Saturday 28 February 2015

He lived long, he prospered (Leonard Nimoy 1931 - 2015)

Don't grieve, Jim, it is illogical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I have been, and always shall be, your friend. Live long and prosper.”
- Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Leonard Nimoy died on Friday of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with which he was diagnosed last year. The man was, of course, a legend as far as people like me are concerned. I literally do not remember a time when I wouldn't have recognised “Mister Spock”, original series Star Trek reruns being a staple of BBC programming since before I was born.

I will admit his work outside of Star Trek is largely a mystery to me (aside from Three Men And A Baby, which he directed) and there are productions mentioned in his obituaries that do sound interesting, especially the film Never Forget, in which he plays a Holocaust survivor suing a group of Holocaust deniers.

Ambivalent as he often was about Spock (his two autobiographies were tied I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock) there's no denying the character constituted an enormous body of work by any actor's standards, both in terms of broadcast hours and the years he played the role. He first appeared as Spock in the pilot episode The Cage and last did so in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Until the next film is released his contribution to Star Trek literally encompasses the whole length of its lifespan over nearly five decades.

It seems almost inconceivable that even now a Star Trek film is being prepared that will be released into a world where the franchise's longest standing contributor will no longer be around to see it. At the end of the day, though, that's the nature of artistic legacy: to be outlived by your contribution to the culture.

Nimoy's last tweet, which I saw shared by his friend and Star Trek co-star George Takei, read: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.” 

Hobby Goals for February and March


Passed: 2 of 3

I did get my 1000 points Space Ork built, which was good for getting some games in (another one tomorrow) but bad from the perspective that I now have a huge number of barely painted Orks sitting to one side of my paint station.

I did get a start on my Inquisitorial Warband with the models I've already posted and ordering some others to do more conversions.

Failed: 1 of 3

The Heroic Scale Female Heads are currently out of stock at Statuesque Miniatures so I couldn't order them. Sadly, I'm also getting cold feet on them since I've been working on other projects in the meantime. Also, they're metal, not resin as I originally believed and I bloody hate working with metal.


Goal the First: Paint 250 points of Space Orks
With most other armies I'd have said 500 points but this is a horde army we're talking about so 250 it is. I really, really want to beat this goal good and hard but getting a quarter of the army up and finished seems a decent goal for what's looking to be a sunny month where I won't want to be indoors much during the day.

Goal the Second: Build my Looted Wagon
I've got it mostly planned out, I just need to get the glue and clippers out. It also gives me something to do with all the Mek Gunz parts I have left spare.

Goal the Third: Paint the first four members of the warband

Striking while the iron's hot, I don't want to lose inspiration on this project now I've finally started it. 

Friday 27 February 2015

Black Templars insignia and disagreeing with canon

Canon is a funny thing in Warhammer. The official literature isn't so much there to define what you as the player can do with the setting as provide soft limits. There are hundreds more Space Marine chapters in the background than have ever been named, endless unidentified worlds raising endless undefined Imperial Guard regiments. Gamers and hobbyists have spent three decades now slotting their own ideas into those gaps.

We've all done it, whether we're creating a whole new Space Marine chapter or just our own Captain for an existing one. Within the confines of our own gaming groups canon is ours to define using the official literature as a foundation.

Which is the long way of saying that sometimes, just sometimes, we can just turn around and call the official, GW-sanctioned background wrong. For instance, no power on Earth can convince me the Grey Knights would ever accept technical support from an alien orang-utan when there are perfectly good tech-priests about the place. And then there's these:
These are the official unit markings of Black Templars squads. As far as I am concerned only the top two are correct. The reason this comes up is I recently inherited some kits from fellow gamers: a half-depleted Black Templars Upgrade sprue and an untouched box of Sternguard, plus an old metal Black Templars Marshall. I've always liked Black Templars so I thought I'd make a single unit out of Sword Brethren out of the Sternguard, maybe use them as a detachment for my Imperial Guard some time down the line.

Then I looked in the Space Marine Codex and saw that Sword Brethren had black and red markings. No. No no no no no. Black Templars have black iron crosses on a white background. All of them.

This isn't just petulance on my part. Mostly, but not entirely. What got me into Warhammer 40,000 were the Index Astartes collections and, in particular, the Black Templars article...
so my first image of these Marines was the very stark black and white aesthetic and anything else just seems wrong to me. I'm not saying GW don't have the right to expand the background however they like and I'm not saying anyone is wrong for painting their Sword Brethren with red insignia, simply that as canon is largely ours to define there's a certain freedom to use our own definitions of what's right if we disagree with something.

Of course, I am forcing myself to paint white here so maybe this freedom isn't all its cracked up to be.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Inquisitor Hex's Warband pt.1: The Inner Circle

Apologies for the quality of photographs, can't seem to get good light today. Still, good enough for unpainted miniatures and I did so want to post the conversions before the end of the month, starting the warband being one of my hobby goals for February. So here they are: Inquisitor Hex and the most longstanding members of his warband, his most trusted lieutenants (click pictures to embiggen):
Inquisitor Laurento Hex of the Ordo Xenos
I didn't want Hex to be too showy. He's not the blood and thunder type of Inquisitor who storms into combat clad in power armour and swinging a thunder hammer. Rather, he's an investigator who prefers to work undercover, adopting a role and playing just a little larger than life. He was an actor before he was an inquisitor. The Empire Witch Hunter seemed low key enough, especially once I'd sawn off the huge Puritan hat and substituted a head from the Cadian Command Squad.
Alvin Callum, Imperial Strategist
Callum is a very old character of mine, my point of view character for every Imperial army I've collected. He started as a reporter for The 700 Wonders Of The Imperium, reporting on an Imperial Crusade. Yes, he was Ford Prefect 40k, I admit it. He ended up joining the warband where his multi-track mind and genius for finding connections soon made him Hex's closest confidante and even, though Hex would never admit it, his closest friend. They've been apart for a while with Callum deep undercover at Imperial Strategy, but now they're together again and I don't intend to part them again any time soon.

