Saturday 31 January 2015

Hobby Goals for February 2015

Last day of January and so I'm setting myself some goals for the shortest month, which promises to be snowy and ideal for getting things done.

Goal the first: Finish building my Ork army
Dave's 40k campaign kicks off this month and I really need to get some more work done on the Orks. Most of my opponents don't mind fighting “in progress” miniatures so all I need to do is get the things built and slap some base colours on them.

Solid commitment is to get the 1000 points list built, which just means getting my Deffkoptas and Killa Kans done. If I can get the physical tally up to 1500 so much the better.

Goal the second: Order those head from Statuesque Miniatures
Because I really, really, really want to make some female Guard.

Goal the third: Make a start on my Inquisitorial Warband
A project that I have been meaning to get around to for some time: making the models to represent my Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Laurento Hex and his retinue. Since I'm planning on doing some loyalist Guard it seems like high time to get around to this little side project.

I'm not sure what “making a start” will actually mean but I want to at least build Hex himself and maybe some other members of the warband by the end of the month. 

Friday 30 January 2015

In defense of lady Ghostbusters

A few days ago casting was announced for the all-female Ghostbusters reboot or remake or reimagining (Hollywood really has to start separating out those words again) and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the internet. There seems to be this feeling amongst certain sections of the community that there's something inherently traitorous about the whole idea. I don't really see it myself but there are some interesting things to be untangled from it all so let's start.

The main reason the idea doesn't bother me is it strikes me that if Ghostbusters were a totally new and original idea in 2015 instead of a remake of a classic it might have an all-female cast anyway. Not because of “social justice” or anything like that but because that's the sort of film it would be based off the same way the original was based on the not uncommon comedy trope of a bunch of guys starting a business together and muddling through with (ahem) hilarious consequences. These days all-female or female-led comedies are a staple of the genre doing the same trick with attractive professional women instead of (with all respect to the classic Ghostbusters cast) a bunch of blokes at the more marginally photogenic end of fuck ugly. This new Ghostbusters is the old idea if it were the logical extension of, say, Sex In The City or Ally McBeal with added ghosts.

Then there's the accusation, very common on the internet, that this sort of remake ruins one's childhood. I must admit to having never understood that one. I admit it isn't pleasant to see something you loved in your youth remade badly but the almost-orthodontic experience of watching The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't invalidate or erase the pleasure I got watching Sam Raimi's first two efforts.

I'm tempted to make a point about how both pleasure and pain are of the moment in your memory, but that might be a bit too spiritual for a post headed by a picture of Slimer.

Will they make Slimer female? I hope they use Slimer, I saw the cartoon long before the actual films so as far as I'm concerned he's as much core cast as Egon Spengler. Hard design to feminise so I suppose there'll still be some Guy Power in the old fire station. As a complete aside, there's a Hindu temple here in Reading that looks just like the Ghostbusters fire station.

Disconnected mental meanderings aside I am quietly hopeful for this remake (or whatever) for the simple reason it seems to want to do something different with its core concept. I'm a bit down on the whole remake concept these days: The Amazing Spider-Man missed the point catastrophically; the new Fantastic Four looks incredibly bland; and Star Trek Into Darkness was about nothing, which is a criminal misuse of the Star Trek name. The reboot thing now seems to be just about making more of a popular thing instead of using old ideas to make new statements as with, for instance, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica which took the core concept and extended it out to comment on a whole bunch of political concepts like terrorism, reproductive rights and religious fundamentalism that the original wouldn't have dared touch.

By going all-female and therefore switching out one set of comedy tropes for another, I have some hope these Ghostbusters will be saying something new for themselves and maybe entertainment will happen along the way. 

Thursday 29 January 2015

The bleak, existential horror of gaming clubs

It happens about once every year or two. I love my little group of regular opponents, who are all friends of mine and not dicks, but about once a year I find myself wanting a little extra variety. As it happens my local GW has restarted its Saturday afternoon gaming club and I am, tentatively, in.

I have to choose a “House”, which is a fluffy little thing the staff want to try. Each of the three full-timers is the head of a Chapter (Ultramarines, Imperial Fists and Blood Angels) and the wins, loses and whatever of those in their chapter are compared in some way. The chapter you choose doesn't have to be relevant to your army and I'm doing Orks. I'd like there to be some kind of fluffy link, though, so I think I'll sign up as an Ultramarine (Arch-Arsonist of Charadon and all that), though I still want a Flesh Tearers army so maybe Blood Angels.

I am looking forward to this but there is one question you can't politely ask when agreeing to be part of something like this: how many dicks are going to be there?

It is a concern. I get involved in these clubs and then a power gamer turns up and... you know that scene in John Carpenter's The Thing where they use a computer to show how one Thing cell will take over an entire organism and then spread out to infect he whole world? Power gamers are like that. One turns up and at first everyone rolls their eyes and tolerates them out of politeness but before you know it people are bringing broken tournament lists in just to beat that one guy and then there's no hope, the club is lost, irreversibly contaminated.

Still, it'll probably be fun while it lasts and I would like to get some games in one the weekends the rest of my group are busy. 

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The Distinctly Average Four coming to cinemas soon

So Fox finally released a trailer for the radically re-imagined Fantastic Four movie they're releasing later this year and, to be perfectly honest I am trying to have an opinion on this thing but it just ain't happening. I thought I had an opinion a couple of times then I realised it was just general foreboding unsupported by anything in the actual trailer.

There is this general tendency, in the wake of the Marvel-Disney movies, to just prejudge based on the name of the studio. Marvel-Disney? Yay! Sony? Blecch. Warner Bros.? Unless its a Batman movie, cue quiet despair. None of these conclusions are completely divorced from evidence but it is worryingly tribal and reductive. Fox sits somewhere in the middle of the scale thanks to the X-Men movies which swing from great to terrible with a fair amount of good enough mixed in.

