Thursday 19 September 2013

Best. Mobility Scooter. Ever.

It was a kitbash, honest to God, a kitbashed mobility scooter. Back half common-or-garden mobility scooter but instead of the normal Vespa-style driving column arrangement at the front it had the handlebars and front wheel of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

I wish there had been a polite way for me to get a photo.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

The Rumour Mill presents: Dark Elves

Why do I want this rumour to be true? BECAUSE THIS!
Of course, no sooner do I make a commitment to concentrate on one army than rumours abound of GW getting around to Dark Elves, an army I've wanted for years but where the models always put me off. There aren't any leaked pics yet but a supposedly genuine leaked release list of plastic box sets has been doing the rounds:

New Dark Elf Warriors (making spear, sword and crossbowmen)
Witch Elves
Cold One Chariot/“Scroungerunner” (one assumes a typo of something like “Scourgerunner”)
Executioners/Black Guard
Dark Riders/Warlocks
Cauldron of Blood/Blood Throne

It does look like a wish list but I'm inclined to believe it, not in spite of its unlikeliness but because of it. Let's face it, predicting what GW is going to do is a mug's game nowadays. Not too long ago an Army Book or Codex every month would have been unthinkable let alone some of the madness they've pulled out model-wise. So let's run down the objections to this list and see if we can adjudicate them based on GW's past behaviour (act of madness though that may be):

Yes, the first item in that list is a re-sculpt of a core plastic but since the ultimate GW sacred cow, the Space Marine Tactical Squad, just got a re-sculpt that's hardly a barrier to believability. Core re-sculpts are rare, I think the last Fantasy ones were the Empire State Troops in 7th edition, but they do happen.

Yes, it's seven plastic kits but Warriors of Chaos didn't get much less. Admittedly, that was a two-wave release but since the Chapter House ruling has put GW off the idea of staggered waves they might be in a mood to try a large release.

And let's face it, Dark Elves need a large plastic release. Some of these kits can make new units but all of them at least include options to make existing units, mainly ones that exist now only in prohibitively expensive metal or Finecast. Appropriately enough the Dark Elves are quite similar to the Dark Eldar before their last Codex: a model range in need of a massive, top-to-bottom revamp.

And if you're resigned to the fact that such a huge amount of work has to be done on an army (and I think “has to be” is a good characterisation since all that Finecast can't do much for the army's commercial viability) what better release slot than the one announced the day before Games Day and released the weekend after? GW can showcase the new models at the convention, wheel out the games developers and sculptors to talk design philosophy, flash some glimpses of the new Army Book and get some good buzz going over the internet to help offset the higher-than-normal R-and-D costs of the release.

And then I can finally have the Cult Of Pleasure army I've been considering on-and-off since Storm Of Chaos but could never previously afford.

Monday 16 September 2013

Hobby on Holiday

I've got a week off and nothing to do (except blitzing my flat and having a right old clear out, but that's neither here nor there) and so I want to get on with a little bit of hobby, finish some longstanding projects.

I've been feeling really inspired by my old Vampire Counts army recently. Over the last couple of months I've played a few games and bought a few new models but not got much painting done. As such I have a bunch of models in various states of not finished sitting on my painting table:

1 Wight King
1 Cairn Wraith
1 Tomb Banshee
2 Necromancers (the plastic one and a Finecast Amber Wizard)
5 Black Knights
3 Varghiests

I'm also acid-bathing the Sartosan Vampire I use as my General because the paintjob on him is frankly embarrassing. I was going for “ethereal blue” on his clothes but landed closer to “hospital pajamas”.

I should say I know I'm not going to get all these models done in a week. Maybe if I were doing this number of rank-and-file models it'd be doable but these are mostly character models so I want to do a good job on them. Really I just want to see how far I can get with this list in a week.

And to keep myself honest I've finally had my digital camera fixed so I can use the blog to track my progress and shame myself into knuckling down on this one. My attempts to paint a Tomb Kings army in a month failed miserably so let's see if I can do better with a target I have no reasonable expectation of meeting.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Why I will miss Bunker (and why Titans won't)

And thus Bunker begins his 19 issue
run of awesomeness and hugs.
Never say never in comics but I reckon an exit like that with Bunker walking away framed by a group shot of the remaining team members... yes, I think an exit like that stands for a while.

It certainly isn't just that he was gay, though a large amount of the character's appeal for me was that he was gay in a way not usually seen in superhero comics or many other “adventure” genres. Bunker's sexuality was, at one and the same time, absolutely vital to the character and completely incidental. It actually helped him a lot that his boyfriend was in a coma because it instantly cut off all the obvious, immediate ways to take a gay character: relationships were off limits. Yes, this could just as easily be read as cowardice on DC’s part in having an openly gay character and not writing him to display his gayness too openly and scare the horses (by which I mean groups like The Mothers Of America). However, I want to err on the side of optimism and believe that this was a conscious effort by Scott Lobdell to have a gay character with more to do in-story than have “the gay storylines”.

