Wednesday, 31 March 2010

True Blood - time for one more?

I'm starting to become a little nervous about True Blood. Not nervous that there might be vampires lurking in the shadows, of course, but nervous that the show is starting to show signs of Heroes-syndrome.

Remember how, in the first season of Heroes, the original premise kept us glued to the screen? How it was possible to believe that - if there were people with superhuman abilities - then that was how life would be for them in the real world? Well, that's essentially where True Blood began, too. Okay, so it had vampires instead of super-powered humans but, like Heroes, one of the things that made it such compelling viewing was the fact that it presented us with a wonderfully detailed and entirely plausible picture of how the world might really react to the news that these extraordinary people/creatures exist.

About half-way through Season 1 of Heroes, the premise changed and the show began to show signs of fatigue. The problem was that there were just too many characters with too wide an assortment of special powers and abilities. Every time a new character was introduced, it was a foregone conclusion that they would eventually be revealed as being yet another super-powered individual. It became boring. As The Incredibles so neatly put it: "when everyone is super, no one is."

But what does this have to do with True Blood? When the show started we cared about Sookie Stackhouse and the difficulties she faced because of her mind-reading ability. She had a loving grandmother and a brother who was as thick as two short planks; an ordinary family trying to live ordinary lives despite an extraordinary ability. And then came vampire Bill Compton, a Southern gentlemen soldier, a veteran of the American Civil War. He may have been part of the exotic world of vampires but paradoxically, because Sookie was unable to read his thoughts, he actually gave her a chance to experience something close to a normal relationship for the first time. An intriguing premise, and we were hooked!

Later we learned that Sookie's employer, Sam, was a shape-shifter. There was a mention of werewolves. Then, the mother of Sookie's best friend Tara went to visit a witch (although, admittedly, she was later revealed to be a fake). Now, in Season 2, we have a bull-headed creature like a minotaur roaming the woods and a woman who appears to be able to use the sexual energy released in Bacchanalian orgies to turn people into pigs (some connection to Circe from Homer's Odyssey perhaps?) It's reaching the stage that, whenever a new character is introduced, we no longer wonder what their stance on vampire rights might be, or what their relationship with Sookie could become. Instead, we automatically assume they must be some form of supernatural entity and try to guess which one the writers have chosen this time. It's becoming ... predictable!

But don't get me wrong. I haven't given up on the show just yet! For the time being it's still up there with Caprica as one of my two favourite shows currently on TV. What keeps it alive, for me, is the witty script and the excellent supporting cast. Anna Paquin's Sookie and her brother Jason may have been the initial route into this show but, during Season 1, Sookie's best friend Tara outgrew her given role as comedy sidekick and developed into a complex character in her own right; one with real emotional depth, and who we could care about. Tara has continued to grow in Season 2 but, from the first few episodes, it's already beginning to look as if she might yet be upstaged by her cousin Lafayette. After an entire season of shamelessly hamming it up as an over-the-top gay drug dealer, the scenes in which he is imprisoned, waiting for death in a vampire's basement have shown that Lafayette is developing into a far more subtle and nuanced character.

Even the smaller supporting roles are played to perfection. The pathos of the lonely ex-alcoholic Detective Andy Bellefleur makes him an ideal partner for the long-suffering Sheriff Bud Dearborne. Together they form a hilarious double-act that outshines anything in most shows which actually bill themselves as a sitcom!

The story in True Blood may be showing signs of getting tired, of falling prey to Heroes-syndrome, but with a script as witty, characters as interesting and performances as fine as we've seen so far in Season 2, I'm guessing it'll be able to keep me entertained for at least one more season after this!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Shades - rumbled!

What's that? A new page of Shades has been uploaded? That must mean it's Monday already! There's a reduced size image of the new page down there. Just click on it to see the full sized version!

We've already introduced you to Boudicca, Becky, Arturos and Thrawn in previous blog posts. The other character in this scene - the tattooed guy in the long red robe - is one of the story's chief villains. (Yes, it's okay to hiss!) His name is Bedlam and, to cut a very long story incredibly short, he's summoned Thrawn from the demon realms to use in his plan to seize contol of the country. There - now you can go read!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Shades - play a game with Becky!

