Monday, 13 September 2010

CLiNT #1 - Review (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this review, I concluded that the non-comics content of Mark Millar's new magazine CLiNT was more likely to alienate readers (even its target male readers!) than to attract them. If this venture is going to be successful, therefore, then the comics inside will need to be good enough to persuade people to buy it in spite of the non-comics features. So ... are they?

So far, it has to said, the reaction to the comics hasn't been overwhelming. The main criticism, however, has been less concerned with the quality than with the fact that most of the stories have either been published elsewhere already, or soon will be.

As a casual comics reader who hasn't read any of the comics previously, perhaps I can try to gauge what the average magazine buyer (as opposed to a die-hard fanboy) might think of them.

Kick-Ass 2
Plot summary: A sequel to Kick-Ass. Potty-mouthed pre-teen vigilante Hit-Girl is now attempting to build a new "super team".

First up is this eight-page extract from Millar's own yet-to-be-released Kick-Ass 2. This seems like a shrewd enough move. Obviously Millar has a vested interest in promoting his own work but, from a commercial perspective, it means the magazine also gets to ride on the wave of publicity that is accompanying the current DVD release of the Kick-Ass movie.

The artwork here is fairly cartoonish which suits Millar's jokey dialogue, but I couldn't help thinking it would be better suited to a smaller size page. Blown up to fill a magazine page as it is here, the simple lineart (pencilled by John Romita Jr) looks as if it needs more work. The writing is designed to amuse rather than engage the brain and I did enjoy what was here. Bizarrely, the art style and the emphasis on the gags reminded me of a foul-mouthed Peanuts strip, and I had no problem imagining Lucy as Hit-Girl and poor old Charlie Brown as the long-suffering Kick-Ass! The problem, for me, is that with only four panels per page and only one or two lines of dialogue per panel, there really isn't enough story revealed in these eight pages to help newcomers decide if this is something they'd want to continue reading.

Turf
Plot summary: Vampires meet gangsters in Prohibition-era New York. Oh, and there are aliens, too!

Turf is the first graphic novel written by Jonathan Ross and, before I read this extract, I must admit I'd pretty much made up my mind not to buy it. Like anyone looking to make a living in any field of the arts, it's hard not to feel a certain peevish resentment towards those for whom doors automatically open, just because they've already achieved celebrity status doing something else. Admittedly Ross is a self-confessed comics reader but, let's be honest, that hardly makes him any more qualified than the average non-celebrity fanboy.

It was a surprise then, to find that Turf is actually pretty good. It has a huge advantage over the Kick-Ass 2 extract in that all twenty-six pages of its first chapter are printed here - more than enough to allow readers to decide whether or not they're going to like the story and the style. The hugely detailed artwork (by Tommy Lee) and muted, nicotine-stained colours successfully evoke the feel of 1920s prohibition-era New York. Compared to Kick-Ass 2, it has almost twice as many panels per page and each one is filled to overflowing with Ross's verbose dialogue. That might not suit the average comics fan used to leafing through a DC or Marvel title in less than five minutes, but for anyone who - like me - enjoys reading a comic rather than simply looking at the pretty pictures, Turf is a fine effort.

Its one flaw, I'd suggest, is a very heavy over-reliance on third party narration. To some extent this is simply a matter of stylistic preference, but I've never thought this device was well-suited to modern comics. First person voice-overs are fine, but the inclusion of a third party narrator seems like a throwback to the days when the art of creating comics was trying to shake off the techniques used in illustrated stories but had still to develop the techniques which would be better suited to the new medium. To me, every third party caption takes the readers out of the comic's world, and reminds them: "Hey, this isn't real, you know!"

That aside, there's a lot to like in Turf and, from having been previously determined not to buy the graphic novel, this chapter has already persuaded me that I'm going to have to put my prejudices aside and give it a try!

Rex Royd
Plot summary: Ummm ... man builds army of clones and/or robots to act as body guards and/or take out super heroes? Oh, Hell, who can tell?!

Frankie Boyle, one of the co-writers behind Rex Royd, is on the cover of the first issue, suggesting that this comic is meant to be one of the magazine's high points. It isn't. At least not for me. There's a simplified "blockiness" to Michael Dowling's artwork, vaguely reminiscent of Mike Mignola but leaving far too much empty space on each page. The writing is basic. Minimalistic, even. In eleven pages there are very, very few lines of dialogue at all and those there are seem to be grunted, rather than spoken. There certainly aren't enough to build either atmosphere or character, and there are barely enough even to convey what on Earth is supposed to be happening. One to miss!

Nemesis
Plot summary: In a world without super heroes, a super villain embarks on a campaign to humiliate and then murder some of the world's leading police chiefs.

Oh, come on - you can't blame Millar for putting in another of his own stories. It is his magazine after all!

The artwork in Nemesis (by Steve McNiven) has a more realistic slant than the gag-strip style of Kick-Ass but, again, seems to lose something by having been printed on a magazine size page. While there are undeniably some very intricately detailed panels here, many of the pages taken as a whole still seem quite "empty" - as if they are waiting for someone else to come in and finish them off. I suspect this would be less of a problem in a standard "comic size" edition.

Like the Kick-Ass 2 excerpt, there are very few panels per page and only a limited amount of dialogue per panel, so it's hard to escape the feeling that this is going to be a very slight plot, stretched out over far more pages than is really necessary to tell the story. There's far more padding than substance. Nevertheless, there are twenty-three pages in this first chapter so, unlike Kick-Ass 2, it is at least possible to get a feel for just what that story might be, and for one or two of the characters involved.

Nemesis, it seems, is Millar's attempt to be Garth Ennis. Characters swear excessively, blood and gore are splattered gratuitously across every page and the overwhelming impression is that this is designed to shock first and to tell a story second. It could appeal to a few twelve year olds still going through their Beavis and Butthead phase, although - if they've already read Preacher - Millar's tendency to stretch out three pages worth of story over ten may become apparent even to them.

In short, shock-comics have been done before (ad tedium!) and, I'm afraid, they've been done much, much better than this.

Space Oddities
Summary: Intended to be a regular slot to showcase 3 - 5 page stories by new writers and artists.

This is billed as a "Huw Edwards presents ..." feature. I have no idea why. Is the gruff but affable Welsh BBC presenter known to have an interest in space? Or in comics? I don't know, and the magazine makes no attempt to explain it. If it's intended to give by-lines to apparently random celebrities, the magazine really needs to add some kind of an explanation, even if it's only a cheeky, self-mocking nudge and a wink.

Anyway, the story in this issue is The Diner, a three page humorous piece by Italian artist Manuel Bracchi. If you've ever tried to write a comic story in five pages or less, you'll know how hard that can be. It's to Bracchi's credit then that the artwork here is clear and professional, opening with two easy-to-follow pages (notwithstanding the almost complete absence of dialogue!) and ending on a genuinely amusing punchline. In short, this as good a light-hearted SciFi spoof as anyone could put together in the space available, and it easily puts Frankie Boyle's far longer effort to shame!

