December 2010

A Black Viking?!

Heimdall as drawn by Olivier Coipel

Mark Millar’s been highlighting an interesting story on his blog this week. It seems that white supremacist groups are rather ticked off about the casting of black actor, Idris Elba as Heimdall in the upcoming Thor movie.  According to the rather bluntly named Boycott-Thor.com “Marvel has now inserted social engineering into European mythology.” They’re also quite keen to point out that The Guardian newspaper wrote an article saying that Thor was probably going to be crap (nothing to do with the racial aspect, The Guardian just don’t like super hero movies). Yep, white supremacists are quoting the Guardian as a source. Go figure.

I wouldn’t normally bother responding to something as daft as this. Pretty much every fantasy movie manages to offend some nut job about something or other, but in this case it relates to a question that we actually had to look at in the course of one of our projects. The first film that Steve and I did together was a Viking horror short called Ragnarok Dawn set in the mid 11th Century in the twilight of the pagan Viking era. During the casting process we were offered a chance to work with a very talented black actor by the name of Noel Wesley and so found ourselves asking the same question that is being banded around here: were there black Vikings?

Well the short answer is, ‘we don’t know.’ Despite what the people behind such campaigns as Boycott-Thor might wish you to believe, a pile of bones don’t tell you a lot about the colour of a person’s skin. But we can make an educated guess based on what we know about Viking history. It’s easy to think of the Vikings as a bunch of guys who lived on the coast of Denmark and occasionally popped over to pillage Yorkshire but this is a long way from the truth. The term ‘Viking’ is a catch all term for an extremely varied set of groups which, at their peak, were active in almost every corner of the known world and beyond. There are the Vikings of Leif Ericson, who landed in Canada; the Rus, whose influence stretched all the way to the walls of Babylon and Constantinople (and who may or may not have a fairly major modern country named after them depending on who you talk to); even the Normans, those great paragons of Frenchness, were originally of Viking stock. By the end of what we could rather loosely call ‘the Viking age’ being a Viking was far less about where you were from and more about the way you lived and thus it was very hard to say exactly what a Viking was. So it’s safe to say that Vikings would have had direct contact with black people but did they recruit any into their fold? Again it’s hard to say for sure, but it’s important to remember that the Vikings were, above many things, practical. If you are putting together a Viking crew on the shores of the Black Sea and you don’t have enough native Scandinavians to make up the numbers are you honestly going to trek all the way back to Norway to find more? Cities like Constantinople were melting pots of different cultures and to assume that the Vikings were immune to the kind of natural multiculturalism that occurs in such environments defies logic.

I actually pinched this image from a neo-nazi blog, so thanks go to them for providing high res images with which to undermine their hate filled bullshit.

So we can say that historically speaking, there is a basis for saying that you could find a black man on a Viking crew (which is why you can see Mr Wesley’s fine performance in our humble film), but what about having a black man playing a norse god? Well this can probably best be summed up with the following statement:

IT’S A FUCKING SUPERHERO FILM!

Seriously. This is a movie about a guy who throws a shoots lighting out of his face, fights trolls on the streets of small American towns and has a cape that considers the laws of physics to be ‘something other people do’. It’s based on a fictional comic that is based on fictional myths about fictional people. That’s so many levels from reality that you don’t get to complain about historical inaccuracies any more than you get to complain about the fact that Tony Stark can land the Iron Man at full speed and not turn to jelly inside the thing. Elba himself was interviewed about this by the Radio Times a while back and I think he probably sums it up better than anyone:

“Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the color of my skin is wrong? I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god. If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”

Good on you sir.

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Coming in on a Stranger Tide – Pirates of the Caribbean 4

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vONawmz7MBY&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Okay – I’m the first to admit this is getting out of hand following the Thor and Arkham Asylum trailers this week but it turns out Disney and Bruckheimer want a sniff at the Christmas pie by previewing their wares on the run up to Christmas with this little number: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

A lot points towards a return to form with Bloom and Knightley out of the picture, allowing this picture to be nicely populated with cutthroats, villains and curs. The old favourites Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa are present and correct and the title suggests that this episode is based on Tim Power’s cracking swashbuckling fantasy novel ‘On Stranger Tides’ much like its previous incarnation ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ was enhanced by a resurrected script from Lucasarts epically ludicrous ‘Secret of Monkey Island’. Throw in a sultry foil / love interest in the form of a very unexpected movie star and Ian McShane of Deadwood fame chewing on the quarterdeck as Black Beard and I’d say this looks like a return to form worth looking forward to.

