Thursday was awesome!

Hey everybody!
Pretty much as the title up there says, my Thursday was awesome! Let me ramble inanely for a while…

Time to get in the mood… #Batman #Superman #DCComics

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First of all, I’ve been reading comics again. Batman / Superman: Cross World was a bit of an impulse buy not long ago, back when the movie was really hyping up for its release last week; I’ve not been to see it yet, though hoping to remedy that this weekend. To get in the mood, I thought I’d read this book, and I have to admit, I wasn’t that impressed. It seems to follow the demon Kaiyo as she causes chaos in the multiverse, uniting Earth-1 Batman and Superman with their counterparts from Earth-2 in an attempt to see which Earth has the best champions to defeat Darkseid. I’m not a big fan of alternative-reality stories, as I get easily confused, and there were parts of this book that I felt I didn’t quite follow. The epilogue was the best part for me, as we see the early years of Darkseid on Apokolips.

Not the best – but then, I’ve been reading a lot of DC Comics of late, so I was bound to find something I wasn’t too keen on before long!

I really like #Aquaman – he's no #Flash, but he's up there all the same! #DCComics

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Next up was Aquaman: The Others! I basically fell in love with the character before I’d even finished reading the first book, so had high hopes for this one and, I’m pleased to say, it delivered! We see Aquaman working with his old team The Others again, as Ya’Wara comes to warn him that Kahina has been killed by Black Manta. The storyline follows each of the other members of the team as we see Black Manta on the hunt for relics of Atlantis – turns out, there’s a still-undiscovered relic in the tomb of the first King of Atlantis, and Black Manta is trying to find it using the others. The sceptre of the king is the most powerful of all the relics, it actually caused Atlantis to sink all those years ago – and now Black Manta has it!

This story was terrific, as we get to meet Aquaman’s team and everything. I know very little of the lore, but that has no bearing on my enjoyment of this story – I imagine if you do know the team, you’ll appreciate it even more! The artwork is gorgeous, especially that double-page spread of the tomb of the king. It’s a pretty dark story, however, as Aquaman shuns the help of his team, feeling he’s gotten them into too much trouble already, but ends with an entirely too-emotional scene that actually had me filling up! Oh, Vostok! In the final panels, we see the next story being set up, with conspiring Atlanteans and the Trench reopens!

This story certainly didn’t disappoint, anyway, and I’ll be moving on to volume three soon, no doubt!

My mid-week painting update is quite impressive, I think! There’ll be more on this on Sunday, of course, but I was so excited I thought I’d post this early! Getting the bases done has suddenly made me feel so much closer to completing all of these things now, so hurrah for that!

And while I’m on the subject of games, I’ve been getting back into Android: Netrunner today, with a couple of games at the local store. I haven’t played this in months, and still have next to no experience playing the Corp, so sat down with Rob, the guy who I taught to play last summer and who, as a result, created a whole ream of converts to the game, and we had two games.

First of all, I played my Shaper deck with Kate McCaffrey, which I’d wanted to re-do for a while but had just left in the deckbox, against Rob’s new Corp deck: NBN! This was an extremely lucky game for me, as I pulled out all the cards I needed, and only stole two agendas, but they were Vanity Projects, so they were all I needed!

We then switched, so Rob played Noise and I played my NBN deck that I’d thrown together a while ago (with some recent refinements). The whole plan for my deck was to have cards that reduced the value of my agendas when they were stolen, or made it fiscally impossible to steal them. Despite drawing two Day Jobs, Rob just couldn’t get past my ICE to get them, and somehow, I managed to win the second game, too!

Such a great gaming experience. Not just for the wins, here – rather, to see my decks come together and do what they’re supposed to do! My NBN deck in particular made me happy, because I’ve had such bad luck playing as the Corp in the past! The deck is actually a little large, so has a lot of agenda points, but it runs a lot of higher-costing agendas, to make sure the actual card count is low. A lot of low-cost ICE also helps, though I had some serious problems with placements – a lot of the cards I put down affect the Runner when he’s tagged, but I put those in front of cards that tag the Runner in the first place, so that didn’t quite work out! Managing to get a Utopia Fragment scored first also helped with making the agendas difficult to steal, and News Team made sure, given the ICE I had out, it was in Rob’s score area to de-value the agenda he had stolen. I was so gutted when he trashed Director Haas, converting her into an agenda, but in the end, it didn’t matter, and all was well!

NBN appears to have become a popular Corp in the local meta since Data and Destiny came out (and since my hiatus from the game) so I’m thinking about mixing it up a little more as I look to come back to the game. I’m considering making up a Wayland deck, and also an Andromeda Criminal deck as an alternative Runner!

But first – let’s get to the Throne of Atlantis!

The Original d6

Hey everybody!
After all of the Star Wars excitement of the past weekend, it’s time for a very special game day today – it’s a blog that I’ve been ruminating over for close to two years, in fact! Let me take you back in time, to the late 1980s, and the original Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games!