Conclusion
So ... the million dollar question: is the first issue of CLiNT worth buying, notwithstanding the God-awful attempt at magazine features? Well, yes. Just about!

Ignore Rex Royd and the dire magazine content and, at £3.99, the 26 pages of Jonathan Ross's Turf and the lightweight but fairly amusing eight-page slice of Kick-Ass 2 are worth the cover price alone. The other comics are at best middling but, if you regard them as bonus "supporting material" rather than core content, then you're still getting value for money. It still has a long way to go but, if Nemesis can step up its game (or if a better title can be found to replace it), future issues of CLiNT could even become something to look forward to.

Friday, 3 September 2010

CLiNT #1 - Review (Part 1 of 2)

If you haven't heard of this yet, CLiNT is the new British comics magazine put together by Mark Millar, writer of Kick-Ass. The first issue has had mixed reviews at best, most critics welcoming the fact that there is a new comic magazine of any description daring to brave the choppy waters of the UK's comics market, but being less than enthusiastic about the contents.

In its favour, it's generally acknowledged that conceptually CLiNT is trying something new. It isn't, for example, aimed solely at existing comics fans and is designed to sit on the shelves of newsagents like WH Smith, sharing shelf-space with other "hobby" magazines, rather than having to fight for attention among the glut of DC and Marvel titles in a specialist comics shop (although I did, in fact, buy my copy in London's Forbidden Planet!)

With a view to capturing that "non-comics" audience, its contents are something of a mixed bag. As well as five comics stories (more on those in Part 2 of this review), it has an interview with stand-up comedian Jimmy Carr and a selection of magazine style one- or two-page "novelty" filler items. For me, these were CLiNT's real Achilles heel.

The Jimmy Carr interview is no more probing or entertaining than an average fluff piece in a weekly TV guide (and there's not even a token question relating to comics!) The shorter fillers include a Top 10 of Hot TV Mums, a list of Charles Manson's other intended celebrity victims and the tongue-in-cheek Deeply Moral Babes - Overdressed Porn for the Religious Right. I know the magazine is aimed primarily at a male demographic, but these features seem deliberately designed to alienate completely any potential female readers. Worse, from a commercial perspective, the writing lacks the one thing that this kind of 1980s faux-laddishness needs if it's going to have any appeal even for a male audience - personality!

A successful magazine needs a voice of its own. It builds and retains its audience by speaking to its readers in a language they understand; by sharing their interests and enjoying the same sense of humour. Jeremy Clarkson is successful not because he knows more about cars than anyone else, but because he shares the fans' passion for them. Loaded (before it abandoned wit and irreverence for simple-minded crudity) was successful not because the writers were interested in most of the subjects they covered, but because they covered them in a way that shared their fans' sense of self-mocking, youthful exuberance.

Millar's CLiNT has no voice of its own. It seems to have a very clear idea of who it doesn't want to appeal to, but no clear idea of how to address those it does - if, indeed, it even knows who they are! Having alienated most of the female demographic, it must surely be even more important to ensure your offering will have twice the appeal for male readers. The non-comic features here, however, are random at best and covered in a way which is dry and humourless - hardly a house style likely to appeal to any male, old or young, fanboy or not.

Ironically, given the way it's been marketed, if CLiNT is to achieve any kind of success, then - based on this first issue - it will have to be in spite of its non-comic content, rather than because of it. So, are the comics strong enough to carry the magazine until it can sort out its problems in other areas? Answers coming up in Part 2 of this review!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Hawkgirl and Hawkman

With all the retcons, reboots and reimaginings that DC regularly subjects its characters to, quite a few have back stories that even its most devoted readers have trouble unravelling. Few, however, are as muddled or confused as those of Hawkgirl and Hawkman.

The irony here is that, although it can be argued some characters need to be retooled every decade or so simply to remain contemporary, the back story of the "Hawks" is one that should have ensured it would never have to be rewritten.

Essentially, the original characters - Carter Hall and Shiera Sanders - are the reincarnations of a ruler of Ancient Egypt, Prince Khufu, and his wife. They are destined to continually die and be reincarnated, continually rediscovering their love for each other only to die again. It should, therefore, have been perfectly possible to invent a new identity for each of them whenever it was felt the old ones were becoming dated. There should never have been any reason to rewrite any of the history that had gone before.

But DC, of course, is not exactly renowned for its ability to resist the urge to fix what ain't broke. The stories of Hawkman and Hawkgirl have been added to, subtracted from and otherwise rejigged to such an extent that the current "official" position as detailed in the DC Comics Super Hero Collection magazine (which accompanied Eaglemoss's excellent Hawkman figurine on this page) is virtually incomprehensible.

For my part, I must admit I find it it easier to just ignore the many confused and conflicting revisions of the past forty or fifty years. Despite the efforts of Geoff Johns and others to reposition Hawkman at the centre of the DCU (a position he hasn't held since he regularly chaired JSA meetings in the 1940s), my childhood memories of him are as a distinctly second-tier character. And, although I know she was his partner as far back as the Golden Age, I have no memory of ever having seen Hawkgirl at all before her wonderfully feisty incarnation as part of the Justice League animated TV series.

I have no idea whether, in the current continuity, they are supposed to be human or Thanagarian. I really don't care why, despite the fact that their wings are artificial devices (made, inevitably, from the now ubiquitous "nth metal") and held in place by a harness, the characters are seen without them even less often than Batman is seen without his cowl. The core story created for them by Gardner Fox back in 1939 is so strong that, as long as I keep that in the back of my mind, it enables me to ignore everything else and make some sense of even the most convoluted modern version of their lives.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Look! Up in the sky! It's super lesbians!

If you have any interest in mainstream superhero comics (even if, like me, it's a level of interest that seldom seems to get much further than a despairing shake of the head!), you'll have googled your favourite good guys and bad guys from time to time. Let's be honest, as a way of keeping up-to-date with what's happening over there in Mainstream Land, it's far more economical than buying every single issue of every single title that DC or Marvel have shoe-horned into their latest Universe-changing Crossover Event.

And, if you have googled your favourite super humans, you'll know that it's virtually impossible to do so without stumbling across a whole slew of fan fiction and super hero porn. Perhaps inevitably, lesbian sex features prominently. More surprisingly, however, is the extent to which certain of those lesbian relationships seem to have taken such a hold on the collective online consciousness that it's sometimes difficult to believe that they aren't in fact part of the publisher's mainstream canon.

The three most widely "accepted" of these imaginary relationships are between the Teen Titans' Starfire and Raven (presumably boosted by the success of the animated TV show), Batman's foes Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn (fuelled by a comic mini-series in which Ivy took Harley under her protection and the Gotham Girls animated web-series in which the two are shown sharing an apartment) and, arguably two of the most iconic super heroines of all, Batgirl and Supergirl.

