Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Noob’s Exploration Of The New DC 52: Part 1

So DC Comics’ reboot is finally here, starting with a shiny new Justice League #1. If the last sentence made absolutely no sense to you, then fear not; you’re in the right place.

In what could be construed (by a cynical person, of course, perhaps someone wearing an eye patch and stroking a cat) as either a cheap marketing gimmick or a conscious desire to set fire to well over half a century of comics history, DC, creator of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and enough B-grade superheroes to populate a small country, has restarted a whole bunch of their major comic book lines (and added some new ones).

DC’s reasons for the reboot revolve around enticing fresh new readers to pick up their comic books. What with having so many characters and a plethora of timelines that got shifted around every five minutes, getting into the DC Universe was a little like trying to get the hot girl at school to look past the pimples and braces and see The Real You.

And that’s where I come in. No, I’m not trying to pick up girls. I could be considered one of the targets of the reboot. While I am a card-carrying geek, I never had the dedication, willpower or disposable income to be a regular comics buyer. I loved the characters, watched the movies and animated series, but most of my interactions with the comics came from checking out the trade paperbacks from the library.

So begins my (not so) Grand Experiment. I am going to attempt to read all 52 #1 issues of the new reboot. I’ll give my impressions of all of them here on this blog, and we’ll see whether the reboot manages to convince me to start picking up any of the new series on a regular basis.

So now, let me begin with the very first of the #1s:

Justice League #1 (Beware: minor spoilers)

It’s 5 years in the past, Batman is still just an urban legend, and superhumans are beginning to appear. The whole “uncontrolled vigilantes with incredibly destructive powers” thing isn’t going over too well with the authorities, who naturally decide the answer is to just shoot them and then worry about the consequences later (presumably by planting heroin and guns on Batman’s body).

Despite the pretty cover picture of the entire Justice League flying/running to save the day, most of these characters don’t even get a look in. The only characters in this issue are Batman and the Green Lantern (who decide to have a pissing contest over who’s the awesomest hero) and a brief appearance by Superman (who seems to enjoy punching other heroes for the hell of it). Oh, and there’s also a slightly out of place bit of Cyborg’s pre-hero backstory.

But the lack of an entire fully-formed Justice League isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Batman/Green Lantern dynamic actually works quite well at showcasing their contrasting personalities. Batman is grim, angry and slightly sarcastic, while Green Lantern is cocky and kind of an idiot.

The problem is the comic lacks much of a plot. Batman and Green Lantern chase a mysterious alien robot around Gotham for a while, and a major villain who will obviously be appearing to kick some ass in the next few issues is mentioned. And then, for some inexplicable reason, the two decide to go check out this “Superman” they’ve been hearing all about (there’s some handwaving about “dangerous aliens”, but it seems awfully random).

We get some unintentionally hilarious lines from Batman (“You flew us to Metropolis in a glowing green jet?” What, had he been asleep the whole journey? Did he not notice this wasn’t your average economy class seat? World’s Greatest Detective my ass), Green Lantern continues being cocky and gets Superman’s fist in his face, and then the issue ends.

I can’t help but feel DC should have done a double issue for the very first of the new Justice League series. For someone coming to comics to the first time, there really wasn’t enough meat in the story. Perhaps they should have started with an already formed Justice League doing battle with something impressive, and saved the origin story for a later issue. On the plus side, the art is excellent, and I sure do like pretty pictures.

So the issue could’ve been stronger, and probably should have been to try and hook those new readers. Since it’s the Justice League, pretty much the cornerstone of the DC Universe, I’ll give the next couple of issues a shot. But I’m hoping for some bigger and more awesome things in the rest of the 52.

The challenge has been set, DC. Your move.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Why "The Mercury Men" Is The Best Damn Retro Noir Sci-Fi Web Serial Around Right Now

If you haven’t heard of The Mercury Men, you’re probably not alone. The 10 episode series (7 minutes each) filmed for less than $10,000 was recently picked up by SyFy for distribution online, where all 10 episodes are now available. Written and directed by Chris Preksta and filmed as an independent production (yay indies!), it’s really something special.

