Month: May 2016

AMC’s Preacher

Preacher written by Garth Ennis, with art from Steve Dillon and covers by Glenn Fabry which were originally published via Vertigo Comics 1995 – 2000. A kentucky fried road trip across America centred around preacher Jesse Custer who has lost his faith , his fiery gun toting ex Tulip and a hard drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy. Custer, the preacher for small Texas town Annville, soon becomes the host for an entity named Genesis (the offspring of an angel and a demon which has escaped from Heaven) which gives him a terrifying new power, The Word, allowing him to make people do whatever he wants. Custer wants answers so sets out to find God. Literally.

The comic became notorious for its black humour, bad taste and general misanthropy and offensiveness, along with its particularly anti-religious story.  Preacher also featured great characters though including one of the best antagonists in American comics in The Saint of Killers and underneath it all it’s an engrossing story about faith or lack thereof, love, friendship and family.

Now after years of being the subject of numerous attempts to turn Preacher into a film or a TV series now AMC (the home of the smash hit The Walking Dead based on the comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard) has actually done the previously thought impossible and made Preacher into a TV series…………………….sort of.

The result of a collaboration between Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg the series features Dominic Cooper as Jesse Custer, Ruth Negga as Tulip and Joseph Gilgun as Cassidy.

Films or TV shows based on source material like a book or comic are a distinctly tricky thing to get right. TV and film is a different medium to prose or comic book panels but at the same time changing too much can alienate the fans you’re trying to win over and also dilute what makes the source material so good in the first place. There’s some extraneous material in the 70+ issues of Preacher, some of which could easily be excised without really effecting the main story and some of it is undeniably dated given it was written 20 or so years ago so changes are inevitable when bringing it to life on screen.

A good example of a TV adaptation is The 100 based on the book series by Kass Morgan. The show takes the core premise but runs with it in an impressive manner quickly jettisoning its cliched teen love triangle subplots for far meatier fare . The recently ending third series of the hit show barely resembling the first due to well written character arcs and narrative.  Less good examples being Lucifer and iZombie (both also based on Vertigo comics) which barely resemble their source material and not in a good way.

AMC’s Preacher seems tonally confused though, as though it’s not really sure what it wants to be.

Gilgun and Negga are excellent as Cassidy and Tulip.  One being introduced in a frenetic bloody fight in a plane 30,000 feet up in the air, whilst the other in an intense claustrophobic  fight in a car ploughing through a cornfield. These scenes could easily be straight out of the comic, they’re well shot, raucous and unafraid to get bloody, especially in Cassidy’s case. Negga’s Tulip in particular stands out as being a feisty, defiantly independent and capable and will likely be winning scores of fans. Where the show stumbles is in how it presents Jesse and his life in Annville.

Cooper’s Jesse doesn’t really get a whole lot to do besides mope around dealing with his parishioners, listening to the mindnumbing minutiae of their lives, and do a little verbal jousting with the local Sheriff Hugo Root (played by W. Earl Brown), a character who has been majorly toned down from the comic where he is a belligerent hard ass racist.  The only thing of note is a bar fight he gets into with the father of a child he tries (but fails) to help. Whilst trying to establish Annville and Custer as a preacher before everything goes crazy is understandable, it’s just not done very well and it really doesn’t make for interesting viewing at all. Especially in contrast to the intensity of the scenes featuring Tulip and Cassidy.  Cooper definitely seems like he might grow into the part but going by the first episode he definitely comes across as the least interesting character of the three which is a bit of a problem since Jesse Custer is supposed to be every bit the badass that Cassidy and Tulip are.

Whilst AMC’s Preacher isn’t as awful as it could’ve been compared to the likes of Lucifer at the same time it’s not exactly great either. There’s a feeling that Rogen and Goldberg may have filed the sharp edges off Ennis’ story a little too much in their endeavour to get the show made. One of the things that really stands out is the way it’s heavily implied that the thing that eventually bonds with Jesse is of alien origin, which would fundamentally change the whole story but explain how they managed to actually get the show greenlit on a network that has a problem with profanity, so Preacher’s outright blasphemous view of religion (especially Christianity) surviving seems highly unlikely but if you take that away you have a completely and utterly different story.

