Thursday 30 April 2015

Playing with the Realm Of Chaos charts

Last night my friend Matt and I were flicking through the old Realm Of Chaos sourcebooks and decided to try our hands at rolling up some Chaos champions using the D100 and D1,000 tables. Obviously, most of the rules are completely obsolete now so we agreed to re-roll anything that we couldn't model. We also decided the number of rolls we'd get would be equal to the sacred number of the champion's god (eight if we went Chaos Undivided).

I don't usually go in for random generation but it seemed like fun and Matt was recovering from dental surgery so an activity that didn't involve much talking seemed like a good idea. Anyway, I went with a Tzeentchian and my nine rolls netted me the following:

First roll got me off to a good start by netting me a Disc of Tzeentch to carry my champion into battle.

Second roll sent me to the Chaos Gifts table where I rolled up Weapons Master which is essentially a skills buff but modelling the weapon will be fun in an of itself, Chaos weapons always are.

Third roll got me one hell of an entourage as I generated four Chaos Spawn. Now, you're always going to get at least one bloody useless or stupid thing with random generation and just lumbering myself with four Chaos Spawn was frankly merciful by the standards of a system that can net you a Silly Voice, Silly Walk, Big Ears, Bird's Feet or Enormous Nose. Yes, four Spawn is practically getting away Scot free.

Rolls four and five both came up Daemon Weapon. So I rolled on the Daemon Weapons table and got Vampire (so the first weapon craves blood) and Howling (which is equally self-explanatory).

Rolls six and seven both landed on Gift of the Gods. The first gift was Magic Of Tzeentch, in particular a Cordial of Tzeentch which is just a random potion, just a fun little something to model on. I also got Withering Gaze which means my champion has “the gaze of a Lord of Change”, which has some combat benefits in the old rules and I choose to interpret it as a level of precognition.

Roll eight was another Daemonic Weapon roll. As per the rules this means two of the three Daemon Weapon attributes I've rolled have to be poured into a single weapon. This roll got me Animation, which allows the weapon to fly off and attack people on its own. I've decided to combine the Animation and Vampire attributes so the one weapon will act as a sort of attack hound whilst the one with Howling stays with the champion, maybe even whispering him advice as a sort of familiar.

My final roll got me yet another pet, this time a Flamer of Tzeentch which I chose not to roll Chaos Attributes for (I didn't know I had the option, in all honesty, but I don't think I would have bothered anyway).

I am absolutely determined to model this character, especially since it gives me an excuse to buy one of those Burning Chariots Of Tzeentch models I've been ogling for a while. 

Wednesday 29 April 2015

The nerdiest and crassest thing I have ever written

There are certain comics I use as comfort food, comics I stockpile until I'm feeling really down and need some pure, childish enjoyment. Archie's Sonic The Hedgehog comics are one and the IDW Transformers comics are another. Both are spiritual descendants of UK comics I read as a kid, usually on a Sunday at my maternal grandmother's house before we all sat down for a roast.

Anyway, long story short I love IDW's Transformers comics, they remind me of being a kid and playing with those toys. I am especially enamoured of the current crossover event Combiner Wars because I loved the Combiner sets as a kid. What wasn't to love? Toy robots that not only turned into toy cars but also clipped together to make a bigger toy robot. Through frugal saving of pocket money I even got two complete sets: the Combaticons and Protectobots.

Anyway, spinning out of Combiner Wars, IDW are introducing an all-female Combiner team which Hasbro will then release as toys. Hasbro has even made a statement that they're doing this because they want their female fans to feel they're part of the story, which is rather sweet.
There have been female Transformers before, of course, including Windblade here who has been a big presence in the comics for a while now.

I need to stop dancing around and get to the crass part, don't I? Well, you see, the announcement mentioned there would be six Transformers in this all-female Combiner team and as I remember the Combaticons and Protectobots there were five robots to a Combiner: a torso, two arms and two legs.

So I'm kind of worried the sixth female Transformer on this team might be used to form the breasts of the giant robot.

(I also, as an addendum, ended up on the Transformers wikia when looking for pictures for this post and found out there was a Combiner team made out of trains. I imagine they never made it to a UK release because I was such a train fanatic as a kid and somehow I never noticed them.

Oh, and I'm probably wrong about the breasts thing since it turns out there are six Transformers in at least one Combiner team: the Constructicons.)

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Jared Leto's Joker... I don't hate it

Let me be perfectly honest with you all: when they release publicity stills of a halfway decent Harley Quinn for this Suicide Squad film only then will I permit myself to hope. I have been burned too many times by DC's film publicity looking good.
And this certainly looks good. Its an interesting twist on the Joker, even if I think the “damaged” tattoo across his forehead is a bit on the nose. Truth be told, I want to like it because it is different from the usual portrayals of the Joker and DC doesn't tend to go in for innovation with their films when there's perfectly dreadful Frank Miller interpretations to copy (though the publicity still does go for the next worst thing: referencing Brian Bolland's cover for The Killing Joke).

Also, its not like Leto was ever going to get a fair hearing from a lot of quarters, taking over the role from the practically sainted Heath Ledger is the definition of a lose-lose scenario: Leto could play it like Ledger and be judged an inferior tribute act or he could turn in a new interpretation that would inevitably be compared to Ledger anyway, probably negatively.

