Fantastic!

Hey everybody,
I thought it would be nice to end this week’s birthday celebrations with a look at how the future of the Harry Potter series is shaping up – even if that future is currently set firmly in the past. I’m talking, of course, about the Fantastic Beasts series of movies!

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Released back in 2016, the initial movie follows Newt Scamander as he travels to America as he attempts to release one of his fantastical beasts back into the wild. He runs into a problem when his case gets mistaken for one belonging to a Muggle (or No-Maj, as the Americans call them) and pandemonium ensues across 1920s New York, as Newt attempts to recover his lost magical creatures.

Along the way, we have a side story of the Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves, and his investigations into a powerful magical force within the city. The twist at the end of the movie is that this is none other than Gellert Grindelwald, the infamous Dark Wizard who believes in the superiority of wizardkind. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

The first movie is a fun adventure, and without that little postscript at the end, would have been entirely fine as a standalone movie set within the wider Harry Potter universe. However, it turns out the movie is the first in a series – originally a trilogy, then projected to five films, which deals with the history of Grindelwald and culminating in the mythical duel with Dumbledore.

The second movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was released in 2018, and is perhaps a more focused movie than the first, in that the big baddie takes a more central role. The action has been relocated to Paris, with Grindelwald taking up residence with his disciples there as he attempts to track the powerful Obscurial, Credence. Newt is dispatched by none other than Dumbledore to try and get to Credence first. We get some inkling of the history of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, though a lot of it is implied from the stuff we know from Deathly Hallows.

This film has come under a lot of fire, from what I’ve seen – from the continued casting of Johnny Depp following accusations of spousal abuse, to the racial implications of Nagini as a Maledictus. Sometimes, I get the feeling that people are determined to not enjoy something on principal…

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

At any rate, both my wife and I really enjoy these films for what they are, a continuation of the exploration of the wizarding world, which began back with the first Harry Potter novel in 1997. The fact that the world has been blown right open here, so that we’ve seen New York, Paris, and we’re promised next to travel to Rio de Janeiro, is just simply delightful, and while there are always goofy parts to these stories, let’s not forget how goofy the books could be. I mean, some of the descriptions of Dudley Dursley leap to mind at once as defying all sense.

I do feel that people sometimes are just not happy unless they’re casting shade over popular things – and I realise there’s an irony about that, coming from me writing on a blog where I often criticise stuff quite negatively! But where these films are concerned, a big part of me thinks there may be something more at play here.

The Harry Potter novels have a sense of wonder to them, as we learn about the wizarding world through the eyes of the title character, and share in that sense of wonder that he himself exhibits for the most part. There’s also something quite innocently charming as we do this through the eyes of a child. For the adults among us, there’s a wonderful air of nostalgia as we read these books, as we remember our own childhoods and school days, irrespective of when we came to the series.

With Fantastic Beasts, however, that’s not the point. The world is presented to us from the adult perspective from the get-go, so it doesn’t have that sense of childhood nostalgia and charm. The main characters are all fairly accomplished witches and wizards and so, rightly or wrongly, the films expect us to have some understanding of the world that they inhabit before we begin. Some exposition is given through the fact Newt befriends the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, the man who took Newt’s briefcase, and therefore gives some background to what is going on. This film series expects more from us, but has so much more to offer in return. We shouldn’t go into this series expecting the same level of charm and enchantment as we get from the main seven-book series, else we’re sure to be a bit disappointed.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

As I said, though, the films aren’t without their flaws. I’m not a huge fan of Eddie Redmayne’s hunched, almost twitchy performance – I suppose it has something to do with him being an introvert? That’s nothing, however, to Ezra Miller as Credence, who seems to be trying to out-hunch Eddie, though added to that is a curiously wooden performance. Is he supposed to be trying to shrink out of the spotlight? Is it meant to convey (spoiler alert) the internalisation of his magical power as an Obscurial? Don’t know. He does get a bit better in the second movie, but still, I’m not a fan.

I’m also not big on the fact that (a) Dumbledore is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts (when he was said to be the Transfiguration professor prior to gaining the role of Headmaster) and (b) he uses almost exactly the same Boggart lesson during the flashback scenes that Lupin teaches in 1993. I’d got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that Lupin was quite an inventive teacher, and his methods were quietly unique; turns out, everybody gets a go with a Boggart as part of their magical education. I mean, that could be entirely possible, but it just irritated me a little bit!

