Thursday, June 23, 2005

"DO NOT BLASPHEME! DO NOT BLASPHEME!"

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CURRENT SOUNDTRACK: theforce.net June 22nd podcast

One of the great things about the internet is how people can make and distribute their own films and comics and music, how you can have your own radio show, podcasting and blogging. It literally opens up an entire new universe of media that is only really starting to be explored. Podcasting, more recently I've become aware of, thanks to Pete Ashton's radio and Garen Ewing's new broadcasts. I've also been listening to the theforce.net podcasts by Erik, his views on the STAR WARS prequels, news on the upcoming TV series and book releases. Like audio commentaries on DVD's, I've found they're great to listen to when drawing (those rare occassions I get to drawing). I tend to play CD's to death and always need noise to keep me going. I used to go to sleep with the radio on low, but that used to give me some very strange dreams. But anyway, if you still haven't been introduced to podcasting, go to www.podcastalley.com for links to many diverse shows, info on doing your own and how to download them. Of particular note are http://peteashton.com/radio/pete_radio/index.html and http://peteashton.com/radio/garen_ewing/index.html. I've only started scratching the surface myself but will add more links as time goes on.

There's so many blogs to choose from, but one I came across recently was http://mfdh.ca/starwars/darth-vader/, an absolute work of genius. How Vader has time to keep a blog while hunting the Rebels is beyond me, but it alternates between moments of laugh out loud comedy and moments of deep poignancy that Lucas barely touches on in the movies.

'I have spent the day touring our facilities on the Sanctuary Moon from which we emit the invisible energy-condom that protects the still incomplete Death Star orbiting above. This world is an explosion of life, every inch teeming with creeping vines and scurrying insects and rustling leaves. Our tour ended up at the stormtrooper garrison where General Veers was hosting a barbecue."Have you tried one of these Ewoks, m'lord?" asked Admiral Piett, offering me a crisp kebab. "Delectable!"'

If you're a fan of the Force you need to read it.

Podcasts though, it seems, are not just the tool of the fans to dissect their favourite shows. Directors Bryan Singer and Peter Jackson have both been posting regular weekly video diaries from their respective shoots on SUPERMAN RETURNS (http://www.bluetights.net/index.php) and KING KONG (http://www.kongisking.net/index.shtml), giving fans an unprecendented level of insight into the movie making process. On www.startrek.com, writers of the now-cancelled ENTERPRISE series have done commentaries on the last few episodes (except the last episode, "Theses Are the Voyages...", probably because everyone knows it's a big pile of arse) in a last ditch attempt to make this still-born series vaguely interesting. And that brings me neatly to what I originally wanted to mention on this post.

It's the time of year when many of the genre shows come to an end, DOCTOR WHO, SMALLVILLE, etc, and the big comic book films coming out, and being a big old geek who spends far too much time watching TV and surfing the internet I can't help but pass comment on them.

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First, the best of the bunch. DOCTOR WHO has been equally moving, funny, an absolute rollercoaster of emotions and expectations. I still couldn't quite believe I was watching the opening titles each week for 13 weeks. I don't think anyone could have really expected it to be the modern success that it has become, or how a forty year old series could appeal to young and old. We've become so jaded by US imported shows we've almost forgotten just how much talent we have on our own shores and how much quality TV we've produced. Russell T Davies has shown how strong writing, strong performances, cultural awareness and a decent budget can revitalise Brit sci-fi. I think over the years we've grown accustomed to US seasons of 22 episodes, of which 10 will be average, 8 pretty shit, and 4 pretty good ones. With DOCTOR WHO, I don't think there's been a bad episode out of all them. Many have had standout moments. I cheered when the Slitheen ship crashed through Big Ben; had chills when the Dalek was revealed in Van Stattens' cell, then moved to tears at the end of the same episode; I've no problem with admitting I was actually crying by the end of Fathers Day, an episode that on paper sounded terrible but was brilliantly written by Paul Cornell. It was also made difficult by the fact I was in a room with three other people and was actually trying NOT to cry.

