Thursday, 26 March 2015

The New(er) Avengers

It's legit: this is the new Avengers line-up in the comics, post-Secret Wars.  Once the various universes have settled down, this is who's heading Marvel's premier team.

The new Thor, secret identity currently unknown. Good to see she's sticking around, her comics are very good.
The new Captain America, Sam Wilson, previously the Falcon. Again, it's good to see Marvel aren't using their shake-up to reverse their more diverse recasting of the main heroes.
Iron Man? Or potentially someone else in an Iron Man suit. Rumours are it's Pepper Potts/Rescue, but we don't know right now.
The Vision, about to hit big in the movies.
Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. The current darling of Marvel comics.
The teenaged Nova, Sam Alexander, perhaps best known from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoons but also heading his own title.
Miles Morales as Spider-Man, which means a) the regular and Ultimate realities are indeed being combined, and b) Peter Parker's status is in the air.
And that sure looks like a Hulk they're running to.

Rose Retrospective - Ten Years On

Today marks ten years since Doctor Who returned to BBC1, with the episode Rose. It's actually a touch over ten years since I saw it – no, I didn't download the leaked rough copy, I got a sneaky peek at the BBC. A few days makes no odds though. It's ten years! Only in Doctor Who does the tenth anniversary follow the fiftieth. I do remember that first viewing well. A mere stripling of twenty-one, taking the day off work specifically to go watch Doctor Who in London, with Dave Pound, who had bravely kept the flame alive, performing a Davros impression on Channel 4 a couple of years previously. There was a gent dressed as Sylvester McCoy there (“My Jon Pertwee outfit is at the cleaners,”) as well as a reassuring number of children. Indoctrination, I guess. Of course, Clayton Hickman, then editor of Doctor Who Magazine, and Tom Spilsbury, his deputy and successor, were there as the organisers of the opportunity. The atmosphere was one of palpable excitement. What new fans don't often realise is just how good it was to have Doctor Who back on the telly where it belongs. It was perhaps even more exciting for a relative newbie like me. Doctor Who had never been a fixture of the schedules for me. I'm of the lost generation, growing up in the wilderness, with only the TV Movie and occasional repeats to live on. This was Doctor Who, back in its natural habitat: Saturday teatimes on BBC1.

The first thing that we remarked upon, coming out of the showing, was just how fast-paced it all was. Watching hours of seventies telly settles you into a gentler pace of television, but even so, this was rapid by 2005 standards. What would once have been a leisurely four-parter was squeezed into forty-three minutes of frenetic action and humour. That's not to say there weren't slower moments, but they were pauses in the momentum in order to catch our breath. It seemed over almost as soon as it started, and I felt desperate for some more. What stuck out, on that first viewing, was the casual modernity of it all. Again, this is a consequence of being a fan of the old serials; Doctor Who felt like something of the past, and this had just changed. The Doctor was cheeky, angry, soulful, and very northern, swaggering about in a leather jacket and boots. He didn't look like the Doctor, he didn't sound like the Doctor; but as he faced the Nestene, gleefully ran from explosions and looked Rose in the eye while he waxed poetic on the turn of the Earth, he was the Doctor.

Rose, too, was a revelation. It's not true to say that she was the first strong or capable companion, nor that she was the first to be the focus of the story. However, Rose came across as a real person in a way that very few, if any, of the classic series companions did. She was believably common, everyday, confident even as she was almost overwhelmed by the bizarre universe she walked into. And she almost casually saved the Doctor from the Nestene, citing her school gymnastics medal. What I loved about that was that she got the bronze, not the gold. It's those little asides that make Russell T's writing seem so real. Mickey, too, was far better than anyone gave him credit. Noel Clarke himself decried his performance in the first few episodes, but I actually think he's perfectly fine here, particularly as the weirdly stultified Auton Mickey. No less impressive is Camille Coduri, who made Jackie, a potentially irritating as hell character, completely endearing. The choice of the Autons as the opening monster was inspired. They're such a straightforward idea to get across – walking dummies animated by a plastic alien intelligence. There's a reason they worked so well both in 2005 back in the seventies; they inhabit the deepest part of the uncanny valley. My best friend Shelly was absolutely terrified of them. Updated, so that they looked a little more real, they were a straight-up recreation of the classic foes.

