Recovering from a mildly traumatic week of family health issues (thankfully, for once, not my own health issues), so in lieu of a proper post I present this cover image of a new Planet Of The Apes comic coming from Boom! Studios in April.
There were the odd old superhero comics as well that certainly impinged on my consciousness - I even drew a couple of issues of my own comic, featuring The Ray Kid and a host of badly drawn Marvel characters - but it was the Planet Of The Apes comics at that time that I thought were the best of the lot.
They had these great text pieces between the comic strips, explaining 'behind-the-scenes' secrets of the movies, such as how to walk like chimpanzee... great fun for an eight-year-old boy and even more fun for a juvenile 44-year-old man, who still enjoys occasionally letting his knuckles drag along the ground!
Before Star Wars came along, Planet Of The Apes, Charlie's Angels, toy soldiers and Subbuteo pretty much rocked my geeky world.
I was aware of Star Trek and Doctor Who, and had annuals and toys from both franchises, but didn't really get 'into' either until the age of VHS arrived at our house and I suddenly discovered I could watch old films and TV whenever I wanted.
Thanks to Bleeding Cool for the tip-off.
The first, original Hack/Slash story from Image Comics has arrived and My First Maniac takes us back to the early days of Cassie Hack's career.
Collecting the four-issue mini-series into a single volume, the book charts Cassie's life from the moment she is forced to kill her mother - the back-from-the-dead slasher known as The Lunch Lady - up to the point where she meets her future traveling companion Vlad for the first time.
It's a powerful story, giving great insight into Cassie's mind and motivation, but although penned from a first-person perspective, it also gives insights into how the outside world perceives her as well - expressions that come across as 'cool' and 'moody' in the first instance being thrown back in her face as 'lame'.
Bundled together with an introduction by Warehouse 13's Allison Scagliotti, the usual collection of gorgeous alternate covers and some notes and sketches from author Tim Seeley on the development of the story, My First Maniac is essential reading for a Hack/Slash fan.
However, rather disappointingly, I found the companion on-shot comic - Me Without You - which examines Vlad's life up until the moment he meets Cassie, to be not so enthralling.
It was, of course, well written by Seeley and nicely illustrated by Daniel Leister, who also did the honours in My First Maniac, but I felt it added 'too much information' to Vlad's backstory.
I hadn't realised how, until I read it, little we actually needed to know about Vlad's backstory to get inside the character's head. He's already a wonderfully innocent soul, with pure and honest motivations, that I didn't find the complex web of family that was woven around him at all enticing.
Blood On Satan's Claw (1971): Along with The Wicker Man and Matthew Hopkins - Witchfinder General, Blood On Satan's Claw is part of an exclusive, niche, sub-genre of horror that could be called "rural horror", concerned as it is with pagan goings-on in the isolated British countryside.
Set around a 17th Century village, the strangeness starts when a farm hand, ploughing a field, unearths a demonic skull - and, in the process, releases "the devil" into the local community.
An evil, corrupting influence starts to seduce the village children, led by the deceptively gorgeous Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), to form a Satanic coven 'harvesting' growths of "devil's skin" (furry patches that spontaneously appear) from their sacrificial victims.
Beautifully shot and quite lyrical in its build-up, the movie doesn't spoon-feed its audience, instead leaving much open to interpretation. It is also quite fascinating structurally as it doesn't feature a distinct a protagonist, rather shifting focus between a number of characters as different people interact with the growing problem.
Unfortunately, the tension and mystery rather unravels in the climax when "the demon" appears - and is clearly just a man under a cape, wearing a rubber mask - and is all too easily overcome. As with many horror films of that era Blood On Satan's Claw also doesn't really wrap anything up, rather the film just stops.
Quirky and quite Lovecraftian (isolated communities, strange magic, unexplained happenings, tomes of forgotten knowledge etc), Blood On Satan's Claw - you have to love the schlocky name - is almost worth watching for Linda Hayden alone who commands the screen with her evil, manipulative beauty.