Star Wars RPG

This bad boy dates back to 1987, and it still gives me chills to pick up any of the books produced to support the run. I may as well tell you now, this blog will be quite heavily biased in the game’s favour!

The game system is based on West End Games’ d6 Roleplaying System, originally developed for a Ghostbusters RPG. The system is fairly straightforward to use – the core rulebook features a number of templates for characters to use from the off, or you could also create your own character from scratch. Your character has six attributes – dexterity, knowledge, mechanical, perception, strength and technical – along with a number of skills that are grouped under each attribute. These attributes all have a code against them that shows the number of six-sided dice (d6) you roll when making a test involving that attribute, often along with a modifier that would be applied to the final result. When rolling for tests, you need to equal or exceed the opposed result in order to succeed at that test.

Star Wars RPG
My own character sheet from my one and only foray into the WEG system!

That’s pretty much all there is to it. There are some rules for the Force, though as this was in a time where the original trilogy was the only thing around for fans of the franchise, there wasn’t a lot to go on and so the rulebook doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. Interestingly, though, the rules state that you can learn a Force skill from a character who is willing to teach you – implying that anyone can use the mystical energy field! Something important about this system, however, is its categorization of Jedi powers into three groups: control, sense and alter. These are so often used nowadays in Star Wars gaming, it’s interesting to note that this is where that categorization started!

Of course, the main focus of roleplaying games in the Star Wars universe is combat, which is divided into action segments. During each segment, a player can use one skill or attribute, or move – the latter usually having an adverse affect on the dice rolling. Initiative is handled weirdly – weirdly, in comparison to other systems – in that players roll together when they’re doing something that will affect each other, and whoever has the higher result is deemed to have initiative and thus gets to have their action happen. I can’t think of another system that I’ve played that doesn’t have Initiative on the stat line, anyway!

The rules are otherwise fairly simple, and the core rulebook provides a solitaire choose your own adventure-style game to get you familar with them before you play, which I think is really nice! WEG later published two full-length solitaire adventure modules, written by none other than Troy Denning (author of Star by Star, among others!)

The rulebook features a fairly comprehensive GM section, including advice on everything you could need to run an adventure. It also has a short adventure included, “Rebel Breakout”, which gets you into the feel for how WEG adventures work, broken into a series of encounters within larger episodes. These are often broken up with useful sidebars with information you might want to use, and also blocks of text you can read aloud as GM to set the feel. Along with an extensive bank of character templates is a series of adventure ideas you can use to populate your own games!

Star Wars RPG

As I said before, the West End Games line features a whole raft of supporting material, from sourcebooks to adventure modules that you can use as preconstructed adventures, either to play as a stand-alone experience, or to slip into an ongoing adventure. In the early days, they also produced the above Campaign Pack, which came in a number of components – a GM screen, an adventure book, rules upgrades, and a fold-out map of a starship. The adventure book features advice for running a campaign as well as a short adventure, similar to the book included with the Gamemaster Kit, which features the Bissillirus Campaign. I wanted to mention this specifically because of the enormous production value of the product – the book fully fleshes-out the Trax Sector in a manner that would become commonplace for further WEG content, as well as providing some advice on building Rebel cells presented as in-universe advice from General Airen Cracken.

This brings me on to an extremely huge point about West End Games’ books – they effectively created the expanded universe with this enormous wealth of content, from creating new worlds to filling-out background on existing worlds. They also started the trend of providing names and backstories for all of the extras and bit-players in the movies – who’d have thought this guy, who was little more than set-dressing for Return of the Jedi, would become so important to the EU, as none other than the head of Alliance Intelligence, Airen Cracken himself!

General Cracken
No, not Lando – the guy in the background!

Oh yes, their service to Star Wars lore simply cannot be understated! In addition to providing the backstory, however, they also created the lore through the Star Wars Adventure Journal – a quarterly “magazine” that featured all sorts of stuff, from campaign settings to short fiction. I’ve mentioned this before, of course, back when I read some of that fiction (such as Command Decision), and while the Journal only ran to fifteen issues, it nevertheless has a whole host of amazing stuff to enjoy.

Returning to the subject of fleshing out existing stuff, I want to talk a bit about perhaps one of the more famous adventure modules WEG produced: Tatooine Manhunt!

Star Wars RPG

This was published in 1988, and I believe was the first full-length adventure module they produced. The Ralph McQuarrie cover art is another hallmark of the line, along with the fold-out map (double-sided – the reverse has the city of Mos Eisley itself, with local landmarks labelled).

The adventure follows a band of rebels (the players) aboard Kwenn Space Station who, learning that the Clone Wars veteran Adar Tallon has been discovered to be alive and well and living on Tatooine, and that the Galactic Empire has put a bounty on his head, travel to the desert world in an attempt to rescue him from the Emperor’s clutches.