Google for more than a minute or two and you'll find depictions of these three pairings in pretty much every situation you could possibly imagine (and quite a few you probably couldn't!) Some are obviously designed to titillate and arouse; others are, frankly, quite sadistic and disturbing; and one or two are even, well ... kinda cute and affectionate.

And then there's this:
This is clearly an extract from a larger story. Sadly, I've no idea where the rest of it can be found or who the creator is but, if anyone knows, do tell me. I'd like to credit them properly.

Strictly speaking, of course, it's not porn at all (you'll find more bare flesh in pretty much any real DC or Marvel title!) but it just succeeds on so many levels. Without showing anything remotely "naughty", it manages to reference so much. The characters' body language and facial expressions are spot on, entirely in keeping with both their official mainstream personalities as well as their fan-fiction alter-egos, while the subject matter and dialogue says even more about their fans.

I know it's wrong, but it makes me smile!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Watchmen 2 - and they said Rorschach was crazy!

Have you ever worked in an environment where, every once in a while, your boss would come up with the most ridiculous idea ever, but - because he's the boss - everyone else had to pretend they thought it was really great? Yeah. I'm guessing that's how most of the staff at DC must be feeling right now.

There's no doubt that Jim Lee ranks among the best artists ever to work in the super hero genre but, let's be honest, some of his ideas since he became the Big Stilton at DC stink like ... well, stilton. Can you imagine how many jaws must have hit the floor when he announced his idea for a sequel to Watchmen? No, nor can I. The sound must have been masked by the simultaneous clunking of heads hitting desks.

Not that any of that matters, because you don't have to imagine. The following is a transcript of the meeting between Lee and a group of his story editors at which Big Jim proposed Watchmen 2. (Well, okay, it's not. But it must have gone something like this, I'm sure!)

Lee: You know why super hero comics aren't as well regarded as they once were?

Editor 1: Er - because they've been around for seventy years and most of our writers just aren't good enough to do anything more than re-hash old plot lines?

Editor 2: I don't think it's entirely the writers' fault. The commissioning editors are at least partly to blame, because they only know how to commission stories that do re-hash old plot lines.

Lee: Hmmm - interesting theories, both of you. What you seem to be saying is, there's something wrong with the stories themselves; that we need something new and vibrant; something that really takes the genre back to its basics; that re-examines what a super hero story should be and tries to make it relevant to today's readers.

Editor 1: Exactly. Like Alan Moore and Frank Miller did back in the Eighties. The industry needs another DKR or another Watchmen.

Lee: Another Watchmen? That's a brilliant idea! I can see it now ... Watchmen 2: Revenge of the Squid!

Editor 1: Ah, no ... I didn't mean -

Lee: This will revolutionise the industry! An entirely new adventure starring Rorschach -

Editor 2: Umm - Rorschach's dead.

Lee: What?

Editor 2: He died. At the end of Watchmen, he ...

Lee: He died?! What kind of a clueless writer kills off one of his main protagonists?

Editor 2: Well, in a way, that was kind of the point of -

Lee: I've got it! We can resurrect him! Fanboys love it when we resurrect dead characters! Nite Owl can take Rorschach's mask to his lab, extract a single ginger hair and take that to a Lazarus Pit!

Editor 1: A what?

Lee: A Lazarus Pit. Lots of characters have been brought back from the dead by using a Lazarus Pit.

Editor 1: Yeah. I know what a Lazarus Pit is. I just meant ... don't Lazarus Pits only exist in the DCU?

Lee: So? What are you trying to say? That Watchmen doesn't take place in the DCU?

Editor 1: Well ... yeah. That's kind of the point of -

Lee: Hey, you know what? Nevermind. This would be a great chance to bring it into the DCU. We could call it Watchmen 2: Crisis on a Not Quite Infinite But Still Pretty Large Number of Parallel and Alternative Earths!

Editor 2: Well, we could. But -

Lee: Okay, okay. Forget the Lazarus Pit. What about that big blue guy. Doctor Manhattan. He said something about wanting to create life, didn't he? Maybe the first life he creates could be Rorschach's! Wow - that is fantastic!

Editor 1: Ah ... isn't that a little ... you know. Out of character? I mean, at the end of Watchmen, Manhattan is supposed to have become so powerful and his vision so all-encompassing that he really struggles to appreciate the value of human life at all, let alone any one single life. Why would he choose to reanimate someone? Especially someone as warped as Rorschach?

Lee: Well ... hey, here's an idea. Supposing Rorschach was never killed in the first place?

Editor 1: What?

Lee: Big Blue can teleport, right? Supposing he just teleported Rorschach somewhere else and - at the same time - teleported a bucket of offal to where he was standing? Nite Owl only thinks Rorschach is dead.

Editor 1: But what about Ozymandias and his grand plan? Rorschach's death is necessary otherwise -

Lee: Jeez, I can't believe you guys are being so unimaginative! Okay, so Rorschach's dead. Here's another idea. What about ... a legacy hero?!

Editor 2: You mean, like a Rorschach 2?

Lee: Exactly! Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were getting it on in Watchmen, right? Well, what if they have a son and that son grows up wanting to be a super hero too? He could find Rorschach's mask among Dan's old belongings and ... well, his parents were both legacy characters, so they'd be delighted if -

Editor 1: I - I'm not really feeling it, Jim.

Lee: Mr Lee.

Editor 1: Sorry. Mr Lee. You see, if you mess around with Rorschach's character, he -

Lee: Okay, okay. You're not crazy about resurrecting Rorschach. I get that. Let's park it for now and come back to it later. Let's talk about the Comedian instead. What do you think about him?

Editor 2: Umm - he's dead.

Lee: He's what? You mean the damn fool writer killed him off at the end of the book, too?

Editor 2: Ah, no. At the beginning.

Lee: The beginning?

Editor 1: Yeah. The book opens with the death of the Comedian.

Lee: Jesus! What cheap, two-bit hack wrote this stuff?! Doesn't he know anything about writing for comics?! Hey, but you know what? We could let Death give all the characters a reprieve from death.

Editor 2: Death?

Lee: The character Death. From Sandman. She's going to be in the DCU from now on, right? So, as soon as the Watchmen's world is integrated, she can give a reprieve to Rorschach and the Comedian. It's perfect!

Editor 2: You want Death to be in Watchmen 2?

Lee: Absolutely. It all fits!

Editor 1: Look, I'm still not sold on this. The fact that two of the most popular characters are dead is obviously a big issue here, but it's about more than that.

Lee: Look, I know you think that, although I'm widely acknowledged as one of the best super hero artists alive today, my story ideas aren't always exactly top notch, but don't worry. I know what the fans' real concerns are and I'm determined to be very sensitive about how we deal with those.

Editor 1: You are?

Lee: Of course! We'll put some clothes on Doctor Manhattan and bam! Problem solved!

Editor 1: Clothes?

Lee: Sure. I'm thinking a short leather jacket with lots of straps and buckles; maybe even a pocket or two, and ... oh, I know - he could wear black leggings!

Editor 1: The problem isn't about leggings -

Lee: Of course it is! You can solve any problem with leggings!