But that’s no reason not to enjoy these movies. They take the magical framework that we’re used to from the Harry Potter books, and build upon it in new and interesting ways that are really pretty fascinating. There is a part of me that feels as though the final duel is going to be almost impossible to film satisfactorily, although we won’t have to worry about that for a while yet, given that production on the third movie has stalled due to the coronavirus lockdown. More than anything, though, I think it’s just really cool to travel the magical world, and see things that would never have been possible to see in a series set at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter and the Pillar of Storgé

Hey everybody!
Today, I thought it would be fun to go back through the archives and look at some of the crazy fan theories that were doing the rounds during the time the Harry Potter novels were being published. I think I was most aware of these during the period between books five and six, and immediately after six, when we were beginning to learn more and more about the history of the universe, and the various plot threads were starting to be wound together.

Back then, we had some wonderful ideas being expounded over on the MuggleNet forums and editorials, and I would look forward to seeing what people had been thinking up for the way the series could work.

There were loads of theories written down back in the day, as people talked about all of the different nuances of the series, trying to glean anything and everything from the smallest details – I remember one editorial in particular that talked about the significance of toast throughout the series, and reading all manner into what the presence of toast versus toast-with-extras could mean.

Of course, once book five hit the shelves, the main focus was down to the prophecy, and how the final confrontation could go, given that we have almost a confirmation that Harry would be taking part in a fight to the death with Voldemort.

My own theory at the time (well, June 2006) was centred on the psychological idea of Lord Voldemort being a mask for Tom Riddle, and the possibility that Harry would defeat Voldemort by, essentially, redeeming Tom Riddle, which would allow the mask of Voldemort to shatter and be destroyed. I suppose I was planting too much of my Star Wars knowledge on to the series, and imagining a scene much like Luke’s redemption of his father, and bringing Anakin Skywalker back from under the mask of Darth Vader, though with the transformation killing the host. I find it an interesting idea, even now, and I find it quite appealing in a small way. It’s cheesy as hell, of course, but then Harry Potter is one of these “Pure Fool” stories, which are cheesy as hell almost by definition.

I’d always hoped that we’d get to learn more about Harry’s mum than we got to – even with book six showing us her potions prowess. Much like Lupin in the third book, I’d hoped that we’d get a link to Harry’s parents that would show us more about Lily. I mean, one of the few things we know about her is that her wand was good for charm work. I remember wondering quite intensely if she had been the one to cast the Fidelius charm in Godric’s Hollow, and how all of that would interact once we went there in the seventh book. As it turned out, it was sort of unimportant, but anyway!

I think this comes back to the point from earlier in the week, about the depth of the story that we have here leading us to look deeper and deeper still into the background. There is just so much going on in these books, and there are so many tiny details, some of which (such as Sirius Black’s motorcycle from book one) later became such huge plot points, that it led to an entire fan industry of going through the extant novels with a fine tooth-comb, hoping to dredge up some major spoiler for the finale that had been planted earlier.

Remember Mark Evans?

At any rate, the sheer breadth of fan theories, however wild they were, just goes to show how successful this book series was. It had us all talking about it. It had us all theorising about it. It got under our skins, and into our souls.

What other series of books can say the same?

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Hey everybody!
Today is my blog’s sixth birthday – can you believe it?! It’s also game day, so we’re going to be taking a look at the Harry Potter deck-building game from The OP (formerly USAopoly), Hogwarts Battle!

This came out a few years ago now, and I got it for my wife back in 2018 for a birthday present, a little apprehensive as I know deck building games can be a little difficult to get into. Of course, time was I had a plethora of the things, from Dominion through to Marvel Legendary and Thunderstone. Comparisons will be made with several of these as we go through, inevitably!

The game is quite straightforward, really – the core game is for four players, each of whom takes the role of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville. There have been expansions that bring both Luna and Ginny in as playable characters, but we won’t be getting to these in this blog.

It is quite cleverly structured over seven “years”, marking each of the seven school years that each book covers. Each hero comes with a starting deck of ten cards, including the currency cards (the currency of the game is called ‘influence’) as well as some special cards that give you an idea for how you might like to take the construction of that hero’s deck. For example, Ron has the ‘Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans’ card that rewards you for playing Ally cards, so maybe you’ll want to buy some Ally cards from the market.