From the Richard Dreyfuss-centric opening through Elisabeth Shue's overworked sheriff trying to the close the beach during its busiest season, Piranha also wears its Jaws homages with pride.
After an earthquake opens a 200ft fissure between Lake Victoria, Colorado, and a subterranean lake a giant shoal of flesh-eating prehistoric piranha are released - just in time for Spring Break. As hordes of drunken, sex-crazed teens flood to the water it's feeding time for the hungry fishes!
Jerry O'Connell - from Stand By Me, Sliders and a host of other projects - virtually steals the show as the sleazy director of online Wild, Wild Girls porn videos - who is trying to shoot his latest 'blockbuster' - around the lake, although the ever-reliable Christopher Lloyd gives him a run for his money in his all-too-brief cameos as the eccentric, local ichthyologist (and almost certainly close relative of Doc Brown).
A perfect beer-and-pizza movie, Piranha is pure schlocky, monster horror for those evenings when you just want some unchallenging, titillating entertainment with large splatterings of gore, very little in the way of plot and nothing to recommend it to those who take cinema way too seriously.
The clearer, sharper image of the 2D (normal) version of the movie does reveal the occasional shortcoming in the special effects, but at least you can get to see the images clearly and Piranha is all about providing a feast for the eyes - not the mind.
It's now less than a week until the opening of the new season of Tuesday Knight role-playing sessions, and the debut of my Knight City Villains & Vigilantes campaign.
The provisional line-up stands at Pete, Kevin and Simon - as new recruit Ant can't make it because of conflicts with an evening class his wife is taking, Steve is also unable to make that date, which is a shame because I had a complex, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey opening plot all sussed out in my head, inspired by Steve's initial character background information.
It even had alternate-dimension Nazis and a floating castle in it!
Depending how long the character generation session takes, I will now have to switch to Plan B (a more generic plot, but certainly not featuring a bank robbery).
Hopefully, the players will come to the table with some loose ideas of the 'civilian identity' they wish to play - either a comic book re-imagining of themselves or a totalyl random person (as V&V has five primary stats I'm going to suggest rolling 15d6 and then allocating them in clumps of three to each stat).
I'll also be interested to see what ideas they have for "allies, enemies and contacts" (three NPCs for each category, who can be used to develop plot hooks and assistance, as well as develop character if the campaign runs long enough).
I'd suggest, if they are not comic book readers but have access to satellite/cable TV, they check out an episode or two of the entertaining and light-weight No Ordinary Family (the televisual superhero genre's answer to Charmed) for some ideas on supporting characters and their PCs' possible interaction with them.
The team will start with a headquarters - at the top of the Law Enterprises building in the heart of Knight City's central business district - plus a couple of NPC members (The Whisper and Rockette) and an AI computer, supplied by their sponsor, billionaire businessman, movie mogul, inventor, adventurer and archeologist Nick Law (Nick has already expressed interest in future cameos, as has Clare, once Alec is old enough).
TrekMovie.Com has these pictures of the Star Trek Expedition character cards and game board:
The board looks as abstract as one might have expected for a Reiner Knizia game, so no real surprises there, and the site reports a price of $49.99 with a release date in June this year.
However,ICv2 today ran an interview with Justin Ziran, Vice President of Brand Marketing at WizKids, who described the Star Trek Fleet Battles game in more detail: "Star Trek Star Fleet Battles by Mike Elliott and Ethan Pasternak will also release in 2011.
"The game features over 20 ships and plays on an almost infinitely customizable hex based board system that players build from their collection of hex board pieces.
"The game will be sold in non-blind format and it will release in the back half of 2011.
A great start, but when questioned about booster packs for Star Trek Star Fleet Battles, Justin replied: "No, not at this time."
What a dreadful shame. There are so many excellent races - with gorgeous ship designs - in the Trek universe that to simply limit the game to Federation versus Klingon games could grow stale quite quickly.
Let's hope, if we aren't going to get booster packs in 2011, perhaps early 2012 will see some Romulan, Andorian, Vulcan etc ships being released.