But the ongoing mystery of Bad Wolf that wove its way through the series is what got many brains working, and what was revealed at the end of Parting of the Ways was to me completely unexpected. I'd always hoped that the season finale would involve an invasion of Daleks, but RTD went a step further and instead of ending it on a cliffhanger, the rescue of Rose was over within minutes, as we're introduced to the Emperor of the Daleks, a wonderfully designed creature, who survived the long alluded Time War that supposedly wiped out the Time Lords and the Dalek Race. Falling through time, he sat at the edge of the solar system, kidnapping humans and turning them into Daleks, introducing the new notion of religion to the soldiers. "Do not blaspheme!" is one of the funniest lines from a Dalek you could hear. That and "Bollocks."

The Bad Wolf mystery could have gone many ways. It reminded me of the first season mystery in BABYLON 5 of why, during the Battle of the Line, the Minbari surrendered to Earth on the very eve of their victory. Instead of anything, well, decent, the revelation that humans were being born with Minbari souls was a bit of a let down. With Bad Wolf, my money was on Adam, last seen in The Long Game, after being deposited on Earth with two hundred thousand years worth of human history in his head but nowhere to go, and found a way to prolong his life and find his way to Skaro, becoming Davros (the third eye/spiked thing in his forehead), thus bringing a circular notion to the creation of the Daleks was a direct result of the Doctor's actions. If you go back through the series you can certainly interpret scenes and background details to support the theory, and many others. The reveal that Rose herself was Bad Wolf, creating her own history, was a surprise (the red riding hoodie running motif was a nice touch), and I'm not entirely sure explained completely... with the Time Vortex running through her, she could leave the words Bad Wolf scattered through time, rather than something more obvious or even more specfic like a letter or something... I think that the whole element could have been utilised a lot more and have more of an impact on the Doctors existence. As it is, Rose is unable to contain the Time Vortex energy, and the Doctor absorbs it to save her. And that has been the strength of the new series, that amongst the bigger themes and mysteries, RTD always brings it back to a personal level. The Doctor gives up his Ninth life to save her, and soon regenerates into the Tenth, and with a grin, David Tennent arrives in the leather jacket. I just hope they regenerate the Tardis interior again to suit the new Doctor. We really need to see beyond the console room.

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SMALLVILLE has been one of my favourite shows, but this season it was a disappointment, and I found it hard trying to convince new people to watch it, purely due to the return to 'freak of the week' shows and a very weak 'witchcraft' plot. Yep, it was a crap as it sounds. And unfortunately this season SMALLVILLE has proved the 22 season rule rather than being the exception.

First of all, there was a lot of behind the scenes stufff going on that may well have restricted the writers in what they could do. The strongest shows have always been those dealing with the mythology, such as Rosetta, but with DC making a come-back on the big screen a lot of elements that could have been introduced to TV audiences will probably be utilised in the movies. In this season, Christopher Reeve has passed away and is obviously unable to be the mentor for Clark in learning of his Kryptonian heritage as was intended, so Margot Kidder was brought in as a proxy, Crosby, and introducing the concept of black kryptonite. Because the producers reportedly wanted her to react on screen to the screen death of Reeves character Dr Swann, she refused to continue her involvement, and instead Swanns' death is announced on TV with the Kents reacting instead. Margot Kidder's character ends up killed offscreen, her leg sticking out of a compost heap. How Crosby or Swann had access to the black kryptonite or how they aquired the 'stones of knowledge', essentially data crystals similar in function to those in the Donner movie, is never explained, and now, probably never will. And this is a real shame, because the idea that the kryptonians, or at the very least Jor El, has been to earth many times before and has had contact with many early civilisations is one that could have gone in many directions. Now it will take some very clever rewriting to make it coherent.

The plot of Lana Lang somehow being the reincarnation of a 18th century witch was done clumsily at best and felt like it was never intended to be the main arc of the season. This isn't the fault of the actors, but there's only so many 'Lana is possessed so wears Goth makeup and short skirts' episodes you can take. It also confuses magic with high technology, its not very clear what the kryptonian crystal relies on unless you have background knowledge. The idea of Clark being vulnerable to magic could have been handled far better by introducing Priness Diana of the Amazons. Clark goes with Lex to some do in Metropolis and meets her while she is on some mission. The theme of non-kryptonite induced 'freaks' is only touched on twice, with Barry Allen as a teenage Flash theif and Mr Myztlypik as a Eastern European Casanova. Again this is another area that could have been explored.