X-Men Apocalypse

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X-Men Apocalypse is the sixth X-Men film or technically the eighth or ninth if you include the Wolverine films and Deadpool. This is also the fourth film from director Bryan Singer whose initial X-Men film played a big part in the resurgence of the superhero comics based film.

The previous film Days of Future Past despite making some pretty big changes to the story it was based on was still on the whole a pretty good entry in the series, with the bonus of having the older versions of key characters meet their younger selves and resetting the timeline for further films. The big problem with the X-Men films as whole though is they generally seem to be aimed at people who aren’t familiar with the source material whilst at the same time incorporating elements clearly aimed at fans of said source material, it’s a confusing approach.

Things start off well with an excellent opening sequence in ancient Egypt showing En Sabbuh Nur aka Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) being worshipped like a pharoah before being entombed alive after some of his subjects betray him. The prologue features a rowsing atmospheric choral score which establishes a great sense of momentum as Apocalypse’s betrayers plan unfolds, everything about this is great, the setting, the atmosphere, the costumes, the framing, the four horsemen themselves,  it’s a shame that after such an impressive start things are rather underwhelming at best.

The young Scott Summers aka Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) has his own quick origin story of sorts before meeting the young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) at Xavier’s school. The two meeting for the first time is handled well and Sheridan and Turner do a good job with what they are given. One of the things that X-Men: Apocalypse does a good job of is establishing Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as an actual place. Xavier’s school seems like a university with its own campus and Scott, Jean, and friends going off campus on an adventure is a rare moment of the X-Men films catching some of the spirit of the comics rather than the life is pain aesthetic that has persisted through the X-Men films. Future films would benefit massively from actually spending some time at the school.

Meanwhile Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living incognito in Poland with a wife and child working in a smelting plant and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) has disappeared after the events of the last film despite becoming a folk hero of sorts for mutant kind. Mystique discovers Angel ( Ben Hardy) and Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler (Kodi Smitt-Mcphee) cage fighting in Berlin rescuing the latter and organising his safe transport to Xavier. Smitt-Mcphee is definitely one of the best new additions to the cast of characters, his awkward fish out of water manner is endearing.

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Xavier tracks down Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) (who had her memories wiped remember) and she introduces him to the idea of mutants being worshipped like deities, especially in the ancient world. Whilst this is going on the newly awakened Apocalypse is set on cleansing the world recruiting Angel, Ororo Monroe (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto to be his horsemen although aside from Magneto there’s very little indication as to why he chooses them.

Fassbender as always does a great job, so good you don’t really realise how predictable his arc is here and seeing him play off against MacAvoy’s Xavier is always good. The pair have definitely inherited the roles from Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan.  Magneto having a wife called Magda who is white rather than Romani is a bit of a slap in the face for comics fans though, especially when Anya doesn’t even feature at all. This an example of the writers distinctly half arsed approach to actually incorporating elements from the comics.

Although it is a waste of Fassbender that Magneto spends a good chunk of the running time basically sidelined whilst everything is happening and less said about Apocalypse’s field trip to Auschwitz the better.

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The X-Men films have always seemed like they were a little ashamed of the fact they were based on comics (notoriously avoiding “silly” comics accurate costumes in favour of  “serious” black leather outfits despite the importance of colour in X-Men). So it’s a little awkward that this film embraces some of its comic roots but in rather ill thought out or lack lustre ways. There’s Lana Condor looking great as a Jubilee that could’ve leapt off the page of an X-Men comic but she gets more to do in an, admittedly great, viral video promoting Xavier’s school   than in this film.  Much was said about Olivia Munn playing new character Psylocke who actually is wearing a comics accurate costume, problem being Psylocke has maybe 3 lines of dialogue in the whole film, and her costume makes no sense at all in the actual context of the events of the film when there’s a scene of Apocalypse creating armour/costumes for his horsemen but he apparently skips Psylocke because reasons.