You just need to look at the Star Fleet Universe portfolio of wargames to see the immense diversity of ships that could be translated into prepainted, plastic Clix form - and sell by the bucketload I'd expect.
The Clix format has been crying out for a spaceship combat game, so I hope WizKids don't drop the ball on this one.
HeroPress has been cited (among others, I have to admit) for inspiring a pair of new features on a couple of my favourite blogs.
Nimbus, over at Pseudo Random Noise, has started Winsome Wasp's Wardrobe which he says will "wander through the winsome Wasp's wonderful and wacky wardrobe, highlighting the many different costumes this fabulous fashionista and female founding member of the Avengers has had over the years"...
While on The Other Side (see what I did there?), Tim Brannan, author of Cinematic UnisystemGhosts Of Albion RPG, has begun a weekly Zatnnurday feature that will include "some pics, links maybe some game stats" focusing on DC Comic's magic-using Zatanna Zatara.
A belated Christmas present from Paul (along with Splinter), Infestation is a brilliant, simple bughunt-of-a-movie, taking its cues from Aliens, Starship Troopers and The Thing but using contemporary Colorado as its setting.
Opening in media res, with our slacker hero Cooper Flynn (Christopher Marquette) already cocooned by skittering bugs, the story jumps back in time for a mere couple of minutes to establish Cooper's character, before diving straight into the fun and frolics with barely nine minutes elapsed.
Marquette brings the charm and charisma of a young (but slightly chubbier) John Cusack to lazy nerd Cooper - sacked from his call center job just as "something" knocks out the entire population (of the city? of the world?) for several days.
Cooper quickly gathers round him a group of survivors, including his bosses' rather stunning daughter Sara (Brooke Nevin), ditzy and slightly unbalanced weather girl Cindy (Kinsey Packard), deaf gentle giant Hugo (E. Quincy Sloan) and his dad Albert (Wesley Thompson) and shiatsu massage student Leechee (Star Trek: Enterprise's Linda Park).
Discovering that the bugs - both ground and airborne - are blind, but track by noise, the group heads out in the post-apocalyptic world with the idea of bunking down with Cooper's dad, eccentric ex-army Ethan (the ever-excellent Ray Wise). However, along the way, things happen and Cooper decides to take the fight to the bugs and makes for their giant nest.
He also discovers the bugs are implanting humans and animals to create hybrid creatures, which reminded me of the Anton Arcane character from Alan Moore's definitive run on the Swamp Thing comic.
A great mix of character comedy (in the same vein as Shaun Of The Dead or Zombieland) and monster hunting, Infestation isn't the slapstick affair the trailer (see below) makes it out to be. While not taking itself po-faced seriously, writer/director Kyle Rankin treats his the subject matter with the respect it - and the audience - deserve and serves up a fun, exciting and enjoyable film.
As with a lot of good monster/zombie/post-apocalyptic movies, we only ever know as much as the protagonists about the doom that has befallen them. There may be clues as to where the bugs come from but I didn't pick up on them and I didn't care, the movie worked just right without that information.
The joyously enigmatic ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel and if ever a little film deserved one, it's Infestation. The possibilities for facing an entire world under bug domination are just too good to let die with just this one movie.
We've seen famous monuments sunk under the sea, blown up by aliens and covered in ice, now we need to see Big Ben and The White House wrapped in bug webs...
Things have certainly picked up since my summer break and even though we were pretty much running on automatic during the Christmas holidays, I'm very pleased to see you kept coming around to see what nonsense I was posting.
This Jaws-inspired B-movie tale of prehistoric killer fish rampaging through a lakeside community of party people is so schlocky that, in another life, it would have been the perfect movie for a drive-in.
But almost immediately it became obvious that while the 3D effects worked very well with stationary subject matter like scenery (and, to be honest, I can just look out the window to see 3D scenery anyway) it tended to get a bit blurry when dealing with mobile objects... like people.
However, the biggest shock was the massive colour loss the red/blue-lensed glasses caused - at times we might as well have well been watching a black and white movie!