The market contains these Allies, as well as Magical Items and Spells. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how these cards work – some Spells will allow you to gain attacks, others will give you influence, while others still might let you draw cards. The same is true of the Items and Allies, as well. From game four onwards, there are also dice involved – more shortly – and the ability to roll these dice comes across a variety of cards, also.

But what’s the point of the game, I hear you cry?

There are a series of Villains that need to be overcome by our intrepid heroes, each themed around the point in the story in which they appear for the first time (although there are, of course, exceptions). For instance, in Game One, the enemies are Draco Malfoy, Crabbe & Goyle, and Professor Quirrell. Once Lord Voldemort has made his return, he forms a kind of boss villain for the heroes to overcome, and more Villains are revealed from the deck to attack the heroes through their various means. For instance, in the photo above, we see Fenrir Greyback prevents heroes from healing themselves, which is quite the horrendous effect when you have other Villains, like the Dementors or Quirrell, who cause you to lose health each turn.

In addition, there are Dark Arts cards that get flipped over at the start of each turn. These are basically the game’s way to fight back on a more interactive level – the Villains might be quite passive or situational, allowing turns where they actually don’t have any negative effect on the heroes’ progress. The Dark Arts event cards, therefore, ensure that something will always happen to affect the gameplay.

Finally, there is the Location deck, which shows both how many of these Dark Arts events to draw each turn, as well as tracking the Villains’ progress towards defeating the Heroes. See, when Heroes are reduced to 0 health points, they are merely Stunned – discard half of your hand, rounded down, and then at the end of the turn, reset your health to 10 and continue. Hardly the most grievous of effects! However, the Locations provide something of a clock for the game, making sure that things don’t fall into that holding pattern. As the Villains place more progress markers on these Locations, showing the influence they’re gaining over the wizarding world, more Dark Arts events will be drawn, causing more pain and suffering for the Heroes.

So that, in a nutshell, is the game!

It’s very similar to the DC deck-building game, I feel, in that you have a deck of villains to defeat (although DC brings them out one at a time). However, it isn’t really like any of the other deck-builders that I’ve played, as there are a variety of things that make it fairly unique. For starters, the starting deck each hero has includes more than just basic cards – sure, some of the cards, like each hero’s pet, feel a little basic in their effects, but the starting deck of ten cards covers much more than the basic ‘attack and currency’ style. I really like the fact that these decks provide that sort of base for how you might like to take the deck as you purchase cards for it, too.

The “Year” structure is also something that I really like. When I first opened the box, I had the idea that it might be a game along the lines of these Legacy-style games that started with Pandemic back in the day, giving additional content that is added in depending on what happens within the game. Well, that’s not entirely untrue, of course, though it isn’t quite so “secret envelope” style here – instead, you basically get a base game and all six expansions for it in one box, and you grow the game a little more organically than perhaps some of these Legacy games have it.

Something that I particularly like is how the heroes change over the course of the game, and also the extra gubbins that get thrown into the mix along the way.

As you move up the series of games, your hero “levels-up” twice, at Game Three, and then again at Game Seven. When you begin, you just have your hero; then with Game Three your hero has an effect that will trigger when something happens – for example, Hermione can choose for any one hero to gain one influence when she plays four or more spells. For Game Seven, that ability changes from “any one hero” to “all heroes”.

In addition, in Game Six you get to choose one “Proficiency” that gives your hero more in the way of choices – a second, always-on ability. In the previous picture, we can see that Hermione has chosen the Arithmancy Proficiency, which allows her to interact with cards that make use of four House Dice. These dice make their appearance in Game Four, which is something of a mid-point both in terms of the series as a whole, and the complexity of the game here. We get four dice that give bonuses to all heroes such as giving extra attacks, extra resources, drawing cards or healing. However, some of the Villains and the Dark Arts events make use of the Slytherin die (the one that has more attacks on it), with negative results for the heroes.

These dice are also instrumental in the final battle, as Horcrux cards are introduced. In Games Five and Six, Voldemort is the final Villain to be defeated, with the single caveat that you must have defeated all of the other Villains first. For Game Seven though, you must also destroy the six Horcruxes – that is, roll a House Die and, rather than apply its effect, use it to place a marker on the Horcrux card. These cannot simply be ignored, however, as they also have always-on effects that will often trigger along with the Villains and the Dark Arts events – meaning that, on your turn, it is quite possible that you can go from full health to 0 due to the accumulated horrors of the Dark Side!

