Sunday 23 August 2015

Weekly War Diary- Easy Victory A-Go-Go

Returning to the good, old-fashioned motivator of falling down in public rather than waiting for perfection in private I've decided to write an actual hobby diary. First attempt, so sorry if it's dull. Anyway, starting the week out on the painting table are:

2 Lizardmen Salamanders
Lizardmen Bastiladon with a Solar Engine
Lizardmen Saurus Oldblood with halberd and shield
2 Space Orks Gretchin
5 Tomb Kings Skeleton Warriors with spears and command options
Blood Angels Librarian (conversion)

Sunday 16th August 2015
Turned out the Skeleton Warriors didn't need much work, just a little highlighting on their shields so that I did and popped them on the basing shelf. Basing takes too bloody long so things don't stay on the painting table for basing, they go on the shelf and others things take their place.

In this case, five Assault On Black Reach Ork Boyz with sluuggas and choppas take their place. Briefly. I have a horrible tendency to start things and then get distracted so after a little layering on the browns and some touching up of the metallics they, too, went to the basing shelf.

Less than an hour into this diary and I have ten models damn near finished. This is good.

Replacing them are six Skink Skirmishers with blowpipes and hand weapons, significantly further from finished than the Boyz or the Skeletons. I'd only just started the skin tones when I put them back in the case for a game. I also slipped the Skink Priest with the Cloak Of Feathers onto the table since he's at a similar stage of progress.

I also quickly finished the metallics on the two Gretchin (or, more honestly, gave up on them because Gretchin don't deserve the effort of picking out each element of their guns in different tones) and they went to the basing shelf to be replaced by another two Gretchin. Some day I will finish this unit!

Finally, I got the last inking done on the Salamanders and they also slipped up to the basing shelf. Now, everything so far has been in the nature of easy victories, jobs nearly done finally getting finished. This is, in all honestly, because I am avoiding the Bastiladon. I tried drybrushing the black carapace with Dark Reaper and it just doesn't work. Mostly, the How To Paint Lizardmen guide has served me well but it just doesn't look right to me so back to the drawing board on that one...

Monday 17th August 2015
A quick afternoon session while listening to Doctor Who: Return To Telos. I got the skin tones on the Skink Skirmishers and Priest layered up to completion and slapped some colours on the Gretchin's trousers.

The small, mismatched army on the basing shelf got Steel Legion Drab painted around the rims of their bases.

The Bastiladon still torments me.

Wednesday 19th August 2015
I like Doctor Who audios for shorter painting sessions but this afternoon I discovered that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is pretty decent, undemanding viewing/listening for longer sit downs. The following was all completed to the background sound of Operation: Double 007 (which was terrible but not up to Manos: The Hands Of Fate's standard).

I'm pretty sure I'm done with texture paints. I'm using Armageddon Dust on the bases of the Skeleton Warriors and it just isn't working out for me. I got one of those new textures spreaders from GW the other day and it doesn't make it that much easier. True, I don't have to sacrifice good brushes to get the stuff out of the pot anymore but they spread all clumpy and the spreader is far from a precision instrument. Back to the drawing board on that one, time to work out how to paint sand to look like sand, as insane as that sounds.

I finished the layering on the Gretchin and popped them up onto the self, replaced them with two other Gretchin as the eternal cycle continues.

Whilst I was painting the metallics on the Oldblood I discovered that Brass Scorpion is a very unforgiving colour. It took me three layers of Abaddon Black to cover a small slip of the brush.

Still can't decide what to do with the Bastiladon's carapace.

Thursday 20th August 2015

The group is getting together on Sunday to play a series of 500 point games. It'll be me (Lizardmen), Matt (Orcs & Goblins), Tom (Empire or Bretonnia) and Iain (Chaos Warriors). The full quorum. 500 points doesn't get you many Lizardmen and at the moment I'm leaning towards this:

Skink Priest, Level 1 Wizard with a Channelling Staff. 80 points
20 Saurus Warriors armed with spears and shields, full command. 250 points
12 Skink Skirmishers armed with hand weapons and blowpipes, Patrol Leader. 94 points
Salamander Hunting Pack of 1 Salaamander and 3 Skink Handlers. 80 points

504 points total.

Some magic (I'll decide what lore on the day), some combat power, some speed and some shooting. Only real flaws of the list is that everything will be moving at markedly different rates so dispersal is going to be a nightmare and I've never liked taking a wizard as a general. Still, it isn't as if anyone else is going to be playing with ideal lists.

Friday 21st August 2015
Too tired to get anything substantive done after work so I just finishing the basing on the models that have been accumulating on the shelf this week. Given that I haven't painted anything in months and now I have sixteen models sitting on the shelf just waiting to be varnished I'd say this diary idea is paying off!

In other news, the ink and drybrush layers make the Armageddon Dust on the Tomb King Skeletons look amazing so I'm definitely going to have to keep using it. Hopefully, practice will make using the texture spreader easier.