If you've been following our online graphic novel Shades, there's now a new way for you to enjoy it. Yes, those nice people at the Difference Games website have put together a game based on the experiences of Rebecca Allen in the spirit world - just click the image to start playing!

But don't worry if you haven't been following Shades. You can still play the game anyway!

First, though, just one word of warning for our regular readers: if you play the game through to the end, there's a bit of a plot spoiler since it shows what happens to poor Becky. Of course, some of you may consider that an added incentive to play!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - The Flash

With or without a "The" as part of his name, there's something about The Flash that has always appealed to me, although - in saying that - I realise now that I'm going to have to explain which Flash I mean.

I don't, for example, mean the original Golden Age character, Jay Garrick (the one who wore a wok for a hat). Like many of the original JSA characters, by the time I got into comics his costume was already looking old-fashioned, like it should have been a discarded design concept. Nor do I mean Wally West who took up the mantle in the 1980s or Bart Allen, who began as the sidekick Kid Flash. (You see what I mean about the confusing state of DC continuity?!)

No, for me, the real Flash - the one I first discovered - was Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Of course, I never knew much about his backstory (something about an accident while working in a police lab and having a girlfriend called Iris, as far as I can remember), but that didn't matter. It was enough to know that he could run fast (faster than Superman!) and that his costume was red and gold - an unbeatable colour combination! He just looked so cool!

I was delighted then that the first Flash made by Eaglemoss for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection was the Barry Allen Flash - my Flash - and that they'd captured his look perfectly!

Of course, these days, my appreciation of the character is a little different. I rediscovered the Flash as part of the Justice League animated TV series. This was the Wally West version and, although I had no idea what had happened to Barry Allen at that time, Wally had a personality that was kind of hard to dislike. He was the class clown; the lovable joker, always ready with a goofy quip to lighten even the direst of situations. I don't know if Barry Allen ever had a distinct personality as such (those things never seemed very important back in the day!) but, since Wally's costume was pretty identical to Barry's, it was fairly easy to take Wally's personality and graft it onto my memory of Barry Allen!

The other reason I've rediscovered my fondness for the Flash is because of his lack of powers. Over the years I've become one of those people who believes that the more powerful a hero is, the less interesting he becomes. With only one power (the ability to move incredibly quickly!) the Flash poses a real challenge for his writers. They can't simply have him racing a rocket-powered car every month and so they are always having to be more inventive; always having to find new and creative ways for the character to use the one power he has. What began, therefore, as an ability to run fast has now become the ability to create whirlwinds, to run up walls and across water, to vibrate through solid objects, to create vacuums, centrifuges and cushions of air ... in effect, they've extended his range of abilities and, unlike Superman, they've done it without adding a single extra super power to his arsenal. Now, for a writer at least, that's the way to make a character really interesting!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Shades - mind the tentacles!

Our online graphic novel Shades updated this morning and, this time, our fiery heroine Boudicca is again coming face to face with the demon spirit Thrawn. You can see a reduced size version of the latest page below. Just click on the image to see the full size version.
For those of you not familiar with Shades, Thrawn has a very nasty habit of subduing an opponent by telling them half-truths. Now that may not sound so bad but his tentacles ensure his words strike at the heart of his victims' self-belief by simultaneously bombarding them with a spirit energy known as "phisma". Yeah, it all sounds pretty convoluted but - thanks to the terrific artwork by E.C. Nickel and Muamal Qoiri's colours - it always looks fantastic!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Webcomic gold - Simply Sarah

In an earlier post, I said I intended to highlight some of the webcomics which I think are good enough for you to spend time reading. And, since they say you should lead with your best shot, the first one I'm going to flag up is Simply Sarah by Sarah Skye, a comic which has been at the top of my favourites list for a couple of years now.

So, what's it about? Well, at the most obvious level it's a comic about two girls in a lesbian relationship but, having said that, I really can't tell you any more without also telling you what it's not.

So, here goes: Simply Sarah is not a tawdry erotic comic with graphic close-ups of "hawt" girl-on-girl action; neither is it a hopelessly idealised romance in which the main characters spend pages gazing into each other's eyes and whispering sweet nothings because, after all, no one else could possibly understand what they're going through; but, most importantly since this sub-genre seems to be everywhere just now, it is most definitely not a manga-styled yuri comic with pre-teen heroines discovering their mutual attraction through a series of improbably wild and wacky adventures. Nope - there's not even a whiff of a cloyingly cute or maniacally hyperactive chibi!

