Fanboy: Planetary

Sometimes you just have to get some ideas out of your head…

Poll Game: Zombie -At the banks of the river

You emerge from the bowels of the snake, fingers clutching at you, hands pulling at you, out onto a road of skulls that stretches ahead of you, crunching underfoot as you drag your swollen, broken foot behind you, stumbling and hobbling forward, bit by bit. Looking back behind you, you see an endless tide of the grey and shuffling dead all following your lead onto the road of skulls, like lambs to the slaughter and you their Judas goat.

The road lights up, bright and stark, the light of heaven itself flaring up in front of you, throwing stark shadows and making you turn your head away as you shuffle on towards it…

What do you do?
Scream to the lights for help.
Drop to your knees and pray.
Give up and turn into the seething mass of the dead. free polls

[Review] Overlord II

I haven’t played the first Overlord so I can’t speak to the similarities between the two games at all. Sequels tend to improve so far as gameplay goes and to get worse so far as story goes, rehashing or destroying what made a game good in the first place. I can’t know with this game so I’m going to examine it as though it stands alone.

It’s always a fun change up to play the bad guy for once, not even an antihero but an actual villain. Overlord II places you in control of The Dark One, a much more hands-on, Sauron-type lord with command over a legion of demonic imps and animals and the ambition to dominate the world by displacing the Romanesque empire that now dominates, along with its fierce hatred of all things magical.

The training level, interestingly, starts out with you as a child, which is a nice conceit for explaining how you learn and grow into your powers by – initially – taking revenge on your childhood tormentors. Things develop rapidly from this point onwards with your character growing up and coming into posession of his more full power, inhereting an inverted tower beneath the earth and full control of your demonic minions. With all that power under your control you can then set about ‘liberating’ the land, starting with your old ‘home’ in the frozen North.

Your expansion brings you into conflict with The Empire, which currently controls these places, their native populations and the supernatural beings of ‘light’, that are hidden – largely – in the sanctuaries, places of hiding protected by the elves and by powerful creatures of light.

You must go out into the world, retake the lands that ancestrally belonged to The Dark One, invade the sanctuaries and build up your power and expertise until you’re ready to march on the seat of Empire… and destroy it.

Primary control is over The Dark One, you run and move and fight, casting spells directly from this main character. In addition to The Dark One you have control over an unruly mob of gremlin-like imps, made up of four types. Browns are combat troops, strong and armed with whatever weapons (and hats) that you can scavenge. They’re the toughest, but have no special abilities. Reds can hurl fireballs, absorb fire and are immune to it. Greens are stealthy ‘ninjas’ who can creep through the shadows and strike from ambush. Blues can turn semi-immaterial and pass through enemies as well as resurrecting deceased minions and absorbing pure magic.

You upgrade your abilities by finding and returning artefacts to your tower, collecting gold and ‘spirit orbs’ that give access to more minions, mind controlling and dominating the locals and collecting mistresses that enable you to redecorate your tower in a number of different ways and grant access to different mounts for the final battle.

You directly control The Dark One and this is fairly standard third-person control without too much finesse. Casting different spells is a little fiddly though, requiring a variety of button combinations in various contexts to the point where I found myself not using them, any of them, other than the ability to dominate people. Controls over the minions are also quite imprecise. You can sweep them around with one thumbstick but it’s not that accurate and swapping between groups of different coloured minions and controlling them all is difficult and frustrating, leading to many unnecessary deaths. The system either needed to be more robust and RTS like, or more simple with greater autonomy for the minions to actually make themselves useful.

This is a comedy game and, as such, plays up to the fantasy stereotypes very nicely as well as contrasting with them interestingly in making the slender elves revere fatness and treating gnomes like rats. The different areas have a nice look to them from frozen hills to jungle ruins, islands and towns but there’s no truly distinctive part or area that makes the game its own and the atmosphere and the story isn’t really enough to overcome the play difficulties.