Completed Models This Week
#1 - #5: Tomb Kings Skeleton Warriors with spears and shields (command rank)
Here's a “better” look at the bases I'm so enamoured with now. Terrible photo, I know.
#6 - #10: Ork Boyz with sluggas and choppas.
#11 - #12: Orks Gretchin
 #13 - #14: Lizardmen Salamanders
#15 - #16: Orks Gretchin

Progress Bar
Model finished this week: 16
Models finished so far: 16

Monday 17 August 2015

The importance of easy victories

When playing Warhammer, easy victories are no fun. You have to work and think to beat your opponent otherwise it's no fun. When painting the miniatures, however, you need all the easy victories you can get.

Painting miniatures can be dispiriting. Personally, I've always enjoyed it. I find the activity relaxing and it gives me something to do with my hands when I'm catching up audio dramas or podcasts. However, there are times, especially when I'm starting a project, when it can get me down a little. Those moments when I'm just not making progress and all I can see are the dozens of other models after the ones on the table.

It is just about the only criticism of old-style Warhammer Fantasy I can get behind. Sort of. A bit.

This is where my Easy Victories are important. For the better part of the year I've been chipping away on and off on a Space Orks army and something Space Orks have in abundance are Gretchin. Gretchin are small, simple models and there are lots of the little beggars. You don't have to spend much time on them (more importantly, you don't need to spend much time on them) to make them look good.

So recently a little corner of my painting table has had a Gretchin or two sitting on it most of the time. So when, to take a current example, I'm having trouble working out how to make the Bastiladon's carapace look good and not like I've never held a drybrush in my life, I can work on one of those Gretchin and feel like I'm making progress instead of just staring at the thing that's giving me trouble for hours on end.

And what's even better is that because the Gretchin are for one of my other armies, the feeling of making progress actually involves me making progress. Tiny, barely significant progress but progress nonetheless.

And when I run out of Gretchin there are always the simple as can be Night Goblins and Squigs for my Orcs & Goblins army. Or the very limited palette needed for Space Marine Scouts. Or Skinks. Or Zombies. Just simple, little things that can be finished with only a little effort as I wait for more complicated, time-consuming things to dry or for inspiration to strike an ongoing problem. 

Saturday 15 August 2015

Fixing M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender

Two totally convincing Inuits, yesterday.
A lot of people have been on Twitter and the like outlining how they'd fix the Fant4stic movie. Well, that's weak sauce. Imma gonna fix The Last Airbender!

This sort of came up in conjunction with watching Fant4stic. My gentleman friend, whilst we were waiting for the screen to open, made a comment about how no matter how bad Fant4stic was it had to be better than The Last Airbender. I made my standard non-defence of the film in saying that I don't think there was any way to do it well given the constraints on time and content that came with making it a kid's film whilst trying to retain the epic sweep of the TV version of Water.

I still stand by that but I did end up, during that horrible middle act of Fant4stic, noodle out a way that M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender could have worked.

Before we begin, please take the following as read: in this alternate universe the film has better actors, a better screenplay, a better effects budget and the racebending was no more of thing than it absolutely had to be (pragmatically, there probably wasn't a huge number of teenage Inuit actors to source Sokka and Katara from even if they had tried).

Okay, let's begin. How to make this thing work.

One: forget that the Earth Kingdom and the Southern Water Tribe exist. Have the entire film take place in and around the North Pole. Have Sokka and Katara be from the Northern Water Tribe but from a remote village on the other side of the continent that the capital have just sort of left to fend for themselves and is too far away and not self-sufficient enough for the population to make it to the capital. The only reason that Sokka, Katara and Aang can make the journey is because they have a flying bison (God, I love this series).

The screenwriter then needs to do his damnedest to work out what needs to be retained from the Earth Kingdom sections of Water and what can be converted to being set in the North Pole.

For my money, the only trip into the Earth Kingdom that both needs to happen and needs to happen there is the trip to the first Air Temple, plus the Temple in the Fire Nation from The Winter Solstice. Aside from that, random coastal townships in the North Pole could be used for the events of such episodes as The Blue Spirit and the Earthbender prison camp can be a platform on the ocean again and therefore make sense rather than being a quarry and having a strangely racist, underwhelming ending.

Then the stuff in the Northern Water Tribe capital happens pretty much as it happens on TV.

The events in Omashu in Water can be folded in with the events of Return To Omashu in the Earth film (Aang saves the king only to discover it is his old childhood friend). The Gaang can meet Suki at the Serpent's Pass and Sokka can have the over-protective sexism beaten out of him as part of the storyline that has him offending Suki by trying to shield her from harm in the aftermath of losing Yue. Most of the Earth film should be the Ba Sing Se stuff.