I put more thought into this one than any of the other conversions: he's wearing a Cadian officer's uniform but the head (from the Empire Pistoliers sprue) has long, flowing hair to show he's not “proper” Guard and the pile of scrolls in his hand (from the Empire Luminark) refers to his past as a scrivener and his current role as the warband's researcher and mission co-ordinator.
Junko Antioch, Sanctioned Psyker
I've been reading Graham McNeil's … of Mars trilogy and one concept that really grabbed me was the idea of “Ultramarian optimism”. I never gave Junko much background back in the day so I decided he's from Macragge because the idea of an optimistic sanctioned psyker appealed to me, hence the Ultra on his stave. He's a powerful telekine and very much the muscle of the warband, though he has some talents as a prognosticator.

Legs and torso come from the Cadian Command Squad, the arms from a Leman Russ tank commander and the stave is made from the Ultra out of the Space Marine Commander atop pole from the Empire Flagellants.
Punichello “Punch” Texman, Rogue Trader
Every warband needs transport and in this case its provided by Punch, the eleventh son of rogue trader Julius Texman. Julius' life was saved by Hex many years ago and in return he lent the inquisitor a spaceship, a skeleton crew and one of his less immediately useful sons on indefinite loan.

I've never liked the plastic Commissar sculpt, I think its overdone and badly proportioned but what it does have is ridiculously ostentatious clothes. I got rid of the silly sword, replaced with with a hand from a Cadian Command Squad special weapon and swapped out the head for a Bretonnian Knight Errant (with a ruff made from a purity seal to cover an embarrassingly raggedy join). Paint it in ludicrously clashing colours and I should have a typically over-dressed rogue trader. 

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

Whatever flaws this film might have I genuinely recommend it for no other reason than I haven't seen design porn this good since The Fifth Element. This is a fantastic looking movie with every design department firing on all cylinders and for that alone it is worth seeing.

Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a young woman living in the first act of a romantic comedy. She's the daughter of a Russian immigrant (played with matriarchal relish by Maria Doyle Kennedy) working for her family's cleaning business as a maid. She's got the large, well-meaning but mildly unsupportive family; she's a romantic confidante to one of her wealthy clients; and she has a simple yet romantic aim to earn enough to buy a brass telescope like the one her deceased stargazer father owned. There's even a whole astrology theme about how her birth horoscope says she'll meet her one true love. If someone pitched you that set up you'd be confident in predicting where the film was going: she'd meet a man who combined her employer's wealth with her father's romanticism, class-based comedy would ensue and it would all end with them kissing under a starry sky.

Except instead aliens try to kill her at a fertility clinic and she's saved by a genetically engineered human-canine super-soldier called Caine.

This is the central gag of the film: Jupiter is from Romantic Comedy World but Caine drags her into Sweeping Space Opera World and the fun comes from the tension between the two. When it works it works fantastically, like the very Douglas Adams section where Jupiter plays the Arthur Dent role in an extended sketch about labyrinthine bureaucracy guest starring Terry Gilliam. A lot of times, though, the tension that should be animating the story disappears and we're left with Jupiter playing damsel to Caine the space hero.

But, my God, the visuals! One of the space villains has a private army of dragons wearing greatcoats; the spaceships look like flying cathedrals or mansions; Georgian fashion is all the rage in space; and all the space characters have this affected, performative delivery that works wonderfully to distinguish itself from the naturalistic style used by the Earth characters.

There are a lot of big ideas, this being a Wachowskis film, and being a Wachowskis film some of them are well-explored and some of them aren't. The outer space setting hinges on a large yet abstract atrocity that gets plentiful exploration while the smaller but more immediately relatable way in which Jupiter is connected to it remains strangely unexplored even though its the whole reason the powerful Abraxis family are alternately trying to murder, seduce and hoodwink her. There are times when I feel that what the Abraxis' think is happening with Jupiter and what is actually happening with her are completely different things.

So, all in all, a film well worth seeing even if it keeps working on separate levels instead of merging the different levels the way its better set pieces manage. 

Tuesday 24 February 2015

After "The Beginning" (what I thought)

It helps that my assumptions about this story were totally wrong. This is in no way the story of why the Doctor absconds from Gallifrey, though the script makes plentiful allusions to Lungbarrow so clearly Platt sees that as a story already told. Fair enough, though as he has Susan note “there's always someone else's version”.

The first episode is a patchwork of bits and pieces from various previous sources, the little details about the Doctor's origins we already know: the Hand Of Omega floats along unnamed, there's a silent cameo by Clara straight out of The Name Of The Doctor, and even a moment that explains away how Susan could have named the TARDIS and it be the generic Time Lord name at the same time. There's even a sweet scene that calls back, or perhaps forwards, to Idris' description of their first flight in The Doctor's Wife.

Talking of Time Lords, somehow, in spite of all the other sacred cows being slaughtered and lines being crossed, Platt keeps to two of the big unwritten rules of Doctor Who fiction: at no point in this story are the Doctor's people named as Time Lords and there planet is never called Gallifrey. No one seems to know why this started but no matter how radical or revisionist the writer's inclinations might be none of them use “Time Lord” in a story set before The War Games and no one uses “Gallifrey” in one set before The Time Warrior. I'm sure there's one or two exceptions (The Empire of Glass springs to mind) but it really does seem to be a hard limit for an awful lot of writers. Not that there aren't anachronisms aplenty: there's a sonic screwdriver, the Hand, and a few bits of Gallifreyan lore get described even if they aren't named.