And I just plain want these films to be good. I don't like this constant expectation I have that the DC Cinematic Universe will suck forever. Green Lantern had way too much clunky exposition and spent all its money in all the wrong places but it wasn't disastrous. The Chris Nolan Batman films were all entertaining the first time round even if none of them really stand up to repeat viewings. Man Of Steel was an absolute disaster on almost every conceivable level but it had visual spectacle to spare.

At the end of the day, though, the DC Cinematic Universe has only had one movie (two if Green Lantern turns out to be canon) and Nolan has left the building. There really isn't much to judge this project by. What there is to judge it by is a complete trainwreck that its hard to fathom how it got made, I admit, but the point stands.

Well, and the Batman v. Superman trailer of grimness.

And the fact DC have commissioned Frank Miller to write The Dark Knight 3 as a practical tie-in.

And that oh so very 90s Aquaman design they released to the press.

This is going to suck forever, isn't it?

Monday 27 April 2015

Skink Skirmishers and plastic Skink Priest build reviews

(images from Games Workshop's webstore as the plain grey plastic didn't come out well in photos)

(I'm reviewing the Lizardmen Skinks box set as “Skink Skirmishers” because that's what I built the twelve from the Lizardmen Battalion as and because there are a couple of issues specific to the Skirmishers build I wanted to discuss.)

Ease of Build
The build itself it pretty easy. There are only three components: the main body and the two arms. However, there are a couple of issues. For one thing the swords have a tendency to snap because they are literally designed to do so. In the alternative build these hands are used to hold the shields after you cut or snap off the sword blade. It is a little too easy to do this accidentally when removing flash lines so do be careful.

Fortunately, I had plenty of spare sword arms. This is because of the main problem with the kit: I had to buy another box set because there aren't actually enough blowpipes to make twelve Skirmishers. To be clear, this is not to do with the fact the Battalion has only half a Skink box set in it: each sprue has six Skinks and only five blowpipes. Now, I was planning on getting a full box to make a Skink Cohort (the alternative build) later in the project but it seems a bit of a cheek to have a kit where you literally have to buy a second kit to fully equip a unit. I think the last time I had this happen to me was the old eight-man Chaos Space Marine kit which had exactly one too few of each kind of basic weapon.

There are also command options for the Cohort in the Army Book unavailable in the kit: there's no musician and no standard bearer components. If you see the images for those options in the Army Book, do note they are old metal models that are no longer available.

Conversion Potential
Well, as mentioned, if you want a challenge you can (with the Cohort) convert a full command for the unit as you only get the Champion components. Musician you could probably make a flute out of a blowpipe (you'll have some spare as only the Cohort has the musician option). The standard is a little trickier: some kind of Lizardman icon on top of a javelin, I guess?

Spare Parts
Okay, so on each sprue I have spare : seven javelin arms, a big champion sword, six shields, a shield-holding arm and a belt that was meant to be stuck on the underside of the champion's blowpipe. None of it of particular use, really, as the arms are only compatible with other Skinks. The shields are a bit small for humans but they'll fit better than the Saurus version so might be useful if you want to do, say, Empire State Troops or Chaos Marauders who have survived the Lustrian Jungles.

Ease of Build
Considering that I lost the instructions this model was pretty much hassle free. I had some slight issue positioning the arms in their sockets correctly. I don't think I quite managed it as the pose I achieved is a little off from the official photographs but it doesn't look unnatural so I'm calling it a win.

The only difficulty was a very, very small connector on a string that runs from the staff to under the arm, half on each component and the connection between the two ends is literally only a millimetre in width. I had to push the two together with the end of my mouldline scraper until the glue set.

Conversion Potential
Not a lot. Common to just about all clampack minis there are a lot of non-standard connections. Also, being a Skink there aren't a lot of other miniatures to source parts from. He's also slightly larger than the standard Skink infantry so the parts might not look entirely natural together. Probably the best part to replace is the left hand. I'm not sure what with but its the only place that seems to make sense.

Spare Parts
Like most clampack characters the Skink Priest isn't big on options. There's a ritual knife on the sprue I can't find a place for but that might just be down to my having lost the instructions. 

Sunday 26 April 2015

Weekly War Diary #1

One Week Hobby Challenge

I did not get the Meganobz finished. There are still a lot of metallics to do. Life got in the way, oh well. Getting the whole unit done in a week, a week when I knew I had stuff on as well, was overambitious and the only answer to being too ambitious is to be even more ambitious!

This week's challenge is to paint twelve models! Twelve tiny and much simpler models, to be sure, but still twelve models: the Skink Skirmishers from my Lizardmen Battalion. I want to get decent head start on this project and these are the smallest, simplest models in the box. They're mainly skin and scales, in fact the only complicated component on them seems to be the blowpipes which have little bits of detailing along them.

