I usually try and keep this place lively and jovial.

I can’t today.

I’ve been crying solidly for hours now. I can’t get away from my own head. Right now I feel like I’m not worth the air I breathe. I feel as though, with the people I care most about in my life, at best I’m an annoying burden, at worst I’m failing them. I feel trapped in every part of my life. I’ve spent days talking to people like the Samaritans. Despite all their best efforts, every call leaves me feeling a little worse. At least one call resulted in a massive flood of sadness and hopelessness overcoming me. And that’s the best I can get.

I never wanted to be this source of negativity. I never wanted to be someone that hurts people I care about so much. I never wanted any of this.

Right now I’m trying to find reasons to hang on, reasons I’m actually worth being on this planet. I can’t. I can’t justify my existence in the slightest.

Right now I’m thinking it’s best if I just go and stop being such a difficulty for the people around me. I’m certain happier lives will be led without me in them. Maybe it’ll be the one good thing I ever do in my pathetic, stupid, messed up life.

Godzilla Resurgence in the UK petition

shingodzillausposterThe poster for the limited American release. Note the lack of the ‘googly eyes’.

As has been made pretty darn clear by now, I’m a massive fan of Toho Godzilla movies, and knowing there has been a new one out for some time now with no way for me to see it in cinemas has been pretty disheartening. However, hot on the heels of the news that Resurgence has made 5.3 billion yen in Japan ( in dollars that comes to 51.63 million), Funimation have announced a limited theatrical run in the States under the title Shin Godzilla for one week only. Sadly though, despite Funimation having distribution rights for the west, at the moment only the States will see a release.

However, there is currently a petition on change.org to bring the film to the UK for a limited run too, which you can sign HERE – while the petition itself if successful will go to Toho and not Funimation, it’s hard to believe that Toho wouldn’t pay attention if there was enough noise made for a limited release. Given the admittedly somewhat niche market for Japanese Godzilla films here due to lack of accessibility, I can easily see some independent cinemas happily picking this up for at least a one off showing. If they do, I’ll be there, wherever I have to go to. So, if you too want to see Toho’s latest Godzilla on the big screen here in Blighty, sign the petition, share it about, tell/coerce your friends and hope for the best – who knows what could come of it? They’ll never know it’s wanted here unless they are told!

 

Signed Game Collection (To Date!)

I’ve prattled on and on about various games, mostly Sega and Capcom it seems…but I do love to collect them, and at times I’ve been fortunate enough to get some signed. Some people aren’t too bothered by getting things signed or don’t see a value in it (queuing ages for a quick handshake and a scribble? Ridiculous!), but I’ve always been happy to meet people who’ve worked on various things I like, have a quick chat thanking them for their work and taking the time to meet fans and walking away with something a bit special in the process. While this mostly comes down to films and comic books, on a few rare occassions I’ve been able to get some games scribbled on. There isn’t quite so much opportunity to meet people who have worked on games here in the UK, so when there is a chance it’s always really quite something for me. So what’s currently in my collection? Excuse the not so great quality pictures!

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Resident Evil, signed by Bill Sienkiewicz

This one stands out in my collection, not just because it’s the only Sega game I’ve got signed, but for the fact that the person in question didn’t actually work on the game…Bill Sienkiewicz actually provided the cover art for the first Resident Evil game, and I love the lost art of video game covers, so I had to get this one signed. I asked him about the design and he said that he was somewhat disappointed that people rarely get to see the full piece he did for the cover due to the nature of video game boxes. I found that pretty interesting, as one of the reasons for me taking the Saturn version was because it featured more of his art! Also of note is that while most people tend to sign in standard pen, Bill Sienkiewicz loves to sign in corrective fluid pens, which I really like!

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Fallout 3, signed by Malcolm McDowell

McDowell’s autograph on this one is slightly hard to make out due to the pen used, but I’m still happy with it. McDowell played John Henry Eden, the President of the United States…a role he didn’t actually remember playing. “Fallout 3? I wasn’t in Fallout 3…” he said as I handed it to him. Awkward moment of “erm…you were…” followed by faint recollection and pleasantly signing it.

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Mass Effect Trilogy, signed by Ali Hillis and Courtenay Taylor

Signed by Liara and Jack, I’m really happy I was able to get the full series signed, even if it’s slightly odd for two reasons…firstly, Jack wasn’t in the first game, but I’d already handed over the first game and pen had been placed before I realised, so I just let it happen. Still nice! Also, the third game isn’t actually the game, it’s the box containing extras from the Collector’s Edition, and stands out from the other two. I actually only got the CE for the third game thanks to a bit of a cock up from HMV…but nevertheless, still happy to have these in my collection as is.