This visit to the very beginning is pretty brief and before long the Doctor (and he is “the Doctor” here, which is a little odd in light of how he gets named in An Unearthly Child, but I suppose he has to be called something) and Susan are in the TARDIS and taking off in a mad dash to escape the (unnamed) Chancellery Guard.

Much of the rest of the first episode plays out as a TARDIS story, a prequel to The Edge of Destruction in a way. It even has an explanation for the black sharpie inscription on the fast return switch, which is both unbelievable fanwank and rather cute.

There's a lot of “origin” material here outside of the TARDIS stuff. Since we see this story through Susan's narration we get a very sensory experience of the first time she and the Doctor walk out onto an alien world. We get to hear their first encounter with aliens and the moment when the Doctor begins his lifelong obsession with planet Earth.

The big contribution to the mythos here is, of course, Terry Molloy as Quadrigger Stoyn, this trilogy's villain. In this story he's some poor pleb the Doctor and Susan accidentally abduct (he won't be the last, of course) since he was working on decommissioning the TARDIS as they took off. He's been abducted, scarred in the process and is none too happy with the Doctor for it. He's a pretty useful contrast given that Platt takes pains to make the Doctor a rebel by his people's standards but not a hero by ours, keeping that initial TV arc intact.

Stoyn is portrayed as a by-the-book sort of no ambition who just wants to get home, a home the Doctor is dead set on not returning to. By the end of the story it becomes clear just how much Stoyn is willing to compromise to get home, a selfishness that makes the grumpy, stubborn pre-Season One Doctor heroic by comparison instead of invalidating the way he develops in the series.

So, overall: yes, I enjoyed it and it avoids a lot of the issues I anticipated it stumbling into. Its really less “The Beginning” and more “The First Adventure”, which is a much smaller hit to the mystery of how it all began. 

Monday 23 February 2015

Before "The Beginning" (philosophical issues)

Tomorrow I'm going to post a review of The Beginning, Marc Platt's Companion Chronicle telling the story of how the Doctor and Susan stole the TARDIS. As I write this I haven't yet listened to it because I want to get some thoughts down about the whole idea of Doctor Who “prequels” and why I find them a little problematic.

On one level I think its important that Doctor Who begin with An Unearthly Child. There's a definite character arc that starts there and pays off somewhere during Marco Polo in which the Doctor moves from being a scientific observer to something like a functional hero figure. This makes pre-Unearthly Child stories a challenge, to say the least, because before Ian and Barbara stumble into his life the Doctor really isn't the sort of person who has adventures.

This isn't to say there have been no good stories set before the series but the ones I've liked tend not to be about the Doctor so much as Susan. The novella Time And Relative and the audio The Alchemists both use Susan as a protagonist and the Doctor (known simply as “Grandfather” at this point) as more of a background figure. In Time And Relative, Susan and her school friends are trying to reach the Doctor through a vicious snowstorm while in The Alchemists he's been abducted by the SA and Susan is trying to rescue him.

The Beginning is a different beast, I feel, since this is very much a Doctor-centric idea: the moment he absconds from Gallifrey. True, the story is (and can only be) narrated by Carole Ann Ford as Susan but there's little way I can foresee to background the Doctor in this set-up.

Then there's the issue of whether this is something the mythos needs. There are stories I am sure every fan has written in their head at some point and the big two are 1) the death of the Thirteenth Doctor and 2) this. When just about every fan has their own personal conception of such a huge unseen moment it runs the risk of being disappointing by default just because it differs from what people imagined. There's certainly a strain of criticism concerning The Time Of The Doctor that follows this (not that there aren't valid criticisms of Time to be had, just that quite a lot of criticism falls into this category).

Of course, this is a real moment of culmination for Marc Platt, who has been working towards this story for a very long time. His 1989 TV script Ghost Light was meant to be about visiting the Doctor's family home and he eventually told that story in his novel Lungbarrow which introduced ideas about the Doctor's life on Gallifrey he expanded in the audio Auld Mortality. So he has form, to say the least, though some of his ideas have always been controversial.

And that's not to mention that, in my personal view, the Big Finish audios are canon. I'm of the opinion that just about every officially published Doctor Who story is canon regardless of contradictions so this, to me, is THE story of how this went down, not just a version of the story. That raises expectations in a way that might not be helpful to my eventual appraisal of the story.

Tomorrow: what I actually thought of the thing. 

Sunday 22 February 2015

10 years of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Broken internet didn't allow me to post this on the day but Saturday was the tenth anniversary of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the best cartoons ever. I'll admit I was late to the party, only checking it out around the time the HERESY... ahem, I mean “film” was being advertised. There was a lot of buzz about how good the series was but I'd only vaguely heard of it (not a fandom I'm connected to, honestly) so I decided to check out a couple of episodes, one or two, just to try it...

I think I got all the way to Sozin's Comet in about a fortnight. It grabbed me, it really grabbed me in afew series do. Its a great piece of work on every level: the stories are well-structured and engaging; the animation is first rate; and, most of all, the characters are genuinely complex and fascinating. You could lecture on those characters. Even a few years down the line Azula is still one of my favourite villains ever and I think Sokka is right up there with Xander Harris as one of the best “everyman” fantasy sidekicks of all time.

Apropos of nothing, every time I re-watch the series I'm always surprised how little Suki is in Fire. The memory cheats and I do so love that character.