So, if seeing the words "lesbian" and "comic" in the same sentence makes you think of any of those, then put your preconceptions aside and prepare to be enlightened!

Simply Sarah is the story of a teenage girl coping with life, adolescence and the onset of adulthood. She goes to school, sits exams, finds first love, parties, confronts bullies, makes and loses friends and wants to get away from her quarrelling parents. Any of that sound familiar? Of course it does. They're the kind of issues we all face when growing up, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.

For me, that is one of the real strengths of this comic. The excellent writing ensures that the main character Sarah is not presented as a lesbian first and a person second. She is a person first, as real and as strong, as shy, caring, confused and vulnerable as anyone you know in real life. Yes, being a lesbian does create certain additional issues but these are not presented in the form of an aggressive misandristic or LGBT agenda.

By focusing on Sarah's feelings, even issues such as parental acceptance are dealt with in a way that anyone can identify with. Many, many teenagers - gay and straight - have had the experience of trying to explain the attraction of a partner deemed unacceptable by their parents. Maybe they were the wrong colour, the wrong background, the wrong age, the wrong religion ... Parental acceptance is obviously a major issue for gays and lesbians but, by keeping the focus on the personal rather than the political, Simply Sarah allows us all to relate to the characters' dilemma.

And, of course, it is so very often the characters which make the difference between a passable story and a great one. This, then, is a great one!

The characters are superbly drawn - all different and yet all believable. Just like you, me and all the people we know in real life. Sarah herself is shy but growing in self-confidence, while Janey, the object of her affections, is more forthright and self-assured (if occasionally a little self-centred). Then there's Dawn, Sarah's dowdy but inquisitive friend; Gerry, the tomboyish artist who loves horses; Stacey, the irredeemably envious and resentful school bully; and Leo, the wild-child wannabe punk-rocker. Each one has a personality of her own and convinces us that she has a life beyond the pages of the comic.

If there is a criticism to be made of the cast, it's that it contains very few male characters and that those there are, almost without exception, are distinctly unsympathetic. The few teenage males in the story are mostly jerks (and, in one case, a would-be rapist) while Sarah's father, the only adult male of any importance, is abusive to his wife, usually verbally but occasionally resorting to physical violence too. There's nothing especially wrong with these characterisations (most of us know someone who would fit at least one of those descriptions!) but, in an age when the male-dominated mainstream media is so frequently criticised for its lack of positive female characters, the tendency to exclude or stereotype either sex is something I believe indy creators in particular need to guard against.

The artwork in Simply Sarah is another of its strong points. The colouring on one or two pages is perhaps a little too vivid, but this isn't something that's serious enough or happens often enough to detract from the overall presentation. The page composition is clear and never leaves the reader wondering which panel to read next. The real selling point, however, is Sarah Skye's linework which is a joy, complementing the story perfectly.

In many ways the simple, uncluttered style reminds me of the artwork in 1960s girls' comics like Bunty or Judy (they were my sister's, I swear!) or the illustrations in an Enid Blyton novel (yes, they were mine!) In the early chapters particularly, when the girls are in their school uniforms, I had no difficulty imagining them creeping around the darkened corridors of a 1950s boarding school, solving mysteries and raiding tuck-boxes by torch light.

And that, I think, is a large part of what makes this comic shine! The sensitive and heartfelt writing ensures that we recognise the very real, contemporary problems these girls are having to face, but the echoes of times past which are evoked by the artwork add to the story and its characters an air of innocence which makes us feel for them too. We want to protect them and tell them that, no matter what the world may throw at them, it'll be okay; that, as long as they love each other and hold true to that, they can cope with anything.

Because, male or female, gay or straight, that's what we all want to believe about our own relationships. Isn't it?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Legend of the Seeker - just no fun!

