Friday, December 26, 2014

"From out of the cell runs an Elf..."

On Boxing Day 1984 a quiet revolution took place.

I am fourteen, and my newest alter ego, an Elven princeling by the name of Aben Silverstone has just been rescued by a party of tredidatious, no-nonsense adventurers led by a Dwarf with the unlikely name of Thorin Oakenshield.

It's a big deal for me to be playing Dungeons and Dragons with my older brother's group. Although also in attendance is my best friend Derek, and we're on neutral ground (Derek and his older brother's family home), it's understood that my presence there has been achieved by no small amount of wheedling and pleading by myself (and possibly some parents interested in some time out from their growing kids), and is at times barely tolerated. I am enthusastic, and equipped with the nervous rashness and oafery of a new, young player. I'm on best behaviour, because I am still somewhat in aweof these older boys I'm playing alongside with their quick wit and occasional ruthlessness. Nevertheless, my Elf stays with his rescuers, and we make it to the end of the module in textbook-style, with only one casualty, as I recall - a thief by the equally-unlikely name of Edmund Blackadder.

I've played this particular module before, of course, as it's the only one we own, Douglas Nile's The Horror on the Hill with its pine forest Jim Rosolf cover and slightly goofy internal Jim Holloway artwork. But that last time I was a different character, in a different party, and we barely scratched the surface of the dungeon. This was the real baptism of fire, and over that summer I'd join in at least one other game over several nights (Palace of the Silver Princess, a logical follow-up) before I would be dismissed with the directive to find my own group to play with. So Derek and I did, and that became a large part of my adolescence for the next two years until different friends, different priorities, and the inevitable girlfriends broke up the band. By then Aben had dropped his earnest folksy nickname and become Habenath Celebrant, moody Elven badass, and another story, really.

 Nile's module is simple fun, with some pitfalls along the way. It's less of a meat grinder than its obvious inspiration, The Keep on the Borderlands, but it has elements I'd reuse in my own original games later on (warring goblin or hobgoblin tribes in the same dungeon, surprise berserker NPCs, a magic fountain which gives and takes in equal measure) not to mention a pretty hefty end-of-game adversary, of which still I'm skeptical of our besting to this day. More significant of course are the things that my friends and me brought into our self-made games in the following months - bits of our teenage world, in fact, form the music we listened to, the books and comics we read, and the movies we watched. A shared world can be a strange wild-growing creation, but hold it up to the light and perhaps it's not that different from many other adolescent activities in retrospect.

Thirty years on I'm surprised that it can still be brought back by the odd Proustian trigger - a reliable home-made ginger beer, the new tase of that summer in Barbeque Shapes (they were better back then), the smell of old pulp paperbacks, and the incongrous contemporary tune. Funny things, really, but all part of the mix. This, then, is my true gateway to adventure.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Peace on Earth, Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum...

It's nearly the end of 2014, and this video is now four years old. Dated, stilted, and more than a little awkward and weird - but enough of Bing and Bowie's original team-up, here's the heartfelt tribute. Merry Christmas, one and all from me and the Simian household, and oh yeah, peace on Earth and all that, too.

Link here because embedding disabled :(

Oh, and this is offically my 300th post. Jings!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Just a note to say...

A very merry, safe, and satisfying Christmas to you all, dear readers.

Pretty soon we'll be flushing this rotten old year down the bog of history, but before we do, let's pause and reflect, and share a few laughs with our loved ones.

In the next few days this blog will have a few scattered posts about scattered things - my Elves, the obligatory Christmas Day music video (ooh, what will it be this year?! said nobody) and maybe the beginning of a new miniseries of posts with the umbrella title of My gateway to Adventure. Make of that what you will.

Cheerio and cheers to one and all!

Jet Simian.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spider-Man, Hackers and Haters

Yes, just because it's Christmas I'm going to talk about the Sony Studios hacking. Why? Well, anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that it's been on my mind for a while now.

