Friday, 31 May 2013

Top Five Cthulhu Mythos Fan-Films

When it comes to cosmic tales of horror and suspense, HP Lovecraft's nightmarish tales, among those of the other writers who contributed to the universe, are among the originals and best regarded. Still referenced in media today and with a strong fandom, they represent classic tales of horror, science fiction and the use of truly alien godlike beings.

While the mythos has spread to every media from comics to video games, film is something which has always eluded it. While there have been one or two minor productions such as the 1993 Necronomicon and others, few have ever had a big enough budget to do many of his stories. They could not feature truly alien locations or directly adapt things like the original Call of Cthulhu which would need to depict alien gods, horrifying environments and the like. The closest we ever got was a potential adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness, which was promptly cancelled. Reasons for that ranging from similarities to Prometheus to Universal wanting to make it more readily available to younger audiences.

As with many things however, fans have thankfully provided where officially produced material has failed. A fair number of productions from creations in Second Life to live action performances enhanced by animation have been created. Both those trying to put more modern spins on the older tales or trying to remain loyal to the classic narrative and media of the time. Many of these deserve far more attention than they are currently given, so here's a top five list of such productions.

5. Dagon - HP Lovecraft

There's a few obvious reasons why this one is on the bottom of the list, one of which the creator himself admits in hindsight was a major error. The first is the quality of the animation itself. While these are all fan-made productions and you tend to have to be very forgiving of their budgets, Dagon is visibly the weakest of them. Most of the time it's not too bad and only goes wrong when it makes the mistake of showing the monster or using some fairly crude movement. The former being a mistake which the creator of the video himself admitted was a mistake.  

When it utilises only the narrator's voice for the descriptions and still clips to represent the film progressing it works well. Giving the tale the strength of the source material to rely upon and the very disjointed nature of each shot, plus a fairly good voice to use as a narrator, it keeps the strongest elements of Lovecraft's style without the problems of losing the descriptions. Something which was a key element in making the subject matter feel horrific and unnatural. The sound effects are only used to try and enhance the descrptions and compliment them, a decision which works brilliantly here.

It manages to balance out Lovecraft's usual fear of the unknown by telling more than it does show events. Something which would frequently be a huge mark against the film but somehow it manages to work here.

4. H.P. Lovecraft's Nyarlathotep (2001)

The first of the live action productions on this list, Nyarlathotep is one of the more interesting choices for adaptation. Along with the problems involving the titular figure's origins, Lovecraft's insane (even more than usual) descriptions of the environment and his actions made it seem like this would be an almost impossible story to adapt. Whereas at least the other examples on this list stick to locations and situations a reader could comprehend, the entire ending of the tale reads like something which couldn't exist physically in any way. Yet somehow the team behind this film manage it.

Opting to keep many touches dress styles in which would be right at home in the era the story was written, the film has a sense of authenticity to its events and setting. It spends so long constructing the environments and world that it becomes immersive, drawing you in with a unique mixture of the real and supernatural. Something which especially helps this is the mixture of narration and visual devices.

While I might have praised Dagon for sticking primarily to the strength of its source material, this one balances quotes with some fairly good visual explanations. For example, the narrator is seen using a cane and walking with a limp, but uses a silent flashback of his involvement with the first world war to fully explain this. An element which better suited the show don't tell mentality of films than trying to depict mind warping creatures of unreality.
A second, much better example of this would be Nyarlathotep himself. As expected the film shows him on the rise, gaining popularity and interest from the public as we are told of this; but his introduction is used to add further mystery. As the film quotes:

"And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet." 

However it goes a step further by showing him literally rising out of the sands of Egypt in full Pharaoh garb, people worshiping him on his return, and elements of his look being kept even when he takes more contemporary clothing. Something which helps build mystery and suspense quite effectively.

Despite these positives the film does show a few ammature mistakes and its budget on more than a few occasions. Along with some very strange editing choices on occasion, the camera is near constantly overexposed during exterior shots. While this might have been intentional, it's something which quickly becomes quite irritating to watch and becomes continually distracting. Other elements such as Nyarlathotep's beard and a few of the props can't help but look cheap, something which proves to be very distracting even in spite of some fairly good acting and direction. Still, such things are minor flaws and it has easily earned its place on this list.

3. At The Mountains Of Madness - Short Animation Movie

One of the two most recognised names to be adapted on this list, At The Mountains Of Madness was arguably one of the most ambitious to adapt.

While the lacked the issues of the two previous examples, not having to show things which were only scarily effective due to the vagueness of their descriptions, the setting was a big problem. Along with trying to capture a very different looking, very hauntingly described North Pole, everything here was on a massive scale. Alien cities, towering mountains which dwarfed Everest, multiple locations such as caves, camps and ships; it was far more of an adventure than the isolated horror tales of many others. Another was some big pacing problems which are completely at odds with what we know in film today and scenes which would be very expensive to film or animate. Namely things like the dissection of the Elder Thing and similar, very gory and very described, moments. Despite this, the creators of this adaptation managed to make it all work.

The film cuts almost right to the meat of the tale when it begins with the recently unfrozen creatures having escaped and murdered the other encampment. The narration here quickly covers events before moving onto the parts people would want to see the most such as the history of the Elder Things. Showing the impact they had upon the young Earth and the ruins of what remains of their civilisation. Both are depicted in an unnatural state with quite suits the story with an odd combination of CGI and drawn characters and environments, both of which help the feeling of discomfort and uncanny familiarity the story is supposed to give.