Given the number of excellent and/or promising shows that don't get renewed or, worse, aren't even allowed to make it to the end of their first season, I'm frequently amazed at the shows which do get a chance at a second or third series. Shows like The Legend of the Seeker.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do watch the show and I'm glad it's there because, let's face it, there's little enough sword and sorcery on TV, but - subjected to any kind of serious scrutiny - it's not exactly riveting stuff. Certainly no better than any one of a dozen shows that have been cancelled; shows like The Bionic Woman or My Own Worst Enemy or the infinitely superior Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

It's not that there's anything especially bad about The Legend of the Seeker, it's just that there's nothing especially good about it, either. The plot is routine fantasy fare: a young man of apparently humble origins (Richard Cypher - and, yes, that really is the hero's last name!) discovers he has a past shrouded in mystery and a destiny to save the kingdom from all manner of nasty monsters and, of course, a bloodthirsty tyrant. He is aided in his quest by a wizard (Zeddicus) and the obligatory attractive female, a "Confessor" (effectively a warrior-nun) called Kahlan.

The individual episodes hang tenuously from this hackneyed plot but most add little to it. They constitute, instead, a series of unrelated adventures linked, like the episodes in a 1960s Western, only by the fact that they feature the same lead characters. The acting is uninspired but acceptable, the writing distinctly average and the special effects - whilst falling far short of what we've come to expect in the post-LotR/Matrix world - are not too bad considering the show has to make-do with a TV budget. Crowd scenes rarely seem to include more than a dozen people and the sets bear a remarkable similarity from one isolated village or castle to the next. It is, in short, a nearly show.

It's nearly good. It has a number of elements that nearly work but, somehow, neither the plot nor the characters have enough of a spark about them to make it more than the TV equivalent of those lacklustre movies based on Dungeon Siege or Dungeons and Dragons. So what's missing?

The series is, of course, produced by Sam Raimi and therein, I think, lies the answer. Although he may have made his name with big screen horror features, the success of those films has surely been eclipsed by Raimi's two huge TV hits, Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. So what made those two shows such compulsive viewing, when The Legend of the Seeker is so eminently missable?

In a word: "humour". Now, fantasy doesn't have to be humourous. Fans of the sword and sorcery genre (and I do count myself among them!) will be well aware of the fact that, before Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies dragged it kicking and screaming into the mainstream, virtually every fantasy film was a self-conscious spoof, the actors hamming it up, as if embarrassed to be seen slumming it in such low-brow fare.

To make a serious fantasy epic, however, you do need a budget large enough to hire only the best actors, the best writers and the best special effects team in the business. If you don't have the budget for those (and what TV series does?!) then you need to find something else to make up for it. Xena and Hercules did. They had leads who were not cookie-cutter stereotypes, excitable but engaging sidekicks and a self-mocking but affectionate approach to the shows' premise.

I doubt that Kevin Sorbo is a better an actor than Craig Horner but he played Hercules as a lovable lug, making him endearing in a way that Richard Cypher (oh, that name!) simply ... isn't. The appeal of Xena (despite what the tabloids may want us to believe) wasn't Lucy Lawless's leather-clad physique, it was that sparkle in her eye and the smile that said she was going to enjoy teaching a lesson to the latest fool who'd dared to challenge her. In short, they had "personality"! The shows stopped short of being parodies of the genre (usually!), but they weren't afraid to have fun with it either.

And that, I think, is what's missing from The Legend of the Seeker. It doesn't have the budget to take itself as seriously as it does and so it needs Sam Raimi to inject something else. A sense of personality. A sense of fun!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Batman

The powerless super hero par excellence, Batman will always have a special place in my affections. As I've said many times before, Adam West's Batman was partly responsible for getting me into comics as a kid, Tim Burton's Batman was responsible for making me want to read them again as an adult, and Frank Miller's Batman was responsible for making me want to write my own!

Armed with nothing more than a sharp mind and well-honed fighting skills (oh, okay, and enough cash to fill the subterranean network of caves beneath Wayne Manor!), Batman has always stood apart from the rest of the super hero pack. He wears dark greys and black rather than bright primary colours, he makes a virtue of keeping to the shadows rather than showboating in the glare of the limelight and, compared to those of his JLA comrades-in-arms, his methods have always been a little ... close to the edge!

The figurine made by Eaglemoss for the DC Comics Super Hero Collection (pictured) shows Batman with his arm raised, drawing his cape up to his face in the pose which has been one of his trademarks ever since he was first drawn by Bob Kane back in the 1930s.

