Saturday 30 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #7: Qualified Failure

I hit a roadblock a week or so back. The yellow that came out so well on the Archers came out patchy and horrible on the knights so I had to go back to the drawing board on one of the major colours for this army. So I haven't got much more done than the Archers I showcased a while back.

Still, I've managed to get a better yellow now and should the sun ever come out again I'll hopefully get some pictures up soon. It won't take me too long to finish the Battalion, though the peasant command groups are proving a little more challenging than I expected.

As to this coming month's challenge, to be completed alongside the remaining models from the Battalion, I'm going to keep it simple. The challenge is a unit of infantry or cavalry and I'm going to pick cavalry. In fact, I'm going to paint a second unit of Knights Of The Realm. This one won't take so long, hopefully, as I now have the methods for painting horses pretty much down and this unit will be painted in the simpler colour scheme of the Duke of Gisoreux (red and black, very simple colours to lay down). 

Friday 29 September 2017

The Big #1: Marvel Legacy

Yesterday's manic ranting about Klingon foreheads and anachronistic holograms was probably triggered by the fact this very issue was sitting in my read pile for the afternoon. Marvel Legacy is, by design, fan wank. Its the event born of that executive who stated to a retailers meeting that nostalgia, not diversity, was the major selling point of comics.

[Insert well-worn, frothing rant about how that's obviously true in a medium that makes no moves towards accessibility to new readers here, I'm too tired to go over that again.]

And the fact is I'm quite looking forward to this. I fear it, as well. Recent issues of Mighty Thor have out and out stated that Jane Foster is going to die soon, which in and of itself is probably not a bad thing. The character has had terminal cancer for some time and given how she's been written in this run I don't think the character would see dying as Thor having saved so many lives at the expense of her own as a “bad death”. If she does out actively bettering the world, well, that's an ending I can get behind.

Simiarly, I do want the real Tony Stark back in some capacity. I love Riri Williams but I miss the dynamic the two had before Tony's Civil War II-induced coma and their Generations issue certainly foreshadowed how good it would be to have them interacting again now Riri has some proper hero time under belt.

Still, I fear...

I fear the fan wank aspect; I fear the collapse of all the interesting new characters that have taken up legacies over the last couple of years, especially in light of how quickly Unstoppable Wasp was cancelled; I fear the further shrinking of the medium in service to fandom-friendly nostalgia over even fractional innovation (because, let's face it, a healthy medium would have been able to introduce Nadia, Riri, Miles, Kamala, Amadeus!Hulk and all those others in their own identities instead of hand-me-downs).

Anyway, that's enough self-indulgent self-analysis. What was the first issue like?

Well, mostly it was bite-sized trailers for the tie-in series which is par for the course for event series first issues these days. Its really just a question of which ones interest me. There does seem to be a thread that actually sets up this series involving Starbrand and one of the many Ghost Riders, neither of which are characters I'm terribly interested in. There's also some business with a Celestial, again not a part of the Marvel Universe I've ever been that keen on.

There's a lot of good art but the many, many different art teams working on this issue just makes it feel even more like a collection of teaser trailers than it already did. The Fantastic Four-related teases are the most interested to me and I hope this means that Perlmutter has been forced to take his head out of his arse by Disney and we're getting a new FF comic sometime soon.

There's also some business with Odin, the Phoenix and some pre-historic Avengers that holds some promise as well as a short scene in which Norman Osborn retreats in shame from Doctor Strange's shrubbery.

Its bitty and sets up a lot of questions that will probably not be addressed in this series itself. Again, basically the format that these event series take nowadays but I find it tests my patience a bit more every year.

Still, a pleasing lack of Nazis so I'm inclined to give this one a chance. 

Thursday 28 September 2017

Two ways to be wrong about Star Trek: Discovery

I loved the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (which is what British Netflix has right now, I believe more was made instantly available in the US) and I have so many thoughts that its taking me a whole to hammer them into something publishable even by my low, low standards.

(I mean, what was yesterday's post even about?)

That having been said, there's something I want to pick apart on its own because it has wider implications. Be warned, we're getting into “people are wrong on the internet” territory so enjoy me screaming into the void.

There are two ways in which people in comment sections are getting angry about Discovery. The first, and most obvious, is the anger that Star Trek has gone all SJW and is pandering to liberals with its casting of not one but two women of colour as the U.S.S. Shenzhou (take note, Star Wars, there are more women in the world than white ones with brown hair) as if the series hasn't been a utopian liberal power fantasy since 1966.

Now that's just dicks being dicks, this is the world we live in now. The right wing have become so immune to subtext that they can look at the original Star Trek with its female black officer (an engineering officer, no less), two Jewish leads, Russian and Japanese characters, constant civil rights allegories and end of episode homilies about the message of the week and still think “This is on our side, there's guns!”.

So that's how people who aren't that engaged with Star Trek are being Wrong On The Internet. But what about people who are engaged with Star Trek? Is there a way for them to be Wrong On The Internet?

Why, yes there is, I'm glad you asked.

For the dedicated Star Trek fan who wants to be Wrong On The Internet there is the very simple method of obsessing over the ways in which Discovery “breaks” the continuity of the overall franchise. The main point that seems to keep coming up (and I've only read a couple of comment threads, I'm not dedicated enough to this post to put myself through that) is the use of the holographic communicator.

You see, in previous canon the holographic communicator was invented during Deep Space Nine and quickly forgotten because the production team realised it just looked like two people standing in a room together because that was exactly what it was. So, in a way, its a bit odd to see the technology in use over a century previous in the canon.

Except, here's the thing, the future isn't what it used to be. I am writing this post on a laptop smaller, thinner and with a higher definition screen than the one that sat on the desk of Captain Janeway's ridiculously spacious ready room. My phone has so many more functions than the Starfleet communicators that inspired it that I don't even know most of them.

So the 2250s now have interstellar full 3D holographic communicators for calling up Thomas Cromwell and the Klingons are not just guys in yellow face and reflective green shirts, they've even moved beyond the whole “smushed Mars Bar on the forehead” look to a more complicated full-face prosthetic. Your mileage may vary on how effective the design is (personally, I like the facial look but I'm not too sold on the ribbed battle corsets) but hating them because they contradict the canon explanation from Enterprise about how the Klingons started off with crests and then lost them and then got them back in time for the movies is, to be frank, rather nitpicky.