Just to round out the Trilogy That Shall Never Be: Fire should start with The Headband but instead of all the “we're in disguise” stuff they should plunge straight into The Day Of Black Sun followed by however much of the Zuko episodes (probably just The Southern Raiders, The Boiling Rock if possible) they can fit in before doing Sozin's Comet.

I am aware that this theoretical Last Airbender trilogy is, in it's way, more brutal to the source material than Shyamalan was but I honestly feel that was the only way to go. Shyamalan's version tried to retain too much and ended up losing the entire spirit of the thing. It has been years and the memory cheats but I remember a film in which Aang never smiles, Katara never fights, Sokka never comes up with a plan and Zuko has not even a shade of grey about his character.

Anyway, that's my tuppeneth. 

Friday 14 August 2015

The missed potential of Kate Mara's Sue Storm

If there's one thing above all others that annoyed me in Fant4stic then it's the treatment of Sue Storm. Beyond the unconvincing monkey, the unconvincing tree, the unconvincing characters and the unconvincing attempts to make me believe actual effort went into making this film, Sue Storm annoys me.

You see, I can't deny that Fox had a whole list of great ideas for her. They just didn't actually do anything with that list. Here is allthe things that Kate Mara's Sue is according to the film as shown:

She is a Kosovan orphan.
She speaks with a US accent but can summon her native accent at will.
She is Doctor Franklin Storm's adopted daughter.
She has a talent for spotting patterns.
She views music in terms that are both mathematical and poetic.
She uses her “pattern-spotting” talents as a form of psycho-analysis.
Both she and Johnny have history with Doom.
She is more academically accomplished and closer to her father than Johnny.
She obviously loves her brother.
Neither her adopted brother or father place any qualifier before calling her their “sister” or “daughter” in spite of their obviously different relationships with her.

This is what is done with these ideas:

Her Kosovan origins and accent are referenced once in a scene that only exists to justify Doctor and Johnny Storm being black now. Ditto, the fact she is adopted.

The pattern thing, oddly, is never used in conjunction with her being a scientist. Her job on the teleportation project is making the environment suits. Even though two scenes involve her operating complex computer programs, one of which involves her using her pattern-recognition skills, she is not one of the computer programmers on the project.

The poetic speech about patterns in music is only to reinforce the idea that the hot woman is cooler than Reed, the speccy socially awkward nerd. Oh, Fox, you and your hilarious stereotypes...

Doom's feelings for her are never actually addressed in her direct presence. He just tries to use the force of sheer machismo to scare Reed off in one scene. Her view on Doom? Never addressed, never even referenced, not even in the one moment where Doom sort of brings it up to her when he says he wanted her to be Eve to his Adam on the nightmare hellhole warpstone planet that gave them their powers.

Sue and Johnny relate to each other in only two ways: mutual low key affection or Johnny being outright hostile. There is little middle ground and nothing that bridges the two emotions. The attitude of the film makers honestly seems to be “They're siblings, okay?” with no other explanation needed. The obvious view of Sue being the “good child” Doctor Storm favours over the less-accomplished Johnny is brought up once (by Johnny to Doctor Storm, again cutting Sue out of an emotional storyline that should involve her) but never explored. No connection is made between the fact that both she and Johnny are builders of things on the project: she the environment suits and he the welding on the teleporter itself. Nor is it ever addressed that she and Johnny are the only two of the five empowered characters who “switch off” their powers using the properties of their costumes.

Beyond that, of course, is the fact that she's cut out of the expedition that gets them their powers, gaining her own as a side effect of the group's return from the alien/alternate world. Yes, a Fantastic Four movie in which one of the Fantastic Four is not present for the actual incident in which they get their powers. What's she off doing while the others are doing their ill-advised thing? Chasing after daddy! Good grief. And then the boys get drunk before deciding to take the teleporter for an unauthorised test fight and, obviously, Sue couldn't be present for that because she is a good little daddy's girl.

Let that be the legacy of this film, folks: Fox has managed the impossible feat of plunging head first into the Madonna/Whore Complex in a film with only one female character. 

Wednesday 12 August 2015

The Movie Ramble: Fant4stic

Credit where it is due: the first 30-ish minutes of this film are okay, averagely decent, passes muster, good enough. Let's face it, if there's a phrase that characterises Fox superhero movies it's “good enough”. Their X-Men franchise has run fifteen years on being good enough. Yes, the characters were a bit light, the plot was a bit coincidental but a year ago I gave a pass to these guys giving Ellen Page magical time travel powers and no lines. I was ready for a good enough film on an X-Men: The Last Stand sort of level.

Then the Fantastic Four get their powers and it all falls apart. I am not kidding, there is that clear a dividing line between the good enough portion of this and the trainwreck portion.

Didn't matter, I was already obsessed by the chimp at that point. You see, in this version of events the FF (or, rather, Reed, Johnny, Ben and Doom) get their powers by jumping in a teleporter they built and visiting an alien planet. Or an alternate Earth, it's oddly ambiguous. First, though, they test it by sending a chimp through.

