Friday, 30 October 2015

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (Video Game Review)

Syndicate is, for lack of a better expression, just another Assassin’s Creed game. Like Dynasty Warriors or Call of Duty, you already know if you’re going to love or hate this one. Despite experimenting with a few entertaining concepts, there’s only been a few superficial changes to the traditional series’ formulae. As such, if you didn’t like II, Brotherhood or anything lacking ship combat, you’re not going to like this one.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Easy Solution To The Fan Problem

There's a sentiment batted around boards of media businessmen all too often. It's never never put down to an exact word but it always seems to come down to this - "Continuity is the enemy. Continuity is keeping new customers away. Do away with continuity and we solve all our problems."

We've seen this far, far too many times over the past years. A few continuity hating reboots have been successes admittedly, but many more have been failures. DC Comics' New 52 has been floundering for some time sadly, Transformers has had this in spades, Marvel's animation division is plagued by this trend, and then there's other stuff like DmC: Devil May Cry. What people always seem to forget is that the stuff which succeeds in being a new starting point comes down to one of two things: It either serves as an adaptation from new media, or it works itself into the old media as a "soft" reboot. This doesn't always work, but it doesn't alienate an established audience or insult them out of the starting gate. So, when the reboot inevitably starts having to recycle old ideas, it's seen as more a new approach and less out of pining desperation.

So, that brief intro brings us onto Star Wars, and the raging tempest of hatred emanating from Expanded Universe fans. And Bioware fans. And RPG fans. And... well, a large chunk of people who loved stuff which dared to go beyond the films. Declaring that the Expanded Universe never mattered, was never canon and never happened, Disney managed to isolate a large number of its fans. While many members of the public are excited to see the saga continue on the big screen, many of the replacement books have received much more of a lukewarm reception.  As the novels go on, more criticisms are arising. The supposedly greater continuity between novels has already broken down, especially in the Jedi department, and authors are stealing elements from the very universe they are supposed to replace. The impact of this is already showing, with sales down across the board and lacking the same pulling power past novels held.

The sad truth is that, in all honesty, there was never any need for a reboot. In fact, Disney could have had its cake and eaten it very easily, wiping the slate clean without alienating most of their literary audience. How so? By embracing one of the most ambitious parts of the Expanded Universe - Star Wars: Legacy.

Set several hundred years into the far future, the series saw the beginning of a new Sith-Jedi War, a far more desperate war than anyone would have believed. It served as much as a deconstruction as a celebration of Star Wars' strengths, taking the old universe apart and reshaping it in a darker light while preserving everything which made it great. While it might have repeated many old ideas and elements, it did so while exploring new territory and putting a new spin on things. Along with a very different (previously) Galactic Empire and new factions of Force users, the series went into surprising detail when it re-introduced the Sith as a major presence.

So, where is all this going? Two things. The first, and most obvious one, is that the setting was far enough along from the novels to begin a fresh start. The closest you had to old references was the mass Vongforming of war damaged worlds in an effort to try and heal them, but even that was kept to the background. The second, and most important one, the comic series ended on a new dawn. The Sith were still at large, defeated and forced underground but ready to start a new war, while the Galactic Alliance, Empire and others had united into a new government, and the Jedi were rebuilding again.

Ultimately Disney could not have asked for a better ending, or for a point to start building a new universe off of. Freed from the constraints from multiple book series, they could take the new universe from there in any direction they wished. They could have accessed all that old knowledge or ideas without it seemed like borderline theft and even the prior comics didn't need to be referenced all that much. If they just skipped ahead a generation or two it could be put down to "there was a war, we won but they escaped" or any level of detail they wished. Hell, if they wanted to show a new facet of that same war, with side characters and the like, it was a gold mine for new tales, with plenty of established areas yet to be explored.

While it might have been set far along, many old ideas were still about. TIE variants still bore their distinctive eyeball design, lightsabers were still swords, Stormtroopers still wore their distinctive armour and many locations iconic to the series were still about. So, it carried many familiar elements the public could identify with, but at the same time would have captured that same excitement of exploring a whole new universe. It's a powerful feeling after all, knowing you were on the cusp of seeing the next big step forwards in the setting. We've seen it many times over, with the prequels, Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Empire, even the replacements. So, you'd have exactly the same impact but it wouldn't suffer from driving away a major audience when you're trying to build a franchise.

Now, some of you are probably asking how they could make use of the classic characters, with Disney hyping Han Solo's return and all. Simple: Force ghosts and flashbacks. It's something the comic series itself used quite frequently, with Luke showing up to speak with his jaded descendant and old memories re-emerging. Records showed past events involving the major characters and shed new light upon some key moments in their lives. A few returned for sure, R2-D2 being a key example, and many even spoke with the protagonists. However, there's a key difference in how this was handled: The focus was always upon the protagonists without ever letting the older heroes get in the way. It made sure the audience was there to see Cade Skywalker and co, not the return of Luke, and it was their story. As such, the return of classic heroes was a nice bonus and a fun element, but it wasn't banking purely upon nostalgia.

Now, what makes the approach Legacy took so important in handling the old characters is this: It knew when and when not to bring up their tales and events. It kept the characters distant enough that they were not intruding upon one another's territory, and by handling it at such a distance it meant writers weren't running the risk of recycling old elements. Let's face it, that's something which happens a little too often in certain reboots. Case and point - Star Trek: Into Darkness recycling large chunks of an old film until the shining new frontier became Wrath of Khan 2: Wrath Harder.

Would it have solved every issue? Perhaps not, but it would have been a chance to do something new and dynamic. Not, instead, for a lot of people watching the Episode VII trailers to just roll their eyes going "yeah, we already did this song and dance years ago." Or, to bring up more jaded examples, for people to bring up the fact that we lost Revan but Disney kept Jar Jar Binks about.

Still, this is just my two cents on the subject. If you have your own thoughts, positive or negative, please leave them in the comments. It's been quite a fandom splitting subject after all, and whether or not you agree this would have been an easy solution or think it's overlooking massive flaws, i'd be more than happy to see a few more voices weighing in on the subject.

Monday, 26 October 2015

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Book Review)

An old favourite among the Song of Ice and Fire fandom, the stories of Dunk and Egg are unlike what you’d expect of a traditional George R R Martin book. Lacking some of the intense cynicism and with far fewer beheadings than you’d expect, it follows the life and times of two unlikely heroes and the way their actions shaped Westeros.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived (Episode Review)

Returning readers be warned, we've done this song and dance before. This is sadly a typical example of a misfire of an episode. Great idea, great actors, solid direction in some scenes, but tonally jumbled up and unable to focus upon a singular theme. Yet despite all that there was a good idea in here and, gun to the head, a few distinct scenes which means you can't instantly write this one off as simply bad.