Editor 1: No, the point I'm trying to make is that the reason Watchmen has become a classic is because it's a novel. Part of what makes it work is the fact that it has an ending. It sets out to make a point, progresses through a number of story twists and finally presents the reader with a conclusion. If you make a sequel, if you turn it into a continuing series, you don't just make an inferior follow-up, you weaken the ending of the original story and diminish that in the process.

Lee: Hmm - look I can see you're not convinced. Well, never let it be said I pushed through ideas even when everyone else was against them. I'll tell you what I'm prepared to do ... let's put it to a vote. If you all decide Watchmen 2 is the worst idea in comics history, then we won't do it, okay?

Editor 2: You mean that?

Lee: Absolutely. We'll scrap that and I'll greenlight DKR 3 instead!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Shades - five thousand years in the making!

If you've been reading this blog, you'll know by now that Shades is the graphic novel we've been working on for, oooh, simply ages! And, if you've been following Shades at any of the sites where it's been serialised, you'll also know that it's now finished. (Hooray!) This is a press release we've circulated to a number of comic news sites to spread the news!

Broken Voice Comics is pleased to announce that its graphic novel Shades is now complete and available to read online in its entirety, at the Broken Voice Comics website.

Written by David A J Berner and illustrated in full colour, Shades is a contemporary action/adventure fantasy, in which a small group of quasi-historical British heroes, struggle to find their sense of purpose in the modern world. The action takes place both in the physical and the spirit worlds as the story unfolds against a backdrop of five thousand years of British history.

“I’ve been working on Shades for around seven years now,” Berner told us. “We’ve had a great reaction to the individual instalments we’ve released online during that time, but this was always a graphic novel with the emphasis on the word “novel”. The story works on a number of levels and is therefore best appreciated when it’s read through from beginning to end in one sitting. Now readers are finally able to do that!”

Central to the story is retired tailor Stanley Miller. As he tries to repair his fractured relationship with his daughter, Miller is reluctantly drawn into a sequence of events that threatens to strike at the very soul of the nation. His allies in facing this threat will include the First Century warrior queen Boudicca, a WW2 fighter pilot and a prehistoric shaman.

It’s a very British collection of characters and, it seems, they’ve been responsible for much of the book’s appeal amongst its online fans. “Most of the characters are inevitably larger than life – part mythical and, in modern terms, even superheroic,” explains Berner. “My concern as the writer, therefore, was to make their individual personalities as credible as possible. I didn’t want them to be generic action heroes.”

The feedback from fans suggests that this approach has been appreciated. “Readers have said they’ve really been able to empathise and identify with the characters; that – even when the story is at its most fantastic – they still come across as real people. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the project’s artists have made them look pretty terrific too!”

Artwork on the first half of the book (up to and including Chapter 8) is by Harsho Mohan Chattoraj. Chapters 9 onwards were pencilled and inked by E.C. Nickel with colours by Muamal Khairi. “All the artists on Shades have done a brilliant job,” says Berner. “There can’t be many projects that require the artists to be equally proficient at drawing Spitfires engaged in aerial combat, prehistoric villages, cobbled Victorian streets and fantastical demon landscapes. But – whatever my scripts threw at them – these guys were always exceeding my expectations!”

So, now that it’s finished, is Shades ever going to appear in print? Berner says yes. “Some of our online fans have already expressed an interest in one, so we will be looking at ways to make that happen. Of course, given the very British nature of the story, we’d ideally like to find a UK publisher, but that remains to be seen.”

Shades is available to read online now at the Broken Voice Comics website.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Wonder Woman - wardrobe malfunction

Wonder Woman's redesigned costumeIt's an odd thing about Wonder Woman. It seems no one wants to buy her comics (sales continue to fall, despite several changes of writer), but tamper with who or what she is in order to make her more "modern", "relevant" or "relatable" and it stirs up a level of fan outrage wholly disproportionate to her sales figures.

The image on the left is DC's recent redesign for the Amazon princess. As I'm sure DC hoped it would, it's caused a storm in the Worldwide Wonderweb's teacup. The vast majority, it seems, are against the new costume with bloggers, twitterers and forumites queueing up to heap derision upon Jim Lee (who designed the new look), JM Straczynski (writer of the story arc in which it's being debuted) and Dan Didio (for letting it happen at all).

Straczynski has been singled out for particular scorn. This is partly because he is held largely responsible for many of the least popular changes visited upon Marvel's character roster and partly because his attempt to explain why the changes were made is so laughably flawed.

Whether you like the costume or loathe it, it's difficult to call it 21st Century (as Straczynski did), and fans have been quick to make comparisons with Black Canary, Rogue and even Madonna. Overall, the general feeling seems to be that it's just sooo 1990s! He also described it as being more "armoured" as befits a warrior. Really? A cropped leather jacket and a pair of spray-on leggings constitute armour? Maybe we should send some out to our tragically under-equipped troops in the Gulf.

The worst of Straczynski's arguments in defence of the redesign, however, are not simply flawed, they demonstrate that DC is still suffering from a fundamental failure to understand either the appeal of its own properties or its fanbase. The costume needed a redesign apparently because "what woman only wears one outfit for 70 years?" Wow - that wasn't patronising at all, was it? For all the talk about the costume's suitability for a warrior, it seems it was really about ensuring the princess had an outfit to match her new Jimmy Choo's.

Hawkgirl with new and improved (well, bare) midriff!No doubt the next redesigns will be for Superman and Batman. Baggy jeans and a hoody should ensure they look contemporary, and with all those pockets ... well, you wouldn't even need a utility belt.

DC has also tried to play the feminist card. By covering up her legs and wrapping a jacket around her (gasp!) bare shoulders, it believes Wonder Woman's new look should at least appeal to her female fans who, we're told, have been wondering how she could possibly fight without her "bits falling out". And maybe it will. At least to the more Puritanically prudish of them anyway. But will they actually be more likely to buy Wonder Woman comics as a result? I have my doubts and, if the internet reaction is anything to go by, the small numbers that do will be more than offset by the number of existing readers who are now prepared to drop the title.

The real problem with trying to pander to a specific lobby group in this way, however, is that not all women and not even all ardent feminists believe that women should be covered up like a Victorian table-leg. Sure, there are very vocal prudes in the various feminist and fangirl groups, just as there are loud-mouthed reactionaries in any men's organisation. But prudishness and women's rights are not synonymous. The swim-suited Wonder Woman has been a flag-waver for the cause of women's rights ever since her creation in the 1940s, and it's a little ironic that - as ordinary women have become more comfortable wearing increasingly little in real life - so DC should have come to the conclusion that its flagship super heroine might somehow appeal to those women by wearing more.

In fact, it's not ironic, it's hypocritical. Does anyone really believe that DC genuinely thinks its female characters should be more modestly dressed? Really? The same DC which continues to exploit the cleavage-baring peep-hole in Powergirl's costume? The same DC which has, in recent years, removed the midriff section from the perfectly adequate costumes of Supergirl, Hawkgirl and Huntress? Whatever reason DC may have had for wanting to redesign Wonder Woman, it certainly had nothing to do with a belief in modesty.

