A Couple of Comics

It may come as no surprise, given the recent release of Ugly, that I have been known to read comic books. Not all of them come with characters dressed in skin-tight suits and capes, and a couple of the non-superheroic ones have crossed my reader recently which I thought it would be interesting to throw in here because they’re fantasy, urban fantasy at that. They are also just starting, issue number one is out now! So you don’t need to catch up on a huge history like you do with, say, DC or Marvel.

Chastity is a book by Andreyko Acosta, published by Dynamite comics. I’d seen the cover before I read a recommendation from a fairly respected comic blogger. Now, I should have read the fine print: the blogger was saying that the people producing the comic were good, but they hadn’t actually seen it… Oh well, it’s not actually that bad, but the cover… The cover is a con. The alternate cover, which comes as the second page in the electronic edition, is an even bigger con. What we get in the first book is some adequate, but not exactly exciting art, and a vast amount of backstory… and then it ends and we have to wait for the next part to find out pretty much anything. It’s a vampire plotline, Chastity is going to end up as a vampire. This we know. The vampire who attacks her is, to be honest, badly stereotyped, but I do know how hard it is to create a throwaway bad guy without resorting to tacky stereotypes.

In short, I can’t recommend Chastity at this stage, but it shows a bit of promise. I may try another book before I say it’s hopeless.

And then there is Death Vigil. This is the work of Stjepan Sejic, and it’s now being released by Top Cow. We’ll set aside the fact that it cost me the same for 48 pages as Chastity did for 24, and just look at the actual product. Stjepan has his own style of art (and if you haven’t clicked on the link under his name yet, make sure you do because his DA site is an absolute treat) and a great sense of humour. Now, his artistic style may not be for some, and I tend to find his characters have a certain look about them which can be seen as a little samey. But you open up Death Vigil and you’re faced with vivid colours and action. Something happens in this book. Actually from an “extreme summary” viewpoint, the plots of both books are not dissimilar: a girl dies and she’s going to be something else. The difference is that we get beautifully drawn action, funny dialogue, and a resolution in one book, with a teaser ending designed to pull you back for the second issue. Death Vigil is a beautifully executed bit of writing in a form I’d give my eye-teeth to be able to replicate, and it’s a nice piece of hidden-magic, modern fantasy. Also, the Grim Reaper is called Bernadette. How can you go wrong with that? I can’t wait for the next part.

I’ve given links above the the publishers’ pages for these books, but I got my copies through ComiXology, and I’m sure they are both available through other online retailers, maybe even in real shops too. Go, read, enjoy.

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Film Review: Dredd 3D vs Dark Knight Rises

Today I went to see my first ever 3D movie, Dredd 3D. This is a review of that and the recently release The Dark Knight Rises. I find it interesting to compare two comic-based movies and also one 3D movie against one 2D movie. So here we go…

Well, I enjoyed both of them for starters. Both were quite good adaptations of the characters, both fall down in their adaptions in some respects. Both were quite enjoyable action movies, and I like action movies.

Dredd is living in the shadow of Stallone’s Judge Dredd a movie which many fans found distinctly lacking. Judge Dredd is a character from the 2000AD comic. He has his own strip and has spawned a few off-shoots. He’s popular and has a long history in a detailed world which should be ripe for cinematic adaptation. Neither movie has got it quite right, though the new one is probably closer to the comic than the first was. For starters, Dredd doesn’t take his helmet off, a bone of contention in the first movie. Judge Anderson, a psychic, is the female protagonist in this one; she’s done well and I think most people will enjoy seeing her on screen.

What Dredd lacks is the humour of the original comics. Like a lot of science-fiction, the comics are there to make something of a point about modern society. They are political satire as much as over-the-top sci-fi action. There’s no real humour in Dredd 3D, and that, I think, was a mistake. (Sorry, there was one almost-joke. It was clearly meant to be ironic at the very least.)

Dark Knight Rises is a good movie, well acted, with interesting characters and I enjoyed it, but… This movie is 3 hours long and based on Knightfall, a sequence of Batman comics from which the character of Bane comes. The trouble is that the writers took that story’s basic elements and melded them into the arc they created with the first two recent Batman films. While Bane is much better handled here than in his first cinematic outing, he still does not get the treatment he should have got for a man able to out-think and out-perform The Batman. Three hours is far too long; in my opinion they should have made it two shorter movies and expanded the story. More believable too; Bruce Wayne’s recovery from what Bane does to him is just ridiculous. In the comics it requires “magic,” but the film setting is a non-magic world so instead we get unbelievable.