Maybe its just because my favourite show is Doctor Who, where the canon's made up and the plot points don't matter, but I've always been more interested in the details of the individual story than the overarching continuity.

To be honest, if we're talking about inconsistencies with the Klingons never mind their foreheads because somewhere between the original series and The Next Generations the entire species carries out some sort of personality swap with the Romulans. In the original series you'd never, ever turn your back on a Klingon but the Romulans had an honour code that could be relied upon even if it wasn't terribly nice. Fast forward eighty-odd years and suddenly Romulans are the sneakiest, most backstabby dicks in the entire Alpha Quadrant whereas Klingon honour is at least culturally consistent even if individual dickery persists (looking at you, the House of Duras).

And its just sad, guys. Its the sort of argument that stereotype nerds in bad comedy sketches make and perhaps that's why I react so strongly against it. 

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Bill Clinton's Sean Spicer impression...

To be frank, its a bit situational and I don't know how well it'll play in a club environment because, let's face it, those props are not portable.

Sorry, Mister President, but it needs workshoping. 

Tuesday 26 September 2017

The proper application of Dwarf Rangers

It has taken me a while to work out what on Earth you're meant to do with Dwarf Rangers. I've had a dozen or so games now with my Dwarfs, mainly against Matt's Skaven, and I think I have finally worked these guys out.

The basic deal of these fellows is that they're a Scouting unit with crossbows, great weapons, throwing axes and heavy armour with shields as an option. Up until now I've been using them as a Death Or Glory Suicide Squad and it turns out that was a terrible idea. For the most part I've been setting them up using Scout the minimum twelve inches away from the scariest things my opponent has (usually Rat Ogres or similar monstrous infantry) and hope to get in a first turn volley of crossbow fire in before being charged.

For the most part this tactic ended in death. Mine, to be specific.

On Sunday, again against Matt's Skaven, I tried something different for no better reason than there was already a 16 model Thunderer unit staring down the Rat Ogres. More by luck than judgement I discovered what Rangers are for: creating an exclusion zone.

I set them up roughly at the centre of the battlefield with a piece of impassable terrain protecting their left flank. To their right was empty space but, crucially, it was empty space that my Dwarf Lord and his Ironbreakers were going to be moving up into in the very near shortly. The presence of the Ironbreakers provided me some protection from being charged by Matt's larger and more powerful units who would have had to weigh charging against the possibility that they'd be countercharged by the scariest infantry unit in my army.

Meanwhile, the crossbows were in short range and whittling down one of Matt's infantry blocks until something more valuable, such as his Doomwheel, came into my arc of sight.

Once my Ironbreakers and Warriors had caught up with the Rangers, the Rangers became a supporting unit to them effectively returning the favour and being the scary unit Matt didn't want in his flank if he made a badly judged charge against the larger rank and file units.

There's a lot more synergy between Dwarf units than I thought there was and I'm looking forward to exploring these mechanics a little more deeply. 

Monday 25 September 2017

New Star Trek Today!

Today the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery drops on Netflix and I am so damn ready for it. I have done my best to keep myself spoiler free. I know the point at which the series is set, I know some of the casting details and I've seen the new Klingon designs. I know nothing else.

Its been too long. I loved Star Trek Beyond, felt it was a return to form for the franchise after two pretty empty action movies, but this is a series that belongs on the small screen. There are too many messages, too many issues in the world to be dealt with one at a time once every couple of years especially as ineptly as the non-Simon Pegg written films did. That's what I think is important about Star Trek, especially now, that it is science fiction's conscience in the mainstream space.

There are things I'd like to see, of course. I'd like to see some sort of LGBTQ+ storyline not end in epic tragedy (a real failing of the series up to now, Sulu's reboot family notwithstanding). I'd like to see the series do more with the exploration aspect without getting bogged down in endless prequels concerning established races.

I'd like to see less concern with continuity than Enterprise felt was necessary. I'm not a fan of slavish continuity for its own sake, it tends to bog down stories far more than it allows for interesting explorations of established characters and races.

I mean, The Next Generation and original cast movies basically flipped the characterisations of the Klingons and Romulans and now we accept that Klingons are honourable if dicky whilst the Romulans are completely untrustworthy. Go back and watch The Original Series: you'd never turn your back on one of those Klingons whilst the Romulans had their own sense of honour that could be relied on.

So, if these strangely Orc-like Klingons turn out to not be very much like Klingons as I understand them... I won't mind if it makes for better stories.

Just so long as we don't have to sit through a multi-episode story arc explaining how their foreheads have changed shape.

Sunday 24 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #6: The Horse Barrier

Chipping away at the peasant units in my Battalion I was starting to feel confident with the bright colours and basic methods I want to tie these first few units together so I decided to finally tackle the Knights of the Realm. I'd even found the White Dwarf with the best horse painting tutorial GW ever published (May 2013, the 8th edition High Elves release, and it uses the modern paint system if you ever want to track a copy down).

Now, I only have myself to blame for my current fatigue. I have eight knights, the tutorial has eight methods and I forgot just how difficult the horse bit of the Bretonnia Knights models were to paint.
This is how one reaches what I have come to call The Horse Barrier.

There was this facetious comment that did the rounds back when Age Of Sigmar was about to launch about why Fantasy was meant to die: “No one likes painting horses.” Its an extremely over-simplified, sarcastic and downright odd belief but I am starting to sympathise.

Now, I don't usually mind painting horses but Bretonnian warhorses are amongst the most user-unfriendly models in the Warhammer canon. The way the legs are moulded into the barding, not always distinctively, means you're constantly trying to reach your brush through the middle of the model at odd angles.
Oh, and the one I was painting as a light bay went a bit wrong and now I have an orange horse and no motivation to fix it. I just want to move on. Sir Donald that knight will be or whatever medieval French equivalent I can find.

