Monday, 31 January 2011


As part of Hi-Ex's commitment to developing comic talent in the Highlands, they will be running a brilliant bunch of smaller events in 2011.
This weekend at Eden Court Inverness, Vicky Stonebridge (one half of Hi-Ex) will show you how to combine recycling, storytelling and drawing skills to make great fun minii-comics.
Bring scrap paper, ribbons, packaging, wrapping paper, shiny things and loads of imagination!

Booking details HERE.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Henry Cavill is Superman

Deadline have broken the story that British actor Henry Cavill will be playing Superman in Zack Synder's forthcoming Superman movie.
He certainly looks the part:

He's all hunking and that, and by all accounts, he's a rather good actor also.

It's amusing to the read the comments below the story linked above- apparently some people can tell that this film is going to 'suck' already! What makes this even more amazing is that the film is not due for release until December 2012- yes, TWO YEARS from now, and yet the great sages of the web can tell it will be rubbish. Don't you just love the internet?

Songs of the Wolf review

Before I begin, I should point out that I am not a fan of what you would call the ‘fantasy’ genre. Perhaps I should revaluate this position, because as with Engineering Infinity where I discovered that I actually did like hard sci-fi stories, I found myself enjoying this book a great deal.

I should also point out that this is not actually one novel but a collected edition featuring two novellas: The Wolf’s Sister and The Wolf’s Mate. In reality though, they are both chapters in the same tale.
One of the things that in my experience destroys the experience of reading a novel in a fantasy setting is the lack of world building, or too much world building for that matter. Some fantasy writers are too interested in the wonderful universe they have created and spend more time explaining their clever back stories and the history of their races than on little things like character and plot. Obviously, I’m not naming anyone here, but we all know who I’m Tolkien about...

Where was I? Oh yeah- world building. It’s something that RF Long does with an admirable skill and subtle touch. There is not too much detail or dense background provided (the whole book runs to a slim- for a fantasy book- 240-odd pages) and what detail she does provide is inserted well, so that it does not come over as exposition.

The characters are also very well realised, with the arc of the main protagonist, Jeren, particularly well written and enjoyable- her frustrations, her feelings, her fears- they are all communicated expertly- again, without the need for clumsy exposition. If I keep going on about this, it is because it is a skill a surprising number of writers do not seem to be bothered with.

Things I didn't like? One of my other problems with fantasy books are the character names. I find loads of apostrophes and the like in names to be distracting, and Long does employ them here sometimes, but she has the sense to shorten character names to make them easier to digest.
Something I thought I would not enjoy was the prospect of reading a romance story. But breathe easy men! I have to confess that my expectations on this front were not high, but again, Long deals with the relationship between the two main characters in such a way as to have the romance and their growing feelings for each other a constant part of the story, but not overpowering the plot in any way. And, I should add that there is plenty of action in here too- and it is written in a lovely fluid style.

All in all, this is well worth hunting out, but it does end at exactly the wrong moment (or, rather- exactly the right moment)- there is still much of the story left to tell, and I hope she returns to it soon.

Songs of the Wolf is available from Samhain Publishing.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks audio review

A quick history lesson for all you young people out there before we begin. You know before these new fangled DVDs that you have? Well there was a thing called ‘video tape.’ Imagine that! Films on a big clunky tape! And before that, do you know what we had? Nothing.
That’s right- once a film or TV show was finished that was it- we’d never see it again, unless it was repeated sometime at a later date.
For something like Doctor Who, this was a terrible thing for the fans- sci-fi fans are a strange bunch and we like to watch the things we love again and again. But for Who, what we had were the Target novelizations. They were adaptations of the television scripts, and almost always seemed to be written by Terrance Dicks.
Now, why am I telling you all this?
Because in 1979 the BBC released a version of the classic tale Genesis of the Daleks on vinyl LP. By the way, for those too young to know- vinyl was what we had before CDs. What this release was, was abridged version of the episodes of the story with bridging narration read by the then Doctor Tom Baker.
Now Audio Go have rereleased it on CD, so a whole new generation can get to hear it.
First up, I should mention the packaging, which is a reproduction of the original LP sleeve. And then there is the CD itself, which is a thing of beauty as you can see:

The recording itself is a marvellous artefact, and an interesting piece of old merchandising. But as well as that, it is also very entertaining indeed. For all that we love the story, I doubt there are many fans out there who would deny that it is very flabby around the middle with a series of pointless capture/escape scenes padding things out. Shorn of all that, what you get here is an hour long version which amounts to all the best scenes, including the classic one where Davros and the Doctor speak “Not as prisoner and captor, but as men of science,” held together by some nice narration by Baker.
While I’m a big fan of most of the Who audio stuff, I’d go further with this one and say that it is pretty much essential.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Slaughterman's Creed review

The most frustrating thing about reading this book is when I was reading it, I couldn’t help thinking that there will be a percentage of people reading this and thinking ‘Guy Ritchie.’
But- newsflash- Guy Ritchie did not invent the London gangster story, and this book sits more comfortably with real (yes- I said ‘real’) London gangster tales like The Long Good Friday or Get Carter.

Writer Cy Dethan and artist Stephen Downey previously worked together on the brilliant and disturbing horror fantasy book Cancertown. So, if you’ve read that book (and if you haven’t why not?) you’ll probably think you’re prepared for Slaughterman’s Creed....
And you’d be partly right. This is as bleak and disturbing as Cancertown- for the most part. But, for my money, this book is a lot more powerful and there is more impact from the violence and gore for one simple reason. And it’s one I have banged on about before in either other reviews of when pontificating about writing.
Horror is all the more horrible when you have people doing horrible things to other people. That’s what Hannibal Lecter is scarier than Freddy Kreuger. And there is a lot of horror in this book.

That is not to say it is some cheap torture porn story. It is not. Every violent action in this book is there to further the plot rather than to titillate an audience of bored teenagers (when did I get this cynical!?).
And what a plot! Dethan, in the first chapter, sets out the plot nicely as he introduces the characters and the concept of the Slaughterman. But then, just as the reader thinks the narrative is going one way, he adds a wonderful reveal that takes it in completely another direction.
There was a point where I thought that Dethan was biting off more than he could chew as he introduced a number of subplots, but I need not have worried, he juggles the various strands with perfection and brings everything to a satisfying climax. Of course, satisfying does not, of course, always mean happy or upbeat... but it does mean clever and altogether logical.

As for the art- Downey has made a quantum leap in quality from his work in Cancertown. His figure drawing is very good and his layouts are thoughtful and imaginative. I did notice one continuity error in there though...
And I suppose I should mention the colouring too... for the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that the majority of the book was coloured by HiEx’s own Vicky Stonebridge, and she does a wonderful job in creating atmosphere, when required, adding to the bloody and gruesome realism of the horror on the page.
So, all in all, I’d say this book is a bit of a triumph for all involved. With a strong narrative, well realised and rounded characters, strong visuals and a wonderful seam of oh so black humour this deserves to be a hit for all involved. And not turning it into a movie would be nothing short of a travesty.

Slaughterman's Creed is published by Markosia comics.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht

Issue 7 of Wasted magazine sees the début of a new strip by Alex Ronald and mysterious Emperor: Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht.
Yes, the title tells you pretty much everything you want to know about the story! You've got Nazis, and you got sexy ladies- run with it!

We've read the first part of the story, and it is wonderful fun. It is bursting with ideas and cracking dialogue. This episode crams a lot of back story into a relatively short number of pages, and it does it very well- with a number of sometimes hilarious celebrity cameos along the way (one of which had me laughing out loud - or LOLing as I believe the young call it).  But that artwork... ohhhh the artwork. Without seeming to descend into hyperbole, this is some of the best comic art that I have ever seen.
So, if your an adult- and like your humour 'robust'- get thee to your comic shop for a copy of Wasted #7! On sale February 5th.

And while we're here...

This is a very nice picture, isn't it?

Well- you're in luck, because it can be yours!
Artist Alex Ronald has very sexy A3 posters available for a mere £6 of your Earth money- including postage (in the UK... hey- there is a war on!).
Drop him a line for details at alexronald68(at)live(dot)co(dot)uk 

You can also follow the Vampire Vixens on Facebook.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Trailer

Here at HiEx, we're big fans of the series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

Here's the trailer for the prequel series, Gods of the Arena. It looks just as wonderfully OTT as the previous one and we cannot wait!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Slaughterman's Creed Convention Edition Pre-Orders and Competition

This just in from the extraordinary Nic Wilkinson!