When I try to judge this trailer as a trailer... well, there's a generic portentous voiceover; a lot of hero shots of the new, young, “sexy”, marginally more diverse Fantastic Four and a lot of random laboratory set dressing. Nothing grabbed me like Henry Cavill's Superman leaping into the Antarctic sky, Black Widow jumping out of a moving plain on a motorcycle (can we please have a movie starring this woman, Marvel?) or Magneto and Xavier's moral philosophy in X-Men: First Class's trailer.

It just looked wilfully generic, probably because they're still filming re-shoots so they might be consciously avoiding putting anything meaningful up in case it changes. Wow, doesn't that make this sound like a movie you want to see?

To be fair, the first of Sony's Fantastic Four movies is on my list of all time “missing the point” films, reducing the epic clash of egos and philosophies between Reed Richards and Doctor Doom to fighting over a woman. Other films in this list include David Lynch's Dune (because of Irulan's reduced role), The Last Airbender (because of everyone's reduced role) and The Amazing Spider-Man (because watching Michael Sheen delivering that incoherent, rambling speech that so consciously doesn't include the words “with great power comes great responsibility” is almost physically painful to me).

Still, bring it on Sony, show me what you got and we'll see how it stacks up against the last few attempt. 

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The hunt for female Guardsmen continues...

One of my perennial bugbears is the lack of female models in the Imperial Guard/Astra Militarum range. There are all-female and mixed gender regiments in the background and there always have been. A general lack of sexism is one of the Imperium's vanishingly small number of positive qualities, at least when it comes to conscripting vast quantities of cannon fodder to die for the glory of the Emperor.

Sadly, representing this on the tabletop is difficult. I've always had female characters in my background: my Traitor Guard have the Khornate assassin Scrapper Turan and her arch-rival the sorceress Hyria Bek; one of my loyalist Guard armies had a female commander, Colonel Maria Dione; and in Fantasy my Vampire Counts are led by the Master Necromancer Berenice Von Gallenberg. Representing these characters, however, has been a bugger. Berenice is a plastic Chaos Sorcerer with a plague doctor's mask; Maria has a gas mask and Scrapper was an Escher Juve even though she's long since grown to adulthood.

I'd love to do a mixed or all-female Guard regiment and I'm convinced all I need is heads: Cadian-style flak armour should all but eliminate the profile of breasts. Luckily, a friend showed me these:
These are made by Statuesque Miniatures, £4.75 for a set of ten and they're even a British company so I don't have to bother with all that currency conversion and international shipping bollocks some third parties make you go through (which is fair and can't be helped but it is annoying).
Now, since the “third party” barrier has been breached I'm wondering if I want to make these straight-up female Cadians or splash out and get some kilted legs from Victoria Lamb miniatures and do female Drookian Fen Guard or Kaledon Hunters regiment.

Monday 26 January 2015

The Scorchies: period appropriately bonkers

I'll be honest, this one has been sitting on my shelf for over a year and the only reason I got round to it was because there's a sequel in Jago & Litefoot I want to understand. I'm wary of parodies these days since they seem to swing too often towards the mean-spirited but this was a great story of a particular sort Big Finish haven't put out before.

It has to be said first, lest I seem ungrateful, that given the limited resources they're working with Big Finish have done a fantastic job just to create Third Doctor audios. A majority of the era's principal cast have passed on, some of them years before Big Finish even started. They've made some corkers, as well: The Last Post and Find And Replace are amongst my favourite Doctor Who audios of all time.

There has been something missing, though. They've done great UNIT action, a cool Peladon story and some seriously good revisionist takes on the era but what they hadn't done until now was a properly balls-to-the-wall insane, new idea every five minutes Bob Baker and Dave Martin style story.

That's all fixed now as James Goss serves up a story about Jo Grant being captured by genocidal puppets from outer space. Its the closest I've seen Big Finish come to those insanely over-the-top Baker and Martin stories like The Mutants or The Claws Of Axos. It actually manages to be as colourful as Claws thanks to some excellent cover art. Guest star Mervyn Hayes even managed to gets the cadence of his speech just right to sound like it fits the around the exaggerated facial movements of a Muppet. He plays all the puppets, except Amble the Fairly Ugly Doll who's voiced by Katy Manning (and there may be no better “Jo Grant” moment than where Jo stands up for Amble's body image, its just perfect).

Back to the parody thing: I love The Muppet Show, repeats of that were a staple of my childhood, so I like that this is the sort of parody that's also part tribute act. You can sort of see how The Scorchies would have worked as a cheap Muppets knock-off on regional kids' TV. They've captured Jo in the middle of a broadcast and put her in the role of the episode's guest and interrogate her in the style of an interview. Its is brilliant. There are even a couple of songs which fit perfectly well with the theme but aren't cringeworthy in any way. They're actually quite catchy.

I'm really looking forward to how these characters work in a Victorian setting with Jago & Litefoot. 

Sunday 25 January 2015

The Comics Ramble wouldn't lie to you

Prompt delivery this week and thus some ramblings.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #10

Let's be honest: I like this issue in equals parts for being well-written, dripping with character, filled with poetic turns of phrase and because we might finally be on the verge of seeing the end of those bloody “I am the crime that cannot be forgiven!” bits. Anyway, the whole things picks up from Axis with Loki apologising to Verity for being such a dick under the influence of heroism, Thor: The God Of Not Much These Days comes round for a heart to heart and then the truth spins out of control at a fantastic rate.

Ewing's latest idea is that somehow during Axis, and even Loki isn't sure how, Loki lost the ability to lie. He can't even tell a joke and he can't remain silent when asked a question so when Thor asks him what happened to the young, innocent boy he used to be it all comes out. It all hits the fan there with a nice mid-book use of the recap page which in itself was beautifully written. This has very much of a season finale feel to it and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.

All-New X-Factor #20

Not sure if commitment or hubris...

Okay, so Peter David says on the recap page this is the final issue but he hopes there'll be more in the future and he even positions this issue as a pitch to make readers demand more and I'm not sure how I feel about that. David makes some links between this series and the rise of Alchemax in Spider-Man 2099 which isn't a series I'm following so I don't much care about tying up that storyline. On the other hand there are some very nice talky bits between various members of the team on their plane which set up new dynamics I want to see play out but probably never will.