Wonder Woman as she was (and no doubt soon will be again!)And that, surely, is part of what's fuelling the distaste that so many fans feel towards this costume - the dishonesty with which it's been presented. It's been trumpeted as a fundamental redesign, an approach that simply begs for a knee-jerk fan reaction, when in fact you only need to read the small print in the interviews with Dan Didio and Straczynski to realise that this is only a temporary costume.

Yes, it's uninspired; yes, it looks dated; and - worst of all - no, it's not Wonder Woman. But that hardly matters. By the time Straczynski's current story arc comes to a close, everyone's favourite Amazon will be back pummelling bad guys in her iconic swim-suit, the arguments for a redesign conveniently brushed aside and her "bits" as securely contained as they ever were.

The dramatic announcement of the new costume is just a cynical marketing ploy, up there with the deaths of Batman and Superman and Batwoman's sexual orientation.

Whether sales of Wonder Woman comics will be up or down at the end of that story arc remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, though. The backlash against the redesign has been almost universal and, to overcome it, Straczynski's story is going to have to be pretty damn good. Well, more convincing than the flimsy explanations he's given for changing her appearance, anyway!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Green Lantern

Like the Flash, for me Green Lantern was one of the Silver Age characters who defined the super hero genre. Neither of them were as iconic as Superman or as cool as Batman but they were at the centre of it all. If you weren't gifted with super powers or rich enough to invest in a utility belt and a fleet of customised super vehicles, you could still play with the Big Boys. All you needed was a magic ring!

Again, like Flash, I never really knew Green Lantern's Golden Age character. The fact that Alan Scott would sometimes turn up, calling himself Green Lantern and dressed in red was a source of some confusion. But, wow - if I was confused back then, the mind boggles to think what newcomers to the DCU must think of the current continuity!

There are at least five Earth-born Green Lanterns. Eaglemoss have made figurines of three of these for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection and, much to my delight, the first of these to be released was my Green Lantern: test pilot Hal Jordan (pictured). I've long since learned to ignore the fact that Alan Scott wielded the ring before him and, fortunately, I was no longer reading the comics when DC decided to kick Hal upstairs to assume the role of the Spectre, in order to make way for a whole string of lesser individuals to take turns at being planet Earth's official ring bearer.

I therefore know next-to-nothing of Kyle Rayner (the first to wear the black-and-green after Hal) and, in all the comics I've read since, Guy Gardner has been portrayed as such an obnoxious clown that it defies belief that anyone at DC could have convinced themselves he would ever have been recruited by the little blue men of Oa! I can just about accept the stiff-necked Jon Stewart in the role (although only in the Justice League animated TV series), but - to be honest - even he will always seem like a substitute to me. Someone who was just "filling in" until DC came to its senses and realised that shunting Hal sideways into the role of the Spectre was a mistake.

Which, it appears, they finally did a few years ago. Hal is now back but, in true DC fashion, it seems no one could quite bring themselves to take that opportunity to sort out the messy continuity and do away with all the other pretenders to the role. Even the bloated and over-hyped Infinite Crisis, a book specifically designed to streamline the DCU, failed to get rid of a single one. Pick up any comic book featuring the JLA or the Green Lantern Corps and you're quite likely to find a whole legion of Earth-based Green Lanterns littering its pages.

And they wonder why they can't attract new readers!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Shades - the end is nigh!

Well, we've finished the main course now. The climactic battle in which the heroes of our graphic novel Shades face off against the bad guys is over and all that remains is to add the epilogue, to summarise just what happened to everyone afterwards. And, in case you were wondering, that epilogue is already underway! You can see a reduced size version of the first page below. Just click on the image to see the full size version.
It's fairly obvious that the epilogue is taking place against the backdrop of a wedding and that Stan and the Shaman, at least, have survived. There are, however, eleven named characters on this page. Admittedly some are not so easy to identify from this page alone, but all will be made clear. Just go join the party!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Dragon Age: Origins (Awakening)

If you're anything like me, you enjoy a good story with interesting characters you can really empathise with - not just in the obvious media like books, TV, comics and cinema, but also in video games. And, if you are like me in that respect, you don't need me to tell you how good Dragon Age: Origins was. You'll already have played it. Two or three times, probably!

Dragon Age: Origins (Awakening) is the add-on pack for that game. It was released back in March but, having read a few reviews which essentially declared it good but flawed, I decided to wait for the price to drop before buying it. Well, the price has now dropped (£20 on Amazon!) and so, as from today, I've beome the proud owner of Awakening and I can once again re-enter the world of darkspawn and do some more slaying of ogres, archdemons and dragons!

So, what about those flaws? Well, I'm only just over an hour in but the first thing that struck me was that the graphics are certainly not state-of-the-art. That's to be expected, of course. The original game was so long in development that, especially on the console versions, improvements in graphics capability simply passed it by, leaving it looking a little last generation. And, being an add-on pack rather than a fully fledged sequel, Awakening uses the same engine. It's a flaw, yes, but not one that should spoil your enjoyment of the game.

Much has also been made of the fact that, with one exception (Ohgren the dwarf), the party members from the original game do not appear in this instalment. Maybe it's because I left a long gap between finishing Origins and buying Awakening but, to be honest, so far I haven't missed them.

You start the game with one companion (Mhairi, a pretty uptight female warrior) and I don't think I'm giving away any critical spoilers if I tell you that, within the first hour or so of play, you gain two more additions to the party: Anders (a mage) and the returning Ohgren.

The inclusion of both these members has been criticised: Ohgren because, for many players, he seems to have been their least favourite character from Origins, and Anders because he's too similar to Alistair. Again, from what I've seen and played so far, I'd say those criticisms are exaggerated. Ohgren is a lot more humorous this time round and Anders has a nice line in sarcasm. His problem, I think, is not so much that he really is like Alistair (his personality is far more cynical and less weak-willed), but that he looks very much like Alistair (bad design on Bioware's part!) and that he's voiced by the same actor, blunting the effect of some of his more biting observations.

As a starting party, these characters are more than adequate and, from the reviews I've read, even the game's critics seem to agree that the party members I've yet to recruit are the more interesting ones. All in all, then, as far as the characters are concerned, the game seems poised to live up to the high standards set by its predecessor.

At this stage it's too early for me to say anything meaningful about the story. The darkspawn are still abroad and, from the very first minutes of the game, you're thrown into combat with them. Game play is unchanged from Origins and, especially if you import a character from that game, these early nasties won't present you with any problem at all.

Inevitably, however, there is a suggestion that they're being led by something new. Quite what that "something" is will doubtless have to be unravelled as the game progresses but it's probably safe to assume that, whatever it is, you'll be doing battle with it before the closing credits roll. Adventure beckons!