The book introduces us to several bounty hunters – the cover art is misleading as, while it represents the blueprint for Vader’s bounty hunters in Empire Strikes Back, the hunters featured in the module are entirely new characters. Notably, we have the first appearance of Jodo Kast, a Boba Fett impersonator who would go on to have a fairly detailed history in Star Wars. WEG used him in several other books as a Boba Fett stand-in, and he has crossed over into both novels (the short story Side Trip, by Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole, features Grand Admiral Thrawn using the personal of Kast) and comics (Twin Engines of Destruction saw the then-canon death of Kast, at the hands of none other than Boba Fett himself). Adar Tallon would also go on to a fairly interesting career in the lore, and also made it into comics for the Republic series, Dreadnoughts of Rendili.

I barely got to play with this system while in college – West End Games lost the licence to Wizards of the Coast in 1998, who produced three editions of the RPG, latterly Saga Edition, which I’ve already covered. But d6 West End Games will always hold that special place in my heart, both for the enormous impact it had on the Star Wars universe, and also for having gotten me interested not only just in Star Wars gaming, but in creating my own stories within the galaxy far, far away.

I’m only scratching the surface of the amazing source of Star Wars lore that the West End Games stuff supplies, and will likely be showcasing more of these books as time goes on. It’s become something of a Christmas tradition for me to reacquaint myself with one module (last year, it was none other than Tatooine Manhunt!) so I’m sure I’ll be sharing the wealth in the future!

Easter 2016! part two

Hey everybody!
It’s part two of my Star Wars Easter! Always an exciting time, as I feel more of a connection to the original trilogy and stuff. Indeed, watching them again this year, more than any other time in recent memory, has almost felt like re-setting myself as regards Star Wars. Let me ramble for a bit…

I’ve made a few posts on this blog that have had some inchoate rambling about the state of Star Wars today, and the loss of the wonderfulness that is the expanded universe. I’ve been reflecting on this again recently, largely following my reading of A New Dawn I suppose, which is a tremendous book, and I think if I’d read it two years ago when it was first published, I would likely have had an entirely different feeling towards this. See, that book is a fantastic way to set up this new publishing era, and really lives up to its meta-intent of providing us book fans with a new dawn of Star Wars storytelling. I think I’m going to read Tarkin next, though have already read Heir to the Jedi of course, so at least two of the first three novels to come from the new story group have been absolute triumphs.

It’s not really tempting to think of myself as some kind of dispossessed fan, though I know I have bemoaned the loss of things like the Thrawn trilogy. I’ve always tried to be open-minded about these changes, though having grown up with so many of these books, I always found it a bit difficult to let it go, I suppose.

This Easter weekend, I read a couple of stories from the now-Legends continuity, and my quandary has begun to lessen as a result. I’ve already talked about The Force Unleashed, of course; well I followed those two up with the Agent of the Empire series from comics great John Ostrander!

Star Wars Agent of the Empire

The first book began in December 2011, the sequel following in October 2012. At five issues each, they tell the adventures of Jahan Cross, the Agent of the Empire, as he works in the shadows for Imperial Intelligence. The series was sold as the Star Wars version of James Bond, and the first book in particular really shows us this, as we see Cross meet with Armand Isard (M, in this instance) and Alessi Quon (Q, if you will). I’m something of a James Bond fan, so thought these aspects were pretty hilarious, but I can see that some folks might not appreciate them.

Iron Eclipse follows Cross to the Corporate Sector, where he foils an attempt by Iaco Stark to take over the galaxy’s droids and ultimately topple the Emperor. The story is actually hilarious, though I for one appreciated the throwback to the Republic comics series, most notably the Stark Hyperspace War series. Ostrander was a long-time writer for that series of course, and it was good to see the links made that show the universe to be more cohesive. The series also features Han and Chewie in what might look like a gratuitous cameo, though it ties in nicely with Brian Daley’s novels, and ultimately I can’t really fault their presence.

The second book, Hard Targets, is another interesting one, as we see Cross working almost in a diplomatic capacity when the current Count Dooku (not Christopher Lee’s character, his nephew) is assassinated and Serenno is trying to elect a regent. There are some truly awesome parts to this story, not least looking at the inner-workings of Serenno (Count Dooku is one of my favourite Star Wars characters ever), but also the beginning of the story, on Alderaan. These comics are set before the films, so Bail Organa is alive and well. It’s always been a huge bugbear for me, but there are barely any stories that take place on Alderaan, which I have always found so frustrating as a Star Wars fan!

Jahan Cross is “the Empire’s scalpel”, and while there are plenty of stories that involve agents of the Empire – heck, Mara Jade can be seen almost as the same character – there’s something really interesting about this series that made me really eager for more. There’s a tantalizing cameo from Ysanne Isard in the second book that got me thinking about the possibility of seeing the two paired up for a mission, for instance. There is so much you could do with a character like this, it’s a shame that we’re unlikely to see anything more from him. But I guess anything’s possible.