It isn't that this is a weak issue just that it might have been better repositioned to foreground Warlock's meditations on the soul rather than the tease for stories that may never come.

Batman Eternal #42

Now we're finally getting to it and by “it” I mean the plot points from the teaser issue of Batman last February. This is a big issue for Harper and Steph, the two characters I'm frankly reading this series for, which is a definite plus. Harper in particular gets a great speech owning her decision to enter the life of a costumed vigilante when it could very well have been positioned as an act of grim necessity. She also tells Tim he's being a prick which, much as I love the boy, he needs telling sometimes.

Powers #1

I've never read an issue of Powers and all I knew were the basics: a procedural crime series about police who deal with superpowers, written by Brian Michael Bendis and that was all I had to go on. From this issue I'm getting that there's a lot of backstory I don't know but Bendis is being good enough to fill the reader in as he goes with just enough to be comprehensible but not so much as to be indigestible.

Anyway, a bunch of the city's wealthiest and most influential citizens are murdered on a yacht and Detective Deena Pilgrim is sent in complete with snarky partner and crazy pants medical examiner who views the wholesale slaughter with almost mad scientist levels of glee. I like her, I want to see more of her. Talking of seeing more of women this is one of those “mature content” comics so there's lots of swearing and a two-page spread of a strip club complete with breasts flopping about everywhere which I suppose is at least better than how breasts are usually portrayed in comics. These ones actually seem to be influenced by gravity.

Wolverines #3

This one took a hard right at the corner of Fifth and Bananas as only two issues in we have an issue not featuring any of the Weapon X survivors or the “Wolverines”. Instead we have Fantomelle (who I think is the female Fantomex clone Psylocke was sleeping with a while back but I'm not sure, I don't think she was black) running a business where she steals bits of superhero memorabilia for an underground auctioneer. In this case she's trying to pinch the Punisher's skull shirt and that turns out about how you'd expect: there's a massive number of bullets.

Still not too sure about this series as a weekly proposition but this issue certainly shows more promise than the first two did. 

Saturday 24 January 2015

Saturday Teatime #3: The Edge of Destruction

(Yes, I am calling this The Edge Of Destruction like the VHS, the DVD, the Doctor Who Magazine polls and, in fairness, the title card of the first episode. Yes, when I was growing up and fans were brought up proper this was called Inside The Spaceship but general social pressure seems to have out-voted me on that one.)

The Edge of Destruction
2 episodes
written by David Whitaker
originally transmitted 8th - 15th February 1964

An interesting thing about Doctor Who fandom is that we're as obsessed with how the series was made as we are about what makes it on screen. Doctor Who Magazine regularly carries whole-page articles about what order the next series is going to be filmed in. I subscribed to Star Trek Magazine for a while in the late 90s and they never went that far: they'd mention upcoming guest stars or the director if it was a cast member but things like production order never entered into it except when they needed to explain why actors remembered making episodes in the wrong order.

Production details are a big thing to Doctor Who fans, though, so I know that this two-parter has the production code Serial C; that it ends the initial thirteen episode run the BBC ordered before renewing the series for a full season; and that it is set entirely aboard the TARDIS and features only the four regular cast members because the series ran out of money.

Yes, this was a story made entirely to balance the books. Sets are expensive and hiring guest actors is time-consuming. In Star Trek this problem is easily solved: those series take place on starships or space stations with lots of standing sets and a cast of nine or ten characters. Doctor Who, by contrast, has a single standing set and a far smaller recurring cast. Even when its cast is at its largest in Season Eight there'll only be six regulars and one of those is the villain. Here we have four people, the console room set, the food machine room built for the first episode of The Daleks and whatever other space can be made by moving the walls around. On the plus side we have story editor David Whitaker on writing duties, a fact that will come to mean wonderful things in the future.

So it is with some reluctance I admit the opening of the story does not grab me, in fact I don't like it at all. I've only watched this story once before and these opening scenes are the reason why. At the end of The Daleks the TARDIS took off and everyone was knocked unconscious by an unexplained explosion. This story is about working out what's wrong with the TARDIS, sorting out the tensions between the four characters and delivering two science lessons of varying quality but first we get this horrible bit of time-consuming faffing about.

Okay, so everyone wakes up and all of them are acting odd: BRabara and Ian don't recognise the Doctor or the TARDIS; the Doctor is half-conscious and babbling; and Susan moves slowly and cautiously, reacting to everything on a time delay. The director is obviously going for weird and alienating but the simple fact is it comes across as nothing more than actors missing their cues and forgetting their lines. Considering we're talking about an era when scenes did go out where actors miss their cues and forget their lines this is deeply unfortunate. William Russell suffers the most. I don't think Russell is a bad actor but Ian is a very narrowly-written part who tends to switch between anger, amusement, bewilderment and very little else. Divorcing Ian even from that limited range and having him react to everything as if he has a concussion is not a recipe for success.

Then Susan threatens Ian with a pair of long-bladed scissors and proceeds to stab up a mattress whilst screaming hysterically. Not unnaturally, and here we return to the Doctor Who fan's deep knowledge of production history, this led to the series' first serious viewer complaints. The cavemen and Daleks might have been a bit too scary for some children but at least they weren't doing anything that could be imitated by kids. This is a character going nuts with a household implement you could actually kill someone with. These days the BBC has rules about “imitable violence” so that, for instance, when all the A-positives walk up on the roofs in The Christmas Invasion you won't see even a single child up there.

These opening scenes dominate my memory of my first viewing and I was glad to see that everyone aside from Susan settles down by the end of episode 1 and we get onto the meat of the story: the tensions between the crew.

