Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Top 10 Villains

Almost every film, comic book, novel, computer game, and nerd fantasy has a hero. And every hero needs a villain who can challenge him but not (usually) actually defeat him. It’s the heroes that generally get all the glory, saving the world from the evil clutches of the villain and getting the girl. But often it’s the bad guys that really capture our imagination – they get the coolest weapons and costumes, or have the coolest goals. Most often, that goal is to rule the world/universe/galaxy.

Of course, then this upstart hero comes along and ruins the would-be rulers carefully laid plans without a care for the hard work and thought that’s gone into constructing a planet-killing space station or all-encompassing religious regime.

However, there are also those villains that haven’t quite thought it out. You know, like the guy we all know who has this great plan to make a fortune, but hasn’t really figured out how it will make any money. Yeah, that guy. They get their own list a little later.

So here is our list of the ten bad guys who did it best! (In no particular order)

10) Sauron (Lord of the Rings)

 

Sauron

A being so powerful that even when robbed of a physical body, he can assemble a horde of orcs, goblins and Nazgul, and build himself an awesome pointy tower. And then take over a land for them to live in. He’s been around since the world was created (in fact he had some part in its creation according to the Silmarillion), and even after his boss was caught and banished, he escaped. He creates the Rings of Power in order to get the Elves on side, and then forges the One Ring to rule them all! He wipes out the Numenoreans (Aragorns ancestors) and is a hairsbreadth away from conquering the whole world when the Last Alliance of Elves and Humans stops him – barely. Then he comes back, looking for his bling, and once again is poised to trample all before him. If only it hadn’t been for those damned Hobbits…

9) Boba Fett (Star Wars)

 

Boba Fett

Unlike most of the others in this list, Mr. Fett (my personal favourite entry to this list – Rooney) doesn’t lead an army or head an organisation. He’s just a lowly bounty hunter, whose dad happens to be the DNA donor for the entire clone army. But he is indisputably cool. He has the armour, the ship, a flamethrower gauntlet, the freaking jetpack – and he captures the roguish Han Solo! Ok, ok, so he also has the dubious honour of lamest ‘death’ scene ever, but as readers of the Star Wars novels will be aware, he actually kills the Sarlaac and busts out of there to resume his galactic arse-kicking. Oh, and did we mention that he has a fight with Darth Vader and doesn’t die? I mean, he doesn’t kill Vader, but he also doesn’t get chopped up with a lightsaber. He also eventually goes on to rule Mandalore and makes the Mandalorians a warrior race again. Much cooler than Dog the bounty hunter. And no lame sunglasses either.

8 ) Predator (Predator I/II)

 

Predator

Wrist blades: check. Swivelling shoulder-mounted plasma cannon:  check. Boomerang-blade thing:  check. Big crab-like alien face: check. Wristwatch that doubles as a nuclear bomb: check! If I had to be hunted across the galaxy (or even just the South American jungle) there are few things I’d like to be chased by less than one of these chaps. They live for the hunt, and care nothing for the suffering of their prey – though they do have a twisted code of ethics, and won’t usually attack unarmed targets. They’re bigger than you, have better tech than you, and want nothing more than to rip out your skull (complete with spinal column) and polish it up to display on their spaceship’s mantel piece. So fighting them is hard at best, and even if you do succeed, they’ll just set off their gauntlet and blow up you and everything else in a two mile radius. Violent, ugly, ruthless, and good at it. Oh, and did I mention that they can turn invisible? Pretty effective villains if you ask me!

7) Warmaster Horus Lupercal (Warhammer 40,000)

 

Warmaster Horus

For those familiar with him, Horus needs no explanation. For those not, here we go… Once the favoured some of the Emperor of Mankind, he turned on his father and Humanity when they were on the verge of a golden age for mankind, with aliens and mutants wiped from the galaxy leaving mankind unchallenged and guided by the immortal Emperor. He lead fully one half of his brother Primarchs (genetically engineered super beings) and their Space Marine legions (lesser genetically engineered super beings) in revolt against their former allies, and brought the Imperium and indeed Humanity to its knees in the name of the Chaos Gods. He killed at least one of his brother Primarchs (the noble Sanguinius) and his actions resulted in the death of more. He even mortally wounded the Emperor himself, at the cost of his own life, thus condemning Humanity to a slow decline into a dystopian empire and ultimate defeat. Not only was this chap a great villain, but he was never really stopped. He was killed utterly, even his soul being destroyed, but his work was done, and Humanity was doomed to descend into chaos and death.

6) Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt (Watchmen)

A villain who wasn’t in the strictest sense, a villain. I mean sure he detonates a series of massive bombs/fakes an alien invasion (depending on whether you’re referring to the film or the comic), and is thus responsible for all the associated death destruction, but he also prevents mankind from destroying itself in a nuclear war. He’s a genius smart enough to fool the world into uniting together to face an outside threat (either aliens or Dr. Manhattan), he outsmarts and/or kills his hero peers, has near super-human abilities, and only reveals the final stage of his plan when it’s already happened! That final trait would get him on this list even if he were a dribbling idiot in a nappy, even though it is terribly unsporting of him. He also sits at the top of both a business empire and a criminal one, both of which he has built from the ground-up himself with his considerable mental prowess. So even though he’s ostensibly a good guy, the ends don’t really justify the means…

 

5) Padan Fain/Mordeth (The Wheel of Time)

 

Padan Fain/Mordeth

Master Fain starts the series (which is finally concluding after twenty years of books) as a travelling salesman and – secretly – a Darkfriend. As the series progresses, we find out that he gets taken by the Dark One (the source of all evil and the ultimate bad guy in the series) and changed, so that he can always track the series’ protagonist Rand al’Thor. Then he goes to a damned city that is possessed by the spirit of its deceased corrupt people, and basically merges with it. He has crazy powers, a big ol’ dagger that kills instantly from the smallest scratch and he is nasty. Like straight up, baby-eating nasty. The Dark One can’t stop him, and he’s hell-bent on killing, well, pretty much everyone. The final book hasn’t been released yet, so we don’t know Fain’s eventual fate, but I’m betting it’ll be awesome.

4) Kerrigan, Queen of Blades (Starcraft)

 

Kerrigan, Queem of Blades

We first meet Kerrigan as a feisty psychic assassin. She then gets captured by the hideous Zerg Swarm, and is reborn as the Queen of Blades, a strangely arousing (or is it just Rooney that feels that?) Zerg/Human hybrid bent on dominating the galaxy – starting with the Humans and Protoss found in her home system. She creates Psionic storms with her mind, eats underlings to heal herself, has weird claw/wing/tentacle things that can tear siege tanks apart, and after the Overminds demise, she rules billions upon billions of very nasty face-eating monsters. Of course, by the end of Starcraft 2’s first chapter she’s been “saved” and returned to Human form, but until then, she was a sexy villain that’d eat your face off. And you’d die smiling (well, Rooney would at least).

3) Cthulhu, (Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos)

 

Cthulhu

A creature so far beyond Human comprehension that just to see it would drive you stark-raving mad. High Priest of the Great Old Ones (unnatural alien creatures who ruled the Earth before Humans appeared), Cthulhu generally spends his time ‘sleeping’ in his home, the sunken city of R’lyeh, dreaming the dreams of an abomination and awaiting the day when he and his kin will awaken and cause mass insanity and mindless violence in mankind before removing us and resuming their rule of all that we know. This chap can’t be fought, can’t be bargained with, and can’t be stopped. All we can do is hope that we die quickly and relatively painlessly when he finally awakes and reclaims the world we inhabit…. (And don’t ask me how to pronounce his name!)

2) The Saint of Killers (Preacher comics)

 

Saint of Killers

A Confederate soldier with a hate so cold and immense that it froze the flames of Hell when he got there. Then God gives him a pair of pistols that can kill anything, will never miss, and never run out of bullets. Which the Saint promptly uses to kill the Devil himself. And some time later he uses those very same pistols to wipe out half the US Army, almost the entire Angelic Host, and God. That’s right, this chap (who, incidentally cannot be killed, even taking a direct hit from a nuclear missile without a scratch) killed God. Blam. Shot him down. He cannot be killed, he cannot miss, and if he shoots you, you will die. Possibly the scariest villain on this list.

1) Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Star Wars)

Emperor Palpatine

First off, this chap succeeded. He ruled the galaxy with a (wrinkly) iron fist and 10,000 volts of Dark Force lightning. Through a combination of intelligence, guile, scheming, and mastery of the Dark Side of the Force, he ascended the ranks of politics until he was legitimately ruler of the Republic. Then he really let rip and took over the galaxy, killing off or apprenticing almost everyone that could be a threat to him. And although his methods and ultimate goal (the complete enslavement of all sentient life to his will – a bit like David Cameron really) were a little harsh, the side effects would have been unbroken peace for one and all. Which is more than any of our leaders have managed!

 


The Middleman – The lost gem…

Each season a slew of new tv shows are unleashed, all of them vying for your attention.  Some flourish and grow, while others are ignored, while a few are even abandoned by the network.  This article is not about an ugly duckling that failed to grow into a Swan, it’s about a Swan that was raised by a mouse and wasn’t given the chance of growing into an even better Swan…

The Middleman was supposed to be a TV series, but after initial disinterest from the networks, creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach turned his ideas into a comic, where he could fully realise the concept without the budgetary restrictions of television.

