Monday, 28 February 2011

Popping My Cherry

So this weekend I popped my comic con cherry and attended my first convention. Luckily enough for me there was one just on my door step in the form of the Cardiff International Comic Expo (CICE) which was held at the Mercure Holland House Hotel.

And what a day I had. After being greeted at the door by Darth Vader and Stormtroopers from the 501 UK Garrison, we were efficiently and quickly herded through the registration tables and then on to the con floor itself which was held in a bright and airy room to the side of the hotel. After a quick tour of the floor and parting with some of my con budget, there some real bargains to be had, I managed to get a copy of Andi Ewington’s 45 for a fiver (it was a second but I can honestly see nothing wrong with it even after it was pointed out by Andi himself) we headed up stairs for the first panel of the day which was the Sidekickcast’s live version of Secrets and Lies which seemed to go down well with both the audience and the panel alike and I managed to win a Scooby Doo comic from Paul Cornel, I know how cool is that.  After a quick tea break it was back to the floor for another trip around where I picked up a Dredd commission from the brilliant Dylan Teague and then we headed out for a quick bite of lunch.

After some light refreshments it was back to the panels with Fallen Heroes Rising to the Challenge. The panel was hosted by Gavin and Dan from the Sidekickcast and it gave a brilliant insight into self publication with guests Barry Nugent (Geek Syndicate) and artist Steve Penfold giving us a run down of the highs and lows of adapting Barry’s novel Fallen Heroes into a self published comic both in paper and digital form. You can see the panel here which was filmed by the Sidekickcast’s official camera man Matt Pease.

After another tour around the con floor and spending the last of my con budget I’d set aside it was high time to hit the pub.

So congratulations to all involved with con, with a special shout out to the tiara wearing queen of organising Iz McAuliffe, it was a brilliant day and as my first con it was a great experience.

But as great as CICE was there is something that over shadowed the con and that was actually getting out and meeting my fellow geeks. Now Twitter, Face Book and the forums are funny old things you meet people on there you chat to them everyday, follow their lives and consider them to be friends and you may very well never get to meet them in real life. That’s were things change with a comic con you actually get to meet some of you’re cyber friends and I am happy to report that everybody I met this weekend without exception were absolutely brilliant and lovely.

We met, we laughed, we drank beer and we bonded over our shared love of comics and everything geeky. So I just wanted to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to everybody I met at the weekend, you all made a great day even better so thank you to each and everyone of you.  

So I’ve popped my con cherry and it was very good for me. Would I do it again? Hell yes plans are being hatched as we speak for Thought Bubble so roll on November 2011.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Wonderful World of Podcasts or What I Do On My Daily Commute To Work

I do like a good podcast, they are singularly responsible for getting me back into my geek groove after a number of years in the wilderness. After reading a blog post on the SFX site recommending the Geek Syndicate podcast I thought what the hell and gave it a go and the rest is history, well to me anyway. So I thought I’d post up a quick list of some of my favourite podcasts and if you’re reading this and don’t listen go on give them a go you’ll be pleasantly surprised and you never know what it could lead to. So in no particular order I present -

Geek Syndicate
The big daddy of UK geek podcasting, join hosts Barry and Dave as they take a weekly look at the murky underbelly of geekdom. This is the podcast that kicked it all off for me, it got me back into reading comics and rekindled my love for all things geek. Host’s Barry and Dave have been friends since childhood, their warmth, friendship and love of the genre permeates every episode. Get your geek on ninja’s!!!!!

Everything Comes Back to 2000ad
Flint and Rich are without doubt the bad boy’s of my podcasting choices, foul mouthed and straight talking this one is not for the easily offended. As you can gather from the name it’s all about 2000ad the weekly British anthology comic, in each episode the boys take an in-depth and acerbic look at the latest Progs (or issues to the uninitiated). Again this was a bit of a watershed moment for me when I first started listening to Geek Syndicate, Rich and Flint where starting out with this podcast so I listened, enjoyed and then started picking up the Prog. I am now a fully paid up 2000ad subscriber and what can only be described as a 2000ad fan boy.

The Sidekick Cast
Broadcast from the danger room in the depths of Cardiff comes the Sidekick Cast. Join host’s Gavin and Dan as they take an in depth look at the world of comics and review the latest releases in Stack Attack, then listen in awe at Dan’s deductive skills in the comics news quiz with a twist that is Secrets and Lies. This is without a doubt my favourite podcast and I make no apologies for the ass kissing which is about to come. I love this podcast, I have gone back and listened to all the back catalogue and can quite confidently say I am more than a little obsessed by it. Host’s Gavin and Dan, as well as guest Sidekicks, have a genuine and undeniable love for comics and as much as they bluster and cover it up they know their stuff. In a word BRILLIANT. There fan boy rant over dudes, so check it out yo!!

