Friday 22 November 2013

Marco Polo found!... ish... maybe

Whilst looking up the time The Day Of The Doctor was going to be broadcast I stumbled across this article on The Mirror's website, a rumour sobizarre it might actually be true.

The basic gist is that in 1964 a guy used a cine film camera to record all seven episodes of Marco Polo, the fourth Doctor Who serial. Yes, “serial”, The Mirror, not “series”, bloody tabloid research. Normally I'd read something like “Marco Polo found!” and drop straight into reliable fan cynicism because it's one of the wish list ones, one of the ones everyone wants to see. It's the first proper historical (no, cavemen do not count), the surviving set photos are lavish and the plot is actually pretty good even if seven episodes seems over long.

I also want to see if there's as much lesbian subtext between Susan and Ping-Cho as the Loose Canon reconstruction leads me to believe. Seriously, every surviving photo of them used in that recon either has them hugging, holding hands, leading towards each other to whisper conspiratorially or lying in bed together! This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Ship that sails itself and I'm surprised there's sop little Susan'Ping-Cho slash fic out in the wild.

Two things make me half believe this rumour.

One: The Enemy Of The World and The Web Of Fear are both pretty high on the wish list and we've got those back, minus one episode.

Two: the bloody odd way these episodes have apparently been restored to the BBC. Not original film cans from some Commonwealth country but some guy who in 1964 decided to record the whole serial using his cine film camera. This is weird enough to believe. Why he wanted three hours of silent Doctor Who is beyond mebut apparently it's good enough quality it can be married up with the surviving audio to make a marketable DVD.

I kind of feel sorry for Moffat, actually. I mean he spends all this time writing and filming an 80-minute special for the fiftieth anniversary and keeps being gazumped by decades old stories surfacing and stealing his thunder.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Random thoughts on Thor: The Dark World

SPOILER WARNING: Since the film has been out for a while (as evidence by my being 20% of the cinema audience) I don't see any reason to restrain myself.

The Mighty Thor in London
I rather like that the “Midgard” bits of the film are set in London. London does seem to attract the godly type of superhero these days what with Wonder Woman moving there a couple of years ago. The Greenwich Meridian seems to be the centre of the universe, which is a bit odd but rather sweet.

The one thing I came out of the first film wanting was to see more of the Nine Realms. We got a lot more Asgard in this film, which makes sense, since the first film was about Thor in Jane's world this time we see her in his. She even meets his mum (who is absolutely hardcore, by the way). Natalie Portman wants out of the series after this point, which I don't blame her for as her character has a lot less to do this time round. Still, it might not be a bad thing to drop Jane here, now she's seen Thor's world there's nowhere else to take her really.

I hope they keep Darcy, though.

How to waste Christopher Ecclestone in one easy step
Christopher Ecclestone is a brilliant actor, I think most people will agree. He has a great deal of charisma, an imposing physical presence and great delivery. However, a lot of his power comes from his voice and so having him speaking elven gibberish for half the film was a mistake, there's no other way to put it.

Hogun the Grinning
They wrote him out because the actor was only available briefly, which I can understand, it was a job to do and it was done as well as could be expected.

Guardians of the Galaxy looks fun
The traditional tease for the next film saw Sif and Volstagg delivering the aether, aka the red Infinity Stone, to the Collector who was Benicio delToro acting bloody odd. He also had a bloody odd bright pink minion lady. The acting choices were jarring but I suppose it'll make sense when we see these characters in context with the film they're actually from.

It also makes sense of Thanos' cameo at the end of Avengers Assemble if the Infinity Gems are on the table for this phase of the films. I wonder if there are any other artefacts beyond the aether and the tesseract that might also be “Infinity Stones”.

Chris Evans' cameo
I loved that bit: Chris Evans playing Loki pretending to be Captain America. “Let's have a bracing conversation about truth!” and “Gee, fella!”. You can see the actor having a ball playing the straight aspects of his character for (louder) laughs than normal.

It's all about Loki
You wouldn't have to follow the comicbook sites to know which character from this film is getting his own comic. With Hogun off the board the other two Warriors Three and Lady Sif got a bit sidelined in favour of Loki. Ray Stevenson got some good lines as Vostagg but it really was all about Loki. Which is no bad thing, Tom Hiddlestone plays a great anti-hero/villain and his imprisonment in the earlier half of the film gave him a chance to really convey the character's psychology in ways his previous two turns didn't.

And that ending was a great tease for the next film whenever it's due to come out. 2016 I assume.

Coming soon...

The trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier looked amazing. They seem to be going to a Captain America vs. SHIELD idea. 47 Ronin seems interesting but I hope there's more reason for Keanu Reeves' headlining role than Hollywood not being able to handle non-white leading men even in a film clearly about an Asian fantasy world (I did actually think it was the second Last Airbender movie when the trailer started). 

Wednesday 20 November 2013

James gained ITEM: SHAVING NEWSPAPER (minus 10 Damage)

One of my little first aid tips for home use. I did not know this until the other day when my boss introduced me to the idea. I cut myself shaving quite often and I'd always been taught to hold some paper towel over the cut until it stopped by itself. As it turned out I was doing it wrong.
What you need for a shaving cut, as my boss revealed to me, is newspaper. Seriously, something about the particular paper stock they use not only stops the bleeding really fast it also seems to help the healing process a little.
Don't use the Daily Mail, though, you might catch something.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Rumour Mill presents Games Workshop's 2014 schedule

After two and a bit weeks of frantic house-hunting and then the pain of waiting for references to come back from employer, bank manager and current landlord I now have a flat lined up and can return to discussing the things that really matter:

Toy soldiers.

Faeit 212 (the rumour site where you behave or he slaps you, I love it!) has posted up the rumoured GW release schedule up to October next year. Now a) this is just a rumour and so pinches of salt all round and b) my opinions on this are based on no knowledge whatsoever, they're just my opinion. That said, let's get started.

January: Dwarfs
The rumours actually name check all the 6th edition holdovers: Dwarfs, Wood Elves and Bretonnia. They all share similar problems: rank-and-file units and war machines in expensive resin; no plastic characters; and even the odd unit without models. As far as I recall Dwarf Rangers are made by combining parts from the Warrior and Thunderer kits.

God, we're getting spoiled. I remember when this sort of thing was normal.

Plastic Slayers would be fantastic (Doomseekers upgrade? Please please please, GW?). Hammerers and Ironbreakers could probably be a single kit if Executioners and Black Guard can be released together.

February and March: Imperial Guard
I was cynical that Guard would get a two-month slot a la the Dark Elves but thinking about it there are a lot of gaps in the range. Ogryns, Rough Riders, Storm Troopers and Regimental Advisors all need plastics, there are no Penal Legion models and a plastic Commissar wouldn't be unwelcome. There are also a whole bunch of tanks in the current book that don't exist.

The persistent rumour that Mordian Iron Guard would become plastic for this release help sell the two-month concept to be because that's three kits in itself: Command Squad, Infantry Squad, Heavy Weapons Squad. Inevitable new flyer, as well, I suppose.

April: Wood Elves
Dear God does this need doing. I am a touch surprised they aren't rumoured for a two-month stretch, there's so bloody much to do on the existing range before even considering new stuff.

Of their four characters classes none have plastics and one (the Branchwraith) doesn't even have a generic model. A plastic Forest Dragon seems inevitable to bring them in line with the other elven ranges. The list of Finecast units is huge: Eternal Guard, Wardancers, Warhawk Riders, Wild Riders, Tree Kin, Treemen and Waywatchers (Great Eagles aren't urgent, everyone uses the The Hobbit ones anyway). The Highborn on Great Stag could stand to be redone but I just say that because I hate the model. That's at least seven units and a monster. I can't offhand work out many that would work as dual-pupose kits. Wardancers and Waywatchers, conceivably, and Warhawk Riders with optional riders that can also be Great Eagles.

I am, with my Dark Elves army and High Elves mercenary force becoming a bit of an elf fanboy, it has to be said.

May: Orks
Again, a whole lotta Fincecast units and Ork players have been without decent Deffkoptas since Black Reach went out of production. Though I suspect the loss they feel most keenly from Black Reach is the disappearance of the best Warboss ever.

July: Bretonnia
Let me just say AT. BLOODY. LAST! Bretonnians were my signature army all through university and for a number of years afterwards until Vampire Counts for their seventh edition book. The redoes are actually pretty simple: dual-purpose Questing Knights/Grail Knights box, Mounted Yeomen, Trebuchet and Grail Reliqueae, plastic Lord/BSB, bish bash bosh.

July: Warhammer Fantasy Battles 9th edition
With the three 6th edition holdovers dealt with I'm less cynical about a new edition coming out before GW makes a complete cycle of the Army Books. All that's left at this point are Skaven (who had so much new shit since their last book new ideas must be thin on the ground) and Beastmen (whose players are kind of used to being ignored for long stretches of time. Hello, Matt!). The other thing that convinces me comes in September/October.

August: Space Wolves
Meh. I mean: as far as I'm concerned the current Space Wolves range are the best Space Marine plastic GW has ever done but I'm kind of off 40k right now and even more off the idea of More Bloody Space Marines so, yeah, meh.