It all builds up quite nicely as things progress, although you don’t get to keep the deck that you’ve built up over the course of an entire “campaign” – with the start of each Game/Year, you re-set back to your starting ten, although this isn’t all that much of a handicap when you take account of the fact your hero card has leveled-up by Game Seven, and you also have the Proficiency from Game Six.


For Potterheads, this game is wonderfully thematic, with a lot of cards that kinda make sense when you think about what they do. ‘Expecto Patronum’, for instance, allows you to push the Villains back by removing their progress from the current Location, as well as granting you additional attacks. ‘Lumos’ allows you to draw cards, etc etc. A lot of the moving parts of the game, particularly on the Villains’ side of things, work really well together, too – a shining example of this is Lucius and Draco Malfoy, who interact with the Location cards in a nightmarish fashion. Adding Barty Crouch Jnr into the mix, who prevents progress tokens from being removed from the Location, can cause all manner of problems for the heroes!

However, the game is not without its flaws. For starters, there is no way to thin out your deck, which is a staple of pretty much every deck-builder I’ve played. Being able to cull the basic cards from your deck when you’ve managed to build it up is quite important, but even when you’re playing in Game Seven, and you’re up against Lord Voldemort himself for the final time, there is still the chance that you might draw a hand of five ‘Alohomora’s, which is just a pain in the rear at such a critical point!

There are also no “always on” cards. DC has “kicks”, and Legendary has “Maria Hill”s, where you can (usually) always buy at least one standby card that isn’t really part of the main market. The potential for heroes to be locked out of the market by seeing very high-cost cards very early on is definitely there, and there have been many points where we’ve ended up buying chaff cards simply because they’re the only ones we can afford, or to clear them out of the market stack. I think the game designer has suggested a fix whereby you skip your turn (that is, you don’t purchase anything or assign any damage) and you can wipe the market clear or something. But I’m never really a fan of these kinds of after-thoughts!

There are also a lot of promo cards out there. I’ve talked about my aversion to such cards before, but I find it quite strange when a game like this has promo cards that feature fairly significant characters – the Dursleys and Seamus aren’t top-tier characters, don’t get me wrong, but they’re characters that appear in every novel; I’d have thought therefore that they would be in the main game. Of course, there’s also the issue of the effects these cards have on the game, and a spell like ‘Silencio’ is massive for it to have been left as a promo. This is a co-operative game, for sure, and the idea of there being “chase rares” or something is quite bizarre, but for completionists such as myself, it does feel a little irksome that these cards are out there in the wild!


But the issue of promos shouldn’t, and doesn’t overshadow what is otherwise a really fun gaming experience. There’s a lot to enjoy here, from the straightforward deck-building experience, to the way the game builds up from year one through to seven. I think more than anything, though, I enjoy this game so much because it brings my wife, who is not a gamer, to the gaming table with me, and we can spend the entire evening going through each year and having so much fun. Definitely a winner in my book!

Harry Potter

Hey everybody,
So for my blog’s birthday week this year, we’re exploring the wizarding world of Harry Potter, that magnificent series of seven books by JK Rowling that has held so many of us enthralled since the late 90s. With 500 million copies sold, the Harry Potter series is the most successful book series of all time, with the first book in the series clocking in at 120 million copies alone.

Where the hell do I begin with this?! The series needs no introduction, that’s for sure – and I’m not even going to try to provide one! I’m going to proceed with the assumption that anybody reading this is familiar with the story and the characters, as otherwise I’d probably be here all week on this one blog…

The story follows the put-upon orphan Harry Potter, as we move from his life full of drudgery with his aunt and uncle, through his discovery that he is, in fact, a wizard, and the start of his life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In the wizarding world, Harry is quite the celebrity, as the one who caused the downfall of the Dark wizard Lord Voldemort when he was only one year old. Nobody knows quite how that happened, though Harry was left with a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead.

As we follow Harry’s discovery of the world he previously knew nothing about, we learn about the world at the same pace Harry does. Critically, the story is told from Harry’s point of view almost exclusively, allowing certain information to be kept from us until necessary. Most importantly, we don’t understand what it means that Harry has that peculiar scar on his forehead until we get to the final book of the series.