The graphics are cartoonish, but crude, they get the job done but a bit more refinement and less reliance on making people fat as a means of inducing comedy would have done wonders for the overall look and feel of the game.

A good game that suffers from crude controls and too much repetetive action, to the point where I just couldn’t face finishing it even though I got to the final stage. If it can hold your interest longer then it might be rewarding but I largely found it to be an average game. If you want to really have fun playing evil, find an old copy of Dungeon Keeper.

Style: 4
Substance: 3
Overall: 3.5

Zelart5: Demons

A set of – sometimes adult* – images of ‘classic’ demons for you to use in your personal or professional products, subject to the attached license.

Buy it HERE

*Contains boobs and weiners.

A Response to ‘Gay-Bashing’ Criticism

These guys are serious, me, not so much.
It has come to my attention that some people have objected to the use of the term ‘Gay-bashing’ in the advertising for Call of Chavthulu for Chav: The Knifing. Now, I’m no stranger to controversy and misunderstanding, the book The Slayer’s Guide to Female Gamerswas questioned amongst US distributors who, apparently, were under the misapprehension that it was a guide on how to kill women. Some of the other comedy work I’ve done has been derided or criticised by the overly PC suffering from ‘White Knight Syndrome’ and Hentacle has even been accused of being ‘fetishised child rape’ – which as hyperbolic criticism and over-sensitivity to what’s plainly and obviously comedy has to take the biscuit.Here’s what the advertising/descriptive copy said:

A by-the-numbers expansion for Chav: The Knifing with new Credoz, new Talentz, new Life Templates, new game systems new fluff and advice and new things to beat up because they:

“Looked at me funny.”

All the kind of stuff that could have been put into the main book but wasn’t because either we need more money or because it was too ‘weak-sauce’ to really engage anyone’s interest. This supplement mill lark is a laugh, innit?

All the gay-bashing, cider-drinking, goth-stomping fun you can handle.

Now, this is fairly, obviously, a piss-take, or so one would think. It’s taking the piss out of the RPG supplement mill, it’s taking the piss out of template approach TO the RPG supplement mill and it’s taking the piss out of Chavs. It is obviously satirical and not, actually, a game about beating up homosexuals but about making fun of the very sort of people that do abuse homosexuals. It’s not RaHoWa, it’s not FATAL, if you can compare it to anything it would be Freak Legion where you’re playing retarded, disgusting villains for the thrill and humour in making fun of that very sort of person, or for creating villains for your Bloodsucker: The Angst games.

Writing about Chavs and missing out their paranoia about ‘batty boys’, ‘shirtlifters’, ‘chutney ferrets’ and ‘uphill gardeners’ (don’t taboos throw up a lot of euphemisms?) would be like leaving the dragons out of Dungeons & Dragons.

Even if this explanation doesn’t placate you, keep in mind that you do not have a right to not be offended. At time of posting this explanation, that was still a point being made in the light of the ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ fallout. Freedom of expression is more important than your personal offence, especially if you’re taking offence at something that is, after all, on your side! This isn’t hate speech, it is making jokes at the expense of homophobes and when you laugh at something, when you ridicule something, you disempower it.


Review: Planetary

Hopefully writer Warren Ellis needs no introduction, his body of work and his relentless internet presence should make him known to just about anyone with a remote interest in comics or internet culture. He has an impressive body of comics work, perhaps most notably Transmetropolitan and the initial work on The Authority. Planetary takes place within the context of the Wildstorm universe, but is very much its own ‘creature’.

For me this is Ellis’ magnum opus, delayed, beset by problems and an irregular schedule of releases Planetary is a triumph over adversity. Essentially the books are a product of the millenium, ten years in completion but while those themes have somewhat passed by, the books have remained fresh in part due to Ellis’ constant forward thinking and in part due to the recent success of semi-rebooted comic book films and other re-examinations of the genre.