So, as far as I can tell from the limited amount of the game I've played so far, it seems to me that the early reviews were a little harsh on Awakening, a fair assessment of the game's merits possibly being affected by the cost. The console versions were priced at £30-£35 on first release and, if you price an add-on pack that close to the price of a full sequel, every minor complaint is going to irritate all the more. For my part, having bought it for £20, I've enjoyed every minute of my first hour's play and I can't wait to play more. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Shades - death and the maiden!

Oh, look. It's another page from my online graphic novel Shades. Just click on the image below to see the full size version!
I think earlier entries in this blog have introduced you to all these characters already. For those in need of a quick refresher, however: The girl is a psychic teenager called Becky Allen. In the second panel, she is about to be sacrificed (for reasons you'll really have to read the full comic to understand!) Her spirit, meanwhile, is trapped in the spirit world. That's it there, in Panels 2 and 4. The naked character sporting tattoos and fighting a nasty green monster-thingy is the spirit of a prehistoric mystic known as "the Shaman". He's fighting to save poor Becky. Oh, and the nasty green monster-thingy is a spirit known as a "Lure". See - that wasn't so hard to understand, was it?!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Etta Candy - the disappearing woman

There's a lot written about the way female characters are portrayed in mainstream comics and, for the most part, it's pretty negative and very confused. The most common complaint is that the women all tend to have idealised body-shapes, conveniently glossing over the fact that the male heroes also have physiques that look as if they'd be very comfortable on the set of a porn movie. Since she was first created as Wonder Woman's loyal sidekick in the 1940s, however, Etta Candy has been a notable exception to the rule.


As created by William Moulton Marston, Etta was plain and ... well, not to put too fine a point on it, fat. She was seldom seen without a box of chocolates (candy) under her arm and much of her dialogue consisted of saying she'd much rather be eating candy than ... well, whatever it was she was actually doing at the time. She was the comedy sidekick.

But she was also much more. She was courageous, bold and fiercely loyal. Her more attractive and slimmer companions at the Holliday College readily accepted her leadership and frequently followed her into danger. While Steve Trevor regularly needed saving by Wonder Woman, Etta Candy was far more likely to be leading a charge of her own, beating up Nazi spies and helping to thwart their evil schemes. Yes, as the title character, Wonder Woman was inevitably the ideal of feminine beauty but with Etta Candy, Marston was telling us that ordinary women could also be just as brave and resourceful - inspirational even.

Following a confused series of reinventions through the 1960s, the character became known to people outside the closed little community that is comic fandom, as a result of Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman TV series of the 1970s. The TV version of Etta (played by Beatrice Colen) was plump rather than fat and, although she was still clearly there to provide comic relief, the show decided not to make fun of her weight. Instead, the writers portrayed her as a woman of very limited intelligence, presumably in the belief that - in an age when women's rights were the order of the day - ridiculing women for being stupid was more acceptable than mocking their size! The saddest thing about the TV version, however, was that she was completely stripped of her bravery and willingness to stand at Wonder Woman's side in battle. She was still a likeable character but there was little to her other than the comedy trimmings.

With George Perez's relaunch of the Wonder Woman title in 1987, he re-established Etta Candy as a courageous, resourceful woman every bit as willing and able to fight side-by-side with the rest of the Wonder Woman cast. She was still plump and was described as unattractive, but these traits were no longer used as a device to elicit cheap laughs. She worked for the military, no longer obsessed over chocolate, and was comfortable with who she was. She had, in effect, come of age.

Apparently, however, the powers at DC now believe that Marston and Perez both got it wrong. In the Wonder Woman animated movie, Etta is a slim and attractive secretary who gets what she wants by using her feminine allure rather than her own abilities while, in her latest comics incarnation, Etta has been recast as a super-spy, complete with stereotypical porn-star physique and spray-on cat-suit.

Now, I've nothing against idealised women in comics, any more than I have anything against idealised male characters. They are and, as in any other mass medium, probably always will be the norm. If DC had wanted to create a new female super-spy and had made that character drop-dead gorgeous, it would have been pretty unimaginative but I'd have had no complaint. The shame here is that someone has made a conscious decision to take an existing character who did not fit the standard mould and has deliberately changed her into something bland and derivative. The message, it seems, is that the feminist critics were right all along. DC really does have no place for heroines who aren't beautiful and brimming with silicon-enhanced sex appeal.

The most surprising aspect of this change, however, is that it's happened on Gail Simone's watch. When it was announced that Simone would be assigned to the Wonder Woman title, much was made of the fact that she was the first woman writer to be given the post on a permanent basis. Implicit was the idea that only women could really understand how to write female characters. As laughable as that argument was even at the time (just imagine the outrage there'd be, if anyone dared suggest that only men could write male characters!), Simone had built up a strong reputation on Birds of Prey and so hopes for the future of the title were high.

Now, I don't claim to have read everything Simone has written for Wonder Woman but, from what I have seen, she's done a good job. Nothing to justify the wild optimism that followed her appointment, perhaps, but certainly as good as anything produced by the other writers assigned to this title in recent years. The glamming-up of Etta Candy, however, stands out as a huge step backwards for female characters and, given the writer's credentials, is especially ironic.

We'll probably never know whether it was Simone's own decision to rob Etta of her individuality, or whether it was yet another decision forced on a writer by an imagination-impaired editor. Either way, if you're a female reader whose body-shape fails to match up to the Amazonian ideal, you're no longer going to find a kindred spirit in the pages of a Wonder Woman comic. And, if you can't find one there, I guess you're going to be hard-pressed to find one anywhere within the DCU. She's just ... disappeared!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Ashes to Ashes - funk to funky!

The third and final series of the BBC's Ashes to Ashes is about half way through now and, from the outset, it's been one of the highlights of my viewing week. I wasn't sure it would be. Like its predecessor show, Life on Mars, it has an unlikely premise and the previous two series had both taken some time to get into their stride.

Life on Mars told the story of Sam Tyler, a modern-day police officer who, having been hit by a car, is left in a coma and/or, depending on your viewpoint, is spirited back through time to 1973. There he finds his modern, forensics-driven policing methods are completely out of step with the politically incorrect views and methods of his DCI, Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). The show made a star out of John Simm (possibly better known now as the latest incarnation of the Master in Doctor Who!) and the thought of having to recreate the success of the show without him must have been a daunting prospect.

When the new show, Ashes to Ashes, was finally unveiled Simm's character Sam Tyler was replaced by D.I. Alex Drake (played by Keeley Hawes) and, this time, she was thrown back only as far as the 1980s. Gene Hunt was still her DCI and he had just as little time for her psychological profiling as he'd had for Tyler's forensic evidence. But ... something wasn't right. The first two series of the new show began with a couple of very uncertain episodes. In a bit of a funk, if you will. The writers and producers seemed to have forgotten just what had made the original show work.

