Listening to the latest Limited Edition podcast (now with a new feed, if you haven’t caught up), there was a bit of chat about Champions Online. Being a big comic fan you’d expect co-host Shuttler to be into a new superhero MMOG, but one of the problems he pointed out is that superheroes, by definition, should be out of the ordinary, a special case, whereas in Champions or City of Heroes you can’t throw a kryptonite rock without hitting a dozen flying super-strong ice-shooting magically-empowered alien science experiments. Though all MMOGs suffer this to some extent (the 2006 Azerothian census broke down employment in the region as: 0.4% – Farming (livestock & dairy); 0.5% – Farming (arable); 0.8% – Innkeepers; 1.4% – Retail; 97.9% – The Chosen One Who Will Rid This World Of Evil), suspension of disbelief is particularly difficult in a superhero game. There is a comic precedent, though (probably loads, but one springs to mind): Alan Moore’s Top Ten, a book that follows the story of a police force in a city where everyone has superpowers. As you’d expect from Alan Moore it’s a great story that looks at some of the issues that would unfold in such a situation, not always with a totally straight face (my favourite bit is a little side-plot of the problems of pest control when you have an infestation of Ultramice). It also reminded me that there are a few spinoffs that I must get around to picking up sometime; might be a few more ideas for Champions costumes in there too!
So the European Warhammer Online beta didn’t quite go entirely to plan, as covered in far more detail elsewhere (particularly Book of Grudges, doing a splendid job with news and updates, plus cute skunks). It’s a bit of shame, I’d rather hoped to have a bit of a potter around on Sunday afternoon, but such is life.
On the plus side, I got to catch up with a few other things, so some brief reviewlets:
UFO: Enemy Unknown was my main gaming diversion, having just picked it up via Steam, still a wonderful game. No server problems or anything either, though the “fifteen year rule” is possibly a slightly extreme extension of the “three month rule”. I briefly fired up XCom: Apocalypse, but where the gameplay of UFO is somehow engraved in my brain I couldn’t quite remember what all the Apocalypse buttons did, so I’ll leave that until I can be bothered to dig out the PDF of the manual (or possibly the original paper manual, if I still have it in my Pile O’ Manuals).
Doctor Who: Logopolis, recorded from a SciFi Doctor Who weekend a while back. What in the name of buggery sod was that all about? Block Transfer Computation, mumbling weirdos holding back entropy to save the universe, a vital component being a replica of an earth computer circa 1981? Baffling, though enjoyably Doctor-Who-y.
Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn. I still have a big list of comics from the past ten years to catch up on, and somewhere around the top is “everything by Brian K. Vaughn”. Finally got around to the first volume of Runaways, and it was great. The story of a group of teenagers who discover their parents are supervillains, I’d been slightly hesitant about picking it up in case it was a bit Marvel: The Hollyoaks Years, and I really wasn’t sure I’d warm to the characters at first, but a few issues in I was hooked. Really effective ending as well, I’m looking forward to borrowing the second volume to see where they take it.
As I mentioned in the previous comic catch-up, I picked up Paul Cornell’s Wisdom mini-series, and it’s really rather good. It’s very Marvel in style but with a distinctively British voice, an American art form with an English accent, like rapping about tea. Featuring fairies, Martians, Jack the Ripper(s) and a shape-shifting Skrull who’s adopted the form of John Lennon it’s far from po-faced, with some glorious one-liners dotted around the place (a couple of my favourites being “Mr Thompkinson, have you succeeded in finding S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Yellow Pages?” and “In my day, we only had the one universe. Now it’s like satellite telly, there’s billions of ’em. And they’re all shite.”) There’s also plenty of big fights, though, and some touching moments, particularly the end. Great stuff, and I’m looking forward to Captain Britain and MI13.
Since my previous comic post, I’d let my re-acquired habit lapse somewhat other than picking up the final trade paperback of Y: The Last Man, a great conclusion to the superlative series. A third volume of The Ultimates started, but with a new writer and artist, and flipping through it I really couldn’t get along with the new style so I don’t think I’ll be grabbing the TPB of that. I hadn’t really read many comics at all, until chatting to a friend last week he raved about The Walking Dead and lent me the first few volumes. It’s a fairly familiar initial scenario (at least for anyone who’s watched a bunch of zombie films, particularly 28 Days Later), and starts off… not exactly sedately, but following fairly standard lines, massive head trauma for plenty of zombies, a few bites for the humans here and there. The black and white artwork slightly takes the edge off things, so while still visceral (very literally, in many cases), it’s not too grisly. Things develop, though, and while the zombies are an ever-present threat, it’s the interactions of the survivors at the fore, and things get *really* brutal, I was rather glad it was black and white in several places. Recommended, if you have a strong stomach.