It’s a comic about comics, about the past, a wry, cynical and yet loving examination of comics and their history through an archaeological metaphor, investigating the world of comics within a comic, updating and examining the strange ideas of the past with the eye of today, albeit a sometimes harsh eye.


Planetary is the story of Elijah Snow, one of the Century Babies, unnatural individuals who share the birthdate of January 1st 1900. Elijah is tough, seemingly immortal, unnaturally strong, unnaturally tough and has the ability to control temperature, freezing things solid in an instant. Snow is also an historian, an archaeologist of the impossible, driven to uncover secrets and to document them, he is the author of the Planetary Guides, a series of books published across the 20th century detailing its hidden and secret history.

As the story begins we know nothing of this, Elijah is a washed up unknown, living in the desert, eating at a shack diner, drinking awful coffee when he is the one approached by the Planetary group, having no memory of his former existence as a part of it, as the driving force behind it. Jakita Wagner, another superhuman and Drums, a living information hub form the other two members of Planetary’s ‘field team’, actively heading up their investigations into the unnatural.

As the investigations continue, Elijah gradually comes to fall back into his old ways, his memories slowly reappearing as he is re-exposed to old cases and the string of discoveries that lead him to his original downfall at the hands of The Four, this world’s equivalent of The Fantastic Four, an evil, selfish grouping, jealous of superheroes who collect secret history themselves, specifically to add to their own power, hoarding it from the rest of humanity.

Planetary’s investigations take us through the fate of this world’s Hulk, Thor, Superman, they touch on the age of the pulp and the weird and mystery fiction of the Victorian age. We mix with ‘Tarzan’ and the secret cities of Africa, we cross ‘the bleed’ to parallel Earths on a macro scale and uncover something just as strange at the micro scale. Planetary romps across comics, science fiction and fantastical ideas that are part of all our popular culture. This is as literate as Moore but more accessible, as good as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but broader in scope and delighting in the popular rather than the obscure.

While Ellis often ends his material on a down note (The failure’s of The Authority or Jenny’s death, the racism in Ministry of Space) Planetary ends on an up note. The vanquishing of The Four is almost a side note to the true story which I won’t spoil, but which is far more human, far more compassionate and ultimately far more satisfying than any whiz-bang, widescreen superhero punch-up could ever have been.

The door is left open for future adventures with the Planetary team, but I almost hope that doesn’t happen as, in the hands of others, Planetary can’t live up to what it has accomplished.

This is an unmissable comic series and the artwork by John Cassaday deserves to be seen in the best format possible. With the release of the second volume as an Absolute Edition, hopefully the first Absolute Edition will get a reprint and you can get both in this format. It’s a shame this series had to be interrupted and delayed so much but the juxtaposition of speculative science and pop-culture nostalgia does make this series essentially timeless and a classic that, to me, deserves to be as widely recognised as Watchmen or The Invisibles.

Style: 5
Substance: 5
Overall: 5

Review: Kraken by China Mieville

China Mieville is one of my favourite authors and has energised the alternative/urban fantasy or the ‘New Weird’ for me as much as Peter F Hamiltion re-energised British science fiction for me. I wasn’t so keen on The City & The City but his Bas Lag novels and his somewhat similarly themed children’s book Un-Lun-Dun are acts of pre-meditated brilliance. Kraken lacks the pure and unadulterated awesomeness of Perdidot Street Station but is much better and more engaging than The City & The City and closer in theme to King Rat, somewhere between that and the Bas-Lag novels in terms of wierdness. Comparisons with the last book I reviewed, Into the Nightside, are likely to be inevitable in the course of this review.

Kraken follows the story of Billy Harrow, a curator at The Natural History Museum in London who begins to get caught up in strange events when one particular specimen, that of a Giant Squid, mysteriously and impossibly vanishes from the museum with no evidence at all of how it came to disappear. Billy is a bit of a cloistered academic, living in a rarefied world of specimen cataloguing and preservation with a special talent for cephlapod preservation – so no wonder that he ends up both suspected and examined by those who take an interest, criminal and mystical in the events.