Things are ramping up towards the launch by Markosia comics of the hardcopy edition of Slaughterman's Creed at Bristol Comics Convention in Mid May.

There is going to be a convention special edition, signed by all the creators, on sale over the launch weekend at the special price of £10.

Everyone who buys it on the day, or pre-orders it to be sent out after the show will be entered into a competition to win an original piece of art pencilled by Stephen Downey and coloured by Vicky Stonebridge.

We know that not everyone will be physically going to the con, and some people will only be there for one or other of the days, so if you would like to reserve a copy to be held behind the stand, or posted out to you, please let me know.

If you are not coming to the show there will be postage added to the £10 which is £2 in the UK and £4 for overseas delivery.

You can contact Nic by mailing her at nic(at)cydethan(dot)com and she'll will add your name to the list.

And if you can't wait and want a taste of the horrors in store in Slaughterman's Creed, you can read a free 12 page preview on Cy's website- just click HERE to let the carnage commence!

Doctor Who The Jade Pyramid review

Big Finish are not the only folks to release Doctor Who audio adventures. This one comes from Audio Go and has the distinction of being read by the Eleventh Doctor himself- Matt Smith.
Now, I’ve made no secret in the past of my opinion of Smith. I honestly think he’s the best Doctor yet.
I’m happy to report that he doesn’t let me down here. It’s fascinating to hear him read this tale, and to hear the subtle change in his voice between the narrator and The Doctor. That, my friends, is acting! Although in the interest of full disclosure, his Scottish accent when he’s reading Amy Pond is… not the best!
As for the story- it’s a pretty good one. We’ve got a brilliant setting- feudal Japan- and an interesting cast of characters in a well written and complex but not overly complicated plot. There are also some lovely character beats in it- the writer clearly understands the Doctor and the dialogue both he and Amy get sounds authentic. This may sound like an obvious thing, but you’d be surprised how hard it is for some writers to get it right.
The only problem is that the Big Secret behind what’s going on is a bit obvious and bordering on a sci-fi cliché. It could be argued, of course, that younger listeners- at which I suspect this is squarely aimed (which is good- it should keep them quiet on a long car journey!) won’t be aware of this, which is fair enough.
Like the Big Finish range, this also manages to convey a nice period atmosphere with use of sound effects and music, and it’s well worth an hour and a bit of your time.
Oh, and another thing... the sleeve notes credit the Doctor Who theme to Murray Gold. Arrangement by, maybe- but the Doctor Who theme was composed by, as we all know, Rob Grainer.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Doctor Who Companion Chronicles: Quinnis review

This latest release from Big Finish is a companion chronicle in more ways than one. As well as being narrated by Carole Anne Ford, it also provides some background for the recent Eighth Doctor tale Relative Dimensions. It’s a rather neat idea, and never fear- the listener doesn’t need to listen to one to enjoy the other.
The other neat thing here is that this is set way back before we had even met Susan and The Doctor in An Unearthly Child. I’m not sure this era has been visited many times before- something tells me that I’d read it was ‘off limits’ for some reason, but I do remember a novella by Kim Newman set there (or should that be 'then'? Or both?).
The ending of this tale dovetails nicely with the beginning of the television series, as we learn why Susan ended up in a school in London in 1963.
But before we get to that, we have this adventure to experience! Like other companion chronicles, this one has a limited cast and is mainly read by Carole Anne Ford, who does a wonderful job in evoking both the characters and the location. The world on which this is set is a great sci-fi location and reminded me of the kind of over the top and wildly imaginative location you get in an Iain M Banks novel.
The story itself is very good, but does not unfold in a wholly unexpected fashion. That being said, there were some plot twists I didn’t see coming to balance out the ones I did.
This really benefits from having Carole Anne Ford reading it though. It’s amazing to hear her play a character she first played half a century ago, and still sound as enthusiastic as she did back then.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Buck #1 review

Written by Stephen Lindsay with art by Danny Kelly, this is the first in a four part series.
The tropes that Lindsay uses, and has a lot of fun with, should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a moster movie like Jaws, Tremors or Lake Placid. You've got your stoic sheriff, his cocky sidekick, perfect daughter and a bit of a love interest for him too.
It's a testament to the writing that these characters, rather than being instantly annoying in their familiarity, are immediatle likeable. Likeable to the point that I was begging the sheriff to just ask out the waitress who obviously fancies him...
But, I hear you ask, you mentioned monsters! Where are the monsters!
Well it's in the title! What we're dealing with here is your classic giant monster- this time it's, as the title suggests, a buck. And from the brief glimpses we get of him, he's a big one!
I must confess to being taken aback momentarily by the art when I first opened the book. It has a rough edge to it that does not make it instantly attractive the way smooth lined art is. However, it only takes a few panels to get into it, and the art reveals itself to be both clever and subtle, with Kelly drawing some nice performances from the characters.