It takes a lot for a cartoon to impress me, quite simply because my generation always has Batman: The Animated Series to compare things to. One of the greatest legacies of the Batman series, as well as its fantastic writing and art direction, was its long history of getting away with shit. Time moves on, though, and every legacy will be bettered. Over a decade separates Batman and The Last Airbender so obviously the technical side improved: Avatar's animation was smoother, it was written more as a serial instead of an anthology, but most of all it got away with more shit than Batman could.

We're talking about a series here whose main character is the sole survivor of a genocide; where another was facially mutilated by his own father; and multiple characters suffers enduring emotional scars from bereavement. Hell, there's at least one pretty obvious gag about Sokka and Suki sneaking into each other's tents at night. Each and every villain has a solid, explicable motivation and none are irredeemable (except perhaps Ozai, who's less a character and more a force of nature in the narrative).
And that's all before going into Legend Of Korra, which actually managed to sneak in the development (even if not the actual culmination) of two of its principal female characters becoming a couple. Be quiet, they are, that's textbook walking off into the sunset, right there.

Why is getting away with stuff so important? Well, it ensures that art is remembered. As I say, my generation's go to example is Batman because nothing else we watched as kids had villains using actual guns or would make any of them as evil as the Joker, who actually killed and left the victims' corpses with horrible rictus grins. People who grew up in the Seventies still remember the golden age of Doctor Who when it was a horror series that delighted in scaring the pants off them. Pushing boundaries isn't the only reason these things are remembered but I do think it was an important factor in making a quality product with a traceable cultural legacy.

Pushing boundaries also respects the audience's intelligence. I have a lot of younger cousins and I have watched some absolute dreck aimed at their age bracket. I concede that I found some awful stuff entertaining when I was their age and there's no shame in that, kids are kids and critical taste develops with age and experience. I do think its important for children's fiction to respect their intelligence. Kids understand more than most adults think they do, subtext is not an alien concept to them because if it was then fairy tales and religious parables would be pointless as teaching tools.

The Last Airbender and Legend Of Korra are series about complex young characters inheriting a screwed up world from the older generation and using their creativity and fresh perspective to make a better world. Brilliantly, this is even true of Korra, where the characters are inheriting and fixing the world the Last Airbender kids inherited and fixed because progress should be continuous. Both series operate with an explicit spiritual dimension not to proselytise but to foreground individual personal development against the huge overarching plots of war and social unrest. Whole essays could be written on Korra's body type in light of her being the series lead; on Sokka's evolving attitudes towards women; on Zuko's morality; on how the series treats the concept of destiny; on Toph's spirituality; the glorious confidence trick of Varrick in Spirits; and any number of other subjects.

And you know what? I think I'm gonna. These are two of my favourite series of all time, I want to celebrate them for a while and a tenth anniversary seems as good an excuse as any. 

Friday 13 February 2015

999 Shades of Grey

Today the 50 Shades Of Grey film comes out, just in time for Valentine's Day. Now, I thought I'd get a post out the rather inept moral panic building across Facebook but it seems there's greater comedy to be had.

The London Fire Brigade and, one assumes, others across the country, have briefed their officers to expect a huge rise in callouts for people trapped in handcuffs, ropes and other ill-chosen attempts to re-enact scenes from the film. This isn't unexpected, but the BBC news article about it lists similar incidents the LFB have been called out for including, goodness knows why, a buy getting his penis trapped in a toaster.

I want to know but I don't want to know, if you get my drift.

As to my opinion on 50 Shades itself? I haven't read it, every woman I work with has and none of them have managed to put together a recommendation that makes me want to read it. The Metro review yesterday had a failed climax joke as a headline and a couple other reviews basically mumble about it being better than the book but compare it unfavourably to Secretary (there are lots of papers ion the canteen). I'm aware the book has some issues with its treatment of consent, hard limits and personal safety (or so I'm told) but I'm also aware that BDSM fantasy and reality can often be quite separate, the one being a performance of the other. So long as people know 50 Shades is a fantasy and not a totally realistic portrayal of BDSM that's fine. Problem being of course that, like the Fire Brigade, I know there will always be idiots.

I will probably end up watching it, if only because numerous female friends will insist on it to embarrass me. I won't actually be embarrassed but a surprising number of people see me as some sort of innocent who will be shocked by sexuality. It is so much fun disabusing them of this.

Even the toaster thing didn't shock me so much as baffle me. 

Thursday 12 February 2015

The Looted Wagon Project

I bought a Leman Russ kit yesterday, for two reasons. The first was because there are a couple of picture in the Astra Militarum Codex where the tank commander seems to have a left-handed laspistol, which I need because of a conversion I'm planning. As it turns out this component is a conversion and therefore does not exist. Oh well, Plan B is still viable.

Plan B, the way I managed to con myself into spending £31 on a big kit for a single component that doesn't exist, is to make a Looted Wagon for my Orks.

I love the idea of Looted Wagons, mainly because I remember the days when not everything in a Codex would have a model. That those days are gone is unequivocally a good thing but I do sort of miss it nonetheless., especially since I'm planning a Renegades & Heretics army so I need to get back into converting again. AS Looted Wagon is the perfect project to get back on the horse with.

What's great is it doesn't even have to look halfways sensible. I can come up with any insane, over-busy creation and it will look perfectly in character. I can reeeeealy go to town on this.

So far I have the Leman Russ plus spare parts from the Meganobs, Mek Gunz and Killa Kans kits. That's a lot of gubbins I can strap to the Russ' chassis. I also, since you only need two to operate a Mek Gun, have some spare Gretchin I didn't make for the second Zzap Gun who can be clambering over the thing keeping it running.

This is going to be fun. 