Moaning aside I know there's an element of Half Finished Model Syndrome going on. Right now the models look dispiritingly awful because I've spent several sessions over the better part of a week getting only the smallest element of the model done and the rest is undercoat. They look terrible but once I have some more of the model done, like the big block colours of the barding and knight's tabards, it'll look better even if the horses aren't up to much.

The yellow on the Archers isn't actually that consistent but once its part of a complete model with other colours around it the eye is a lot more forgiving. 

Saturday 23 September 2017

My favourite Elf

There are a few models I really regret not picking up when I had the chance and, thankfully, eBay exists so for the most part I've been able to track them down quite cheaply. One that eluded me until last week was a particular High Elves Mage that I always loved but missed the boat on and finally I've found one for cheap:
(Incidentally, yes, I do have the other arm but he fell apart in transit and I need to acid bath him).

It would probably be easier to explain what I love about this model using a properly painted example so here's the version from (I think) an old Army Book:
Now, I'm no metal snob. White metal was a horrible material that hated undercoat, chipped like crazy and somehow hated glue more than it hated paint so the models would just periodically collapse. HOWEVER, for a while in the early-2000s GW used the material to produce some of the best character models they'd ever put out.

Which is where our elf here comes in. He was one of a set of Mages that came out for the seventh edition and I adore the little guy. He might not be the most dynamic model but I feel that works. He's not floating in the air or throwing out fireballs, in fact he's posed more like an Empire Engineer than a typical wizard which is awfully fitting. Elves are the most magical race in the game, naturally, and to them magic isn't a floaty, wibbly mystery its science. This guy is holding a crystal ball as if it were a scientific device because, to him, it is. His clothing is arranged in enough layers that a two tone colour scheme will still look visually interesting but not so many layers that it looks too hard to paint.

He also looks mildly offended, probably unintentionally but that's so very High Elf, isn't it? 

Friday 22 September 2017

Comic Reviews

This I didn't have much time to read, didn't have strong or interesting enough opinions on what I did manage to get through and so mainly I just bitch about crossovers.

Nightwing #29
Gotham Resistance part 2

And once again we have a crossover acting as a huge roadbump to a series' ongoing narrative. Last issue we saw Nightwing and Huntress about to bang away only for Dick's estranged girlfriend to see them through the window just as she about to see if they still had a future. Also, she was wearing rocket boots because comics. This issue its a Metal crossover that continues a story from Teen Titans with the next installment in Suicide Squad... good grief.

Here's the thing, writing this I had to flick back to the credits to check this was the regular writer and, yeah, its still Tim Seeley but something just feels off about the characterisation. It just strikes me as very telling that Seeley doesn't seem to be able to close the gap between Dick as he has written him for the last couple of years and the Dick that needs to exist for plot reasons of this crossover. Its exactly what I was complaining about with the Secret Empire crossovers at Marvel (sans fascism, that's a whole other Nightwing series, apparently): the regular plot is just getting roadblocked as yet another crossover demands that the actual point of the series be put on hold for a few months.

And I like Metal, just to be clear, I'm really keen to see where it goes but so far the main series seemed more than able to tell the story without interrupting two series I was otherwise enjoying and boldfacedly demanding of me that I give Suicide Squad a try while I'm at it.

Batman: The Red Death one-shot

The cover offers me the Flash by way of Batman by way of Judge Death and, even better, its an additional one-off purchase that doesn't railroad an ongoing series. See this, DC, this is a lot more palatable to me as a consumer.

Its a decent done-in-one. Its main job is to give context to one of the evil Batmen introduced at the end of the main series' last issue but it also gives more information on the Dark Multiverse and how it works than we had before. Interestingly, the Dark Multiverse world the Red Death comes from takes a lot of design cues from Frank Miller's Batman work which is either a nice little nod or a very, very harsh judgement on how his vision of Batman relates to the way DC wants to portray the character now.

Still and all, its a bit slight, that's the nature of one-shots like this. I'll pick up the next one and see if there's a continuing thread through them or if they're all just going to be origin one-shots. If there's an ongoing story I'll stick around, if its just a series of comics where the only plot is “here's how Batman went wrong” then I'll probably just keep to the main story.

U.S.Avengers #10
Same As The Old Boss

This is a big aftermath issue for all the Secret Empire stuff which, oddly, I actually understood because this was the one series I could absolutely not do without during that whole mess since Al Ewing absolutely refused to play along with the “and then everyone lost and lost and lost” narrative Nick Spencer was mandating.

Its mainly future set-up, these issues always are, but Ewing always delivers the fun exposition and here we have Sunspot (I will never call him Citizen V) having a sit down meeting with Not Steve Bannon Honest Guv about the future of SHIELD and the U.S.Avengers that goes pretty much exactly as you'd expect a conversation between a Trump advisor would go with an immigrant leading a team of immigrants. Like everything about this series it is not subtle and very welcome for it.

There are also developments with Toni Ho, by far my favourite character, which I hope are followed through on. I adore the character and watching her cycle through different phases of identity and self-image on this team has been fascinating (and probably something other writers should be taking note of, to be frank).

I'm in the process of cutting down my pull list and this series is front and centre of the ones that absolutely will not get dropped. 

Thursday 21 September 2017

Comics: exploring a more varied diet

It happens every couple of years, this sudden urge to shake up my reading. Recently I've been expanding my pull list beyond my go to superhero series with stuff like Lumberjanes, Bombshells, Mech Cadet Yu and Rat Queens, all series I'm really enjoying for how different they are. Its not even that I'm burnt out on superheroes. Right now DC's in the best place its been creatively in about a decade and Marvel, recent Nazi missteps aside, has some good stuff going on that I hope Legacy isn't going to ruin.

Still, I feel the need to explore a bit so I went into town with a small budget and scoured the shelves of Waterstones and Oxfam Music (strangely, of the two Oxfam stores, the one that displays comics donations) for anything that looked interesting.

I ended up with a decent enough haul that will keep me busy for a couple of weeks.

To start with, Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness and Nationalism: a graphic history by Ronald Schechter and Liz Clarke. I have to admit, I did not expect to find a graphic novel with an Oxford University Press logo on the back cover. I love historical graphic novels and a biography of an eighteenth century British Jewish boxer is certainly not something I'd ever have thought to look up on my own.