The film's core strength however is how much attention has clearly been paid to many minor details. Shoggoths for example were always described as blobs of creatures which could reshape themselves to suit any task but few ever truly showed this. Here we see them not only working but also their creation, the rebellion and even some of the lesser moments briefly focused upon in even the original novel. Aspects which helped to make it feel like the characters exploring the city were looking at the remains of a civilisation, not a series of wars and genetic experiments. Some minor details and expansions to the ending linking in with Lovecraft's famous works also show a lot of care on the creator's part.

Still, with the good comes the bad and in this case it's the CGI. The film's primary maker, Michele Botticelli has some definite talent when it comes to computer generated imagery. While by no means the highest quality of images and with some looking very low resolution at times, he knows how to utilise them to make a scene atmospheric and give events real emotion. Just take a look at his latest film for a good example of this. The problem here is that the CGI for the snow, planes, artic and on occasion the shoggoths look surprisingly bad. These are all elements which would be hard to deliver convincingly but they fail to truly capture the same atmospheric nature as the city or corpses and have the unfortunate habit of dragging you out of the moment. The same also goes for the english translation which, having originated from youtube, has more than a few typos and minor goofs in them.

As with the others on this list however, the good ultimately far outweighs the bad and it's a loyal, extremely well crafted, adaptation of a great tale.

2. The Call of Cthulhu

Easily the best known adaptation on this list, The Call of Cthulhu takes a very different approach to its subject matter than the others. While a few more on this list take certain traits and aspects from the story's era to enhance their quality, the creators of this film ultimately looked at the media of that time. Creating something in the same vein as King Kong or a vast number of silent horror films, ones set on a big enough scale to suit the story which introduced Cthulhu but excuse bad effects. Well, clearly bad physical effects which manage to keep the charm of the original.

The strength of the film is obviously the charm of the old style it has been done in, silent and black and white, but also the fact the creators clearly knew what they were doing. Something all too often not recognised is that there's a specific style silent films need to be done in. A specific manner in how actors have to perform their roles, the film is set up and even the colours are chosen. You can't just have people sitting around talking and then cutting to cards because it will look very still and boring, they need to be alive and selling their performance in far more active ways. Similarly you can't just go with authentic colours for clothing and scenes because of the monochrome style in which it will be presented, with tones and shade having to be completely redone.

A further bonus is that while the horror element is definitely toned down the suspense and creepiness of many scenes is still present. Preserved in spite of the very different format the film has and lacking even a basic narrator to make use of Lovecraft's descriptions to enhance the film's quality. Even Cthulhu himself, the aforementioned intentionally bad special effects bonanza, manages to get a few decent moments where he comes across as genuinely frightening.

The big flaw here of course is the style in which the film has been made. Many people have trouble adjusting to films without sound or using subtitles for dialogue, something which breaks up the pacing of many scenes and drags out the film. It takes some considerable getting used to and means the film will not appeal to certain people. That being said it's still the most acclaimed adaptation on this list and has been near universally praised at film festivals, as such it's definitely one for fans of the original material.

1. HP Lovecraft's The Shadow Out Of Time

This might seem a curious choice to many. The aforementioned examples each have many strengths over this one. Whether it be in terms of the setting, the effects or the sheer concept driving it, the previous examples do each have an edge over this one. However, it's the one which takes many of these elements to a much lesser degree and blends them together. Incorporating them far more effectively and creating something which is basically the jack of all trades on this list.

It utilities the authenticity of the settings, mixture of animated and still scenery, a full narration, physical effects and almost everything listed above. Even the intentional cheesiness of some of the monster effects and the settings are present, stop motion animation, as is the authentic style of filming Call of Cthuhlu had at points. Right from the beginning to the end it displays affection to both the ideas and the settings of Lovecraft's mythos with the story style, the execution of ideas and the hint of things unknown utilised to evoke emotions.

Among the strongest elements within this tale is the narration which displays a level of conviction and delivery above that of the previous examples. Trying to give further emotion to the events the protagonist has experienced and the horrors he has witnessed. Something only helped by the settings and immaculately detailed backdrops which show far more of a world than many previous examples. Giving the impression of a truly vast landscape even in the presence of the almost comical looking Great Race of Yith. 

The pacing of the story is also extremely even and never feels as if it is rushing or skipping events in the effort to contain the story within a comparatively short running time. Exploring each idea in turn to its fullest before moving on, establishing concepts before they are fully explored and giving the idea of a truly vast universe. While it does lack the visual battles and continual scope At The Mountains Of Madness presented, the varying settings and displays of different eras help to truly sell what the story is exploring.

As a result of this and balancing many of the best elements of the above films near perfectly, it is the best among these. One I have yet to see surpassed from the fan productions featuring the stories and races of H.P. Lovecraft's creations.