Set eight hundred years after the events of the last episode, the Doctor is travelling alone. Having picked up warnings of something wrong in post Civil War era England, he heads down in search of an alien artifact claimed by noblemen. However, his initial search is disrupted by a highwayman with a very familiar face. Someone whose life the Doctor once saved, and he may yet to regret doing so...

The first thing we really need to comment upon here is the visual direction of the episode. Yes, yes, all too often it's the story which is first and foremost on this list of criticisms, but it really does sum up the overall tones and problems of the episode. How so? Because, from scene to scene, it ranges from stupendous to sub-par with little to no variation between the two. This is best depicted during the early scenes, with the Doctor returning to Ashildr's home and the two discussing the past. During this, we get some outstandingly atmospheric shots of the building, its interiors and gloomy offices. However, the very second it starts to get some true tonal consistency, the episode crowbars in some abysmally badly shot flashbacks. Cartoonist to the point of making Dick Dasterly look grounded, they're sped up, poorly shot and so overdone that you're likely to get whiplash from the abrupt jump. As a result, you have the skeleton of a fantastic looking episode which has been marred by gibbering insanity. Now, take that sentence and replace looking with "acting" "lighting" or anything else, and you'll have this episode boiled down to its core problems.

Let's take the very idea for starters. The Doctor returning to find the consequences of his actions had greater impact than he thought? Great. That's brilliant, and a factor which has won over audiences more times than can be counted when done well. The problem is though, that they're rarely shown back to back. There's no time left to miss the characters involved, the idea, or to feel any serious weight of past events. So, this just feels like a second part which lacks impact for its main selling point. Worse still, the big reveal is left to have no impact because it's so heavily broadcast to watchers, instead left simply as something expected for the future. Let's face it, if Bad Wolf and been directly preceded by Dalek that episode's twist ending wouldn't have been half as memorable.

Even when the episode does try to make real use of its themes however, it seems to keep butting head with both the limited time it has to explore them and the usual series tropes. So, you have the character drama being smothered by the demand for an explosive ending, the darker themes choked by the demand for comedy and the continuity potential cut short by, well, strange things. For example, the episode is very up front about the whole immortality role and seems to try and get a lot of the initial elements out of the way as fast as it can. This might have helped to explore later sections, but it just leaves so many elements being underplayed or badly handled. It's hard to tell if it was the director, script or actors to blame here but, when elements such as Ashildr being reminded of her name and origins are brought up, they should have impact. Instead, Williams barely seems to register the moment or even comment on the fact an immortal time traveler has just barged into her life again.

There just keep being these oddities and awkward moments crammed into the episode which feel wildly out of place, having little to no meaning or proper staging. For example, in the middle of a comedic heist, the Doctor abruptly tries to bring up Ashildr's isolation thanks to her immortality and some weighty subjects. It's about as out of place and poorly handled as you'd expect, and you're just left shaking your head. The same goes for later moments such as when it's shown how far she'll go to leave her homeland, backed by some serious moments and great conversational elements. So, how do they ruin it? They introduce the Roundhead version of Laurel and Hardy. They're in it for one scene, add nothing to the plot and it serves purely to derail the script.

Too much information is simply slammed up front. It’s not allowed to gradually unfold or develop as we saw in the past duology of episodes. Instead it’s just “Here’s this stuff, it happened, now moving on…” but the script never takes the time to actually deal with the consequences of its events. Hell, you have a man sharing a drink with his murderer and he seems to completely overlook that effect. It's just one of those "just because" problems which keeps plaguing the series over and over again. 

There's also the further issue to take into account, that the story doesn't trust the audience to figure out anything for themselves. Rather than dropping hints and gradually suggesting that Ashildr might have her own motivations and even oppose the Doctor, barely ten minutes in it effectively declares "SHE'S GOING TO BACK-STAB HIM!" in brilliant glowing neon. Well, perhaps not quite that, but it's so blatant even a blind man would have trouble missing it.

So, with all that taken into consideration, what does it do right? Honestly, a lot any time the comedy doesn't barge into the story. The problem is those moments are rare, and they're often down purely to individual scenes. For example, after the script just about manages to get past the zany flashbacks and forced comedy, it moves onto the subject of how a human would handle immortality. It shows Ashildr recording her memories in diaries, and gets onto some very dark subject matter. It's short, extremely well handled and acted, and quite impact on the following scene. It's just that, the problem is, the moment those two scenes are over, the episode all but forgets they happened.

Even despite everything, the Doctor's final lines when it comes to speaking with her about the future are incredibly well written. It summarizes the points and ideas vastly better than almost any other part of the resolution and the themes of mortality. Better yet, it sets up the idea of a reoccurring element which could be beneficial to the series' future, even after all that's happened. While obviously hard to discuss given the spoilers, at the very least it would offer the opportunity to handle events better than what was found here.

The Woman Who Lived is ultimately mishandled, sometimes downright bad, but offers a few shining gems here and there which means it's just about worth watching. While you're probably better off picking out scenes from Youtube, give it a look but be prepared to stomach a lot of pain between the good bits.

Oh, and if nothing else, the episode does prove that the psychic paper is far too convenient a plot device in bad stories.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Star Wars: Battlefront - Twilight Company (Book Review)

It’s no exaggeration to say that Star Wars novels have become quite the minefield of late, as for every promising concept there has been, well, Star Wars: Aftermath. Ever since murdering the Expanded Universe, Disney has had incredible difficulty finding its footing, but Twilight Company is a definite step in the right direction.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Eldar Part 1 - The Lore (Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review, 3rd Edition)

The Third Edition was an interesting era for Games Workshop. It was ultimately a revolution, a twist to shift the direction of the setting and step away from neon colourful era to something much grimmer. It was the shift away from Adam West to Kevin Conroy, and while it might have produced some of the best lore to date, it wasn't without its failings. Even without getting into split feelings over the turn or certain fan issues, especially when it came to serious substance. The best lore was reserved for the likes of the Index Astartes, and substantial background lore only started to be added back into the book in late 2001. The early codices of this Edition by comparison felt extremely bare bones, which brings us to today's book.

To be blunt, this book is simply lacking lore in many regards. There's a definite shortage of the usual areas you'd expect of a truly great codex, skimming over a lot of the detailed history or variation which makes an armybook stand out. However, what little is on offer is astounding, establishing and building many ideas which still define the race to this very day. It's enough to make you forget how little is really on offer at first, because in all honesty it vastly outstrips so much of what we see in some modern books. How so? Because, unlike a few too many codices of recent years what's there isn't present purely to justify the existence of new shiny things or focus upon the army. Instead it's all about cultural identity.