In my comments on the Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn figurines, I mentioned that I felt the writers had failed to do those characters justice and set out the way I'd have written them in order to make them more interesting. In the case of Batman, I have no such axe to grind. Sure, many of his supposedly classic stories have been ludicrous (Knightfall) or run-of-the-mill (Hush), but the character himself is everything he should be and even the worst writers don't seem to have been able to dent his appeal.

Gruff, surly to the point of rudeness, conservative, right-wing and reactionary, violent and with little time for fools, he continues to be driven by a desire not simply to punish criminals, but to save others from the pain he had to endure following the murder of his parents. Long may he continue to watch over us from the rooftops of Gotham!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Shades - oh, you mean that Murlynn!

Hey, welcome to Monday morning and the latest page of our graphic novel Shades! There's a reduced size version of it below but just click on the image to see the full size version.
If you're not already familiar with Shades, suffice it to say that the character hanging upside down in Panel 3 is called Arturos (a demon hunter from the spirit world) and the face mirrored in the sword (Panel 4) is called Murlynn. Any similarity between these names and those of the legendary King Arthur and his mentor Merlin is, of course, anything but coincidental!

Lost - the polar bear's escaped!

Is anyone still watching Lost? Or, more to the point, is anyone who is still watching it, watching it for any reason other than that this is the last series?

The heady days of Season 1 seem a long time ago now. Remember the thrill of first seeing a polar bear on a tropical island? Of wondering how Jack's dead father appeared to him? Or how Locke had regained the use of his legs? Remember how much fun it was trying to guess what could possibly explain all those weird and wonderful plot twists?

Were the characters dead and serving their time in purgatory? Was everything happening inside Hurley's head? There seemed to be so many possibilities!

By Season 2, watching the series was already becoming a bit of a chore. Setting 50% of the show inside a concrete and steel bunker where the most excitement on offer was wondering whether the latest character-of-the-week would remember to push a button was hardly gripping television. But we kept watching, right? After all, there was always just the merest hint of a possibility that something might happen to explain what the Hell was going on.

It didn't, of course. As each successive season came and went, the main characters started to be killed off (some to add much needed tension, others presumably because the actors no longer wished to be associated with the show) and a variety of increasingly improbable methods were used to introduce new characters to replace them: the Tail-enders, the Others, the Rescue team, the Dharma initiative ... They all came, and they each added one or two replacements to the permanent cast before being whisked away and almost instantly forgotten. Now, as the climax approaches, we have the Temple-dwellers. Forgive me if I stifle a yawn at this latest deus ex machina.

Anyway, for those of us who are still looking in every week, there is at least the chance of an explanation at the end of this season, and that'll make it all worth while, right? Well ... kind of.

The trouble is that I don't think anybody cares any more. The writers have written so many inexplicable twists and turns into the previous five seasons that there simply is no single explanation that can satisfactorily bring all the threads together in one big "Ah, so that's it!" moment. We know this because of the glimpses we've aleady had: the bland and uncharismatic Jacob, nuclear explosions, the island moving through space, the characters moving through time, Locke becoming the smoke monster ... In the frantic scramble to tie all the lunatic plot twists together, the final series is already on course for one of the messiest and most contrived endings ever.

I knew this was coming. Hell, we all knew this was coming. But, if I'd needed any proof, it was given when - as the Dharma settlement's camp was being torn apart - one of the characters could just be heard shouting over all the confusion: "The polar bear's escaped!" Honestly, if that's the best explanation the writers could come up with to justify a polar bear being on a tropical island, what hope is there that they have anything better in mind to explain all the other 2,003 paradoxes and plot holes?

For all that, I am watching the last series. I'm not entirely sure why. I suspect it's because part of me wants to be proven wrong. Part of it is also because I have a theory about where the series seems to be heading and, I suppose, I just want to see if I'm right. (I do hope I'm not!) But mainly, I think, it's because I'm quite enjoying the glimpses of the characters' "what if" lives, back in the US. If it wasn't for those sequences, I'm sure I'd have given up by now, because - as far as everything that's happening on the island is concerned - I really don't care any more!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Webcomics - in search of gold!