So those are the top five fan films featuring the frightening Cthulhu Mythos. Ones which, personally, reflect the fear of the unknown, the format of each tale and unnatural races the best. Many of you likely have your own suggestions as to which tales are superior or even which ones deserve far more attention, as such feel free to suggest them in the comments. Otherwise I hope you have enjoyed this list and the films they have featured.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Knights of the Old Republic - Tenth Anniversary Celebratory Release

One of the single most beloved and most celebrated titles with the Star Wars brand, Knights of the Old Republic is a title known to almost everyone. Famous for its stunning reveal, memorable characters, exploration of an unseen era in that universe; it's more than earned its place among all time classic RPGs. At almost ten years old now the game has been re-release to celebrate its approaching anniversary.

Set four thousand years prior to the events of the Phantom Menace, the game follows the story of an ensemble of characters as they attempt to halt the relentless advance of the Sith Empire. With the Jedi Order and Republic military being pushed back at every turn, they must find and destroy a weapon known as the Star Forge before it can be used against them. Granting the Sith military total dominance and dooming the known galaxy to their rule.

Having been adapted by Mac games developer Aspyr, KOTOR is now available for download as an app on the iPad. The game is stated to have been upgraded to contain various UI enhancements to make use of the touchscreen, along with efforts made to retain a similar experience to the original despite the different platform. Both the graphical quality and far reaching quests have been preserved, with it taking up 1.98GB of memory and requiring iOS 6.0 or higher to run effectively.

Elizabeth Howard, Aspyre's Vice President of publishing had this to say on the matter: "Being able to bring one of the most beloved Star Wars games to iPad for such a momentous event is an incredible honor, (...) We have a long history at Aspyr of bringing the best games to Apple platforms, and as bona fide fans of the original release, we've worked to ensure that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for iPad lives up to its prodigious reputation."

The game can be bought from here for $9.99, with further technical information and screenshots displaying the title's quality.

Halo: Glasslands (Paperback Review)

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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Halo: The Cole Protocol (Book Review)

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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Shadowrun: Party Shuffle - 03/04/2013

Now here ladies and gentlemen is where things get interesting.

Following on directly where we left off, while circling around the party Killbo suddenly gets messaged something very threatening. Briefly explaining that "they" want to meet him out back and have Amoral held hostage, it goes on for several lines listing various forms of torture which will be used if he does not come. Apparently involving everything from unusual use of potato mashers to removal of limbs.

Mistaking this for Balrog for several minutes, in part due to the GM using the Balrog voice to read it out, Killbo exited the hall preparing for a rumble. Contacting Leona to follow him, he briefly caught sight of her downing every drink she was carrying and then going for refills. At the rate she does go through drinks in these sessions, it will take divine intervention to prevent her becoming an addict. Bluffing his way past the guards at the party's entrance Killbo tried to sneak inside, gun drawn. Botching his roll terribly, the dwarf kicked in the door and found himself with a revolver pressed against his forehead. Holding it was the suspicious orc from before.

Thankfully the situation more or less diffused itself. Holstering his weapon the orc, Nifty, seemed more interested in talking than trying to bump off competition. Having been discussing  old times with Amoral, he was far more concerned about exactly what we were doing here. Eventually exchanging information, mostly due to heavy hints that none of us would leave alive otherwise, we learned that the other shadowrunners were there for assassinations. Specifically to kill Hedges, the drake in charge of the building. Avoiding the fact that this was the exact thing our group been told not to do we eventually just agreed to try and stay out of one another's way.

Right at the end of this, directly before we left again; Leona finally turned up, handed out drinks and then headed back to the party. The GM had absolutely no plan for her involvement in this scene so we just ended up with more alcohol.

Heading back to the party, handing a bottle of champagne to a very confused guard, Killbo proceeded to try and track down everyone again. Amoral being permitted to head back to his own undercover duties moments later. Spending a good five minutes looking for each person we eventually spotted most of our targets:
Barton and Lansdale were both in one guarded corner of the room surrounded by personal guards. Doctor Beaumont was speaking with Hedges, also surrounded by armed guards, this time from Aztechnology. No approaching them any time soon. Ergu was at the bar along with Hendrick, the latter drowning his sorrows out of sheer terror. Of Hoda and Llewellyn there was no sign.

What was more interesting was how certain people were behaving in the crowd. Specific groups were sticking together, not socialising and most mysteriously seemed to be avoiding becoming involved with anything. All the while looking very jumpy and extremely nervous.

Following one of said nervous individuals departing from the party, Killbo shadowed him out of the hall. After a long walk through the hallways, completely bereft of guards, he found the individual with another man. The two were the in middle of priming a something the size of a small desk with bleeping lights and words like "connected the red wire" being used. No prizes as to what this was.
Promptly bludgeoning the duo unconscious, Killbo called for security and after a few rolls managed to disarm the bomb. The more concerning matter now was why the hell such a heavily secured building seemed to have been left completely undefended on a few specific floors.

As this was going on Amoral was trying to find out more about the centre and discover a few locations which might be of use. With access to an internal map and making use of his hacking skills he began to try and piece together hints and ideas of what could be in a few of the unmarked rooms. Also what the upper two out-of-bounds floors might be being used for besides their official roles as offices and staff lounges. Before long he'd managed to discover that Room 72 was being occupied by someone who had recently arrived, but were not on the guest list. From what he could tell it was likely Llewellyn lurking there.