A Contract With God claims to be the first graphic novel and given its written and drawn by Will Eisner I can well believe it. Again, a historical based at least somewhat on the author's own life. I'm always leery about foundational works, they tend to age worse than people give them credit for, but I'm more than willing to give it a shot.

100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call is the first in Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso classic Vertigo crime series, which is one of those classics I've never got around to. I love Azarello's Wonder Woman and every time I've encountered Risso's... shall we call it “aggressively grotty” style I've been impressed. Plus, Oxfam only wanted £2.99 for it so how bad can it be?

Another classic I've never read, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is an autobiography of a woman who grew up in Iran during some pretty scary times. It is also something I once promised a friend I would read and review and, decade late or not, I do want to keep to my promises.

The back cover blurb of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda's Monstress: Awakening promises me both art deco beauty and steampunk horror plus a quick flick through tells me the art is absolutely gorgeous. I know practically nothing about this series, only that I love the aesthetic and the protagonist Maika Halfwolf is looking for answers about her past so I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Finally there's Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?, the first book in the series that brought Brian Michael Bendis to prominence. I liked the recent Powers revival at Marvel but got burnt out on it because I feel like I was missing a lot of necessary context on the main characters so it might well be worth my while.

Opinions to follow at a later date...

Wednesday 20 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #5: Overdue Showcasin'

Yesterday, all of a surprise, the sun came out. My house is truly the worst place to take photographs. It is literally aligned against the passage of the sun so even the garden doesn't get good enough light half the time (nevermind British weather) and I cannot wait for that light tent to arrive.

Anyway, the first completed models for my Bretonnians: half a unit of Peasant Archers! The rest of the Battalion is in various states ranging from half-finished to barely started but I'm still very much enjoying the project. So, precious, precious photographic evidence:

These were a lot of fun to paint and quite easy once I'd broken down in my head what was hard leather, what was cloth I wanted to be brown and what was cloth I wanted to paint in grubby heraldic colours. Originally the halved yellow and red was going to be the colours of a random knight champion but I like the contrast so much they're going to be the colours of my general's family (and of the Errants and Realm Knights of his household, just to make my life easier).

I was surprised by how well the yellow came out, actually, which I put down more to the Zandri Dust undercoat than any actual skill on my part. Between these and some Skinks I've been painting on the side using Macragge Blue undercoat I finally feel sold on using different coloured sprays.

As to the rest of the Battalion: the remaining Archer are about half done; the Men-At-Arms are just getting started with just some flesh tones filled; and, the Knights are taking a while to start because I'm painting each horse a different colour, partly as a colour test but mostly because since I'm painting them in uniform heraldry I want something to make the models looks more like individuals.

With eleven days of Month One to go I doubt I'll get everything all the way done but I'm making progress I'm more than happy with. 

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Hal Jordan and the Bruce Wayne Problem

Its hard to remember after over a decade of Damian Wayne but there was a time when Bruce was a pretty minor figure in Batman comics. That sounds mad to say but its honestly the truth, Grant Morrison even called it out in his first issue of Batman when he has Alfred calmly inform Bruce that he's doing the gravelly Batman voice all the time now. In the 90s and early-2000s it seemed that Bruce was Batman 24/7. That was also the time when the whole “Batman is the real personality, Bruce Wayne is the mask” psychology was really prevalent.

Then Morrison came along with an explicit agenda to resurrect the “hairy-chest love God” Bruce Wayne (and yes, those were his words at the time) and thankfully it stuck. Even though the character has been “killed off” twice since then Bruce as a person outside the suit has remained a very important element of the Batman comics. Bruce's time as an amnesiac while Jim Gordon was Batman springs to mind as a prime example. You'd never have seen such an extended examination of Bruce as a person back when I started reading comics.

So what does this have to with Hal Jordan?

Well, in last week's issue of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps Hal experienced a vision or a visitation of his father during a tense and stressful moment. During the scene, Hal's father says this:

... you can't lose sight of the ground […] you can't go all out, all the time. Be Green Lantern but don't forget to be Hal Jordan.”

Reading that it struck me how divorced Hal is from his Earthly roots, even from the personality of Hal Jordan, when he's in uniform. Perhaps its an effect of the mask, he's really the only Earth Lantern who's still portrayed as having a secret identity. John and Guy haven't worn masks in years (may never have done under present continuity) and both have public identities to the point that not long ago Guy was having trouble getting teaching gigs because of the risk his other job represented to the kids. Kyle still wears a mask but, let's face it, Kyle's heart is too firmly pinned to his sleeve to be anything other than Kyle Rayner at all times.

There's also the fact that Hal has a life back home that he's actively in the business of ignoring. John, Guy and Kyle don't. At this point none of them have Earth-based supporting casts or careers (is John even still an architect?). Hal has his brother's family back home at the very least and some day they're going to cycle back to him and Carol Ferris being a thing because there's decades of narrative gravity pulling him back to that relationship.

As much as I've always preferred the space-based side of the GL mythos there's is something inextricably Earthy about Hal. He's John Wayne in space and that does mean he sometimes has to go back to the good old US of A every now and again otherwise it just doesn't feel right.

Also, I do feel he sorts of needs an ill-advised love interest in his life and no one on Mogo is dumb enough to volunteer at this point. 

Monday 18 September 2017

Brexit 40,000

On the second page of the Death Guard Codex background section there is a Brexit joke. You see, it turns out that before they were reunited with their Primarch the original Death Guard, the Dusk Raiders, “were drawn from the rugged gene-stock of Albia, a Terran empire that long resisted reunification.”.

So the Death Guard, an army of chronically depressed unimaginative footsloggers who worship decay and despair, are British and even twenty-eight thousand years in the future the British people are stubbornly resistant to political unification with the rest of the world. Even when the cause of unification is led by a literal god trying to drag the human race out of an apocalyptic dark age we're still desperately protecting the pound.

I love it. Not only because I'm one of those tiresome Remoaner people but because its nice to see 40k getting some of its grim(dark) humour back. One of the biggest spiritual ancestors of the Imperium is Judge Dredd, another property that a lot of people tend to forget is meant to be funny.