A CGI chimp. A poorly rendered CGI chimp. And so it was, during the many moments when my attention began to wander I wondered whether it was really that prohibitively expensive to rent a chimp for a day. My friend and I, first thing we said to one another when the lights came up, was to ask each other about the chimp.

It's not even the worst effect in the film. There's an unconvincing tree at one point. No kidding: there's a green screen effect so bad it makes a real, living tree look like bad CG.

There was a groan, an audible group groan in the cinema, when Reed Richards has the “we're stronger fighting together than separately” revelation.

If you've heard bad things about Kate Mara as Sue Storm, I'm telling you: it's all true. She isn't part of the expedition that gets them their powers, her own powers are an odd effect of the others coming back from the expedition. There's even a scene from the trailer which has been changed for the finished film: instead of using her forcefield to wreck a whole bunch of transport containers like a bomb going off the finished product has her barely able to shift two in a move she clearly has little to no fine control of. Her powers are barely used except as transport for the two non-flying boys. There is literally not a single sequence in which she appears that she is not somehow sidelined. There's one sequence that looks like it might involve her going off and doing something but then the heavy lifting gets handed to the Thing and a six pack of army men.

When early-60s Sue Storm compares favourably in terms of agency to 2015 Sue Storm, you know you're on to a loser.

What's more, Fox continues with this bizarre notion they have that Reed, Doom and Sue need to be a love triangle yet barely commit to it beyond a single scene in which Doom tries to scare Reed off while Sue... sits in the background blissfully unaware of this entire plot strand. Are we really in a place where, as a society, we can't get together a better modernisation for the origin of a mad scientist THAN FRAGILE MASCULINE SEXUAL SECURITY!? Especially when the source material gives us good, old-fashioned hubris and rivalry?

Oh, the hell with, let's just rail on all the politics: there's an environmentalist subplot that somehow justifies Doom wanting to destroy the world; a cartoonishly evil government man who wants to replicate the FF's empowerment to make super-soldiers; the fact that this plot involves the Thing taking human lives is just sort of shoved out there and never addressed; Doom is an unwashed internet activist stereotype when he first turns up but his personal politics don't actually seem to extend much beyond moody nihilism except here and there he has a plot-convenient spirit of exploration about him.

Consistency would be nice. This is a short bloody film and Doom disappears for a third of it, giving him a consistent character shouldn't be that hard. When he does reappear, having been abandoned for a year on the alternate Earth/alien planet he has ALL THE POWERS! He can kill people with a look just so long as they aren't important to the plot and shape the alien/alternate world to his will so long as it wouldn't protect him from taking a punch.

He is literally defeated because Reed Richards, super genius, works out that all four of them hitting him together is more effective than hitting him separately. Cue audience groaning.

So Doom can't settle on a personality; Reed has no recognisable emotions; Sue has nothing to do; Ben has none of the personality that usually allows him to cope with his condition; and Johnny... honestly, Michael B. Jordan ain't bad but he just isn't given the material. No one is. None of the character interactions really come off: Ben and Reed's friendship, as adults, is strangely sterile; Reed and Sue flirt once in lieu of anything resembling human interactions; Ben and Johnny's first actual conversation is in the final bloody scene; endless potential existed in exploring an uncommon sibling dynamic in a continuity where Sue is Johnny's adopted and more accomplished sibling yet it is never exploited; Doom and Reed's friendship is set up in a fun little montage of the group eating takeaway but is, again, never explored; and, I've already ranted about the anaemic wretchedness that is Fox's latest attempt to boil Doom's motivation down to feeling cuckolded.

Don't see this movie. Just don't. It isn't even a fun bad movie. A fun bad movie has to made in good faith with the actual ambition, misguided as it may be, that what is being made is going to be great. This has no ambition beyond merely existing to satisfy a contract. It didn't need to be good, it just needed to be made cheaply and that is achieved by having a middle third of it in which nothing happens at all. Just endless scenes of Vancouver forests and underground bunkers in which the cast think seriously about maybe having a character moment if they feel like it. 

Monday 10 August 2015

Fant4stic: I don't know but I been told

Tomorrow afternoon, masochist that I am, I'll be watching the new Fantastic Four movie with a friend. Why would I want to do this terrible thing? Originally I was just going to let this one pass and check it out, basically, never. I got caught out with The Amazing Spider-Man, no way was I getting suckered into another of these IP rights hate boner flicks in the hopes the First Class lightning would strike twice.

Then the reviews started coming out. I expected negativity. I expected endless jokes about it being “less than Fantastic” or “I'm only giving it a 4 out of 10 for the gag”. I did not expect the phrase “urethra scraping” to come up.

And the director disowned the final cut.

And Miles Teller gave an interview in which he said critics would hate the movie because critics hate “this kind of movie”.

And it took an abysmally low figure at opening weekend.