Heading back to the party Killbo was asked to head for reception and speak to Venne. While nothing out of the ordinary, she had found out he was going to be there from Camelot mercenaries and was calling in a favour. Mayweather had missed the last few reports and as their only major tech expert, and no magic experts with them, she wanted to make sure everything was fine. Agreeing to this the dwarf put down the phone. One infuriated explanation via the GM later, preventing more derailment, Killbo was calling her back to say "Wait, what do you mean they have no magic experts?"
Yeah, from the looks of things it seemed Mayweather was either hiding something or more likely had been replaced by someone. Atop of a bomb threat we now had a potentially hostile impostor commanding the centre's only exterior defenses.

With Venne managing to strong-arm Killbo into being permitted to exit the building and explore the grounds, the dwarf scouted out the merc camp. Between his keen deductive skills and every person in a Camelot uniform shambling around like zombies, it was safe to say they were being mind controlled. An earth spirit loaned by Leona shed more light on the situation with additional snark. It detected a strong magical presence coming from Mayweather's tent confirming he was in control, using a talisman around his neck to manipulate them. Worse still the spirit, being the more intelligent of the two, suggested that Hedges was likely in on this. After all, they'd been meeting daily and as another powerful magic user he would have sensed something was out of place.

Unable to assassinate Mayweather's impostor or attack him without taking on the whole camp, Killbo made the rare intelligent decision to fall back and report on his findings. The Venne's lot couldn't do much, but they could at least be warned of what was going on. Even racing at full speed however, they would only arrive at the very end of the final day.

Sticking to our assigned job, Amoral found somewhere private and entered World of Fantasy. A massive MMORPG which one specific scientist we needed to recruit was an avid player of. Arriving outside the dungeon the group was about to raid, he found the scientist's lot arguing among themselves. With our fire pizza having done its work they were left one man short. That's all Amoral was able to find out, before botching an infiltration roll so badly he didn't so much step on a twig as knock over a tree. Finding himself confronted by several highly leveled players armed to the teeth, Amoral passed himself off as a friend of the player we'd rendered unconscious. 

He then tried to join the group by showing off his 1337 skillz.

Failing to summon a huge sprite twice after the group argued between themselves, he eventually succeeded in summoning one so hard it turned his pistol into a howitzer. Despite obliterating the front entrance of the dungeon, not only did none of the group notice but they were considering getting rid of him due to eavesdropping. Things eventually got so bad we just had to skip recruitment and claim he convinced them "off-screen".

A giant figure called the King projected himself into the clouds above to them their quest. After some overblown exposition to recover a cure, kill the Lich King Lord and a reward table they were off. Their first task? Fight their way through three levels of the dungeon against a few billion minions. Initiating Operation Run Like Hell, the party sprinted through the mobs trying to just blitz through them and get to the portal at the end rather than get bogged down fighting. This proved to be fairly effective as, besides one person effectively having their arms ripped off by a golem, they broke past with no casualties.

Back in the real world, Killbo and Leona met up to try and deal with their current issue. With Amoral having passed on word of where their target was, the two of them headed to Room 72. They needed to kill Llewellyn before he gave away any of their client's info to Aztechnology, preferably taking back said info. The sooner he was dealt with the better.
Unfortunately for us, it seemed someone had gotten to him first.

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SCP-426 Film Seeks Funding

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Wrath of Iron (Book Review)

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Soul Drinkers: Redemption (Book Review)

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The Soul Drinkers series is one which is generally either hated or held in low regard. While not as universally reviled as the things produced by Goto it’s definitely has more arguing its flaws than praising what it gets right. While many problems can be excused by various fan theories and ideas, there’s little to deny the execution was less than stellar. Much of this comes down to Ben Counter himself flip-flopping on the direction it would take and the conclusion more than anything else. That being said, it’s rarely judged fairly. Few critics ever seem to reference any events beyond the final pages of Soul Drinker however, so how is the trilogy as a whole? Let’s find out.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Soul Drinker (Book Review)

This book isn’t that good. While not the worst thing Black Library has ever published it has very distinct problems in pacing, direction and general logic.

Set in the dying days of the forty-first millennium (no change there) the Soul Drinkers are active throughout the Imperium. A fleet based chapter with a glorious history, their acts have been well documented and their deeds remembered. From the dark days of the Second Founding to helping end the mad reign of Goge Vandire, they have fought to defend humanity from the horrors both within and without.

Yet for the first time in thousands of years they find themselves with an opportunity to regain that which was lost.

The Soul Spear, prized weapon of Rogal Dorn himself has been uncovered on a rogue star fortress among a collection of relics. Racing to take back this artifact of a bygone age, the Soul Drinkers do not realise that they are being easily manipulated for greater goals…

The crux of the problem here is in the introduction. You know the Soul Drinkers are being manipulated right from the start and it’s increasingly clear that it’s not by natural forces. This eventually reaches the point where the words “THIS IS A TRAP” might as well be floating over their heads or carved into their skin. While some ignorance might have been acceptable due to distractions and what we learn later on it definitely could have been better handled.

Up to the point where Sarpedon, the Librarian protagonist, duels their Chapter Master their actions are just about believable. After they start gaining mutations, calling them blessings of the Emperor, and perform actions like blowing up their fleet it’s much harder to accept. This isn’t helped by many of the often mind-numbingly bland characters.