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Arkham Origins artbook, signed by Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith

Another tale of a collector’s edition dictating what I get signed, I remember picking up my CE of Arkham Origins from the post office the day I was heading up to get it signed. The game itself was housed in a really, really cheap crappy MetalPak (the poor man’s Steelbook), so I thought “sod it, I’ll get the art book signed”. Annoyingly, the game also came with a set of card dossiers on the game’s villains, a wanted poster and an assassination contract for Batman, with spaces for signatures on said contract. It was all housed in a folder marked “Do Not Open Until Story Complete”, despite it not actually spoiling anything at all, and I stupidly followed that. Hopefully I can rectify it in the future.

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Assassin’s Creed II, signed by Roger Craig Smith

At the same signing for Arkham Origins, people were able to get one more item signed – I would have loved to have got either Resident Evil Revelations or RE5 signed since I’m a big fan of the series (in case that wasn’t evident already), but they were both in storage at the time, so I went with ACII. There’s not a lot to say about this one, if only because I spent so much time talking to Troy Baker and had to hurry along so as not to hold up the queue like others before me had.

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The Last Of Us and Bioshock Infinite, signed by Troy Baker

So here are the games I managed to get Troy Baker to sign in addition to the Arkham Origins art book. As I said, people were only supposed to be allowed one extra item, but I really loved both of these games and thought I’d take a chance with trying to get both done. It definitely paid off, and I think the fact that I was polite and not trying to kick up a stink with anyone there helped. I spent more time talking to Troy Baker as he was first up in the signing, and I’d actually been going through a period of depression around the tie of the signing, so I wanted to tell him how much it meant to me being able to meet him and tell him how these games had helped and to thank him for being a part of it. The guy was absolutely wonderful about it all, thanked me for coming and saying that, that it meant a lot to him too and wished me all the best for my health. Being cast in every game definitely didn’t affect his kindness.

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The Oddworld series, signed by Lorne Lanning

I managed to get these signed at a convention where Lorne Lanning, aka Mr. Oddworld was talking about the series and showing off New ‘N’ Tasty for the first time. I’d brought the games on the off chance there might be an opportunity to get them signed, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one…thankfully, once the session was over, someone politely asked if he would be up for doing some signing, and in a super nice guy move, he quickly asked the building management and security if there was a room it could be done in. This is a man who appreciates his fans, not only holding an impromptu signing session by stating everyone who wanted a signature would get one. I remember really wanting to ask if there was a possibility of seeing some cancelled titles resurrected, like The Brutal Ballad Of Fangus Klot. Unfortunately, when I did see him, a combination of him being so disarmingly nice, worry over holding people up and anxiety over making an idiot out of myself ensured I made an idiot out of myself and barely spoke. Still though, I got the signatures and a slightly embarrassing memory out of it all! I do intend to replace the PS1 cases in the future, as the one for Abe’s Oddysee is such a condition that you can’t really see the signature, hence why the cover is out of the case here.

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Metal Gear Solid 3 – Subsistence, signed by Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa

Now onto the crowning jewel of the signed collection! I managed to get this at a signing at Uniqlo, to celebrate the release of their Metal Gear Solid line of shirts. I only found out about the signing thanks to an online advert tucked away to the side of an article the afternoon before, but thankfully I had the day free, and got up before first light to try and get there in time. I’d taken this and my copy of The Twin Snakes in the hopes of getting both signed, but the security guards told us it was one item only. After some small debate, I ended up going with Subsistence and haven’t regretted it. It was also a heavily controlled signing, with security ready to pounce on anyone who deviated from the “no posed photos, quick handshake and thanks, move on”, which led to an interesting moment when I tried to get a good photo of Yoji signing  and a security guard nearly rugby tackled me…thankfully though, Yoji saw what was happening and actually just laughed about it, and I escaped having my body pummelled and armed with a lovely signed game and two shirts to boot.

So there we are, my small but much loved signed game collection. Hopefully in times to come I can add to it, and I would love to get not only voice actors and creators, but also people who did the box art for earlier games as I did with the first Resident Evil. Only time will tell though!

 

 

 

Resident Evil Revelations 3 – Survivor Remake?

While the Revelations series is now known as a pretty decent spinoff for the Resident Evil series, with some hailing the last two entries as  superior to the last two numbered entries, they are merely the latest in the long road of spin offs for the series. There’s been the online focused Outbreak series, the Wii/Playstation Move focused Umbrella Conspiracy and Darkside Chronicles, the oddity that is Operation Raccoon City…but it all started with Resident Evil Survivor back in 2000.