Plus, Donna Dickens tweeted out a list of the scenes from the trailer not present in the movie which basically amounted to everything that mildly interested me in the trailer. Apparently there's no Thing jumping out of plane in the middle of a storm, no Doctor Storm bigging up Reed's abilities as worldchanging, no Johnny saying he'll need a heatproof lab. I know the film was going through re-shoots when that trailer came out but that is some seriously dodgy shit.

Mostly, I'm just seeing this because someone else wanted to and I think the epic ranting session in the pub afterwards will be entertaining. There's also an element of pity here. Hundreds of people spent maybe tens of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars to make this trainwreck for no better reason than no one at Fox wants to be the one face down on the carpet before their evil overlords explaining why they let the rights revert to Marvel and basically handed the hated enemy millions upon millions of dollars.
In all seriousness, on the off-chance that by Tuesday anyone other than me and my gentleman friend are in the cinema I fully expect the rest of the audience to be a guy in a jumpsuit and two small robots. 

Thursday 6 August 2015

On the latest celebrity break-up announcement

I say this as someone who has known people who were in unhealthy relationships but couldn't see a way out because they believed the commitment they'd made was more important than their own well-being. It is a horrible situation to be in because on the inside of it you can't even see that there is an outside. Especially as we have a culture that tends to reinforce the idea that “being in a relationship” is some sort of literal win condition for your life. It is a prerequisite for happiness.

In films a romantic plotline is almost mandatory. When our media addresses pretty much any form of sexuality it's a better than average bet that it will end in true love and happiness forever. We have whole genres that revolve around the main character overcoming all sorts of obstacles to find “The One” (and I am not talking about The Matrix).

And that is fine. Those can be good stories, inspiring stories. However, it does often seem that our society views “happy and single” and some sort of essential contradiction. This in turn leads to this pernicious belief that on you're in a relationship then any sacrifice, no matter how harmful to you or your partner as individuals, is not only acceptable but necessary.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that Kermit the Frog is better off single. 

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Rites of Battle: The Blades of Sanguinius

I don't play pen and paper RPGs. I don't have the knack for roleplaying, I come over all self-conscious. However, I find roleplay manuals to be fantastic sources of inspiration, especially the ones for Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000 RPGs. Rites Of Battle, for instance, has a wonderful system for creating your own Space Marine chapter.

The following was written using the headings and questions in Rites Of Battle, filling in the details I'd already decided and picking off the menu when I didn't have an answer. Later I'll write this up in a more narrative form, probably as an old-style Index Astartes article, but for now it's just the facts, ma'am.

Chapter Name
The Blades of Sanguinius.

Trials of the Aspirant
Given the options I've decided the chapter tests its aspirants using a mixture of the Exposure Trial and the Knowledge Of Self. The exposure trial takes the form of a trek through a forbidden region of their home world that is supposedly home to the Chapter's fortress-monastery. This is a lie. The chapter is based on a warp-capable star fortress in orbit of their home world and monitors the progress of aspirants from afar, both through technological means and deploying of Battle-Brothers in scout armour.

Those aspirants who survive the forbidden zone's many dangers (ravenous predators, poisonous fauna, the usual...) and show sufficient fortitude in their observer's sole estimation are rescued at the point of near-death and brought to the fortress-monastery. Once aboard the star fort the aspirant is treated for whatever symptoms of exposure and such they are suffering but are kept sedated. In this state they are brought before the chapter's Librarians for the final test. The Librarians induce a dream state within the aspirant with which to test their worth. The nature of the dream depends on the mental qualities of both Librarian and aspirant and may be different every time. Few ever speak of their experiences in the dream state and the Librarian's word on the aspirant's worth is final: to be inducted into the chapter, returned to their home or executed on the spot is entirely up to them.

When was the Chapter founded?
The chapter was founded in early M38 as part of the 23rd or “Sentinel” Founding because I like the name. I like the foundings with names and that's the only one I know other than the Dark and Cursed Foundings, neither of which particularly attract me because you have to make the chapter massively flawed for the Cursed Founding and I rather like the Exorcists being the last survivors of the Dark Founding.

Why was the Chapter formed?
Given the name of the Founding I'm going to say the chapter was intended as a Standing Force guarding the Imperium's borders from outside attack. As a standing force they have a certain area of responsibility within which they are required to maintain the Emperor's rule, though their deployment can take them far across the galaxy.

How pure is the Chapter's gene-seed?
Let's just go with the standard Sanguinary flaws, the Black Rage and the Red Thirst, with just the usual level of degeneration later founding Blood Angels chapters tend towards. So, more Blades fall to the Rage and they feel the Thirst a bit more strongly than the Blood Angels but they aren't all frothing nutters like the Flesh Tearers or actively craving blood at all time like the Blood Drinkers or Flesh Eaters.