Alexandra Shipp’s Ororo too looks like she could be straight out of the comics and fares a little better than Munn but is still a barely sketched out character at best, one of her best character moments is seeing her use her powers to help her and her band of pick pockets survive on the streets of Cairo.  As for Ben Hardy’s Angel he’s equally given short shrift, getting scant few lines his character basically being summed up in a cage fighting scene with Smitt-Mcphee’s Nightcrawler .

Other scenes are aimed squarely at comics fans like Wolverine’s cameo, which was kind of ruined by marketing and then further dampened by some laughable telegraphing, despite this it’s still one of the best scenes in the film even if the importance of it will likely go over the casual viewers head.

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One of the major problems though is Apocalypse himself, the film makes a confusing stab at explaining his myriad powers which include bordering on omnipotent displays of telepathy, telekinesis and matter manipulation amongst others. This isn’t the Apocalypse of the comics but rather a body hopping mutant who “collects” mutant powers by transferring his consciousness from body to body using Celestial technology (something which is never explained or referenced, probably for the better all things considered) also making him effectively immortal. This makes zero sense according to the X-Men films own world mythology though because mutations are genetic, so switching from one body to another wouldn’t allow Apocalypse to collect powers but rather inherit the power of that specific body, in theory.

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Isaac himself actually does a pretty good job of portraying Apocalypse as an ancient being so powerful he’s callously indifferent to the lives of regular people he sees as weak and worthless.  Although he never comes across as the megalomaniacal nightmare inducing tyrant that many know from the 90’s cartoon and the fan favourite Age of Apocalypse comics event. Here Apocalypse seems far more dialled down, this Apocalypse doesn’t stare at his defeated horseman saying “You are not fit! You are not worthy!”  Some of the demonstrations of his powers are the right kind of awe inspiring, although they do leave you wondering why he would even need his four horsemen and also his grander displays are oddly less effecting.  The look of Apocalypse was something that gathered a lot of buzz and most of it not good, whilst I think they definitely could’ve done a better more comics accurate job (especially given people with nowhere near the funds this film had like Cinema Makeup School pulled it off for this great viral video a few years back).  This is undoubtedly another side effect of the film’s love hate relationship with the source material.

A scene revolving around Apocalypse and Xavier having a psychic war was a pretty good workaround for having Apocalypse change size, which is another example of why X-Men Apocalypse is so frustrating because it gets some stuff right but so much wrong, but there’s no Apocalypse changing one of his arms into a cannon or shield or any other examples of his mastery over his own body despite his other displays of power which is a massive disservice to the character and the fans of the character really.

Further problems manifest in Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique who seems to be phoning it in, as though Lawrence could not care less about being in this film.  This is a problem because Mystique is a major player in the film. Mystique becoming the reluctant hero of the the last few X-Men films and the X-Men’s leader here has always come across as a bit odd as far as storytelling goes. The character is far more suited to being a villain or an anti-hero as seen in the earlier X-Men films with Rebecca Romijin’s take on the character. There’s a sense that the writing is built around Lawrence becoming one of the biggest actors in film since her first portrayal of Mystique in 2011’s X-Men First Class, rather than because it was the story that needed telling.

X-Men: Apocalypse suffers from a big problem of having too many characters with some of them being there for no real reason, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is basically there to do a redux of his scene from Days of Future Past, only this time it’s not as impressive visually  and it really smacks of the writers not really knowing what else to do with the character, as though there’s no other way they can incorporate him using his ways in a meaningful way.

Peters is a great actor if he’s actually given something to work with but Quicksilver seems very one note here and there’s very little reason to care about the shoehorned  subplot about him meeting his father Magneto.

Another major problem is Apocalypse’s plan to cleanse the Earth never really seems to have any stakes. There’s very little done to demonstrate people other than the X-Men will be affected. The death toll for this film likely goes into the millions but none of that is shown. Early scenes show Cairo as being full of bustling streets whilst later Apocalypse decimates Cairo to create a pyramid but there’s no indication at all of the human cost anywhere.

One of the good touches is Apocalypse creating statues of himself and his four horsemen in the pyramid, it’s a brilliant display of Apocalypse’s raging megalomania.