The cast needed to either show aspects which could be latched onto for Chaos to influence them or sympathetic personalities. Ones diverse or varied enough to keep interest amongst the marines, but we don’t really have either here. While Luko, Lygris, Graevus and Tellos work well others like Pallas, Sarpedon, Givrillian and others do not. This is especially problematic as many require you to care about them or at least appreciate what they are saying, especially in Sarpedon’s case. He’s written some sort of warrior philosopher you’re never given a real reason to care about him or want him to succeed. While his actual decisions, fights and thoughts might be interesting he lacks that edge to make him truly interesting. Unfortunately many of the non-astartes secondary characters are no better, either seeming very bland or come across as blanks. The captains of the ships, Arch Magos Khobotov and the minor sects worshipping the Architect of Fate all lack any real attachment. Some have aspects which should work but they aren’t pushed far enough.

The problem with the limited characterisation is that Counter tends to give every character a history. While this can help to make the universe feel bigger, it tends to bog down the narrative and doesn’t really add to them.  Worse still, the same thing goes the same way for the Soul Drinkers chapter itself. The army was retconned into being a creation of the Second Founding, specialises in boarding actions and has a unique doctrine they follow. For all this nothing is really given to set them apart from any other force. Had this been intentional, showing even an extremely codex adherent chapter falling easily, this might have worked, but the Soul Drinkers are an atypical force within the imperium. The only time when this is used effectively is one particular Chaos champion, largely due to the author’s descriptive capabilities with mutations and unnatural phenomena.

The book contains plenty of decent writing along with the bad, but it’s usually reserved only to the scenery descriptions and mass violence. There are some explosive battle scenes from the opening purging of the star fortress to the final battle on the Soul Drinkers’ new base of operations. Each one is given a vastly different flavour than the last and enough unique features to make them truly stand out. Plus it’s not every book you end up getting both orbital battles, giant zombie sharks and a beach assault all within a few chapters of one another.

The descriptions of the worlds corrupted by Nurgle and overrun by viral strains fester in your mind, with clouds of bloated flies and decaying horrors littering shorelines. Minor details from the disturbing warmth of the sea to the blackish sand all are delivered in a fascinatingly disturbing way. The ships the book is often set on are portrayed rightly as labyrinthine corroding nightmares and aged tombs as much as they are vessels of war. A fittingly gothic feel which captures the darkness the series was going for and, even when the book is at its weakest, such descriptions help to keep some interest.

The real killer in this is the tone. Ending on an oddly hopeful note and with the continual promise of improvement, Soul Drinker finds itself at odds with its own subject matter. This is likely due to Ben Counter’s change from having them fall, corrupted and willingly in servitude of daemons, into survivors. Clinging to life on the edge of the imperium through sheer determination and skill while all turn against them. It doesn’t capture the bleak nature or outlook of their lives and the bittersweet losses ensued with each victory. Despite being written with enough blood, loss and betrayal to be A Song of Fire and Ice 40,000 it’s almost positive in its final scenes with the Soul Drinkers’ eyes finally opened.

It’s clear why many people dislike the series if this was their introduction. Both with continually awkwardly shifting in locations, predictability and weaponised plot driven stupidity it’s a rather poor novel. Despite some good action, fast pacing and some genuinely great one liners it’s a bad introduction into a much better saga.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

5 Heroes Worth Seeing In Avengers 2

With the Second Phase of Marvel's film franchise now fully underway, a few people are already discussing who will be in the line-up for Avengers 2. A few estimated guesses can already be made as to who will be in the sequel. With Luke Cage apparently showing up in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s series and Winter Soldier being in Captain America's next film there's no shortage of heroes. That's not even mentioning those we already have in side roles or rumored to show up in the near future.

Beyond that there's an entire universe of heroes, villains and ideas which could be used for the next Avengers films and even those beyond them. So which ones deserve to be introduced and given more focus? Here's a few options. Please note before we begin though, these are limited to those who currently have little or no involvement. Those who have been confirmed to have films of their own coming up or will soon be introduced aren't a part of this. Hence why Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, Quicksilver and Wasp aren't listed here.

5 - War Machine

Who Is He? If you've not seen the Iron Man films War Machine, now called the Iron Patriot, is Iron Man's counterpart in the American military. While in the comics James Rhodes largely served as Tony's right hand man and a great supporting character his role in the movies seems to have given him a bit more independence. Their relationship being friendly but considerably more fractious than what we've seen before.

Why Should He Be In It? Honestly, why not? It was something of a surprise not to see him make any kind of appearance in Avengers and there's little reason more can't be done with him. His powers are close enough to Iron Man's not to require vastly different designs or thought while still having his own style, there's a talented actor playing his role, and Iron Man 3's ending should only make him even more of an option.

Furthermore unlike the other heroes he has close ties to the military and governmental organisations beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers showed a brief opportunity for there to be tension between the heroes and Nick Fury's lot, and it would be interesting to have someone else potentially siding with them. Someone who, as much as I liked Black Widow and Hawkeye, is more of a powerhouse who can go toe to toe with Thor and Cap.

Much like Tony however, Rhodes has been shown to upgrade his armour in more than a few different ways ranging from the colour scheme to his shoulder mounted cannon. Despite this we've seen him in actual combat only once and the films have given him little time or focus. Iron Man 3 in particular shoved him so far into the background that the writers seemed to be bending over backwards to make sure he had no involvement within the plot.