September and October: Orcs & Goblins
You know, I initially thought “Like bollocks do Orcs & Goblins need two months!” but then I flicked through the current Army Book and a) realised how far production values have come since this, the first full-colour hardcover and b) there are a lot of gaps. I guess I've got used to how much comes out with an eighth edition army book I forgot that the release strategy was a big less generous at the start of the edition/

There are a couple of character classes that could do with plastic, not least a Warboss on a Wyvern. The generic plastic Warboss is showing its age (not big enough). They actually have a gap in their Core choices, Arrer Boyz, which I assumed was confined to the 6th ed. holdovers. It's mainly Goblin stuff that needs to be redone: the Wolf Chariot, Squig Herds and Hoppers, Snotling Pump Wagon, all the war machines.

And doing this over these two months means that like Dark Elves this year means they get the Games Day showcase treatment and the September release, traditional home of new edition starter kits. This new edition's rumoured starter kit is Empire versus Orcs so that'll be a good crossover hit. 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Yontoo a loser (or new computer: yay-ish!)

I am not computer literate. I have two computers, a Facebook account, a blog or four over the years and somehow I still view computers with suspicion and trepidation and once one earns my trust I will stay with it in spite of all sanity. For the last two years I have tolerated a computer that crashes continuously, that can take upwards of two minutes to open a web page and recently became allergic to Facebook and my e-mail account.

So, I have a new computer. It was a Christmas present. Yes, last Christmas. It took me ten months to start using it regularly for a number of reasons but the biggest one turned out to be called Yontoo (or Yondoo, can't quite remember). What is Yontoo?

To quote my friend Matt, a digital professional: “It's not quite spyware.” It sits on your computer and every time your web browser opens a new page it flashes up adverts and “related searches”. It also eats mobile broadband credit like you would not believe. An hour online should not take half a gig (or £3.75 to get financial about it).

That's the main thing that's kept me off this computer: the shit computers come pre-installed with these days. I finally got rid of Yontoo a couple of days ago and suddenly my web browsing is more cash-efficient than on the old computer since opening a webpage takes second. It has Microsoft Office but won't let me use it without giving up more cash so it has Open Office just like my laptop.

(I tried to come up with a simile about it being like pushing the prostitute out the door and calling your wife but it just wasn't coming together).

It also has two web browsers for some reason. Internet Explorer uses less data than Chrome seems to but for some reason I can only buy credit using Chrome. Regardless of which I use some bright spark decided to hide all the menu buttons so it took me a week to make a Favourites list for my daily dose of webcomics.

Sandra On The Rocks seems immune to the Favourites menu, for some reason, just won't save to it.

I found the Favourites menu thanks to a female friend who first spent a while showing me how to find the “InPrivate” setting, the thing Microsoft pretends is so you can buy presents for your wife online without her spotting it on the browser history. Not for porn at all, honest guv. She'd been without internet (or her boyfriend) for a few days so I went and got some snacks from the shop whilst she played with it for a bit (the computer, I mean, honest guv) and then she showed me how to make a new favourites list.

Then she asked me if I fancied ordering pizza, can't figure our why. (Honest, guv.)

Monday 4 November 2013

The Comics Ramble. Moving Out Mini-Rambles part 1

Since a) it's going to be some time before the trades I'm now determined to collect outpace the single issues I already own, and; b) I have to start thinking about moving out so it's time to have a clear out. I've spent a little over three years in my current flat collecting all sorts of junk and sending some of it down the charity shop should make the actual act of packing somewhat easier.

So, in no particular order, I'm going to put the contents of my bookshelves under the microscope and see what I can bear to part with and what goes in a box waiting for new shelves in a new flat to call home. Warning: here be spoilers!

Axe Cop
The idea behind this series is insane but brilliant: artist Ethan Nicolle plays a “let's pretend” game with his 5 year old brother Malachai about a character the kid created called Axe Cop and publishes it all in comic strip form. The result is an unpredictable stream of consciousness narrative with the inventiveness only very young children have: completely unburdened by logic or ideas about what “shouldn't” happen in a story. Also, poo jokes. Keep.

Judge Dredd: Origins
I bought this just after seeing Dredd 3D in the cinema and whilst it isn't in any way bad it doesn't feel like a keeper. 2000AD was never a magazine I read so my emotional attachment to Judge Dredd is effectively nil when the idea isn't paired with Karl Urban's natural charisma. Charity shop.