Something is clearly wrong with the TARDIS, a fact communicated by odd incidents like the doors opening on their own, Susan fainting when she touches the console, and later on when the clock and everyone's watches begin to melt. Everything weird in this story is put down to the fault, which doesn't quite make sense. The idea, put forward by Barbara in an interpretation of events even Jacqueline Hill can't quite sell, is that the TARDIS is trying to communicate with its occupants that they're in danger. From this we get the origin of the idea that the TARDIS is sentient, or at least self-aware, though this theory suffers from a few holes. The first hole is that the Ship has chosen to communicate in the most obtuse, obscure manner possible considering that she knows her existence is under threat. The other is that at no point is the Great Mattress Scissor Massacre explained, Susan simply snaps out of her paranoia in time for the climax.

Here we come to the saving grace of the story because once you're past the jarring early scenes and the explanations that make no sense the four regulars put in strong performances. The big one is Barbara yelling at the Doctor when he accuses her and Ian of sabotage. She points out, stridently, that the Doctor would have been killed several times over if not for the two of them pulling his fat out of the fryer. Its powerful, its delivered with conviction and by the end of the story the Doctor is far more respectful of her. They have a lovely scene just before the end that has the Doctor offering her his arm. There's a respect there that will underlie the whole of their relationship from now on.

There are similarly powerful moments with Ian, including a moment where he graciously steps in and accepts the Doctor's contrition without forcing him to actually apologise. The two men are coming to an equality in their relationship which is just as well since the continuing softening of Hartnell's performance, especially in that last scene with Barbara, means he'll be ready to share Ian's leading man position just as soon as he's done becoming a hero. We'll get there but the hostility hasn't died completely yet. He's willing to throw Ian and Barbara out of the TARDIS when he thinks they're against him no matter where they've landed and in spite of Susan's objections.

Oh, yes, Susan, who doesn't get an apology of any kind. During the final crisis of the story the Doctor lies to Susan and Barbara, telling them they have more time than they actually do before the Ship is destroyed. Afterwards he doesn't apologise for this but he does concede to Barbara that she was right in her interpretation of events and from that moment things between the Doctor and Barbara settle down. He lied to Susan too, though, but even after everything the story puts Susan through she gets no apologies, no words of comfort, she's just expected to bounce back and forget that her grandfather came very, very close to abandoning and possibly murdering her teachers. Susan actually goes through more than most of the others in this story yet it isn't judged worthy of comment at the end.

An apology would certainly have been a better use of screen time between the Doctor and Susan than having him explain, for the second time in five minutes, how the whole problem with the TARDIS was down to a stuck switch.

Ah, yes, the Fast Return Switch, clearly labelled on the TARDIS console in felt tip. What stands out about this isn't the sheer low-tech degree of mechanical fault because complex mechanisms are broken by small faults all the time. No, what stands out is how boring the explanation is with the Doctor whipping out a pencil torch and using the on-button to demonstrate to Susan (who is, lest we forget, an alien genius from a society that can build time machines) how a switch works when it was entirely obvious what had happened from the dialogue the Doctor and Ian shared when they discovered the fault.

Worse, this scene follows Hartnell delivering a great speech to camera explaining how solar systems are formed through the accretion of matter which actually comes out quite poetic. We get a fun but largely useless science lesson (at least at the middle school level the series is currently pitching for) followed by a practical but unbelievably boring one. The educational aspect of the series isn't going to last long and this, even more than the condensation bit in the next serial, shows us exactly why. 

Friday 23 January 2015

Context and the bisexual Avatar

(Spoiler warning for the series finale of Legend Of Korra)

I've just started watching the third season of Legend Of Korra, thanks to the generosity of the internet since Nickolodean has an almost HBO-esque inability to release timely DVDs. Anyway, I'm doing this after the end of season four was spoilered for me by the whole of tumblr going crazy about it. Not that I blame them, this was a biggie.

So I'm going into watching these final two seasons knowing who Korra walks off into the sunset with. This means I have a context for things denied the audience at first transmission, especially given the creators' insistence that they intended to develop Korra and Asami's relationship towards a romantic conclusion since somewhere in the planning phase of season three.
Anyway, I just watched the episode where Asami tries to teach Korra to drive. The two of them are sitting in Asami's car and each confesses to the other that they kissed Mako whilst the other was dating him (long story and if you don't know it then, seriously, watch this series its great). After they have this off their chests Korra tells Asami's she glad they're still fine as growing up as sheltered as she did she's never had a girlfriend before...

and God help me but the moment Korra says that Asami has a look of shock on her face, I'm sure of it. I was aware of the moment in question because of some fanfic I read but I assumed it was just the sort of moment 'shippers grab onto regardless of authorial intent (and ain't nothin' wrong with that) but it really does look like Asami's internal monologue is going “Girlfriend? She said girlfriend! Oh spirits, I wish, but she blatantly means 'friend who is a girl'... I'm glad she's driving or I'd have crashed the car when she said that...”.

I wonder what else I'll notice on the way to these two ladies walking off into the sunset/spirit world. 

Thursday 22 January 2015

Cold-induced filler post featuring Adolf Hitler in space

Yes, this is real, you can even find the story pretty easily online. Its one of those great “mock the enemy” artefacts of propaganda like the famous Captain America Comics cover of Cap slugging old Adolf. Maybe Seth Rogen can bid for the movie rights? 

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Things I now know about eyes

It turns out your prescription can improve. I always assumed it was just an inevitable downhill progression but, no, my eyesight has actually improved marginally over the last five years. Turns out this isn't uncommon, though it usually happens with people in their forties or fifties, that the ageing process of your eyes can even out deformities.

They took pictures of the inside of my eyes and showed them to me. They wouldn't let me have copies, though, but it looks kind of like a red lava lamp made out of skin.

I had a nice chat with the opticians who did my tests, we discussed the purpose of various machines they used on me. There was an almost arcade machine thing where I pressed a button every time I saw a light flash that was testing my field of vision. The only one they didn't want to discuss was the one that blows a really cold, really intense puff of air into your open eye so I'm beginning to think that one actually serves no purpose and just gives them a sense of power as they force you to go through it again and again and again.

Just a thought, that last one.

Of course, any time I get new glasses I feel the need to dig out this Peanuts strip (sadly this is the best version I can find through Google):
I tell you what though: going from round frames to square does odd things to your peripheral vision. Its like someone's been messing with the field of view slider. 