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Spider-Man movies version 3.0

It seems, and by “seems” I mean “has been officially confirmed” that Marvel and Sony have finally agreed to shared custody of the Spider-Man film license.

When I read the news the phrase that struck out to me was “Andrew Garfield will likely be recast”. I did a bit of a double take at that, to be honest, not because I'm particularly fond of his version of Peter Parker but because it sounded harsher than they meant. I mean, recasting Spider-Man I can understand, but to go so far as to recast Andrew Garfield? That's just plain cruel, the lad doesn't deserve that.

As an unabashed Marvel Studios fanboy and a not being fond of the Amazing Spider-Man reboot I'm looking forward to this. It seems the deal is that Sony will continue to make solo Spider-Man projects and Marvel will then use that Spider-Man in crossover projects.

There were rumours a while back that Spider-Man would be the post-credits teaser in Captain America: Civil War, so maybe that's on again. Spider-Man turning up in an Avengers movie is a stone cold bonker certainty just because of the amount of money that would make (an amount of money that has been enough just in theory to make Sony not want to lose the license).

Another reboot, then, and in my own humble opinion I just want to put this out there:

Do we really need another origin? I'm not saying the Andrew Garfield version should continue, that project is pretty much damned by its own critical and financial failure, but that story's been told twice in recent memory and it was hardly obscure to begin with. Uncle Ben is almost as famous an origin as Krypton blowing up or the Waynes being gunned down in the street. Spider-Man is one of the few superheroes where the filmmakers can rely on the audience having a genuine working knowledge of the character.

So maybe this time let's just get on with things? Cover the origin in a flashback or a montage and dive straight into the adventure. One of the problems with Amazing Spider-Man 1 was the creators trying to redo the origin in a way that was markedly different from Raimi's Spider-Man, hence the incoherent speech Michael Sheen rambles his way through instead of saying “With great power comes great responsibility” and the painfully C-list villain.

Of course, this could all go wrong. Marvel will have an exec on the Sony projects so two studios that don't exactly have a history of getting on will be working together closely, pursuing their own projects with the same property simultaneously.

Maybe this will finally be the moment when Marvel Studios finally over-reaches itself. And I'd like to be clear: this prophecy of doom isn't motivated by Sony's involvement, it isn't like I believe them to be completely incapable, depending on my mood I credit them with either two or three decent Spider-Man movies. Rather, I think that what might sink Spider-Man 3.0 is what sunk Spider-Man 2.0 and even the final instalment of Spider-Man 1.0: design by committee. Two companies, two sets of execs reporting to two sets of bean-counters on a multi-billion dollar property.

Maybe tomorrow nothing will have been announced and I can get back to whimsical fun about comics or sexual politics. I keep meaning to write something about the sexual morals of Saved By The Bell (no, seriously) but people will insist on announcing things, its most inconvenient. 

Tuesday 10 February 2015

UNIT: Extinction (and its implications)

Sacred cows left, right and centre with Big Finish these days. No sooner do they get done announcing that they're doing an honest-to-goodness regeneration story for Colin Baker than they announce not only a new UNIT spin-off, but one based on modern Doctor Who.

The consequences of this are extensive and slightly metaphysical but first let's address the actual announcement: four new UNIT box sets starring Jemma Redgrave as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. I'm quietly optimistic about this, which I know is less effusive than my usual reaction to a Big Finish announcement, but UNIT is a property that's never really got off the ground as well as one might expect. BBV had Downtime and the Auton Trilogy back in the day, which were decent but necessarily limited; Big Finish ran a single UNIT miniseries in 2005 that was below average had nowhere near enough Nicholas Courtney; and they also did UNIT: Dominion in 2012 but that was more about piloting the Seventh Doctor and Klein than pitching a new UNIT series.

(Though, whilst we're on the subject, is it too much to hope for another Seventh Doctor, Klein and Will? The one in 2013 was fantastic).

It is actually strange that it never takes off as its clearly the most spin-off ready concept Doctor Who has. Big Finish has had such success with spin-off based on characters who appeared in only a single TV story (Jago & Litefoot, Counter Measures), with characters who have never met canonically (Leela and Romana in Gallifrey) and even characters spinning off from other spin-off media (Bernice Summerfield, Iris Wildthyme) yet UNIT evades them.

But quite aside there's something deeper going on because this represents something that's been building since the build up to the 50th anniversary: the healing of Doctor Who into one cohesive canon again. The last few years the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” series has been breached in both directions: all thirteen Doctor teaming up to save Gallifrey; the multi-Doctor audio and comic projects; Paul McGann playing the Big Finish Eighth Doctor for his regeneration in The Night Of The Doctor; but, most of all, the actual depiction of events from the Time War, the great unknown that divides the two eras of televised Doctor Who.

Plus, more Jemma Redgrave, which is always a good thing. Who knows, maybe we'll see this UNIT interacting with other elements of the Big Finish canon in time. The TV series has come to terms with representing its past so maybe that past can start interacting with its own future? I mean, this is a Big Finish spin-off so there's only so long before either Bernice Summerfield or Jago & Litefoot make a guest appearance.

On the Doctor Who side, I'd love one of the classic Doctors to meet the Judoon. I think they'd make a great villain for Tom Baker, in particular. 

Monday 9 February 2015

After Action Report #1: Orks vs. Astra Militarum

Seventh Edition, First Impressions
1000 points, my Orks versus Matt's Traitor Astra Militarum (with summoned Nurgle Deamons). My first game of 7th edition. My first game since the release day of 6th edition, in fact. I lost 14 Victory Points to 8 but it really came down to the last two turns.