4 - The Sentry

Who Is He? A forgotten part of Marvel's history, the Robert Reynolds was a very twisted version of DC's Superman. Powerful beyond reckoning, his powers are limited by two things: his personal demons and mental instabilities, and the being known as the Void. His own dark side and mass murdering counterpart, which he tried and failed to destroy when seemingly renouncing his powers and erasing all memory of him from the world.

Why Should He Be In It? I already know this is going to spark some very negative reactions but just hear me out. While the inception of the idea behind the character was flawed, retconning him into being the most important character in all of Marvel history, there was some potential behind him. He had a few fans initially and his involvement with World War Hulk being one of the highlights of that comic. However, things quickly went downhill once Brian Michael Bendis got his hands on him. Whatever your opinion on the author, he's definitely very tone deaf when it comes to certain charactisations. Just look at how he wrote Doctor Doom.

Along with having him join Norman Osborn as he took over the world and becoming his personal mass murdering attack dog, Bendis didn't do a good job with any aspect of him. The Sentry's backstory was changed, revised and re-edited more times than can be counted for no real reason. Only succeeding in making him more confusing and causing readers to hate the character. His personality also went from severely ill, struggling but ultimately sympathetic hero into a callow, easily manipulated, drug addicted, borderline-sociopath. This was only made worse with his send off Sentry: Fallen Sun, which was not only poorly written but was insulting to nearly everyone involved. Especially Rogue.

By this point everyone reading Marvel seems to be just thankful he's gone. The problem is he isn't and Marvel is apparently bringing him back yet again.

The films have served as a means to give certain characters attention and allow them to be renewed in a good light in the past. Iron Man's film was released at the time when he'd been turned into a militaristic dictator who was imprisoning people in hell without trial. After people who watched that film tried to read the comics, and not liking the vastly out of character actions, Marvel suddenly shifted gears. Turning Stark from someone who was a monster to someone who was at least sympathetic and fighting a bigger evil. If they stuck to the original idea and did away with the nonsense Bendis added and the retcons of his funeral, It could be a chance for a new beginning. An opportunity to actually have the ideas behind him work and not turn into a badly written villain. Or for them to try to insert him into secretly being vital in defeating every villain ever.

Away from the comics though, on screen Sentry would be an additionally good character and an interesting problem for the heroes to deal with. It would be easy to imagine the movieverse S.H.I.E.L.D. to imprison him over risk of the Void or keep him hidden but consider using him if a big enough threat showed up. Or for them to have considered approaching him in the past but felt he was too risky, even in the face of Loki's invasion.

I'll freely admit this could be just my wish to see the idea behind the Sentry done well, but it just seems there is some decent potential behind him.

3 - Captain Marvel

Who Is She? Originally known as Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers was once an officer within the United States airforce who was caught in an accident with an alien device. Having originated from the Kree, the device gave her all of their powers from solar energy projection to super strength and flight. After the death of the latest Captain Marvel she assumed the title of the Kree hero out of respect and the desire to see the name continue.

Why Should She Be In It? With that last hint of Thanos in the last film, not to mention the Guardians of the Galaxy being on the horizon, it's obvious Marvel's moving to show things on a bigger scale. To help explore some of the more galactic aspects it needs to incorporate a few heroes with alien origins or powers to make this feel more natural. Captain Marvel is one of the best examples of this as she balances the two out, having human origins and aspects but is tied close enough to some unseen aspects of Marvel's alien empires to make use of them. Perhaps altering her origins slightly or experiences could have her be more knowledgeable about the universe beyond earth and help to confront future threats.

Many aspects of her comic counterpart's past and events could also be used to explore a few more details. Perhaps strengthening the introduction of mutants or the possibility of a superhuman arms race between nations as seen in the Ultimate universe. Given how much of the film have been base upon the Ultimate universe, minus the stupidity or unrelenting bleakness, it wouldn't be a surprise to see. It might also offer a chance to have the board of silhouetted sinister figures to have more involvement if one of them was behind her gaining the powers in the first place.

Plus having another character with flight, super strength, endurance and the ability to fire energy beams is never a bad thing to see in a huge fight.

2 - Adam Warlock

Who Is He? Another characters with ties to the universe beyond Earth in Marvel, Warlock is an artificially created human originating from earth. Unlike Captain Marvel however, he has fewer ties to his homeworld and less understood cosmic powers; along with ownership of one of the Infinity Gems. His curse is that he is seemingly fated to become his arch nemesis, Magus, in his future.

Why Should He Be In It? This is again a character suggested due to having fewer ties with earth, but he also has a closer connection to the direction the story is going in. Best remembered for the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, Warlock's character is often associated with Thanos and would be able to deliver some of the exposition of who exactly he is. Furthermore if the Infinity Gauntlet is intended to be used in a future plotline, it would be criminal to write it without his involvement. Plus, again if we're going in the superhuman arms race direction, his origins would fit in well with that theme.

Another interesting aspect is Warlock's manipulative abilities and scheming, being willing to sacrifice others in the name of the greater good if need be. Given what we saw from Nick Fury during the Avengers it would be interesting to see the two stuck working together and the possible power play which might go on between them.

The only problem is that being one of the universe's more outlandish characters, it might be hard to sell him to audiences. People thought Thor was going to be hard, so Warlock with an extensive background and involvement with everyone from the High Evolutionary to several major powers might be a step too far.