Completed models this week
Model 2015.8: Inquisition Psyker Junko Antioch

I'm so stupidly happy the white on the Ultra came out this well its genuinely pathetic. Anyway, this is the second member of the Inquisitorial warband: the Ultramarian Sanction Psyker Junko Antioch. If his fatigues look overly simple its because they're meant to be. Psykers are a pretty disposable resource in the Guard and I imagined he'd just be handed a boiler suit-esque uniform when he was enlisted and sent on his way.
2015.9 and 2015.10: Orks Gretchin with grot blasters

2015.11: Typhus the Herald of Nurgle

Typhus is absolutely one of my favourite models ever made and he was a joy to paint, even if I was constantly finding new metallic details on him that needed going over before he was done. The green on the armour is the same green I've been using for Ork flesh and it works surprisingly well on armour plate. Death Guard are one of those armies I've always wanted and maybe I'll pursue that after the Orks are a bit closer to completion (by which I mean having significantly more than seven small figures finished). 
2015.12 and 2015.13: Orks Gretchin with grot blasters

Saturday 25 April 2015

Lord Mazdamundi cometh

Funny thing about Warhammer is that once your hobbyist friends hear you're starting a new army its only a matter of time before someone tries to offload their abandoned projects on you. I started my Lizardmen army less than a week ago, I've only just finished building one small unit (12 Skink Skirmishers, as it happens) and a Skink Priest, I have nothing painted and already my friends are lining up to sell me their Lizardmen at dirt cheap prices.

I don't mind. Absolutely, I do not mind. I even got a nice compliment out of the exchange, as my friend Matt told me he liked the Lizardmen but he'd never got the colour scheme to work but I'm “better with bright colour palettes” so he thought I'd do better with them.

So in addition to my Battalion and Skink Priest I now have 26 additional Saurus Warriors; 3 unbuilt Terradon Riders; 3 Kroxigor and one broken Kroxigor; the old metal Saurus Oldblood (a model I hate but it was chucked in for free); the 2003 Army Deal limited edition Battle Standard Bearer; and most of a Slann-Mage Priest.

Its the “most of a Slann-Mage Priest” that I'm most enthusiastic about. Its just the Slaan, Matt's lost the Palanquin he's meant to sit on and there's only one thing you can do with an unmounted Slann:

Convert Lord Mazdamundi!

What I like the most about Mazdamundi, in all honesty, is the visual. Where most Mage-Priests glide serenely along on their Palanquins, Mazdamundi rides into battle on top of an Ancient Stegadon. He has some nice rules but to be honest I'll likely only be making him for fun more than for use in-game. He's a 780 points Lords choice so not terribly practical, especially considering my massive bias towards having legions of infantry about the place and spending as little as possible on character classes.

Still, it will be fun taking a Stegadon and making it as ornate as possible, as befits the chosen mount of the one of the holy Mage-Priests. 

Friday 24 April 2015

My Little Shelf of Progress

I have a little shelf in my room just to one side of where I set up my painting table. When I finish a model and move it off the paint station it lives on that shelf for a while in a little line-up with its fellows until conditions are right to get the Purity Seal out and varnish them.

It actually helps to motivate me to have this little reminder that I'm getting stuff done again right there to look at whenever I need it. The Meganobz are proving more challenging than I anticipated, they have a lot more fiddly detail than I thought they did. Still, I don't even mind if I don't get those finished to deadline, there's nothing riding on it, it was just to motivate me. I'm going to continue the One Week Challenge idea (probably something from the Lizardmen Battalion next week) but I'm not going to delude myself into thinking it actually matters.

Rather, what the One Week Challenge is about is focusing my efforts on one particular thing but still having other projects going on to one side. Its how I work best with my hobby. I envy people who can concentrate on one project and get it done in a timely fashion but I'm just not one of them.

Still, when the insane amount of gubbins on these Meganobz frustrates me I can look over at the Little Shelf Of Progress and see that I am getting things done even if its taking me days just to do all the wires and tubes on the backs of these green buggers. As I write this there are six models sitting up there that weren't there when I took those photos on Saturday. True, four of them are Gretchin but a completed model is a completed model, in my view. One of the other two is amongst my favourite models ever but we'll get to that when I do my progress report on Sunday.

It really is important in this hobby to remind yourself when you're making progress, especially when you're painting an endless tide of models like Orks. 

Thursday 23 April 2015

Another foray into video games bites the dust

I like video games. I'm not much of a gamer, if I'm honest, I don't play that many games and I haven't owned a current generation system since the Gamecube. Every now and then, though, the stars align and I decide to make an effort on that front, picking up some cheap games or even a new console from the local Entertainment Exchange.

This time I decided to try out PC gaming. I own an X-Box 360 from the last celestial alignment and had pretty much all the games that attracted me (Skyrim, the Batman: Arkham games, Mass Effect and Sonic Generations, basically). I'm also a big fan of Jim Sterling so I'd seen a few good games (and many, many bad ones) available for PC that didn't look too demanding on the graphics hardware.

So I went to browse Steam to see what was available and I saw this...
Its Assassin's Creed set in China! This is basically a game tailor made for me and the trailer looked cool. It had a cool art style and 2.5D gameplay that looked interesting. It was only £7.99, too. I was ready there and then to set up a Steam account until I saw the requirements.

Not the graphics requirements, which my computer just about met, the DRM requirements. The game required me to download EA's Uplay system in order to play it. I opened a new tab, searched to find out what this was and my reaction was “No way in hell”, basically.

I resent the idea, quite frankly, of installing a system that has been shown to be a security hazard; that has been shown on multiple occasions to completely break games and render them unplayable; and that the system has such a history of failure, both mechanically and due to the fact EA still claims to suffer mass piracy of its titles in spite of the system.

The planetary alignment isn't over, exactly, and I might still get a Steam account and try out some games but the fact the first thing I saw was something I instantly wanted but would have to put my computer at risk to play puts a sour taste in my mouth over the whole affair.