As I've said before, one of my minor favourite background details of 40k is that Nurgle Daemons like fighting alongside Noise Marines because they like dancing to the screeching discordant sounds. 

Sunday 17 September 2017

David Bradley IS the Doctor (on an ongoing basis)

Recasting is a touchy subject in the Doctor Who fandom and that's a complex subject. Its very emotional and not entirely logical but I understand it. I can argue all day that there's no rational difference between Jemma Powell taking on the role of Barbara Wright that Jacqueline Hill originated and (to take a topical example) Kenneth Branagh being Poirot in the new Murder on the Orient Express. Branagh is Poirot now and that doesn't insult David Suchet's or Peter Ustinov's work in the role. Different actors play the same role all the time, its how acting works.

And yet I see the argument. Its purely emotional and there's nothing wrong with that. Jacqueline Hill is the Barbara Wright, Lis Sladen is Sarah Jane Smith. These were definitive performances that mean something to the fandom.

Personally I don't mind recasts but they will always be second best. I hate that I feel that because I feel like I'm insulting the new actors. Take Tim Treloar, for example, who has played the Third Doctor for Big Finish for a couple of years now. He puts in a fine performance and I include the fact that he explicitly plays a version of the Third Doctor and not a Jon Pertwee impression. From what little I've seen of David Bradley (in The Doctor Falls and clips of An Adventure in Time and Space) he seems to take a similar approach to the role (even when explicitly playing Wiliam Hartnell in the documentary).

I won't lie: I love what I've seen of Bradley and I think Big Finish are going to do well with this project but I say that with one caveat...

I think it would be better in the long run if they treated The First Doctor Adventures as effectively a reboot of Season One. This is an entire TARDIS team played by new actors, with a new Master as well, and I'd rather see the roles pushed in new directions for new actors than slavishly trying to imitate the past.

This is Big Finish so it could go either way but for the moment I think I'll tend towards the positive. 

Saturday 16 September 2017

Kate Orman and the Tomb Kings of Khemri

As mentioned yesterday, I am reading Kate Orman's Black Archive book on Pyramids of Mars, a serial whose story is rooted in the Universal and Hammer mummy movies. The army I'm using the most in Warhammer right now is the Tomb Kings, an army whose entire aesthetic is based on the Universal and Hammer mummy movies.

I was having trouble coming up with names for my Tomb Kings characters.

Not anymore. Orman's analysis of Pyramids is full of references both to characters from the Universal and Hammer movies as well as actual historical figures. I'm taking notes.

For a start my Liche Priest using the Lore of Light (I love that Tomb Kings are undead who use exorcist magic) will be named Meritaten after an Eighteenth Dynasty queen consort whose name means “beloved of the sun god”. The more scheming of my Lore of Nehekhara Liche will be named Isfet, which is a philosophical term for injustice or chaos, in the sense of being the opposite of maat (order) which might end up the name of a nicer Liche because I like dualisms as much as the next guy. 

Friday 15 September 2017

Kate Orman enters the Black Archive

Tomorrow I'll finally be cracking open Kate Orman's Black Archive book on Pyramids of Mars and I'm mightily looking forward to it. If you asked me for the top three most influential Doctor Who authors of my lifetime then its obviously Russell T. Davies at the top, Steven Moffat right behind and the number three spot can only be decided in a steel cage match between Paul Cornell and Kate Orman.

Cornell and Orman were both authors on the New Adventures novels which were, from 1991 to mid-1997, the only Doctor Who going. Cornell was the first new voice in the range, the first to write a second novel and very much responsible for setting the style of the line. Orman, meanwhile, was the first woman to write for the range, the first non-English author (she's Australian) and wrote a huge number of novels in the final two years of the line which was a magnificently creative period that produced some of the series' most interesting novels.

Now she's writing a book length examination of a stone cold classic... that I'm just not that sold on. I mean, it is at least one of the sacred cows you're allowed to slaughter these days and I don't imagine Orman is going to be kind to either the rushed ending or the character of Namin.

Still, she might surprise me. This series has a tendency to bring in interesting critical perspectives on the stories it examines.

Also, Orman being Orman, I'm interested to see if she can somehow slip a torture scene into an academic discussion. 

Thursday 14 September 2017

The Legion of Substitute Miniatures #1: Female Chaos Marauders

With Warhammer Fantasy no longer being a going proposition I'm always on the lookout for interesting alternative models. The other day I was trawling eBay on my regular trawl for out of production High Elves characters (there are so many great ones...) and after a little link-following stumbled across these:
Shieldwolf Miniatures' Shield Maiden Infantry. Twenty models with options for hand weapons, shields, spears and crossbows. For my purposes the crossbows aren't important but I mention them for completeness.

Now, it may seem unfair to look at these models and see them only as alternatives for another company's models but, to be frank, there's no chance that I'd ever get to play Shieldwolf's own game system so this is the only way they'd get my money.

(Well, that an eBay seller would get my money and they got his money but you know what I mean. Money was got and ultimately it was got because I play Warhammer.)

So, female Chaos Marauders. There's a Kickstarter coming soon for more heavily armoured female miniatures who could easily be their Chaos Warriors. So, if you ever wanted to do Valkia's Horde of Chaos Ladies or just wanted to represent the fact the Norscans are a warrior culture and that maybe their womenfolk might be involved here's a good option.

You could also use them as Kislevite Kossars which would be a good use for the crossbows. I know Kossars are armed with ordinary bows rather than crossbows but they have access to Empire technology so it wouldn't be entirely out of line or you could simply count the crossbows as ordinary bows. Kislevites are quick on their feet it makes sense that they'd have worked out how to walk and aim at the same time.

For my part, though, they'll be Marauders because, as usual, my conception of Chaos is very, very influenced by the less technologically advanced peoples of Game of Thrones so basically a cross between Dothraki, the Free Folk and the Hill Tribes.