Although webcomics have definitely become more accepted and less ghetto-ised over the past couple of years, there's still one huge obstacle for them to overcome. How on Earth do you find the good ones?! The top lists are largely dominated by those with the cash to advertise heavily, the mainstream press (when it looks in this direction at all) can't see beyond the half a dozen gag-strips that kicked things off back in the Dark Ages and new readers find it hard to hear anything over the noise made by the big PR guns brought in to promote DC's Zuda. Stray off those beaten tracks looking for real quality and you'll pretty soon realise it's a jungle out there!

There are tens of thousands of comics on the web and, even as a webcomic creator myself, I have to admit that most of them are simply not worth reading.

Many of them are written and drawn by kids taking their first steps into creating comics. There's nothing wrong with that; I've done it myself. The only difference is that my own early attempts were pre-web, drawn in biro on school exercise books and never seen by more than a dozen class-mates. (See The House that Drac Built by way of proof!) Today's kids, on the other hand, are able to post their first fumbling efforts on the web and have instant access to a potential audience of millions. Well, good luck to them, I say! I'm just jealous that I wasn't able to do the same! Sadly, though, it's the fact that this type of comic is so commonplace that has detractors crying that there are no decent comics here in webworld!

Then there are those with beautiful art but poor writing. Or strong writing but substandard artwork. It's only natural for artists to want to be able to tell their own stories, of course, but the sad fact is that very few of us have the ability to write and draw up to a professional standard and putting together a whole team of specialists is an art in itself. A mainstream comic has a whole army of very creative people working on it: writers, editors, pencillers, inkers, colourists, letterers and probably a few more that I don't even know the names of. With the best will in the world, even the most talented webcomic creator can't be expected to master all those disciplines!

Regular webcomic readers know this and most will make allowances if a comic falls down in one or two areas. For potential new readers in search of good webcomics, however, it's only natural that they will expect the good comics to be as professionally produced as the mainstreeam comics they see on the shelves of their local newsagent. And, as like as not, they won't find any - not, I hasten to add, because there aren't good webcomics out there but because, as I said at the outset, they're just so damn hard to find!

Now, as well as being serialised at my own Broken Voice Comics website, my graphic novel Shades also appears at a number of webcomic hosting sites (Graphic Smash, Drunk Duck and Smack Jeeves) and, through them, I've discovered one or two real webcomic gems (like the two pictured here!) So, whilst I make no claims to know where all the treasure is buried, I plan to use this blog occasionally to highlight a few webcomics which are really something quite special.

I'll be posting something about the first of these shortly so, if you want to read webcomics that are worth reading but can't be bothered to trawl all around the net, make sure you look out for it. Just don't expect me to be flagging up tired old gag-strips banging away about video-gamers or beautifully illustrated fantasy comics populated by elvish characters who like to speak in thees and thous. I'll just be looking at the comics I like. You know ... the good ones!

Monday, 8 March 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Poison Ivy

We featured Harley in an earlier post, so it seems only fair that the second figurine that we're highlighting from the DC Comics Super Hero Collection should be her gal pal Poison Ivy.

As you can see from the image there, the Poison Ivy figurine is absolutely stunning. Whether you like the character or not, it's hard not to agree that this may well be one of the best figurines that Eaglemoss has created for this collection!

So, what of the character? For me, Ivy is one of those characters who seems to fare better outside the comics than in (Uma Thurman's dreadful movie outing excepted, of course!) As far as her "official" character is concerned, Ivy is essentially a classic 1940s femme fatale. Despite being as much plant as human, she's bad to the bone (or sap?) and, thanks to a certain type of plant spore she is able to produce, she can make herself irresistible to any man. Her kiss, of course, is deadly. So far, so Lauren Bacall.

Away from the twisted labyrinth of DC continuity, however, she's often far more interesting. Her persona in the various Batman animated series is far more openly hostile and deranged. This makes sense to me. She has, after all, been quite literally dehumanised. And yet, whenever there is talk of her appearing in a Batman movie, the possible casting choices always gravitate towards the latest up and coming, sultry Hollywood sex symbol. Why? The character is a plant, for Heaven's sake! Forget about making her yet another stereotypical seductress!