Take, for example, the final page of the book. It's a single in-universe document, a detailed report by an Inquisitor which examines the starting points of the race's language. No, before you start laughing, just hear this out. So often in the lore the eldar are described as thinking on an entirely different level, beyond that of humanity in all regards. It's a very hard thing for any writer to produce, and in many cases authors only bring this to life by sidestepping the subject entirely. However, this article not only gave insight to this idea but better established the age of this alien race than any timeline ever could. It does this by taking a few choice words and then going into their origins, their meanings, the way in which they are woven into their society. Then, it starts to build upon that, showing how each word has multiple meanings or tones, and how they can be misread:

"Thus, the name given to their most prevalent war engine, Faolchu, is most readily translated as 'Falcon'. However, Faolchu is not just any bird of prey, but is in fact the legendary Falcon of Eldar myth. It is a word that is replete with implications of vengeance and retribution, of justice and the slaying of wrongdoers. In this way Faolchu appears in many texts and is wrongly translated as meaning the warcraft of the same name, rather than the concept of revenge."

Only a good paragraph or so is offered to each part, ranging from the use of their names to the locations, but it's enough to give the race a little more depth. When it discusses the subject of names it goes into the different meanings and connotations carried by each syllable, and how so often that has been built upon their religion in some way. While their gods might be dead, the very core nature of their society is linked so intrinsically to them that they're carried on by their existence, with some elements or serious shifts only adding new shades to certain terms. Believe it or not that ever popular term "mon-keigh" was formed millennia before the eldar encountered humanity, and is a more general word than many realise.

While perhaps not the single most complex or overly intricate way of presenting their culture (and, as ever, owing a lot to Dune), this text's presence helps to sell the reader on the book's ideas. It certainly does a far better job than many, far more popular, franchises would over the years, which rarely even took stabs at building their races in such a way. Looking at you Star Trek.

Perhaps understandably to a degree, many passages, texts and terms come from the Imperium's perspective. The opening paragraphs to the final quote on the back cover are of humans regarding these aliens, and the reader only "sees" through their eyes for brief moments. It's only either during certain short stories or the like that the narrative truly shows things from their perspective, and these are always fleeting examples at best. As ever, this is an understandable approach to take but it ultimately ends up being a double edged sword. While on the one hand it succeeds at making the race seem alien, seem beyond human and with little to link us, it also distances them. It makes the reader relate too much to the human factions and not so much with the very army they are examining.

A few years down the line writers would attempt to take things much further with Codex: Necrons and it would negatively impact that book. So much so that, upon the complete re-writing of their entire lore, the author was falsely praised with giving the army an identity and sentient HQ choices. The way this particular codex sidestepped it was thanks to two elements: A wider variety of characters and more distinct units, and those same short stories mentioned before. 
Every few pages or so, the reader would be granted a look at part of their army, from the Warlocks to the Aspect Warriors. However, what separates the success here with those of other codices is the way they use these stories. Rather than focusing purely upon visceral action or using it to shill a particular unit, they're introspective, quiet and showing the species' mindset. This is true across the board, and while it would have been an easy thing to show each of them slaying hordes of foes, we instead get moments such as Iyanna reluctantly summoning another dead warrior and her grief to add some real variation. Some, for lack of a better term, surprising humanity within their own societies. As a result of this, the reader is given just enough information to connect with the eldar, but it never crosses the line which makes them stop seeming alien.

This is the thing people so often forget about these books, they largely used the same storytelling tools as the bad ones. There wasn't some massive jump in how they presented each army in turn, or even how they structured certain books. On a basic level they were largely the same, but the authors of certain ones knew how to make better use of what they had on hand than the bad ones. To parallel this with films, codices such as this one are like giving Guillermo Del Toro £200,000 and one year to shoot a film in. He might lack some of the flashier or more extensive elements, but you're still going to end up with something extremely well crafted. By comparison, you could give Michael Bay eight times the cash and three years, but only end up with "They can never be Ultramarines!" as the sole cultural expression of the book.

However, while Codex: Eldar might execute certain ideas and elements extremely well, the lack of certain bare basics is still keenly felt in many areas. Chief among these is the lack of a real history, a real introduction to the race fully outlining events such as The Fall or how they came to reside among the stars. Their basic story just seems to be absent from this tale, and in its place you have very little to help define or fully establish the nature of each craftworld. At best, you have the Phoenix Lords, some representing certain craftworlds, but even in that case they seem distinctly lacking. With so many on hand, the book only has the space to offer up a paragraph for each.

Much of the actual lore itself is crammed in and around the rules, never allowed a chance to truly flourish or become the center of attention. The story is certainly a prominent part of the book, but at times it seems to be playing second fiddle to both the hobby and the crunch. As such, you have the introduction discussing why the player should take this army but that's really about it. The rest instead then jumps to the actual army itself, with the occasional moment of lore before spending most of the book's middle upon the models. Yeah, much as we might complain about the padding in modern codices, the old ones had it as well, and it's almost as egregious. It covers just about all the bases, from the primary units to the heroes, but in all fairness there is a little justification for its existence. Rather than the expected parade of showpieces, you have a series of painting tips and even some customised units to help inspire players to give armies their own identity.

Ultimately the Codex: Eldar of this edition is flawed to be sure, but it's certainly a book well worth looking into. As a book on lore? Perhaps not quite so much as you'd hope, but at the same time its ideas hold up extremely well. Better yet, it can serve to inspire new writers covering the lore, showing how much can be done even when you're limited to a small portion of an already thin book. That and the artwork, as has been shown here, really holds up and it's quite a surprise it's not been used more often.

Still, this is just the start. Join us here as we look into the book's rules held up and the limitations of their own era.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died (Episode Review)

Truth be told, this one was going to be held off until next week, much like last time. However, seeing how the two stories will be tangentially connected, it seems best to really judge them one at a time.

The story here is set during the time of the vikings, with the Doctor and Clara having been captured. Following the Outlander way of storytelling, they're naturally under attack by aliens with a few problems. The aliens, one of the galaxy's most feared warrior races, have not only managed to kill all of their raiders but are challenging them to battle in one day. Now it''s up to the Doctor to try and find a way to turn the tide, turning a massed slaughter into a victory.

In all honesty, this could have been a good episode either way. It could have been lighthearted - which it repeatedly tries to be- or ultra-serious, but for some reason it keeps trying to find ways to shove serious elements into it. Sure, Doctor Who has been known for handling the two fairly well, but the story seems to keep pulling a tonal one-eighty at the drop of a hat. As a result, it's a very mismatched story.

Now, there's one thing you're going to notice more than anything else quite quickly: The costume and warrior design, is laughable at best. Both are overacting the living hell out of each scene, to borderline Batman and Robin levels, with cringe-worthy parody elements which stick out like a sore thumb. Even if you somehow manage to first overcome the goofily bad design of the vikings and "Odin" with overacting, mismatched horns, winged helms and all, you're then hit by the storytelling. All you need to know about the aliens is that they literally drink condensed and distilled testosterone and adrenaline of squashed warriors. Once you hit that level, you've officially gone to plaid. It hardly helps that they look like a certain Wallace and Gromit villain gone hardcore, but the upright walking fridges are barely a threat.