Watching Rose now is a strange experience. It seems both so recent and so long ago. What was, at the time, such an on-the-button update of a dated programme now seems terribly unsophisticated. However, that is, in its way, part of the appeal. More complex stories were to come later, with the likes of Dalek, The Empty Child and The Parting of the Ways. This was the easy way in; contemporary England, bold and saleable with landmarks aplenty, with an easily graspable alien facing recognisable characters. Then the trailer for next week's episode, The End of the World, displayed weird blue dwarfs and tree people and a giant head in a tank, and we realised that the weird shit was just round the corner. Over the years, Doctor Who has become more complex, more audacious and more surprising, but none of it could have been possible were it not for the success of this first series. Christopher Eccleston, with only three months in the role, is often unfairly overlooked by fans. He is treated by many as a warm up for Tennant's hugely successful incarnation. Billie Piper, who once seemed irreplaceable, is now such a part of the past that it was genuinely strange seeing her return for The Day of the Doctor. So this is how the older fans felt when they sat down and watched Rose, I guess. The newest series, existing only because of the triumphs of the past. There are die-hard Doctor Who fans who have never watched Eccleston's episodes, let alone anything earlier. But there are also young adults, the same age I was when I saw Rose, who were ten or eleven when it first aired. The perfect age to be introduced to Doctor Who. No idea that this was the twenty-seventh run of an ancient series. It was new and bizarre and gripping, and, belching bins, dodgy photoshop and questionable music choices aside, it entranced a new generation of fans. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Trev and Simon and Ace!

There's a new thing happening! Clare Eden, the executive producer of the excellent audio series The Minister of Chance has begun work on a brand new science fiction audio extravanganza!

Were you a child in Britain in the late eighties and early nineties? In that case, you'll remember the superlatively silly Trev and Simon, who caused mild anarchy on the Saturday morning kids' shows Going Live! and Live and Kicking. Also in the late eighties, Sophie Aldred was appearing on Doctor Who, as Ace, companion to the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. Now a fixture of children's television, Sophie continues to play Ace on audio for Big Finish, and appeared in Death Comes to Time, the webcast that introduced the Minister of Chance.

(There are mysterious links between them through the world of children's entertainment. Sophie lends her voice to Tree Fu Tom along with tenth Doctor, David Tennant, who appeared in Doctor Who alongside John Barrowman as Captain Jack. Barrowman was one of the presenters of Live and Kicking in the nineties, putting up with Trev and Simon.)

Strangeness in Space is set to be a free-to-stream podcast for children, a sci-fi comedy set in orbit of the planet Mirth. Clare, Sophie, Trev and Simon are now looking for donations to make their creation on Kickstarter. There are perks available from pocket money level (£4) all the way up to executive producership (£1500). So if you want to indoctrinate you children into the silliness of your youth, this is the way to go.

To the footur! Swing you pants!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Ghostbusters is going to be a vast, cinematic franchise, dontchano. At least, that's Sony's plan for it, because they did such a great job trying to replicate Marvel's method with Spider-Man, didn't they? There seems to be a definite missing of the point here. First things first, we need a good movie. If they can't get the first one right, nothing else can follow. There's a twenty-seven year gap between Ghostbusters II and the next year's film. We don't know if it's going to take off, so planning endless sequels, prequels and side-quels is just a bit premature. Sony are already undermining their own good work with this move. Paul Feig's all-women Ghostbusters reboot has drawn a ridiculously vehement wave of criticism, and I really, really want to see it blow the naysayers down by being a bloody good film. Now there's talk of a second film, that seems designed to be specifically what the anti-Feig crowd want. Real men Busters, links to the original films, involvement from Dan Aykroyd... it undermines the very concept of the new direction. Indeed, it doesn't seem like there can be a reboot if these films are all supposed to take place in the same universe. More though, it's an implicit attack on the value of female-led franchises. Women can't have something for themselves. There has to be a masculine option, that looks just like every other popular Hollywood franchise.

It's depressing, and it's actually sapped my enthusiasm for Feig's version. I'd much rather see that given the chance to stand on its own two feet. I'm still in favour of a TV series; I actually think that's the best way forward for Ghostbusters, but if they're set on making movies, just focus on making one damned good movie first, then start the plans for the "GBCU." Because this has all the marks of going the same way as Spider-Man did, and I speak as someone who enjoyed the Amazing Spider-Man films. Sony still shot their own franchise in the foot by focusing too much on what they wanted it to be in the future, and not enough on making good movies.