Any character I create for them will be less annoying than Ygritte. 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Grand Redemption of the Davison era

On reflection, there isn't a lot of the Davison era I'd actually recommend. Its a hard thing to admit because Davison himself is one of my favourite Doctors and he can wrestle anything into watchability, at least. There are so many great moments but as to whole stories I would recommend without having to attach a few caveats when I hand over the DVD?

Caves of Androzani, maybe? Even then I'd absolutely say “Please never watch the story that pays off the final episode cliffhanger” because domestic abuse apologism. Everything else just has too much riding against it, even the usually safe stone cold classics of that era. Enlightenment and Snakedance are hands down some of the best stories the classic series ever managed but one caps off an otherwise crap trilogy and the other is less of a sequel to Kinda and more of a second chance to pay off all the lofty intentions that never quite landed the first time.

The other day someone on a Big Finish Facebook group asked whether The Waters of Amsterdam was worth a listen. I was one of a bunch of commenters chipping in to say yes and in the process I called it one of Big Finish's “Do it again but better” stories.

And then I realised that has been one of Big Finish's chief strategies with Davison.

Its no secret that Big Finish has done some rehab on every Doctor they've worked with. They broke down the Sixth Doctor and reassembled him into something sympathetic; they took the Seventh Doctor further down the manipulative road than the TV show ever could; they had to build the Eighth Doctor practically from the ground up; and, whilst Tom Baker's better working relationship with those around him is his own doing, providing a late-Fourth Doctor era where star and co-stars aren't actively at war with each other is a pretty significant shift.

With Davison, again and again, Big Finish have returned to ideas and even specific stories, tapped their conductor's baton on the edge of the lectern and said “Once more, with feeling.

The Waters of Amsterdam as an example. The story takes place directly after Arc of Infinity, a story partly set and filmed in Amsterdam that did relatively little with the setting aside from a fairly generic “tourist gets kidnapped and concerned cousin (Tegan) investigates” plot. Otherwise it was a pretty bland story about a poorly explained Omega doing something with an almost unexplained space phenomena to return to our universe and somehow the Time Lords are getting shirty about it because reasons.

The Waters of Amsterdam, by contrast, is a story set in both “present day” (read: 1983) Amsterdam and the Dutch Golden Age where the Doctor wants to talk to Rembrandt about some painting that have actual spaceships in them. It also features a character from the present who is Tegan's ex-boyfriend, establishing a relationship and a life for the character between her being left behind at the end of Time-Flight and her re-introduction in Arc. Jonathan Morris writes a story that actually uses the characters to craft a story, which you'd think an era obsessed with soap opera would have done more often.

And Waters isn't alone in this. Spare Parts gives Davison another Cybermen story with all the emotional gut punches Earthshock tried to deliver but failed because Eric Saward could only kill off the least popular character on the show; Psychodrome is a whole story set just after Davison's debut that hinges on the fact that no one on the TARDIS knows anyone else all that well; The Five Companions is presented as a missing scene from The Five Doctors that is all about using a reunion of First Doctor companions to comment on the 1960s era and even to dispell a few myths about how those characters were (there's a fantastic scene in which Davison assures Polly she was never, ever just there to make the coffee); Kiss of Death is a story that explores Turlough's past on the losing side of a war which literally never came up outside his debut and his final story; and, The Gathering actually follows up on Tegan's emotional and abrupt exit from the series.

That's not even a complete list, just a few examples I picked out scrolling through the Big Finish website. There's more to their Fifth Doctor offerings than just reheating old plots and doing them better, of course, but I do take it as “part of the service” that they've polished off the hidden (and sometimes willfully squandered) potential of that era to show what could have been done with just a little more thought.

Oh, and The Church and the Crown is probably the best comedy historical the series has ever done. 

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Sailor Moon and cultural osmosis

Its odd how much information you can just passively absorb. I don't know if its just because of the internet and how nothing is really niche anymore but its an interesting phenomenon. For instance, I have never in my life watched an episode or read an issue of Sailor Moon in any of its incarnations but I am 90% sure that the following are all true facts:

The main character is a bit of a crybaby and has a magic wand.

She owns a talking cat who keeps fat-shaming her.

Her love interest is called Tuxedo Mask and he is a bit of a git in his civilian identity.

The green-haired Sailor and the androgynous blonde Sailor are lovers and the US translators tried to cover up the lesbianism by claiming they were cousins but didn't edit the footage well enough and so managed to broadcast incest they created themselves on a children's television time slot.

Just think about that last one. That's not a fact, that's trivia. That's the sort of information that would once have been the province of the longtime and attentive fan who went looking for the series' back stage arcana. Now its just something that a random schmuck like me can find out by scrolling through a few anime tumblrs.

Its a silly example but it shows how the internet has basically destroyed any knowledge-based barrier to entry on any form of entertainment.

Multiple versions of the series? You can find out the critical consensus on which is the best in minutes. Want to skip the filler episodes in an anime? Wikipedia will have an episode list telling you which episodes are based on the manga and which aren't. On a related note: if you're getting burnt out on an arc, the same episode list will also probably tell you at a glance (no need to read episode description spoilers) when the arc ends. A series has characters with complicated backstories spread over several other series before they appear in the one you're interested in? Full character biography is just a Google search away.

Its fascinating as a social phenomenon and not at all a sleep deprived rationalisation for why I'm considering watching Sailor Moon: Crystal

Monday 11 September 2017

That time I cheated for six years and it never mattered

In my defence no one seems sure how this started but for almost the whole time I used my old Bretonnia army I was cheating with my trebuchet.

In fairness, it wasn;t deliberate and everyone seemed to think we were doing it right. You see, back when the 6th ed. Bretonnia book hit the Field Trebuchet was the most powerful stone thrower in the game with its Strength of 5(10). Somehow our entire group managed to convince ourselves that it also used the large round template.

It didn't. It used the small one same as every other stone thrower.

Anyway six years later I'm playing a game with someone who has never played against Bretonnians before (not an uncommon problem, I mean, the only Bretonnia armies I've ever seen in real life are mine and Tom's and half of Tom's started off as mine) and so I had to explain how things worked as we did them. So, when I fired my Trebuchet for the first time I had to read out the rules...

...and found nothing mentioning the large round template.

I'd cheated for six years.