Bounty Hunters

In addition to these, I also read Dengar’s story from Tales of the Bounty Hunters. It’s an anthology I’ve mentioned before, of course, but while I consider the Zuckuss story pretty decent, and IG-88’s just hilarious, I don’t really remember that of Dengar. Well, what a surprise that was!

Dengar is the bandage-wrapped chap immediately to the right of Vader in the above picture, but because of the editing, you don’t really get to see all that much of him in the film. His backstory is that he’s a Corellian swoop bike rider who suffered a disfiguring accident during a race with Han Solo, and was “rescued” by the Empire, who turned him into an assassin without a conscience. It sounds pretty badass, and should be cool, but his story in the anthology turns into a love story as he rescues a dancing girl who turns out to be a techempath, who feels a connection with him and basically turns him human again. They wind up getting married – and Boba Fett is the best man. Seriously, I’m not making this up.

There is an annoying trend among the stories in the Tales of the Bounty Hunters to make too much of an effort to entangle Han Solo in each of the hunters’ pasts, and while Dengar is perhaps not the worst offender (Boba Fett has the most arduous story in here, and I’m not going to read it again in a hurry), it is so annoying how he’s portrayed to be out for revenge, and tries to imagine each target is Han whenever he kills them. Why can’t these bounty hunters be on the bridge with Vader because they want the money? I mean, that’s what I imagine most bounty hunters are in the profession to do, earn money. Surely the ruthless side of these hunters needs to be emphasized, and not trying to make it all tie into a neat little bow all the time?

For me, Dengar’s tale summarises a lot of how I feel about the wider expanded universe right now, I think. Sure, there are some truly stellar pieces of fiction in the Legends stable, but for the most part – particularly the Bantam era, actually – we see a lot of this sort of thing, where stories are a little weird (with the techempath stuff), have some awesome set-up (Dengar as a conscienceless assassin for the Empire) and take us to the epic locations of the original trilogy (Cloud City and Jabba’s Palace), but ultimately we get some weird little story that feels compelled to explain every nagging detail and make everything link up to everything else.

Which brings me back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this blog, really. When they’re good, the Star Wars stories I grew up with were really, really good. Increasingly, however, I find them for the most part to be fairly bland, a little too outlandish, or downright silly/annoying. Both the Jedi Academy trilogy and Darksaber spring to mind as being in this latter category, despite having been a big fan of them all those years ago. There are still a fair number of Prequel-era stories I’ve not talked about here, but love very dearly, but I think I’m getting to that point now where I can say, yeah, maybe it is time for a change. Maybe we should take what was good about the EU, remove the garbage, and make way for what could be a much more joined-up way of storytelling.

I’m definitely rambling now, so it’s probably time to finish up this blog. But suffice it to say, A New Dawn has really rocked my world, and made me think that perhaps, we could be in for an even more interesting Star Wars history than we’ve had throughout the 90s and 2000s…

A little more DC!

In the midst of my Star Wars Easter weekend, I’ve managed to make some room for more DC greatness as well, more comics and TV series, and the news coming out of WonderCon about the new Rebirth event coming this summer!

You may remember, back when I read the Batman event comic, Night of the Owls, I was particularly impressed with Batwing? Well, I bought the first issue of his ongoing series and read it a couple of weeks back. The Lost Kingdom deals with Batwing on the trail of Massacre, a villain who has been trawling across Africa killing off members of the super hero team called The Kingdom. This team had come together in the recent past to fight against the injustices being done to the continent, but had gone into retirement. Batwing fails to save a couple of members, so decides to try to get ahead of Massacre by learning where the remaining members of the team are before the crazed Massacre can get to them. Along the way, we learn through flashbacks about the early years of Batwing, otherwise David Zavimbe. It’s a really interesting comic, particularly because, while I was aware of the character, I knew nothing about him. While I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject matter, I thought the Africa-centric storyline was handled in what felt like a mature and sensible manner. I’m sure there’s a lot more that can be said on that, but if nothing else, I thought it was really interesting to see a comic book set somewhere other than America. There’s also a tremendous sense of history that comes out of discovering who this super hero team were, which is remarkable given this is an entirely original story!

I finally got round to volume two this weekend. In the Shadow of the Ancients picks up right where volume one left off, and I’ve read some criticism of the split here, as the storyline isn’t resolved until this book, leaving the first part a little disjointed. Though it made me buy the second book without thinking too much about it, so I guess there’s something to be said for the marketing there. The mystery of who Massacre is is solved, in a fairly shocking fashion, though the book then features four more issues that don’t reference this at all. Made me feel a bit like “Wha?” there – though I’m very much going to get Enemy of the State to see if this storyline continues.

There are a couple of fairly odd moments in the rest of the book. We have a two-part story that follows Batwing’s aide Matu Ba (Batwing’s Lucius Fox) in trouble, where Batwing calls in the Justice League International to help. I feel a bit like I might be missing some tie-in there, but anyway. They manage to rescue Matu Ba from Lord Battle (most of Batwing’s enemies so far have had silly names, but whatever), exposing a plot that somehow had the involvement of the Penguin. I have to be honest, I didn’t quite follow that one, but I’ve always liked him since Danny DeVito took on the role, so it was nice to have him included all the same. The book ends with a sort of throwback-story where we learn yet more of Batwing’s backstory, a short issue that felt highly similar to that at the end of the Flash volume two.