Along the way, though, we learn about the magical world and encounter some of the many peculiarities. One of the most entertaining aspects of the series is comparing and contrasting the magical world with our own, and seeing all of the various substitutes for things that wizards have come up with. A lot of this is shown to us through Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley, who comes from a long line of wizards. As a native to the world, we’re guided through a lot of the more mundane aspects of life at Hogwarts through him. The pair are also friends with Hermione Granger, who was born to non-magical parents but has read every scrap of information that she can find about magic, providing another vector for information to us, the reader.

However, learning about the magical world in general comes somewhat secondary to learning about the mystery surrounding Harry’s life, and the events surrounding his parents’ deaths. As the series develops, we get more information, building up an irresistible puzzle that is only finally solved at the conclusion of the series. Additionally, the series is notable for growing at a pace with its audience, so the 11-year-old who picked up the first book would have matured into an adult by the time of the seventh book, and the storyline grows correspondingly darker and more mature as a result.

Harry Potter

The first three books, while getting progressively darker, nevertheless have something of a lighthearted tone as they start out. I think it’s quite clear to see that, despite the quite fearsome imagery that is described, say, during the Forbidden Forest or the final encounter with Professor Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a children’s book. The story is fairly timeless, as we follow this neglected child in his Cinderella-like transformation into a famous wizard, and see him move from a miserable existence to actually enjoying himself and his life among the wizarding community. It’s quite light-hearted, full of gloriously British humour, with bags of adventure and excitement thrown in. While it quite obviously is part of something larger, it’s also one of the more satisfyingly-complete stories in the whole saga.

As can be expected, book two then begins to delve a little bit deeper into the wizarding world, as we see the dark underbelly of things like House Elves, and begin to explore the more shady side of life when we learn about the so-called purity of magical blood. Turns out, the magical community is a lot more bigoted and prejudiced than the first book would have us believe. Of course, there’s still plenty of humour along the way, and despite it all, there’s still a happy ending.

To my mind, it isn’t until the oppressive atmosphere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that we begin to feel like this isn’t a series of books that is meant purely for children. We still get the comical descriptions of the Dursleys, and plenty more besides, but this is the story where things begin to turn a little dark. The Dementors being physical manifestations of depression is quite a chilling idea, and having these hooded figures with rotting flesh gliding around the school as protection against the notorious mass-murderer Sirius Black leads to quite a grim picture. However, this book is also my absolute favourite of the series. Harry learns so much about his own past, and there’s more than just that abstract sense of “I’m a wizard, I belong here” – instead, Harry feels that pull in the same way that we do, being by now quite invested in the series. Having that connection to his past, first with Lupin, and then with Sirius, it’s the first time that I think we get the sense of really feeling quite at home in this alternative world.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire begins to change everything. It blows the landscape open by introducing the concept of magical education outside of Hogwarts, to say nothing of providing the central turning point of the series by seeing the return of Lord Voldemort to a physical body. The books kept getting longer, and book five is by far the longest of the series. Continuing the theme of expanding the wizarding world outside of one London street and a boarding school, we get to visit both the main centre of magical healing in the UK, and the Ministry of Magic itself. Even book four managed to confine itself, for the majority of the story, to the school; I could be wrong, but I do believe that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has more of its action take place outside of Hogwarts than does within those walls. The storyline, by this point, has gotten pretty huge, but at the same time, we begin to get some significant answers to questions that have been in the background for a while now. While, after five books, A Song of Ice and Fire has gotten so unwieldy as to be ridiculous, Rowling manages here to both refine the story that she’s telling while allowing it that expansion room – the result is nothing short of spectacular, and it continually baffles me how people can say these books are no good.

Harry Potter

The final pair of books feel, somehow, the most adult of the series. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince shows our intrepid hero engaging in some fairly heavy stuff at this point, as Dumbledore begins to really hone him into the weapon that he needs him to be. We also continue that theme of getting answers, as we learn a great deal about Lord Voldemort’s past in an effort to find his weaknesses. We’ve now had six books that have managed to tell a phenomenally detailed, well-constructed and, to top it all, thrilling adventure story that proves, at this point, to basically be one long story split across six books.