Also, given what I've read of Uplay and other similar DRM systems it seems curious how determinedly anti-consumer these systems are. One of the biggest issues is that they can go down without notice due to technical faults but what bothers me is that some time in the future should EA close for business and their servers go away the game I purchased will simple cease to function forever. One of the advantages of digital distribution should have been that without physical, degradable media we should have had permanent archiving of computer games. Instead we have DRM systems that mean something that could exist forevermore is dependant not on the consumer maintaining it but on the seller continuing to exist.

Oh well, maybe this Good Old Games dot com people recommend me will be better. I'm told they run completely DRM-free. 

Wednesday 22 April 2015

2015 Summer Project Begins

The reason I've been so keen to get back into miniature painting is because I wanted to resurrect an old personal tradition of mine: the summer army project. I used to start a new army in the summer when the light was good for painting and the air was dry for undercoating so I'd have it ready for the cold, dark evenings of winter when our gaming group gets most of its playing done. I wanted to do it again this year. There's also the fact that, with all this uncertainty surrounding the future of Fantasy, its probably a good time to get around to an army I've been forever on the verge of starting.
Lizardmen. Aztec dinosaur men, many of whom are riding other dinosaurs into battle and who view the world in terms of pure mathematics (no, seriously, everything is equations to them).

They're also blue. I like blue, its a calming colour even when its on giant dinosaur mathematicians.

Yesterday I dropped into Games Workshop and picked up the two kits that have usually started me off on these projects: a Battalion box set and a character model. So now I have a plastic Skink Priest, 12 Skinks, 20 Saurus Warriors, 8 Saurus Cavalry and 10 Temple Guard waiting to be built. Its a solid core to build the army around and I'll probably splash out on a second Battalion at some point since between them they'll have with all the Core troops I'll ever need (okay, maybe more Skinks) and then I can concentrate on getting the cooler monstrous stuff like Stegadons and Trogolodons.

Yeah, I don't care if the Troglodon “is weak in the meta”, it looks amazing and monstrous mounts for Lords have never really worked for me.

Now to get started building this Battalion. 

Tuesday 21 April 2015

The Audio Visual Experience #1: The Space Wail

The Space Wail
written by Warren Martyn
directed by Gary Russell
featuring Stephen Payne as the Doctor with Richard Marson as Greg Holmes and Sally Baggs as Nadia

So I guess I finally understand how fandom felt in 1994, then. The Audio Visuals, to me, had a similar legendary stature to the one The Tomb of the Cybermen had to the average fan back then: great reputation, huge influence on the series as I knew it, and I'd never be able to see it. Tomb was junked by the BBC, the AVs were just plain unavailable since they were fan made cassettes long out of print and with no clear way to bring them out again. A couple have been adapted by Big Finish, a company run by several AV alumni, but that was about all I could hope for.

Then I remembered that I have the internet and nothing is ever out of print if you have the internet!

Oh, shut up, its not like I'm cheating anyone. These things are twenty years out of print and were not-for-profit in the first place. If they ever get re-released I'll pay (mainly because an official release would be remastered a bit and be less scratchy and vague than these audio tape rips) but that's likely never going to happen. I really wanted to experience them because they're a bit of an influence on the new series, even if only through a slightly roundabout way. The AVs were a bit of a proving ground for several later “professional fans”, among them Nick Briggs, Bill Baggs, Jim Mortimore and Gary Russell so this is very much the birth of Big Finish (and BBV but that's less significant). So, having listened to the first story, what did I think?

I've probably given the game away with my comparison to fans watching Tomb back in '94. Tomb was, by fan legend, extraordinary. It was a wonderfully dark and atmospheric horror story, perhaps the greatest loss of the BBC archive junkings, the absolute pinnacle of the base under siege format. Then in 1994 pristine copies of all four episodes were found at a TV station in Hong Kong and it was rush out on video. To say the least it didn't match expectations: production values were as low as the rest of Season Five, the Cybermen's plan was as crap as all their other plans and the plot really doesn't stand up to examination. Also, the villains are colour coded for your convenience by comprising the only black man in the cast (who is a mostly mute strongman) and his two bosses in blackface.

Blackface aside, listening to The Space Wail was a surprisingly similar lesson in managing expectations. Of course Tomb wasn't on par with the best of Hammer horror and of course The Space Wail was not as good an audio as Damaged Goods. Big Finish have a proper studio while parts of The Space Wail were recorded in people's bedrooms and gardens.

The acting is... clearly amateur with some painful exposition early on as a character refers to people he is speaking to as “my daughter” and “my other daughter” in a way that's as natural as a formica table. This is not actually the worst aspect of the dialogue in this story, that's the fact that Stephen Payne as the Doctor and Richard Marson as new companion Greg have unfortunately similar voices so sometimes it gets a little unclear who's speaking when they're together. This is, as it happens, the one and only outing for Stephen Payne's Doctor as he'll be replaced by Nick Briggs in the next story and he really doesn't get much to establish himself. Maybe that's another influence this series had on the show: perhaps Philip Segal listened to this and thought it was a good pattern to follow with McGann? Payne doesn't get many strong character traits, playing a quite generic Doctor: an eccentric line here, a chummy note there but nothing defining.