The problem, I think, was that the reviews of Life on Mars kept saying how funny the show was. They were right, of course. The exchanges between Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt were often laugh-out-loud funny as Tyler's methodical approach and belief in restraint ran headlong into Hunt's belief in doing whatever was necessary to secure a conviction, even if that meant breaking down doors, trampling rough-shod over a suspect's rights and indulging in more than a little police brutality.

The humour, however, was only a part of the reason for the show's success. Life on Mars was never a comedy. Beneath the superficial banter, it was actually a very dark drama with layers of subtlety - a fact which seemed to escape the show's writers when they came to script the early episodes of Ashes to Ashes.

Unduly influenced by the critics, perhaps, they lost sight of the dark, edgy vein of reality and put all the emphasis on the humour. It became, in effect, little more than a substandard sitcom based in a police station. The low point was surely the sight of Keeley Hawes leaning over a desk and urging her colleagues to date stamp her backside. So far so Carry on Constable but, when her mother walked through the door at exactly that moment, the whole thing was reduced to the level of a woefully tired Brian Rix farce.

As the first series progressed it did become more serious and, by the end, it had successfully recaptured the spirit that had made Life on Mars such gripping TV. Good solid drama, made amusing by the sharply observed interactions between a group of cleverly drawn characters, rather than by the forced inclusion of a few moments of gratuitous slapstick. It was all the more surprising, then, that the second series chose to repeat the mistakes of the first. Once again the first few episodes seemed determined to play it for laughs. Fortunately for those viewers prepared to stick with it, the series rediscovered its sense of drama (again!) in time to treat us to a nail-biting finale in which Alex was shot by Gene Hunt.

Which brings us back to Series 3. I wasn't especially looking forward to it. After two series of Life on Mars and two of Ashes to Ashes, hadn't the premise of a 21st Century police officer running up against 20th Century police methods already run its course? Also, on past performance, at least the first two episodes were bound to disappoint. And, although the hype surrounding the programme had made much of the fact that this final series would reveal everything about Gene Hunt and his "role" in the whole time-travelling phenomenon, wouldn't that be better left unexplained?

Well, we'll have to wait a little longer for the answer to that last question but the one thing I can say is that, unlike its two predecessors, this final series has wasted no time in finding the right balance of humour and drama. From the very first episode it has tried to keep us wrong-footed and has shone a light on some very dark recesses of its characters' lives. And, as dark as it gets, it's never more than a couple of lines away from another classic Gene Hunt quote to lighten the tone.

There are four episodes of this series still to go and, since it's been billed as the final series, we can probably be confident that - just like Life on Mars - it will end properly, rather than leaving us to guess about the characters' fates. Leaving aside the question of just who or what Gene Hunt is supposed to be, the big question is whether Alex will succeed in escaping the 1980s and returning to the present. Unlike Sam Tyler (who chose to stay in 1973), the decision that Alex has to make in Life on Mars is far less clear-cut. Even if she did come to the conclusion that things were better in the past, she has a young daughter, Molly, waiting for her in the present. Whatever she decides, the series finale is promising to be a very bitter-sweet mix of tragedy and comedy. Now that's something really funky to look forward to!

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Hero Machine

Have you ever wanted to design your own super hero, fantasy or SciFi character but been daunted by the fact that you scarcely know one end of a pencil from the other? Yeah, me too!

Fortunately, however, I've just been pointed in the direction of The Hero Machine, a fun little gizmo that lets you design your own characters even if you can't draw like Jim Lee.

To test it out I took one of the pre-existing characters, Boo (from my online graphic novel Shades), and tried to replicate her look using The Hero Machine. The result is there on the left. It's not perfectly accurate in every detail, of course, but it's pretty close and it was a lot of fun to do. Just click on the image there to see what Boo actually looks like in the graphic novel!

So, next time you feel like designing a character of your own, give it a try. Even if you end up changing the design you come up with, it's a fun place to start and the variables you get to play with might just help you to start thinking about combinations you wouldn't otherwise have considered!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Shades - look to the skies!

A little later than usual this week but, in case you thought we'd forgotten, never fear - the latest page of our online graphic novel Shades is up and waiting for you! There's a reduced size version of it below. Just click on the image to see the full size version!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Shades - stealing the show!

Here's a reduced size version of this week's instalment of our graphic novel Shades. Just click on the image to see the full size version.
So, now to the introductions. Even if you weren't reading Shades before we began this blog, you should recognise Stan (the older guy stealing the show in the top two panels!) from the previous page. In the remaining panels, the guy in the brown and black is a WW2 fighter pilot by the name of Doug Chamberlain (or, occasionally, "Spitfire"). How he happens to be flying without a jetpack is a fairly long story but he's a kind of super hero and that's probably all you really need to know to get started. The youngster in the green and brown is Ryan Allen, a fan of Doug's and one who would dearly like to be known as Harrier. There - you can go read it properly now!

Friday, 9 April 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Huntress

Although she'd been around (in one universe or another) for years by then, I first became aware of Huntress in the pages of the five volume "maxi-series" No Man's Land. In that series she spent much of her time dressed as a would-be Batwoman, patrolling the streets of a Gotham reeling from the after-effects of a massive earthquake.

Now, I've always been quick to criticise the number of allies who seem to dog Batman's footsteps but it was immediately apparent to me that Huntress was different. She belonged.

Like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, her childhood had been torn from her by the murder of her parents, the mafia Bertinelli family. Just as importantly, however, like the best of the Bat-villains, Huntress added something to our understanding of Batman himself. Without the moral compass of an honest father, she had become the kind of vigilante that Batman could so easily have become - vengeful and lethal, with no qualms about killing or maiming her opponents.

Her own psychological issues were also painfully clear to see. As much as her pride prevented her from admitting it, she desperately wanted to be accepted by Batman. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think she was looking for him to be the father figure she'd needed all those years before. Yes, she opposed him, scorned his methods, insisted on doing things her own way and remained fiercely independent. And yet, for all that, she wanted his approval; to have him recognise that she was one of the good guys. When DC announced that they were introducing a new Batwoman to Gotham, I shook my head in disbelief. Not only did this scream of a failure to understand that the last thing the Bat-universe needed was yet another costumed crime-fighter on the streets, it demonstrated just how little the writers and editors understood the property they already had.

By the end of No Man's Land, Huntress had abandoned the bat-suit and reverted to her own purple and black costume. Not the one the figurine created by Eaglemoss for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection is wearing (see image above). That came later, introduced during Jeph Loeb's incredibly mediocre and hugely over-hyped Hush. This was an unnecessary redesign prompted, I can only assume, by the belief that the sight of a bare midriff and thighs might titillate the more immature fanboys enough for them to overlook the shortcomings of the story.

Since then, Huntress has moved on to other things, most notably as one of the key members of Oracle's Birds of Prey team. I can't help thinking, however, that DC missed a trick with this character. Unlike the newly created pretender Batwoman, Huntress lurks in the darker recesses of Batman's psyche just as much as she haunts the back-alleys of Gotham City.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan - space sickness!