There's an old saying known as show don't tell. Many of you are likely rolling your eyes at this, fully knowing we've done this to death and it's a bare basic element. Well, we'll stop bringing it up when the writers remember to properly take it into account. Said warrior race in this never gets to prove they're even vaguely good at their job. With a borderline laughable design, a ship which looks like a used car version of a Borg cube and handicapped by parody worthy cheesiness, they have a lot to prove. So, we're only shown their skill after they first trick a mass of feudal warriors into being teleported away and killed, and then lose to a bunch of farmers. Sure, the episode plays up that they look like a joke, but they both start and end as a joke in the audience's eyes, so there's nothing accomplished.

Things are only made worse when it's made clear someone on the writing staff wasn't taking things seriously at all. The Doctor rallying a village to repel an alien invasion? Sure, could be good and could work either way. The Doctor miserably failing, wrecking the whole village because he's trying to train a bunch of farmers to directly fight advanced aliens in power armour with swords? Stupid. Stupid, purely stupid, and inexplicably so. It's done for a cheap laugh, but it's done badly, and it's only made worse once you see where the electricity for their victory plan comes from.

So, there's a lot of bad with this episode, that's clear. Is there good though? Thankfully yes. There's actually a few clever plays on events and ideas which did get a genuine chuckle and play up the drama remarkably well. Foremost among these is the actual introduction of the aliens. Oh, so much the aliens themselves but Clara's moment with them. Having only a scrap of broken tech on hand and an old spacesuit, she start spin-doctoring - no pun intended - and trying to bluff her way to victory. Talking her way through the early stages, she almost manages to end the alien invasion there and then... right as Arya Stark barges in. Insulted and infuriated over the death of so many, she begins bellowing threads, declarations of war and everything she can, inciting the whole thing all over again.

The moment flows naturally, the scene plays out well and it gives Clara a good moment to shine, something she hasn't really had enough of lately. It's humourous in its own dark way, and as it avoids being utterly overt there's some genuine amusement as her carefully stacked pile of lies comes crashing down. The episode has these small moments like this, from the jokey ones to the serious bits - such as Arya meeting with her father again or reflecting upon the Doctor's face - and they are genuinely great. The problem is you're having to pick out these moments from a story which really is unworthy of them.

Speaking of people saddled with a story unworthy of them, we have the actors. Barring Odin and the viking warriors, there's no one here who is truly bad. One or two underplayed perhaps, but they're doing the best they can to pull off the material they're given, especially the traditional TARDIS crew. You already know that Lord Peter of Capaldi can be relied upon to give his all, and Jenna Coleman remains a solid choice when she's given something prominent to do, so let's talk about Maisie Williams. Referring to her character as Arya Stark wasn't meant as any detrimental jab against the actress, it was one against the script. She's effectively just playing a somewhat tamer version of her first season Game of Thrones role, and the story offers little beyond that. For all her skill, there's no dimension or variation here, and the second it offers her anything truly interesting, it's reserved for the next episode.

Yeah, this really wasn't good. If you're going to watch it, you might want to wait until someone uploads the best scenes onto Youtube and just watch your way through those. As a whole, unless the following episode is integral to the events here and proves to be outstanding, you'd do best to just pass this one up in favour of something better.

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Madness of Cthulhu (Book Review)

For all its popularity as the granddaddy of cosmic horror stories, the Lovecraft Mythos proves to be a surprisingly difficult subject for some authors to nail. Requiring a very exact blend of unknowable horror, science fiction, fantasy and inevitable doom, many sadly end up simply using the tropes or trace elements over fully embracing the source material. It’s one thing to have Cthulhu in your book, but it’s another entirely to not just turn him into Godzilla. On this from The Madness of Cthulhu – Volume Two is hit and miss. Some nail what’s required for a tale of this mythos, while others try to play around with the source material to mixed effect.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Eisenhorn: Xenos (Video Game Preview - Exclusive)

Two outsiders approach a towering door of plated gold carved into the visage of an Aquila. Its custodians fail to greet the new arrivals, only for their bloody corpses to be found moments later.  Drawing weapons, the two advance inside as the dying screams of thousands of innocents begin to resonate through the gothic corridors.

“Come,” Eisenhorn narrates, “and let me show you how I killed Eyclone.”

It’s a scene almost every fan of Warhammer 40,000 would recognise, iconic to one of Black Library’s most venerated trilogies. Often serving as the story all future novels are to be measured against, the character arcs and gradual downfall of its protagonist allows it to remain in high regard over a decade after its official release. As a result of this reputation however, there was naturally some resistance when a mobile video game adaptation was announced. Having been handed over to a relatively unknown studio, the lingering memories of Storm of Vengeance and other misfires led many fans to immediately write this off as Deus Ex: The Fall 40,000. Thankfully, upon being offered the chance to sit down to play a pre alpha of Eisenhorn: Xenos, it was quickly evident this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Next Installment of the Horus Heresy Teased?

In their latest update, Black Library has begun teasing a few images of a future book they are trying to hype. Initially unveiling it stage by stage, it's obvious that they were trying to garner as much attention as they could for what was to follow. What the final promo alludes to shows exactly why this might have been the case.

So yes, at long last we're actually getting a book where the Imperial Fists are a major faction. After all the long waits, short stories and events side-stepping their major conflicts, here we have definitive confirmation they're getting into a fight. Oh, and the Ultramarines are there as well.

From the cover and description, many believe that this will relate to the Imperium Secundus and likely connect with the recent events there in some way. Along with the Dark Angels and Blood Angels regrouping there, alongside the Imperial Fists major naval elements, Ultramar has become a bastion. Within the disrupting influences of the Warp, it's started to become an island of stability, holding together and gradually rebuilding, but reliant upon one location in particular for this: Sotha. Home to some unknown alien technologies, it has allowed the loyalists to penetrate the Warp within a set area, offering some links between their worlds.

While Unremembered Empire ended on a note of relative stability and consolidating their forces, the short stories have shown ill omens are afoot. In particular, the Night Lords legion has found their way to the world. Shattered and beaten as they are, they still remain a significant threat to the fledgling empire, especially if they were to drop their forces on a specific vulnerable point. Three guesses as to where that might be. Given the tagline and announcement that "Night falls across the Imperium" it's not hard to guess what this might be alluding to either.