It would have been immensely cool to have a young Bruce Wayne introduced vying for the affections of Lois or Lana, but with the new movie that now seems ever more an unlikely option. There's no reason why Christian Bale couldn't guest star in season 5 as a rival to Lex Luthor's empire. Ironic since the series was originally billed as a Young Bruce Wayne rather than Young Clark Kent.

So by the time we get to the season finale Commencement, all the mythology has been saved up for one episode. And it shows. Despite an extensive 'Previously' segment, it still feels like we've missed out a few episodes. Lex's turn to the dark side has only really been visable since Onyx, when his personality was split into two sepearte bodies (I know, I know). Now he's showing more deviousness and revealing more of his own agenda to those around him. Meanwhile in space, what looks like two stars or asteroids collide, throwing one on a collision course with Earth, prompting an Armageddon style countdown clock inbetween scenes. Again introduced earlier in the season it might have worked, here it just seems to be anpoor attempt to add tension.

We start with Lana being in a vulnerable position, killing Genevieve Teague (another reincarnated 18th century character!) and spilling human blood on one of the 'stones of knowledge'. She goes to Lex, who immediately sees an opportunity to get one up on his dad and learn the secret of the caves (if you've not seen previous episodes you won't have a clue what I'm talking about, but basically sometime in the past Kryptonians were in contact with Native Americans and embedded kryptonian tek into a cave system). All this on Graduation day. As Clark recieves his diploma, the miltary wade in warning the town to evacuate as a meteor has been detected heading straight for Smallville. Twice in 16 years? Not likely.

Clark goes to the caves, and using the tek communes with Jor El, asking what he can do to stop the impending doom. In typically cryptic fashion, Jor El says the celestial event has been brought about by Clark's own actions, that somehow because he didn't recover the stones and with human blood being shed, he will bring destruction to Earth. Lana gives Clark the final remaining piece of the crystal before she is whisked off in a Luthorcorp chopper. Clark joins the stones together and is transported to the Artic. The meteors start to rain down on Smallville, wiping out the school, and a convoy of refugees. Another hits the top of the Kent's home, with Jonathon and Martha being trapped there by a deranged Jason Teague.

Lana's chopper is brought down and as she pulls herself from the wreckage she sees that something else came down with the meteors- a black Kryptonian ship in the diamond shape of the sheild. Lois looks from a hill onto the smoking ruin of Smallville, while Clark in his frustration throws the crystal into the air. We cut to black with even more questions on top of the unanswered plot points from earlier in the season.

Does this new black ship contain Zod, or even Jor El? As Terence Stamp has voiced Jor El's presence, why not have the actor himself reveal to be Zod pretending to be Kal El's father? The suggestion is of course that we might get to see the formation of the Fortress of Solitude and the data crystal fufilling the function of Swann and Crosby in teaching Clark about his heritage, or more dramatically, whoever is in the ship (ie Zod) tries to subvert Clark away from his true destiny and towards the dark side. Under that kind of influence, Lex would see Clark becoming too powerful for his own good and would try to bring him down, thinking its in the best interests of humanity.

SMALLVILLE has had more hits than misses, I just hope season 5, essentially being a year long trailer for the Singer film, will get back to the mythology and what it does best focusing on the triangles between the characters.

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I think, as i mentioned earlier, that a lot of problems with SMALLVILLE could have been the limitations imposed on by the powers that be, for fear of clashing with the movies. BATMAN BEGINS of course is already out, and a fine piece of work it is too. SUPERMAN RETURNS in 2006, and WONDER WOMAN is already in pre-production under Joss Whedon (please, please cast Morena Baccarin). I really hoped they would wait until the end of SMALLVILLE's run before doing another SUPERMAN film. They would have an experienced and (relatively) cheap cast moving to the big screen, with an inbuilt fan base, and a fitting actor in Tom Welling who effectively was passed the torch direct from Reeves himself. Instead, Singer has decided to set the new movie after the first two films, with Superman supposedly returning after 6 years away from Earth. With Brandon Routh, they appear to be after a younger looking version of Reeve, and despite all the promising stuff shown on the video diaries it still feels... wrong, somehow. I hope they pull it off. Singer's a great director with a passion for the material, so maybe it will all turn out okay in the wash.