There's also the way in which the Doctor picks up his first new companion, Greg Holmes, which is curiously... I don't want to use the term “sex offender” but he does wander onto school grounds, start a conversation with a schoolboy that ends with the schoolboy walking off with him to see his spaceship. You can see where I'm coming from with this, I'm sure. Still, these scenes do their job: establishing the voices, if not the personalities, of our two leads at a leisurely pace before diving into the story. Its not great but its not the meat of the story, either.

At the end of the day, though, this is a pilot and pilots are meant to be ropey and not entirely representative of how things evolve. This series became legendary for a reason and I'm sure it'll improve. Why am I sure of this? Well, apart from the series' general reputation this story does have one thing going for it: the plot.

Having picked up Greg, the Doctor takes a trip to the future and lands on an execution ship that's moving into deep space where the crew will abandon it and leave it to explode with some condemned convicts aboard. What works is that we spend the better part of the story's first half switching between the Doctor lounging about the school field and the spaceship getting to know the prisoners and guards. It's far from flawlessly executed, the exposition is terribly heavy handed and the delivery defines the term “amateur” but its at least interesting watching the world form and waiting for the Doctor and Greg to land in it and shake things up.

The most interesting thing about the execution ship is its computer, BABE (no, seriously, and its voice is female, too) who operates a “mind drain” which is like a (no not the) mind probe except the computer absorbs the knowledge and personalities of its victims, leaving the computer more than a little crazy since mostly the mind drain is used on convicted criminals. Again, the actual use of this device leaves a lot to be desired and a lot to the imagination but its at least interesting. The result is an interesting but anaemic setting where you can see what could be great but the gaps leave it being average. We get few details of what Niton and his family have been convicted of even though the dialogue goes to enormous pains to make sure we understand how everyone is related to one another. We're told that the BABE system on the ship is linked to a larger system back on Homeworld but not how its insanity might effect the world. Homeworld's government is obviously meant to unsympathetic since the guards massacre some prisoners, seemingly acting on orders.

This might not actually have been a problem but for one thing: from this setting comes our second companion, Nadia, youngest daughter of convicted family. Whilst the Doctor and Greg might be generic they're at least easy to grasp: paint by numbers Doctor and standard template modern teenager companion, stock types anyone listening to this thing will be fairly familiar with. Nadia, on the other hand, is from the underdeveloped Homeworld. We only understand what we're told of her and we're told... naff all, frankly.

The only hook she seems to have is a strange emotionlessness. Her family are killed and she has very little reaction to it. Earlier in the play she seemed very close to her parents but after their deaths she calls her father a fool and her mother evil, both assertions we have very little context for.

And then there's her reaction to the destruction of Homeworld. Actually, everyone's reaction to this shattering final event is bizarrely muted. Maybe its the delivery but neither the Doctor, who caused the planet's destruction as a consequence of how he stops BABE, or Nadia who is from there, seem that fussed. Greg even makes a joke at Nadia, moments after the destruction of her planet, about the destruction of her planet. Then they go off to have a holiday. Its really that abrupt an ending.

Being as reasonable as I can about my expectations it at least has potential. The basic premise is interesting even if everything interesting about it is painfully under-explored. Any issues I have with Payne's Doctor have to be taken in the light that this is the only story he did and he'll be replaced by Nick Briggs in the next one (this also goes for the problem I have telling the Doctor and Greg apart). So, not exactly a good start but a promising one.

Still, next up are Nick Briggs and Daleks, usually a winning combination.

(This post is indebted to the AV fan site for technical and background details.)

Monday 20 April 2015

Batman v Superman v Frank Miller

The Batman v Superman trailer, then...

No, just no. Dismal and dark and “Can you bleed? You will.”, oh dear. Its not like I was expecting anything else, this is DC Warner we're talking about, but there was the slightest glimmer of hope in my mind that Chris Nolan's departure might have changed things a little.

Nope. The closest thing to levity in this trailer was the fact that Ben Affleck seems to be wearing the Batman costume from The Lego Movie...

And all of this because The Dark Knight Returns is, for some bloody reason, still the touchstone for writing Batman. Can we just get over this, please? It isn't that The Dark Knight Returns is bad, as such, though it isn't to my tastes. Rather, its that it has this horrible gravity in the minds of Warner Bros. where it seems to be seen as the “real” Batman from which all other interpretations are just deviations unworthy of discussion. And of course the most flashy component of the Frank Miller Batman is his apparent total philosophical opposition to Superman instead of their being friends who disagree on methods, which is the far more common interpretation in the source material.

It's not like I'm hoping for the Adam West interpretation to make a comeback but I was hoping for some sign of influence from, say, Batman: The Animated Series where Batman was dark and grim but functionally human and capable of smiling.

But everyone likes Frank Miller because his version of Batman appeals to that oh so Nineties desire to make comics dark and mature, which in the minds of far too many are the same thing and... can we just get over it? The culture war here is kind of won and we nerds don't need our nerd media to pretend at maturity to pursue a vague sense of cultural acceptance because we have the cultural acceptance already.

What's truly baffling about this all is DC are actively trying to imitate Marvel's interlinked film continuity without imitating the things that made people want to watch the individual films. Marvel's films, whilst often having dark themes and subplots, are always pitched as fun films. People go to see the fun films and like them so much that they'll invest the time and money to follow them as a serial. DC are just offering the serial without the fun.