There's not a great deal of violence in this first issue, but when it arrives, it does so in a glorious over the top fashion- with swathes of red drenching the black and white panels and in some cases flowing outside the panel borders.
This is an accomplished and interesting first part and we thoroughly recommend you look out for it in your local comic shop. We'll certainly be keeping an eye out for the rest of it.

Anne Hathaway is... Catwoman?

Yes, you have read that right.
Warner Brothers have announced that Anne Hathaway is to play Catwoman in Christopher Nolan's third and (he says) final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
She does seem like am unusual choice for the role- but then so was Heath Ledger and he turned out pretty well as The Joker!

But stranger again is the news that Tom Hardy is playing none other than the villain Bane!
Bane is an odd choice, having been doing appalling damage in the Batman and Robin movie, but we trust that Nolan's movie will bring a more cerebral version of the character in keeping with the Bane who took down Batman in the comics.

Read more about it on the Empire site.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Engineering Infinity Review

I have to confess that when I hear the term ‘Hard Sci-fi’ I usually give a bit of a shudder.
I'm not, as a rule, a fan of this subgenre. To me, the name Hard Sci-fi conjures up pages of long dry discussion on the physics and science of FTL and time travel. These are things that I am interested in, I’m just not interested in reading about them in a novel- I like hyperspace and flashing purple laser beams in space!
This is not to say I don’t read any. I am a big fan of Clarke, for example, and his ability to communicate astonishingly complex science in a few simple words is wondrous in itself.
But reading this collect has got me re-evaluating what I think of as Hard Sci-fi. There are tales in here that I wouldn’t have classed as such- but on reflection, of course they are. If you take hard Sci-fi to be any story that has real science as a base to it, then you’re opening the market up to almost anything short of Star Wars and most of Doctor Who.
So, on to the collection.
Editor Jonathan Strahan has assembled quite a formidable roster of writers for this Solaris book- most eye catching among them being Stephen Baxter and Charles Stross. Actually, Stross is another writer we can add to the list of Hard Sci-fi authors I have enjoyed reading previously.

As with all collections, this is a mixed bag. There were some stories I didn’t enjoy as much as others, and even one I’ll hold my hands up to admitting I didn’t understand at all.
I suppose you’ll be wanting a blow by blow account of the various stories? Well, I’m not going to. I’ll mention a few though.
The opening tale, Malak by Peter Watts is an interesting, if downbeat, opener, telling the story of an automated flying weapon in war in the Middle East. Thought provoking stuff, as good sci-fi should be.
Some are brilliantly character driven, in a way that some readers (yes- I mean me) don’t usually associate with Hard Sci-fi. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Charles Stross and John C Wright provide tales that are pretty heartbreaking in their own way.
The Server and the Dragon by Hannu Rajaniemi is a nice modern, well not modern, future fairy tale.
Actually, looking through the book again to write this, I can honestly say that almost every tale hit the mark for me, apart from the aforementioned one I didn’t understand. And that is, of course, not to say it was badly written. It clearly wasn’t.
Ahhh... I was about to launch into another paragraph mentioning story after story again! I shall limit myself to two more, and two more only.
The Invasion of Venus by Stephen Baxter. I like stories that remind us of our place in the universe, and this is one such tale. We had a similarly themed alien invasion of Earth tale in a recent issue of FutureQuake (I hasten to add that the stories are in no way similar- they just explore the same themes).
And finally, possibly my favourite tale in the book, The Birds and the Bees and the Gasoline Trees by John Barnes (not the ex-footballer, I’m guessing). I loved this for two reasons. Firstly, it got me with a marvellous semi-twist. I saw where things were going with this narrative and he outfoxed me by not only changing the tack of the tale and having one of the characters address it.
The other is the sheer scope of the idea driving the story. Seriously, it is massive and thought provoking and, of course, this being a Hard Sci-fi book, all too plausible. I say ‘all too’ as if it’s a bad thing, but the bigger part of me would think it really really cool if something like the events depicted in this story actually happened. Again, as with the Baxter story, this one really puts us in our place as a species.
All in all, an excellent collection of stories, and one that will have me seeking out more work from the authors featured here. One thing though- an inordinate amount of them seem to live in Edinburgh...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Doctor Who The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories review