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Comics Ramble Extra: Star Wars #1

Marvel's first issue of Star Wars, the first Star Wars comic published under Disney as part of the new expanded canon. I'm not sure if this series is strictly “canon” as Disney are concerned though I believe the new novels are. Whatever, with the old expanded universe gone there's a lot of blank space to fill. I'm not going to use this issue to read tea leaves about what the new films will be like but I'd like to think there's some evidence here for how Disney views the licence.

Jason Aaron's script quickly establishes the characters we all know doing the things we know they're meant to do: Han's the charming rogue who bluffs like a trooper; Luke gets his big hero moment and a lightsaber quick draw; C-3PO fusses in the background; R2-D2 pulls another cute trick out of the bag; and Leia, soon to star in her own series, is as quietly badass as she's ever been.

The plot itself is actually rather secondary to each character getting their set piece. I wasn't expecting otherwise and I'm not inclined to complain. When an old and venerable property finds itself under new management there's a natural desire by the new owners to prove they understand what they've got their hands on and the set pieces in this issue ably do it. Of all of them its Leia who gets the best showing: standing in the background for several scenes whilst Han fronts the operation before unmasking, beating some Stormtroopers unconscious with the helmet of her disguise and then ordering Chewie on a suicide mission without a second thought.

Have I mentioned how much I love this character recently? Honestly, if there's one disappointment in this issue its the preview of the Princess Leia comic which is two pages of unlettered Dodsons art adapting the medal scene from the end of A New Hope in lieu of telling us anything about the series' story. It looks gorgeous but the Darth Vader preview gives us the erstwhile Ani marching imperiously into Jabba's Palace (also unlettered), much better.

And the book has a hell of an art team in John Cassaday and Laura Martin, veterans of Warren Ellis' Planetary and Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. Cassaday's likenesses are bang on without sacrificing the aesthetic of his style whilst Martin remains the absolute master of atmospheric lighting effects. Between then the three new Star Wars series are being drawn by David Cassaday, Salvador Larocca and the Dodsons, which at least in my book is the sort of A-list line-up the property deserves.

If there is a problem with the series it hasn't manifested yet but this issue and the previews seem to foreshadow it: until the next film comes out the comics are playing with a greatly depleted toy chest. This issue and the Vader preview re-use the trappings of Jabba's Palace, in at least one case in a way that doesn't quite convince. Its something to look out for.

Now I just have to wait a month to find out what kind of havoc Han Solo can wreak in an Imperial AT-AT (that's the “Dog Walker”, right? Never can remember). 

Monday 19 January 2015

Should Harley Quinn ever come out?

Before we go off to the races let's establish where the starting blocks are. For the purposes of this post let's assume that Harley Quinn is definitely, canonically bisexual: that every joke and innuendo in print and on screen the last twenty-plus years has been made in earnest; that the scene in Harley & Ivy where they seem to be sharing a double bed is not about lacking rent money; and that Harley isn't just being catty when she takes note of Power Girl's curves in Harley Quinn #11.

So, for our purposes today it is 100% established fact that Harley is bi and that at one time at least she and Poison Ivy were lovers. All clear?
Okay, so this was all kicked off by someone telling me Batwoman was cancelled. Between that, the continued absence of Renee Montoya in the New 52 and Alan Scott's increasing backgrounding in the Earth 2 titles that leaves Harley as the only headlining queer character DC has and she's not even out.

But does she need to be?

Let me be clear: queer characters who are out? Good and definitely needed, should be more of them. The Batwoman title in particular will be sorely missed. What I'm arguing here is that perhaps the current portrayal of Harley's queerness has some value in and of itself beyond fun innuendo.

I should like at this stage to point out that whilst I don't view Harley as “out” I don't view her as closeted, especially under her current writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. Anyone who has read their Power Girl run or Painkiller Jane (most any of their work, really) knows that these are creators who are very comfortable with sex as a subject. As creators they proceed from the idea that sex and sexuality are major parts of the adult human psychology and they're unafraid to tackle that. In Painkiller Jane the main character's bisexuality is a simple fact portrayed as attraction completely divorced from gender (according to Palmiotti) whilst their Power Girl directly addresses the fact of her physicality and how it is perceived by her and others.
With Harley they mainly address her sexuality with jokes. Yes, they're presented as Easter Eggs for fans but there's nothing particularly subtle about them (one of them's a beaver joke, for goodness sake!) but I like it because its not presented as an issue at all, just a fact of Harley's personality. It helps that they've reverted her to the carefree, often childlike Harley from before the New 52: no impulse control, no baggage, no sense of limits and because we're talking about the writers we are that attitude informs how her sexuality is represented. Even if we took Harley to be bi (and we are today, remember) I honestly don't think she would ever feel the need or desire to identify that way, or any way, it just isn't her.

It would be easy for me to segue here into one of those tangents about how we don't need labels and I would like that to be the world we lived in (I do, it must be admitted here, identify with one of the... less choosy sexualities and am therefore biased) but on the macro scale I think that's generations off. For the time being, a period probably far longer than our lifetimes, labels serve an important purpose whilst we sort out the social issues surrounding them and probably will continue to serve a purpose long after.

But in this one case whilst we have characters like Batwoman, Bunker and Alan Scott proudly identifying and representing perhaps it serves an equally useful purpose for there to be a bisexual character to whom sexuality is not an issue at all. There's something beautifully Utopian about this carefree, anarchic spirit not even acknowledging genders and labels or even really the need to.

Right now, I admit, its just jokes but I honestly believe one day someone will write an explicitly queer Harley. After all, she's gone from straight to implicitly bisexual on the strength of little more than fan 'shipping entering the mainstream. One day the next generation of fans will take over and to them Harley will just be bisexual. When that day comes I just hope they continue with Harley's sexuality in its present context, that it just is; not an issue to her; not a source of internal conflict; its just her; don't use the labels and just show it in action.