It seems to me that both movie and comics writers would do well to focus on reinventing Ivy as a character totally detached from all human emotion. Cast a Summer Glau or a Christina Ricci and make her unfeeling, irrational, quirky, cranky and tenacious. Deadly, yes - but, like a force of nature, in a way that can crush the life out of a man, and with a touch that can make him writhe in agony. There are plenty of other "traditional" femmes fatales in the DCU. Would anyone really mind if one was removed in order to make Ivy more true to her ... roots?

Shades - raise shields!

It's Monday and so that must mean the latest page of our graphic novel Shades is up! You can see a reduced size version of it below. Just click on the image to go to the full size version!
If you're not familiar with Shades, the rather fetching redhead doing clever things with a spear and a shield is the First Century warrior queen Boudicca known, in our story, as "Boo" (but only to her friends!)

Quite why and how she's still alive and running around in the 20th/21st Century would take far too long to explain. But the answers are all in the comic so, if you haven't already, please do go and read it!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Wonder Woman - animated man hater!

The Wonder Woman live action movie may have been put on hold (again!) after Joss Whedon was relieved of script-writing duties last year but, in case you missed it, 2009 did see the release of an animated feature which, despite a few small niggling flaws, was pretty damn good.

So, let's get those niggling flaws out of the way first. Number one has to be the invisible jet! One of Wonder Woman's most iconic accessories, the invisible jet is - like the Batmobile - such a ludicrous plot device that, if it's going to be used at all, it must be handled with extreme care. Sadly, in this case, the writers failed. Miserably!

It's included here because, just as in her early incarnations, this version of Wonder Woman cannot fly. Which is fine except, if it cannot be seen, it doesn't make sense for anyone else to be able to see it or fly it just because that happens to suit a particular action sequence (spoiler withheld!) Nor, incidentally, is there any attempt to explain how such a device came to be developed by a society which has otherwise failed to develop any form of weaponry more advanced than the spear, the sword and the bow!

My second niggle would have to be Wonder Woman's strength which can most generously be described as ... variable! At times she seems to possess just enough to overpower common or garden street thugs, soldiers and fellow Amazons, while - in other scenes - she is perfectly capable of holding her own against Gods, Demigods and the very elements themselves. I don't mind which version a writer wants to opt for, but you can't have it both ways, guys.

Then there are a number of inadequately explained plot developments. The most irritating of these is probably the question of who first reveals Themiscyra to the outside world, allowing Steve Trevor to crash land there. The movie hints at a number of possible suspects, but no one is ever named.

Okay - I said this movie was good, so let's leave the negatives for now. There are more but they are small. Instead, let's look at what actually won me over. Well, there were several things. For a start, the voice acting is pretty solid throughout. Nathan Filion's distinctively lazy drawl, in particular, brings real character to Steve Trevor, a character who is so often portrayed as bland and uninteresting. The plot moves along briskly, telling the story of Wonder Woman's origin and her first visit to "Man's World" in a way that dovetails neatly with the story of how the Amazons first came to be custodians of Themyscira. (No Herculean rape in this version!)

What I liked especially, however, was the fact that this movie was prepared to tackle the conflict which - to my mind - lies at the heart of the Wonder Woman character. Most writers avoid this. Instead they try to convince us that her inner conflict has something to do with having to reconcile her dual roles as warrior and ambassador, conveniently ignoring the fact that many, many military men have moved on to pursue successful careers in politics. What this movie grasps is the fact that the real conflict for Wonder Woman to overcome lies at the very heart of her origin story: despite its more commonplace name, Themyscira - the island which gave her life - is no "Paradise Island" but an unnatural place where no child could possibly be raised without it warping their view of the world.

The Amazons, the people who have raised and educated Diana, are a society built on and around a fear and a hatred of men. Since the very earliest Wonder Woman comics, the Amazons have ascribed all human faults exclusively to men even though they are quite clearly guilty of the same; they are tasked with bringing female virtues to mankind and yet have shut themselves off from it; and they see no injustice in a legal system that condemns a man to death for nothing more than setting foot on the island (however inadvertantly!)