Now, 3D vs 2D… It was pretty clear to me that 3D is still very much a gimmick. If anything, the 3D tended to detract from the realism of Dredd; long scenes looked manipulated, especially the CGI scenes of the city where flying drones appeared to be in a different visual plane rather than flying over a city. Dark Knight looks just as spectacular, just as realistic, just as emersive, and I didn’t need to watch it through a pair of dumb, plastic glasses. Maybe, when film makers stop treating 3D as the next new thing to make a film special, 3D will have something over 2D. Currently it doesn’t.

The Secret World, Review Redux

Well, another beta weekend is swinging to an end and I delved into The Secret World again, perhaps because I’m desperate, I don’t know. This time I did some running around the non-combat areas to see what I could see.

There is a building called Tabula Rasa in the London area which, given the name and the general lack of content, appears to have been set aside for socialising. I say socialising rather than role-play because it’s small and a bar. Compared to the original Pocket D in City of Heroes, Tabula Rasa is minute; it’s a handwave to non-combat gaming. I was unable to find anything similar in Seoul or New York. (New York seemed very under-developed in general, nowhere near as detailed as the other cities, though the scenery was kind of good.)

For secret societies of mystic awesomeness, the various factions are pretty damn visible. The Templers occupy a huge area of London with great big flags hung all over the place. That seemed odd. Not very secret. The Secret World seems more like The Appears On the Nightly News World.

The stability seemed better. Better, but by no means perfect. I still had one total machine crash and several freezes in a few hours of playing. On the bright side, I actually managed to die due to my own stupidity this time around. There’s supposed to be a built-in web browser which you can use to research clues on investigative missions. It didn’t work and I had to resort to checking for something on my laptop.

I doubt many people would follow my recommendation on this, but I’d wait for a few patches before jumping into this game. Better yet, wait until they decide to go free-to-play, because they will. The storylines seem engaging, though I get the feeling the execution would bug me after a while. They’ve gone for atmosphere over logic, which is going to work for all the folks who couldn’t care less about the world as long as they get to head-shoot zombies.

The Secret World, an Urban Fantasy MMO Review

So, this weekend I spent some time gaming for about the first time in a year. I’ve been keeping an eye onThe Secret Worldfor a while since it seemed like something a bit different and, to be honest, it is. So, here’s my views on the beta which I played through some of Saturday.

The Setting: The Secret World is a Lovecraftian hidden secrets setting, modernised with liberal use of sex and violence. The violence is to be expected; this is an MMO, violence is basically what these games are about. The sex… well, also to be expected to some extent. It’s a Funcom game. Funcom pretty much sold Conan on exposed nipples, so a bit of titilation is to be expected. It’s handled with humour, but this is still a game which is probably not for the young or the prudish.

The plotline seems interesting in an apocalyptic way. The stores seem well put together and hold your interest. I could see me trying to play through the game to find out what happens.

Gameplay: I rather enjoyed the skill progression system, which features a rather more flexible mechanism than is typical among MMOs. MMOs (Computer RPGs in general) were developed by people who played first edition D&D. Pen and Paper RPGs have progressed hugely since those days, but CRPGs are still stuck in the “gain a level, increase you hit points and abilities” school. The skill progression in TSW is point-based, but there is still a level-oriented mechanism to it, which is disappointing.

Combat is positional and fairly advanced. It’s fairly fast moving too. My character kicked butt! She died exactly twice, but more of that later. (If anyone was playing and spotted Ceridwyn Brent running around the opening zones, yes, that was me, I was having trouble coming up with a name no one had grabbed.)

The Problems: The game crashed three or four times, once under circumstances which left my character to die. (Happily it’s an MMO so she just got up again.) However, the blue screen crash was more disturbing than any of the assertion failures. BSODs are not supposed to happen in production code. Beyond that, the game froze a lot. Running: game locks up. Click on an object: game locks up. Fighting: game locks up. These seemed like server-end problems too. Not infrequently the game would inform you that it had lost contact with the server and would you like to migrate to another. I’m worried that they would put in a mechanism to handle this kind of thing; it implies it happens a lot. The other character death I had was as the result of a freeze. I encountered no in-game bugs, but the code seemed unstable.