There’s an over reliance on some generally pretty poor CG FX work akin to a substandard disaster film as the film culminates in a profoundly anti-climatic showdown between the X-Men and Apocalypse, and a major plot point hinges on Nightcrawler being able to navigate his way around a humungous pyramid he’s never been in before in a very short space of time.

There’s a distinct irony in one of the best on screen portrayals of an X-Men character to date is in a film that isn’t called X-Men. On the back of Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool, two distinctly different but incredibly lucrative but more importantly well crafted films based on similar material X-Men: Apocalypse seems profoundly lacking.

The most frustrating aspect of this latest X-Men film is there’s clearly some stuff in there aimed squarely at fans of the comic, so somebody’s actually being paying attention, but equally some of it is basically a slap in the face for the very same fans and there’s an inherent feeling of deja vu to pretty much everything, this is concerning since the ending heavily implies that the Phoenix Force might feature in the next inevitable X-Men film.

Space Hulk: Deathwing

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The Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been an impressive work of dark science fiction, one that has benefited from several decades of lore adding more and more to its already impressively deep and rich world. Although something that I never realised back through the mists of time was that the dark future of 40K is suffering from a profound gender imbalance which is something that 40K has become rather notorious for.

Although the Sisters of Battle are seriously badass. Like really.

There are numerous games set in the 40K world (especially on PC) but one of the more intriguing ones on the horizon lately is Space Hulk: Deathwing an FPS game based on the tabletop game Space Hulk.

Originally released in 1989 Space Hulk was a tabletop game set in the 40K universe. One player played as a small squad of Terminator Space Marines investigating derelict drifting space craft (known as space hulks) via a series of different maps, whilst the other player played as the deadly Xenos (40K speak for alien) Genestealers. The game, like many from Games Workshop, proved popular with other editions released over the years the fourth edition being released in 2014.

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The now defunct Full Control Studios produced a pretty good faithful recreation of the tabletop game which you can get on Steam and a follow up game, Deathwing (which takes its name from an expansion for the original table top game released in 1990) from publisher Focus Home Interactive and developers Cyanide and Streum on Studio is something a little different. Taking the concept of the Space Hulk tabletop game but in the style a first person shooter based around a story co-written by Gav Thorpe who has written numerous 40K novels for the Black Library.

Space Hulk: Deathwing looks set to be heavily inspired by Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels a punishingly difficult and claustrophobic FPS made by Electronic Arts in the early 90’s.  Saying that this newer take on that idea has vast potential is a distinct understatement, an engrossing story featuring numerous missions spread across  various sprawling Space Hulks with a squad of Terminators could be amazing. Outside of RTS games, like the incredibly popular Dawn of War franchise, 40K games seem to come off average at best so it would be really good if Deathwing bucked that trend.

As anyone familiar with 40K will know there’s a mindboggling array of weaponry, some specifically for Terminators. Examples being the default Storm Bolter and Powerfist combination to heavy weapons like the Cyclone Missile Launcher and Heavy Flamer. Terminators also have close combat melee weapons like Lightning Claws or the Storm Shield and Thunder Hammer. How many of these will feature in the game is yet to be seen but some are shown in the trailers released so far.

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Where things get really interesting though is the player character in Deathwing is a Librarian, a special type of Terminator gifted with powerful Psyker or psychic abilities and powers. There’s no indication of how this aspect will manifest in game yet but it potentially adds a whole other level to game play. Whilst Terminators are reliant on their weaponry and armour when facing a Xenos threat Librarians can help their battle brothers with their potentially devastating powers turning defeat into victory. Having the player character be a Librarian potentially opens up skill trees and abilities to learn as you progress through the game which is something I really hope features.

A true Space Hulk inspired game needs to be more than Doom with a 40K paint job though, it needs to be a balance of ominous chilling atmosphere, tactical squad manoeuvres and frenetic action much like a distillation of the films Alien and Aliens which undoubtedly inspired the tabletop game.