And speaking of the Flash…

The Flash

I’ve finally gotten round to watching the TV series, you guys! I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t gotten round to this sooner. Perhaps because I couldn’t make it through the first episode of Arrow all those years ago, and thought it might ruin my favourite superhero… Well, anyway, three weeks ago I sat down to give it a go, and since that first episode I was just bowled over by how awesome it is! I’m currently trying to pace myself, as I’m watching it on DVD so don’t want to run out of good stuff too soon. I think I’ve watched about half the first season so far, getting up to Fallout last night. So far, it’s been amazing, and pretty much every episode has had me both laughing out loud and glued to the screen. I have to say, it’s rare for me to find a show these days that I can instantly fall in love with, and simultaneously want to just watch it all, and also pace myself and savour it forever, but The Flash has certainly got me hooked!

Something that particularly surprised me was how much I enjoyed the Arrow crossovers – to the point that I’ve also now bought season one of that show on DVD…

This weekend at WonderCon, DC have given the details on the new Rebirth event that will be kicking off this coming May. io9 have helpfully collected a number of tweets from DC’s Twitter account showing the new books coming out under this banner, and while I’m pleased to see Flash continues with his own series (given he’s already had a Rebirth story, I was a little concerned he might not make it), I’m so excited to see Dan Abnett will be working on a new Aquaman story! Of course, I was bowled over by how awesome Geoff Johns made the character, so it’ll be a hard act to follow, but this should be pretty great, and I’m certainly looking forward to it!

I prefer to read these things in trade paperback form, but I’m really interested in seeing what this is all about, so have preordered the inaugural issue there… Exciting times!

Hobby Progress, week 12

I’ve been doing this for twelve weeks now, can you believe?! It’s been pretty great for motivation, I’ll say that – the thought of not having anything to publish here of a Sunday has really helped to get me painting, and I need all the help I can get sometimes! So many unfinished projects have been languishing since the summer last year, and this week, I’m taking a look at quite a few! But let’s start with Space Marines.

Last week’s update featured some progress on some Ultramarines, as well as the suggestion of doing something fantastic with the Novamarines successor chapter. Well, take a look!

Hobby Progress 12

First up, let’s talk Novamarines. These guys look amazing in artwork for the game, and I really want to get a small squad together, but having done these two guys to just this point, I’m no longer sure I want to do a full squad! The quartered scheme is certainly different, and while it’s always fun to try out new stuff, I’m already wondering if it’s beyond me! This is just a base coat of Kantor blue and washed with Drakenhof Nightshade, as well as a recess wash of Nuln oil on the white parts. It took almost an hour to get these two painted to this point, as I was trying to be so damn careful to get the lines straight etc. I want to do a third, as I have a sergeant-type guy who was built out of specific bits so as to be the Novamarines sergeant, but whether I’ll get all five done will possibly remain to be seen. The tutorial I’d found seems to leave the blue at this stage, and just edge-highlights from there, but I feel this is far too dark for my liking, so I’m thinking I might go for Alaitoc blue, with some Hoeth blue highlights. The armour is described (somewhere) as cobalt, so I’m thinking it needs to be quite bright. We’ll see, anyway! Suffice it to say, I’m glad I haven’t planned an army of these guys!

Hobby Progress 12

The Ultramarines are coming along nicely – I’ve actually been doing some work on the other two as well, though they’re nowhere near as far along as these chaps. I’ve been feeling a bit down on them for the past couple of days, in part because of the blue-ness they have. This sounds weird, but when I see the model being blue, with a blue base, it just looks weird, and I wonder if I’ll ever finish it. By painting the base like this, I suddenly feel like they’re almost done. It’s clearly a psychological thing!

Hobby Progress 12

I hate painting eyes, but have done them on all of the Ultramarines and the Deathwing I have going on right now! They’re not perfect, but I’m hoping that the Carroburg crimson wash has helped to define the lens enough that any overspill onto the face can be seen as a glow-effect, anyway! So they’re coming along. I think I might have to do the bases for these guys as well soon, as that’ll help make them look a lot more complete than they have been! There are still a lot of small details to do, of course, and I think it really needs a concerted effort to get done. But for now, they continue to plod along, slowly but surely.

I’ve been having something of a basing extravaganza yesterday, where I took a whole bunch of models that were almost done, some except for the bases, and over the course of about four hours, got them sorted there. For many, it’s now just a case of some small details before they’re finished.

Yes, folks, it’s Necrons! In my end of February post, I shared a picture of my waiting area, with a whole host of models in varying stages of completion, and most of these are Necrons. Among other things, I had ten Immortals that needed serious attention, five more that just needed basing, and ten Lychguard that needed some kind of attention, including basing. Having spent so long with a variety of different models, it felt really great to be back with models that I’m not only familiar with, but know I can pretty much churn out fairly quickly.