I have to say I really like the Strategic Objective cards. We were pulling three per turn and it really adds a level of unpredictability to the game I've always felt was lacking. The constant shifting of priorities was fun, especially in my mad Turn Six dash to equalise as I tried desperately to take out Matt's Warlord (and gain D3 Victory Points) with a one-Deffkopta suicide charge. I almost did it too, winning the combat but Matt passed his morale check and my hopes of running the man down evaporated.

It was a genuinely tense moment.

Matt's fifty man Conscript Platoon led by Ministorum Priest continues its long run as his MVP, especially now he has realised how many shots he can get out of it with Front Rank, Fire! Back Rank, Fire! Seriously, there was one turn where the unit pumped one hundred and ten shots into my Boyz.

Lessons Learnt
I either need bigger Boyz mobs or faster ones, so either expand to thirty Boyz per mob in the 1500 points version or invest in some trucks to get smaller units into combat faster.

I need to remember that Furious Charge exists, as I forgot several times.

I also forgot that Waaagh! existed for almost the entire game and then it was too late to use.

Matt's Wyrdvane Psykers should be a real priority for me. In my defence, I knew this before and took out two of the five in my first Shooting Phase but then he hid them behind sight-blocking cover where they rode out the rest of the game, summoning Plaguebearers and Nurglings in peace. In hindsight I should have sent the Deffkoptas in to finish them off.

Flash Gitz are fantastic: great guns (which have more components than an entire Space Marine, by the way) and they have the combat ability of a Nob. I had my Warboss accompanying one of the Boyz mobs but I'm seriously considering surrounding him with Flash Gitz since Snazzguns are Assault weapons.

I had the Killa Kans figured all wrong, I was using them for shooting but once they entered combat with the Plaguebearers... well, okay, they died but took out a few in return. Really, I should have used them to tie up the Conscripts for a few turns, stop them slightly shifting the outer edges of their enormous unit to leisurely claim objectives.

The Mek Guns didn't get much of a testing. Matt only had two vehicles: a Chimera and an Armageddon-Pattern Armoured Sentinel, the first went down in turn one and the other was on the far side of the board. So my fantastically powerful artillery spent the rest of the game sniping off a Guardsman or two per turn from his flamer-toting Veteran Squad.

Forging a Narrative
Aside from the Deffkopta suicide-charging Matt's Warlord there were no real “cinematic moments” to build epic rivalries around. This might be for the best as Matt and I will be team mates in Dave's campaign. Also, I only won that combat in theory, the victory didn't achieve anything.

Still, one of the Gretchin manning the Mek Guns sprang back to life after we discovered we'd resolved a round of shooting incorrectly.

Good game, better than any game of 40k I've had since the Hallowed Third Edition and I'm much more motivated to get this army painted. 

Friday 6 February 2015


The 1k version of my Space Orks is built and Matt has challenged me to a game on Sunday so I can get used to 7th edition before the campaign begins (which will happen as soon as the guy running it recovers from severe dental surgery). It'll be me with the Orks versus Matt's Astra Militarum Traitor Guard.

Matt's MVP these days is a fifty-strong Conscript unit (representing a Mutant Rabble) bolstered by a Priest which has so far proved nigh-invulnerable. The only thing that has really dented them was Ian's Leman Russ Exterminator and even then the Priest meant they just stood there and took it. Given this I felt I really needed more boots on the ground than I had so I've swapped out the Meganobz from my previous army list for twenty extra Boyz, two Zzap Gunz and an unupgraded Mek. It goes a little something like this:

Warboss wearing 'eavy armour and armed with twin-linked shoota and power claw. 92 points
Big Mek (wearing 'eavy armour and armed with Shokk Attack Gun. 89 points
Mek armed with slugga, choppa and Mek's tools. 15 points
20 Boyz armed with sluggas and choppas, 2 big shootas, Boss Nob with Big Choppa. 140 points
20 Boyz armed with sluggas and choppas, 2 rokkit launchas, Boss Nob with Big Choppa. 140 points
20 Gretchin armed with Grot blastas with 2 Runtherds armed with Grabba Sticks. 75 points
Fast Attack
3 Deffkoptas armed with twin-linked rokkit launchas. 90 points
Heavy Support
5 Flash Gitz including Kaptin armed with Snazzguns, bosspoles, stikkbombs and gitfindas. 110 points
3 Killa Kans armed with kan klaws and rokkit launcha, grotzooka and scorcha, all upgraded with extra armour 195 points
2 Mek Gunz upgraded to Zzap Gunz. 46 points

Total: 992 points

My battle plan is non-existent beyond the fact of having a pretty even split between ranged and melee units. To be honest what I'm most looking forward to is writing some background for these units based on their performance. I am pretty confident I'll lose, this being my first game and things having gotten rather more complicated since I last played.

Also this is the first time I've used an army that doesn't use the nice, easily recognisable weapons of the Imperium so I anticipate much rules flitting as I try to work out what exactly my units do.

But I must remember the sage advice of the 4th edition Ork codex: “Orkses is never defeated in battle. If we win we win, if we die we die fighting so it don't count. If we runs for it we don't die neither, cos we can come back for annuver go, see!”

Thursday 5 February 2015

I am a happy little fanboy (The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure)

I will be perfectly honest: as cool as it is that Big Finish are doing this specific project, I'm just as pleased that there'll be more Colin Baker stories this year. As heavily as Big Finish promotes their Tom Baker and Paul McGann stories by giving them series of their own, there's no doubt in my mind that Colin Baker is the jewel in their crown.