And forget about blood! For a supposedly gruesome and gory horror flick, with vicious two-million-year-old piranhas chewing through the nubile limbs of Spring Breakers and porn models, there wasn't a drop to be seen... because the glasses made it all look black, and when blended with the blue of the lake water it became virtually invisible.
There were maybe a handful of set pieces where the 3D actually worked - almost always with objects swinging or floating towards the camera - but that didn't make the subject matter that much more shocking.
As if it needs repeating because it should be common sense, the key factor to take away from this - even with a schlockfest like Piranha - is that 3D trickery adds nothing to the story whatsoever.
This certainly wasn't the "iimmersive" experience that 3D is supposed to give you; if anything, it created a barrier between the film and its audience and only served to shatter our ability to suspend disbelief by drawing attention to the artifice of creation.
Oddly, in a strange way, this has actually piqued my interest to experience a 3D movie at the cinema - to see if issues like the loss of colour and clarity are any better on a large screen and with a different style of glasses.
The problem is, of course, I've now got to find a film that I would be willing to pay the extra 3D fee for yet isn't a film that I really desperately want to see (in case it's just a blurry mess of dark colours).
As it stands though, until the technology improves dramatically, I can't see 3D being a boom sector of the home entertainment market.
However, I'm looking forward to watching Piranha again soon (Paul left the DVD for me to watch again), but in 2D - to see everything I missed the first time round.
A freely-available, hour-long BBC documentary "which takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride through the wonderful world of statistics to explore the remarkable power they have to change our understanding of the world, presented by superstar boffin Professor Hans Rosling, whose eye-opening, mind-expanding and funny online lectures have made him an international internet legend".
Long-time readers of HeroPress will know of my penchant for statistics (one of my favourite areas of study at school), which has certainly played a part, over the years, in various other geeky arenas!
Can't wait for the Primeval roleplaying game, from Cubicle 7, but still want to try out their Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space game engine in other settings than the Whoniverse?
Then you need to check out these three suggestions of alternate settings - based on popular time-travel TV shows - from the emissary of excellence himself, Siskoid, over at his very own Blog Of Geekery:
Each offers character sheets for the main characters (as well as redesigned blanks for your own characters) as well as some suggested special traits to suit the particular peculiarities of each individual show.
These also demonstrated the flexibility of the system and its ability to easily adapt to modeling styles of science-fiction drama outside the defined constraints of the Doctor Who format.
I just wish Cubicle 7 would come with a catchy name for their core system now!
The Grand Design: I started my 2011 pledge to read more books with a doozie! Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design isn't exactly light reading, but it's also not a particular long book (180ish pages, including illustrations, with comparatively large print) to spell out his theory on how 'everything' came into being.
The first view chapters look at the various mathematics and scientific arguments that he draws upon to make his conclusions in the latter part of the book - peppered with a surprising amount of wit (I guess to keep the less scientifically-minded of us reading on).
Hawking also looks at the history of these ideas and how they have changed through the centuries with changes in society, quantifiable scientific discoveries and advancing knowledge.
Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of maths, physics and quantum physics at work here that I didn't fully grok, but, for the most part, the writing is simple enough that I understood enough to see where he was coming from (although a certain amount of head-scratching is almost guaranteed).
If nothing else it confirmed my long-standing belief that our world and the universe we live in are magnificent and fascinating enough viewed from a purely scientific point-of-view that we don't need to attribute anything to mysterious, supernaturnal forces, to explain how everything works in predictable ways.
Certainly not light holiday reading, The Grand Design is still an important book from the finest scientific mind of our age and well worth the investment of time and brain matter if it's the sort of thing you are interested in.
Starfleet Academy - The Delta Anomaly: After the mind-blowing science of The Grand Design, my battered brain needed something light-weight to unwind with and they don't more light-weight than this new series of "young adult" Star Trek novels set during Jim Kirk's years at Starfleet Academy in the alternate universe created in JJ Abrams 2009 movie.