Now, before I start to write about this, I think that I should declare a bit of an interest.
A few months ago, Big Finish ran a competition were new writers were able to pitch ideas for a one part adventure featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. Like a lot of other writers, I gave it a go. And like all but one of them, I failed! The winner can be heard on this release. I was nervous before listening... It’s true I didn’t know which one of the four loosely related tales was the winner before listening, but I figured that because I didn’t know which was which, then my judgement should be impartial, right?
Well, I think it was, because on the first listen, the competition winner was one of the ones that really stood out for me.

We begin with The Demons of Red Lodge. This is a pretty straight up horror thriller type tale. It is well told, well acted and paced perfectly. I like an historical Who, and this has a nice sense of time and place to it. The writer does an impressive job of telling a fairly complex story, with flashback scenes and everything, in the 25 minutes that have been allotted to him. And here, as with all four of the tales in the collection, it was nice to see the character of Nyssa being fleshed out a bit. I don’t think she whines once throughout!

The Entropy Composition is next, and this is the competition winner, written by Rick Briggs. This has some pretty big sci-fi concepts! It has that special type of science in it that you can only get in the best of Who. By that I mean something that the Doctor will explain very quickly during an action sequence that, because you don’t have time to take in, sounds plausible, and as long as you just watch it from the corner of your eye and don’t look at it directly or think too much about it, it works fine!
Part of the brief for the submission was a 25 minute adventure, with, as mentioned, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa and another three speaking parts. Briggs raises to this challenge brilliantly. He even goes to the audacious lengths of having one of the main characters not even appear in the story! I’m looking forward to seeing further adventures from this writer. I’d like to be annoyed, bitter and resentful, but in truth, his story is a hundred times better than the one I pitched!

Third comes Doing Time, which starts with a wonderful joke and carries on this light tone throughout. Well, almost throughout. Things take a nasty turn, as we expect them to in tales such as this. What I liked most in this story though, was what the writer was saying about the nature of politics in our world. Something brought home with some dark synchronicity as I listened to this again at the weekend, as news of the Arizona shooting came in.

Finally, and possibly my favourite is Special Features. This is an idea so damned obvious I find it hard to believe that it hasn’t been done before in an audio play. What we are treated to is the recording of a dvd commentary track to a 1970s British horror film. If any of you have ever listened with despair to a group of bored people attempting to dredge their memories for anything interesting to say about a minor job they did thirty or forty years before, then you’ll find yourself sporting a smile as you listen to this! A brilliant idea, perfectly executed. 
There is also a brilliant subscriber only extra for this particular tale- you can download the 'movie' which the characters are commenting on, and it is hilarious. It's a wonderful pastiche of the classic horror movie The Wicker Man and is full of wonderful hammy performances.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Competition!

Yes, thanks to those wonderful folks at Blizzard, we have three- count them- THREE copies of World of Warcraft Cataclysm to give away to you lucky people! In addition to a copy of the game, you'll also get a poster and a WoW t-shirt!
Blinking flip- that's a bit good!

All you have to do is answer this one simple and easy peasy question by the 30th January 2011:
What in the name of the world on which the game is set?

See? Told you it was easy.
Clue: You may be able to find your answer in our recent review of the game...

Send your answers to hiex(dot)competiton(at)

Good luck!

Very special thanks to Kirsty Endfield for making this possible.

First Andrew Garfield Spider-man pic

LA Times Hero Complex has just published the first image of the new movie Spider-man Andrew Garfield in costume.
There are some strange tweaks to the costume that we're sure will annoy the more... let's say 'emotional' fans, but all in all, we think he looks the part!

Slaughterman's Creed cover revealed

The cover for the new graphic novel from Cancertown creators Cy Dethan and Stephen Downey has been revealed on their Facebook group- and a bit of a corker it is too!