In a way Big Finish have done a rehabilitation job on every Doctor they've worked with: they made McCoy darker and less trustworthy than he could have been on TV; they've given Davison scripts that actually flatter his talents; they've totally re-worked Paul McGann's character; and they've shown what can be done with Tom Baker when he doesn't need to be placed at the centre of everything. With Colin Baker they pretty much took the concept of his character back to the drawing board, dialled back his unpleasantness and recast it as pragmatism. They've given him more mature, more complex companions and stories that lean the same way.

And now they're giving him a final story, the ending his era never got.

They are not, admittedly, the first. Gary Russell wrote a novel, Spiral Scratch, that covered the issue and there's another self-published one by Craig Hinton. Still, there's something to be said for a finale that actually stars Colin Baker. Even better they've got Michael Jayston back to play the Valeyard, the character who should have been but didn't have the chance to become Colin Baker's defining villain. Final stories are important, they offer a definitive statement on the Doctor whose era they end: Troughton's insistence that evil must be fought, Pertwee declaring that facing his fears was more important than continuing living; Davison dying to save a girl he barely knows; even Survival gives us a very intimate look into the McCoy's era's moral structure.

Quite besides that there's the simple joy of hearing Baker and India Fisher playing opposite one another again. Those were amongst my favourite Big Finish stories and, contrarian that I am, I think the Sixth Doctor/Charley team is actually better than the Eighth Doctor/Charley team.

Oh, and Jago and Litefoot are in it, always a plus.

I wonder what the Sixth Doctor's last words will be? Whatever they are they have to better than the “last words” Colin Baker got on television:

Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice.”

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Army Building 2: Matching the picture in your head

Sometimes when you're building a model, especially a conversion, you get a picture in your head and you won't be happy until its perfect. I had this idea for a character in my Inquisitorial warband, an Imperial Strategist called Alvin Callum (a very old character of mine) where he would be dual wielding a pair of laspistols. I was going to do this using a pistol from the Cadian Shock Troops box and one from the Cadian Command Squad...

except that I misremembering the laspistol from the Command Squad being held in the model's left hand so now my cool gunslinger idea doesn't work. I thought there was an off-hand version for the standard bearer but clearly I was imagining things. He'd have been aiming along the Command Squad pistol as he held the Shock Troops one up against the side of his head. Would have looked great.

So now I'm going to ridiculous lengths to make this happen. There are two options: try to shave down a Tempestus Scions hotshot laspistol (which is left-handed) to look enough like the Guard one or this:
which I found on the project log of one Kierdale over at Bolter &Chainsword. Why am I going to all this trouble for a character who will not be that impressive to look at, won;t be that powerful in-game and doesn't matter all that much?

Because this character is actually important to me. He's been a part of the background for every Imperial army I've had: he started as a scrivener who fell into the orbit of my Inquisitor, he's worked with my Space Marines, joined Imperial Strategy and became a regimental advisor to my Guard. Yet he has never had a model, not in ten years and I really, really want to get this right.

That project log also has a great tutorial for making Guard veterans with shotguns, by the way, and is really worth checking out. 

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Army building: a little bit of what you fancy does you good

Killa Kans, I love 'em. Homicidal scrapheaps piloted by angry space goblins who finally have a chance to hurt things bigger than them. I liked the old metal sculpts but the plastics are so much nicer, the hilariously ramshackle grotzooka being my favourite component. I also like the idea of taking mini-Dreadnoughts in packs of three, partly for the visual and partly because I'm not convinced Dreadnoughts work on their own in this edition, I need to experiment a bit more.

All this is the long way to saying there are two kinds of model I put in my armies: the things that must be there and the things I think are pretty. The “must” category comprises those units that I think, background-wise, an army cannot do without, which is usually the basic troop type. I can't conceive, even in this glorious age of unbound army lists, of a Space Marines army taking the field without at least one Tactical Squad or, in this case, an Ork army without at least a mob or two of Boyz.

And I really don't like Ork Boyz all that much. I'm planning on having at least forty of them because I don't think the army can work without them but they're not something I'm enthused by. That's what the rest of the army's for. The sculpts are functional, there's nothing overtly wrong with them they just bore me. Thankfully they look pretty easy to paint.

A big problem for me in the past when it comes to completing armies has been boredom. I think if I tried to work my way through those forty Boyz in one go I'd just lose interest in the army and drift off, disappointing Dave and rendering a lot of money wasted. So instead I'll be painting them five at a time alongside things I am interested in...

like Killa Kans, like Flash Gits and their ridiculously ostentatious guns (which have more components on their own than there are in an entire Space Marine!), like Gretchin who are just funny, like Meganobz who are so much bigger and more imposing than I thought they'd be (still think they're a bit over-priced, though).

These are all things I've included because, as I say, I think they look cool. There are people who tell me this is all wrong and I should think about the meta, about how “competitive” the army I'm building is. For me, though, half the fun is finding that out on the battlefield and I really don't mind losing all that much. , I'd rather have fun and the same holds true for building and painting the army: I'd rather do it in a way I enjoy than in a way that will guarantee me victory.

Then again the Ork models I like the most are also some of the shootiest, most dakka-tastic units in the army. Plus Grots, I like the Grots because they're funny. 

Monday 2 February 2015

Codex: Necrons first impressions

Okay, the reason this is a “first impressions” post and not an actual review is because I absolutely suck at judging mechanics in the abstract. Is the army going to be better or worse on the tabletop? I have no bloody clue, I just can't work out the numbers in my head. Until I see something on the tabletop I find it hard to judge its value.