1- Black Panther

Who Is He?  King of the technologically advanced but isolationist nation of Wakanda. An extremely skilled fighter with a genius level intellect and master strategist, he's a match for Captain America in combat. Only that he additional edge of his scientific understanding and access to a uniform weaved with, and weapons made of. vibranium. 

Why Should He Be In It? Besides the above? It would be easy just to say "track down anything Christopher Priest wrote about the character" or something similar but you probably want some actual reasons.

The first among these is that he offers something the other heroes don't - The idea that Earth still has secrets which are unknown to them. If Wakanda was introduced, due to its high tech nature and how heavily the movieverse is based off of the real world it would undoubtedly be kept secret from everyone else. It would be the only real way to make sure people who would exploit it weren't slavering over trying to get hold of the advanced tech or industrialists like Stark hadn't even heard of it.
Much like Namor would if he were introduced it would give the idea that rather than everything unnatural didn't have to come from the stars. Rather than coming from Asgard, the higher dimensions or far beyond the solar system; advanced tech or unknown empire were already of Earth. Something which would definitely shake up the Avengers and even S.H.I.E.L.D. if they didn't know of Wakanda.

Rather than looking outwards for signs of an threat above, they would suddenly have to look for an threat from within.

Panther's presence would also give a chance for more of a variety among the superheroes, showing they existed outside of America and the possibility of one even taking power. Well, taking power and not going insane from it. Let's face it one of the big concerns which seems to keep coming up is "What if these people with all these abilities took charge?" and turning them into monsters. It would be good to see one example on screen of one remaining benevolent.

Still, these are just personal choices and mostly based upon how good they would be at expanding the universe. If you have ideas or choices of your own who you think deserve to be in the next Avengers film or as focus characters in the future, please list them in the comments section.

Shadowrun: Getting Down To Business - 27/03/2013

So, where were we?

Ah yes.

Ahem. Previously on Shadowrun:

Having been hired by the mysterious Mr. Johnson, the shadowrunners Killbo Fraggins (dwarf infiltrator and gunman) and Amoral Ray (technomancer and general-person-of-tech-extraordinaire) are called into action once again. Paired up with Leona (shape-changer, magic expert and only person with a sane name) they are tasked with infiltrating a science conference and recruiting/assassinating/convincing several major heads of various fields to join Johnson's corp. After rescuing one scientist they previously encountered on a preceding mission, the group make preparations and plans to infiltrate the conference. This involved burning down half of Seattle while it rained with meat, Amoral's hatred with his neighbor breaking out into open war, creating fire possessed pizza, and Killbo becoming a doctor of hollistic medicine.

After several days of operations they infiltrated the sewers. Following several tense moments, and a prolonged firefight with a guardian spirit, Leona and Amoral infiltrate the building under a cloak of invisibility. Killbo returned to the surface after giving  a large chunk of his equipment to them, preparing to infiltrate the centre in a pre-arranged manner...

Quickly cleaning himself up from the engagement in the sewers, Killbo readied himself for a more formal infiltration by going in through the front gate. Being the only one who could enter officially under a pre-arranged fake identity, he was to serve as a security consultant for Novus Prospect. Unfortunately however, it turned out that the major Novus representative had learned of their reputations five minutes before Killbo arrived. Immediately taking him to one side the group's leader, Hendrick, begged the dwarf to keep the team out of things and not get them all killed. None of the others knew of the shadowrunners' involvement and were innocent. Calming him down, Killbo promised to leave them out of everything and put none of their lives at risk. 

This put him at ease enough to focus upon his job.
Killbo's next actions utterly demolished any pillar of faith, calm or hope they would return from the conference alive.

Shortly after boarding the bus and while on their way to their conference, Killbo learned that his fake I.D., also John Smith, had been described as "bombastic, loud and confident". BRIAN BLESSED ensued, terrifying the poor unfortunates trapped inside the bus with him and making Hendrick look like he was about to keel over from heart failure. Pretty much as good a start as we would have hoped.

Amoral and Leona meanwhile were sorting out things at their end. Stealthing around the inside of the building, pillaging from the kitchen whenever possible, they decide to try and set up a safe-house of sorts. Somewhere to operate from and run to in times of trouble. With neither being particularly fond of the centre's secret underground lair, Amoral opts to use his hacking skills to look for unused rooms. 

Heading up and out of the basement, Amoral lurked in the centre's ground floor restaurant and began to search for nodes. It didn't take long to find out he needed to gain access from a better location and, hacking on the fly, picked up the location of an office on the second floor.

At about this time the bus arrived. The now healthily paranoid scientists, more afraid of their bodyguard than the million or so potential bomb threats he'd listed on the way there, filed out. Gazing up at the Carl Sagat Memorial Centre for the first time, they were quickly directed by various security guards to some nearby tents. Removing most armaments any of them were carrying, disabling Killbo's in-built grenade launcher temporarily via security lock, the group was quickly sent through. Only Killbo had been able to smuggle a silenced pistol inside.

So far so good.

Meeting up with the invisible duo in the main foyer Killbo was signed his psudonym in the register,only to learn about a previously unknown "meet and greet". One between every security person who had arrived and Hedges, the man in charge of the building's security and the one person we were ordered point blank to avoid. The only good thing is that this was a mass speech to all of them, not a series of one-on-one meetings.