Codex Demeanour
There are a series of these Demeanours in Rites Of Battle and I wasn't going to pick one but I gave them a look and this one really called to me:

Swift As The Wind

The Battle-Brothers of the Chapter may excel at rapid strikes and lightning raids, but the trait extends to every facet of their character. They are as quick to anger as they are to jest. They can be impatient, yet display great personal initiative. Whilst not rash or foolhardy, such a Battle-Brother believes in the value of immediate action over protracted planning, and chafes at the bit to engage the foe.

I love the bit about being quick to anger and jest. I want funny Space Marines.

What type of planet if the chapter's home world?
The Blades' home world, which I've decided to call Tsubasa Minoris (Japanese for “wing”), is a planet whose society is about the social and technological level of the Renaissance.

Home world predominant terrain
I have this mental image of huge mountain ranges across the whole planet with vertical cities built up the sides. The different mountain states are in a state of perpetual warfare, exactly the sort of social condition favoured for Space Marine recruitment. Naturally, any attempt to make a lasting peace are thwarted by Scouts from the Blades of Sanguinius with sniper rifles.

Relationship with home world
Aside from the assassinations mentioned above and whatever else is needed to keep the eternal wars of Tsubasa Minoris going, I've decided the chapter maintains a “Stewardship” level of control. By and large the mountain cities are ruled by their own kings, prime ministers and diverse other lords. Each of these rulers acts as a client king to the Chapter-Master, who holds the title and rights of Imperial Governor. Usually there won't be much contact between the chapter and the local lords except for states of planetary emergency and demanding the lords send recruitment candidates to the forbidden zone.

How closely does the chapter follow the codex?
Again, the standard Blood Angels divergences: the extra Assault Company, the Sanguinary Guard and Priesthood, the Death Company and unique wargear items. Otherwise they're very much a Codex chapter. I'll probably come up with funky names for individual companies and such but it's just the standard ten company system.

Combat Doctrine
Combined arms with a bias towards close combat. I don't tend to like “specialist” chapters, I think a Space Marine is a Space Marine and they should have the clear damned common sense to train as generalists able to handle any situation. They are Sanguinary, though, so combat and aerial assault are going to highly favoured.

Also I have an idea, given the chapter name, that sergeants and officers will favour power swords over other specialist melee weapons.

Speciality Restrictions
The book gives a list of roles (Apothecary, Techmarine, Assault Marines, Devastators and Librarians) and pick one that the chapter doesn't use. Another option offered is to “pick something truly unusual”, so let's pick something unusual as none of the other options really inspires me...

Given the terrain of their home world the chapter tends to favour Land Speeders and Stormravens for vehicular support. They do maintain an armoured vehicle pool as any chapter would but in small numbers than would be standard.

The chapter, as was common in the background when I started playing but isn't as common now, reveres the Emperor as their creator but not as a literal god. They also venerate the memory of Sanguinius as the sacrifice that secured the future of the Imperium they serve.

Current Status
Nominal. A full chapter of ten almost full strength companies. Their tendency towards lightning hit-and-run engagements lessens the usually high level of attrition Sanguinary chapters tend towards.

Friends and Enemies
Friends: the chapter has strong ties to the local Mechanicus forge worlds because I want to have some Skitarii and Cult Mechanicus detachments in the army. I also prefer the more bellicose, honour culture view of Skitarii from Graham McNeill's novels to the emotionless cyborgs their codex prefers and I think those sorts of Skitarii would get on well with the Blades as I envision them.

Enemies: Like all Blood Angels successors, the Blades have a fraught and cautious relationship with the Inquisition. I'm not sure if the Blades have done anything major to deserve it or if it's just their attitude of edgy caution that have made the Holy Ordos suspicious.

Naturally, I intend to have my Ordo Xenos Inquisitor, his retinue and his Deathwatch Kill-Team teaming up with the chapter for all sorts of happy fun.

Battle Cry
Blood! Fire! Steel!” chanted in unison as the chapter advances, blared out of helmet and vehicle-mounted vox-casters at maximum volume to terrify the enemy.

The chapter symbol will be a sword, downthrust or, to put it another way, the shoulder pad from the Dark Angels Veteran Squad of which I have ample spares.

I'm not sure, except that there'll be a lot of red and, I think, some steel to make them look more knightly. I'll have to be careful not to just copy the Knights Of Blood colour scheme. Perhaps through the use of some gold elements and making sure the body is a solid red?

Okay: red torso and shoulder pads; silver arms and legs, gold aquila and pauldron trim unless I think of something better when I come to start painting. Death Company and Sanguinary Guard in their usual colour schemes.

Tomorrow: tying it all together. 

Monday 3 August 2015

The Comics Ramble: In Non-Defense of The Killing Joke

This will not be pleasant. We're going to be going into detail today about Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke and the specifics of what did and did not happen to her. I'm doing this because there has been a kerfuffle recently concerning making TKJ into an animated movie, principally in response to Donna Dicken's article “It's Time To Kill The Killing Joke” which got her... let's face the sad facts, exactly the reaction one expects from the internet these days.