Clearly, this incarnation of The Middleman was enough to entice the networks into having another look and it then became a tv series as originally intended.

Strangely though, it became a TV show on ABC Family, which is not known for  sci-fi or anything that is odd.  Tyically, ABC Family has family oriented (as you’d expect) programming consisting mostly of comedies and general teen fare; not the home you’d expect of an odd, surreal idea such as The Middleman.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself!  Just what is The Middleman?

Set in the present day, the main premise is relatively straightforward, with the titular ‘Middleman’ being an agent for an unknown organisation, that is “fighting evil, so you don’t have to”.  After a chance meeting with Wendy Watson (nicknamed ‘DubDub’), a struggling artist, The Middleman recruits her to train as the next Middleman.  Assisted by Ida, a grumpy robot, the duo tackle world problems that others can’t handle.  Aside from the main characters there are some other significant characters that really add depth and colour to the show, such as Lacey Thornfield, Wendy Watson’s artist roommate, and Noser, the bohemian  neighbour and many aspects of The Middleman that stood out and became fan favourites involved these characters.

As with most new shows, the cast was a mixture of old faces and some relatively unknown actors (at the time).  The Middleman, was played by Matt Keeslar, who has an extensive film history,  and Ida by Mary Pat Gleason, whose filmography goes on for ever!  In contrast,  Wendy Watson and Lacey Thornfield were played by Natalie Morales and Brit Morgan respectively, two relative newcomers who are now more well known: Natalie Morales for Parks and Recreation and White Collar (as well as escaping the nightmare that is the new Chelsea Handler show), and Brit Morgan for True Blood.   This cast gelled immediately though and all gave performances that let the show start extremely well straight out of the box; performances so good that Natalie Morales and Brit Morgan will always be DubDub and Lacey Thornfield to me, no matter what they do…  (to a certain extent!)

With the show coming out of ABC family, there were doubts as to what depth or merit it would have though, but what set the Middleman concept apart from what could have been a disastrously dull kids show, is the intelligence and cultural references that run throughout the episodes.

Each episode has a central theme that is mined for numerous geeky references and there are many throwaway and surreal moments that just add further depth and wit to the proceedings, which all add up to a great mixture of fun and intelligence, preventing it being just shallow nonsense or an idiotic  piece of slapstick for kids.

While imbued with an adult feel, the tone of the show is campy & playful, and everything has a fun, retro feel that harks back to Batman, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and any number of 1950s & 60s sci-fi films and tv shows.  All through the show, this is seen in many ways, such as all technology is futuristic, yet seemingly designed in the 1930s, and all the villains are criminal masterminds or twisted geniuses of the type seen in Bond films.  The cases they dealt with tended to be of the remarkably world threatening variety, with bizarre and complex elements that really played with that 60s cold war spy drama aesthetic, while also bringing in and playing with sci-fi tropes.

There was something about this mixture of retro sci-fi and surreal banter than captured my imagination and I was won over quite quickly.  The show could be enjoyed on several levels, both quite simply as a fun action show, or more properly with all the depth from the references and homages and it really rewarded the viewer who spent time engaging with the material.

Ultimately, The Middleman wasn’t a great fit for ABC Family and arguably was too adult and intelligent for the network, and it probably would have fared better at another network.  It is possible that other options existed, such as dumbing down the show to a tween level, or making it more serious, but either option would have upset the balance of what made the show great and been pointless.

Originally set for 13 episodes, the order was cut down to 12 after poor ratings, (with the 13th ending up being released in comic book form) and we were all denied the future development of a great idea with the cancellation at the end of those 12 episodes.  In many ways, The Middleman was a greater success creatively than many now lauded shows were at the same point.  Take for example Buffy or Star Trek: TNG at the end of their first season:  Buffy had yet to become a great show and was very much standard teen fare, while Star Trek: TNG was appalling in many ways, which wouldn’t get fixed and turned around until it’s third season.  It is in that context that it is unknown how more surreal and inventive The Middleman could have become had it been given time to grow and really spread it’s wings.  Unfortunately, this was not to be and we’ll have to just savour the 12 episodes we do have and dream of what could have been…

If there is a silver lining to be found, it is that The Middleman showcased some exceptional talent and I’ve followed the work of Natalie Morales, Brit Morgan and Javier Grillo-Marxuach especially, ever since.  If only they could work together again at some point!