I know some women reviewers have found it difficult to accept the anti-male version of Wonder Woman we see throughout most of this movie but, raised in that environment, of course Diana is going to be suspicious and wary of men, all too ready to condemn the entire sex for the merest hint of a human frailty, and to ascribe the darkest intentions to the slightest show of attraction or, indeed, even courtesy. For me, the fact that the movie isn't afraid to acknowledge that reality is its strength, giving the character room to grow and to develop.

And develop she does. Although the action side of the plot is all about Wonder Woman the super heroine doing battle with the big bad God of War (Ares, obviously!) the real story here is the story of Diana the person, out-growing the preconceptions and prejudices which have shaped her every thought on Themyscira and reaching a far more realistic and balanced understanding of the true nature of men. To me, this portrayal of Wonder Woman isn't about her being a man hater. It's about her overcoming the forces which could have made her one.

Caprica - so far, sooo good!

The remake of Battlestar Galactica was never really a science fiction show. Or rather, it was never just a science fiction show. Sure it had robots and it was set in space but, in reality, it was an intense and intelligent political drama that just happened to be set on board a space ship. The SciFi trappings were almost incidental and that, more than anything else, was responsible for the breadth of the show's appeal.

I therefore had mixed feelings about the prospect of a spin-off charting the rise of the Cylons. I mean, prequels are almost all universally bad, aren't they? And a show about inventing sentient robots? Surely that was just pandering to the hardcore SciFi fanbase and ignoring everything that had made BSG such a success in the first place.

Well, based on the first five episodes, I have to say Caprica has confounded my every expectation. This is not SciFi. Or, to be more accurate, like BSG this is not just SciFi! This is a different animal all together. Forget the robots - this is a family saga. This is Dallas (with the Graystone family standing in for the Ewings) meets The Godfather (with the Adamas donning the guise of the Corleones).

Having just watched the episode There Is Another Sky, I do have one reservation. In that episode we were introduced to New Cap City, a virtual world with buildings and people made entirely of computer code. Oh, and one character who can manipulate that code at will, thereby having what are in effect superhuman powers. Hmmm - isn't there a little known movie franchise that did exactly that?!

We shall have to see whether that blatant act of plagiarism is an indication of whether the writers have already run out of original ideas but, putting that aside for now, everything in the four episodes leading up to this point has been gripping TV. The show's appeal is due in no small part to Alessandra Torresani (pictured) who manages to be entirely convincing both as the wayward teenager Zoe Graystone and her confused virtual avatar, trapped in the metal shell of the first Cylon.

Overall, it's still early days for this series and there's plenty of time for it to lose its way. So far, however, Caprica is shaping up to be a worthy successor to BSG. One of the few shows that have me looking forward to the next episode!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

DC Comics Super Hero Collection - Harley Quinn

Surprisingly enough, I don't buy much in the way of comics merchandise or - to be totally honest - even in the way of comics. As much as I love the potential of the medium, so much of the mainstream comics output is badly written that I don't rate it any higher than a movie by Uwe Boll or a novel by Dan Brown. I have, however, become smitten with the figurines in the DC Comics Super Hero Collection made by Eaglemoss.

This figure of Harley Quinn is the latest to be added to my collection. Harley is one of the many DC heroines that I don't feel has ever been treated well by her writers. I believe I'm right in saying she was originally created for one of the animated Batman series and, the way she's been written ever since ... it really shows!

This woman should be psychotic. Evil. Every bit as bloodthirsty and malicious as the Joker: the Bonnie to his Clyde. Why else would he want her hanging around? Harley could be a great addition to the Bat-universe but, all too often, she's relegated to the role of slapstick comic relief or frivolous sex symbol.

Anyway, back to the Eaglemoss figurine: the glossy but sadly superficial booklets that come with the figurines are not especially informative. Rather than drawing on the rich history of its characters' development since the 1930s, DC has chosen to use these books as a way to summarise only what is currently canon in each character's backstory. What this does is to highlight just how ludicrous those backstories are. Convoluted beyond reason and weighed down by the baggage of an overly strict adherence to continuity, the characters stop seeming heroic and very quickly start to appear laughable.

Still - at least by reading the magazines you can avoid having to read the comics. And, of course, the figurines themselves are just sooo cool!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Shades graphic novel - updated!

Our graphic novel "Shades" has been updated. Below, you can see a reduced size version of the latest page. Just click the image to see the full size page!