If it can be said that the wheels came off this story anywhere, I feel that it is with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Up to this point, as I said, the story is wonderfully linear, despite its epic scope, and you can look back from book six and see quite clearly how things weren’t so much set up, but have just come to be, with a sort of realistic inevitability that is the envy of any author seeking to produce a series of books like this. But then we have the final book, and right away we’re thrown into a story where wandlore is suddenly much more important than we have been given to believe, and an in-universe fairy story is almost the crux of the whole plot.

Now, I’m not trying to say that I dislike book seven – despite it having almost a completely different feeling to it, and there being some ropey parts in the middle where the plot slows down as the heroes try to decide what their first move ought to be, it still manages to provide quite a good closure to the previous six books. I just find myself wishing that we’d been better-prepared for it, somehow, you know? If only Ron had had some cause to compare an adventure to “one of those old Beedle stories”, or if Ollivander had expounded a little more on “the wand chooses the wizard”. It would have helped, I feel, these elements to have felt a little less like they’re tacked-on as a plot device to bring about the resolution to the series.

We do get some element of the importance of wands during the fourth book, when we learn that brother wands will refuse to fight one another. We also know that both Ron and Neville never had much luck with their hand-me-down wands. But the whole thing about ownership and allegiance seems a little too out-of-the-blue somehow. If only Ollivander had said, back in his shop, something along the lines of “your wand will give you its allegiance, though it can switch that allegiance if lost in battle”. I don’t know, but something… The fact that wand lore is so important in the final battle just feels too abrupt, and – dare I say – convenient.

I should hasten to say, however, that I don’t think the ideas of wand lore, or the Beedle stories, are bad. I just think we ought to have had some hint sooner. The idea of horcruxes was given to us in book two, after all – we just didn’t recognise it for what it was. Having merely “the wand chooses the wizard” being the setup for the finale just needs to have been further explored beforehand, in my view, for it to not feel tacked-on.

But hey, I’m just a guy on the internet…

I feel as though I’m beginning to sound too harsh here. The problem, for me, is that the story has been so well-crafted, with such believable characters, and such a phenomenal sense of realism that, perhaps inevitably, we have come to expect such great things from it. The laws of this magical universe have always allowed for things to make sense, as much as you can say a work of fantasy can do so. The plot, while not obvious from the outset, makes sense when you look back on it from the conclusion.

Harry Potter

I’ve read these books so often now, they’re really very much like old friends to me, and re-reading them always feels like something of an event for me. The first five books feel as well-known as the back of my hand, whereas the final two, being a little more recently published, are a little fresher to me. Being so familiar with the storyline, I enjoy reading the books to revel in the details, and ponder all manner of what-if situations – something that tends to rankle with my wife, who is herself a much bigger fan of the franchise than I am! I suppose it’s a problem with the richness of the universe JK Rowling has produced, though – with this much depth, the questions get correspondingly more in-depth. I mean, do Scottish students attending Hogwarts really need to travel to King’s Cross to take the train to Scotland?

I’m just so much of a fan of these books, that I suppose it’s inevitable that I’ll end up picking on these tiny details, and wanting to know more!

Harry Potter!

Hey everybody,
It’s Birthday Week here at spalanz.com, and this week is devoted to that beloved franchise all about the wizarding world, which has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people, young and old, across the globe. Taking off after the first novel was published way back in 1997, it has proven to be more than just an international hit – it’s a force of nature!

Harry Potter novels

I first came to the franchise at Easter 2003, when my folks bought the second film. I don’t honestly remember if I’d watched the first one when it came out, but the folks were having a back-to-back screening in the living room, so I thought I’d see what the fuss was all about. Up to this point, the most contact that I’d had with the series was to read the opening paragraph of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the local Woolworths, and my cynical, teenage hipster self had dismissed it as “kid stuff”.

Well, questionable child acting aside, I actually really enjoyed the films, once I’d gotten into them. There was still an element of teenage cynicism about me, though, so when I decided to read the third book, and see what happened next, I felt as though I had to almost hide this fact from the wider world!

That Easter break, I read and re-read all four of the books that had then been published, thoroughly enjoying myself and the unbelievable immersion the books offer. I was hooked!

This week, I’ll be taking a look, as ever, at a related game, but my focus will firmly rest on the books. As well as offering my thoughts on this beloved series, I thought it might also be fun to go back through some of the fan theories that did the rounds, and we’ll try to briefly look at the new film series, Fantastic Beasts!