Hobby Progress 12

These chaps are now pretty much finished, I might drybrush some green onto the snow at the rear, to simulate the glow of the weapons, but that’s it. I have another squad, with tesla carbines, who are very close to completion, but in all, I think I now have six squads of Immortals painted up. At some point, I hope to really get into playing 40k, and my dislike of the Necron Warrior model has led to my having these guys as my troop choices. Well, anyway!

Hobby Progress 12

Finally, we have this big guy. My local GW store is doing a paint it purple (and paint it black) competition next week, so I thought it’d be the perfect excuse to finish off at least one of my Ogres! I’ve had this guy sitting there waiting for so long now, it’s untrue – the base colours were all done some time last year, and the green base was done over the last August Bank Holiday weekend. However, there have been a number of small, maddening details that remained incomplete. Notably the hair. I can’t tell you how many philosophical musings I’ve had about “what colour would hair be if your skin is purple?” I’ve finally hit upon this blue colour, done the same way as I do the crests for my Stormcasts – maybe the crests are made from dead Ogors! Well, anyway. I don’t think he’s going to win any awards, but it’s been a great impetus to finally get one of these chaps done! Now that I’ve seen him, maybe I’ll get some more finished, as well!

All in all, it’s been a really fun week for painting! I think I like to have this variety of models on the go – not too big that it puts me off doing anything, but enough that I don’t get bored doing the same colours over and over again. Anyway, it’ll be the end of the month again next time, so I’ll probably have another retrospective-type of post. I’m certainly hoping to be progressed with the Novamarines, and also have more done to the Deathwing and Ultramarines.

Until next time!

Easter 2016! part one

Hey everybody!
I’ve mentioned it before, but Easter is my absolutely favourite time of year. It’s nothing religious, for I’m not a religious person – rather, it’s a combination of chocolate, time off work, and some very wonderful memories! See, Easter was the time of year when I first discovered the Star Wars expanded universe, when my mate Dave pointed me in the direction of Heir to the Empire and said, “go read that”. What an amazing time! Between that and Crimson Empire, I was totally sold on the EU, and have made it my mission to make every Easter as Star Wars-filled as I possibly can.

As well as re-watching the original trilogy every year, I usually find myself slipping back into some kind of reading program, which I mentioned in one of my very first blog entries here on spalanz.com! I’ve recently re-read a lot of those posts, which kinda sounds a bit vain now I mention it, but it got me back into the mood like nothing else. I’ve already started, anyway, by reading the awesome A New Dawn (well worth picking up!) and have continued this spirit with The Force Unleashed graphic novels!

The Force Unleashed

Back in the mid-2000s, a new video game was launched as the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. The game was released in 2008, and spawned a whole media crossover event much like Shadows of the Empire back in the 1990s – having never played the game (despite owning the DS version for a while), I’ve enjoyed both the novel and graphic novel versions, as well as the Miniatures line and RPG supplement. But today, I’m talking comics…

The story follows Starkiller, Vader’s secret apprentice, as he fulfils missions for his master, namely hunting down and destroying Jedi. His first target is General Rahm Kota, a Jedi Master who survived the Clone Wars due to his mistrust of clone troopers – being surrounded by his own militia, Order 66 kinda just passed the guy by. Starkiller catches up to him over Nar Shaddaa and, after a fairly huge duel, manages to defeat him – though not before Kota senses he will himself be a part of the apprentice’s future.

Starkiller has been trained by Vader with the intention of one day toppling the Emperor, so to prepare him further for this, he is sent after a member of the Jedi Council. Shaak Ti has been hiding on Felucia following the conclusion of the Clone Wars. The planet is so rich in the Force that she is effectively hidden from any prying eyes, but not from Starkiller. Shaak Ti sends her apprentice, Maris Brood, into the Felucian jungle while she confronts Starkiller alone at the aptly-named Abyss – the maw of a Sarlacc monster! Shaak Ti is clearly powerful in the Force, but Starkiller uses his instinctual rage and manages to push her into the pit.

Upon his return to Vader’s side, the Emperor has discovered Starkiller’s existence, and forces Vader to kill him. Vader, however, saves his body and manages to somehow bring him back to life, whereupon he gives him a new mission – round up the Emperor’s enemies into a cohesive rebellion that will distract the Emperor’s spies long enough for Vader to strike his master down, thus ruling the galaxy with Starkiller at his side. It’s a fairly crazy scheme, but Starkiller goes along with it, and determines to find out if General Kota indeed still lives, to find out what his parting words were.