Now, this was a beta, you expect problems, but the game goes live in a week or two and I’d be hoping for more stable code than this. I seem to recall Conan was similarly flaky when they made it live.

The other big problem I have with TSW, and again it seems to be a Funcom thing, is that they just haven’t got anywhere to role-play. World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, they have areas where people can meet and chatter, and they are bright enough to set up a chat system which is useful for taling to other characters. Role-players, if they like an MMO, are a wonderful thing. They take longer to finish content, they stick around even though they have run out of content, they keep paying money to play when the gamers have left for the next big thing. Funcom appear to have no idea at all about role-playing and role-players (everyone else knows about us, they just treat us like shit).

I doubt I’ll be picking up the TSW when it goes live. I’d prefer it if they fixed the bugs. If you fancy being molested by a tentacle or two, you can findThe Secret Worldon Facebook.

Iron Sky, or How can you possibly go wrong with Space Nazis?

I’m having a few days off and a bit of movie watching is a must so I picked up Iron Sky on Blue-Ray. I have no idea how widely available this thing is, but if you can get a copy and you’re into the mildly absurd, watch it.

Basic premise: At the end of World War II a bunch of Nazis fled Germany and built a base on the far side of the moon. There they have been biding their time, ready to come back and take over the world.

Our heroine is a German actress named Julia Dietze, who is gorgeous, playing Renate Richter, a teacher who has been brought up to believe Nazi rhetoric. She actually believes that they are going to return to Earth to bring peace and harmony. To indicate how daft this film can get, in one of her earlier scenes she gets sucked through an airlock and half her clothes get sucked off; it’s so Benny Hill my sides hurt. My one regret, however, was that Udo Kier did not have a slightly larger role. Kier plays the Moon Führer (I’m not kidding!) and the man is awesome; typecast, but awesome.

The movie is cynical, funny, and jam-packed with retro-tech sci-fi. Good fun. I enjoyed it.

Preview Review: The Revelation

First off, a word on what I’m writing this new “feature” for. One of the best (and worst) features of many eBook retailers is the ability to download a preview version of a book. Typically this is the first 10-20% of the work. You can download that for free, see if you like the style, see if the story grabs you. Great for readers (bookshops often frown upon you reading their books without paying), terrible for authors who have to be sure to sell that book in the first chapter or two (but then, we’re supposed to sell it in the first couple ofpages).So, I download a fair few previews, I purchase fewer books. I don’t feel it’s fair to do a review of a book based on the preview I’ve read; I know I wouldn’t like that for one of my books. However, I figured it was fair to do a sort of review, where I give reasons for either going ahead and buying the book, or my reasons for rejecting it. So here’s the first of the Preview Reviews…

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

I won’t be reading the rest of this one. I was looking for some sci-fi to read andRevelation Spaceand its sequels came up on several lists of good modern space opera. I’m sure it probably is, but it’s not making my reading list. And it’s a shame, because he’s a Welsh lad and I like supporting the home team.

So, why? I think the first strike against Revelation Space is the first character we meet, Dan Sylveste. I took an immediate dislike to this guy and he basically blew the book’s chances on page two. I could see the hook I was supposed to bite on; Sylveste is an archaeologist digging up evidence that an alien race may have done something spectacular and killed themselves in the process. As someone who loves science, science-fiction, and archaeology, I should be chewing on that hook like a Great White, but I’m not because Sylveste is a dick. He may be a great character, but by the end of the first chapter I’m hoping he’ll die in the space age sandstorm which is threatening his dig.

We meet a few other characters (none of them particularly likeable) and get the impression that there is a vast universe out there with weird stuff in it… just about. Despite comparisons to Iain M. Banks and William Gibson, Revelation Space comes across as inaccessible. Reynolds likes to throw out words and phrases which obviously mean something, but he isn’t going to explain so those enigmatic future-speak terms are just verbal hieroglyphics. They don’t give a “sense of wonder,” just a feeling that the author likes to think he’s smarter than the reader. The other thing that gives that impression is Reynolds’ tendency to drop complicated words for simple things into the text. In the first few pages I had to use my Kindle’s dictionary three times just to be sure of what he was saying, and my vocabulary isn’t that small.

So, sorry Mr Reynolds, I won’t be reading your books. If I want to read stuff like this, I’ll read Banks. The Scottish writer beats the Welsh one on this occasion.