6703_frontPAL Region Cover Art

Survivor was an attempt to cash in on the craze of light gun games at the time, in the hopes that one featuring the Resident Evil IP would be able to match the popularity of games like Namco’s Time Crisis. It failed marvellously, because everyone thought it was pretty darn crap even at the time. It also didn’t help that in North America, it was a light gun game that you couldn’t actually play with a light gun. The Columbine shootings had recently taken place, and since games were under scrutiny as ‘murder simulators’, Capcom chose to remove the light gun element for the area to avoid criticism and controversy. The only people who will own it and have played it to completion probably do so out of a passion/hobby for the series and the sake of having a full collection (guilty on both counts). Even then, it’s still a top contender for crowning turd in the Resident Evil crown amongst the most die-hard fans. But you know what? It’s actually canon in the eyes of Capcom, since the events of the game itself are mentioned in the beginning of RE Zero in the same section as the events of the first games. The first real dud of the series and it’s still official, despite the fact that it wasn’t looked favourably on release, only had a PC port and never got a remake. So, maybe it’s time for that to change, and Revelations may be just the place to do it.

medium_3_screenshotBehold the beauty of Survivor in action. Ugh.

The story of Survivor isn’t all that bad – in fact, it actually fits in generally well with the series and with a few tweaks could be quite an entertaining addition to the lore with a remake. From here on in, I’ll be open and frank about what goes on in this and other games, so, you know…spoilers and all that. You play as an amnesiac man during a viral outbreak on Sheena Island, a hidden remote location entirely owned by rhe Umbrella Corporation. As you venture through the island, someone recognises you as Vincent Goldman, the man in charge of the the island’s operations responsible for causing the outbreak. As the game progresses, you find out more of just what kind of person you were, even experimenting on children to create new bio-weapons. Despite this, Vincent resolves to find a way off the island, and encounters two children trapped there, Lott and Lily, who flee further into the ravaged island after encountering Vincent. Upon finding Lily and rescuing Lott in the depths of the Umbrella facility, Vincent discovers that he is in actual fact Ark Thompson, a man who was sent by Leon Kennedy of RE 2, 4 and 6 fame to infiltrate the island and impersonate Vincent Goldman in order to find out just what the hell Umbrella was upto. The real Vincent found out, got a bit pissed off and now has a vendetta against Ark.

Ark_Thompson.jpgThat’s you, that is.

So that’s the basic plot including big reveals and the like. Personally, I think that given something of an overhaul, and a more in depth look at the narrative, it could really work as an addition to the series, and fit nicely in the Revelations ethos of telling side stories that delve into the lore of the franchise that may not be ideal for the main games, which is something Capcom may need to continue to hold onto long time fans if the numbered entries are indeed taking a brand new direction story wise. It features characters die-hard fans will know while providing people not so familiar with a cast that doesn’t have the same level of baggage you might encounter in the main series. Having said that, a remake of the story would allow for it to be tied in more to the overall narrative of the series to make it feel less like a throwaway entry. It’s already established that Ark and Leon know each other, but a remake could definitely strengthen that somewhat.

predator-you-son-of-a-bitch-patch-6568Basically, this. “Leon! You son of a bitch!”

I could also see an appearance from Ada Wong at some point, which could tie into events seen in RE4 – we know Ada has worked for Albert Wesker, collecting samples of viruses for him, and it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch that the facility on Sheena Island would have something pretty unique there. This in turn also allows the game to introduce a new enemy or two, instead of just relying on familiar enemies all the time. Hell, why not have something like the Nemesis strain of the Tyrant there? It would be a big bonus to bring back a fan favourite enemy like that. Ada’s presence would work well as a parallel to Ark too – both Leon and Wesker have sent agents into the field, and Ada’s attitude of manipulating people to achieve her goals would give her scope to interact with Ark on her mission. Then there’s Vincent Goldman himself. Notice anything about him?

Vincent.jpgApart from the fact he looks like he’s mentally undressing you.

He doesn’t look too far removed from Albert Wesker himself. Resident Evil 5 revealed that Wesker was part of a project to create an advanced race of humans. Of the fifteen, only two survived, both of whom have been seen in previous games. But Oswell Spencer, the head of Umbrella has definitely been seen to be a wily, calculating bastard at times. Who’s to say he didn’t hide one away as an ace in the hole should others fail? Vincent could easily have been intended to be a contingency plan should the more prominent Wesker children turn against him, which would not only add to his rise through Umbrella’s ranks, but make him something more than just a company director who wrecked the island and possibly even more of a motive for causing the viral outbreak.