Lots of people want to defend The Killing Joke. Okay, well and good but, just to clear, the following are not defences:

Barbara Gordon isn't sexually assaulted, you're reading things into it that aren't there!”

No, she isn't raped. At least, she isn't explicitly stated to have been. However, she is shot, stripped naked and then photographed nude and bleeding on the floor. This is assault with a clearly sexual component and whilst we can go back and forth on whether the Joker's goons rape her, that at least is explicit within the text. Whether it was seen that way by the writer, by the editor or even by the readership at the time (and the answer to all those is probably “no”) this is sexual assault.

But Jim Gordon gets abused, too.”

Yes. Yes, he does BUT he is the subject of the story: he has an arc, he gets resolution and victory at the end. He gets, naked in the rain after everything he's been through, to cleave to his moral code and demand that the Joker be brought in alive and charged in full accordance with the law. Barbara, meanwhile, is treated as a passive object in the story and gets none of those things. She gets shot and after that she is barely addressed by the story at all. We don't even see her reaction to the news she's lost the use of her legs, the only person told on panel that it's happened is Batman. So, yeah, Barbara's injury and disability is very much treated as something for Batman and Jim Gordon to react to, not for Barbara to engage with in any visible way.

Alan Moore is a genius and this is his fantastic creative vision!”

Erm... so, Alan Moore has been pretty clear that he doesn't really care for the whole Barbara scene anymore. He himself acknowledges that this is something he should have been held back from writing by his editor. There is definitely good stuff in TKJ but none of it needs naked, bleeding Barbara to function. The meat of the story is the stuff with Jim, Batman and the Joker in the abandoned funfair.

But this comic created Oracle, the great disability pride superhero, you can't want to undo that!”

Actually, this is one I was sort of caught up in until I read Dickens' article and re-read TKJ. It's been a few years since I last picked it up and I genuinely thought there was more set-up for Oracle (re: any) than there actually is.

However, let's be very, very clear: this is flat out untrue. Oracle is not Alan Moore's creation, she is Kim Yale and John Ostrander's creation and first appeared in Suicide Squad. Folding this story into continuity was a late-day decision, disabled Barbara was not considered an ongoing prospect going forward when this was written. No version of Barbara was, there were no plans for her future use at that time. And again, as with appreciating what Moore does with the central concept here, Oracle does not need naked Barbara to function, she just needs a gunshot wound.

But... but... Jason Todd!!!!!”

See my point about Jim Gordon's treatment in TKJ: Jason's death was the high point of a four-part story arc in which he had probably more agency than any sidekick had had prior to that point. Also, his death, unlike Barbara's assault here, was not sexualised.

If you object to this film then you want to ban the book and arghle-blargle free speech! Censorship! Oppression! Chips in gravy!”

Okay, this one is complicated and will actually take multiple paragraphs to tell you why you're wrong. Point one: I do not want to ban The Killing Joke. In a similar vein, I do not want to “ban” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Celestial Toymaker, The Goon Show or any number of Disney movies because of their problematic treatment of race. All those things, The Killing Joke included, exist and I firmly believe they must continue to exist. That their content was acceptable in their days is regrettable but we learn nothing from erasing them.

We only learn from discussing them. Huck Finn is part of the American Canon but it has issues of race in spite of the author's recorded (for his time) liberal views. The Celestial Toymaker is flat-out racist and a pretty crap story with it but it is a fantastic text for seeing what could be broadcast unquestioned in 1966 on BBC One (answer: sinophobic surrealism). Spike Milligan was a comic genius whose upbringing in colonial India led him to skewer Imperial ignorance but that didn't stop him demonstrating it with his Asian characters. Acknowledging these flaws doesn't stop us enjoying the parts that have aged well (not that there are many of those in Toymaker...) but just denying the problems with these things makes us look just plain ignorant.

This is all equally true of the TKJ's content. The Killing Joke is a historical document and it has a right to exist. The film, however, is yet unmade. In making it with the sexual assault scene intact, given there's a better than decent chance it'll be adapted scene-for-scene from the comic, validates the original content as PRESENTLY acceptable. I can look at a 1988 graphic novel, an 1884 novel, a 1960s TV serial or a 1950s radio comedy and accept that that was how people thought back then, however regrettably, because that's the march of history for you. Having to make those allowances for a 2015 animated feature is just too much to ask.

And gravy on chips is a heresy against all common decency.

But there are other pieces of media with sexual assault in them!”

Yes and I am not totally opposed to its portrayal as it can be both sensitively and usefully addressed in fiction. However, I do not believe that a DC animated feature is going to go into a deep, well-constructed narrative of assault survival when it can sell itself on Joker antics instead.

Well, no one said you have to watch it!”