As Killbo was dragged off to listen to a very dangerous man for a few minutes, Amoral's further searches uncovered that the upper levels had been locked down due to "contamination". After some planning with Leona he heads up to the office to both insert them into the register of catering staff and find an empty room. After using his e-sense for a few moments to be certain their are no cameras, apparently forgetting he was invisible, he unlocked the door and slid inside. Making a bee-line for the nearest terminal once inside, his actions unfortunately caught the briefest of attentions by the enemy guards.

Taking a seat at the back of the large conference room reserved for the brief meeting, Killbo watched as events played out with a few familiar faces appearing among the crowd of bodies. Amidstt these was an orc who seemed to be trying to avoid looking in Killbo's direction in any way, the same one who had been there at the dwarf's brief recon of the place.
Not needing to wait long, a trio of figures soon emerged in the centre of the room ready to speak. A figure in combat fatigues of the mercenary unit Camelot, Mayweather, was the only one immediately recognisable. As for the other two, one was a hulking troll who was more machine than man while the other was a slender, blonde elf who seemed somehow "off" in a way.

As Leona joined him, Killbo asked her to look at the figures, the suspicious and the official, to see what she could learn of them. While the hulking cybernetic brute could barely be registered in any magical sense, Hedges was glowing like a halogen lamp. Leona clearly seeing him as a lizard with wings, engulfed within a bright light. So bright Mayweather's own magical presence was almost completely blocked out by it. It turned out that he was a drake.
No small wonder that Hedges had told us to keep away from him. Any direct fight against him would likely result in our deaths.
The orc meanwhile was clearly being protected magically by someone else, the question now being just who. Unfortunately Leona could tell little beyond that, glitching a roll so badly she initially believed him to be a "Tibetan Mountain Dog and a lost brother from a second life."

As this was going on, Amoral was well into hacking the node and about to meet some trouble. Going for an admin account on the security terminal, his efforts were quickly interrupted by an IC program. As it logged a security alert, manifesting as a growling bulldog, Amoral entered cyber-combat against it along with a few of his sprites. While ducking its opening attack, the second one clipped him causing Amoral a sizable amount of damage. Something which, being a technomancer, manifested in stun damage for him.

Giving his personal attack sprite the orders to "kill this fucking thing," Amoral unleashed it upon the program in a vicious counter attack which completely missed. The IC program wasn't so lucky the next several times and for the few seconds following the sprite proceeded to rip it limb from limb, Amoral added his and Leona's names to the list. The program proved to be an unsurprisingly persistent bastard however, within moments "respawning" to unleash hell upon the one who had beaten it.
The security guards also entered at this time, guns drawn and searching for anyone who might have been invisible. Thankfully for him, the tap on his shoulder which followed a second later didn't come from one of them but Leona. Having left Killbo a minute before and with little else to do she opted to meet up with the hacker. The shape-changer quickly proved to be her usual  helpful self.

Amoral: "Why didn't you try to help me!?!"
Leona: "You never asked."

Now needing to steal new uniforms, the two abandoned the still clueless guards and headed for the staff rooms. As they headed downstairs, Amoral took the time to check just what the quarantined rooms they were likely to be using would be contaminated with. It turned out it was blood. Lots and lots of blood, covering the bedding, walls and floors.
Using her astral sense, we learned quickly that this was thankfully only the result of an extremely grisly murder. Not, as we briefly feared, a massive ritual to summon demonic spirits. The two promptly spun this after getting the uniforms to make it look like a clerical error and got better rooms.

Arriving in his own room with the Novus Prospect representatives, Killbo quickly searched about for bugs. Finding nothing beyond what would be normal for such a place, the dwarf swore loudly and repeatedly finding that this was the only good news. The bad news being that, while the minibar was fully stocked, it was also keeping track of its contents. Heading downstairs in search of cheaper alcoholic substitutes, Killbo once more bumped into the orc. While the voice seemed familiar, he was unable to shadow the man and was left none the wiser to his true identity.

On a more fortunate note, the dwarf bumped into one of our targets; a massive troll named Ergu, professor of science related stuff. Passing on a recruitment message to the professor's comlink, the dwarf managed to actually pull off something which resembled social skills for once. Convincing Ergu that he would receive bigger, more reliable, paychecks the troll agreed to at least consider it after a few minutes. One down.

Some distance away, Amoral was also making himself useful. Checking the guest list he found that two of our targets, Lansdale and Barton had turned up prior to us entering confirming their presence on this day but was unable to find any of the others. Unfortunately due to Killbo's brow-beating to get the tech expert to hack the minibar in his room to look like no drinks had been taken, this was all he was able to accomplish.

As the evening wore on, a party was set up in the main hall. As Killbo prowled the upper levels for any signs of their targets and Leona proceeded to rob various guests of their win, supposedly via "poison tasting", Amoral headed out back. While searching for wine the technomancer heard a number of sounds, soon finding himself face to face with a hovering gun turret. Worse still, he recognised its owner: Speak-Easy. A wheelchair-bound hacker and member of the group we'd briefly allied with in the Zainou operation. They were here in force, we had no guarantee that our goals coincided with one another this time, and now they'd taken one member hostage.

We really were off to a wonderful start, weren't we.

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