All this is just conceptual thought, something of a little indulgence when it comes to series and franchises I love. It’s not the first time I’ve done this for Resident Evil either, as I thought on how to remake Gaiden, the much derided Game Boy Colour entry, but since my ideas actually ended up being realised somewhat across the previous Revelations games, I let that particular one lie. However, Survivor is a game that could benefit from a near complete overhaul, and could easily end up being a really entertaining entry into the series if done so, certainly more enjoyable than some of the stuff put out in the series’ name in recent times. Ditch the first person and let the main series handle that, and keep the branching paths introduced in the game to increase re-playability. Going through different areas could not only keep the game somewhat fresh, but could also reveal new elements to the plot and what’s been happening on the island.  The setting too would work well in the Revelations vein – with an island featuring a small worker’s town and the factory itself, you could get a really nice dose of atmospheric horror to mix in with the mechanics the series has followed from the fourth entry upto the seventh. It would basically be the Resident Evil version of Pripyat and Chernobyl, which done right could be something truly wonderful.

As I said, it’s all just thought and possibilities, and in all honesty it’s unlikely Capcom would ever touch the first Survivor game again, let alone do anything like this when the main focus of the horror game genre is to basically replicate the critical success of games like P.T. and Outlast. Still though, it’s kind of fun to imagine and think…what if?

Cover Art – Francesco Francavilla’s Red She-Hulk

Back in the early days of Marvel NOW, a lot of new and interesting series came about. One of them was Red She-Hulk written by Jeff Parker, starring the former beau of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross striking out on her own. I haven’t read it in some time due to comics being stored all over the country, but I found it pretty enjoyable, and fairly easy to read without having a comprehensive knowledge of everything that came before. Sadly, it didn’t last too long, but for the final story arc, Route 616, we did get some fantastic covers from Francesco Francavilla that still have a fond place in my heart, as do quite a few other covers for Marvel Now series (more on that later though).

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RedSheHulkC

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RedSheHulkE

RedSheHulkA

Seriously, if Francavilla ever wants to tackle Man-Thing again, I would be more than happy to see it. I also love the little touches in the covers, such as Mount Rushmore featuring Red Skull, Doom, Loki and Ultron. Francavilla’s lines as well as usage of black really make these covers stand out from the usual fare one might expect from Marvel covers these days, especially given the love for cover artists such as J. Scott Campbell and Adi Granov to name a few, decent artists in their own right but who wouldn’t provide covers quite like these. To top it off, notice the red line running through them all?

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Very nice.

Like Father, Like Son From Another Reality

Throughout my life, my father has been a bit of a hi-fi buff. As a child, I distinctly recall not only having a stereo system set up with a tape deck, turntable and cd player, but also being surrounded by various other tape decks, amplifiers, speakers (including at least one pair that I could not touch under pain of being yelled at), magazines, crates of compact discs, vinyl records and tapes both official and taken from broadcasts back when the BBC would play soundboard recordings of live performances. There’s probably several Black Sabbath festival appearances knocking about our abodes that will never publicly see the light of day. When I got older, it was my dad who showed me how to record the sound from VHS tapes to create audio renditions of TV shows and make mix tapes and record my voice before I’d come close to finishing primary school, and beyond that it was he who helped me set up my first sound system with advice and provision of a pretty good amplifier, turntable, cd player and set of speakers. Though I’m not anything close to the audio buff he is, I’m at least grateful that thanks to him, I know how to set up a good home sound system. I’ll never forget the day I managed to get a sound for my TV that whipped the piss out of anything my friends had. So how does this mirror and in some way influence my love for gaming?

It may not initially seem to some like there’s much similarity there, but looking back at my father’s love for audio equipment, it’s incredibly difficult not to see parallels between us. As I said, my father would buy and collect many, many different players for different formats. We’ve ended up with at least four turntables, three cd players and countless tape decks in the house, many of which are still with one of us today, despite barely being used if at all. Yet for my father, they were always just a little bit more than a way to listen to audio recordings. Many people would simply take a player for their preferred format that was simply good – my father would research the players as best he could, as well as the company that made them and use that to inform his decision. Even when it came to the company, he could rattle off a fair few points and titbits enough to create a handy pocket book guide to electronics companies. The progression of technology wasn’t the only factor that came into play, it was the rise and, in some cases, fall of companies themselves that formed part of it. It wasn’t just relegated to audio equipment either – our first DVD player when the format was new was a carefully selected Pioneer player, which proved to be a decent investment given the damn thing is still going strong today. The first Blu-ray players we had took a while to make it into the household on the grounds that my father wanted one that wasn’t “a piece of crap”. Sure, it meant waiting a little while in some cases to get the latest technology, but in the end it was always worth it.