Maybe the logic is that DC doesn't want to “just” imitate Marvel and this dark, washed out aesthetic is an attempt to be different. Or maybe, as SallyP pointed out to me in comments when I talking about “sinking” Marvel Studios last week, DC Warner are just plain embarrassed by the fact that they're making films about superheroes. I know it sounds strange when you first say it but it makes sense to me, after all why inject grimdark into Superman of all characters except to lessen the embarrassment of something as “immature” as a wish fulfillment figure in red pants?

Even in this they could learn lessons from Marvel. Marvel don't usually make “superhero” films, really. Captain America was a straight war film that happened to feature a superhero, the Iron Man films were techno thrillers, The Winter Soldier was a conspiracy thriller and so on.

Its sad to think, though, that DC are embarrassed by their own properties especially considering there's no need to be. They own some of the most recognisable superheroes on the planet and, unlike Marvel, they own all their own film rights but they only really do Batman because Batman can be done grim and dark and “adult”. Marvel is at peace with its silliness and the artefacts of its past. Marvel will make a film with a talking raccoon and his talking tree sidekick or aliens who are really the Norse gods, they even did Captain America with a total lack of irony.

DC, meanwhile, have such trouble with getting an angle on Superman that they've had to bring Batman (and several other characters) into the second film to save the series. Its sad, really. 

Sunday 19 April 2015

Oh, Japan (the oddest Star Wars artefact?)

This turned up on a random Twitter I link-followed to (can't quite remember whose. Randi Harper's, I think?). Yes, its a manga adaptation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Chewbacca looking... distinctly bishounen, which I find stupidly amusing.

The N64 Pod Racing game is no longer the oddest Star Wars artefact I've seen. Well done, Japan

Saturday 18 April 2015

One Week Hobby Challenge end of week review

(Okay, long story short: when I looked at these pictures on my laptop while I was writing this post they looked fine. Now I look at them on my desktop as I post them they look far too shadowy. Hopefully they look okay but I really need to get one of these daylight bulbs people on hobby forums enthuse about and maybe that'll solve the problem once and for all.)

A productive week. Not only did I get the Glade Lord finished for my One Week Challenge but a few other bits and pieces along the way. I've got a head of steam up now and hopefully I can carry that momentum forward and get more done next week.

This week's models, in order of completion:
Model 2015.1: Astra Militarum Silvik 23rd "Fixers" Guardsman with lasgun
(Statuesque Miniatures head conversion)
Test model for my Astra Militarum regiment the Silvik 23rd “Fixers” using the Statuesque Miniatures heroic scale female heads conversion set. As previously noted the head doesn't have the right connector to fit the torso, at least for any pose other than ironsighting so I'll need to learn to sculpt a join before doing any more.

I think a darker grey for the flak armour would compliment the grey better in future, though. I'm rather proud of the red edging, though.
Models 2015.2 and 2015.3: Orks Gretchin with grot blasters.
These Gretchin represent something important to this project: easy victories. Small, simple models that can be dashed off in a session or two. Its a nice feeling to finish something and it gives you a boost to your momentum. Since between the twenty-strong Gretchin mob, Mek Gun crew and other random Grots I've got about thirty that I can stick on one side of the painting table one or two at a time just to chip away.
Model 2015.4: Alvin Callum, Inquisitorial Acoltye with laspistol
The first of my Inquisitor's warband: Alvin Callum,Imperial Strategist and former scrivener for the Avalon Free Press' devotional pamphlet The 700 Wonders Of The Imperium. He's a polymath recruited by my inquisitor to act as his mission operator. His strategy commission was part of a longterm undercover assignment. I've been using this character for over ten years in every Imperial army I've ever had and its actually a bit of a treat to myself to finally make a model for him.
Models 2015.5: Wood Elves Glade Lord with great weapon and Asrai longbow
The main event, of course, is the Glade Lord I was painting for my One Week Challenge. Its a lovely model to paint, at least once you've worked out where the loincloth ends and the cape begins. I “highlighted” the armour using a shade since its far too delicate for me to even attempt it with an actual brush. I'm really going to have to work out some background for this guy as I want to use him a lot, I absolutely love this model
Model 2015.6: Mehendri Korendorf, Vampire Counts Necromancer
I've been using this Necromancer model for the better part of a year with it very nearly almost completed and I took the chance to finish him off. I'm not entirely satisfied with the pale flesh method I tried but I really didn't feel like repainting it.
Model 2015.7: Orks Mek Gun Crew Gretchin
Another Grot, this time crew for my Mek Guns, and probably my favourite of all the Grot sculpts. I like the little welding mask and the comical little pose. It also have me a chance to experiment a little with what I wanted armour plate to look like in the army. I didn't want to go with any of the usual Orky colours and the blue-green of Stegadon Scale Green suits my idea for a navy theme.

One Week Challenge #2
If there's one thing my Ork army needs its more heavy armour, plus I want to try something rather larger than a single character. The Meganobz seem relatively simple: once I've got the green flesh and the armour painted there's just the details to fill in. Also, they were a birthday present (well, three of them were) and it seems ungrateful not to have painted them. 

Friday 17 April 2015

White, my old nemesis, DEFEATED!

I'd pretty much given up, to be honest. I tried painting up to white through blue and it just looked blue. I tried going up through grey and I could still see the grey through the white layer. I tried Ceramite White, which GW claims is a base paint but just dries too inconsistently, at least whenever I've tried it. Then there's White Scar itself, which as a layer looks like you've dipped your miniature in warm milk.