Still, this is only a teaser but here's hoping we have great things to come in the near future.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

System Shock: Enhanced Edition (Video Game Review)

Gaming often has a particular problem when it comes to their classics: Technology marches on. This is true for all media, but it tends to hit video games especially hard, rendering many PCs unable to play past classics or often suffering from inexplicably obtuse controls by today’s standards. It’s for this reason you often find System Shock 2 praised more than its predecessor, as for a long time it was the only up to date title many people could actually play; at least until this recent upgrade at any rate.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Grey Knights: Sons of Titan (Book Review)

At first this seems like a match made in heaven. Whatever you think of Annandale as a writer, he’s a man who has an obvious love for the Warp and all its weird creations. His best known novels have focused entirely upon the war between the Imperium and Chaos, often going into a greater detail than many contemporaries and he favours conspiracies, mysteries and old secrets. So, letting him take charge of a Grey Knights novel seemed to make sense, which is why it’s sad this is a misfire. It’s not bizarre, it’s not even hard to pin down where it went wrong, but it’s still disheartening.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Doctor Who: Under The Lake/Before The Flood (Episode Review)

One of the unique things which is being attempted this season is to turn every story into a two-parter. Effectively halving the number of stories and creating what is likely to be an inordinate number of cliffhangers, it's honestly one of the best things the show could use right about now. After all, the last two series have been extremely hit and miss, with some episodes showing why this show is so great while others questioned why you were still watching it. Cutting down on their number means - in theory - we're going to see a seriously upped quality of storytelling, but better yet atop that more budget devoted towards individual episodes. Oh and, can't forget, more time to really explore bigger scale tales which wouldn't be possible on a single episode basis.

Because of all the factors involved with returning a show to the classic cliffhanger format, Under The Lake/Before The Flood has a lot to prove. As such, for one time only, this is being judged as a single elongated episode to see if the show can really get it right.

The story here is classic Who to the core. A military base situated at the bottom of a lake in Scotland has unearthed a very curious object none expected to find. Boxy, angular and made of no metal found on Earth, it is clearly alien but seemingly unoccupied. However, when the vessels drags the ghosts of the past with it, breaking the very laws of death itself, it becomes a threat even the Doctor is perplexed by...

One of the big things to note with past two-parters is how many stories felt like two interlinking episodes. Rather than a single tale told across multiple runs, you often ended up with semi-independent interlinked stories. The second one would so often, rather than follow up on the same locations and events, break out into an entirely new location and follow a new set of scenes, with only a few carried over. This isn't universally true of course, but it's one issue which has plagued the series. Sadly, this combination doesn't quite break that trend but it does smooth things over a little. There's more a sense of an ongoing story here, and while it does leave the Doctor present in an entirely new setting, it felt much more like the second act of a story. There were more elements retained than expected, but there was still a definite problem of too many new elements being introduced for the second part to focus upon, largely ignoring the first.

Still, as a new outing, this did have a very back to basics sense in many regards. While it might have had a complex plot, it was closer to that of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors' eras. It never went so far as to become incomprehensible, but still left enough fun uses of time travel to keep the audience on edge. Even the use of an easy escape route for the cliffhanger was easily forgotten thanks to the impact of that moment, and the effectiveness of its execution. The real problem, however, was that the second part let itself down by explaining things all too easily. You actually had the Doctor coming out and explaining the whole time travel element in question, meaning smarter viewers immediately knew how things would end. Honestly, the episode only becomes all the stronger once you skip those two minutes, and the surprise ending all the more effective.

Speaking of the story itself, there is a definite sense of gradual evolution here, and a good use of the time on hand. There are stages to the Doctor's development we'd otherwise see rushed or skipped over in single episodes which are allowed to flourish here. His actions upon discovering the ghosts building into a gleeful curiosity, then gradual horror were fantastic to watch, and perfectly matched his overall character for this series so far. Better yet, when he did come to terms with a rather surprising twist during the second part, there was an odd degree of humanity to it. Sure, there were shades of what we'd seen with Eleven yet all the same, the fact it was given more time to develop made it seem truly natural.

The secondary characters for the episode were, on the whole, much more of a mixed bunch to be honest. We've certainly seen far better, and as a group set up to be a military outfit they lacked the discipline, cohesion and (in some cases) even uniforms to really convey that fact. At best they seemed like a civilian support team, never intended to be anywhere near the front lines. This might have been fine, but they lacked the solid character traits to make each of them stand out. While there were one or two exceptions, for the most part that was down to abilities or knowledge rather than performance or personality. They were serviceable to be sure, but hardly remarkable.

Probably the episode's biggest strength and what will remain its staying power is its villains. Both the ghosts mentioned and their hulking master were brilliantly executed, both haunting and shown in exactly the right light. Never overexposed to the audience, they were kept in the shadows for as long as possible, and you were given the real sense of their near unstoppable nature early on. A big part of this is down to two things, the first being the rapid establishment of their abilities, showing just how they operated and could hurt anyone almost anywhere. The second was down to the Jaws approach to revealing the enemy, keeping them out of sight until they were ready to be revealed. While that second one wasn't nearly as effective as one might hope, largely thanks to a lackluster death, it still had some chilling moments backed by a truly inspired design.

The cinematography and direction behind this one was spot on, as you'd hope for such a story. Being stuck inside an underwater base, with nothing but corridors to work with, is difficult at the best of times. However, director Daniel O'Hara seemed to know how to make that work to his advantage, setting up some especially unsettling and creepy shots. Better yet, while he was able to work in the familiarity of certain areas, he managed to sidestep the issue of making it seem like scenes were being reused once or twice too often.

Really, this is far from a bad two parter and it's a sign of good things to come. While it's far from perfect, the worst you can really say is that the script isn't nearly as smart as the writer thought it'd be. Despite that though, he still managed to craft an all around engaging story. It's more back to basics, more future and less Clara's personal life than we've had before. With luck, we'll see things staying that way and get stronger stories out of it. Definitely watch this one while you have the time.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Transformers Devastation (Video Game Review)

Transformers fans stricken with the news that Michael Bay’s scrap metal abomination will see several more sequels, welcome to your moment of happiness. Thankfully proving that high quality games can endure past High Moon’s creations, Transformers Devastation is a love letter of the best kind. Blending IDW’s aesthetics with the original cartoon, it offers an odd mix of third person shooting, rapid brawling and big scale fights which never fails to put a grin on your face.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Astartes Vs. Stormcast - Influence vs. Mimicry

Divisive as Age of Sigmar has been, few points have been more controversial than the creation of the Stormcast Eternals. They really serve as a lightning rod for all criticism surrounding the new game, from its new direction thematically to seemingly catering to a new audience. However, while much of it focuses upon a few key areas, most points tend to delve into the accusation of trying to popularise the Fantasy setting by making it more like 40,000

Whereas the Far Future has a single army, divided into multiple sub armies and two major factions, serving as their flagship force as cash cow, Fantasy never quite had that same draw. You certainly had the High Elves, a force which tended to attract an inordinately large number of newcomers, but they never dominated the game to the extent the astartes did. They never had the same massive number of novels, huge wealth of fully fleshed out sub-armies and lacked the superhuman angle. By comparison, the Stormcast Eternals have just about all of that, and combined with the pauldronificiation of Fantasy's armour, it's understandably become a point of discontent.