Starkiller finds Kota as a blind, drunk derelict slumming in Cloud City. He convinces Kota to join his cause following his defeat of the Emperor’s Shadow Guard – huge, black-armoured Force-sensitive killers. Together, they travel to Kashyyyk in an attempt to find Bail Organa, who has also been attempting to create a rebellion – and had in fact been searching for Kota to help. They only find Organa’s daughter Leia there, and manage to evade the Imperial presence on the Wookiee home planet and get Leia to safety. Kota surmises that Bail, having failed to recruit him, will have gone after Shaak Ti instead, so Starkiller returns to Felucia where the planet has begun to slip into the Dark Side now that Shaak Ti has gone. Starkiller finds Bail Organa being held hostage by Shaak Ti’s almost-deranged apprentice Maris Brood, and the two fight – Maris bringing out a Felucian Rancor at one point! She is defeated, however, and while Starkiller may have dissuaded her from following her dark path, she nevertheless flees into the wilderness.

With Bail on board, Starkiller travels to Corellia to meet with other senators dissatisfied with the Emperor’s rule. Together with Garm bel Iblis and Mon Mothma, the Rebel Alliance is about to be formed when Vader arrives to capture them. Starkiller faces off against his erstwhile master, and is defeated. The senators and Kota are taken to the still under-construction Death Star at the Outer Rim, where they are to be tortured by the Emperor himself. Starkiller attempts to rescue them, and while he manages to distract the Emperor and Vader long enough to allow the senators to flee, ultimately the Emperor kills the secret apprentice, revealing that he knew about Vader’s training all along. However, the two Dark Lords now have a significant problem on their hands, as they have unwittingly allowed Starkiller to become the galvanising martyr to the rebellion’s cause.

I really like this story! While its episodic nature belies its origins as a video game, with each vignette clearly forming a level of the game, it’s nevertheless a beautifully wrought pastiche of the prequels and original-trilogy, through its use of classic locations such as Cloud City as well as fleshing out places such as Felucia and Raxus Prime. The premise for the story is that Vader has trained the apprentice through fear and brutality, and as a result Starkiller is basically out of control of his emotions, allowing him to do all kinds of over-the-top stuff like pull Star Destroyers out of the skies and the like. Taken in the spirit that it is meant, the story is a lot of fun – not unlike the IG-88 tale from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, actually.

I’m one of these people who grew up with the Zahn ideas of the Corellian Treaty forming the rebellion, and I’ve always been a bit put-out by the notion that they were manipulated into doing so by the Emperor – and I find the involvement of the secret apprentice to be a little too close to the worst kind of fan-fiction at times, the kind where hugely significant plot threads are re-written so as to include the author’s pet character. But as I said before, taken in the spirit of the thing, it’s easy to overlook that.

There’s also an entirely gratuitous love story almost grafted-on. Juno Eclipse serves as Starkiller’s pilot for his missions for Vader, something that always makes me curious – is piloting that difficult that it’s easier to get someone to do it for you? Anyway, throughout the comic she serves mostly to provide cleavage – at one point, entirely unnecessary butt-cleavage – that leaves me feeling a little bit dirty. I’m not a video gamer, of course, but I get the impression that she’s created to appeal to the overly-machismo crowd and has little further function than just set-dressing. Which is unfortunate, because Star Wars actually has some really kickass women in the mythos, so I feel this has been a really missed opportunity.

I love the way Cloud City and Felucia are woven into this story, and in actual fact, the Felucian episodes have inspired me with my own fan fiction when I wrote the short story Chasing Shadows a couple of years ago. Indeed, the end of that story was written to almost tie into The Force Unleashed, as Vader learns Shaak Ti yet lives, so then sends his apprentice after her. So it has certainly been influential for me!

The Force Unleashed II

This one is a bit of a let-down, for me. It’s essentially a Boba Fett story, and while there have been Boba Fett stories in the past that are fairly decent, Enemy of the Empire for instance, this story makes him almost too human to be the fearsome character the films intend him to be. The basic premise is that Vader has created clones of Starkiller, and due to an accelerated ageing process, they have been going insane. They’re also convinced they’re really Starkiller, and are obsessed with tracking down Juno Eclipse. Juno and Kota now appear to be fully-fledged rebels, in charge of some portion of the fleet, which was an interesting move, as I’d have expected to see more “movie rebels” involved at such a high level. Anyway.

Fett tracks the Starkiller-clone to Cato Neimoidia, another nice throwback to the prequels, where his trail of destruction knows no bounds. He somehow finds a mechanic who has refitted vessels with new transponder codes for the Alliance, which allows him to find Juno and he takes her captive. Fett delivers Juno to Vader on Kamino, where somehow Starkiller (the real one? A clone?) and Kota turn up and, following a confusing fight, Juno manages to defeat Vader and she and Starkiller are reunited. Fett feels like he can’t kill Starkiller, and thus deliver on his contract, because the former secret apprentice is making out with Juno. And thus the story ends, with Vader a hostage of the rebels on Dantooine.