Slaughterman's Creed will be published by Markosia- and will be available at this years Bristol Comic Expo in May!
The book is lettered Nic Wilkinson, inked by Andy Brown and coloured by HiEx's very own Vicky Stonebridge!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Battle: Los Angeles trailer

This looks interesting. I was unsure about the teaser trailer a couple of months ago, but this looks to be- going by this at least- suitably grim and dark.
Part of me hopes it is very dark and the aliens win... but somehow I think that America will figure out a way of stopping the monsters. I can only hope it's not through the medium of uploading a virus into their space computers...

Plus: Michelle Rodriguez 

Lena Headey confirmed for Dredd!

It's been hinted at and rumoured for the past few days, but now it seems to be offical.
300 and Sarah Conner Chronicles star Lena Headey is playing Ma-ma, the main villain in the upcoming comic adaptation Dredd.

As reported on Indiewire, she is "The matriarch of a drugs gang, who deals a reality-altering narcotic known as SLO-MO, and who presides despotically over an enormous apartment block called Peach Trees, in which most of the action is set, the character, intriguingly, is described in Garland’s script as being heavily made-up and scarred, in her later 50s/early 60s, and enormously fat. Will Headey be donning a fat suit and prosthetics for the role, or has the character been glammed-up in later drafts?"
Our money is on the second option...

The movie, starring Karl Urban in the title role, is due for release sometime inn 2012.


This looks like it should be fun!

Bulletstorm tells the story of a futuristic confederation protected by an elite band of mercenaries: Dead Echo. When Dead Echo members Grayson Hunt and Ishi Sato learn they've been working for the wrong side, they're betrayed by their commander and exiled to the far reaches of the galaxy. In Bulletstorm, Grayson and Ishi find themselves surrounded by hordes of mutants and flesh eating gangs in an abandoned paradise. They have two objectives: get off the planet alive, and exact revenge on the man who sent them there.

Players step into the role of Grayson Hunt complete with an arsenal of over-the-top combat moves and outrageously large guns. Bulletstorm’s array of distinct ‘skillshots’ produces unprecedented levels of frantic gameplay and yell-inducing satisfaction. The skillshot system rewards players for inciting mayhem in the most creative way possible. The more insane the skillshot, the more points players collects to upgrade their character and unlock weapons, which then allows them to execute even more creative moves and exaggerated skillshots.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Thunderbirds are GO! again!

While being interviewed on the BBC earlier today about the new set of Thunderbirds stamps, Gerry Anderson mentioned that he is currently working on a brand new series of the show!

Of course, showing all the guile and cunning of his craft, the interviewer decided not to ask him any further questions about this monumental bombshell!

The nice chaps over at Fanderson have confirmed this here, but have told us that Gerry is, obviously, playing his cards close to his chest at the moment.
As soon as there is any further news, we shall bring it to you- but for now rejoice in the fact that Thunderbirds will be returning, and we can erase the memory of the terrible Thunderbirds movie for evermore.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Age of Odin review

James Lovegrove has, in a couple of previous books, used the idea of ancient gods in a modern world setting. He’s already had a go at the Egyptian and Greek pantheons, so now it’s the turn of the Norse gods.
So, what we have here are the Norse gods- in particular Odin and Thor, assembling an army to defeat, well, I’ll let you find out the villain of the story yourself, but I have to say, it’s a nice little twist, and one that doubly annoyed be because I really should have seen it coming!
Lovegrove had constructed some nice characters. While pretty much all but the main cast are thinly drawn, those that are flesh out are fleshed out well. Gideon 'Gid' Coxall, the main character, in particular is an interesting one. (As an aside, I’m impressed by the fact that he has managed to write a book this length in first person and maintain pace and coherency so well) He is an ex-soldier, and not a particularly nice one. I’ve known a few soldiers and ex-soldiers in my time, and the banter and dialogue between them comes across as realistic. It’s nice and sweary, but if anything, not sweary enough (again, from the soldiers I have known!)!
 I love the idea, and it’s so good I’m amazed no one has thought of it before (and if they have, I’m sure you’ll let me know), of equating  what we today would call ‘violent mood swings’ with what the Vikings called a Berserker rage.
While this is a hefty book, there were not many places where the story seemed to slacken. Yes, the ruthless editor in me could see how it could be shortened, but the pace does not suffer from the length.
There are some great action sequences, and the author has incorporated elements of Norse mythology (Sleipnir, Fenrir and the Valkyries for example) in a clever way.
The book is not without its problems though. I found the way Gid accepted his situation –he’s been taken from our world to Asgard, the world of the gods- to be too easy. But I suppose this could be explained as a pragmatic soldier-like approach. I also did not get a real sense of the scale of the battles. The guys here are literally fighting for the future of the world, but I think because all the action takes place in and around Odin’s castle, the effect on the outside world is not really communicated. But as I said, when the action does happen, it is exciting, expertly paced, clearly written and immersive. Lovegrove is a damned good writer, make no mistake.
I almost had another big problem with the ending. It appeared to veer very close to the Biggest No-No Twist there is, but Lovegrove manages to neatly side-step it at the last moment.
So, despite those problems, this is still a stonking read. It’s what I imagine the result would be if Neil Gamian and Tom Clancy wrote a book together- in a good way!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Doctor Who The Four Doctors review