Instead Bunker's sexuality was used as one of a variety of character traits that inform his decisions. Take his reaction to Superboy's “name”. Bunker is aware, from Superboy's own mouth, that “Kon” is a Kryptonian derogatory for clones and when he hears Wonder Girl use it he expresses his discomfort. Lo and behold in the latest issue Cassie asks Superboy if she can call him Conner, in part one assumes because of Bunker's strong reaction combined with her own softening feelings.

Bunker is, obviously and famously, a construction of classically gay signifers; his costume is in two shades of purple, as are his powers (which may even be a conscious choice of his, there's never been anything to say his “bricks” are inherently that colour); his dress sense is at times very stereotypical as is his product-laden hair; and he is both very physical and demonstrative in his affections (he hugs both Red Robin and Solstice minutes after meeting them); as well as being very open about his feelings, in defiance of the classic male stereotype. If I had to think of other characters whose queerness was such a defining part of their personality yet not their main plot generator it would be a very short list. Ser Loras Tyrell, maybe (the TV version, his sexuality is much less explicit in the books).

Okay, so I said this post wasn't about Bunker as a queer character so I should probably end that lengthy digression and move on to the other reasons I think he was an important addition to the team.

You see, I can't help but feel the issue that gave him such a nice send-off (Teen Titans #23) also demonstrated why he was being written out: his usual plot functions are being subsumed by other characters. This is sad but indicative of one of the New 52's larger themes: returning the DCU to its more iconic formulations. Largely robbed of the Marv Wolfman Titans by editorial fiat Lobdell seems to be moving the team towards the next best formulation: Geoff Johns' mixture of the Young Justice mainstays and a couple of classic Titans.

So we have Bunker losing his innovative but intrusive place in relationships: his role as Superboy's conscience (“Y-You can't just steal money.”) is clearly a disruption now Conner's relationship with Cassie has been reinstated, her being a thief on her own quest towards respectability I admit opens up more (im)moral possibilities. His similar role as the heart of the team (becoming a team being, in fact, Bunker's idea in #3) is similarly redundant given that the classic heart of the Teen Titans, Beast Boy, just joined (though he did leave with Bunker). Red Robin is grooming Raven for team command so Bunker's place as the most trustworthy member of the team is being usurped.

This leaves Bunker what? A hazily defined friendship with Bart, is my best stab at answering that.

Ultimately Bunker was one of the New 52's greatest shots at originality and a shot they hit. With Bunker and Skitter off the team the Titans are now composed entirely of pre-Flashpoint characters (okay, Solstice barely counts but the point remains). Bunker especially gave the other characters new things to do. In his first issue Bunker's fresh and carefree attitude to the costumed life has an instant effect on Red Robin: they enter the actual adventure story of #3 gooning around in complete uncertainty and in open defiance of how Tim has been written for most of the last decade.

In many ways Lobdell achieved with Bunker in Teen Titans what Geoff Johns failed to do by injecting Cyborg into Justice League: a shake-up that updated the whole team by adding a little diversity.

I'll miss the fella.  

Monday 2 September 2013

So, what to make of these new Space Marines?

Better quality images have not saved my opinion of the Centurions. Yes, they are more detailed than they appeared to be in the leaked photos but they still don't really fit in with the general aesthetic of Space Marines (to my view, anyway, your mileage my vary) and the advertising copy in White Dwarf is the most blatant example of power gamer baiting I have ever seen (please buy these models they're really really really really hard!).

All that said GW have done everything I have ever wanted done to the Tactical Squad with their new sculpt: there's at least one full set of MkVI Corvus armour in there; the Sergeant's MVIII Errant breastplate now has room in it for a helmet to fit, there are arms that allow you to pose a Marine iron-sighting his bolter; the missile launcher has been re-sculpted to match the Devastator set; there's even a pair of MkIV Maximus pattern legs! Love those kneepads.

What really surprised me was that the set has only gone up by £2. I know GW can count on shifting immense numbers of units but I was fully expecting a new-sculpt ten-man set to come out at £30.

Which financial musings I suppose bring us to the actual £30 set of the release: the Sternguard and my stupid, stupid decision to panic buy one of the old Finecast sets in case these were bad. They are, in fact, fantastic with all sorts of bells and whistles included like a crested Sergeant's helmet and a really cool component where the Sergeant is resting his hand on the pommel of a sheathed sword.

Slightly less impressive (and slightly less expensive, hmm) are the Vanguard Veterans. They have an awful lot less bling than the Sternguard but they're still a very good set and by the looks of things even after building the squad you'll have spare weapons to equip your Veteran Sergeants from now until the Emperor gets up off the throne.

The Stalker and Hunter tanks... well, I've never liked “meh” as a critical response but I don't have much else to say, really. It's a Rhino variant. Space Marine tanks have never thrilled me overmuch and so, good as the sculpt is, I can find no enthusiasm for it. Looks pretty cool in the Iron Hands' new colour scheme, I suppose.

Which brings us finally to the characters. The decision to sell the plastic Chaplain purely as part of a £55 set with a Razorback tank and a Command Squad is bizarre and, hopefully, temporary. He is, to my view, the weakest of the three character classes though the bare head option does improve him somewhat.