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One of the tactical points of Deathwing will be the use of doors in the vast eerie gothic space hulks. Securing doors can slow down Genestealers or prevent them sneaking up on your squad as easily. Genestealers are one of the deadliest creatures in the 40K universe, agile, vicious and devastating up close, they rely on ambushing prey and swarming with Genestealers coming out ventilation ducts, hiding in shadows and various other places in sprawling ships. Another interesting aspect is the localised damage system, if a Terminator’s right arm gets damaged he can no longer use the weapon equipped in that arm which could add even more tension to what promises to already be a tense nerve shredding experience.

Ultimately Space Hulk: Deathwing looks  impressive but one of the major factors will be how AI factors into the game for both the players squad and the enemy, Streum On Studio has commented about their use of adaptive AI so the enemy aren’t just aimlessly blundering into the line of fire like cannon fodder. Just as important though will be the AI of your team, there’s nothing more frustrating as a gamer than having a character that’s supposed to be helping you get in the way or worse just stand there whilst you’re fighting for your life.

Deathwing is due for release sometime in 2016 on PC, PS4 and XBOX One.

Cinema Purgatorio

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Anthology comics are a distinctly tricky beast , the first issue of a regular comic will give a creative team 20 odd pages to sell their ideas,characters, world and story to a reader in the hopes that they will come back for more, anthologies on the other hand offer 5 or 6 pages.

Trying to capture a reader with only 5 or 6 pages isn’t easy, combine that with being collected with a bunch of other 5 or 6 page initial instalments of other stories  and it’s easy to see why anthologies, aside from the established ones like long running British institution 2000AD and America’s Heavy Metal, are few and far between .

Acclaimed writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill wanted to change that and together with indie publisher Avatar (and a host of other well known names in the comics field) pitched Cinema Purgatorio via Kickstarter and promptly got considerably more than they asked for. The campaign goal was just over $9,000 but ended with over $110,000.

The success of the campaign shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise given Moore’s name is still one of the most recognisable and high profile in comics despite distancing himself from his earlier acclaimed works (like Watchmen and The Killing Joke) and now happily doing his own thing for years via various creative outlets. Moore has worked with Avatar on several occasions though, from his nightmarish Lovecraft inspired titles Neonomicon and its follow up of sorts the currently on-going Providence, to his take on Garth Ennis’ Crossed which took place in the future reworking Ennis’ original ideas.

Cinema Purgatorio consists of a brief intro story by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill in the style of old silent films and the first parts of four distinctly different stories by different creative teams,

Code Pru is blackly comical horror by Garth Ennis and Raulo Caceres about Pru who joins the FDNY as a paramedic and ends up being assigned to a special unit that deals with various supernatural creatures living in modern day New York.

Whilst it’s not really clear where this will go it definitely has potential and Caceres’ detailed art definitely makes an impression.

Modded by Kieron Gillen and Ignacio Calero is a bit like a post apocalyptic nightmarish take on Pokemon which introduces the rather timid Fringe and Fluffbumble, the unhinged Tommy Zero and the badass Bloody Susan and Mister Boom.

Probably the best of the offerings here Gillen’s ideas together with Calero’s excellent art make for a good combination and it’s always good to have a new kickass female character. I can see Bloody Susan and Mister Boom becoming the iconic characters of Cinema Purgatorio. The characters here would make for great action figures/statues too because the designs are so great.

A More Perfect Union by Max Brooks and Michael DiPascale is an alternate take on 19th century American history.

Brooks’ story stands out because it’s so different to the other offerings here both setting and storywise and art wise. DiPascale’s art contrasts massively with the hyper detailed offerings elsewhere, not that it’s bad it’s just different and the story whilst is probably the least appealing initially could definitely have potential when it gets going.

The Vast by Christos Gage and Gabriel Andrade is a story about mankind fighting gigantic kaiju style creatures.

The Vast is the shortest offering here so has little space to work with but Andrade’s art definitely sells the appeal of giant creatures rampaging through cities as seen in classic monster movies like Godzilla and Pacific Rim.

Cinema Purgatorio is definitely worth checking out the stylistic approach to have black and white art throughout is interesting and reminds me of 2000AD in the early days. I’m curious as to what the future holds, hopefully this will be a hit for Avatar and have other creative teams approaching them with ideas for future stories to be included but only time will tell.

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