Taking place before Kirk faces the Kobayashi Maru test, limits the main, 'big name' protagonists to Kirk, Bones and Uhura - with Spock playing a peripheral role (and author Rick Barba going to almost comedic lengths to keep Spock and Kirk from interactingwith each other).
There's a serial killer loose in foggy San Francisco and the members of Starfleet Academy get drawn into the investigation after one of their own is attacked.
It's a very straight-forward plot, with an interesting romantic sub-plot for Kirk that presumably carries forward into future novels, interesting insights into Starfleet training procedures and some educational science-y bits with Uhura and Bones, but unfortunately the ending crumbles under a heavy-handed and disappointing deus ex machina that rather fortuitously saves our heroes.
The ending is also slightly unsatisfactory in that hints are handed out in the final third of the book as to the identity of the killer - known as The Doctor for this ability to remove internal organs from his victims without cutting the skin - which will mean nothing to newcomers to the franchise (which this book is presumably aimed at) but are blindly obvious to old hands. However, it is never actually confirmed who (or what) the killer is because I guess that would interfere with continuity!
With multiple plot and sub-plot threads left hanging, I guess I'll have to see if the next book in the series picks them up and runs with them or just leaves them out there.
Certainly not a challenging read, The Delta Anomaly took me just a few evenings to get through and someone with better concentration could probably barrel through it in a few hours if so inclined.
Splinter (2008): A classic "spam-in-a-cabin" (to quote Joe-Bob Briggs) horror film that sees a young couple, on an anniversary camping trip, carjacked and eventually stranded at a deserted roadside petrol station with their hijackers when the car gets a flat tyre.
Only the petrol station isn't entirely deserted... there's a strange, mutant, alien parasite on the loose, covered in needles which can transform its victims into hideous hosts for its spawn.
With a limited cast and part zombie movie, part The Thing, Splinter is exciting from start to finish, expertly balancing tension with icky gore.
Okay, so some of the scenes involving the monster come across as a bit too hasty, blending fast cuts and shaky handheld camera shots, but I suspect this is to mask the budgetary limitations on the gorgeous and gruesomely ambitious special effects.
My idea to methodically work my way through The Original Series on DVD before tackling the various Star Trek spin-offs has been slightly derailed by the discovery that Channel One (formerly Virgin 1) devotes every weekday afternoon to four hours of Star Trek (an hour of Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, Voyager, and The Next Generation respectively) while CBS Action has an hour of (later) Deep Space Nine every day as well (although those I catch up with on the weekend omnibus)!
It was simply too much goodness to ignore - and too much to just leave on our already well-stocked Sky+ hard drive.
Every evening when Rachel returns from work you can hear the audible groan as she enters the lounge, to find me sitting in front of the TV, and says: "Not Star Trek, again!"
While my feelings about revisiting The Next Generation haven't really changed, the big revelation has been Deep Space Nine - the spin-off I knew least about. I suspect in my youth I balked at it because it wasn't set on an exploratory space ship, but rather a static space station, and so didn't seem to be "real" Star Trek.
But now, after a heavy dose of episodes, I love it almost as much as The Original Series. I think it's the fact that it's not "typical" Star Trek that makes it so fresh.
At present, I'd rate the different iterations of Trek as follows:
The Original Series
Deep Space Nine
The Next Generation
I mainly list them now so that at the end of the year I can look back and see how (or if) my tastes have changed - hopefully after 12 months of hardcore Trekking!
However, one question for my knowledgeable readership (which is tied in to a poll on the right hand side of the page): what is the preferred nickname for Trek fans these days?
I'm sure when I was first heavily into Trek, in the heyday of The Next Generation, there was a movement away from the traditional "Trekkie" towards "Trekker", but I haven't seen much use of the word "Trekker" recently.
Trekkie was originally seen, I recall, as a bit condescending and insulting, but have fans now co-opted it as their own designation, thus undermining and removing the stigma associated with the term during the time when people wanted to be known as Trekkers instead?
Please vote in the poll and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.