I'm actually feeling more enthusiastic about the newly announced IDW comicbook series Get Real, which should be out this summer. Because there is a market for fannish material, and a classic Ghostbusters/Real Ghostbusters crossover is a perfect idea that it's quite surprising has taken this long to materialise. I'd rather spend my fan-bucks on this than a hastily conceived film with an elderly Aykroyd and Hudson making unnecessary cameos, because at the end of the day, normal people need to like that movie, not just fannish freaks like me.

However, because I am a fan, and we fans can't help but over-analyse these things, I found myself wondering what the Ghostbusters multiverse looks like now. Seeing that the comics look to be crossing the planes of reality and all, and what I came up with was this:

Earth-1: The original cinematic version, just the two movies, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, released and set in 1984 and 1989 respectively. Whatever happens afterwards is left to your imagination.
Earth-2: The expanded version of above, with Ghostbusters II followed by Ghostbusters: The Video Game, the realistic version, which essentially acts as Ghostbusters III.
Earth-3: The two movies, followed by the stylised version of the Video Game, which has a slightly different story, and then continuing in the IDW comic series, which expands the Ghostbusters business and sees it frachise in other cities.
Earth-4: The animated universe, comprising The Real Ghostbusters, Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters. Yes, including the Slimer! skits, and maybe the Now! Comics and/or Marvel-UK comics from the 80s/90s too. In this reality, a version of the first film's events occurred, but not exactly the same. The movie Ghostbusters exists in this reality, based on the Real Ghostbusters exploits. Earth-3 and Earth-4 are crossing over in Get Real, and certain characters who originate in the animated series also appear in the comics. There's also a version of the events of Ghostbusters II, which were published as The Real Ghostbusters: Ghostbusters II comicbook by Now! Comics.
Earth-5: Ghostbusters: Legion, a comic miniseries by the now-defunct 88MPH press. In this reality, a version of the events of the first film occur, but twenty years later than on Earth-1, and are followed by Legion. There's no version of Ghostbusters II.
Earth-6: Ghostbusters II is followed by the rather average sequel novel Ghostbusters: The Return by Scholly Fisch. Winston becomes Mayor of New York.
Earth-7: Ghostbusters II is followed by TokyoPop's manga comic series Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted.
Earth-8: Seen in the RGB episode "Flip Side," a parallel continuum where the ghostly citizens of Boo York are protected from living humans by the Peoplebusters.
Earth-9: The new cinematic universe, which might reboot the franchise but will apparently have some links to the first two films, so they presumably happen in some form or another. We'll see.

March Comics Round-Up: Other publishers

Really, just take it in.

And on with the non-Marvel titles. No DC this month, excepting Multiversity which isn't due out for a week so won't get picked up till April, most likely. While Marvel is preparing for Secret Wars, DC is about to enter the Convergance, which will have consequences including decent new costumes for Superman and Wonder Woman, and Batman dressing up like a robot bunny rabbit. I have, however, been watching a lot of DC lately. Maybe I just prefer Bats and Supes on the screen to on the page?

Instead I grabbed a bunch of occasional titles and tried some new ones, plus regular subs. A lot of TV and film tie-ins here, which is very much my thing, and consequentially means a lot of IDW. Also, Alan Moore's new Nemo book is out, so I grabbed that too.

The Fly: Outbreak #1 (IDW)

IDW is very good at providing platforms for seemingly dead properties to be explored again. I'm slightly bemused by this one, in that I think most people would have taken the chance to ignore the events of the not-terribly-good The Fly II and follow on from Cronenberg's masterpiece. (And it is a masterpiece.) In fact, I'd really love to see a working of Geena Davis's Flies treatment, but hey ho. It's been a long time since The Fly II, but Outbreak seems to either retcon/misconstrue the ending to the film or I'm misremembering it myself. Still, I'm fairly certain that the villainous Bartok was left as a misshapen monster because essential human genes were removed and implanted in Martin's cells, not because he had fly DNA swapped into his body. In any case, I like how this story deals with Martin's guilt with leaving Bartok in this state, and how he has become little better than him with his constant experimentation. Not sure how this is going to develop, but it's reasonably well written and it looks fantastic.