Now looking at myself, I’m almost certainly my father’s son (much to his likely dismay) despite the fact that our focus lies in slightly different areas. Mine lays in the research and acquisition of consoles, as well as the games and game formats they play. While my collection is certainly dwarfed by many, many others with greater resources, I’m still quite proud of the consoles and handhelds I’ve managed to gather. At last count, I’d pieced together a collection of 29 consoles and handhelds, possibly give or take a few, and hope to add more to the collection in the future (a Vectrex or Neo Geo CD would definitely make my collection more joyous). I find myself fascinated by the evolution of the home video game console and what they are capable of, the designs and styles of the controllers as well as the consoles themselves, and despite the fact that, just like my father’s tape decks that sit in boxes I may rarely play some of them, I love having them for the sheer quality of the consoles themselves and the games those systems may have. It isn’t all about the console itself though, just as it wasn’t always about the player for my father. I find myself fascinated by the companies that make these products, and how certain fortunes ad failures influenced their product output. Take Sega for example – the Master System rivalled the NES in Europe, but wasn’t much of a competitor in America. Sega’s response was to fire the first volley in the 16 Bit era wars by launching the Mega Drive/Genesis before Nintendo got their SNES out. Early sales gave them a boost, but when Sonic came along things kicked up a notch, and since then only the N64/Playstation rivalry has produced such oddly passionate yet civilised conversation between fans of the two. Attempting to get the drop on Sony, Sega pushed the Saturn out to people early and it suffered. The console itself has some excellent games, and is definitely a superior console for 2D games, but in an era where people where wowed by 3D, it just didn’t do. So, Sega dropped it and started again with the Dreamcast, the shoulda, woulda, coulda console. It’s a fantastic console, really, it is, but again, the early push led to competitors seeing what worked and what didn’t, and using that to make their consoles more appealing. So Sega shut down, put themselves about a bit to former rivals, and that was the end for Sega’s home console line. That’s only the briefest look at the rise and fall of Sega’s consoles, but it best exemplifies a truism of video games – there’s a story behind every console. There’s reasons why controllers came and went, why some formats were clung to even as they died out, and why sometimes you should dig a little deeper about what’s great and what’s crap.

Growing up, it felt in many ways my father and I were chalk and cheese, so to speak – my electronic focus was on video games, his on audio and visual equipment. But from an older perspective, we’re not so different. I could bore him to death with facts and did you know style knowledge about video games, and he could certainly do the same with hi-fi equipment. He’s got a good few boxes filled with magazines throughout the ages detailing the best way to listen to a format, and I’ve got plenty of magazines that tell people how to get the most out of the consoles. He could tell someone the positives and negatives of certain albums across different formats, and so could I if you switched out the albums for certain games. While gaming is my own particular electronic love, I doubt that I would have scrutinised and analysed it to the level that I do, had it not been for the experience of being around someone growing up who not only researched the equipment but the people behind it as well. It just makes me think that, even when it seems like you might not have a great deal in common with someone in some regards, all it really comes down to is looking at the same thing through different eyes.

DCAU – Batman – The Killing Joke (2016)

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I’ve been meaning to write about the DC Animated films for some time now, but having just seen the long awaited adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, it seemed like an appropriate time to begin. As stated before, this film has been highly anticipated – fans would repeatedly ask for it, it would be kicked around, and Mark Hamill, the voice of the Joker for many, stated that despite wanting to retire from voicing the character due to difficulties doing the voice, he would happily return should this film be made. So, does it live up to the expectation now it’s finally here?

The answer is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part the story is well adapted, many moments that have transcended the story itself are present, from the flashbacks detailing Joker’s past to the encounter with Barbara Gordon, to the infamous monologue and the final scene. But most notably, and to some, controversially, is the inclusion of a new introduction featuring Barbara Gordon’s time as Batgirl working alongside Batman. Why would that be controversial? Well, namely because of the dynamic that arises from Batman and Batgirl working alongside each other. If you haven’t heard about this, well…let’s just say it didn’t sit well with some fans. Even before the film came out, the knowledge of this interaction’s existence caused fury in some and boycotting from others who claimed this prologue and specifically this element would damage the story. But does it? Having watched the film now, I’m in two minds about it. On the one hand, the specific bit about the prologue that caused controversy isn’t as bad as some might expect, dependant on prior knowledge. On the other hand, the execution of it all leaves something to be desired – while Batgirl could have come off a hell of a lot worse, it arguably hasn’t done her character any favours either. Had it been tweaked to tie it more to the main story and be less fixated on one particular subject matter, or even if the cancelled Batgirl – Year One film had gone ahead and potentially given us a pseudo prequel to this, it might have worked a bit better. On the whole it’s really not the film’s greatest strength, but if desired it can always be skipped over to get to the start of the adaptation proper. I can see what the creative team were trying to get across with the prologue, but rather than be angry or upset with what they did provide us, I’m sadder for visualising what it could have been. Actually, I might retract my words about it not doing the character any favours – after watching it, I really want that Batgirl – Year One film now.