Then last night I picked up the wrong paint and cracked it. I wanted some Pallid Wych Flesh to paint over Rakarth Flesh but I picked up the Ulthuan Grey instead. The result...

Yes, I know its just a little omega but the fact that it looks consistent after only two coats is a miracle by my standards. A little highlight of White Scar (which is what that milky crap is for) and it should look very nearly perfect. Up close the layer is a little scrappy but I put that down to the fact the Ulthuan Grey is a little thick in the pot, if I pick up a new pot it should work a lot better.

The vistas this opens up... I can finally paint the High Elves army I've always wanted, eyeing with envy the work of anyone who can paint all those white robes (white robes are mandatory, absolutely mandatory). I can have a White Scars army since this method only requires three layers so I won't be screaming in rage when their red-on-white honour markings go wrong and I need to touch up the white.

I know this just sounds like petty self-satisfaction (and after twelve years of trying it bloody is) but since this is a way of painting white that works but that I've never seen in any painting guide or recommended by any GW staffer it might just be useful to someone.

I mean, mainly I'm just cackling to myself here but if it helps someone...

Thursday 16 April 2015

What can sink Marvel Studios?

This past week the director of DC's upcoming (we hope) Wonder Woman movie quit. The official reason was “creative differences”. The unofficial reason, of course, is that this project is fucking cursed and we will never see this movie happen. At least, that was my initial reaction.

It may not be completely irrational but I do tend to assume disaster on the part of DC's film offerings. True, they have a very long history of not being able to make anything other than Batman work on film but it isn't entirely fair to assume failure for everything they do.

The converse, of course, is Marvel Studios who seem almost incapable of critical failure. So I reach the assumption that losing a director on a legendarily hard prospect of a film might sink the film, if not seriously dent DC's Justice League masterplan but what could sink Marvel's efforts, in theory?

Because one of the odd things about Marvel Studios is that its an absolute machine. The machine is run by talented individuals but seems to have enough redundancy that it can survive losing them. Edgar Wright quit Ant-Man in a way pretty similar to this Wonder Woman situation yet the new director's trailer has character and humaour to spare. Yes, its a trailer and will have most of the best bits cherrypicked for it but there were at least enough good parts to make a cool trailer. Its not like the bedevilled by rewrites and reshoots mess that Fox's recent Fantastic Four represented.

So what else is there?

They've long passed the point of relying on any name recognition beyond “Marvel Studios”. They made a success out of Guardians Of The Galaxy and, in partnership with Pixar, Big Hero Six. These are comics a lot of comic fans hadn't heard of, let alone the general public who could be relied up on to know who the Hulk or Captain America were.

Actors quitting? The Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films are all ending after the third instalment with Marvel's post-Age Of Ultron slate designed to introduce new properties. Even when Thor: The Dark World was impacted by poor actor availability it was entertaining and I'm saying this about what I consider the weakest Marvel film. True, they lost Natalie Portman to dissatisfaction after Dark World but we'll see how that plays out in Ragnarok.

Will it be when they give up on their cherished “loyalty” to the source material? We passed that Rubicon with Guardians Of The Galaxy which massively rewrote the history of most of its main characters and even ignoring that Big Hero 6 was practically a new IP it had so little to do with the original comic. Hell, looking closely at most of their films massive liberties have been taken with almost every character they've used and the supposed loyalty is mainly cosmetic. Of all the headlining characters I'd say only Captain America is a functionally perfect replica of the comics version.

Will they spread themselves too thin? They've released eleven films and three TV shows so far with a five year plan for another twelve films and three shows on the books over the next five years.

Honestly, there's only one thing I think can actually sink Marvel and its the reason I think they have done so well and banked so much good will:

I think this ride ends when it stops being fun. Essentially, if there's a secret to Marvel's success compared to Fox, Sony and Warner its that the people working on these films want to be working on these films. I'm not claiming every Marvel film is a passion project but there's a level of enthusiasm in the finished project that's lacking in a lot of other superhero films, especially the ones made just to satisfy contracts like The Amazing Spider-Man or even the generally better X-Men films. In those stakes DC has the potential to be the worst offender, which is where the real worry about Justice League and its planned spin-offs come in.

Because ultimately its being done to beat Marvel at Marvel's game. I genuinely believe that done right and with the correct level of passion DC has the superior product. Whatever else might be true about the two companies its DC that owns the most famous superheroes in the world: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. It absolutely baffles me its taken this long to get a Wonder Woman project off the ground (...ish) because on name recognition alone Marvel has nothing comparable. Their female headlining project? Captain Marvel. Captain chuffing Marvel!

Yeah, I like Carol Danvers fine and she's a real success story for Marvel, this is a movie that deserves to happen but Marvel has a very thin bench for female protagonists compared to DC. Carol genuinely is the best choice that isn't just a woman from a team or the female version of a more recognisable male hero (She-Hulk, otherwise, would be a better choice, in my view).

If I'm not putting this across well: I want the Wonder Woman film to happen, I want it to be good, but I do worry that Warner's historic inability to make anything beyond Batman work worries me. 

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Damaged Goods and The Well-Mannered War audio review

Sometimes I wonder if adaptations work better when you don't know the source material. I've never read The Well-Mannered War or Damaged Goods and I think these audios are fantastic. I have read all the novels Big Finish have previously adapted and found those audios lacked something. The Highest Science in particular was an adaptation I enjoyed but I missed the stuff cut from the Eight-Twelves section because I remembered it so vividly from the book.