Sony got hacked by 'someone', 'someone' with very specific interest in shutting down a movie that makes fun of another country and their leader. This is unprecedented, unless I missed something happening after the release of, say, King Ralph, and it's serious stuff. In short, it's deliberate corporate sabotage, and it well may cost a lot of 'little people' some formerly-secure jobs in the near future, beyond the other high-profile casualties in the upper echelon of Sony management. I just can't see this as a 'fun' story for anyone at all.

It's not been helped by so-called 'fan sites', who have gleefully piled on with their specific hobby horses, and used that as the pretext to spread the hacked email content and, in my opinion, made a bad situation much worse by giving it oxygen. As interested as I might be in the future of the Spider-Man movie franchise, or the James Bond franchise, or even those of other studios (also apparently discussed in those emails), I have no right to know them, and for me one of the least pleasant aspects of this whole thing is just how easily it is to read this stuff, mostly in the form of 'gossip' and speculation (and the MSM are by no means above all of this.) In short, Comic Book Movie have it horrendously wrong with their approach to the hacked emails, and Den of Geek have it right.

Of course, last week Sony capitulated, and have pulled the offending movie in question, The Interview for the time being. Have they set a dangerous precedent? I don't know. Should they abide by the rule of not doing deals with terrorists, given the seriousness with which they took 'someone's threat to endanger lives in theatres showing the movie? I don't think so - that's for governments to decide, and everything else done here I'd simply call corporate responsibility - something you don't see a lot of in this day and age.

And now this is where I turn hypocrite, because I'm going to also discuss the future of the Spider-Man franchise, having read a little of what's been revealed through the same sites above. To be frank, it looks like it's in a terrible way. Sony almost made nothing on the last movie, while Marvel (who still own the character and merchandising rights) made a ton just by not making any Spider-Man movies at all. If you think Spider-Man not being with Marvel is an egregious crime, don't think the blame lies entirely with Sony. The studio may have lost their leading man to studio politics, may be planning a soft reboot, and may still meet with Marvel to talk tie-ins and cameos to bolster what must be a really problematic property they have now (but - see point one again.) Were unlikely to see a stand-alone Spidey movie for a number of years now, even if the mouth-breathers get their way and Duh Rights Revurt to Maarvuul. The brand may be cursed for a while yet. Shame. But bad things happen to good properties all the time, sadly.

So my two cents? Stick to the script, Sony. This has nothing to do with The Interview, so don't blink. Keep Spider-Man, but move forward with a Spiderverse - either Sinister Six (using Black Cat as a potential spin-off option) or Morbius. Spidey can cameo, but DON'T REMOVE HIS MASK! Let the identity behind the NEXT Sony Spider-Man be the story inside the film and out.

Friday, December 19, 2014


Hey, this post is synched with Jamas' post over on his blog

Hi readers, today I'm going to write briefly about some DC comic heroes currently on the small screen. By rights I should be matching this post with a similar post about Marvel superheroes on TV, but that's not likely to happen any time soon, as I'm not currently a viewer of any of those, so if you're still here then settle in...

In 2014 there's not a lot of TV I watch. A combination of late evening starts, box sets, altered priorities and spousal/scheduling TV issues means that my fare has been a little wanting. Game of Thrones was a regular watch, and the local, silly but fun Covers Band, but other genre TV has just not been a go-er. Walking Dead? Forget about it. Breaking Bad? Maybe one day.

But I have been watching two series - Gotham and The Flash - both based in the DC universe of superheroes, but both quite different in takes. Gotham has been labelled a Batman prequel, but it's really more of a procedural in the middle of a gang war which happens to be happening at the same time as young detective and future Commissioner Jim Gordon arrives in Gotham. There, the recently orphaned Bruce Wayne- I'll stop, actually. If you don't know what Gotham is, there are plenty of places to find what you're after. Suffice it to say, I really like it. It's not Batman, but in the absence of, say, Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos, and in the absence of a Batman TV series for grown-ups, it's quite engaging, and has now the best iteration of the Penguin I've encountered. But it's dark, and not a happy piece. So... contrast I watch The Flash, featuring of course DC's Scarlet Speedster, Barry Allen/The Flash - and a host of other superheroes and villains still emerging from the particle accelerator-infused brickwork of Central City. It, too, is something of an early days hero story - but it's lighter, simpler, and more heroic in a classic comic sense. If Gotham reflects the Batman comic of today with its nuanced characters and intricate plotting and broad back story, then this new series of The Flash is pure silver age, good-natured fun. A great remedy, and a pretty refreshing Thursday night appointment.