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Oh, and if you were wondering who Morena Baccarin is, watch FIREFLY and go www.morena-baccarin.com ; and look here:

morena baccarin modeling2

I've a whole load of stuff I want to cover as well just on fan films, but I'll save that till later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

BY THE ANVILS OF CROM

365 days and counting

CURRENT SOUNDTRACK: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, Basil Poledouris, 'Riddle of Steel'.

Managed to get myself together enough to get back on track with work-work, barely, though still plagued by a viral infection that's like kryptonite to Kal El. Not got to the comic-work (the first pays the bills, the second keeps me sane). Not yet anyway. But a mate kindly put his entire collection of movie soundtracks all on a 2gb dvd for me, so I no longer have any excuse for saying I have nothing to listen to while drawing. Hence the above tunes dying to played at full blast. Makes you want to pick up a broadsword, never mind a dip pen.

2 colin and customers

Anyway. After the Bristol comedown I decided that this was the year all of us part-time comic book people could do something with our work and make the outside world take notice of us. The quality of the comics at Bristol was amazing. We went with four boxes and came back with three- all filled with other peoples stuff.

30 the next big thing

Regardless of the quality of the material it is as always up to the individuals to be motivated enough to push it. They don't have to, obviously. Not everyone wants to rule the world (just me?). But with so many titles never more in the public eye we can help feed some oxygen to this reborn baby called British comics.

uk comics nation banner

So, after a few drunken chats a few of us concocted a plan, and one that in the last few weeks has grown considerably. The first, involving over sixty publishers, has already taken place: an intial press pack mailing to select journalists and reviewers at the Guardian, Independent etc of a selection of Brit Comics, took place on the 9th June, a date chosen to sit between the Sin City and Batman Begins premieres, and the height of the media coverage. This marked day one of a 365 day strategy to raise the profile of Brit comics across the nation. Hence the banner above, if you were wondering.

4 shane zens out

The point is to go beyond just the niche within a niche market of back street comic shops and industry mags, because they already know we're there to some extent. It's about re-educating the general public about UK comics. It's making them more available and taking the opportunities on the internet and local press and galleries and schools and libraries to get them out there. One persons breakthrough will lead to others. It is also about building on relationships that have grown between creators over the years at conventions and marts. People like Shane Chebsey above who has for years continued to push the value of indy press above and beyond the call of duty. His www.SMALLZONE.CO.UK has been integral in shaping the success of the UK small press scene, and likewise with AUK is leading the way in this latest project.

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The second part of the Year of Comics is riding the back of any successful articles and approaching comic shops/book shops etc regardless with a nationwide Independents Day, provisionally scheduled for late August, where creators will be involved in their local community to promote their own work and comics generally by their example. This benefits a retailer as the creator will generate more publicity and interest in their shop, getting involved with more pro-active activities attracting more customers while raising again awareness of their indy comics. The success of the AUK cartoon workshops in BORDERS are an example of how this can benefit everyone. Everyone can discuss with their chosen store how they want to go about it. Several publishers who have spoken to shops and are up for it.

When specific shops are confirmed and activities compiled they will be announced closer to the time. Over the coming months the list of creators and publishers involved in this excercise will no doubt grow, feeding through the conventions and into next summer.

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As for AUK itself, REDEYE proved extremely popular again with the new design (thanks to Ben Dickson) and the squareboundness of it all. Obviously a step forward. Also had a lot of welcome constructive criticism on how we can develop it further from readers and pros. As such the editorial staff (me, Leon and Matthew) held an extensive post mortem over some wine and an episode of Doctor Who and have set out the next two issues: Issue 5 will be available in October, to be followed by a Christmas special edition at... erm, Christmas.

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REDEYE will be charting the development of the Year of Comics project, and as ever wants to have everyone involved. For more info go to redeyemagazine@yahoogroups.com for the discussion and helpful files.

72 ian edginton signs redeye 4

Over the next month or so the sites will again undergo a massive overhaul for the autumn assault. Major computer problems meant several projects were delayed, but you can see what will be out when online at www.enginecomics.co.uk and www.accentukpress.co.uk. And for more expo pictures click on a photo.

In the meantime I'm off to polish the broadsword for the AUK GM tommorrow and iron me shirt.

See you sunday for the next update.