As for the rest of the film, there’s good and not so good. Some elements such as the Joker’s backstory are well done, but it’s one area they could have been more direct in the adaptation, as after comparing the two, the comic manages to convey a lot more with the little more it actually does, a testament to the artistic powerhouse that is Brian Bolland. The animation itself is what people have come to expect of the DCAU, but here they’ve attempted to blend a traditional animation style found in the DCAU with the artistic style of Bolland. Whether they’ve done well or poorly in this is a matter of personal taste, but it does serve somewhat to give the film a look that separates it from the other animated films. The pacing of the film can vary, but with a more straight adaptation than previous film offerings, it was always going to translate a little differently from page to screen.  Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return once again to give voice as many had hoped. Conroy as ever is on top form, and Hamill still gives a great job as the Joker. He sounds a little different at times, and somewhat less maniacal than usual, but it’s not to the point where it bothered me, more just something I noticed occasionally. The only downside to finally hearing these two finally give voice to many infamous lines is that over the years, certain sections have always sounded a different way in my head to how they sound here, but it’s to be expected – they wouldn’t have been able to please everyone here.

I could go on and on, but rather than dissect the film entirely, it’s definitely one I suggest you see for yourself, if only because I think a lot of different people are going to feel differently about it than one another after watching it. Personally, it’s not the best Batman animated film in my opinion, but it’s far from being the worst. And the contenders for that title will be coming soon!

Star Wars Black Series Fan Choice Poll

So the results are in, and the winner is Jaina Solo, the daughter of Han and Leia in the Legends continuity. Personally, I’m pretty happy with that – I voted for Jaina, always liked the character, and along with Revan, her figure means I’ll actually buy some brand new Star Wars merchndise for the first time in what feels like forever.

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Another EU character wins, and the old internet dischord of film and Disney fans versus the EU/Legends fans has been stirred up once again, with all the usual petty bile that the internet empowers upon people. Furthermore, there’s two areas of upset with the toy makers themselves – accusations of poll mishandling through vote rigging since it looked like Starkiller was going to win shortly before polls closed, and that unlike last year, despite the results being roughly the same, the runner up doesn’t get a figure. This could possibly be attributed to the fact the top three spots were held by Legends characters – last time Sabine from the Disney cartoon Rebels got second place, resulting in a Legends and Disneyverse figure coming from the poll. In addition, fans of both continuities are crying foul – Ben Kenobi, a finalist from the last poll, received the lowest votes. Despite this, you can now get a Ben Kenobi Black Series figure, while Revan and Sabine are still being shown around conventions as prototypes, which kind of calls into question how effective the fan poll really is. Ah, passionate fandom. So why do Legends characters do so well in these polls?

The answer is actually pretty simple – it all comes down to marketing politics. Lucasfilm handed down a decree to Hasbro that, after the last Legends figures in the smaller scale were out, no more Legends characters could be made. That was it – if you wanted a Legends character, you had to scour eBay for an already released figure (amidst rising prices empowered by said events), or look for customisers selling their works. I’ve seen a custom Darth Caedus net one person a very tidy profit. Then, when the fan choice poll was resurrected for the larger Black Series, it was announced that any Star Wars character, regardless of continuity, could be nominated. Suddenly, an entire are of the market opens up again, and fans who have been denied new figures of favourite characters get a chance to add to their collection. It’s a fair argument to say that non Legends characters will get made eventually – not counting Ben Kenobi, popular nominations from last year have had prototype figures unveiled, and as voting continued this year some characters were struck off as Hasbro revealed those character were being or will be made regardless. But for Legends? Only time of the year they get a chance to shine.

So what could Hasbro and Lucasfilm do to alleviate this and please both fanbases? The way I see it, there are two options;

1. Reintroduce Legends characters into standard releases

I know the decree has been passed, but if the okay was given for even one Legends figure to be included in every wave, it would at least lessen the Legends drive in the fan choice fractionally, especially if popular characters were chosen. The Legends characters would definitely still pop up, but by releasing characters that make repeat appearances, it could potentially give their spot to a broader range of characters, while bringing Legends fans back into the market.