‘Load up the yardarm lads – there be a rebooting franchise returning to form on the Horizon.’

Research by Lee Ravitz.

Practitioners 8: Joe Maduriera

A controversial choice this week with Joe Maduriera. Known to everyone as Joe Mad, Joe Madureira’s style combines Western comic book convention with the wildest and broadest Japanese manga style and has been creditted for helping the latter to influence the western comic book market in recent years – clashing the two in a way that has not been matched before or since. Most reknowned for his work on Marvel Comics Uncanny X-men he was a bold choice. His populist and cartoon-like visuals have made him a foil of ‘credibility-hungry’ critics throughout the years however the reason for his inclusion here is sheer, raw, distinctive talent, perhaps not his diligence on release of independent series as will be revealed below.

Few artists in the history of Comic Books (Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Frank Miller, Alan Silverstri all of whom will appear here) have had a bigger effect on the ebb and flow of the comic industry than Joe Maduriera with their own natural drawing style. He drew comics out of love of it and this is illustrated most clearly by how little there is to tell about his working history in the field. He arrived high up, splashed around – made his mark – and left.

Maduriera’s first published work was an eight page story for the anthology title Marvel Comics Presents featuring Northstar, a fringe character in the Marvel fermament. He became the regular penciller on Uncanny X-men in 1994 with issue 312, seeing through the formation of Generation X, the tenure of Sabretooth and the stuff of legend that is ‘The Age of Apocalypse’. His work even influenced the title itself. Archangel and Wolverine pitched headlong into an Eastern adventure in order to save the soul of Psylocke – an adventure that ran for three consecutive issues – involved none of the other characters, no Blackbird, no mansion and no other mutants. A complete departure from continuity that seemed in the reading as a neat excuse (as well as hinting at Psylocke’s oriental half-self’s mystical past) to showcase Maduriera’s distinctive and fun artwork.

Ultimates 3 (2008)

A hint at the effect his artwork would later have on the much later 2008 run of Ultimates 3 1-5 with Jeph Loeb. Critically and publically lambasted for its near total disregard for the conventions introduced and made popular by Mark Millar’s run on the series it was an enormous hit for Marvel. Its secret to longevity? The immersive and unabashedly shame faced comicdom taking place in every panel – the luxurious redesign of the character’s making the continuity jump worthwhile.

Battlechasers (2001)

It was his independent title, Battlechasers, published under the Cliffhanger label, which Madureira founded with J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl) and Humberto Ramos (Crimson) that stirred the biggest fervour. Set in a high fantasy setting and utilising steam punk and sci-fi genres the story follows four central characters – most notably Red Monika and the outlawed War Golem, Calibretto. A simple enough premise but one that showcased Maduriera’s work faultlessly – which was exactly what he had in mind. It is this title’s production he has received the most criticism for, producing 9

Red Monika of Battle Chasers

issues in 4 years – constantly pushing up the value of the title rather than reducing it as fans anticipated the next instalment with ever increasing enthusiasm. He cancelled Issue 10 and placed the series on permanent hiatus after forming a game development company, Tri-lunar with Tim Donley and Greg Peterson.

Upon the announcement he would be returning to comics for Ultimates 3 he was asked about a conclusion to Battlechasers to which he replied ‘”one of those things that I think about every once in a while, and not having finished it bums me out… I would love to do it at some point, but it would be very far out.”

In July 2007, Vigil Games’ Darksiders was announced, of which Joe Madureira was creative director. It follows War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, on his quest to find out who prematurely triggered the apocalypse. It was released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on January 5, 2010 and September 23, 2010 on PC.
Madureira has also provided cover artwork for Capcom’s Marvel Super Heroes for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation, and the Sony PlayStation game Gekido: Urban Warriors.

Battlechasers for Cliffhanger 2001

Moonday: Moon Preview (Moon)

As we move towards the final date before print we will post up previews of what the series will offer a few previews. I’d like to be able to tell you more than that. To begin with some sketches of some of the central characters;

The man himself. Trapped in a world he may not understand, armed only with a Glock Desert Flagle 9mm and a host of obscure and unreliable powers will this deity of love have what it takes to battle it out with the nefarious evils on the streets of modern day London? Will he prove himself to his partners and superiors within the Agency? Will Health and Safety ever realise they have an employee with no mouth, no eyes, no nose and no ears? Hard to say. The answers come thick and fast in Moon.