Dissecting Worlds
So we come to the disagreeing duo (their words not mine). If Dissecting Worlds were a Radio station it would be Radio 4. Relatively new to the podcasting  world, they’ve been going now for a little over a year now, Dissecting Worlds takes an in depth look at the social science of science fiction. Which simply put means they pick an over arcing topic for a series for example The Military and then in each episode they talk the hell out of the subject. For the Military series they have discussed amongst others Temeraire, Space Marines, Lord of the Rings and Battlestar Galactica. It is unashamedly intelligent and informative, the host’s Kehaar and Matt are producing what is quickly turning into a must listen podcast. Although they do seem a little obsessed by the Romans, but what exactly did they do for us? Take a listen and find out.

British Invaders
I can’t really remember how I stumbled over this little gem of a podcast but I am really glad that I did. British Invaders is a podcast all about British Science Fiction television. In what is a simple idea, host’s Brian (from Canada) and Eamonn take a British Sci Fi show, watch it and discuss it. But what they do with a simple idea they do really well. Each Sci Fi show they pick is split over two half hour episodes in which they discuss such things as story lines, production details, if they recommend the show for a watch and where you can actually get hold of said show. If you like your Sci Fi TV this podcast is an absolute corker of a listen.

Honourable mentions also need to be made for the following podcasts Comic Racks, Small Press Big Mouth, Scrolls, Comic Book Outsiders, MOMBcast and Waiting for the Trade.
I could go on and on about podcast’s but I won’t, suffice to say that they are a great way to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of geek and pick up recommendations for stuff that would normally be off your radar. But the really impressive thing about podcasts is that all these people do all this for free and for the love of the genre. So if you’ve never listened to a podcast or any of my recommendations please give them a go and perhaps almost as importantly as listening, if you enjoyed it please let them know. I know they would all appreciate the feedback.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Review - Mega City Undercover

Writer - Andy Diggle & Rob Williams

Art - Jock & Simon Coleby

Published by - Rebellion

Sometimes it takes a special kind of judge to work the mean streets of Mega-City One. Meet Lenny Zero and Aimee Nixon, two under-cover judges who work the lowest levels of the Big Meg, mixing with mob bosses and murderers alike.

So there you have it that’s Rebellions nice little blurb from the back of Mega City Undercover but it misses out one vital character who bestrides this collection like a mad hirsute colossus and that dear reader is none other than Dirty Frank.

But before we get to Dirty Frank lets take it right back to the beginning, let’s get back to Andy Diggle editor of the Megazine hastily trying to pull together the 10th Anniversary edition and running short of funds. Diggle had commissioned Frank Miller to do the 10th anniversary cover, however Miller was expensive and Diggle taking a chance wrote a ten page unpaid story entitled Lenny Zero. Running it past a couple of 2000ad hacks (John Wagner was one), Diggle eventually figured it was time to ‘publish and be damned’, but now he had to find an artist. Luckily Diggle knew just where to look, a young artist had been submitting art to 2000ad for a while but his work had been passed over by David Bishop, that artist went by the name Jock and the rest is comic’s history.

Lenny Zero is a tough cop working as part of the Wally Squad on the mean streets of Mega-City One. When Lenny’s cover is blown by mob boss Little Ceaser Piccante a disaffected Zero decides to turn the tables on the mob and the Justice Department and steal Piccante’s creds, well that’s his plan but as always there is a sting in the tail.

Mega City Undercover collects all three of the Lenny Zero stories printed in the Megazine. These are smart, slick crime capers by Diggle, full of double crosses and betrayals. Zero is a complex character, a world weary under cover judge who just wants out of the system, to live with the woman he loves and he will do pretty much anything to achieve this goal. However in my opinion the real star of these three stories is Jock’s art, which is quite simply staggering at some points along the way, the splash page of Zero and Dredd is a case in point. As the stories progress you can actually see Jock’s artwork improve and the final story Wipeout looks fantastic and the final payoff between Lenny and Caesar is very clever piece of writing by Diggle.

If Andy Diggle’s Lenny Zero was a polished slick crime caper, Rob Williams Low Life is its smelly dirty cousin from the wrong side of town.