2. Do separate polls for Legends and Disney/Canon characters.

This is the alternative, and one which might be more acceptable, given Hasbro were willing to do two figures when the two most voted for came from different camps. By splitting it and making two fan choice polls, they’d make it so both fanbases have a greater option to get what they want, with a greater choice and variety for both. People wouldn’t feel as if they’ve been done over by the toy makers or the other fandom, and might not set about the internet arguing over who deserves a figure.

As a Legends fan with near zero interest in the Disneyverse, I’m happy Legends are allowed in the Fan Choice polls, and they’ll always get my votes and nominations. But at the same time, I think both markets need to be tapped into, not just to appease the fanbases, but also because Hasbro and Lucasfilm could make some serious money there from both parties. Just my own thoughts on the matter.

Spider-Man – Back In Black (2007)

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Prior to the wrecking ball that was One More Day, was the event known as Back In Black. Around the time, Spider-Man 3 was about to hit cinemas and in true Big Two fashion, the Spider-Man comics reflected this by having Peter Parker return briefly to wearing the black costume. What sets this apart from the usual tie-in nonsense is that, given where Spider-Man was in the comics, the black suit made a lot of sense. To summarise;

Peter Parker’s life has pretty much gone down the toilet. During Marvel’s (first) Civil War, he sided with Iron Man and the Superhero Registration Act and publicly unmask himself to the world in a show of good faith to Stark. But after discovering the extent of Stark’s actions against their former allies, Parker turns on him and the Registration forces, allying himself with Captain America’s resistance. Now the war is over, the Registration forces have won, Parker’s identity is known to the whole world, and he finds himself having to hide in cheap motels, taking his family on the run with him. Things don’t seem like they could possibly get any worse. Suddenly, his Aunt May falls, the target of a sniper’s bullet, and despite her clinging on by a thread, this finally sends Parker over the edge. Digging out his old black suit, a sign that he’s not playing by the old Spider-Man rules anymore, he sets out to find out just who threatened his family and make them pay.

While definitely sounding like a plot from the “grim ‘n’ gritty” nineties era of comics, and one that’s somewhat out of character for Spider-Man, given the context above it works really quite well. This story gets a lot of flak for the darker tones, but it’s not like we having seen Spider-Man like this before. When both his Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy died, we caught a glimpse at what it would be like for Spider-Man to give into his rage. But here, we’re presented with a Spider-Man who has lost pretty much everything. He’s the good guy who finally took too hard a blow, and now finds himself consumed by a very real and human reaction.

As an event, the theme of Back In Black was spread across the then-current Spider-Man titles; Amazing Spider-Man, written by J. Michael Straczynski and pencilled by Ron Garney, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man by Peter David and Todd Nauck, and Sensational Spider-Man by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and a one off annual story by Matt Fraction, with art provided by a plethora of artists. The anthology title Spider-Man Family even got in on the action, telling stories tied to the black suit itself.

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Amazing Spider-Man dealt with the main narrative, as Spider-Man tracks down the man who ordered the hit on his family, and this is where the majority of the “grim ‘n’ gritty” story comes in. Mercifully for people whose boats aren’t floated by the idea of a darker Spider-Man, Back In Black eschews the Big Two’s trend for making everything tie in to each other (with the idea that you’ll buy as many issues as you can just so you have some idea of what the hell is going on), and presents stories that play out on their own separate from Parker’s quest for revenge. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man shows not only the impact of revealing his identity has on Parker’s friends (and one pissed off newspaper publisher), but finds him teaming up with the Sandman to prove the innocence of the villain’s father. Sensational Spider-Man shows the webhead dealing with, amongst other things, a series of young men turning up post abduction with powers similar to his, and former Spider-Man costumes to boot – only to find themselves hideously mutating shortly after release. It at least means that, as well as providing a bit of variety to the event, that anyone who has little or selective interest in reading the whole thing can pick and choose what they desire to read. More events should be handled this way (and the fact that they aren’t pushed me away from Marvel and DC somewhat), but alas, marketing and sales are the driving forces behind most of the Big Two’s decisions, and will generally take priority over good and/or cohesive storytelling.