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
Hands down I think Matt Fraction's Hawkeye is the best series Marvel are publishing right now. What I like the most is that Fraction is clearly writing a 70s cop show that just happens to star a superhero. Bringing the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, into the mix gives the series all kinds of opportunities for one or other of the characters to be the fish out of water: Kate in Clint's street level world, Clint in Kate's world of high society and wealth. There's also a whole essay to be written about Matt Hollingsworth's use of the colour purple in this series. Keep.

Serenity: Those Left Behind
I honestly think this series is better than the film it was written to lead into. The film focussed on explaining the Reavers, a minor element of the earlier series, and linking them in with the Alliance. That was fine but lacked much emotional connection to the TV series. Those Left Behind resolved the threat of The Men In Blue Gloves, a more significant recurring element of the series who never got a face-to-face confrontation with the crew on screen. Bringing back Agent Dodson also gave it a nice “season finale” feel. Still, hardly essential to my enjoyment of the series: charity shop.

Love as a Foreign Language volume 2
Where's volume 1 gone? Anyway, a very sweet fish out of water comedy / romance series. It's about a Canadian man teaching English in Korea. He hates it, living in constant culture shock but just as he decides to quit he falls for the school's new receptionist. It's really sweet and I hope volume 1 turns up at some point. Keep.

Spider-Girl: Turning Points
I didn't even know I owned this. I've immense nostalgia for the May “Mayday” Parker version of Spider-Girl but this is hardly the most thrilling collection of issues. It's mainly single issue bottle stories and... I don't know, re-reading it there doesn't seem to be the spark I remember the series having. Tastes change, I suppose. Charity shop.

Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World
Definitely one of my favourite Avengers runs. Warren Ellis takes what could have been six issues of filler between creative teams and writes a series of brilliant one-issue bottle stories, each with a different artist. And what artists! Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev and Stuart Immonen, top bench talent and all favourites of mine. Keep.

Doctor Who: Oblivion
To go into all the details of why this was good would take an essay but here are the cliff notes: the Doctor's companion Izzy is gay, she's also adopted and insecure because of it. To make her confront these issues the writers had her body swapped with a very non-human alien so she had to constantly and consciously define what was “her” and what was merely the body she was in. The ending of the arc, Izzy defining moment of self-acceptance, actually brings a tear to my eye. Keep.

Heavy Metal, Hearts + Flowers: a Scary Go Round story
Keep. I might have the old Bobbins strips this is based on stored on my hard drive but this book is an artefact of nostalgia. Scary Go Round was one of the first webcomics I ever read. Plus, the way John Allison writes dialogue just doesn't stop being funny.

Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152
There are mice, they have a civilisation, they're vulnerable from all sorts of predators and the Mouse Guard are the ones protecting them. David Petersen writes and draws a series that makes a surprisingly good stab at doing medieval fantasy with mice and turning crabs and grass snakes into epic monsters. Keep.

Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise
I love a good hard boiled detective story but some of the tropes get boring after a while. There's only so many untreated alcoholics in New York you can take before you need a change and, well, 1953 Hawaii is certainly a different setting. It's got a supernatural twist as well as an interesting period setting but it's a detective story so saying anything else would be wrong. Keep.

The Question: Zen and Violence
The series that just says “bollocks” to every moral convention DC Comics usually harps on about. There's a great one-issue story in here about the city descending into chaos after the villains are killed which keeps switching back to an old woman sitting on a bench in the snow waiting for a bus that's never going to come. We keep going back to her again and again between scenes of the Question and the supporting cast dealing with the violence and looting and processing recent events. Then on the final page we switch back to the old woman and realise she froze to death ages ago. O'Neil really knew how to sell the fallible hero, how to have characters commit cold blooded murder and not make you hate them. I really should get the later volumes in this series.

Doctor Who: The Crimson Hand
This collection was a great last hurrah for David Tennant's Doctor: a big comic strip story arc like back in the old dys before the TV show came back. He got a new companion (the wonder alien conwoman Majenta Pryce); a big UNIT story; one last melancholy monologue; a pastiche of Eisner's The Spirit; and even a trip to Stockbridge to meet Max Edison. Keep.

And that was just the first shelf.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Triumph and Treachery mercenary rules

There's a lot to like in the new Triumph And Treachery book. I haven't played a game yet but flicking through the book it seemed to have just enough bells and whistles to be interesting but not so many as to hold up play (I'm looking at you, Warhammer Realms: Lustria). I particularly like the random player order that gets shuffled around every game turn, it should break things up and stop the game becoming predictable. The event cards should throw delightful spanners in the works, as well.

What grabbed me the most, though, were the mercenary rules. You get an allowance of points to hire mercenaries to the tune of 100 points for every 500 points in your main army so a 2,000 points army gets 400 points to spend on mercenaries. You can pick from any Army Book you like with no restrictions other than needing a character to be your Mercenary Captain.