Low Life takes the idea of the Wally Squad and plants it firmly in the gutter of Mega-City One. Written by Rob Williams, who also credits the input of artists Henry Flint and Simon Coleby in its creation, Low Life is a seedy ugly, slice of life in the Big Meg. The main protagonist in the early stories is Amee Nixon a hard baked undercover judge who is the ultimate liar. Nixon can beat any lie detector test which made her perfect fodder for the Wally Squad.

Next in Williams’ Wally Squad line up is perhaps one of the greatest (in my opinion anyway) 2000ad characters Dirty Frank, a judge who has been under cover for so long he had quite clearly gone insane. With his penchant for referring to himself in the third person “What Dirty Frank does with his own body behind closed doors is his own business” and stylistically based on Alan Moore you know you’re going to be on to a winner.

The stories with Dirty Frank in are genuinely laugh out loud funny, in particular my favourite which see’s Frank going under cover at a battle of the bands contest as the long believed dead rock legend Nick ‘Two Gerbils’ Rasputin. Genius.

Rob Williams Low Life is the real star of this collection for me. In Amee Nixon Williams creates a character of real depth. in her first story Paranoia, Nixon is pushed to the absolute limit of sanity as she is framed for various murders. With the finale flipping everything that has come before Amee has a difficult if not impossible decision to make and the last page is a real gut punch and more than a little sad.

As you would expect from Henry Flint the art in the early stories is superb with Nixon making a particularly striking protagonist. But not to out done Simon Coleby is no slouch with the pencils either although his style is different from Flint’s his work fits the Low Life world perfectly and his Dirty Frank looks awesome.

Mega-City Undercover is a great collection from Rebellion and works well for both portions of the book. On the one hand it’s a great look at the start of the Diggle/Jock partnership, on the other you get Rob Williams brilliant Low Life. In my book that’s a win win situation and if you’re interested in picking it up Mongoose Publishing are practically giving the book away for £2.99 here

Rating 5 out of 5 -  I would seriously give it more if I could but I’m sticking to my 5 rating. I really do love this book and for £2.99 you haven’t got any excuses for not getting it in.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Review - The Invincible Iron Man Volume 2

Written by – Matt Fraction
Art by – Salvador Larroca
Published by – Marvel

The manhunt is on!
With Tony Stark in disgrace and on the run, the orders have come down from the highest level to every mercenary, mobster and Osborn minion: “Bring me the head of Tony Stark”
The Invincible Iron Man Volume 2 collects together issues 8 to 13 of Fractions and Larroca’s ongoing Iron Man series.  I have to say I was a bit sceptical going into this, I’d read volume 1 the Five Nightmares about six months ago and didn’t enjoy it, at all. However the wife was kind enough to buy me volumes 2 and 3 for Christmas and they’ve been in my too read pile since then. So looking for a superhero fix on the weekend I decided to give volume 2 a go. I’m so glad I did this six issue collection fairly rockets along and besides a few niggles with Larroca’s art this is a corking collection of comics.    
In the aftermath of the Skrull Invasion Tony Stark has been deposed and Norman Osborn is King of the castle. Stark has been held to account for the failure of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D to prevent the Skrull invasion and when the Skrulls plant a deadly virus that renders all Stark Industry tech obsolete, things get really bad for our boy Tony. Forced to hand over everything to Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R, Tony is backed into a tight corner and when Osborn goes after the Superhuman  Registration Database the only copy of which is held in Tony’s enhanced Extremis brain he is left with only one option. He runs.  Along the way he manages to get into Maria Hill and scraps with War Machine as well as giving Pepper Potts a fancy new ladies Iron Man suit (you know what I mean).
Matt Fraction really does seem to get Iron Man his Tony Stark is authentic and speaks and acts how you would expect him too, yes sure he’s a cocky tech head but he is also fiercely loyal to his friends but you are left with the distinct impression especially at the end of issue 13 that trying to wipe his mind of the information Osborn wants isn’t going to work out well for him.
So with Fraction’s writing being excellent through out, it’s time to air a few problems I have with Loarroca’s art. Number one the inconsistency with peoples faces from panel to panel this was a problem for me in the first volume and it doesn’t get any better in the first half of this collection.  Gripe number 2 is the seeming photo referencing of actor Josh Holloway, Sawyer from Lost as Tony Stark, it’s very off putting and kept dragging me out of the story. Instead of turning a page or moving onto a panel and thinking ooh look there’s Tony Stark I’m left thinking ooh look there’s Sawyer from Lost with a moustache. All though it’s very noticeable in the first couple of issues once Tony’s on the run and in disguise i.e. sans tash and shaved head it seems to stop or become not so noticeable. However on the plus side for Larroca he does draw a great Iron Man and his War Machine is quite simply a stunning piece of art, so see it’s not all bad news Salvador.