No. No, they didn't, glad we agree. However, if anyone expects this to carry them the argument I shall bring in some medieval law: those who remain silence shall be presumed to agree. People used to vote like that: only the dissenting had to speak and anyone silent was assumed to be voting yay. These days we have abstention, which is a form of silent protest for those who don't feel strongly enough to actually have an opinion.

If I believe something is wrong, I will speak. It is a moral duty. I will not be seen to agree with something if I do not actually agree with it. It doesn't matter if it personally affects me or not, whether it be the content of a film, the passing of a law or the downright bizarre notion some people have that pineapple is in some way edible.

But this is what the Joker would do and any other decision betrays the character!”

No. I'm sorry, no. Fictional characters do not have volition of their own. The Joker does whatever his writer tells him to do and even if we did accept the idea that there is some essential core to the Joker that “makes” him act a certain way, I present you...
"Just once I wish Ledger or Hamill would draw the short straw!"
Do we think this guy would shoot a woman, strip her nude and take photos? When people talk about the Joker as if he were a coherent entity they tend to be speaking just for a preferred version of the character. I'm not saying The Killing Joke would be any better for having Cesar Romero and his painted-out moustache in it (though, honestly, what wouldn't be?) but when people talk about the Joker being a cruel sadist at heart it ignores the fact that Romero's version has as much right to be seen as “the” Joker as Alan Moore's or Frank Miller's or Heath Ledger's.

But this is the definitive origin of the Joker!”

Two points. Point one: look up the word “definitive” quickly because this is really not what it means. The Killing Joke itself acknowledges that the flashbacks might all be fiction, in fact that acknowledgement is one of the best lines in the whole damn thing. Point two: the origin, again, is not impacted by Barbara having more clothes on as she bleeds out or getting some moment of catharsis or victory later in the story.

Is that the answer, perhaps? Can the story be saved by intelligently addressing Barbara's plight in the story, by toning down the sexualised nature of her assault? Is it not just as shocking for a father to see his daughter bleeding on the floor however she's dressed? Is there no victory Barbara can be given to make this genuinely the origin of Oracle, not just the story other authors rebelled against to create Oracle?

After all, if the Joker must have a definitive story, wouldn't we all rather it be multiple choice?

I think it can be saved. I believe in my heart of hearts that there's a good story here, perhaps not the great story other people see but certainly a good one that has problems that could be ironed out. At the end of the day, though, I don't think that's what's going to happen. The Killing Joke movie will, like as not, be a straight warts-and-all adaptation because that is what the most vocal sections of fandom will demand: the full story with not a change made to their precious classic.

Could it be changed up a bit? I don't see why not, the comic is only about fifty pages so there's going to be some padding at least so why not some padding that serves a purpose? 

Sunday 2 August 2015

Hobby Diary #1

The last few weeks I've been getting back into gaming. The whole End Times and Age Of Sigmar mess sapped my enthusiasm but now I'm having fun again with my Lizardmen taking on all comers. Last night I was packing up my Lizards for a game later today and the army, to be frank, is a mess of bare and half-painted plastic and I came to a realisation:

I don't need to paint this, I want to. I'm having fun and I want to present my opponents with a nice visual as one of us stomps the other into the ground.

I want my lumbering behemoth of a Bastiladon to look cool. It has only once lived beyond Turn Two because everyone is afraid of it but I think the model looks fantastic but half-painted it just looks average. I want Matt to not just fear my Saurus Cavalry (and he really does) but to appreciate them. I really want to make my Skink Priest's Cloak Of Feathers as insanely technicolour as possible.

So, yes, pushing on this now.

On the 40k side of the street I'm resurrecting my Blood Angels army, the Blades Of Sanguinius. I've bought a plastic Librarian and a Blood Angels Tactical Squad. The Librarian went together like a dream but the new bolter assembly on the Tactical Marines is hell on toast.

They had this cracked! Dark Angels Veterans and Death Company have the bolter already attached to one arm, it worked fantastically. It was the solution we had all been waiting for. 

Saturday 1 August 2015

The Arrow crossover no one expected or asked for

This is just weird and I love it. For the last week or so my friends have been sharing Facebook posts by Stephen Amell, the guy who plays Oliver Queen in Arrow. Anyway, he seems to be calling out Stardust.
The wrestler Stardust aka “Cody Rhodes finally has a gimmick that suits him”.

Now, I don't follow the WWE week to week, I tend to watch random episodes and pay-per-views with my friend Matt because he has WWE Network so I don't know if there's stuff on TV where Stardust is getting in on this. For all I know Amell is just trolling the world here.

I hope not. I really, really want to see Amell and Rhodes have a match. I really want to see Amell cutting promos (“You have failed this promotion!”... see? It writes itself). Also, given Cody's current costume what better feud could there be than fighting a superhero?

This has the potential to be very fun and to involve Stephen Amell shirtless, which is always a plus, as the makers of Arrow are very much aware.