After this event, Spider-Man would find himself coming up against an enemy he couldn’t fight – editorial influence. Following straight on from Back In Black, we got One More Day, the event that wiped its arse with a massive part of the Spider-Mythos, swapped out science for evil magic, and served only to fufill the desires of the people at the top at the expense of the fan base. But I digress…as it is, Back In Black is definitely a divisive event, and not likely to be for everyone. For me, it stands as a logical progression of the character at the time, along with some great and certainly different interactions with long-standing members of Spider-Man’s universe. The whole series has been reprinted in trades and two hardcovers, with the latter collecting not only the entire event, but shorter stories and the BIB centric handbook and a writer’s round table transcript to give you an idea of what went on in their heads. If you’re looking for a Spider-Man tale that’s a little bit different, Back In Black is a decent place to start.

Judge Dredd – Democracy Now! (And When Life Imitates Art)

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A democratic vote that the public does not fully understand. A choice to keep things the way they are or to ask for a new way of doing things. Divisions between the people who hold power that threaten to tear them, and potentially their home apart. No, it’s not a description of the British referendum, but it certainly bears a lot of similarities. Democracy Now is the end result of a series of events that have led to the Judges of Mega City One being challenged over their authority by the Democratic Coalition, in a referendum that will decide the future of the city – to keep things as they are, under judicial control, or to return to the old ways of democracy. Created in 1992 by John Wagner and Garth Ennis, with art duties handled by Jeff Anderson and John Burns, the events that unfold within the story carry remarkable parallels with recent events. I had intended for today’s comic post to be about something different, but after recalling the parallels within this story, I couldn’t help but write a quick piece on them.

The first chapter, The Devil You Know, opens up with a confused citizen calling up a hotline designed to answer questions on the referendum, having absolutely no idea what’s actually at stake. He doesn’t even know what the referendum is truly about, needing it broken down into its most base form before he comprehends, and even then, he’s still not entirely sure what’s going on. At the end of the call, the citizen closes with this line;

“What’s all this about a referendum anyway? I thought we was gonna have a vote.”

Straight off the bat, the story gives you a head in the hands moment just as the last few months have given the people of Britain in real life.

While the Democratic Coalition are busy promoting themselves on daytime talk shows and getting their voice heard, Dredd finds himself at the centre of a plot by fellow Judges to have him killed – since Dredd was the one who insisted the referendum be held in the first place. With him out of the way, they can take charge of the whole situation, and make things the way they want them to be. After a failed attempt to use a proxy, they finally decide to get their hands dirty and kill him themselves, just as Dredd begins to unravel their plot. Again, people turning on each other, people they are supposed to be allied with, instead working against them and willing to stab them wherever and however they can for their own ends? All too familiar.

The second part, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, contains the bulk of the pre-referendum hours, where Judge and Democrat alike find themselves waiting with baited breath as everyone from television hosts to restaurant owners to the unemployed chime in with their opinions, with the word “expert” used to describe them. Which funnily enough, is what everyone on both sides considered themselves to be, thanks to the way the real life campaigns were waged in manners more befitting of a comic book story than a fateful decision. The times comes, and the people vote. They choose between the iron fist of the law, made of rules and retribution they don’t understand, or the democracy of an elected government, separating peace keepers and law makers, something many in the city do not know. The Judges are widely predicted to lose. If the previous parallels weren’t enough to make you guess where it might end up, the sheer fact that it takes place in a comic book might. The votes are calculated, and the referendum mainframe preceeds the result with these words;

“Only thirty-five percent of citizens exercised their Grud-given right to vote. […] If you don’t vote for your candidates, how do you expect them to win?”

Certainly, this is something a few real life voters should have clearly thought about prior to making their mark. The Judges win the vote, and the city remains under judicial control, contrary to the predicted result of a return to democracy. The people march for their beloved democracy, the Judges stand their ground, and the city is ready for a bloodbath…but it doesn’t end with gunfire, or with the toppling of a fascist regime…but instead, it ends with two democrats, their dreams shattered and their hearts broken, staring out over the city, trying to take comfort in each other as they face the future. While in the latter parts of the story there are certainly some moments of divergence between the events in the story and those in real life, throughout the story, it’s utterly striking to see the similarities that are they. Political coups and power plays, people not truly understanding what the referendum is about, a shock end result, people feeling hurt, afraid, confused and broken…I first read this when I was far away from being able to vote. It fascinated me to see it play out, because it was fictional, right? No one got hurt, interesting points were made about the contrast between those who make the rules and the people who have to live under them, and no matter what, Dredd would be back to kick people’s teeth in before too long. Only now it’s actually happened, as if everyone involved happened to be a Dredd fan and thought it would spice up proceedings.

Let’s just hope no-one has to put up with even half the crap Dredd has in his world eh? Although some politicians do remind me of Judge Death somewhat…