Because of the character's history DC has a chance to present a queer character whose sexuality isn't a revelation on any level because for two decades various levels of authorial intent are on their side. Not even in the “plausible deniability” vein of Comics Code era characters like Northstar where it was a matter of censorship, here its a perfectly natural act of literary evolution. 

Sunday 18 January 2015

The Comics Ramble finds itself in reduced circumstances

The postal service did what it does and failed to get my comics to me so let's discuss a week old digital comic I haven't bothered to get the second issue of yet: Wonder Woman '77 #1.

Now, I've never watched the iconic Linda Carter Wonder Woman series but I think I might if this is any indication of what it was like. The issue opens with Wonder Woman rescuing a Russian defector from USSR agents trying to kidnap him and drag him to the gulag.

The agents are a trio of young blonde women on rollerskates, wearing red t-shirts and short shorts with CCCP written across the back of them, armed with (you'll never guess) hammers and sickles. The Russian defector is, of course, a nuclear physicist. Its a fantastic little fight scene that sets the overall tone of the issue: camp like the '66 Batman series but played just a little straighter and more dignified. Of course, not having watched the series this could just be Marc Andreyko's interpretation and I'm fine with that because I've missed Andreyko since Manhunter ended.

Of course, this being based on '70s spy-fi, this isn't an isolated incident and Wonder Woman (as Agent Diana Prince) is sure other defecting Russian nuclear physicists will be targeted. Naturally, all but one are under government protection and so they go after the one refusing bodyguards. Turns out he's going to be at New York's hottest disco club Studio 52 (cute) so Diana and Steve Trevor go undercover and in the process dress themselves in the terrible fashions of the time. Seriously, no one would willingly draw Steve, especially this Steve, in a wide open shirt for any reason other than verisimilitude.

Speaking of Steve, its not just his fashion sense that ties the series resolutely to the '70s. He's a typical leading man of the era: a little bit sexist and a little bit sexy at the same time. A James Bond type on a lower budget and I look forward to his first kidnapping.

Reading this issue it struck me how poorly mined '70s nostalgia is in comics. DC tends to go to the made shit of the '50s, the camp of the '60s and, very oddly, the much-missed pre-Flashpoint universe of early 2011 for nostalgia projects. Marvel, meanwhile, mine almost exclusively from their '60s origins except when trying to rehabilitate something from the Dark Age of the '90s. The seventies remain largely untouched.

That tangent aside, I really should get the next issue of this series because it was really fun, that quality oft-neglected by DC's printed work, certainly more so than the Finches' run on Wonder Woman itself. 

Saturday 17 January 2015

Saturday Teatime #2: The Daleks (aka The Mutants)

The Daleks
7 episodes
written by Terry Nation
originally transmitted 21st December 1963 - 1st February 1964

Once you read a few of these projects you start to see some common patterns emerging: just about everyone falls in love with Jacqueline Hill; everyone concludes that Susan was a flawed idea; and everyone ends up a bit down on Terry Nation.

This last one isn't entirely unfair. Nation's writing (and occasionally his work ethic) had some severe problems but he also had a writing career on Doctor Who extending from 1963 to 1979. Yes, this is mainly due to him holding the copyright on the Daleks and having first refusal to write any script where the BBC wanted to use them but there are other factors. He was commissioned to write a second script for the series before anyone decided the Daleks needed to return.

And you know what? I don't want to be down on Terry Nation. The first Doctor Who story I ever saw was Planet Of The Daleks and that story made me fall in love with the series. So here as we meet him and his most famous creations for the first time (sorry if you're the world's only massive Kraal fan) let's forget about the future and just enjoy ourselves. And that isn't difficult, there's a lot to like here and much of the Terry Nation Cliché Bingo Card fails to make an appearance (if nothing else it would be hard to self-plagiarise on your first script).

So let's give Nation some props because one thing he is absolutely fantastic at is set pieces. This is because his approach to science-fiction is very much in the 1950s Flash Gordon movie serial mode. Luckily, Nation's script is paired with a designer who realises this and turns in a bunch of sets and monsters that were a bit retro even in 1963 and so aged oddly well. Lucky for Nation, for us fans and for the survival of the series but considerably less so for designer Ray Cusick. Cusick was a fantastic designer who did a lot of work in the early years of the series, not least of which were the TARDIS console room and the Dalek casing. Everyone counts him as one of the series' most important visionaries. Everyone, that is, except Terry Nation, Terry Nation's lawyers and the BBC Royalties Payments Department.

Yes, it was a work-for-hire job and so he got a bonus (£50, I believe) because it was great work and received not a penny or even an on-screen credit since.

So the production is on the same page as the writer and in some cases several pages ahead. We're doing movie serial sci-fi from ten years ago here, which is probably a good thing to be doing on TV when no one had really done ongoing science-fiction before, there's at least a pattern to follow there. On this note its probably time to note that here my theme of “early Doctor Who was more modern than I thought” pretty much curls up and dies because no modern series would have Ian suggesting they all split up to search the seemingly deserted city without a post-modern joke asking if he'd ever seen a horror movie.

Good set pieces are a very important part of adventure serials, arguably the most important part. You get the set piece then a pause for some talky stuff to happen that sets up the next big set piece and after that cycle repeats a couple of times you get the cliffhanger. Nation turns in some very pacey numbers here: escaping the Dalek cell, the lift scene, and the expedition party leaping across a very modestly proportioned chasm. Another very movie serial element of the plot if that there are basically two stories here. The first four episodes are about the four regulars exploring Skaro, encountering and being captured by the Daleks and then escaping whilst quickly helping out some more photogenic locals. It could have ended right there at the end of episode four but then Ian reveals that the Daleks took the fluid link from him when he was captured and now they can't leave. Thus begins adventure two: an arduous journey through the wilderness of Skaro so they can enter the city from an unexpected angle, beat the baddies and go home. Well, try to get home.

The reason I link this to the Flash Gordon movie serial format is because those serials tended to reuse sets, either by using them for different places or by setting a couple of stories in the same place. Don't get me wrong: this works, especially at this stage where individual episode titles mean we're dealing with a continuous series rather than separate stories.