Over on his blog Jamas has marked the recent Flash/Arrow crossover, which this post was also supposed to do. I watched it, but like Jamas found it less of a cross-over and more of a blending of two episodes that each centred around their series' respective hero. [Green] Arrow arrives in Central City and becomes a more ruthless and predatory figure alongside Barry's sometimes haphazard heroics, while an hour later the Flash speeds into Oliver's Star City and is very much the ingenue against the Arrow team, his fitting in with their methods and values proving a challenge, even though he obviously wants to prove himself to his would-be mentor. I haven't followed Arrow, simply because it didn't immediately engage me, but I can see the appeal, and maybe one day I will. In the mean-time I'm glad these three shows are around, and have done will in a tough environment and somewhat superhero-saturated media marketplace.

Further thoughts on Flash versus Arrow after the jump...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Elf Denial

Kids, your dad let you down.

Whenever I approach a big paint job – say, my house, I tell Mrs Simian that the key to success is good preparation. Haste makes waste. Measure twice, cut once. And in the bits where the paint isn’t falling off, you can really see where the mission statement shines through (and not the undercoat). So why don’t I follow my own advice when painting miniatures?

Earlier this year I pimped my Mirkwood Elves, putting green stuff hoods, flairs (not FLARES, I’m not a monster for god’s sake) and sundry folds, knots and bobbins on little plastic dudes who had been painted a few years before, including each given a wash with Games Workshop acrylic washes. I was lazy. I was foolish. Because I ran out of Scorched Brown paint just recently and, unable to find some nice Vallejo replacement for it, resorted to replacing my out of range Scorched Brown with GW’s more recent, fangled Rhinox Hide. The name is half right, because the paint does indeed hide – into every crevice and crack, avoiding the already-glazed surface of the Elf cloaks. I had to strip them down – but what with?

Modellers swear by lots of products for safe stripping – Dettol is highly effective, but mixed with water turns into a horrid tar; brake fluid just sounds scary, as does acetone. In the end I opted for Simple Green, an al-purpose household cleanser that doesn’t dissolve plastic, leaves green stuff relatively unscathed (it softens it a little temporarily, and can loosen its stickability), and smells like Listerine. The lads are soaking in it right now, and early tests show that the paint is coming off as far as the black undercoat, which is good enough for me. If the green stuff survives long enough for a bath tonight, we’ll be back on track.

But ugh, why can’t I heed my own advice?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thirty Bangin' Years On...

Today is the 7th of December, and thirty years ago the Queen Street Riots happened.

I've blogged on this before, of course, and so I won't bore anyone with yet another gallop through my personal memoirs; although the Audioculture article above has been sgnificantly added to and fleshed out, wih anecdotes from such local luminaries as Russell Brown, Dylan Horrocks, Chris Bourke and Bryan Crump, and if nothing else thining back on it now has encouraged me to reconnect with a few of those friends via Facebook, who heard it all go down over the wireless.

So, what's left for me to add? Why, the music of course. Now, the music on the day was a live concert by the likes of Dave Dobbyn & DD Smash, The Herbs and The Mockers - classic Eighties Kiwi pop there, but quite accessible. My earlier post recalls the songs in my head at the time (less interesting., more individual and erratic), but the third 'soundtrack' to the event is worth another nod, as it's a rarity these days - Headbanga - a locally-made compilation of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (plus colonial additions) from a year previously. It got played a lot over that weekend by me and my friends, and a rendition of its rather fruity cover was faithfully reproduced on the inside of one of my school ringbinders in white-out and biro, such was its impact. Last time I blogged this I thought I'd seek out iTunes to build my own version, but one dead iPod later (pls of course at the time AC/DC weren't actually ON iTunes) that seemed a fruitless exercise. So what's left?

Various Artists - Headbanga
Why, my first YouTube playlist, with the album in full. You're most welcome. Let your own personal riot begin!

Photo copyright Bryan Staff