After the first story, this one really falls flat to me. I just, I don’t know what the point of it was. The first one has a nicely driven narrative to it, the second one feels just all over the place and a little bit too much like it’s just cashing in. It’s unfortunate, because even though the clone thing had kinda been overdone in the Star Wars expanded universe, there was some potential here for another story that serves to further tie the prequels and original trilogy together, as we see the showdown on Kamino and whatnot. Ultimately, however, this story becomes the sort of thing that Disney has essentially saved us Star Wars fans from.

Unlike the first one, however, I haven’t yet read the novel for TFU2, and I do know that the comic takes a very prescribed look at the events rather than presenting the whole story. So that may be worth looking into at a later date, whereupon I’ll doubtless come here and compare!

I recently read this interview with the game developer, and comic author Haden Blackman, about what a third installment would have looked like. The idea of Vader and Starkiller teaming up to go against the Emperor sounds like it walks that fine line of could-be-amazing, could-be-awful. I think I would like it if Vader ultimately killed Starkiller at the end, once and for all, as otherwise it just gets too messy with continuity and stuff. Though obviously, I’m talking about a pre-Disney continuity here! Suffice it to say, though, the idea sounds interesting…

In addition to watching A New Hope on Friday, I also cracked out this bad boy once again!

Escape from the Death Star

Escape from the Death Star wowed me last year as being a truly amazing gaming experience, especially if you watch the movie first! It’s definitely not easy, in fact the reliance on luck can sometimes make it soul-crushing, but I was particularly pleased this time when I managed to escape from the battle station and win! Was not expecting that, as Luke kept making ham-fisted rolls that got him trapped by stormtroopers for most of the game – as it turned out, Leia both disabled the tractor beam and was first onto the Falcon, and the game ended with Han leaping clear of his 8 pursuing troopers! What a finish!

I’m not sure if I’d put this game in my top ten, but for nostalgia purposes (I have such strong memories of trying to figure out how to play this with my brother) it’s a winner, every time!

My world-famous pasta al tonno! #GoodFriday

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My Friday ended with my world-famous pasta al tonno, and some painting. More on the latter in tomorrow’s update blog, of course!! Though, if you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I’ve returned to some old favourites this week, in an attempt to get them finished…

Whatever you’re up to over the weekend, I hope you’re having an awesome time of it! Stay tuned for more exciting Star Wars updates here, anyway!

Star Wars: A New Dawn

Oh my goodness me, this book was amazing!

Having picked this up almost a year ago, I’d been putting off reading this book for so long, almost entirely because I’ve not been all that interested in the Rebels cartoon, and the cover makes it pretty clear there are some strong ties to that. However, I finally started it at the weekend, and it hooked me quite early on.

Set during that nebulous timeframe between episodes III and IV, we follow Count Vidian as he inspects the mining planet of Gorse, to see if he can make improvements in the Empire’s logistical chain. He is accompanied by Captain Rae Sloane, who was a central character in Aftermath. On the planet, he is stalked by the mysterious Twi’lek, Hera, who is trying to find out what he’s up to for her own nefarious purposes. We also meet Kanan Jarrus, apparently a down-on-his-luck drifter who works piloting explosives for the mine workings. So that’s the basic premise, I guess. It doesn’t really sound all that exciting, but don’t be fooled!

The book acts as a prequel to the Rebels cartoon, and due to both this and its placement in the timeline (though if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure where it’s supposed to take place, as there isn’t much specific history in there) I expected there to be the usual trite foreshadowing, as we see the big bad Empire at work, ad nauseum. In actual fact, while there are indeed a few references – in particular, to the Empire breaking up moons for the minerals contained therein that presages the original Death Star design – the narrative doesn’t make these things a huge focus as other books tend to do. In general, the sense of history is quite neatly described, and I think that, more than anything, is a huge thing in its favour.

John Jackson Miller is no stranger to the GFFA, of course, having written the long-running Knights of the Old Republic comics and the Knight Errant comics/novel, the Lost Tribe of the Sith stories and the full-length novel Kenobi. I thought it was nice to have an established Star Wars author at the helm of the first novel to be published under the new continuity – not that we have any massive departures from what can be considered “the norm” (much like Heir to the Jedi, really).

There is an episodic feel to the book, not really helped by the fact that the chapters are really quite small. Maybe it was just me, but I definitely felt it harkened to JJM’s comic-writing career, where story would be bite-sized to fit into individual issues. It doesn’t really detract from the overall feel, though there was a moment in the rough middle where I felt the book appeared to be winding down to a conclusion, then just picked up the pace again. It felt weird, but nothing major.

I think more than anything else, this book has made me interested in the characters from the cartoon series. There’s a Kanan comics series being published by Marvel that I’ve not been all that interested by, but I’m now going to buy in trade paperback, and I’m even looking into the DVDs for the show. If you’ve read my earlier post from when the cartoon was just kicking off, you’ll see just how much of a deal this is for me!

This is the firth”new” Star Wars novel I’ve read now, and while not as good as Heir to the Jedi, it’s certainly a solid second place, ahead of Lost StarsThe Force Awakens and Aftermath.

In short, this is definitely worth picking up!