It works because a lot of effort is made to build the world of Skaro before our eyes. As previously noted this world-building is enhanced by the set design and the fantastic, dry ice shrouded model of the Dalek city but it all extends from the decision to start with an episode featuring only the four regulars with nary a Dalek, Thal or ostentatiously camp schoolboy to distract us from the exploration of Skaro. Other characters are introduced slowly: first a Dalek sucker menacing Barbara (there will never be a better Doctor Who scream), then the Daleks themselves followed by Susan meeting the Thal Alydon...

Actually, best to stop there a moment. More Thals turn up later but the scene between Susan and Alydon requires some short examination because it contains the very first racefail in Doctor Who. I'd completely forgotten the scene and expected to start talking about race in the series two essays from now in Marco Polo but there it is: a Jewish girl kneeling on the floor, staring fascinated at a towering Aryan man and calling him “perfect”. An Aryan whose people will later be involved in an act of genocide. This is especially problematic as one of the qualities that got Carole Ann Ford the job was her “Unearthly” elfin appearance.

Oh, there's far, far worse to come but monsters are born in this scene when we find out that the mechanical Daleks share their planet with pretty people and guess who ends the story annihilated and who gets to rebuild civilisation?

Not that even the Daleks are monsters yet. I mean, they clearly eat. This might seem like an insignificant detail but at this stage we're still looking even at the bad aliens as creatures who have civilisation and needs such as food and shelter. The whole plotline with the Thals is about them suffering a bad harvest and striking out in search of new food supplies. There's a sense of history to the two societies and not just in the scene where the Doctor is treated to a short history and astronomy lesson from Diony (Terry Nation Bingo Card: cross out Sole Female Guest Character). There's also the nature of the Thal's pacifism.

The story requires that the Thals end up fighting the Daleks so, obviously, they're going to come around but the story allows that pacifism might not be a mistake here. Ian and Barbara argue the point with Barbara pragmatically pointing out that if the Thals don't fight she and Ian can never leave Skaro whilst Ian is more sympathetic to their beliefs. It all comes down, in the end, to whether or not the Thals really believe in pacifism or if its a fear of conflict brought on by the consequences of the last war. This is a world where food is hard to grow because most of the planet has been devastated by neutron bombs so its not difficult to understand the perspective. Ian proves to Alydon there are things he'll fight for when Ian threatens to take Diony to the Dalek city as a prisoner, whereupon Alydon proves that even in pacifist societies they have action movies as he delivers a leading man uppercut to Ian's chin. It's that realisation that spurs Alydon to action and to recruit volunteers to aid him in storming the city (Terry Nation Bingo Card: cross out Prosaic Speech About Bravery).

I'm not going to argue that this story is entirely respectful to pacifism, it does largely reject the philosophy, but it at least phrases it as a debate and floats the idea that there are circumstances where pacifism is a reasonable response. There are worse ways to treat pacifism, we'll be dealing with some of them later in the '60s.

And then there are the Daleks, did I mention them? One of the things about Nation's 1960s scripts are that the Daleks are very much a work in progress and will vary greatly in each appearance. It won't be until The Daleks' Master Plan that Nation will settle on the default characterisation the Daleks become known for and even then the last few steps will be taken by David Whitaker in his season four scripts. That's the future, though, and we'll never see these Daleks again: Daleks who refer to themselves as “I” an awful lot, who grow vegetables for food and have large stores of toilet paper (bit weird, that one). The static electricity thing gets a token mention in their next story but pretty much disappears after this, mainly because it is very, very limiting.

The Daleks are almost people here, very alien and well on their way to being monsters but essentially still people. Doctor Who doesn't do monsters just yet. Even when monsters start to be a thing, when the series resurrects the Daleks for a rematch, they're very much a unique case for the rest of the Hartnell era. That's one of Nation's enduring legacies in the series: he created the first monsters and when he took his ball and swanned off to America the series began to generate more and more monsters in an attempt to capture the magic again.

Like most of Nation's legacies, it's a mixed one. 

On the paperback Tomb Kings book

Games Workshop's pre-orders went up yesterday evening and I am trying to resist re-starting my Skaven army in the face of those Stormfiend Rat Ogres. The character classes are cool too.

However, its the paperback version of Warhammer Armies: Tomb Kings that interests me the most. Unlike the other recent softcovers (the End Times and Shield Of Baal campaign books) there's no real reason to do this: the Tomb King book has been out for several years, there's no shortage or potential shortage to address.

Let's read some tea leaves...

The first and most obvious thing to notice is that this book is, of course, cheaper than the hardcover. The hardcover is £30, this is £22.50, a decent discount but not so large that it would necessarily lead someone waiting for the softcover if the Tomb Kings book were new. Its also a more generous discount than on the softcover End Times books.

Personally, I like the idea of having a hardcover come out first and a softcover later and I'm not against it being applied to Army Books. Just speaking for myself I think I'll keep to the hardcovers, as I say the discount isn't a dealbreaking amount for me and the hardcovers are just more durable. My Vampire Counts book for instance has spent years being flicked through, kept open with a weight and thrown down any old where during games and its pretty much good as new. My softcover Bretonnia book, meanwhile, I've had to replace twice when the shitty glue binding disintegrated under the stress of similar treatment.

It might be a small discount but given the particular item we're talking about it lowers the price of entry into the hobby on one of a new gamer's first purchases. Now, I accept the high price of this hobby as a luxury product provided by a medium size company but I can't say a lower price of entry wouldn't help. I'm not one of those gamers who bitch how “98% of gamers want cheaper models” because I think that claim (that is a direct quote that goes around) is 2% lower than it should be: all gamers want cheaper models but there are economic realities that prevent this from happening, not least of which the fact the models sell well enough at their current price points to be profitable.

I might get a paperback of the Daemons Of Chaos book, though, or for other books where I want the background but not to play the army and put the book under all those stresses that keep causing my Bretonnia books to discorporate. So that's extra sales, at least potentially, made by offering customer choice.