What I like the most is that your mercenaries can change sides. If they flee and pass a rally test you roll a dice, on a 5 or 6 they stay loyal to you but on a 1 to 4 they waver. You and the other players dice off and the winner takes control of the mercenaries.

I just keep coming up with ideas for mercenary warbands to add to my armies or my friends':

My Vampire Counts could march to war besides some Empire Free Company to represent Sylvanian Peasant Militia.

An all Ethereal set of Vampire Counts models to go with an Empire army, representing the “retinue” of my friend Matt's Lore of Death Battle Wizard: a Cairn Wraith, a Tomb Banshee and a unit of Hex Wraiths. If they change sides it represents him losing control and them turning on him.

There's a piece of art in the Tomb Kings book that just offers a fascinating visual: Tomb Kings and High Elves standing side by side. I rather like the idea of some Swordmasters of Hoeth with a Loremaster for their captain marching alongside the undead phalanx.

Bretonnians are a tricky one, it's always been in their background that they don't hire mercenaries for honour reasons but I don't see why a warband of their close neighbours the Wood Elves might not tag along for a battle or two.

As for the Dark Elves I'm working on at the moment, some Chaos Knights with the Mark of Slaanesh or some Hellstriders would fit my Cult Of Pleasure theme rather nicely.

If nothing else this supplement is providing me with a wealth of inspiration. In a week or two Matt, Dave and I will be trying out the rules and we'll see how it works out in practice.

Saturday 2 November 2013

Had this conversation so many times today

CO-WORKER: My God, what happened to your face?

JAMES: Jehovah's Witnesses.

CO-WORKER: What did they do to you?

JAMES: Knocked on the door while I was shaving.

At least these things provide my co-workers with some amusement to lighten up their day. It also inspired my direct superior to share some homespun wisdom with me. It seems that the best thing for treating shaving cuts is newspaper: stops it bleeding far quicker than toilet paper or kitchen roll. 

Starting a Painting Journal

Whilst I'm making some changes to the way I do things it might be time to get organised about the many hobby projects that bang about my painting station. In his latest White Dwarf column Jeremy Vetock wrote about keeping a painting journal.

He started it to see how many models he could paint in a year. If nothing else now that idea's been brought up I'm wondering about it myself: how many models do I paint in a year? Aside from that mild curiosity keeping a journal will be a nice little motivational tool. I do rather like making lists and I think I'll get as much motivation from the thought that I can add another item to the list as the thought of placing a fully painted unit on the tabletop.

Given the upcoming move I won't be buying many models over the next couple of months so I can spend some time catching up on the models I already have: finishing touches on the Darkshards (yes, I missed the first deadline but only because I haven't based them); finish up those Vampire Count characters; chip away at the Tomb Kings and maybe even get around to painting my Dark Vengeance set at last. 

Friday 1 November 2013

A forced relocation to trades

How do you run a comics blog without any comics? I know I post all sorts of old guff here but the idea was always to be a comics blog. I've been mail ordering my comics for a while since there's nowhere to buy them in Reading. It was less than ideal given the time lag and the Post Office's attitude towards “Do Not Bend” notices but it was something. A few weeks ago the comic shop I order from went out of business and so I ended up a comics blogger with no comics to blog about.

I've spent the last couple of weeks shopping around online trying to find another service but the sale of the Post Office has done horrendous things to p+p costs. Also, it's been a long time since I've actually looked at the individual price of a comic. The monthly cost, yes, the individual unitary cost not so much.

Christmas is coming up. Family birthdays are coming up. My landlady has sold my flat and I'll have to move in the new year. We're living in the longest period of wage repression since records began. Time to change. Time to become part of the problem:

I'm switching to trades.

The benefits are obvious: trades cost less than buying individual instalments; they look good on a shelf; they don't fall apart as easily; they survive being lent to your friends somewhat better than floppies.

I will miss floppies, though. Not so much getting stories in regular instalments but because of something more abstract. The weekly fix of comics has been a part of my life each and every week for damn near twenty years ever since my grandmother bought me an issue of X-Factor at random from a newsagent to keep me quiet. From there I was hooked.

There are less obvious benefits to the switch, though. For once thing it will make me think more critically about what I buy. I have a tendency to buy things out of habit, picking up a series for months after I lose interest in it. Trades may be cheaper in comparison but they're a fair price in and of themselves so I'll need to take a long look at what I was buying before and divide them into the not worth buying; the worth pre-ordering; and, finally, the worth getting once it's dirt cheap on Amazon Used & New.

Young Avengers is a sacred cow. Aside from that everything is up for grabs.