One thing I will say about the rules in this codex is that the bespoke force organisation chart is insane. It isn't the usual slightly tweaked force organisation chart (such as Orks having nine Troops choices and Blood Angels having four Elites) but a chart made out of formations. You take a Reclamation Legion formation (an Overlord 0-2 Lychguard units, 1-4 Immortals units), 2-8 Necron Warriors units, 1-3 Tomb Blades units and 0-3 Monoliths) and then add on a selection of up to eleven other formations. Its a wonderfully characterful representation of how Necrons fight en masse, analogous to a Space Marine chapter, but the size of even the smallest force means its probably of limited use to the casual gamer.

Honestly, this feels more like a background resource than something meant to be used in normal games.

The Warlord Traits are the usual mix of character buffs and army buffs, the one I'd hope for being Hyperlogical Strategist which allows you to add or subtract 1 to reserve rolls and seizing the initiative.

Reanimation Protocols are less annoying than when I last faced Necrons under their 3rd edition rules. Now its a slightly modified invulnerable save taken after suffering an unsaved wound regardless of circumstances (Instant Death doesn't knock it out, merely lowers it to 6+ from 5+).

Honestly, what interests me the most is the background section. As well as showcasing artwork in styles I haven't seen in GW publications before it resurrects the bestiary section that has been so absent from recent Codices. This is probably because Necrons are a less well-defined army in the minds of gamers than Orks of the many Space Marine factions so there are sections describing how Destroyers, Immortals and so on fight and what their origins are. There are also these cool technical drawings that remind me of Imperial Armour books and 4th edition army lists which had a drawing of the thing next to their entry.

Sadly, there isn't as much background dedicated to the Dynasties as I'd like. A few of the pre-existing ones are given brief focus sections that expand on their background but several interesting ones are cut, only to be mentioned in the map and timeline. Speaking just for myself I'd have loved to read more about the Empire Of The Severed or (I can't remember the name) the Dynasty that some exiled Lordling reprogrammed to obey only him and turned them all into his personal pirate empire.

Personal issues aside this is a great looking book. As I said they've really spread out into differing art styles I wouldn;t usually associate with a Codex. The map in particular is great and very much drawn from the Necron point of view with their dynastic territories picked out with Imperial worlds only included as points of reference for the reader. Production values on this one outstrip the Blood Angels book, in my opinion, so its a pity this might be the last Codex for a while since it seems a bit soon to launch into a new cycle after two and a half years. 

Sunday 1 February 2015

The Comics Ramble

Secret Avengers #12
Very talky issue, this. That's not a bad thing, though I understand why big exposition dumps are seen as bad in comics: its a very visual medium and there's limited space in an issue so just reading an explanation of what's been going on can be damn annoying. Good thing Ales Kot is such an entertaining writer so as well as getting added context for just about every major event of the series so far we also plenty of jokes, sights gags and a nice little action subplot as Black Widow and Lady Bullseye run from other-dimensional spider-octopus things whilst carping at each other.

The art is really pretty, too. Michael Walsh and Matthew Wilson's worth on this series has been fantastic, specially Wilson's colours, which sell the mood of every scene, especially the big info dump with Hawkeye, MODOK and Coulson around a campfire.

Batman Eternal #43
Another issue about Harper and Spoiler and what's more it gets us past the events of that teaser from Batman #28. Its also another issue in which Batman is a relatively distant figure. All of this I approve of. We get to see Catwoman interrogate and psychoanalyse Steph as well as Harper and Steph getting to know each other at Harper's place. Most interesting of all are the dimensions this all adds to Steph: her daddy issues are rather different this time around and she's less than keen to enter Batman's inner circle.

And Tim Drake likes magical girl anime, nice touch.

Batman #38
I'll say this for Scott Snyder: he's crafted one hell of a season finale for his Batman run that reaches back to groundwork he did right back in 2011. Whether this was all planned from the beginning or not its an impressive web. That said we're getting into what I genuinely view as taboo territory here as Snyder attempts to explain the Joker and give him an origin. I'm not saying I don't like it because its a bad origin (it isn't) or because it contradicts the sainted Killing Joke because I sort of object to that one as well, to any attempt to give the Joker a defined beginning or reason for his actions. This is purely a personal prejudice, not an artistic judgement.

Still, this gets closer to something I could accept as it treats the Joker as an elemental force in Gotham rather than a two-bit gangster or failed stand-up comedian. This makes him bigger rather than reducing him to something mundane, which is what you need for the greatest villain of the greatest rogues gallery of them all.

The Multiversity Guidebook
In all honesty I wasn't even expecting this one to have a story, I was just expecting a whole book of quick descriptions of the different DC Earths. Instead there was a framing device with two versions of Batman (a child version and a sci-fi one who swears a lot), more of the many Sivanas and, best of all, a bit with Kamandi who is a character I always want to see more of.

An odd contradiction has turned up concerning New Genesis and Apokolips. I got the impression from Godhead that the New Gods were unique, they existed outside the Multiverse and so there was only one version of them but here we see a whole pantheon of New Gods on Kamandi's Earth (Earth-51) who even go on to say there are other versions of themselves on other Earths.

To quote Yahtzee Croshaw; “NURSE, I FOUND A PLOT HOLE!”

Plus, as I say, there's a brief description of the 52 worlds, though seven of them are left blank as they concern some secret scheme of the Monitors. Personally, I want to see something of the Western-themed Earth but that's just because I love Westerns. I did like that the Beyond comics got their own universe.

Uncanny X-Men #30
Will this “Last Will And Testament” story never end? I'm seeing it, you know, I'm finally seeing it, the standard template complaint about Brian Michael Bendis' story structure, and it isn't even as though nothing happens in this issue. Stuff does happen but it all seems to more groundwork laid upon groundwork that has been going on for eight issues now which has led to one hell of a cliffhanger that I hope is throwing us straight into the endgame...

but is it? As much as I'm enjoying the journey, at least now things are happening this is dragging on me.