Let me lay the story on you. It’s 1975, and apparently color hasn’t been invented yet. Edward Borman, a nobody stuck in a dead-end job, is about to leave the office after a hard day avoiding work. Only, before he can leave, his office building is seized by glowing aliens. Aliens that shoot lightning from their goddamn fingers.

Enter Jack Yaegar, gunslinging engineer who works for the mysterious “League”. It seems the aliens are hatching a doomsday plot, and they’re using Edward’s office building to stage it. If Edward and Jack don’t stop the invaders, Edward’s not going to have to worry about his job anymore.

So why is this web series so ridiculously awesome? Well, for starters, the series drips with retro coolness. Everything, from the concept to the script to the format is clearly inspired by the likes of the old Flash Gordon shows. There's a bunch of nods to these old serials, and a few to more modern works that were also inspired by them, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s always one that leaves you frustrated (but in that good kind of way). Cliffhangers are a tricky art to master, but Preksta and the gang have pulled it off expertly.

But it's not just the retro style that makes The Mercury Men cool. No, it's the fact that they do it with a straight face. It’s got just enough cheese to make you smile, but not enough to make you cringe. Sure, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but it’s not a parody either. They’ve taken those stylistic trappings and made something new and beautiful out of it.

But it’s the main characters, Edward and Jack, that make the series into more than just another web serial. From Edward’s attempts to weasel his way out of every task that’s thrust upon him, to Jack’s cool-headed gunplay (the dude fires glowing bullets from a revolver, and he does it with class), that are the real draw. From the minute you first meet them, you already have a clear idea of who these people are. Not an easy thing to do in 7 minute episodes. Sure, the characters are archetypes, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Hell, it just adds to the old-timey feel of the show. But more importantly, it’s the fate of these characters that makes you watch “one more episode, for real this time” when the To Be Continued title pops up on screen.

And it’s these characters that make you want to want to scream when the series ends on (you guessed it) another cliffhanger. (If you’re reading this, Chris Preksta and crew, you best be making Season 2. Especially if you don’t want your brain to end up in a jar.)

So follow the crew on Twitter and check out the trailer below, then watch the first episode. If you’re outside the US, like me, you may have trouble getting access to the show on Hulu. Try iTunes, or you can be a bit naughty and use a proxy server to get around the regional restrictions. Or else you may just have to wait until it comes to your country.

But to hell with that. That’s one cliffhanger I don’t need.






Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Awesome Fan-Made "Portal" Short Film

Everyone loves the game "Portal". Even people who don't play games. Hell, I bet there are undiscovered tribes in South America who hum "Still Alive" while they're out hunting.

So it doesn't really come as a surprise that fan films are appearing. And I have to say, this one is goddamn brilliant. Portal: No Escape is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and it transfers the aesthetic of the Portal universe to a dark, live-action movie.

Do yourself a favor and watch it. Do it now. Now, I said!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Cover Art for "The Man Who Crossed Worlds"

It's a hell of a feeling, seeing your characters for the first time. Of course, you see them in your head all the time, and you do your best to get those images onto the page, but it's never quite the same as actually seeing the character with your own eyes.

As the sort of guy whose stick figures send small children running in terror, it amazes me how visual artists can convey so much information instantly. So when the cover art for my upcoming urban fantasy novel (published under my Chris Strange pen name) popped into my inbox, I was practically doing a jig (you don't want to see me dancing; trust me, it's not a pretty thing).

The cover is both fun and dark, full of motion and action, and unashamedly pulpy. Most importantly, it doesn't take itself too seriously.

In short, it IS my novel.

I offer my sincerest thanks to my artist, Hiep Ha Dzung, for creating such awesome artwork. I'm incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with him.

Perhaps if people are interested I'll do a blog post in the future about how I went about commisioning an artist. But for now, without further ado, I'll show you the artwork. I hope you like it as much as I do.



