Tuesday 13 May 2014

Why my 100 Model Challenge was a dumb idea

It was, there's no way around it, the entire idea was misconceived. It sounded good in my head to start with: lay off buying models for a while and get a decent chunk of my backlog done in the meantime. It started off easy when GW were releasing stuff like the Imperial Gu... ahem, the Astra Militarum (goodness sake), a decidedly mediocre release with some very odd design choices like spiky Chaos armour for Storm Troo... ahem, Scions (goodness sake).

Then the Wood Elves came along. I've been waiting years for a Wood Elves books and longer still for plastic Eternal Guard. The new book is fantastic but I girded up my loins, gritted my teeth and stayed the course.

The final straw came when I was going through my bits box for a suitably impressive sword to slap on my Bretonnian Lord and I found a Maximus-pattern helmet. I looked at it and I remembered a thought that entered my head last September when the plastic Librarian came out that it would look sweet with a Maximus helmet.

And that was it. I broke. I came to the realisation that all I was doing was denying myself enjoyment. “Life is too short,” I declared to myself and went out immediately to buy a plastic Librarian and a box of Glade Guard.

Targets are for work. Goals are fine but targets can piss off. I'll keep posting models, at least once I find a varnishing method that doesn't leave my models shining like latex fetish models ('Ardcoat), like they're covered in a light dusting of snow (Purity Seal) or dulls all colour to horrible flatness (Lahmian Medium).

And, you know what? That Librarian does look sweet in a Maximus helm. 

Monday 12 May 2014

The Comics Ramble

You know what I forgot to buy last week? Miles Morales, Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and Original Sin #1! Because I am an idiot. Otherwise it was a pretty light week, just these two:

Everyone stinks at being sixteen (Cyclops #1)
I never pegged All-New X-Men as a spin-off-y kind of title. Naive of me in retrospect but I'm rarely this glad to be wrong.

So, situation: at the end of The Trial Of Jean Grey crossover young, time-lost teen Scott Summers decides to swan off to outer space with his space pirate, missing presumed dead Dad. He does this mainly because he finds out about his and Jean's future of marriage, multiple-bereavement and general misery at a stage when he's still only just about crushing on her. As excuses to bail out on uncomfortable social situations goes it's pretty much the best one ever. Also, if there was ever an ancillary X-character I felt could do with some extra fleshing out its Major Chris “Corsair” Summers.

Previous Cyclops/Corsair meetings have dwelt on their incompatibility: a professional soldier and a pirate, a down-to-earth civil rights activist and a freewheeling space jockey. I'm thinking in particular about a just-pre-Grant Morrison issue of Uncanny X-Men where they have a camp out and really, really get on one another's tits.

Time-lost teenage Cyclops is just glad to have his Dad back, he's happy to be in space and he sort of fancies his stepmother which is conflicting for him on multiple levels because she's his stepmother and she's a catgirl... or possibly a skunk girl... maybe an albino squirrel, I'm really not sure.

But this is what the X-Men franchise is for: taking something relatable and making it really bloody weird. Talk away the spaceship, the aliens, the sultry cat-skunk-squirrel woman and what you've got is a young man who doesn't know what he wants to do with his life going on a road trip with his Dad.

I don't know if this is an ongoing or a limited series but I am onboard for this like you wouldn't believe.

Cheap, penny-ante slight-of-hand (Loki: Agent of Asgard #4)
It has to be said, after the covert long games of Gillen's Journey Into Mystery and Young Avengers this series is surprisingly direct. Here we are, four issues in and the third wasn't even about “our” Loki, and we're already getting to the point. When Loki revealed in #2 that he was planning something I expected him to spend the better part of the year assembling his team but #4 and it's done, caper incoming next month.

I'm not complaining. Dear God, am I not complaining! I'm not an enemy of decompressed storytelling, I've been reading Ultimate Spider-Man since day one but it is nice to to see a few series championing brevity. Hawkeye has this quality as well, being mainly done-in-ones that build the ongoing storyline quietly in the background.

It was also great to see Verity Willis the human lie detector make a return because I really liked her in #2. I was less enthused by Sigurd turning up but since Ewing clearly agrees with me that Sigurd is a sleazy bastard I was won over by the idea of bringing him back.

If I have one criticism I think this Loki's origin is now established enough that Ewing could drop the flashbacks to “I am the crime that will not be forgiven.”. Not that “flashback” is actually the right word, that wasn't how Journey Into Mystery ended it was, if you'll pardon the phrase, considerably more low key and better for it.

I also admit, with zero shame, to laughing out loud at the illustration of Thor wearing an A-Ha t-shirt. 

Sunday 4 May 2014

Obligatory Star Wars essay (or, Good God, Empire Strikes Back is bleak)

You know how it goes, there are some films that have been part of your life so long and that you've watched so many times that the pictures on the screen cease to have meaning. You forget what an astounding moment seeing the first dinosaur in Jurassic Park was; how dark Back To The Future Part II is; and you forget how unbelievably, wonderfully bleak the end of The Empire Strikes Back is.

It really is, and it shows how times have changed that I can't think of a film cliffhanger in the last twenty years to match it for completely screwing over the heroes. The second Pirates Of The Caribbean comes close but Lucas and Spielberg completely destroy every aspect of the formula they've spent two films creating:

When Luke, Leia and the droids line up for the final shot they've lost virtually everything. As a group they've lost Han, they've lost another home base and they lose the Millennium Falcon when Lando and Chewie take it to search for Han which is a huge symbolic loss as well as a purely military one.

Luke has lost his hand; he's lost the fight the whole film was building to; he's lost his father for the second time; his memories of Ben Kenobi have been tainted; he's lost the comfort of believing his late father was a war hero; he's lost any hope that Leia might love him (this is still, at the time, a Bad Thing); he's lost his lightsaber; and in abandoning his training he may well have lost any right he had to call himself a Jedi.

Leia stands there having lost the love of her life (for this is Hollywood and there is only twue wuv); she's lost God knows how many people under her command at Hoth; and, worst of all, she's lost her focus. Compare the Leia of A New Hope with the one at the start of Return Of The Jedi. In A New Hope our first glimpse of her is of a gun-toting woman sneaking around a battle, risking her life to get a message out; she withstands interrogation and implied torture; she even hands over false intelligence when Tarkin is holding her homeworld hostage. Everything is for the good of the Rebellion and yet when Episode VI opens we see her taking insane risks for one man.

It's tempting to make a barbed, feminist point here but I like it, it works. The Rebels are standing up for what they believe in and what Luke, Leia and Han believe in are each other. They have to be reunited or they'll never beat the Empire. It's telling that lacking Han their infiltration of Jabba's Palace goes completely wrong. Yes, they have back-up plans but I find it hard to believe the Rancor or the Sarrlac figured in any strategy sessions.

Then comes the escape from the Sandskimmer and everyone gets a party piece to show that, reunited, they're back to being themselves. Luke gets to Errol Flynn his way through a horde of minions; Leia commits a very satisfying murder and gets to blow the whole place to kingdom come; and Han gets all the best lines and bumbles his way to saving Lando's life. Luke is a Jedi again, Leia is a commanding presence (wardrobe not withstanding) and Han is the charming rogue once more.

It's a restoration of cosmic order that injects the fun back into the series. The narrative collapsed in Empire and is restored in Jedi. It's brilliant on both sides of the coin and I don't think modern audiences would have this kind of patience. That cliffhanger stood for three years. Three years! Can you image a modern audience being asked to wait that long for resolution? We're too fond of instant gratification these days.