And it never mattered. I had almost never hit anything with the bloody thing. I had been cheating massively, using a template that could easily annihilate an entire ranked up unit of infantry in one round and somehow no one, not one single member of our group, could remember it influencing a game.

If you want a perfect example of my damned luck this is it: I cheated with the unknowing collusion of everyone it effected for six years in a way that should have swung endless games in my favour and it never mattered

Sunday 10 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden #4: Rules Lawyerin'

Its been raining on and off the whole weekend so far and I can't get a good picture of my Archers to save my life. Trust me, I have eight Archers finished aside frim the basing and as soon as light returns to our world photographic evidence will be provided. I absolutely need to invest in one of those light tents people keep talking about and come payday I will.

So instead let's discuss the rules I'll be using to play this army.

The Bretonnia book is fourteen years old and two editions out of date. It isn't bad exactly and its hardly unplayable. Having core troops with a two-plus save does wonders for power creep. The lance formation just doeesn't do much anymore. In a world of supporting attacks a full lance formation of nine knights gets nine lance attacks (including champion) and seven horse attacks. Under the same rules a unit of ten knights in two ranks gets eleven lance attacks and five horse attacks.

The lance is obviously inferior and it shouldn't be. A Bretonnian cavalry charge should be one of the most terrifying things to face down in the Warhammer World.

Luckily, Mathias Eliasson and his Warhammer Armies Project come to the rescue on a shining steed. I'll be mostly using the eighth edition version of the book (his website now hosts a version compatible with his own 9th edition rules but its essentially the same, as far as I can see).

I love this book, for the most part. There is one area in which I'll still be following the 2003 rules and that's peasants. Eliasson has raised Men-At-Arms and Battle Pilgrims to WS3 and that just doesn't work for me. I see why he did it but I want to maintain a distinction between the disciplined and trained troops of the Empire and the grubby indentured rabble of Bretonnia.

That aside, the book is basically perfect. Eliasson's version of the Blessing Of The Lady is much more fitting to the background with a 6+ Ward in combat and a 5+ Ward at range against the cowards' weapon that kills from afar. His lance formation confers Devastating Charge which adds a welcome element of brown trousers time to my opponent's day whilst maintaining the formation's disadvantages, to wit a narrow frontage that won't get you many attacks back when charged and a flank the size of Wales.

He's expanded the Lores available to Damsels allowing them to take Heavens (previously only available to the Prophetess) and Light. The choices make sense: they're medieval knights so they get the astrology lore and the religion lore. There's also a homebrewed “Lore of the Lady” which I might experiment with down the line.

One of most bitter ongoing gripes with the army has been addressed: Pegasus Knights now have barding like the models do.

There's also the fact that the 2003 book had a rather limited range of units and characters. Its not surprising. It was a lower tier army, it was the sixth edition and so that meant the standard load out of two Lords, two Heroes, four Core choices, four Special, two Rare and an extravagant three special characters.

There are a bunch of old special characters with modern rules in the Eliasson book but what interests me more are the new units: Foot Knights, the Merry Men-esque Herrimaults and Hippogryph Knights. There's even a Robin Hood style character class to go along with the Herrimaults: the Faceless. It might not sound like much but it adds some extra variety to an army I know like the back of my hand.

Now I just have to apply the colour scheme it took me over a week to barely finish eight Archers with onto the other thirty-seven models in that Battalion.

Also to buy some things so I can actually provide pictures. 

Saturday 9 September 2017

Superboy: The Long Kon

Now, I like Jon Kent just fine. I'm enjoying Super Sons, I love the dynamic between Jon and Damian and I want that series to go for a hundred issues.

The thing is that Tim Drake is about to come back and I am very fond of the idea knocking around the internet that the mysterious prisoner he shockingly recognises is Bart Allen (whose pre-Flashpoint self should still be running around somewhere). Cassie is... around somewhere and fixing her would be not difficult. You'd probably have to ignore a lot of her New 52 origin but that's basically what Rebirth reintroductions are all about!

Which leaves us with one last member of the Young Justice Big Four: Connor “Kon-El” Kent, the Superboy that I grew up with.

Part of me is going to hope forever for a proper Young Justice generation reunion but I think DC is rather done with Kon. They have a new Superboy and its hardly a title that accomodates multiple characters at a time like Robin has for the last decade or so. Kon was rather conspicuous by his absence from the flashbacks setting up the new unified pre-Flashpoint/New 52 version of Superman continuity when it reached The Death of Superman.

This is comics we're talking about, though, and nothing stays buried forever. Hell, the racist caricature from the very first Detective Comics cover appeared in New Super-Man not so long ago so there has to be some chance for a character whose worst sins are a) a crap New 52 title (hardly unique) and b) spending the 90s in a leather jacket costume that aged real badly real fast, right?

Friday 8 September 2017

Comic Reviews

This week, Brienne of Tarth gives evidence; two jerks head into space; the Ninth Doctor and Rose end up all at sea; the X-Men aren't as astonishing as they think they are; and, Riri Williams experiences future shock.

Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Captain Phasma #1
The last time Marvel did one of these Journey To... series it wasn't what you'd call the most relevant comic they ever did. It was basically the story of how Poe Dameron's parents met. Okay, the details of The Force Awakens were super, super secret so what Marvel could do was rather limited and I didn't go into this thinking much had changed.

Effectively, this issue (and probably the whole arc) forms an extended epilogue to The Force Awakens as Captain Phasma narrates a not entirely frank account of how Starkiller Base came to meet its end. The dialogue is minimal, as suits the character, Marco Checchetto's art carries the bulk of the storytelling duties. If there's one thing that's clear from how the creators are treating the character its that they, and perhaps Disney's licensing department, view Phasma as being more the “new Darth Vader” than Kylo Ren is.

Frankly, I'm with them on that one.

This first issue doesn't shed any more light on Phasma's character than her appearances in the Poe Dameron ongoing have. She's still pretty much just a very efficient, very cold storm trooper in particularly cool armour. The writing captures her voice well and the art makes her look all kinds of badass in a way the film singularly failed to so I'm more than willing to pick up the next issue to see if things get more interesting.