As you all know, I’m sure, The Doctor has met himself in the past (or future?) a number of times, and I think it’s fair to say that the results have been mixed.
The Two Doctors was a bit of a mess. The Five Doctors (which at least does have the Raston Robot!)  I have a considerable soft spot for, despite the many failings. Best of the lot (I’m not including the New Adventures novels or previous Big Finish here) is of course The Three Doctors, which succeeded in not only having a decent story, but also added a hefty amount to the mythos.

Which brings us to The Four Doctors.
The title is a wee bit misleading- not in a Five Doctors way (were thanks to either a huff or scheduling, depending on which story you believe, there were only four Doctors)- as the Doctors here don’t actually meet, apart from one short by utterly gloriously written scene.
Here we have a tale that is told along the Doctor’s time stream, with him encountering various characters and, it has to be mentioned, Daleks at various times in his past.
As an aside- for a guy who travels in time, the Doctor has had very few adventures that use time travel as part of the plot. One of the nice things about the new Moffat junta is the use of time travel, as seen brilliantly in the season finale adventure The Big Bang and the Christmas special.
And the nice thing about this story is that it is non-linear, so we have earlier Doctors meeting characters who have already been with him as a later incarnation. This should be a mess of confusing and hole-ridden plotting. Indeed, I thought I’d figured out a few mistakes in there, but on another listen, I was annoyed to discover that all of my questions had been answered in there. An awful lot of thought and planning has went into this story, and it’s a testament to the writer and editors that it not only holds together so well, but makes perfect sense and is easy to follow, some astounding techno-babble from the Fifth Doctor notwithstanding! I’d love to see the flowchart for this story, I suspect it would look like the average season of Lost, but have the added bonus of actually making sense
That sentence seemed like a weird way to end this review, so I’ll add another paragraph.
I keep talking about atmosphere in these reviews, and this one has it again, but the thing that struck me the most about is was, yet again, just how well and how effortlessly the four lead actors inhabit the role of The Doctor.
Yet another brilliant production from Big Finish.
By the way- I was amazed to discover, upon listening to the extras, that this adventure is not released for general sale, but is a subscriber only extra! I have to say that as 'free gifts' go, this is pretty brilliant.

Little Drummer Boy

This is another of the sort stories (Short Trips, as they are known) that Big Finish stick on to subscriptions.
This one features the First Doctor, Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom and  and seems to be set just after The Daleks Master Plan.
It’s a fun tale, at least to begin with. It’s another Christmas set adventure which sees the characters skipping through various years, including a nice section at the Western Front in 1914.
I say to begin with, because the ending is an altogether darker affair. For me, the First Doctor has always been among the darkest of his incarnations and the conclusion of this tale, while logical and in a way inevitable, does nothing to convince me otherwise.

Clint Langley is Zarjaz!

Over on the, Blot-01 (aka Dave Evans) has posted a rather nice teaser for the forthcoming ABC Warriors Zarjaz special, drawn by none other than ABC Warriors series artist Clint Langley! Lovely, isn't it?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Sims Medieval

This looks like a lot of fun!

The Sims Medieval offers players a chance to build up a medieval kingdom, controlling characters from all walks of life, from Kings and Queens, to Knights and Wizards, Blacksmiths and Bards. It provides a host of storytelling possibilities in the form of quests, from crafting a legendary sword to arranging a royal wedding, to protecting the kingdom from an evil sorcerer, to finding the fountain of youth. Every quest plays out differently depending on which Hero Sim the player is controlling.

Released this Spring.