The Captain is plainly and simply a redo of the Captain from the old Assault On Black Reach starter set. This isn't a complaint: he's a vastly superior sculpt and there's certainly mileage in redoing a model that's been several years out of production (we can only hope a re-sculpt of the Black Reach Warboss is on the way the next time Orks get a release).

Finally we have my personal favourite: the Librarian, who has been sculpted to evoke fantasy wizards (look at the skullcap). £18 is a bit steep but I might get him just to paint, he's so encrusted with detail.

Sunday 1 September 2013

The Post Office let me have some comics! Hooray!

So, last week a strong female protagonist got cancelled; two young gay men wandered off into the wild blue yonder (not together); both Kid Flash and Superboy got felt up; Thor had a day off; and my favourite character in the whole history of comics DID NOT come back from the dead for an epic confrontation with his successor.

Kathryn Immonen's Journey Into Mystery ended with #655 and I was sad to see it go. Her run might not have had the anarchic glee of Keiron Gillen's Loki-focussed mega-arc but it had a great deal of charm. To me this run will always be iconic, though mainly because I'd never really seen much of Sif before this, just the Women Of Marvel issue a few years back. “Strong woman” is a cliché in comics but Immonen explored the idea in interesting ways, playing on different ideas of strength in the two brief arcs she had. If you didn't check this out I'd certainly recommend the first arc, Stronger Than Monsters, whenever it comes out in trade paperback.

Teen Titans continued to teeter on the brink of falling off my subscription list by following #22's cliffhanger promising all sorts of revelations about Kid Flash with... filler. Kid Flash gets rescued from the mysterious portal he was being dragged through at the end of #22, we get a little glimpse of the people who were trying to abduct him and then the rest of the issue is spent on random character pieces, most notably Red Robin meditating on what each Titan brings to the team. This isn't uninteresting it's just underwhelming.

As to the character pieces themselves, they vary. Red Robin filling Raven in on who everyone is and what they bring to the table is interesting but something you would think might be left for #24 and new readers coming in off Villain's Month. Wonder Girl and Superboy have a romantic moment after discussing how Cassie recently slept with Red Robin that is... ambiguous, to say the least.

On the one hand Cassie acknowledges (comparing Tim's possession by Trigon to her own situation with the Silent Armour) that both she and Tim acted on legitimate, if suppressed, feelings. She then kisses Superboy. The dialogue makes it ambiguous whether she's moving on from Tim, who won't acknowledge as she does the legitimacy of those emotions, or whether this moment with Kon (now Conner) is a similarly momentary thing. (I want them back as a couple, dammit!). There's also the third possibility, given weight by her seeming disappointment that Superboy doesn't share her lust for Red Robin, that she might just be playing a long game and trying to set up a threesome.

And then there's Bunker. Poor under-appreciated Bunker who has been the heart of the team and Superboy's conscience for so long who now gets his happy ending and rides off into the wide, rainbow yonder to be with his boyfriend Gabriel. I do hope he comes back soon because he was one of the only characters I really liked (alongside Tim and Cassie, as it happens).

Scarlet Spider #21 did not, no matter what the cover said, feature the return of Ben Reilly. I had to hope, of course, and Chris Yost knew all the right buttons to press in bringing Ben “back from the dead”. The gloriously crap sleeveless hoodie, callbacks to Spider-Man: The Lost Years, an unmasking early on in the fight to assure us this wasn't a confidence trick on the audience.

It bloody was, of course. What saves it was that it was well-executed confidence trick and there's something to be admired when someone gets something over on you with skill. The point was never to bring Ben back, that achieves nothing except to make Kaine look like an impostor in his own book, what's elegant is to use the possibility to explore Kaine's shameful past capping off a notional trilogy following his encounters with the Guild Of Assassins in Wrath and with “Peter Parker” in Sibling Rivalry. Ben Reilly is Kaine's original sin: his past as an assassin or a mid-level Spider-Man baddie pales in comparison to the things he did to Ben.

Yes, Yost, you are forgiven.

Thor: God of Thunder #12 was a nice break after the nearly year-long God Butcher saga. Yes, it was one of those standard template filler stories where we see the hero through the eyes of others for a brief moment but it was so well done that its easily forgiveable. This issue also did the leg work of setting up supporting cast for the run, which is a surprising job for a twelfth issue. It was especially nice to see that Doctor Jane Foster still has a place in this series after all the time and space travel Thor has been through.

I certainly hope Jane's new storyline gives her a happy ending but I also know there's value in writing the unhappy ending in these circumstances, having lived through that particular outcome with some of my relatives.

Young Avengers #9 was everything I hoped for from the multiple cliffhangers the last issue left off on. David planting a surprise kiss on Teddy was, thankfully, not the lead in to the predictable love triangle I feared we were going to get (because Keiron Gillen is a good writer) and Loki's face-off with Leah was appropriately tense and impenetrable. The ghost of Kid Loki even got another cameo, which was nice.

All of it was, ultimately, set up for Teddy spinning off into his own storyline separate from the team and I do like that Gillen is shaking up the formula. The Young Avengers as a unit have been so popular in the past that it's nice to see the series isn't settling into a crowd pleasing rut now it's an ongoing again.