Stay tuned!

Suicide Squad and more!

Hey everybody!
After something of a prolonged absence, I’ve been catching up with some DC Comics in the wake of SDCC and all the good stuff coming out of that. I want to do a separate blog on those things, but suffice it to say, I’m finally excited for Suicide Squad, and have started to read the comics!

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Getting in the mood… #DCComics #SuicideSquad

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The first volume, Kicked in the Teeth, is very much an introduction to the team, or at least, to the idea of Task Force X, as we see them go on a few missions that appear to be somewhat unrelated. But at least we get to see the dynamics of the group, which is made up of Deadshot, King Shark, Harley Quinn, El Diablo, and then a rotating cast of additional characters. The book ends with more of an actual storyline, as Harley’s bomb is taken out of her neck early, and she escapes from Belle Reve prison to find out what happened to Joker, having heard that he’s dead. Apparently this is a tie-in to a Batman storyline, but I’ve not read that one yet, so it was a bit of a shock, though I don’t actually believe they’ve killed off such an iconic character, even though we get to see the Gotham PD have his face in a glass frame…

Having known of the team for years, it was pretty good to finally sit down to a story with them and, while some reviews have criticised the book for essentially being a bunch of random missions for the team, it’s definitely worth sticking with it, as these random missions (and group additions) begin to pay off as early as the second book:

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Getting in the mood, part two… #DCComics #SuicideSquad

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Volume two, Basilisk Rising, sets up the main antagonist for the Squad, Basilisk. They’re basically H.Y.D.R.A for DC, having many of the mannerisms of the Marvel villains. Things like this used to annoy me, especially when I’d hear people refer to DC as ripping off Marvel stuff, but the fact is the two companies share a pool of writers, so to some extent we’re bound to see similar ideas crop up. Anyway, rant aside, Basilisk is determined to undermine their future enemies now, before the new world order is in place with metahumans ruling the globe. We’ve already encountered one Basilisk agent in volume one, but here we get more on them. I thought it was a really good book, though it does take a long time to get going, unfortunately, and we have one crossover story with Resurrection Man, a character I’d never heard of before, but was intrigued to find out that Dan Abnett was the writer for that comic! It being a crossover, there is a distinctive disconnect in the artwork as we get the one rogue issue before returning to the main Squad storyline.

Anyhow, volume two connects really strongly to several of the random elements from volume one, such as Captain Boomerang being captured by Basilisk, and King Shark eating Yo-Yo, so it’s worth sticking with volume one, even if you don’t know where it’s heading.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first foray into Suicide Squad, and have a couple more books on the shelf waiting for me to get round to them!

We’ll finish up for today with the first book in the Batwoman line. I thought the opening of this book was really hilarious, as it featured Batman and Nightwing trying to find out who Batwoman is – while I also struggled with the question! There are several members of the Bat-family, of course, and I’ve previously talked about Batwing on this blog, as well as the man himself, and while I was aware of a title called Batwoman (as distinct from Batgirl), I had no idea who she was. Anyway, turns out she’s Kate Kane, a former cadet from West Point academy, the daughter of a military family, but left the service when she came out as a lesbian. After an encounter with Batman that made her realise she too could fight crime in Gotham, she donned the persona of Batwoman.

There’s a lot going on in this book that I wasn’t all that familiar with, namely the Religion of Crime supervillain group and their connection with Kate’s dead sister (dealt with in the book Batwoman: Elegy, from what I can tell). This is somewhat symptomatic of the New 52 series as a whole, which was touted as a perfect jumping-on point for new fans, but still deals with a lot of the established story from back in the day. In this case, it’s not all that bad, as you pretty much get the story of the earlier book, but it does often leave you wanting more. But I digress.

I thought the storyline overall was pretty interesting, as we have Batwoman investigating a series of kidnappings that were perpetrated by a ghost, while she is herself investigated by the Department of Extranormal Operations, in the hope of learning Batman’s true identity. The fact that Kate is shown to be a lesbian superhero is extremely powerful stuff, as this is something I feel is distinctly under-represented in mainstream titles. The fact that Batwoman isn’t relegated to some sideline book but has a prominent place in the lore here is really good. But even leaving all of that aside, Batwoman is a sufficiently complex character to be interesting, and well worth investigating for that!