So all in all this is a fine collection of Iron Man comics. If you’ve seen the films and fancy reading an Iron Man comic you should give this a try, with this volume and a little research you really couldn’t do much better as a start point.
Rating 5 out of 5 – a great collection and start point for any Iron Man fan if you’re willing to accept Sawyer as Tony Stark.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Review - The Eye of the World

Book One of The Wheel of Time
Author - Robert Jordan
Published by – Orbit

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be and what is, may yet fall under the shadow.
The Wheel of Time books are some of my favourite books I’ve read, I have a huge soft spot for them as along with Terry Brooks Shannara series they were one of my first forays into Fantasy fiction. With the release of the 14th and final volume scheduled for publication in early 2012, I thought it was high time to re-read this mammoth collection of books.  My plan is to read one a month (roughly) which if I include the Prequel New Spring will take me right up to the publication of the final book A Memory of Light. I have previously read up to about volume 8 but that was upwards of about ten years ago and having an admittedly appalling memory I could well be classed as a new reader, I can remember certain plot points and major themes but a hell of a lot of the detail has disappeared into the fog of memory.
So at this juncture I think it may be useful dear reader to give a little background to The Wheel of Time series. Written by Robert Jordan and published by Orbit the first volume The Eye of the World was published way back in 1990. Initially conceived as a six part series it now boasts an impressive 14 volumes and a prequel with the final book due next year. Even with the sad death of the author Robert Jordan in 2007, the series has continued towards it’s conclusion under the stewardship of Brandon Sanderson with notes left by Jordan himself.
The opening book revolves around the lives of three best friends from a small village of Emond’s Field, Rand, Mat and Perrin and the strange and unexpected direction their lives take. Mysterious things are afoot in the village of Emonds field as the festival of Bel Tine approaches a number of strangers arrive in the village these include a lady and her bodyguard and a travelling gleeman (travelling minstrel). When the village is unexpectedly attacked by Trollocs and Myddraal it is the three young men that appear to have been the target of the attack by the Dark One’s forces. In order to save the village from further attack the boys along with one of the village girls Egwene agree to leave with the lady and her body guard who turn out to be an Aes Sedai (female wizard) called Moiraine and Lan (knight, ranger) her faithful Warder . The Dark One is hunting for one of boys but which one and why? And as they flee for there lives with Dark One’s forces hot on their heels can their new friends by trusted? Or are they just part of a bigger pattern being woven by the Wheel of Time?
As part of these reviews I will not be trying to pull all of Jordan’s plot strings together, frankly I think that job is beyond my capabilities you need a huge pin board and a lot of string I think, hopefully I will be able to give an overview of the book as well as a few of my thoughts.
So, The Wheel of Time it could be argued is Fantasy by the numbers with a lot of the genres tropes being wheeled out and checked off but where Jordan succeeds with this book and indeed with all the books is the sense of scale and world building. This world spring’s fully formed from Jordan’s mind and for me it’s a pleasure to discover the history and revel in the details. For me it’s the journey that important and not the destination and there’s a lot of journey even in the first book. The rich detail of the Wheel of Time, the True Source, of Saidan and Saidar, the breaking, Tar Valon and the Aes Sedai I could go on and on there is a lot here to take in, process and think about.
But don’t be put off Jordan at least in the early  books writes at a pace, the opening chapters are a little slow to get going but once our band of heroes flee from Emonds Field the pace doesn’t let up for 500 odd pages.
There are a couple of standout plot points I wanted to mention.
The opening prologue with Lews Therin Kinslayer and the breaking of the world gets me every time, as a new reader your not sure what is going on but you do get a taster of what has come before and what is to come and you also get the first introduction to one of The Foresaken, Ishamael who is a real bad ass and one of my favourite book villains of all time, a truly stunning opening chapter.
Also the towards the end of the book the gang visit Fal Dara in the Blight, these hard arse bastards are the first line of defence against the Dark One’s forces and the encroaching Blight and when a certain someone scales the walls (no spoilers) things really get going.
My only problem with the book is the end and the confrontation at the Eye of World, it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just seems a little rushed to me with the reveal of one of the characters possibly being the prophesied Dragon but seeing as there’s more on that in later volumes it’s hardy a big deal.
So there we have it one down and thirteen to go – gulp, I’m going to rate these books out of seven (spokes on the Wheel of Time people, keep up) and give the Eye of the World
Seven spokes out of seven – a brilliant start with a stunning eye for detail