, her parents' home, the place she should have grown up in if they hadn't died in Africa leaving her stranded.

And it was all so damn interesting. The Harlem setting, the eclectic cast of characters interacting in unusual combinations, the whole historical perspective...

I promised myself this would be a positive one because this was such a good series. I don't want to rant about the injustice of its cancellation like I did with Unstoppable Wasp. Its a sad reality of the modern comicbook industry that good series like this with unique things to say are given too little advertising so they wither on the vine.

Who knows, though, maybe there's a chance we'll see this Crew sometime down the line. Worse ideas have seen revivals . I mean, there's a Ben Reilly ongoing right now...