The Throne of Atlantis

Hey everybody,
I read an awesome comic book crossover yesterday, and have been pretty much buzzing about it since. Back in 2012, the Justice League and Aquaman titles from DC’s fresh New 52 series crossed over in an epic five-part awesome storyline that featured Aquaman facing off against his bother Orm (Ocean Master) as the East Coast of the USA was almost submerged.

It was pretty incredible, let’s just say that from the off. both the Justice League and Aquaman books were written by Geoff Johns at this time, so I guess a crossover was pretty easy to facilitate. Both pick up directly from where they left off, with some hints being dropped in Aquaman especially around the Trench in the previous arc, The Others. In fact, having read the second volume of Aquaman beforehand really helps here, as we see the evolution of the character into a team player, while also showing us Black Manta on the lookout for relics of Atlantis that will become important. His story in The Others echoes the opening of Justice League volume three, where Wonder Woman almost begrudgingly accepts the help of the League in hunting down the Cheetah.

Anyhow!

The story begins with the US Navy on exercises in the mid-Atlantic, and a missile test goes awry, targeting the submerged city of Atlantis. This causes Orm to bring his Atlantean warriors to the East Coast in retaliation – Aquaman guesses his brother is using the first King of Atlantis’ sceptre to cause one of the cities on the coast to sink beneath the waves. Metropolis and Gotham both see heavy casualties in the storms, but Boston is Orm’s true target.

Aquaman and Orm face off, Aquaman trying to show dominance over his brother in order to force the warriors to heed his commands. When Batman tries to intervene, Orm captures most of the League, leaving only Cyborg in the Watchtower to help. Cyborg goes to STAR labs to ask his father to perform an enhancement that will make him able to operate under water, at the cost of a little more of his humanity. Once he’s ready, he activates the JL reserve list of superheroes, including Hawkman and Green Arrow, to defend Boston against the Atlantean forces. Cyborg then travels to the deep waters to rescue his companions, whereupon they discover the Trench has opened, and the demon fish-people from the first Aquaman arc have returned to terrorise the coast as well!

Turns out that Orm was manipulated by a former Atlantis royal adviser called Vulko, who had hoped to engineer to the conflict to restore Aquaman to the throne of Atlantis. Aquaman goes ballistic, imprisons Orm and beats the crap out of Vulko, but ultimately decides he needs to take his place as the King of Atlantis to prevent any further conflict.

The story is just awesome in its scope and execution, and is very definitely worthwhile taking the time to read! The danger for big team stories like these is that some people will inevitably fall short in the course, and while this is certainly an Aquaman story as much as it is a Justice League story, the other members of the League have a lot to do here as well. Chief among them, Cyborg – I’ve always been vaguely interested in this guy, but he’s becoming a really cool character in this series, and it’s really interesting to see his story develop. We also continue the burgeoning romance between Superman and Wonder Woman that began in volume two. In the midst of all this, we still have time to see Black Manta offered a place on the Suicide Squad, and the book ends with Steve Trevor and Green Arrow discussing another of the Darkseid “mother boxes”.

In a storyline as packed to the gills (ha!) as this one, some things are bound to be left out. Green Lantern had already left the team as a pariah in the last book, so it’s no real surprise he’s not here, but we also don’t see Flash, as he’s explained to be dealing with a “primal problem” of his own – presumably, the Grodd storyline from the third volume of his series. Shame, that, as he’s my favourite DC hero, but some things have got to give.

We’re left with Aquaman leaving the surface world, and the final pages are a bit heart-rending as we see him part ways with Mera, but more problematic (for me) is the enlarged team. Another thing I often dislike in big team stories like these is how the make-up will often change; I loved the first volume of Justice League because of the characters it used – since that book, we’ve now lost two of the principal seven players! I’m intrigued as to where we’ll see this go next, of course, but I’m also a little wary of having the team I came to love mixed up too much.

Anyway – Throne of Atlantis was an amazing read, and I think I may delve into the world of DC’s animated movies to see how the storyline fares there shortly! I can highly recommend this book – however, as an aside, both the Aquaman and Justice League collections have the same issues, so you don’t really need to get both books to get the story. I’d recommend getting the Aquaman collection if you had to only get one, because of the additional storyline from his book, but you won’t be totally lost if you pick up just the Justice League book instead!