For my money, the "reimagining" of Battlestar Galactica wasn't just one of the best SciFi shows in years, it was one of the best TV shows in any genre. It had intelligent story-telling, intense political drama, moral ambiguities and a great cast of characters forced to question not just who they were but whether they were anybody at all; whether they were even human.

The spin-off mini-series Razor may not have been able to live up to the glories of its parent show but it was entertaining enough for what it was (a fairly pedestrian expansion of a sub-plot already revealed during the main show), while the prequel that nearly never aired Caprica is so far proving that, at times, it can be every bit as thought-provoking as BSG itself.

So, with that kind of a pedigree, you could be forgiven for expecting the latest spin-off, the feature-length "movie" Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, to have something to offer. Sadly, you'd be wrong!

It's a strange animal. Supposedly telling the story of the attempted annihilation of the human race from the Cylon point of view, it has no coherent narrative of its own. Instead, it's little more than a series of largely unconnected and very fleeting glimpses of scenes which supposedly happened just before or just after events with which we are already familiar - Boomer agonising over her mission to plant a bomb; Starbuck promising to return for the Caprican resistance fighters; Six engaging with Baltar, etc etc. Sadly, none of these scenes are properly developed or given any kind of context. In short, watching this is like watching a series of out-takes. In a feeble attempt to convince us that this is actually new material, Dean Stockwell is brought back to provide a few words in between each sequence, slowly persuading each of his co-conspirators to do their bit and die for the Cylon cause. It's dreary, unconvincing stuff.

And, I should think, the producers must have known this. Why else would they have inserted a scene at a topless bar and a Starship Troopers style nude shower-room scene?

I have no problem with nudity on TV (I can't help but love True Blood!) but considering that, over five full-length seasons of BSG, there wasn't so much as a square inch of naked flesh, the producers must have made a very conscious decision to include it here. The fans wouldn't have been expecting it; I've never heard any internet forums call for it; and it added nothing either to the plot or to our understanding of the characters. The nudity was entirely gratuitous and can only have been included in the desperate hope that, in the absence of anything resembling plot or character development, a couple of naked bodies might just persuade a handful of viewers to watch to the end.

All in all, this is a dire movie, hardly worthy even of being consigned to a premature DVD release. It's not exactly unknown for desperate producers to try to milk a franchise for every last dollar but the crime for which The Plan can never be forgiven is that it is so dreadful that it even sours the memory of just how riveting BSG was. The sooner someone collects all copies of this movie and jettisons them from the nearerst airlock, the better.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Shades - where's a super hero when you need one?

The latest page of our online graphic novel Shades went live yesterday. If you didn't see it, there's a reduced size version below. Just click on the image to see the full size version.
If you've only been following Shades since we started this blog, then you probably won't have met these characters before, so let me make some introductions.

The nice old guy with the glasses is Stanley Miller. He's retired now but used to make "exceptional clothing for some extraordinary people - people the popular press would call super heroes". He is, I suppose, a kind of down-to-Earth version of Edna Mode (although I invented Stan first - honest!) The girl is his daughter Jill and the young boy is her son Sunil. All you need to know about the guy with the gun is that he's not very nice. But, once you've read the page, you'll probably realise that!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Doctor Who - saved by Amy Pond!

Somewhere in the dim and distant recesses of my childhood memories, I can just about remember William Hartnell playing the very first Doctor in Doctor Who. Despite the myths that have grown up around the show since then, I was never the kind of kid to hide cowering behind the sofa, frightened by the mechanical menace of the Daleks. I just loved the fantasy and one ancient B&W episode in particular has always stuck in my mind. Set on an alien planet, it featured some giant ant-like creatures (possibly known as Zarbi?)

I have clearer (and less fond) memories of Patrick Troughton prancing around in check trousers and whistling on a flute but, for me, the actor who will always be associated with the role is Jon Pertwee. By then, of course, the series was already being hit by budget constraints. The TARDIS was trapped permanently on Earth; the sets were noticeably cardboard; the costumes and SFX were of a laughably low standard and the acting of the supporting cast distinctly "children's TV". But I liked it. For all its absurdities, Pertwee's intense focus made the Doctor himself a credible character and that was enough for me to overlook everything else.

After Pertwee, I lost interest in the series. Looking back, I can see that production standards did continue to fall but, in reality, I think I just outgrew it. Had I been younger, I suspect I might have bought into Tom Baker's Doctor but we'll never know. For my generation, by the time Pertwee left, Doctor Who had become something of a joke, and the surprise wasn't that the BBC eventually cancelled it but that they hadn't done so many years earlier.

When Russell Davies resurrected the show, I had mixed feelings. The nostalgic in me wanted it to be a success but, despite the advent of computer-generated SFX, I never found Christopher Ecclestone convincing as the Doctor. To me, he always seemed to be hamming it up slightly; as if he couldn't quite rid himself of the idea that the show was meant for kids. He was okay, but he always seemed to be self-consciously acting rather living the role.

And then came David Tennant. For the first time since the 1960s, when Tennant took over the role as the Doctor, the show made the jump from "watchable" to "must-see" TV! He was the Doctor. He didn't just put on a costume and act slightly eccentric, he became the Doctor. Tennant's wide-eyed irrepressible enthusiasm was the Doctor's wide-eyed irrepressible enthusiasm and, like Pertwee, he brought an intensity to the role that enabled us to swallow even the most ludicrous of plots. And it was contagious. For the first time since William Hartnell, Doctor Who wasn't just a show that adults could watch with their kids, it was a show that adults could enjoy as much as their kids. No wonder both the BBC and the show's fans were worried about having to replace him.

Which brings us to the first episode of the new series starring Matt Smith. So, how did he measure up against his predecessors? To be honest he was not bad as the Doctor. Following Tennant was always going to be a difficult task and, for most of the episode, Smith seemed to be still in his shadow, imitating Tennant rather than playing the role his own way. He still has time to grow into the role, of course, and he may yet make it his own. In fact, I suspect that part of the problem may well have been that the script was written with Tennant's Doctor in mind, making it difficult for Smith to play any other way. We shall see. On the strength of one episode, I can't quite give him two thumbs up yet, but one thumb is certainly raised. The episode's frantically fast pace careered from pathos, to slapstick, to action and back again, without missing a beat. It was in short ... fun.

And much of the credit for that fun belongs to the performance of Karen Gillan as the Doctor's new assistant, strippergram (sorry, kiss-a-gram!) Amy Pond. Perhaps more than any other of the Doctor's assistants, Amy seems to be a refreshingly complex character. Having seen the Doctor as a child, she has something of Martha Jones's starry-eyed infatuation with him. Having been entranced by his seemingly fantastical stories she has something of Rose Tyler's star-struck wonder. But, most importantly, having spent years in therapy as a result, she has more than a little of Donna Noble's combative feistiness. She is, in short, all of her predecessors and yet none of them. She is a worthy successor and yet very much her own person. It may take a few episodes for Matt Smith to become his own Doctor but it seems that, while we're waiting, Karen Gillan is going to give the kind of performance that will ensure we hardly notice!