Holy Sequels Batman! Arkham City trailer hits the net!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SESNFHf5x-g&fs=1&hl=en_GB&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999]

It’s been a busy week for trailers here at the Bunker. This time around it’s the much anticipated sequel to the stunning Batman: Arkham Asylum and my goodness does it look good. The graphics in this pre-rendered sequence are quite mindblowing and the reveal of the game’s main villain may well leave your jaw on the carpet.

Please do watch, enjoy and comment away!

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Thor Trailer Reaches Midgard!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOddp-nlNvQ&fs=1&hl=en_GB&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999]

The trailer for Mavel’s next big superhero offering went live this week. I gotta say that having been a little disappointed by the Green Lantern trailer, this has really helped to rekindle my excitement about next year’s crop of comic book movies. Ken Branagh seems to have the right eye for this and I’m loving the stylistic nods to J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel’s recent run on the comic. To my mind Chris Hemsworth is an inspired choice to play the prince of Asgard, he managed to take an eggcup full of screen time in Star Trek and almost steal the whole film and from the look of this trailer he’s on course to turn in another fine performance here.

Now sit back and enjoy the sight of the god of thunder drop-kicking the hell out of some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. It’s Hammer Time!

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Under The Influence 2 – Sam n’ Max

In the early to mid 1990’s adventure games were king. While consoles focused on platformers about hedgehogs and plumbers (things sure change, huh?) the PC market was all about point and click. It was a glorious time in the short history of gaming, an era when storytelling was king and games lived or died on the quality of their writing. Some of the greatest games of all time came out of the adventure boom of the 90s, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Kings Quest (and its many many sequels), these were all games that eschewed fast paced action in favour of compelling (not to mention hilarious) stories. Of all these titles (and I’m sure we shall speak again of some of them) there was one however that is generally considered to be one of the finest. The tale of one dog and one “hyperkinetic rabbity thing”, Sam n’ Max Hit The Road.

Sam n’ Max is the brainchild of writer, Steve Purcell, a Californian cartoonist who created the duo for an independent comic book which was later picked up by Lucusarts (it’s a little more complicated than that but that’s the gist). Quick celebrity fact (and please bear in mind that this is very much a wiki fact and so usual scepticism should apply) Steve Purcel is a friend of Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and invented a game with him called “fizzball” that involved hitting a can of beer with an axe handle. Is that true? Probably not, but dammit if it isn’t a funny image.

Issue #1 of the original comic

So what’s it about then? Well Sam is a 6 foot tall dog in a suit & fedora while Max is a borderline psychotic rabbit with a passion for mindless violence. Together they comprise The Freelance Police, a semi-legal vigilante outfit that solves nutty crimes about missing bigfoots (bigfeet?) and giant moon rats. The great staples of a cop comedy are all there: the calm straight man who knows everything and the crazy funny guy who blows stuff up. It’s a golden formula and one that many great stories make use of. The writing in Sam n’ Max Hit The Road (much of it handled by Purcell himself) is razor sharp, frequently satirical and deliriously silly. The game’s humour succeeded in appealing to both adults and children, a quality that we’re used to seeing from the best animation now, but was pretty ground breaking in its time (especially for a computer game).

The duo finally returned to their roots in 1997 when a Sam n’ Max web comic written by Purcell won the Eisner award for best digital comic. A fitting tribute for a pair of characters who were born in print but made their name in pixels.

Finding a copy of the original game that will run on a modern PC can be a challenge but luckily for you there is always the fairly recent episodic game series from Telltale games which once again features Purcell’s writing at the forefront. Sam n’ Max are a rare example of a franchise gaining an insane amount of critical acclaim and fan adoration despite having only appeared in a small range of media. It’s a masterpiece of police comedy and if Moon can succeed in being a fraction as good then I shall be a very happy man.

Now enjoy some of the finest cheesy intro music you’ll ever hear!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yWnnk9fyJE&fs=1&hl=en_GB&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999]

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BTB Film – Naked Net

“A fun one this. 2 days in London with George Featherby to complete 15 minutes of VT for Naked Net, a live programme for C6, Bournemouth Uni’s TV station. Never meant for public consumption this was a practice run for us to utilise technology that wasn’t in regular use yet. New code for the time had to be written in order to achieve some of the shots, the most difficult being the electric dot bouncing around underneath the pier because of the movement of the camera across multiple axis’ and the bouncing ball itself but the effect turned out pretty well. Set in world in which widespread internet porn was some years away and some people still saw the Millenium Dome as an important cultural centre piece. Heady days.”

– Steve

I love watching old stuff that Steve made before I was around. It has all the funny of the things we make now, but without the painful memories of sitting out in the cold for hours waiting for a passing helicopter to go away so we can get the shot we want.

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