Also on the comic front a new podcast (and blog) has started up, Limited Edition, a rather splendid look at everything comic-book related. In the first episode they talk about Secret Invasion, this summer’s Marvel “event”. I had a bit of a go at the last one, Civil War, but didn’t really get on with it. One problem was, caught up in comic-y excitement, I was picking it up an issue at a time; reading an issue per month, it takes me a while to remember exactly who everyone is and what’s going on, and by the time I’ve straightened that all out it’s the cliffhanger and another month (or more) to the next issue, so I’ve since stuck to waiting for at least one, preferably a couple of, trade paperbacks before starting on series. Apart from that, the series as a whole didn’t really grab me, I think I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to superhero comics and prefer the heroes fighting villains, rather than each other. Secret Invasion sounds rather more fun, though, so I might well give that a go. While reading up on it, I noticed part of the event is a new series of Captain Britain and MI-13 written by Paul Cornell, who also wrote the brilliant Doctor Who two-parter Human Nature and The Family of Blood (and the novel it was based on). I’d vaguely seen mention of it while scanning the blogroll, and prior to that his Wisdom mini-series, which after reading a couple of reviews sounds decidedly interesting, so I’m going to grab that while waiting for some of the Secret Invasion stuff to be collected.
I grew up with British comics, picking up battered old annuals and holiday specials from jumble sales, back when eBay was but a twinkle in the eye of Geoff E. Bay. I wasn’t exactly choosy so long it was 5p or less and had a suitably exciting picture on the front. The Beano, Dandy or any of the other funnys; titles like Lion or Valiant from the 60s and 70s; Commando and other war stories by the bucketload; anything that was there. No idea where they all are now, they’d probably be worth MEEEELEONS. Or possibly 5p.
From the time a boy’s thoughts turn to the healthy pursuits of tanks, guns, planes and warfare in general, the one comic I bought every week, reserved at the newsagents, was Battle (soon to become Battle Action Force). I loved it, particularly Johnny Red and Charley’s War, and would rush around the garden with friends assuming the roles of various Action Force characters to combat the evil Red Shadows. Over the years, it slowly went downhill (it was never the same after Palitoy brought in a bunch of GI Joe action figures and that “Duke” bloke and Cobra turned up in the comic), then Action Force left entirely and were replaced with the slightly weird Storm Force, then the whole title merged with Eagle. Least, I say it slowly went downhill, reading various reminiscences around the web a common theme is that a comic was brilliant at whatever point the person started reading it as a child, but turned rubbish by the time they stopped. Perhaps a more likely hypothesis is that most comics stayed the same, it was the readers that changed. Either way, eventually I started buying PC Plus instead of Battle and generally left comics behind in favour of computers.
American superhero comics didn’t turn up in small town jumble sales, so I’d come to those characters in other media like film (Superman, Batman), cartoons (Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar) and games (the classic four player Teenage Mutant Don’t-Mention-The-Ninja Turtles arcade game and numerous others). In the early 90s, I picked up a few X-Men issues (possibly inspired by a keen adolescent interest in Psylocke’s costume), but landed in the middle of a particularly baffling storyline and soon gave up. That was the problem with comics, where to start? Most of the big titles had anything from twenty to sixty years of accumulated backstory, including numerous retcons and reboots. It was City of Heroes that really kick-started my interest again; oddly enough it attracted a fair few comic fans, and people would chat about what they were reading on supergroup forums, including some newbie-friendly suggestions, so from that, if you haven’t read a comic for twenty-odd years and fancy giving it a shot, here’s a couple of starting points you could try.
If you want “proper” shield-wielding, flying, giant-sized superheroes but without all that continuity baggage, Marvel launched their Ultimate line, re-introducing Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four & co. Of that range, The Ultimates (available as two volumes in trade paperbacks) are a 21st century version of the Avengers in 50″ high definition widescreen, still brash and utterly ludicrous, but also somewhat grounded in our reality, with a very dark streak.
If spandex-clad superbeings leave you cold, Y: The Last Man (first issue available there as a PDF) is just brilliant; a simple premise (the protagonist is the last man in the world; I’d have put spoiler space in, but you could probably guess from the title), phenomenally well executed. Totally gripping, and nobody shoots lasers from their eyes.