Do I feel cheated, though, about having spent more money than I seem to have needed to on the hardcover? No, because I wanted the book and as I've demonstrated even if a softcover had been available then I'd have preferred the more durable hardcover. In fairness I also handed that money over four years ago so I more than understand if someone got the book last week they'd be more justified in being pissed off.

Friday 16 January 2015

Warhammer: Total War?

This is getting to be a bit of a hobby focussed week, isn't it? Well, I'm on holiday in January so I'm basically locked in my flat building Orks, that's where my head's at right now and next week I'll be back at work and we can talk about comics and Doctor Who and other stuff.

Anyway, the other day the Escapist reported that Creative Assembly have added a Warhammer game to their Total War slate. A Warhammer Fantasy game, by the way. I used to love the Total War games back at university, we all played them. I sucked at them but they were fun and possibilities of a Warhammer version intrigues me.

Will you be able to build underground strongholds as Skaven? Will Bretonnian cavalry be grotesquely overpowered (please)? Who will win an artillery duel: Empire or Dwarfs? How will Beastmen ambushes work? Will Estalia and Tilea be places you can invade? Cathay? What will Lizardmen be like and how long will it take to “build” Stegadons? Will there be underground maps for Dwarfs, Night Goblins and Skaven? Will special characters from the tabletop game be usable to buff your army?

I am being optimistic but, ultimately, once its out I will wait for reviews because I hear too many stories these days about micro-transactions and DLC; about games being released with enormous bugs (*cough* Assassins' Creed: Unity *cough*); early access and Kickstarter scams; and always online DRM. Why I don't own a current gen system? Because I want to buy a game, play it without spending extra money on it, play it without worrying about my internet going down and destroying my progress, I want the game to be complete and I want to actually own it and dispose of it however I please.

So when this comes out you can be damn sure I will wait to make sure none of that bollocks is in it and then I will try to conquer the Warhammer World using Bretonnia (if they're an option) and prove the superiority of mass cavalry over mass artillery.

Squishy superiority. Let's face it, I'm basically choosing an automatic Ultimate Hard Mode but I am a Bretonnia fanboy without shame. 

Thursday 15 January 2015

Space Orks Cast

One of Dave's big ideas for this campaign is that each player gets a pool of six character class units and if they die in game they're out of the fight for a game or two as they recover/get patched up with cybernetics/roil about in the Warp sulking. We have to submit the characters ahead of time and so here are mine:

Kaptin Thunderguts Snarla
(Warboss represented using the Kaptin Badrukk model)

My ultimate Warboss, the Kaptin of the ramshackle flotilla these Freebooterz maraud around the universe in. For those as nerdy as me about classic comedy: yes, that is a Navy Lark reference and it will not be the last. He's a pirate captain and an Ork so he's surly, loud and prone to violently punching minions.

Mistah Krumpins
(Black Reach Warboss)

Thunderguts' first mate and the character I intend to use as my Warlord more often than not. Thunderguts is, I admit, my fallback Warboss because I prefer the Black Reach model but I admit Badrukk looks 1000% more piratical. Being the man on the ground he'll be less “naval” than Thunderguts, more akin to a commander of marines than a ship's officer.

Owzat Gubbinz
(plastic Big Mek with Shokk Attack Gun)

THE MAIN CHARACTER. Yes, my main character is not my Warlord. He's a wandering Bik Mek who's joined up with the flotilla so he can loot battlegrounds and try out his new inventions on soft, squishy humans. He's well-in with Thunderguts so he's the flotilla's chief engineering officer.

Krakka Mugs
(Big Mek in mega armour)

Every army needs an internal rivalry, I feel and Krakka is Owzat's rival for the post of chief engineering officer. He's been with the flotilla longer and his creations are more stable but they don't produce such satisfyingly destructive results and so Thunderguts likes Owzat better. Much skullduggery ensues.

Mistah Chub
(plastic clampack Mek)

Krakka's witless minion (yes, they are basically Pertwee and Johnson from The Navy Lark, I told you that wasn't over). He'll be represented most days as a completely un-upgraded Mek there to keep my Zzap Guns firing. An idiot even by Ork standards.

Da Padre
(Finecast Weirdboy)

I'm not as up on 40k Ork background as I am on Fantasy Orc background so I'm not sure if Weirdboyz are at all spiritual figures like Shamans. Still, it'll be funny and allows me one more Navy Lark gag.


Now I just need to build this army within the next fortnight. 

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Facing the Green Tide (1,000 points Space Orks army list)

Now we get to the part of the project where I usually screw up completely: the concrete plan. This is usually when things go wrong but since I have most of these models alerady it shouldn't be too hard to paint them up. Plus, they're Orks, no well will mind if the paintjob isn't up to standard, it'll just look authentic.

Warboss wearing 'eavy armour and armed with twin-linked shoota and power claw. 92pts
Big Mek wearing 'eavy armour and armed with Shokk Attack Gun. 89pts
5 Meganobz including Boss Nob armed with twin-linked shootas and power klaws including rokkit launcha and scorcha. 210 pts
20 Boyz armed with sluggas and choppas, big shoota and rokkit launcha, Boss Nob armed with Big Choppa. 140 pts
20 Gretchin armed with Grot blastas and 2 Runtherds armed with Grabba Sticks. 75 pts
Fast Attack
3 Deffkoptas armed with twin-linked rokkit launchas. 90pts
Heavy Support
5 Flash Gitz including Kaptin armed with Snazzguns, bosspoles, stikkbombs and gitfindas. 110pts
3 Killa Kans armed with kan klaws and rokkit launcha, grotzooka and scorcha, extra armour on all Kans. 195pts

1,001 points

Yes, I'm a point over, my group doesn't really care about a couple of points here and there.

It is, I freely admit, a little light boots-on-the-ground-wise, which is a bad thing for an Ork army to be. The 1,500 points list will have at least another twenty man squad of Boyz and some other infantry but this is based purely on what I can do quickly with the minimum number of purchases and effort. Also on what looks pretty because that's the best way to keep your own interest up, I've found: I love the Shokk Attack Gun and the Flash Gitz.