Initially Billy is a passive victim of events, though he can’t help sticking his nose into them and poking around, wanting to know what happened to his prime specimen. In so doing he gets the attention of a special – if unconventional – police unit who seem to hold onto some very secret and very special information and appear to be a powerful occult organisation. In a flipside to conventional conspiracy lore however, while the government and police do have a handle on the occult, they’re considered a bit of a joke, a relatively ineffectual player in London’s secret, occult underground.

Billy get’s dragged further and further into the strange world of rituals, magick and cults as the story progresses, eventually finding the balls and knowledge to make his own way, even while surrounded by squid-cult berserkers, activist golems and deadly origami experts. Eventually Billy emerges as a hero, embracing the occult and the strange and emerging as a power within that world as the plot surrounding the squid unfolds and the secret war over its pickled corpse bleeds over into the real world.

Parallelling and trailing after Billy’s descent into the weird, like a literature version of a musical round is the story of Marge, partner of one of Billy’s friends – Leon – who ends up killed because of his peripheral involvement. Unwilling to let Leon and Billy’s disappearance go she trails after them and gets sucked into the underworld in a similar manner to the descent of Billy. For me this felt like China playing with our expectations of narrative and bringing an ice-cold shock of the ‘real’ into the fantasy world. Why would a modern woman sit helplessly by like some medieval damsel and wait for the police to solve such a problem? Why couldn’t she get off her arse and do something herself – which she does. While this could have been an afterthough or an overly PC attachment, unnecessary to the novel, for me the ‘echo’ of Billy’s descent reinforces the theme and adds greatly to the overall arc of the story.

There are many great characters scattered throughout the book. Billy is initially a somewhat annoying wishy-washy type but grows and develops over the course of the story in a noticable way that makes you appreciate him. Marge’s doggedness and determination make her an admirable character while WPC Collingswood – a foul mouthed, chain-smoking police witch – is a strong female character that brings some much needed humour and spite into the book, without being a politically correct cipher. Goss and Subby, two of the primary villains, are a little disappointing by comparison to the others, a combination of mute and verbose that’s been done better elsewhere and while both sinister and blackly humorous they never seem to quite gel.

This is a great book and a return to the full-on strangeness that makes China so engaging as a writer, bubbling over with ideas that seem to indicate a return to the energy and inspiration that seemed to be lacking from Iron Council (the last of the three Bas-Lag novels). Comparisons with other urban-fantasy/new weird titles are unavoidable seeing as it has all but become its own genre and, to refer to my last review (The Nightside) this one, while containing over the top action and weirdness, manages to contain it by introducing it bit by bit, rather than cramming your face into it right from the get go. It’s also consistently and constantly obvious that these places, these people, these things are secret – at least normally – and so the strangeness exists within an established context that allows you to maintain your suspension of disbelief much better.

Style: 4
Substance: 4
Overall: 4

Review: Into the Nightside

Simon R Green (Whose name, for some reason always makes me think of I.R. Baboon) is the writer of the Deathstalker and Shaman Bond book series which are notable for their over-the-top action and rat-tat-tat pacing. Into the Nightside follows pretty much the same model as these other books although it is, ostensibly, set in a mirror of our own London, the eponymous ‘Nightside’ of the title. This book collects the first two stories of The Nightside ‘Something From the Nightside’ and ‘Agents of Light’.

The hero of the Nightside books is ‘John Taylor’, a mysterious private eye who normally works in The Nightside. At the opening of the story he has left The Nightside for the real world, where he’s impoverished and not too great at his job – or at least making money from it. Eventually he gets dragged back into his former life in The Nightside by a case that he simply can’t dismiss, one that’s almost designed to appeal to his instincts, a damsel (a rich damsel at that) in distress and an innocent in need of rescuing from The Nightside that he’ secretly missing.