Frankenstein Underground #1 (Dark Horse)

It's been ages since I read any Mignola. I'm not sure why; I love Hellboy and BPRD, it's just a universe I haven't found myself visiting for some time. So an unexpected new series starting seemed like a good opportunity to jump back in. Frankenstein Underground is a Hellboy spin-off, and so takes place in that macabre universe, and it certainly feels part of that aesthetic. It's a shame Mignola doesn't really draw anymore, save for covers and occasional special items, but Ben Stenbeck's art is similar enough to match the world's tone while being distinct enough not to feel slavish. A sympathetic and horrific look at the classic Monster, and one I think I shall follow.

Doctor Who: Eleventh Doctor #8 (Titan)

I dropped this for a bit due to not wanting to have to sell a kidney to afford all my comics, so with a little spare cash I thought I'd grab it again. Bit of a shame I missed any of these; Al Ewing is on the top of his writing game, and the Eleventh Doctor series are the best Doctor Who comics around right now. Alice is a companion who really should have been on TV; she's realistic and likeable, but not a pushover, and I doubt she'd have polarised opinions in the way either Amy or Clara have. Jones, on the other hand, is just fun, and is now speaking almost entirely in David Bowie quotes. Because that's who he is, even if he isn't officially young Davey Jones. This is intriguing, well told and often very funny, and I still love Warren Pleece's slab-faced version of Eleven.

Doctor Who Magazine #484 (Panini)

This month's comic strip is a one-off, entitled "Space Invaderz," which is fun parody of Storage Hunters and similar programmes. There only two problems: firstly is that a similar idea was used for a story in the recent anthology Seasons of War, but rather better executed. This happens when there are multiple publishers of one property, but there you go. Secondly, though, is that this is obviously meant to be funny, but just isn't very. Bit of a misstep, but they can't all be classics.

Bill & Ted's Most Triumphant Return #1 (Boom!)

Another eighties movie follow-up this month, this time from Boom! With talk of a third movie happening in the near future, it seems timely to provide a follow-up to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. This picks up almost immediately after the finish of the second film, and deals with the pressure on the Stallyns to write their second song and continue their destiny. Good fun, with some enjoyable use of time travel. A separate, shorter story concerning the good robot Bill and Ted rounds off the issue. Worth checking out issue two, I feel.

Star Trek #43: Five Year Mission (IDW)

Picked this up to see what was going on in the Abrams-verse. Nothing very gripping, sadly. The Enterprise has gone a bit Star Trek: Voyager and is now adrift in the Delta Quadrant. Somehow, I feel this won't last, considering they've got to be back in the neighbourhood this time next year for the third movie (like that's going to arrive on time). A mysterious local offers assistance. Can she be trusted? What do you think? Nothing special, going to drop this line for good.

Saga #26 (Image)

I'm wondering whether to continue buying this monthly, or to stop and wait for the trades, which do seem to be a better format for the story style. Then again, I really do enjoy my regular dose of Saga, and there are far worse crimes than moving slowly. It's a long wait till the next phase of the story starts as it is. We're in a very different place now to where the series started, and the shifting friendships and alliances are intriguing. It needs to come to a head soon, though. Remains utterly compelling, for all that.

Nemo: River of Ghosts (Top Shelf/Knockabout)

The final installment of Alan Moore's Janni Nemo trilogy, this chapter taking place primarily in 1975, with the now very elderly lady captain falling into obsession with the potential return of her archnemesis, Ayesha. It continues in the vein of the previous volumes, playing the game of dropping in as many references for readers to spot as possible. This manages to cross-pollinate Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, The Lost World, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Incan adventure tales, throwing in a gaggle of Hitler - sorry, I mean Hynkel - clones. Hugo Coghlan, aka Hugo Hercules, is a particularly obscure character to lift from the archives, but he's an important one, often cited as the first superhero. He's good fun though, providing unlimited muscle and a surprisingly sympathetic ear for Nemo. It's also heavily implied that he's the father of Desperate Dan of The Dandy, which, textually speaking, I suppose he is. There's something of a theme of ageing and the loss of faculties, with regards to Nemo herself and the ever-advancing world beyond her sanctuary. Essentially, though, this is a romp, and while that's great fun and all, Moore's work used to be about something.