Jim Campbell Interview

But not here!

Matthew Badham has posted an interview with lettering god Jim Campbell over on his blog.

As anyone who'd ever produced a comic knows, lettering is one of the hardest things to get right. No matter how good the art or story, a bad job at the lettering can destroy the whole book, so the importance of a good letterer cannot be overstated.

So- read the interview HERE!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

World of Warcraft Cataclysm review

Review by (the rather wonderful) Maura McHugh.

World of Warcraft (WoW), first released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004, is currently the most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in the world, with a subscriber base of twelve million players as of October 2010. Not surprisingly, its third expansion, entitled Cataclysm, was the one of the most anticipated gifts for the holiday season in gaming households. It has already broken records by selling more than 3.3 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release (including digital presales).
Cataclysm is a well-named expansion because of the extensive changes it has wrought upon Blizzard's fictional world of Azeroth. The landscape of all the regions have been transformed, quests have been revitalised and updated, two new races have been introduced as playable characters - the Worgen and the Goblins - and even the game-playing system itself has been overhauled. The highest level a character could obtain used to be 80, and that's been levered up to 85, with a number of top-level challenges put in place to test the long-standing players.

The difficulty in reviewing an expansion to WoW is dedicating the gaming hours needed to examine comprehensively how the system has changed and what are its pros and cons. The game world is vast, complex and much of the experience depends on your characters and how you like to play them: if you get involved in Guilds or solo play, if you like to raid in dungeons and get the best gear, or if you like the realms where you must role-play your characters. There are so many aspects to WoW that a short review will always be just a précis of what's available.

Maura's spiffing Goblin character

I've started and played both a Worgen warrior and a Goblin shaman well past their staging areas and into regions where I've quested with characters before. Like in the previous expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, which introduced the Death Knight, Blizzard has created a strong series of linked quests that tie the narrative of the world into the actions of the new characters. For beginning characters - and especially novices to WoW - this offers an immersive introduction to the lore of Azeroth and creates the impression that the characters are part of the world's unfolding history.
Maura's rather dapper Worgen

In the Goblin staging area your character witnesses the destruction of the Goblin island homelands first-hand, and must flee to a new location. With the Worgen, your character catches the werewolf (Worgen) illness and yet emerges as a force for good. In both the Goblin and Worgen areas characters are caught up with invasions, battles and skirmishes and embroiled n the large-scale events of the world.

In general, I've been impressed with the direction WoW is taking with how it integrates world history and story-telling into character development. Players are still prone to getting large chunks of exposition, but these have been parcelled out with more care across multiple quests. Most importantly, players feel like they are a part of the larger events in the world.

There have been small - but important - changes that makes the gaming life easier: more flight points, more mailboxes, and better spread of trainers across locations. The hardest drudgery to deal with as a low-level character - and why so many people don't want to start a new character - is the fact that players don't get mounts until level 20. This used to mean a great deal of mind-numbing time spent running from region to region. Blizzard has got around this somewhat by giving 'lifts' to the early questing characters. Some of these can also be entertaining if you've been assigned to shoot attacking bandits as you lumber along on the back of a large Kodo, for example.

There are issues of course. The female Worgen is disappointing. Werewolves should intimating and scary, as evidenced by the male Worgen, and not a cute furry humanoid. At least the Goblins are equally oddball. Blizzard has tried to cut back on the usual "kill X amount of creatures" quests, but there are still too many of them. Some of the major cities - such as Darnassus and Orgrimmar - are a pain to navigate when you're a low-level character because they are such a sprawl. The dialogue between non-player characters is better, but still tends towards clunky and obvious (although the Goblins are almost universally delightful).

WoW has greatly improved the game mechanics. Players are told as soon as they go up a level what they need to train or what talents they need to allocate, the talent system has been streamlined for ease of use and allowing some quests to complete in the field rather than having to report back is a big time-saver. Making dramatic changes to some of the oldest regions of Azeroth has been a relief, since it offers incentive for seasoned WoW players to start again with fresh characters and discover the changes in the landscape and culture.
After seven years of development and change WoW is hitting its stride with the Cataclysm expansion. It offers novelty and improvements for its die-hard fans, and there's never been a better time for newcomers to try it out. It's a good sign that Blizzard understands that the only way to stay on top is to innovate and re-design, and I hope it keeps on this track for its future expansions.