Why are we discussing this now? Because Josh Reynolds, a longtime Black Library author and writer of many End Times and Age of Sigmar novels, had an interesting response. When the subject of their similarities was brought to him directly, he had this to say:

"Well, for starters, Space Marines are chosen as children, tortured by SCIENCE!, and then drafted into an eternity of being monastic murder machines whose sole purpose is to hold up the crumbling foundations of an omnicidal dystopia in the name of a rotting carcass that eats psykers like chiclets. They're emotionally stunted orphans who were brainwashed and weaponized before being unleashed on a galaxy where EVERYTHING is trying to kill them. They never even had a chance to be people before someone turned them into a gun instead.

Stormcast, on the other hand, are dead heroes, chosen for their valour and faith, resurrected and sent to free the Mortal Realms from the abominations currently running the show, on behalf of a benevolent god-king. They're traumatized heroes who had lives, personalities and histories prior to being crammed into primary colored hulkbuster armor and filled full of lightning so that they could go save their descendants from the eldritch horrors of a nightmare dimension. They endure death after death, losing a bit more of their soul each time, in order to prevent anyone else from suffering the fate which befell them.

One group are so far removed from humanity as to be utterly alien. The other group are so human it causes them pain. One group feels little in the way of emotion, the other group feels emotion as strongly as they did before death. One group hates and fears the alien. The other group allies regularly with space-lizards, skeletors and green monster-men. One group is the personification of the grim future in which they live. The other is a thing born of hope.

The similarities are cosmetic: big guys in easily paintable armor sell better than little dudes with fiddly bits. But the context for those cosmetic similarities is quite different. Think of it this way...Space Marines are Batman and Stormcast are Captain America. Both are super-heroes, both wear costumes, both punch bad guys, both save people. But they ain't the same, are they?"

It's an interesting answer to be sure, and it brings up the question of just where we should draw the line between inspiration and influence, and outright mimicry. While people might have cried out against this and decried their inclusion, it's hard to not cite how Warhammer 40,000 itself is an amalgamation of various direct inspirations. The astartes themselves were directly influenced by Starship Troopers, the fingerprints of Michael Moorcock can be found everywhere on its metaphysical subject matter, and even the eldar are not a wholly unique creation. However, what makes them unique is thanks to how writers and creators put a new spin upon them, distancing them from their original creations, so why are players so adamantly against the Eternals? Going purely from personal opinion, I believe it comes down to a couple of key factors. 

The first among these is the shift from a gritter and more grounded fantasy setting to a a far flung cosmic tale. The death of the Old World was hard enough to handle for many, but even during that there were complaints from some that too many of Chaos' new designs seemed too 40Kified in many areas. Once the company promptly introduced a band of shoulder-pad wearing demi-god super soldiers fighting in the name of a Great Crusade to unite humanity, seeds of dissent quickly blossomed. It was, in many regards, too rapid a shift and too quick. While the End Times might have provided a clean break in the minds of some, the sudden jump to include these and extremely Khorne Berserker-esque designs was just too much. Plus, their curious resemblance to the Sanguinary Guard hardly helped matters.

Of course, even if the company had stuck to the sudden jump alone, that might have been fine, but then there's the issue of how writers present the astartes in 40,000. Despite Reynolds' statements, we have more often than not seen the astartes presented in an extremely heroic light. They're often seen as the closest the setting has to a wholly good chapter, and they're diverse enough of a faction for multiple stories to exist where they barely resemble the version cited above. 

Even discounting the more moral forces, things like Rynn's World, the Ultramarines saga and a number of short stories show them to be upstanding and caring defenders of humanity rather than the Imperium. The dominance of this over the more traditional semi-psychotic super soldiers they were intended to be - and Games Workshop's desire to milk this to have more people buy them - means that there isn't enough to really differ them from one another. Plus, let's face it, we've seen them ally with certain xenos races more and more often as the years go by.

However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the grim dark incarnation of this army is the only one which exists. Well, even then you run into more than a few distinct issues which, combined with the above example, can lead people to think that this is ultimately a Fantasy version of the space marines. Despite citing the differing origins, you can easily compare the recruiting methods of the astartes with the Stormcast Eternals. While the response might have called one conscripted children and the other venerated, ascended heroes, quite often they're depicted purely as the latter. 

On many worlds, feudal or otherwise, it's an honour to be selected by the astartes, and they only choose the greatest among them to be worthy of their ranks. It's often joked, to place some real emphasis upon the astartes' overly elite nature that Conan would be one of their basic recuits, but it's not far from the truth. They would have selected someone like him in his younger days, someone powerful, bloodthirsty and skilled, to be worthy of ascension, and to them that would have been akin to being raised among the gods. The Space Wolves, Mortifators and many others have traditions which directly resemble this, and once you pick out that point the similarities start to become more and more distinct. Replace Sigmar with a primarch/Emperor and his power with gene-seed/conditioning, and you end up with a vast number of parallels between the two forces.

Now, despite the similarities, I personally don't think that's the greatest issue which is causing so many problems here. You can have many very similar forces, very similar structured building blocks and still end up with something completely different. As they're structured, as they're presented to a degree in their lore, the Stormcast Eternals are the more angelic choice here. They're figures who once you really look at the nuances and elements building up each army, you see how they have started at the same key point but quickly split off from one another. Their very link to the Old World and alliances alone are enough to break them up from one another once you really examine it, but on the surface it might still seem extremely similar.

It's the same problem Pacific Rim suffered from once it was leapt upon by shrieking bloody fanatics of Neon Genesis Evangelion for being an "Americanized rip-off." Because Del Toro used certain setting elements and piloting systems which retained some initial comparisons with the anime, in the minds of many that instantly damned it. They demeaned and insulted any who enjoyed it as supporting plagarised content, without bothering to look into how each universe branched off from one another. However, such surface scans of a material, no matter how many details you might be covering, can always result in very different shows seeming identical at first glance.

Don't believe this? Well then, read the following:

You have a world which is perpetually under threat from an enemy alien race. A race which can emerge instantly on terrestrial earth with no need for space travel and retains religious overtones purely for the sake of style. Their weapons of war and very bodies seem monsterous, like creatures of legend or beings warped beyond the point of ever resembling humankind. 
All that stands in the way of this threat is an organised military force operating out of a heavily defended city, built to instantly slide into underground bunkers the moment it is attacked. While retaining many fortified military units, their one hope for true victory in this war relies super-prototype war machines equal and opposite to the aliens, which are fired at high speed into battle from their base. Among their crew is a unique figure with a direct genetic link to their foe, and the offspring of the organisation's often difficult commander.

Now, am I talking about Evangelion or am I talking about Stingray? Could easily be either despite how that detailed description seems to uniquely fit only one series on first glance.

As a result of this, I personally feel that the fault lies more with the execution and presentation of the Stormcast Eternals than anything else. They're certainly inspired by the astartes to be sure, but there's enough of a separation to make them stand on their own. However, that's not being depicted at this point. Currently, Games Workshop is focusing upon selling the Stormcast Eternals purely upon their image, their basic look and little else. There's no nuance present there and no opportunity to really examine their culture for lack of a better expression. This sadly carries over to more than a few stories, as while Mr Reynolds might have a firm grip on what makes them tick, other authors seem to slide into the thought processes behind writing astartes. As such, it can seem to fans like they're reading about a chapter but sans the traditions, solid identity and ideologies which helped make them so distinct.