Links:

Episode Guides:
http://www.epguides.com/middleman/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Middleman_episodes

DVD:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Middleman-Complete-DVD-Region-NTSC/dp/B001XW7ICW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311543547&sr=8-1

Comics :
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Middleman-Collected-Indispensability-Javier-Grillo-Marxuach/dp/0980238544/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Middleman-Doomsday-Armageddon-Apocalypse/dp/0980238587/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1311543547&sr=8-2

Javier Grillo-Marxuach:
http://web.mac.com/chaodai/Grillo_Marxuach_Design_Bureau/main.html


Garrison Clearance, Part 2

Now that the insanity of moving house is more or less done with, and we’re confortably settled into our new home (the wonderfully named “Castle GreySkull”), I’ve finally had a chance to start making the changes to my armour pointed out by a friend of mine who has already gotten his armour through the clearance process.

First up is the simplest change – swapping the black strapping on the thigh drop boxes for white. Stupidly easy to do, since this particular suit is strapped together with Velcro, making changes and adjustments (such as for expanding waistlines…) a doddle. Sourcing the Velcro was also easy (and cheap), as I got it from a certain well-known supermarket, where every little helps. And it only cost me a quid (that’s £1 for all you foreigners). Not much more to say about this change since it’s ridiculous in its simplicity, so here’s some pictures instead.

Before:

 

The old black straps

After:

 

The new white ones

 

Next is the first of the changes to make me nervous. “Why would modifying a costume make you nervous Rooney?” I hear you all ask. Because I have to cut lumps off of the most expensive thing I own…

In fact I was so racked by nerves that I completely forgot to take any “before” shots, so you’ll just have to make do with the one I made in Paint!

Before:

 

My MS Paint skills are unrivalled.

The belt came with squared-off corners, which aren’t screen accurate, so they had to be trimmed down…

After:

 

More amazing Paint editing.

I still need to smooth the edges of the cuts – I made the cuts with a pair of snips which leave less than smooth curves –  but since I’m out of sandpaper that’ll have to wait for now.

So, with those two jobs out of the way, I am now one step closer to trooping around a town near you proudly sporting that little logo on my left shoulder pad!


Art Vs Money – TV’s dilemma

As fans, we judge our TV by the quality of the show: the writing, directing, acting and overall effect.  We fight for the good shows and are vocal about the bad.  We give a show some time to develop and find the right creative balance.  Once the right balance is found, a show can really soar.  It is unusual for a TV show to start out perfectly, so almost all shows need time to find their own way.

However, I know how the TV game works: shows are broadcast and then measured by audience numbers, not quality.  This happens season after season, is the standard paradigm of the TV business and it is most definitely a business, driven by money, not art.

This struggle between money and art is the battle that our favourite shows have to work their way through just to survive.  When they fail to negotiate their way through this minefield, we look to the networks for an explanation.

In the context of money, quite often the network is in an understandable position, although sometimes they do pull the trigger a little early and don’t give a property the time to fully find its place in the market.  Futurama for instance, returned once it became apparent that there was an audience, especially when the show was aired in a more consistent manner and not erratically as in the original run.

When it comes to the artistic side though, quite often we justifiably see the network as cold hearted bastards, often pulling shows after 4 episodes, or after a single season, despite critical acclaim.   Terriers and Chicago Code are two notable, highly acclaimed,  recent examples of high quality programmes being ended for no good reason artistically.  The Firefly debacle with Fox is also obviously one of the most remembered genre cancellations that made no sense artistically.

It doesn’t help that many areas of the market are successful, despite low quality:  all the Idol shows, endless reality shows, CSI Miami etc..  It is because these shows get high ratings that they survive and prosper.  The audience gets what they deserve.

Unfortunately, the more discerning section of the audience gets what the lowest common denominator gets too…

What is most depressing, is that none of this is news.  What I’ve written above is well known, everybody knows it and my restating of the situation is hardly groundbreaking.  i just wish the situation would change!

In my next post, I’ll rant about a lost gem that I was very sad to see go after 12 episodes…  (this post had started as a quick preamble to the lost gem post, but then a rant hit…)


The more I watch, the more awesome it looks…

… and the more devastating it is that I’ll never get to play it.

Basically, a chap called Arthur Nishimoto studying at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago has designed a touch-screen fleet combat game Fleet Commander, featuring ships, sound effects, and music from Star Wars for their next gen touch-screen interface – something called TacTile (basically a video wall that’s a touch screen computermabob). However it’s never going to be released, since it’s a student project and not for retail (which is also how comes Lucasfilm haven’t unleashed the Death Star Lawyers on them.

Seriously, watch the video. And don’t be ashamed to cry a little when you realise you’ll never get your hands on it (unless you happen to go to/work at University of Illinois at Chicago – which is a stupid name for a uni, by the way).

I cried. In fact, I think I’ll watch it again, and cry some more.


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