It’s only in the Nightside that his special gift, the ability to see and trace things, any kind of things, is at its power and he can use his unique talents to serve the peculiar clientèle of The Nightside.

The Nightside itself is a dark mirror of London where it’s always 3am, existing alongside the ‘real’ London though The Moon is larger in the sky and the people that hang out there are somewhat… different. The Nightside is inhabited by demons, werewolves, vampires, ghosts and even stranger things that are all looking for a good time, though their idea of a good time may be very different to that of even the most perverted inhabitant of the normal world. This gives the author all the license he needs to throw anything and everything into play in The Nightside and to have all the crazy and unnatural ideas he wants all clashing together in the same place.

Because The Nightside is a separate and divided world from the ‘real’ one this works a lot better than in the Shaman Bond series where we’re expected to believe that all this over-the-top magic, explosions and so on is taking place – relatively uncommented on – in the real and everyday world. However, since it’s established in the Shaman Bond series that The Nightside exists in the same universe as Shaman Bond the point of The Nightside when all that over-the-top nonsense IS taking place in the ‘real world’ becomes rather diluted. When you have UFOs engaged in a long road battle on a motorway, the idea of dark things actually HIDING from society becomes a little ridiculous.

In the second story Taylor is tasked with finding The Unholy Grail, the cup that Judas drank from at the last supper. The problem is that nobody knows where it is and Taylor’s gift, which can usually find anything, can’t trace it, forcing him to rely on more ordinary legwork, friends, contacts and his detective skills in order to track it down before the legions of angels from both heaven and hell, utterly destroy The Nightside. This ramps up the power level of the book all over again which makes me wonder where there is to go!

Simon R Green’s books are enjoyable romps but, unlike with his Deathstalker books, I can’t suspend my disbelief as I can with a whole, new Science Fiction world. The Nightside series occupies a space between the real world of Shaman Bond and the out-there SF goodness of Deathstalker. For me it’s all a little OTT, though more forgivable than Shaman Bond since it’s all contained in its own fantasy world. This whole alternative world or underbelly of occult strangeness seems to be a recurrent theme in a lot of books I’m reading lately and The Nightside series certainly occupies a position on that spectrum, much more to the extreme/Gonzo than, for comparison, Neverwhere.

Style: 4
Substance: 2
Overall: 3

Call of Chavthulu available!

A by-the-numbers expansion for Chav: The Knifing with new Credoz, new Talentz, new Life Templates, new game systems new fluff and advice and new things to beat up because they:

“Looked at me funny.”

All the kind of stuff that could have been put into the main book but wasn’t because either we need more money or because it was too ‘weak-sauce’ to really engage anyone’s interest. This supplement mill lark is a laugh, innit?

All the gay-bashing, cider-drinking, goth-stomping fun you can handle.

Buy it HERE

Poll Game: Zombie – Feet of Clay

There’s no way you can get anywhere with your foot still in this mangled condition, in desperation you gulp down as many painkillers as you think your body can handle, upending an entire bottle of antiseptic onto your foot even as your fingertips start to numb and your vision swims. Antibiotics will have to wait, and you’re no doctor, just a maimed schoolkid separated from anything, everything you used to know. You shake your head and try to chase away the demons, the fear, the sadness.

You scramble to your feat as the baying, moaning dead draw closer, too close for comfort, speeding up and chewing the air as they move in on you. Even hobbling, you’re just a little faster, stumbling, dragging your wounded foot, leaving damp and sticky patches of fluid, antiseptic and blood as you drag yourself along, more and more of the dead seeming to appear out of the broken shop windows and side streets all the time. The painkillers take the edge off, make you issue a strangled giggle, fleeing in a haze as subdued pain, drugs and infection turn the horrifying world into a nightmarish hallucination.

What now?
Run into the mouth of the snake?
Pull the duvet over your head until the monsters go away.
Get your mother and father to help carry you away.
Turn into a cloud of butterflies and escape into the wind. free polls