To really avoid the continued labels which have plagued this new army, Games Workshop really needs to help present them in a broader sense. They need something compatible with the Index Astartes, something easily accessible, well written and in depth, delving into enough of their history to make them seem truly unique. They need more opportunities to be shown on an individual basis, covering the various hosts one by one rather than just sticking to the gold clad Hammers of Sigmar. If they were truly able to present this to the fandom as a whole, it seems far less likely we'd be seeing so many accusations of one army being a transplanted version of another.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

6 Heroes Which Could Help the DC Cinematic Universe Overcome Marvel's Stranglehold

All too often when it comes to DC Comics, they seem to be playing catch-up against Marvel. Despite having a much more solid foundation in television with far more hits than their rival company, in film they're not quite so successful. It seems that, for every A-Ranked Batman film, we have a series of C's, D's and the odd F with a number of poor adaptations. By comparison, Marvel seems to be aiming for mostly B's with the odd A they build up to - usually the Avengers films. Admittedly it doesn't help that Warner Brothers can't stop making demands and thinking they know how to make a better film (resulting in the likes of Green Lantern) whereas Marvel has all the self-management and control they could wish for.

So, not to drag out this part further, the point here is to examine the heroes which could make the DC universe. We've already covered those who deserve a film, and I still personally stand by that list. As such this is more to ask "Which heroes could help to counter Marvel's own unique angles or, better yet, push into new ones?" The list is, as you'd expect, filled with a large number of secondary and tertiary characters in the universe, avoiding the likes of the Justice League; save for one example who many want to see make a comeback.

Also, i'm not including Stormwatch for once. Why? Because it's been on the last several superhero lists, and that series has been shilled enough for the next several years.

6. Deadman

One oddly overlooked detail of comics is just how many undead heroes walk among their more popular counterparts. Between Cain, Spawn, Simon Dark and others, we have no shortage of such ghouls, though Deadman stands out as a rather unique example. How so? He exists purely as a ghost, with no physical contact with the world. Previously known as Boston Brand, he was a circus performer killed in the middle of an act by a mysterious assailant. Returned from the brink, he was offered new powers and a chance at justice by a Hindu deity Rama Kushna, with the ability to exist as an ethereal being or possess others to interact with the world.

Much like Star Lord, Deadman is one of those characters who has been around for decades largely in the background, only to have an abrupt resurgence. Often only making brief appearances in side comics or the odd event such as Day of Judgement, he really made a true reemergence during the events of Blackest Night, with a substantial popularity boost. Hijacking the bodies of Black Lanterns and fighting them however he could, Deadman was brought to the forefront of the following event Brightest Day, and later on emerged as a member of Justice League Dark. This means he's just about popular enough to have studio execs object less to his existence, but at the same time remains obscure enough to offer a fresh take upon the setting.

Any story involving Deadman would be extremely different to the usual fare of superheroics, and would offer a chance to mess with some varied abilities. We saw just how much of a hit quirky superhero skills could be with audiences in Ant-Man, and this could be DC's answer. Better yet, it has links to the supernatural which could help to sidestep some of the more usual frustrations around the "science" part of science fiction, and push into darker territories. Guillermo Del Toro has supposedly been cited as having an interest in the character, presenting him in a  Crow-esque storyline. This is certainly viable, and plenty of the character's solo outings long before Blackest Night have more than enough material for new stories; some notable plotlines ranging from his killers' identity to a murderous entity similar to himself.

The point of the matter is that, between Deadman's flexible powers and Marvel's slow reluctance to get involved with the supernatural, this could be a chance for DC to get their hit in first. Lord knows their universe could need it.

5. Orion/Big Barda

The New Gods are certainly an odd choice for any storyline or adaptation, yet one which could be done well in the right hands. Effectively blending far future Star Trek-esque technology with mythological drama and conflict, it followed the tenuous peace and then war between New Genesis and Apokolips. The series introduced many of its major staples from the Source Wall to Darkseid, and was often more focused upon blood ties and shifting relations than sheer combat. They were one of Jack Kirby's lasting influences on the universe which was admittedly, an ironic element given his desire to kill them off at the end of his run. Yeah, their continued presence can be a controversial subject in some circles.

Beyond the aforementioned Elite of Apokolips, two of the most famous names are Orion and Big Barda. Paragons among their kind, Orion was the son of Darkseid, given to New Genesis to help with an ongoing peace treaty. Despite being violent, short tempered and belligerent even among his allies, his loyalty, tenacity and skill at arms make him one of the world's best warriors. Barda meanwhile was once one of Apokolips' greatest champions, but over time she was gradually convinced to defect to their old enemy alongside her husband, Scott Free. In their case however, this proved to be a bittersweet victory, Free had been the son of New Genesis handed over to ensure the peace treaty. With their escape, nothing was left to hold back full scale war from erupting once again.

So, what makes this one so tempting? Honestly, because of its parallels with Thor in many regards. Just as that series did, you have galactic scale conflicts, a child born of another world raised upon another, some very classic broken family elements, but with the bonus of a greater emphasis upon the fantastical ideas of the universe. It retains many of Thor's strengths but, overall, it has far more freedom for writers to work with. With less direct ties to Earth or stories set there, DC would have the freedom to really explore its galaxy or focus upon a godly conflict in a way Marvel never did. Plus, Orion and Barda themselves, alongside being well established characters, have shades of Loki to them, and could offer what many have wanted in focusing more upon protagonists with some of his elements.

Even if the Thor angles didn't fully work though, also consider that this could easily serve as a fusion with Guardians of the Galaxy in its own way. After all, you have the semi-obscure characters, wacky science and aliens if need be and the opportunity to start introducing Darkseid in the same way Marvel has begun to reveal Thanos to audiences. Combine that with the potential to tie into the Green Lantern mythos, and introduce the Source Wall, and you could have a strong pillar to start building a full universe as well as a great story on its own.

4. The Demon Knights

This was originally just going to be Jason Blood, but it seemed only right to have at least one team on this list. Plus you can't get much more original and niche than the Demon Knights. How so? They're not a modern team in the slightest, instead operating over a thousand years into the past, fighting in a world of knights, dragons, demons and ogres. Many share traits their future selves lack, from a only mildly sociopathic barbaric Vandal Savage to a feminine Shining Knight, and a distinctly different Jason Blood/Etrigan than the beings they would slowly shift into. As such, even to readers familiar with the comics, this could build added interest from long standing comics fans who might have overlooked this series. Much of the early arcs focused upon Arthurian legend and threats from hell itself, but with a healthy dose of side stories or adventures to shake things up.