All Miles Franco wants is a cold beer and a bit of peace and quiet. What he’s got is an empty wallet, a shoebox apartment in a city run by gangsters, and a job that looks set to put him in an early grave. Miles is a freelance Tunneler, a man who can open portals to transport people from Earth to an alternate dimension known as Heaven. Not the real Heaven, you understand, the one with angels and harps and lists of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. This Heaven is a hell of a lot stranger.

When the cops haul Miles downtown for smuggling the natives of Heaven to Earth illegally, they offer him a choice: help them bring down a mysterious drug lord and his interdimensional drug-smuggling operation, or face a long stretch in the pen. Which, of course, is no choice at all.

But when Miles starts playing police lapdog, he soon figures out this ain't no ordinary drug he's dealing with. Some nasty people are willing to spill a lot of blood to protect their interests, and Miles is about to learn that nosing around in gang business is a dangerous job in a city where everyone’s on the take and the gangsters play for keeps.

So much for that peace and quiet.

THE MAN WHO CROSSED WORLDS

Coming Fall 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Thorin's Entire Dwarf Company from The Hobbit

If you've been watching the interwebs, you might have seen some of the tantalising pictures of Thorin's band of dwarves from Peter Jackson's upcoming movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With the release of the picture of Thorin Oakenshield and his sweet-looking sword Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver at TheOneRing.net, we finally have the full company of thirteen dwarves.

Jackson and the crew are taking an interesting tack with the look for the dwarves, not falling into the trap of making a group of Gimli-lookalikes. Each dwarf is distinct, and in my opinion they look absolutely fantastic. I've heard a few grumbles around the place about the departure from the traditional gruff-looking thick bearded dwarf, especially with respect to Kili (played by Aidan Turner). Sure, his beard may be short and some could argue that he's too good-looking, but hey, you can't argue that he still looks like he could kick some goblin ass. Plus, I won't deny others their eye-candy.

The costumes and weapons look to be up to the stupidly high standards we've come to expect from Jackson and Co, and everything looks to be on track for an awesome couple of movies. I don't know about you, but I'll be rushing into the theatre the first chance I get, giggling like a Tolkien geek.


Oin and Gloin


Bofur, Bifur and Bombur


Dori, Nori, and Ori


Fili and Kili


Balin and Dwalin


Thorin Oakenshield

So what do you think of the dwarves? Are you as excited as I am?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sunday, 26 June 2011

No E-reader? No Problem!

Hey you. Yeah, you. Come over here. I've got a secret to share with you. Come on, just a little bit closer.

You ready? Okay, here goes.

I don't own a Kindle.

I don't own a Nook, or a Kobo, or a Sony ereader, or any cheap knock-off versions of the above.

Shocking, isn't it? I intend to get one one day. A good quality e-reader has a lot of advantages: super ridiculously long battery life, e-ink screens that don't hurt your eyes, the ability to perform all the necessary equations to perfect your race of flying monkeys. But for now, I am completely ereader free.

And yet, I read ebooks all the time. I'm going to show you a few different ways you can turn gadgets you probably already have into ereaders (and buy my books).

iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad/Android device

So apparently anyone who's anyone has one of these thingamajigs. If you've got one, you're in luck; you've got a damn good ereader. Here's a few of the different apps you can use:

Kindle App

The Kindle isn't just a physical ereader that you can order from Amazon. There are also a number of apps for different devices you can download. If you've already got an Amazon account or are going to set one up, this is probably the best choice of app. You can access the Amazon Kindle store directly off your iThing, and any books you buy will be stored in an archive so if you buy an actual Kindle or want to read your ebooks on a different device, you can do so quickly and easily. Here's how to get started with the Kindle app:
  1. Go into the app store and search for "Kindle". Download the app.
  2. Open up the app and sign in with your Amazon account. If you don't have an account, you can sign up.
  3. You can access the Kindle store either through Safari (or Android browser) or from the Kindle app (which will open it in the browser anyway). The Amazon Kindle store is optimized for mobile browsers, so you can search for the title or author you want. Or if you find a link to an Amazon book page on Twitter or the net, you can go directly to the page.
  4. If you have a credit card linked to your Amazon account, things get ridiculously easy now. Had a look at the book and decided you want to check it out? Either buy it immediately with the link that says "Buy Now with 1-Click" or read the first chapter or so first by clicking on "Try a sample". Easy!
  5. The sample or full ebook will automatically be delivered wirelessly to the Kindle app on your iThing. Either continue shopping or go back to your Kindle app. Your new book will download and appear within a few seconds.
  6. Tap the book title within your Kindle library to open it up, and away you go! Within the Kindle app you can swipe to turn pages, or tap on the center of the screen to bring up options such as changing font size and color.
  7. Congratulations! You now have an ereader!

 

Stanza

Maybe you don't really like Amazon. They do eat babies after all, or so I've been told. No worries. We'll go at it a different way. Like the saying goes, there's an app for that!
  1. The story here is pretty much the same as for the Kindle app. Go to your app store, search "Stanza", and download the app.
  2. Now you've got two ways to get books. The easiest way is to do it directly from Stanza. From your home screen, tap on the "Get Books" tab down the bottom. This should bring you to the Catalog.
  3. There's a few different bookstores that sell via Stanza, but the best one if you're looking for excellent works by independent authors (such as myself) is SmashWords.
  4. Once you're in SmashWords you can browse by author, category, title, or just search. I find if you're trying to look for a specific author, it works better if you use the "Last name, First name" format (e.g. Strange, Chris)
  5. Once you've found a book you can download a sample by tapping on the button at the top right that says "Download", or buy a full copy.
  6. If you choose do buy a full copy, it will open the book page in your browser. You'll have to create a Smashwords account. Then the book will be imported directly into Stanza, and you can start reading straight away.
  7. Your other option for loading books into Stanza is to manually upload them from your computer (called side-loading). To do this you can download any ebook in EPUB format from the website of your choice (Smashwords and Kobo are good options). When your iThing is plugged into your computer and it is syncing with iTunes, simply drag the ebook from your computer onto your device in iTunes.

 

Other apps

Other popular choices for ereader apps include the Barnes and Noble Nook app (only available in the US) and the Apple iBooks app. The processes for downloading and using these are similar to what I've described above for the other app. You may want to experiment to find the app that best suits you.

 

Blackberry

Kindle also has an app for Blackberry. I'm not personally familiar with the device, but you can find out more here.

 

No device at all?

Maybe you don't really trust all these newfangled electro-gizmos, or maybe you would just rather spend your hard-earned cash on basic food supplies than fancy touch screen devices. You're not completely out of luck. Granted, those iThings and Androids make pretty nifty ereaders, but there's still one device we haven't talked about. You're probably staring at it right now.

That's right, it's your computer.

Unless you have a netbook, it may not be the most portable of ereading devices, but damn near everyone has one, and if you don't, you're probably not reading this anyway.

Kindle, Stanza and Nook all offer desktop versions of their ereading apps. Check out the links and download away. The best thing about the Kindle and Nook apps is that they will automatically sync all of your devices that are under the same account. So you can be reading my book on your computer before work while you check your emails, then hop on the bus with your iPhone and continue reading from where you left off. Brilliant!

Another option is Adobe Digital Editions. It supports EPUB and PDF formats, and is a great choice if you don't intend to be reading anywhere but your computer.

If you're even too lazy to download an app, Smashwords offers you the choice of downloading your purchased book in various other formats such as RTF (for reading in a word processor), plain text, which you can read with anything, or HTML, for viewing online.

 

Conclusions

So there you have it. Now you've got no excuse not to join the ebook revolution and download a bunch of awesome new ebooks. You can now buy your books cheaply, easily, and instantly. Why wouldn't you?

Get amongst it.

Remember to check out my fantasy novel THE CONVERTED, available for Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, or in any format you like at Smashwords.