So I think these are the best of Big Finish's novel adaptations but I don't know if its because they represent a real improvement or better source material or just plain less nostalgic bias on my part.

The Well-Mannered War
adapted by John Dorney from the novel by Gareth Roberts
directed by Ken Bentley

Of Gareth Roberts' three Fourth Doctor and Romana stories this is undoubtedly the funniest. You know all those stories from the early days of the trenches like the Christmas Truce and the football game and how the royals of the warring nations still sent each other letters because they were related? Well, here Roberts takes that idea and extends it to an entire conflict. There's even a scene where the human second in command tries to fix a photocopier so they can send invitations to the enemy for someone's leaving do or there'll be an “incident”.

The idea is that a human army and a Chelonian army (a race of cybernetic turtles) are in dispute over the ownership of an uninhabited, worthless planetoid. The two sides have dug in, waiting for the order to fight, but have been stuck in a holding pattern waiting for the order for so long that things are completely cordial between the two sides. The two sides try to assassinate each other's commanders at one point following a failed peace conference and its literally just done for the sake of form.

I do like a good pointlessness of war satire and this one hits all the high points, as far as I'm concerned. All of Roberts' Doctor Who work has a touch of comedy but this story is out-and-out farce. The comedy is broader than any of the Roberts novels adapted so far and so it comes across rather better as dialogue.

Another thing that helps the story compared to the previous instalments in the trilogy, is that the Doctor and Romana spend a lot of it apart. The Doctor spends most of his time shuffling from one side to the other in the warzone while Romana and K9 end up on the human colony world where (and I love this subplot) K9 ends up entering the presidential election race as a candidate. Funnier even than the war stuff is how Roberts uses K9's deadpan delivery to lampoon the script every politician uses to get elected.

Also, I don't know but I suspect that Baker and Ward might record their lines separately, which did impact the previous two productions. Keeping them apart in-story, albeit as a result of the source material than any production decision, certainly helps. It also gives Ward a chance to shine on her own as Romana in a way she hasn't had a chance to since... well, probably The Horns Of Nimon in 1979.

Damaged Goods
adapted by Jonathan Morris from the novel by Russell T Davies
directed by Ken Bentley

Much as I love Gareth Roberts' novels and was definitely looking forward to Big Finish capping off the trilogy, there's no denying Damaged Goods was the main event of the box set. Its Russell T Davies first Doctor Who story, after all, and a story too dark for him to even consider adapting for the TV series (his words, incidentally).

And, my goodness, but it is dark. Spoilers forbid me but there's a very real, very dark tragedy at the centre of the story that was somewhere I would never have expected Davies to go. You can see a lot of the approach he'd later take to the TV series in this story, including some new series references slipped in for fun, but there's no chance this could have been filmed without significant and harmful cuts.

The story takes place in the Quadrant, a council estate in 1987, with the Seventh Doctor, Chris and Roz moving into a flat to investigate a drug called Smile that's being peddled by a local dealer. Obviously the council estate setting echoes the Powell Estate from Davies' first two season on television, a local family who play a big part in the story are even called the Tylers. What surprised me, though it probably shouldn't, is that the whole setting is phrased as a criticism of how Doctor Who usually works. The Doctor worries about investigating in a tower block because he's used to the corridors of power and bluffing his way to authority whilst in the Quadrant each flat is a fortress he might not be able to gain access to when the time comes. Davies makes a big thing of how the “cosmic chessmaster” version of the Doctor is disconnected from the everyday world, which is as good as way as any to describe the very thing he undertook to fix when he brought the series back to television.

Then there's our “new” companions Chris and Roz. Or, rather, Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman who give voice to the roles for the first time in their twenty year history. Hell, for a lot of fans this might be the first time they've ever encountered the characters, the books have been out of print since 1998. Damaged Goods doesn't go into great details about their background except to drop the fact that they're from the future and are basically cops, which is about all we need to know. Chris is the young idealistic one and Roz is the older cynical one, cop formula as old as time.

Oliver plays up the idealistic side of Chris but not in such a way that he seems naïve. There are some fantastic scenes in which a guy flirts with him in coded 1980s ways, baffling Chris no end, a plotline with a killer pay-off (which was about the only thing about the story I knew about in advance). Bannerman as Roz doesn't come off as well, or at least not as fully realised, as Oliver does as Chris. This is mainly because Roz's part in the story is far more functional than Chris'. Chris does a lot of interacting with people in the Quadrant, as does the Doctor, whilst Roz plays more of a back-up style role. Bannerman does well with what she's given but I feel we aren't going to see the full extent of what she can do until Original Sin waaaay in the future, which is sad.

I tried to temper my expectations in the lead-up to this release because, frankly, you can go very wrong expecting someone's long out-of-print early work to match what they did more recently. This goes double when the recent work is something like a massively popular, game-changing TV hit like Davies' Doctor Who. I shouldn't have bothered, frankly, this adaptations holds up fantastically well, not just as a story but as an audio since the kitchen sink setting really lends itself to audio. Even I, Big Finish fanboy that I am, have to admit the company does sometimes tend to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to what can and can't work on the audio medium.

I am very much looking forward to the next set of adaptations.