The real attraction of this one is simple - You have superheroes combined with the best elements of traditional high fantasy stories. Think, if you're familiar with your nerd television, Arrow meeting Hercules with an added shade of Once Upon A Time in there. Certainly sounds like a promising option doesn't it, and in all honesty you could just adapt the first trade of the series and you'd have a damn fine film on your hands. Being of a different genre, it can easily tap into tropes and ideas which Marvel cannot touch as of yet, with few comics to really adapt to keep up with this. 

The actual team on hand here is also closer to Guardians of the Galaxy in some regards, as these are most certainly not the straight laced heroes you'd expect. Some are haunted by their own ghosts, some are greedy, backstabbing psychopaths, and some are even afflicted by old curses. It's seeing how these people overcome those elements, even live with them as much as one another, while still accomplishing acts of true heroism. With the Justice League being quickly formed and put together, consisting supposedly of the right heroes, it could be very fun to see just what the wrong heroes can end up accomplishing under the right circumstances.

I'd add more but most of it comes down to, well, imagine seeing awesomely hilarious moments like this translated to the big screen:

3. Jonah Hex

Okay, some are going to object to this thanks to a terrible film. In fairness though, that wasn't a Jonah Hex film. Oh it might have had the perfect actor in the role, it might have even involved the weird science the series is best known for, but that's about it. The story lifted from Wild Wild West, the sudden superpowers Hex gained, the prostitute supporting character - all purely the film's creation. So, what would an actual Hex film look like? A combination of Hellboy, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Indiana Jones.

Gritty, bitter but with more than a little weirdness of the fantasy and steampunk variety, this is a Mike Mignola comic in all but name. It's the sort of ultra-flexible series where you can have Hex doing everything from hunting bounties in the style of a traditional Western to fighting giant Tesla robots. This alone makes it absolutely perfect in many regards for experimenting with new ideas or showing a completely different shade of the DCCU. After all, you have a guy here who can effectively pull off the Wild West version of Dredd in a superhero setting and people would accept it without batting an eye. 

Even without that all important narrative flexibility and - sorry to keep emphasising this so much upon each with each choice - his setting, what makes Hex so perfect for this? Well, in all honesty, he could be used to explore the history and background of the setting in a way Marvel cannot match. While Marvel is focusing upon the 40s and 60s to establish its past, that's mostly focusing upon S.H.I.E.L.D. and little else. Here though, we have the opportunity to take that much, much further. The very start of certain cities, the links to old families, and even better explore the secret societies rife within the universe.

The other obvious detail above all else is that while he can be used to explore the past, fight in the west and combat old foes, Hex doesn't need to be purely tied to this. The guy has gone through more than a few infamous time travel stories and even battled alongside the Justice League more than once. It would be an easy thing to have him move about for crossovers or join up with events, and in many respects he'd fit in with these far better than the Punisher ever would with the Avengers. 

2. Enemy Ace

The thing which made the original Captain America so distinguished is its setting more than anything else. Whereas prior depictions or adaptations tended to rush through his origin, or leave World War II as a footnote, The First Avenger embraced it. It gave the series some real flavour, and worked with more than a few historical concepts. So, how do you combat that with you're DC? You choose a hero equal yet opposite to Cap in many regards, namely Enemy Ace. Sadly a largely unknown comicbook character today,  Hans von Hammer was an elite fighter pilot during the First World War. While fighting for Germany, he was renowned for his loyalty, iron discipline, and code of honour in war, one tested time and time again by the horrors he faced. 

Despite being on the opposite side of the "heroes" of traditional stories, he was presented as morally upstanding, and in many cases the ideal soldier. He fought his foes to the bitter end, but showed them mercy as needed and favoured almost a chivalrous code which many considered archaic. More often than not he was left questioning this as the war turned ever bloodier, yet always refused to join in this savagery. It's ultimately these elements which would help him stand out more than anything else in a production; both as the rare example of a heroic figure on what's traditionally the villainous side of both World Wars, and in a story where war is far from glorified, and ideals are tested. While Captain America might have been a fantastic film, there was never that moment of realisation where he realises that propaganda glorified the war in many ways. It would be a twist to really address that flaw.

The other interesting aspect is, of course, that this is effectively the worthy opponent character trope given its own series. Hell, the "Enemy" part of his series' name emphasised that fact, and many of his foes were treated in an equal, respectable light. Well, most of them. As the series went on certain ones went off the deep end, and it introduced a few more superhero-esque foes, but that was more a case of the direction the industry was moving in.

Overall, along with the unique setting and odd relationship Enemy Ace has with superheroics, it would also be returning to a Marvel idea they didn't quite manage. Which one? Specifically X-Men Origins: Magneto, as you have quite a few of the same war-like themes, same semi-villainous hero and themes of how living though such a horrific age can shape a man. Given how much of that was passed up to develop First Class, this would be an intelligent area to try and pursue.

1. Batman (Terry McGinnis)

Every example brought up thus far has focused upon the present or past, and that's been the same with Marvel. However, until they decide they need to resurrect the 2099 universe in full force, DC has one setting they can easily exploit over their competition: The far future. Better yet, they have a very popular and successful hero to build it around: Batman.

Best known for his role in Batman Beyond, Terry was Bruce Wayne's successor several decades into the future. After the retirement of both Robin and Nightwing, and Batgirl replacing Commissioner Gordon, Terry eventually donned the cowl as the new Batman. While lacking Bruce's analytical mind and showing a little more inexperience than his mentor, he was quick, driven and retained a creative drive which quickly gave him an edge over many villains.

Along with once again the setting, the big advantage here is that this would both be targeting an already enthusiastic audience of fans. Many have wanted to see Terry return for some time, though efforts in comics have been lackluster. Making him a part of a bigger universe would bring them back in droves, and atop that this is one of the few successors which have been well received. All too often, when a hero is replaced by another it's either done as a shortlived marketing gimmick to boost sales or is horribly mishandled - See Superior Spider-Man and Thor for examples of this going horribly wrong. With Terry though, not only did it feel right but it was well received. Bruce was still around, still a part of the story, and Terry had earned the cowl rather than being handed it by some writer. It felt right, and as a result it was well liked and supported by fans.

Alongside the fact that this is a well established hero already, you also have story opportunities the cartoon missed. While well received, old criticisms have loomed over the series. The inability to make full use of a returning supervillain from an older age, and the lack of real impact by his Rogue's Gallery were chief among these. Having a film to mine these old ideas would be easy, and adapting them in the same manner Marvel has with its famous comic storylines would hardly be a crime.

Really, short of getting the right actor and translating the cyberpunk city to the big screen, there's little here to truly go wrong.

So those are six heroes which would certainly help the DCCU stand out on its own. Are they the only ones? Definitely not, and there's plenty more who could be introduced to help flesh out the setting. However, with the Flash and Arrow doing such a stellar job of covering so many B list characters, these are the ones who seemed to fit the bill the best. If you have your own suggestions, please feel free to offer them in the comments. It would certainly be interesting to see who people would put forwards as their choices.