Green Arrow #30
Hard-Travelling Hero part 5: Constellation of Fear

Its a reunion of the original Hard-Travelling Heroes! I was pleased as punch when some throwaway dialogue early in this arc referred back to the original Green Lantern/Green Arrow series because that's one of my favourite classic comics and here we get to see how the two Rebirth versions of the characters work together!

As it turns out they've mellowed towards one another and that's good because this issue the exact opposite of what the original Hard-Travelling Heroes was about: this is Ollie needing to get out into space, high above the people he's trying to save instead of convincing Hal to keep his feet on the ground and notice the little people. There's a lot of nice scenes where we get to see the two Greens be jers to one another in that way that people can be when they're totally comfortable with each other.

We drop in, briefly, on Star City and Dinah and Emi's ongoing investigation into whatever happened to the secretary Ollie is meant to have murdered. Honestly, I wish there was more to that plot because I like Dinah and Emi together and this brief scene is one of only a few rare snapshots we get of the two women being superheroes together.

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Special one-shot
The Lost Dimension part 2

So, is it all starting to tie together yet? Well, no. This issue does exactly what it says on the cover. After the Alpha one-shot set up events all across the modern series continuity (and the Fifth Doctor era) this one hones in on the Ninth Doctor and Rose. It follows up briefly on the Jack and Tara subplot from Alpha but in the main this is a standalone that has Nine and Rose running into Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint on the high sees. Its exactly as fun as it sounds as a one-off, though at times it does feel more like a second prologue to the story.

Anyway, interestingly Vastra and Jenny already know the Doctor which opens up the comics to do so much more with the Paternoster Gang in the future. There's more distrust between Vastra and Nine than she had with Eleven and Twelve, though Nine just isn't as trustworthy as his successors (unless you're Rose). Now that the series has long abandoned Vastra and Jenny (and Strax) I'd love to see Titan revisit the characters in depth.

Especially as the comics seem a lot less shy about Jenny and Vastra making heart eyes at each other than the TV show was.

Astonishing X-Men #3
Life of X part 3

I'm starting to wonder about this different artist on every issue angle. Its a nice idea in theory but it doesn't seem to be contributing much to the overall experience. I can see how it could but even with most of the series so far taking place on the astral plane there hasn't been the sort of stretching of artistic muscles you'd assume would be going on.

This issue art comes courtesy of Ed McGuinness, an artist I really like. For the most part he's called on to draw Old Man Logan wandering through various scenarios built by the Shadow King to sucker him into believing its all real and putting him under the King's control. So far to good.

Its not that its badly drawn, its just there's nothing about the scenario that merges with McGuinness' art style to create the sort of amazing showcase that a series with a different artist on every issue should be offering. Nothing here is bad, its just that this was sold, as most series of Astonishing are, as a series os especial specialness.

And I'm not feeling it.

Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart one-shot

This one, I'm feeling. This issue has a whole list of pencillers, inkers and colourists that should make it unwieldy and confused but just adds to the experience as different artists hand in art that matches the different moods and sense of confusion Riri goes through in this issue, art gaining definition as she comes to understand what's going on around her. This issue also marks the first time one of the younger characters going through the Generations thing has been sent to the future, which I guess makes sense since the story being teased at the end of the issue is the return of Tony Stark.

Anyway, Riri is in the far-flung future we've been teased with a few times, the one where Tony Stark is the Sorcerer Supreme and those kid Avengers from that one cartoon turn up because that can't just be left to lie dead in the dust where it belongs. The two bond about futurism and its interesting to see because for the first time this is a pairing where both characters know each other. True, there's a gap of experience between the two because this Tony knows Riri far better than she knows him but no one is ignorant of the situation.

If nothing else this really makes me want to see more interaction between Riri and the real Tony Stark rather than the increasingly dodgy AI version. 

Thursday 7 September 2017

A Tale of 1 Warden pt.3: Colours of Gisoreux

Having now built my Bretonnia Battalion (and crossing my fingers I won't need more than four stands of defensive stakes for this army because they are an arse to build), I went looking for some inspiration on how to paint the models.

For a start I want to recommend Youtube as a fantastic source of battle reports, especially the Miniwargaming channel's Olde World Wars series which has more Bretonnia videos than I expected as one of their employees (Steve, I believe) actually has a Bretonnia army. Having not touched my old Bretonnia army since the early seventh edition its interesting to see how they play in eighth. Not badly, as it turns out, though I still think the lance is no longer as meaningful a tactical choice as it should be in the age of supporting attacks.

Second, I dug through my old White Dwarfs and found issue 290 which has a guide to painting Bretonnian heraldry. I may bend the rules a little but I think I'll mostly abide by them.

For a start you have a palette of five colours: black, red, blue, white and yellow. You don't use purple because that's royal (and too expensive) and you don't use green because that's a commoner colour (and too cheap). Yellow and white stand in for gold and silver and you don't use them together because they contrast badly.

My army is going to be based at Castle Desfleuve, a holdfast guarding the Bretonnian end of the Gisoreux Gap pass through the Grey Mountains.
This is a selection of heraldry examples for Gisoreux from the 2003 Bretonnia army book. Red and black seem to be the main colours, which are always a good contrast and relatively simple to paint, with white and yellow mainly for devices. That's also good because it means painting as little white as possible. The characters who will form the family deMartrand, the lords of Castle Desfleuve, will have yellow and red as their house colours. I'll be using mostly black and red on the rank and file Gisoreux knights so the characters will stand out. Also, I just like the contrast of black and red, there's a reason Flesh Tearers are my favourite Space Marines.

Also, if I follow these colours and leave blue out of the equation, I can use blue as a visual key to denote units that aren't from Gisoreux like the Questing and Grail Knights. I also have this concept of saving up the Knights of the Realm champion heads, which have stag horns, and creating an entire lance with stag helms to be the personal household of Duke Hagen.

For the moment, though, I'm concentrating on my Peasants and using them to test out colour combinations. I'm currently painting some Archers in the deMartrand red and yellow and Men-At-Arms in the Duke's red and black. Results, one hopes, will be in a fit state for posting by Sunday.